James Sawyer

Andrew W. Mellon Undergraduate Fellow in the Humanities

20122013 Forum on Peripheries

James Sawyer

Near Eastern Languages and Civilizations; Modern Middle Eastern Studies

CAS, 2013

Astana, Cultural Capital on the Fringes of Tradition and Modernity

Since its installation as the new capital of Kazakhstan in 1997, Astana has served as an urban synecdoche for the country's post-Soviet nation-building project. Boasting a futuristic architectural landscape punctuated with abstract references to the past, the city melds universalizing aesthetics with a mythological historical narrative. My paper explores Kazakhstan's nation-building project through the activities of TÜRKSOY, a multinational cultural organization self-styled as the "UNESCO of the Turkic World," which declared Astana the first capital of the Turkic world in 2012. I argue that as a counterpoint to the city's narrative of the future projected through architecture, TÜRKSOY has helped project a narrative of the past onto the supposedly blank slate of the cityscape, albeit one that has been carefully edited. Actively reaching into both the future and the past, Astana sits on the margins of tradition and global modernity.