Kazakhstan

Astana: Nazarbayev's Playground

A new capital on the edge of the steppeA Peace Corps volunteer in Kazakhstan once told me, "Most people grow out of playing with Lego; Nazarbayev hasn't." This is an accurate portrayal of President Nazarbayev's attitude toward his shiny new capital in the heart of the country. Before the turn of the century, in the late 1990s, Nazarbayev decided to move the capital city of his country from the vibrant, bustling city of Almaty to the once sleepy little town of Akmola. This was quite a bold and ambitious move considering the old capital was situated in the foothills of the magnificent and picturesque Tien Shen Mountains, while the new one - renamed Astana - is located in the middle of the inhospitable Kazakh steppe, where the annual average temperature doesn't even reach double digits. The great migration from one capital to the other hasn't been as quick as Nazarbayev probably would have liked. But after all, who can blame people for not wanting to live out in the middle of nowhere? Even the president himself spends a great majority of his time in Almaty. Still, Astana is steadily growing, especially with the increasing infrastructure, including the shiny new Nazarbayev University, the sports arenas built to host the 2011 Asian winter games and better transport between the two capitals.

profileback2

 Full name: Republic of Kazakhstan

 Population: 17.52 million (CIA, 2012)

 Capital: Astana

 Largest city: Almaty

 Area: 2.72 million sq.km. (1.05 million sq. mi.)

 Major languages: Kazakh, Russian

 Major religions: Muslim, Russian, Orthodox,  Protestant, Other

 Monetary unit: Tenge

 GDP per capita: US $13,000

 Internet domain: .kz

 International dialling code: +7

 Source: CIA World Factbook