Kazakhstan renames capital city in honour of authoritarian leader who just resigned

President Nursultan Nazarbayev made the surprise resignation yesterday after nearly 30 years in power

Joanna Whitehead
Thursday 21 March 2019 18:18 GMT
The Kazakhstan capital, which was previously known as Astana, is now known as Nursultan
The Kazakhstan capital, which was previously known as Astana, is now known as Nursultan (istock)

Kazakhstan has changed the name of its capital city from Astana to Nursultan.

The change was made in honour of President Nursultan Nazarbayev, who stepped down yesterday after almost 30 years in office.

Parliament then passed a law making the renaming official.

At his swearing in, President Kassym-Jomart Tokayev made the announcement “in honour of the first President”, according to a BBC report.

The surprise resignation has shocked many Kazakh residents, resulting in the creation of an online petition asking the president and parliament to reverse the decision, which more than 36,000 people have signed in the past 24 hou​rs.

The appeal requests that the authorities conduct “legitimate” discussions with residents, followed by “fair and open voting.”

Despite his departure, Nazarbayev will remain chairman of Kazakhstan’s security council.

This isn’t the first time that the former Soviet republic has proposed a name change.

In 2014, Nazarbayev suggested changing the name of Khazakhstan to Kazak Yeli in an attempt to distinguish the country from its “poorer” neighbours.

And in 1998, he moved the country’s capital from Almaty in southeast Kazakhstan to Akmola in the north.

The following year, Nazarbayev renamed the capital Astana, in an effort to eradicate conflict over the meaning of the name Akmola, which can mean both ‘white tomb’ and ‘white plenty’ in Kazakh.

Support free-thinking journalism and attend Independent events

While the renaming of places is not unusual, it tends to follow independence of a country from colonial rule.

Since the end of British rule, over 100 cities in India have changed their names.

This includes the Indian capital Mumbai, which was changed from Bombay in 1995, in an attempt to shake off the legacy of colonialism.

Khazakhstan is the world’s largest land-locked country and the ninth largest in the world. It is the most economically prosperous of the neighbouring ’stans, due to its reserves of oil and other valuable minerals.

Join our commenting forum

Join thought-provoking conversations, follow other Independent readers and see their replies


Thank you for registering

Please refresh the page or navigate to another page on the site to be automatically logged inPlease refresh your browser to be logged in