Astana - is a new name of the new capital of Kazakhstan. The former name of the city - Akmola (earlier Akmolinsk). In his book The Heart of Eurasia President Nazarbayev wrote that the present capital Astana did not appear out of nowhere, but was located on territories that had been inhabited since ancient times. The presence of a medieval settlement Bozok confirms this claim.
Bozok was discovered by Kazakhstan’s prominent archaeologist Kemal Akishev and his expedition in 1998. Excavation work on the site began the following year.
“The first information on the medieval settlements on the territories of the Nura and Ishim rivers appeared in the travel notes of a Russian topographer Ivan Shangin in 1816. These notes were then published in the Russian Imperial journal Sibirskiy Vestnik (Siberian Herald) in 1820. In the 1950s and 1970s, Soviet scientists attempted pioneering excavation works in the area. Yet it was only in 1998, after independent Kazakhstan decided to transfer its capital to Astana, that the towns of Bytygai and Bozok were discovered and the excavation began,” Akishev’s widow, Maral Khabdullina, Director of the Akishev Archaeology Research Institute told The Astana Times.
The ruins of the ancient town of Bozok were found on the eastern shore of Lake Buzukty, five kilometres from the modern city of Astana. Today, the territory of this site is included in the capital city area.
“Bozok presents a very unusual type of a medieval sedentary settlement. It consists of three parts – the centre and two parts in the north and south, each surrounded by a moat and a rampart. The northern part consisted of residential and industrial buildings, while the southern part included a cemetery,” Khabdullina said.
The archaeologist divided the history of Bozok into three stages. After studying the layout of the first shelters, she said Akishev estimated the date for their construction in the 7th to the 8th centuries AD. In the first stage, Bozok was a fortress-town and a military headquarters of the ancient Turkic tribes located along the Steppe segment of the Silk Road.
The second stage of development occurred during the Kipchak Khanate on the Kazakh steppes in the 9th through the 11th centuries. The new residents cleared old trenches, filled internal fields with clay, and built houses out of mud bricks and wood. They also built the system of canals, which proves their engagement in irrigated agriculture.
The third stage in the life of the town began in the era of the Golden Horde in the 13th and 14th centuries and continued to modern times. At that point, Bozok acquired the status of a cultural centre. It is possible that one of the first Muslim missionaries was buried here and his tomb then became a shrine. Archaeologists found remains of at least five mausoleums made of adobe and brick.
“When ancient Turkic tribes first came to Eurasia they selected wetland sites for their settlements. Such areas provided natural defence as invaders were unable to perform extensive manoeuvres there. Other examples of ’wetland towns’ like this are settlements around the Aral Sea in Kazakhstan and the Terek River in Dagestan that were built by the Oguz and Hazara tribes,” Khabdullina said.
Bozok’s location in the marshland near the Ishim River then offered its residents two benefits. The area was safe from enemy attacks and it was suitable for agriculture. “The west of Bozok is secured by Lake Buzukty, while its east is a marshland. The southern side of the city was surrounded by trenches,” Khabdullina said.
The medieval khanates used to have three administrative divisions, according to historic data. The central part was called “ordu,” the eastern – “buzuk,” and the western side was referred to as “uchuk.” The term “buzuk” was preserved in the name of Lake Buzukty, and since the Bozok settlement was discovered on its shore, the archaeologists gave it that name.
“It is important to note that ‘bozok’ is a Turkic-Oguz term. Thus, it is a name of eastern administrative division of Turkic-speaking states. The Turkic-Oguz term ‘bozok’ meant an arrow or white arrow. At the same time, the word ‘boz’ in Turkic languages means wide field or favoured land,” Khabdullina said.
The territories of the Nura and Ishim rivers have attracted settlements since ancient times. That continuity of history is confirmed today. The town of Bozok served as a link between the East and the West on the Steppe Silk Road and similarly Astana today is turning into a bridge between the civilizations of the East and West.
