Travellers heading to the capital city of Kazakhstan will no longer be on a plane to Astana. The country made a surprise announcement today that it would rename its capital to Nur-Sultan in honour of its former president.
The change happened as Kazakh president Nursultan Nazarbayev unexpectedly resigned after nearly 30 years in office. Nazarbayev came into office in 1991, after Kazakhstan gained independence following the fall of the Soviet Union.
Nazarbayev was Kazakhstan’s only president until today, when, in a televised address to the nation, the 78-year-old announced his resignation in order to foster “a new generation of leaders”. He appointed Kassym-Jomart Tokayev – the speaker of Kazakhstan’s upper house of parliament – to take over as acting president for the remainder of his term, which expires in April 2020.
Tokayev’s first act was to propose changing the country’s capital to the name Nur-Sultan in honour of his predecessor, which was swiftly enacted by parliament.
Nur-Sultan is not the first name-change that the Kazakh capital has undergone. At its founding in 1830 as a Russian fortress, the city was called Akmola (Kazakh for ‘White Tomb’). In 1961 it was renamed to Tselinograd (Virgin Lands City) after a Soviet program to boost agricultural output and stop food shortages. It reverted to being Akmola after the fall of the Soviet Union in 1991, and remained so named for three short years.
Ironically, it was President Nazarbayev himself who moved the country’s capital city from the old southern capital of Almaty to northern Akmola in 1994, and in 1998, the city underwent yet another name change: this time to its most recent moniker – Astana – Kazakh for ‘Capital’.
Nur-Sultan remains Kazakhstan’s economic centre and political capital, although the much older, former capital of Almaty is the country’s cultural hub and largest urban centre.