ASTANA – Small and big, central and distant, old and new, Astana’s streets hold lessons in history and geography for those who recognise their names.
According to Zakon.kz, before Astana was made Kazakhstan’s capital in 1997, only 180 streets out of 619 had names associated with the history of Kazakhstan. More than 400 streets had names related to the Soviet period; the rest had names far removed from the cultural and historical references of today, like Vagonnaya (wagon), Raionnaya (district), Sennaya (hay), Letnyaya (summer), Marsovaya (Mars), Samotsvetnaya (gemstone) and Novaya (new). Streets in the southeastern part of the city and in the new administrative centre of the capital and the left bank were simply numbered.
The restoration of old buildings and the construction of new ones in a short time led to a radical change in the infrastructure of the capital, affecting not only the appearance of the city, but also the names within it. When the capital expanded, suburban villages were incorporated into it and many street names were duplicated.
About 70 streets were renamed over a two-year period. Names associated with the leaders of the Soviet era, the founders of the communist doctrine and the chronicles of socialism, such as Lenin, Marx, Engels, October, Revolutionary, Socialist and others have disappeared.
Now, almost all the streets in Astana have names that can be divided into several groups. The first is famous people in Kazakh history, such as Abai, Kenessary, Abylai Khan, Shokan Ualikhanov, Saken Seifullin, Shakarim Kudaiberdyuly, Dinmukhamed Kunayev and many others. Most people know who they were or have some understanding of which period they represent or what they are famous for.
The second group consists of names of ancient and modern cities, such as Turkestan, Saraishyk, Syganak, Akmeshit, Orynbor, Almaty and others. The third group commemorates political and cultural touchstones, like Respulika (republic), Tauelsizdik (independence), Saryarka (yellow steppe) and others.
Another group of names commemorates great figures who are at risk of being lost to history. These streets are named after people who were outstanding members of the society at their times, but who are now rarely heard of. Thousands of people pass these capital streets with no idea what kind of history is hidden behind their names. Here are three people whose names are part of the city map, yet who are not well-known to people of the capital.
Zhumabek Tashenov was a member of the Communist Party of Kazakhstan and chairman of the Council of Ministers of the Kazakh SSR. He was born on March 20, 1915, in Tanagul Village of the Akmola region.
Tashenov actively opposed the Virgin Lands campaign in 1960 and the proposed unification of five areas of northern Kazakhstan (North Kazakhstan, Kokshetau, Kostanai, Akmola and Pavlodar) and their separation from the Kazakh SSR. He was openly against the idea of Nikita Khrushchev, then leader of the Soviet Union, to separate this northern region from the rest of the Kazakh SSR, appealing to the Constitution of the Soviet Union and saying that the idea was a flagrant violation, contrary to the interests of the people, and that he would appeal to international organisations if the illegal transfer was carried out.
In 1961, Tashenov was removed from the office. On May 25, 1999, the Astana Maslikhat (city council) decided to rename one of the capital’s streets in his honour. Almaty, Shymkent, Kokshetau and the Arshaly village of Akmola region also have streets named after him.
Today Tashenov Street is one of the busiest streets of the capital. It is located in the centre and serves as a link between different parts of the city.
“Zhumabek Tashenov was one of the outstanding leaders of Kazakhstan. His achievements are invaluable. He was the one to preserve country’s integrity during Khrushchev’s reforms. In my opinion, his name takes a deserved position on the Astana map,” said Professor at Eurasian National University Zhambyl Artykbayev in a recent interview with The Astana Times.
Another familiar but unknown name is that of Aleksander Barayev. Many buses use the route bearing his name, which stretches from left bank to right. Barayev was a Soviet agronomist and the founder of soil conservation farming systems. He was a doctor of agricultural sciences, and academician of the Academy of Agricultural Science, holder of the Lenin Prize and a Hero of Socialist Labour, the highest civilian honour during the Soviet times.
Barayev was born July 16, 1907, in Saint Petersburg. His soil conservation farming system became the main basis for the Virgin Lands campaign. In 1936, he came to Kazakhstan’s Uralsk region and became director of the Agricultural Experiment Station. During his leadership, the station extensively studied issues of snow retention, tested various methods of tillage and later developed some elements of anti-erosion treatment. In 1953, he was appointed director of the Kazakh Research Institute of Agriculture. His farming systems were used across the country and by 1975 they were operating on 12 million hectares of land. By 1990, that number reached 60 million. Barayev did an enormous service to Kazakh agronomy, and because of his skilful defence of the soil, saved lands from degradation. His systems have become a reliable shield against dust storms and erosion.
“Barayev Street is one of the oldest in the city and it has the name of one the greatest agronomists of Kazakhstan. During the period of the Virgin Lands campaign, there were a lot of difficulties due to erosion. Big territories were plowed, and the wind was blowing away the top layer of fertile land. He solved those problems by creating his systems. Kazakhstan has managed to maintain its grain area and now it gives income to the country. All of that is Barayev’s achievement,” said Artykbayev.
Zhanibek Tarkhan Street is located on the right bank, closer to the old centre. Its namesake is from an earlier period. Zhanibek was born in 1693. He went down in history as a famous batyr (warrior), distinguished biy (judge and administrator) and first tarkhan (military rank equal to field marshal) in the history of the Kazakhs.In the history of the Russian Empire, only 20 representatives of Turkic peoples were awarded with the title of tarkhan.
Zhanibek was one of the greatest leaders during the Kazakh state’s battles with Dzhungar aggressors. He contributed to the restoration of Kazakh statehood in what is now the Kostanai region. Zhanibek ruled with Abylai Khan and in difficult times largely determined the future of the nation’s policy of relations with Russia and other neighbouring states. Unfortunately, not much information about him remains.
According to Artykbayev, “Zhanibek was one of the great leaders of Kazakh society. He played a huge role during the Dzhungar invasion. Also, his role was important in the establishment of Kazakh-Russian relations, especially in the northern parts on Kazakhstan. At that time, he received the rank of tarkhan and was released from all taxes and given the right to freely move within the territory of Russian Empire. Zhanibek was a mediator of Kazakh-Russian relations. It was difficult time from a political perspective and he played a positive role during that period.”
Astana streets contain more names of people unknown to most residents. A city map can be a great guide to learning Kazakh history.