Changing the name of a nation’s capital city is always a profound moment. The capital is the heart of a country, therefore, a decision to rename it should not be taken lightly. Kazakhstan understands this. But considering the contribution the First President of Kazakhstan Nursultan Nazarbayev made to our capital, it is easy to understand why the decision to rename the city was made.
Honouring a national leader in this way is not without precedent, for example St. Petersburg in Russia and, in particular, the U.S. capital, which is named after the fledgling country’s first and, at the time, still serving President George Washington. When the United States decided to establish a new capital on the Potomac River, United States Congress named it to honour the man they saw as the prime Founding Father of the nation.
It is a title which few, looking at Kazakhstan’s journey since independence, would disagree belongs to Nursultan Nazarbayev. His leadership, as has been recognised in the many international articles discussing his decision to step back, was critical in ensuring Kazakhstan overcame the many challenges the country faced, in shaping its stability, economic growth and international standing and setting a strong course for the future.
But, in one way, the comparison might underplay the part that our First President played in the birth of the place that now carries his name. For this city is, more than was even the case with America’s new capital, the result of his personal vision and determination.
His decision to move the capital from Almaty was, it must be remembered, far from universally popular at the time. There was again plenty of criticism from inside Kazakhstan and beyond at the plan to create a new capital in the centre of our large country. It was viewed as a distraction from the many serious problems our young nation faced as well as an unnecessary call on scarce resources.
Time, however, has shown that the opposite has been true. Far from diverting efforts away from building a modern, dynamic and internationally active country, the decision has helped give them focus and drive them on. Our capital, with its arresting skyline, has become the symbol of our national progress and ambition.
Inside two decades, it has grown to be Kazakhstan’s second largest city, with a population of more than one million and national and increasingly international cultural influence. It is now, too, as was hoped a major economic and entrepreneurial motor of our country’s continued development. The considerable investment made in building the city is now being repaid as it has become a net contributor to our national wealth.
This contribution will only increase. Many of the hi-tech and innovative firms on which Kazakhstan’s economic future rests have their home here. They are drawn by the young, highly educated workforce who have often received their education at the city’s dozen academic institutions. These benefits are spreading out to the country as a whole.
It is not just in Kazakhstan that this positive impact is being felt. Our new capital has become the diplomatic and financial centre of the wider region. It is now pulling in investment and opening eyes to the potential of Central Asia as a whole.
Diplomatically, the new capital has helped put Kazakhstan and the region firmly on the world map. It is now increasingly chosen to host major global conferences and events, such as EXPO 2017 as well as provide safe and neutral ground for talks to find solutions to such difficult and complex challenges as the Syrian conflict. It has earned the title City of Peace bestowed on it by UNESCO.
The new capital has lived up to the far-seeing ambitions of its architect. It has strengthened the unity of our country, provided a new powerful motor for its continued development and helped give Kazakhstan a global profile. It feels right that the city should carry his name.