In July this year, one of the world’s youngest (and coldest) capitals, Astana, will celebrate its 20-year anniversary. The city was founded on the banks of the Yessil River in 1830 as Akmolinsk, and served as a defensive fortification at the time. Later it was renamed Tselinograd in 1961 to mark the city’s evolution as a cultural and administrative center of the Virgin Lands Campaign by the Soviet Union.
In 1992, it was once again renamed Aqmola, the modified original name meaning “white grave”. Another great change awaited the city in 1998 when not only it got a new name, Astana, but also became a new capital of Kazakhstan – the name “Astana” means “capital” itself.
In one of his speeches, President of Kazakhstan, Nursultan Nazarbayev, noted that moving the capital was a geopolitical decision made for the sake of Kazakhstan’s development.
Firstly, the previous capital, Almaty, is located on the outskirts of the country. At that time, the President had to preserve not only control over all regions of Kazakhstan but also the territorial integrity of the young state. Astana is situated in the geographical center of Kazakhstan – equidistant from both Russia and China.
Secondly, Almaty was very limited in terms of space, and it could not grow further. And, finally, the Head of State was looking for the way to lift the nation’s spirit, to make them believe in their country and their ability to address big challenges.
Astana is also one of the coldest capitals in the world. Temperatures in the steppe city, designed by famous architects Kisho Kurokawa, Norman Foster and Manfredi Nicoletti, and which has more than one million people, can reach minus 40 degrees Celsius during the winter.
However, despite difficult and complex climatic conditions, the authorities were able to solve this issue by creating a “green belt” – forests planted by people that surround the city and have helped to soften the cold winters.
Being one of the youngest capitals in the world, Astana attracts significant attention and has built up its reputation by hosting a number of high-profile events, including the historic OSCE Summit in 2011 and the World Fair EXPO-2017, which became the first in the entire post-Soviet space.
Last year, the capital of Kazakhstan was also a platform for peace talks on Syria. Astana as a meeting place for important negotiations has satisfied all participants of the Syrian peace process.
Speaking at the Astana Economic Forum in May, Astana Mayor Asset Issekeshev said the capital city has already returned all the funds invested in its construction –around 6 billion euro.
“Considering the total amount of investments, I would like to say that over the past 20 years, the state has invested considerable money in Astana, namely 2.3 trillion tenge (€6 billion). The capital has returned 6 trillion (€15.5 billion) to the budget in the form of taxes,” said Issekeshev.
“Revenues to the state budget through Astana increased almost 80 times from 13 billion tenge (€33.5 million) in 1998 to one trillion tenge (€2.6 billion) in 2017,” he added.
According to his report, Astana is one of the fastest growing capitals in the world. The population of the city has tripled in 20 years and reached more than 1 million people, which comprises 5.5 percent of the entire population of the country.
The city’s area has also grown three-fold, investments have grown more than 50 times, and the volume of housing has increased 19-fold.
However, transformations into the global scale capital are not over. Another challenge is the new Astana’s International Financial Centre, which was launched at the beginning of this year. The Kazakh part takes London, Dubai, Singapore, and Hong Kong as an example for the new financial hub.
It is expected that by the end of this year, approximately 100 companies will register at the Astana’s International Financial Centre, and during 2019 there will be at least 250, while by the end of 2020, that number is expected to reach 500.
According to authorities, the new financial platform should attract up to $5 billion in FDI by no later than 2023 and up to around €35 billion within a decade.
Today, Astana is the symbol of an independent Kazakhstan and embodies the socio-economic and political success of the country, demonstrates its growing power and high potential for further development.
The Brussels Times