From Wikipedia: History - Russian and Soviet eras
"A unit of Siberian cossacks from Omsk founded a huge fortress on the upper Ishim in 1824, which later became the town of "Akmolinsk". During the early 20th century, the town became a major railway junction, causing a major economic boom that lasted until the Russian Civil War.
Kazakhstan hosted in the Stalinist era a series of Gulag-like labour camps, in total 11 camps that housed up to hundreds of thousands of internees and their families. Outside Astana, there once stood the ALZHIR camp, a Russian acronym for the Akmolinskii Camp for Wives of Traitors of the Motherland, one of the most notorious in the Gulag archipelago, which was reserved for the spouses of those considered "enemies of the people" by the government under Joseph Stalin.
In 1961, it was renamed "Tselinograd" ("Virgin Lands City") and made capital of the Soviet Virgin Lands Territory (Tselinny Krai). The city was at the centre of the Virgin Lands Campaign led by Nikita Khrushchev in the 1950s, in order to turn the state into a second grain producer for the Soviet Union. The high portion of Russian immigrants in this area, which later led to ethnic tension, can be traced to the influx of agricultural workers at this time. Additionally, many Russian-Germans were resettled here after being deported under Joseph Stalin at the beginning of World War II, when Nazi Germany invaded the Soviet Union."
From BBC, a great description of Kazakhstan!
The Vigilant Citizen has done supurb research on the city of Astana, see their page here!
Also, a special thanks to Incoming!!!!! over at PHEKKWITZ AHOY!!!!! for pointing out this place to me.
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