A change in leadership may not be the only thing shaking up Kazakhstan. The government recently announced that the names of some major cities may altered, following an abrupt resignation announcement made last week by President Nursultan Nazarbayev after 29 years in office.
In honor of Nazarbayev, the newly sworn-in interim President Kassym-Jomart Tokayev ordered a change to the capital city’s name, from Astana to Nur-Sultan, last Saturday – just a few days after the 78-year old Nazarbayev stepped down.
Astana, which means “capital” in Kazakh, replaced Almaty as the capital in 1997. Originally established in 1830 as the fort of Akmolinsk, Astana was then renamed to Tselinograd in 1961 to reflect the USSR’s campaign to increase agricultural output in what is now Central Asia’s largest country and economy.
The renaming of the capital city set off announcements that changes to other cities’ names would soon follow.
Kazbek Isa, the deputy chairman of the Ak Zhol political party, suggested that the cities of Petropavlovsk, Pavlodar and Semey could be renamed after some of the most influential people in Kazakh history.
“Having given the name of Elbasy [the leader of the nation] to the capital of Kazakhstan, we must go on and to coincide other [initiatives] with this event,” Isa said earlier this week according to reporting by Tengri. “We must continue and coincide with this event other renaming.”
Isa said Petropavlovsk should be renamed after Abylay Khan, who lived in the 18th century and set out to create a strong and independent Kazakh state by unifying Kazakh military forces and centralize power. Semey, located near Kazakhstan’s northeastern border with Russia and formerly called Semipalatinsk, might get named after the early 20th century statesman and politician Alashorda Alikhan Bokeykhanov. And Pavlodar could be named after the last Kazakh khan, or ruler, Kenesary Kasymov, the leader of a national liberation movement that resisted the capture of Kazakh land and segregation policies by the Russian Empire.
Meanwhile, Kazakhstanis’ reactions has ranged from support to disfavor, as not everyone is enthusiastic about renaming Kazakhstani cities.
Some residents of Pavlodar, which currently bears the name of the Grand Duke Paul Alexandrovich of Russia and meaning “gift of Paul,” were caught by surprise. Officials from the city council said that the issue of changing the city’s name is not currently being considered by the local government.
“I read this in the press – this is a personal opinion of the leader of one of the parties. Today, this issue is not on our agenda,” Azamat Baitenov, head of the council’s press service, told Sputnik on Tuesday.
But Dauren Abayev, the Minister of Information and Social Development, says that more time is needed for the idea of renaming cities across the country to take root.
“When Akmolinsk was renamed to Astana, there were also many memes, but as time passed, we all fell in love with the Astana brand,” he said according to reports by Kursiv.