Kazakhstan's Almaty: 1,000-Year Old City, or PR Stunt?
Authorities in Kazakhstan have declared that Almaty, which was the capital until 1998, is one millennium old.
To celebrate this purported landmark, the city held celebrations capped off with a firework display on September 18.
Kazakhstan, like other Central Asian nations, has something of a dubious fondness for round dates. The people of Almaty were certainly quite surprised. Schoolchildren have long been told that Almaty first appeared on the map in 1854, when Fort Verniy was erected along the Malaya Almatinka river. That outpost grew in the following decade into a town known as Almatinsk, and then subsequently Verniy.
So how did Almaty suddenly grow more than 800 years older all of a sudden is a mystery to many residents. The date has been greeted with a fair dose of scorn online.
News website Kazday put together some of the most acid responses.
Sergei Kovalenko, writing under the handle Fizik, remarked: “In 2000, the people of Almaty marked the 150th anniversary of their city. Today, Almaty is already knocking on 1,000 years.”
And @altrbgdt was even more sarcastic: “This business about Almaty’s 1,000th anniversary reminds me of the novel 1984, in which people were told that two times two is five and everybody worshipped lies.”
Popular blogger Alisher Yelikbayev (@yelikbayev) quipped: “Because of a trip to Astana I missed the 1,000th anniversary of Almaty. Hopefully I won’t miss the 1,200th anniversary. According to our historians, that will pass in seven years time.”
And then @normkorm: “Next year our officials will show us some stone age tools they found and we will celebrate Almaty’s one millionth anniversary!”
Another news website Nur.kz, meanwhile, took the celebrations at face value and breathlessly listed cities that in its estimation are far less ancient than Almaty. “The shocking list of cities” includes Moscow, Saint Petersburg, New York, Berlin, Liverpool, Manchester, Tokyo, Oslo and Warsaw, the website pointed out.
Joking aside, Kazakhstani academics really do believe that Almaty’s story began way back then.
Karl Baipakov, director of the Margulan Institute of Archaeology in Almaty, opined at a recent conference that artifacts show that a settlement was build on the site much more one millennium ago. As Baipakov contends, the history of human settlement in the area of Almaty dates back to the paleolithic era and some civilization developed in the bronze and early iron ages.
That seems like scant evidence for describing Almaty as an ancient city culture, however. Not that this has deterred the head of the city’s cultural management department, Kairat Kulbayev, who has called for writing a letter to UNESCO to recognize Almaty’s ancient status and to rewrite school textbooks according to the new orthodoxy.