The Republic of Kazakhstan is the largest country in Central Asia. With Russia to the north and north west, the Caspian Sea to the east, Turkmenistan, Uzbekistan, Kyrgyzstan, the Aral Sea to the south, Kazakhstan to the southwest, and China to the east. Kazakhstan is also the ninth largest in the world. Astana is the capital of Kazakhstan since 1997 and has recently (2019) been renamed Nur-Sultan. The city is located in the northcentral part of Kazakhstan, on the banks of the Ishim River. Nur-Sultan was previously called Akmolinsk (till 1961), Tselinograd (1961–92), Aqmola (1992–98), and Astana (1998–2019).
With the disintegration of the erstwhile USSR (Union of Soviet Socialist Republics) in 1991, the 15 constituent republics became independent. At this time Kazakhstan was already under the able leadership of Nursultan Nazarbayev, an ethnic Kazakh who had been appointed the First Secretary of the Communist Party of the Kazakh Soviet Socialist Republic in June 1989. Kazakhstan declared its independence from USSR on December 16, 1991. He was elected as the first president of Kazakhstan. President Nazarbayev held the office ever since and remained the undisputed leader of the country for almost 4 decades till his surprise resignation on March 20, 2019. It is out of love, respect, and honour for Nur-Sultan Nazarbayev that the decision was made to rename the capital Astana to Nur-Sultan.
With the establishment of the Republic of Kazakhstan as an independent country, the city of Almaty was declared to be the capital and the administrative center. Almaty is the largest city of the country and home to about 8 percent of the total population. It is part of the UNESCO Creative Cities Network (music). In 1997, President Nursultan Nazarbayev gave his approval to the decree that proposed a transfer of the capital from Almaty to Astana (now Nur-Sultan).
Nur-Sultan was founded as Akmolinsk in 1824 as a Russian garrison and became an important commercial and administrative center by 1868. In 1961, the Russian administration changed its name to Tselinograd meaning “City of the Virgin Lands”. With Kazakhastan gaining independence, the name of the city was changed to Aqmola meaning “White Grave”, in 1992. In 1998 after Aqmola became the capital city its name was once again changed to Astana, meaning “Capital”. The Kazak government has spent large sums of money on the development and beautification of the city since it became the capital.