Kazakhs react to their capital city's name change

Baiterek Tower in the Kazakh capital Image copyright Getty Images

The capital city of Kazakhstan has had a name change - and some people in the country are not happy.

At his swearing-in, on Wednesday, President Kassym-Jomart Tokayev announced the change, from Astana to Nursultan, "in honour of the first President", Nursultan Nazarbayev, who served in the role for nearly 30 years.

Parliament then adopted a law making the renaming official.

And on Thursday, at 11:00 local time (05:00 GMT), about 20 people attended a protest rally in the city, nearly all of whom, according to the Russian news agency Interfax, were then arrested.

Meanwhile, an online petition asking the president, parliament and the ruling Nur Otan party not to rename the capital without "legitimate" discussions with its people followed by "fair and open voting" has been signed by more than 36,000 people in the past 24 hours.

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The vast majority of the more than 4,000 users of news website Nur.kz's Facebook page to have voted in its poll also oppose the idea.

Bakhytnur Otarbaeva also wrote on Facebook: "Good morning everyone. I am scared of reading the news. Is our country still called Kazakhstan?"

Those who oppose the change have even invoked British comedian Sacha Baron Cohen's fictional Kazakh journalist, Borat.

Andrei Grishin posted Borat's photo with the comment: "In Borat's Kazakhstan there was far less craziness than in the real country."

Image copyright Getty Images
Image caption Nursultan Nazarbayev (L) had a close working relationship with Russian President Vladimir Putin

Social media users in neighbouring Russia have also been mocking the name change, by adding "Nursultan" to popular film titles.

Twitter user @1kle_ included Bohemian Nursultan and Avengers: Age of Nursultans among their suggestions.

While others, after a report appeared in business newspaper RBC, suggested the story may inspire the Russian authorities to rename Moscow after President Vladimir Putin

Twitter user @velirav posted: "I somewhat anxiously expect suggestions to rename Moscow to Vladimir."

While @elzadj asked: "I wonder if St Petersburg is to be renamed as St Putinsburg?"

The capital of Imperial Russia, St Petersburg was renamed Petrograd in 1914, then Leningrad after the death of Vladimir Lenin, in 1924, and back to St Petersburg after the fall of the Soviet Union.

The idea of giving the the Kazakh capital Nazarbayev's name was originally proposed in 2016 to mark the 25th anniversary of Kazakhstan's independence from the former Soviet Union.

Renaming cities

  • In the former Soviet Union, now Russia, authorities changed the name of Königsberg to Kaliningrad, after Mikhail Kalinin, one of the leaders of the Bolshevik revolution. Also, Stalingrad became Volgograd after Stalin's death in 1953
  • In Germany, Karl Marx Stadt became Chemnitz in 1990, after the country's reunification
  • More than 100 cities in India have changed their names since the end of British rule, including Madras to Chennai. Most recently, Allahabad was renamed Prayagraj, apparently to restore its ancient identity as a major Hindu pilgrimage centre
  • The capital of the Democratic Republic of Congo was renamed in the 1960s from Léopoldville, named after a Belgian king, to Kinshasa, the name of a village that existed in the same area
  • In Mozambique, the capital was named Maputo following the country's independence in 1975. Until then, it was known as Lourenço Marques, after the Portuguese navigator