By THÉRÈSE MARGOLIS
When Kazakhstan first gained its independence from the then-Soviet Union in late 1991, its future capital city of Astana, located on the world’s largest steppe along the banks of the Ishim River in the northern portion of the landlocked nation, was barely a village, with a total population of less than 300,000.
Known then as Aqmola (and, before that, as Tselinograd), the tiny town would, over the course of the next two decades years, undergo a major metamorphosis to become a thriving modern city with a population of well over 1 million that is now the major hub of political and economic activity for the world’s ninth-largest nation.
In fact, today Astana is Kazakhstan’s second-largest city, after it former capital of Almaty.
“The history of Kazakhstan is indivisibly linked to the history of Astana,” Kazakhstan Ambassador to Mexico Andrian Yelemessov told his guests on Tuesday, July 3, during a small diplomatic reception he hosted to commemorate the 20th anniversary of city’s proclamation as the north central Asian nation’s capital.
“In a span of less than 20 years … Astana was transformed from a small village into a booming and internationally recognized metropolis.”
Yelemessov, who used the occasion to double as the inauguration of his chancellery’s new seat in Mexico City, went on to explain that the relocation of Kazakhstan’s capital from Almaty in 1997 provided “a powerful incentive” for its economic development, and the high growth of business led to a surge in population.
“The business community has since developed dynamically,” he said.
“Today there are more than 128,000 small- and medium-sized businesses in the city.”
According to Kazakh government figures, in the 20 years since Astana became Kazakhstan’s capital, the volume of its investments has increased by almost 30 times, its gross regional product has increased by 90 times and its industrial output has increased by 11 times.
Yelemessov said that Astana has also become a pivotal center for the entire Eurasian region and a top destination for global forums and conferences, as well as a seat of international political power-brokering, including the ongoing Syrian peace talks.
Despite its geographic isolation and an abundance of surrounding land, Astana has also become a showcase of modern Kazakh architecture and technology, with lofty skyscrapers and massive auditoriums.
Paraphrasing his country’s president, Nursultan Nazarbayev, Yelemessov said that Astana today is the “heart of our national heritage and a symbol of the unfaltering faith of the Kazakh people,” with more than 100 nationalities and ethnicities represented inside its borders.
Yelemessov also spoke about his country’s relations with Mexico, which are still in their infancy since he first opened Astana’s resident embassy here three years ago.
He also said that his government is anxious to see Mexico establish a reciprocal chancellery in Astana in the near future.
Mexico’s two-way trade with the oil and gas behemoth is minimal, less than $70 million a year.
But Yelemessov said that he hopes to see that figure increase dramatically in the years ahead.
The ambassador noted that Mexico is now Kazakhstan’s second-largest trade partner in Latin America.
Currently, there are no joint-venture investment projects between Mexico and Kazakhstan.