Kazakhstan renames capital to honour ex-leader

Astana has been renamed as Nur-Sultan, as a tribute to former leader Nursultan Nazarbayev, who resigned on Tuesday.

It had long been speculated that Astana could be renamed after the leader who shaped it [File: Mukhtar Kholdorbekov/Reuters]

Kazakhstan has renamed its capital Astana as Nur-Sultan in honour of the country’s longtime president who resigned in a surprise move earlier this week.

The order to change the capital city’s name was issued on Saturday by Kazakhstan’s newly sworn-in interim President Kassym-Jomart Tokayev. 

Tokayev initially proposed the new name on Wednesday as a tribute to Nursultan Nazarbayev, who led the country for decades until his resignation on Tuesday.


“The opinion of [Nazarbayev] will be of special, one can say priority, importance in the development and adoption of strategic decisions,” Tokayev said at the time.

Small protests took place in Almaty and other cities after the name change was proposed. 

Astana replaced Almaty as the capital in 1997 and boomed from a minor provincial steppe town into a futuristic city.

The name Astana literally means “capital” in Kazakh and there has long been speculation it could, at some point, be renamed after the leader who shaped it.

Nazarbayev was at the helm of the country for nearly 30 years, first when it was still part of the Soviet Union and then as the first president of an independent Kazakhstan. 

His announcement on Tuesday surprised many, including analysts who had expected Nazarbayev to be a president for life, as has been the case with leaders in other Central Asian countries. 


However, some noted that 78-year-old Nazarbayev, whom Tokayev praised as “an outstanding reformer”, would retain key powers as chairman of the Security Council and head of the ruling Nur Otan party.

Nazarbayev’s decades-long rule transformed Kazakhstan into an energy powerhouse but he governed with little tolerance for opposition.

His resignation is not expected to fundamentally alter Kazakhstan’s authoritarian system, which rights groups say leaves little space for political competition, civil society and free media.

Tokayev, a career diplomat who had been senate speaker, can serve the remainder of Nazarbayev’s term ahead of scheduled elections next year.

Source: Al Jazeera, News Agencies