Akmola's history starts in 1830 with the construction of the Akmola fortress in Karautkul to make it "the main town of the territory of the Siberian Kyrghyz on the Ishim River". The fairly advantageous position of the city was clear as early as 1863 in an abstract from the Geographic and Statistical Dictionary of the Russian Empire, St. Petersburg. It describes how picket roads and lines connected this geographic center to Kargaly in the East, Aktau fort in the South and through Atbasar to Kokchetau in the West.
According to other sources the Akmola steppes have always seen inter-cultural exchanges. In the middle of the first millennium BC, Herodotus mentioned a route through the Great Steppe (the later Great Silk Road) which ran through these steppes. Caravan routes developed prosperous trade and handicrafts in cities traditionally engaged in cattle breeding and farming. These were obviously cradles of civilization.
In the 19th c. Akmola was a substantial commercial and economic center in the steppe. It officially became a district city on 16th July 1863. An Akmolinsk region, headquartered in Omsk, was created on 21st October 1868 according to the Provisional Administrative Regulation in the Orenburg Steppe Region and the General Governorship of Western Siberia. At the time Omsk was the capital of the General Governorship of Western Siberia and Akmola region may have been so named because its center was intended to become Akmola. This is supported by the fact that, in 1879, major general Dubelt proposed to build a railway between Tyumen and Akmolinsk to the Ministry of Communications of Russia. In the course of the first 30 years of its existence, the population of Akmola numbered a trifle more than 2,000 people.
However, over the next 30 years the city's population increased by three times according to Volosts and Settlements of the Akmolinsk region, St. Petersburg 1893. Akmolinsk was an uyezd (district city) with a 6,428 strong population, 3 churches, 5 schools and colleges and 3 factories. This was the first stage of the development of the city. The second stage, that of the Virgin Lands, had a major impact on the destiny of the city.
In December 1960 the city had 100,000 souls and became the center of the Tselinny territory of northern Kazakhstan. Shortly after, in 1961, Akmolinsk became Tselinograd. In 1971, the Tselinny territory was abolished and Tselinograd became the center of the region. In 1992 the city took its former name - Akmola - again. There are several versions of the origin of this name. The first one is that the area of Akmola was named after a white colored limestone hill.
According to the Byzantine writer Prokopius, the Huns called mola a high barrow or fortress. Akmola was a major center for cattle fairs and famous for the abundance and variety of its milk products (koumyss, shubat, etc.). Hence its name, literally "ak mol" - white abundance.
Akmola translates into "white holy place". This is actually the final choice of the members of the Republican onomastic committee after a meticulous study of all available historical sources.
The Akmola region lies in the North of the central part of Kazakhstan with a territory of 96,800 sq km. Its topography is far from uniform and includes hillock areas and low mountains, plains and river valleys. In the North we find spurs of the Kokshetau highlands, in the South and Southeast Saryarka (Kazakh hummock topography) and plains in the Northeast.
The climate is a harsh continental type, becoming arid to the South. The average temperature ranges from -14/18° C in January to +20/24°C in July. In winter it can be as cold as -40°C whereas summers are quite hot (sometimes above +35°C) with dust storms and dry hot winds. Summer lasts 194-202 days, winter 163-171 days and there are about 105-130 days above freezing. The annual precipitation is 200-300 mm.
The largest rivers are the Ishim and the Nura. Lakes include Tengh, Karasor, Korgalzhyn, Balyktykol and Kypshak. There are 55 species of mammals, 180 species of birds and 30 species of fish. Rare species (listed in the Red Book) include the Pamir argali (arkhars), Saker falcons, golden eagles, bustards, Demoiselle cranes, steppe eagles, Dalmatian pelicans, little bustards and flamingo. Korgalzhyn state preserve and a number of game reserves were set up to protect these endangered species. There are 66 plant species over 4,391.6 ha. According to the 1999 census, the Akmola population was 836,200 (319,000 in Akmola city) with a density of 7.5 per sq. km.
Akmola has several universities, including the L. Gumilyov Eurasian University and the A. Barayev Research Institute of Grain Farming, reputed throughout the international scientific community. There are also three museums, two drama theatres and branches of the Union of Writers and Artists of Kazakhstan, publishing over 40 newspapers and 2 literary magazines.
