Kazakh President Nursultan Nazarbayev said last Friday that he is considering changing the name of his country.
During a visit to Atyrau he said: “The name of our country ends in the suffix ‘stan’ which the names of other countries in Central Asia also end in. However, for example, people from around the world are interested in Mongolia, whose name is free of that suffix yet only 2 million people live there.”
For the president it is important for Kazakhstan to not be associated with the poverty and authoritarianism of other “‘stan’ countries” such as Pakistan, Afghanistan, Uzbekistan, Tajikistan, Kyrgyzstan and Turkmenistan. It is important for him to attract tourists and investors, which is why he proposed changing the country’s name to “Kazakh Eli” which, as Professor Marek Stachowski, a Turkologist from the Department of the Languages of the Jagiellonian University told me, translates as “The Kazakh State” (literally “Their Kazakh State”).
The meaning of the current name is also similar: the suffix “stan” means land or area and comes from the Turkish language (in the West, its equivalent is the Germanic “land”, which occurs, for example, in the English name “Poland” or the German “Deutschland”). In the post-Soviet sphere there already exist examples of similar manoeuvres of governments. For example, the name Nagorny Karabakh is an amalgamation of the Russian “nagorny” (“hilly”), the Turkish “kara” (“black”) and the Persian “bagh” (“garden”). Thus in order to depart from the Russian-Turkish-Persian name Armenians in their proto-state called it Artsakh.
Nazarbayev values simplicity. At the beginning of the 1990s there were ideas for the future capital, then called Akmola, to be known as “Nursultan” or just “Kazakhstan”. Ultimately, an even simpler variant was chosen: “Astana”, which in English means the same as “capital”.
It is not impossible, however, that if Nursultan Nazarbayev – or Papa, as he is called in his country – changes the Kazakh nation’s name the countries of Central Asia will be somewhat less often confused in the world. This would help, for example, the American secretary of state. Connecting the names of Kyrgyzstan and Kazakhstan, John Kerry made his first gaffe in his new role. What he said sounds like… “Kirzakhstan”.
This text originally appeared in Polish under the title “Kirzachstan”. The original text is available here: http://www.new.org.pl/1644,post.html
Translated Filip Mazurczak
Zbigniew Rokita works for Nowa Europa Wschodnia. He is a student of Russian Studies at the Jagiellonian University in Krakow, Poland.