What are some big cities in Kazakhstan

Five names and a story

by Kempen Dettmann

I recently met a friend at Frankfurt / Main Airport by chance. He was on his way to Tenerife, another vacation in the Canary Islands.
"And where is your journey going?" He asked of course.
"I'm flying to a conference of the organization 'Nevada-Semei' in Nur-Sultan."

After a few incredulous looks he finally had to admit that he knew neither Nur-Sultan nor the organization Nevada - Semei. Nur-Sultan is the capital of a state, the capital of Kazakhstan! So before our departure in different directions we had a very interesting conversation with many astonished looks from my friend. Kazakhstan, for example, is seven and a half times larger than Germany. He didn't know. Many Germans from Kazakhstan also resettled to Germany at the time. Quite a few of them also live in Marzahn-Hellersdorf today.

In order to save my friend's honor: the capital of Kazakhstan has only been called Nur-Sultan since 2019, so only for a year. The city has changed its name many times since it was founded in 1830, which makes it unique in the world.

Located in the north of Kazakhstan, it was founded as Stanitsa by Cossacks. Because of the important infrastructural location, important trade routes soon passed through this place, which led to its rapid expansion. As Akmolinsk, it received city rights in 1830. It was thus directly linked to the development and opening up of Kazakhstan. In 1940, however, only about 30,000 people lived in the city.

That was also the case in the following decades. The development of new territory in Kazakhstan in the 1950s and 1960s played a special role. The new land (Zelina) was to be developed into the second granary of the Soviet Union, which led to the large settlement of people from all parts of the Soviet Union via a nationwide youth movement. The number of inhabitants doubled from 1950 to 1970. And the city received its second new name in recognition of the new land conquerors: Zelinograd.

The city then bore this name for 30 years. During this time, too, it grew rapidly. In 1990 there were already 300,000 people in the city. It was very much shaped by the architectural style of the Soviet era. The complicated climatic situation made a rather unusual architectural style necessary at that time. All communication lines, including those for heating and hot water, had to be laid above ground on stilts. That was a very strange cityscape. Probably necessary at the time, because in winter temperatures can quickly reach minus 40 or even minus 50 degrees. And in summer it can get scorching hot when you are over 40. Continental climate with a flat steppe landscape around the city.

After Kazakhstan, like all other former Soviet republics, became independent, people began to think again about the Kazakh history of the people. Kazakh names were also reintroduced. This is how Zelinograd became the Kazakh Akmola, which is supposed to mean "light grave". To this day, there is still not that much agreement. The cause is said to be the area's white limestone. But there are also other reasons. During my previous visits to the city, however, there was always talk of the “bright grave”.

When Kazakhstan gained independence, under its President Nursultan Nazarbayev, Kazakhstan experienced a very remarkable economic development. With its rich oil and natural gas reserves, the huge copper mines and …… Yes, Kazakhstan actually has all imaginable raw materials, which of course contribute to the strong economic power. The capital Almaty as an economic and political center experienced a rapid upswing, but came up against certain limits.

In 1998 the capital was moved from Almaty to Akmola. Since it was difficult to describe a capital as a “light grave”, it was given a new name again: Astana, which simply means “capital” in Kazakh. This relocation of the capital then brought about a development for Astana that can certainly also be described as a rebirth of the city. Almost nothing can be seen of the old walls to the right of the Ishim River, which flows through the city. To the left of the Ishim, a new city was practically built with all the important buildings for the government and large commercial enterprises.

But also for education with internationally recognized universities and modern residential areas, some of which are reminiscent of our city district - only higher and more modern. South Korean architects have designed the residential districts that the residents call “smart houses” using the latest IT technology. The well-known English architect Norman Foster could also let off steam here. In some ways the capital is reminiscent of Dubai today. The largest tent in the world was built here with a shopping center, hotel and aqua park inside. Astana has been called Nur-Sultan in honor of its former president since 2019. With a current population of 1.13 million, it now ranks second after Almaty.

An impressive monument was erected next to the Independence Palace. In the vicinity of the city of Semiplatinsk (today Semei again), around 800 km from Nur-Sultan, the atomic bomb tests were carried out for decades until a social movement achieved their cessation and provided an example that such attempts were also internationally outlawed, also in the USA, where such experiments were mostly carried out in Nevada. This is how the organization "Nevada - Semei" came into being, whose 30th anniversary we were able to celebrate in Nur-Sultan.