Akmola region is by right one of the Republic's granaries and a main center for agricultural machine building. In fact, it produces one fifth of all grain (one fourth being sold to the state) and one tenth of all cattle breeding products. Crops account for 3,423 ha. Meat and milk cattle breeding, pig breeding, sheep breeding, horse breeding and poultry farming are also well developed. The region has deposits of gold, uranium, bauxite, antimony, copper, lignite, caoline ores, quartz sands and other commercial minerals. Agriculture and processing of agricultural products are the traditional regional industries. The region encourages foreign investment and maintains mutually-advantageous relations with neighboring and other countries. Russia, Uzbekistan, Belarus and Tajikistan are major trade partners. The main exports to CIS countries are grain, meat, flour and milk products, while imports consist of fuel and power resources, chemicals, timber, lumber, paper, rolled stock of ferrous metals and consumer goods. Most important trade partners are the USA, China, France, Germany, Turkey and Austria. These countries receive uranium oxide, molybdenum and fertilizers and provide food products and agro-industrial machinery.
The Akmola region and north Kazakhstan have tremendous development prospects for mining, in particular with reserves of industrial diamonds, tin, zirconium, uranium and gold. The transfer of the country's capital to Akmola is sure to create synergies for neighboring industrially developed Karagandy, Pavlodar, East Kazakhstan and Kostanay regions. In addition it will boost local entrepreneurship and business through the creation of foreign companies' headquarters, branches of major banks and eventually their headquarters.
The country's administration moving to Akmola will create an influx of experts improving management, information, technical and technological expertise and trade. All this will promote business both in Akmola and its suburbs. The local market in the capital will become more diversified with a higher capacity and goods and services will grow. In short, Akmola will consolidate its international position for trading agricultural goods. Agriculture, stocks and shares, currencies, banking, insurance and transport, permanent fairs and exhibitions will see a sustained development and there are also good prospects for transport and trade facilities.
Akmola is to become an important cultural and scientific center for Kazakhstan. New infrastructure will be built including a branch of the National Academy of Sciences, new educational establishments, a national library, a national museum, a modern art gallery, a center for socioeconomic technologies, a business center, a children's park, an aqua park, as well as various cultural venues and healthcare establishments. Akmola's population is growing particularly due to the expansion of transport, communication and public utilities and services. It is only natural to expect a country-wide redistribution of manpower, particularly the highly qualified workforce. The new capital will eventually become the center of education, culture and public services currently concentrated in Almaty. According to preliminary estimates the population of Akmola may rise to 450,000 by 2005 and 550,000 by 2030.
To develop the economic potential of the region, attract foreign investors to Kazakhstan and encourage their participation in the economic development of the capital, Akmola was declared a special economic zone in 1997.
Firstly, Akmola is a customs-free zone. Any person or organization engaged in business activities within the city's territory can import goods duty and tax free.
Secondly, goods manufactured on the territory of the special economic zone are exempted from customs duties when exported.
And thirdly, a favorable taxation regime applies to the construction and maintenance of real estate.
Nearly 18 billion Tenge were invested in the fixed assets of Akmola city in 1997, including Turkish, Israeli, Italian and other foreign investments. Kazakhstani businessmen are no less active investors. They include firms such as Astana holding, Raimbek, Accept and Diamond. A special plan to rehabilitate and develop the economic potential of the new capital's region has been elaborated and is being implemented.
Local companies are seeing results through mastering new technologies and installing up-to-date production lines. Major industrial giants which, in their former obsolete condition, were below the new economic standards are being restructured and split up and new enterprises created to manufacture household appliances, provide spare parts and maintenance of agricultural equipment or self-contained power supply equipment operating on liquid fuel. A huge construction project for housing was also launched. In 1997, the volume of construction was worth 14 billion Tenge, six times the 1996 level. No less advanced is the program for developing telecommunications, aiming to provide as many as 30 handsets per 100 residents in Akmola by 2010.