Aktobe (Kazakh: Ақтөбе; Russian: Актюбинск or Aktyubinsk; alternative transliterations: Aqtöbe) is a city on the Ilek River in Kazakhstan. With a population of 320,000, it is the capital of Aktobe Province. Aktobe has a mixed ethnic community, including Kazakhs, Russians, Ukrainians, Tatars, Uyghurs, Chechens, Armenians, Jews and Greeks. Before perestroika the city also was home to a sizeable German community.
The name "Aktobe" comes from Kazakh "ақ" (white) and "төбе" (hill); the name is a reference to the heights on which the original 19th century settlement was located.
In March of 1869 a Russian military fort with a garrison of 300 was built at the confluence of the Kargala and Ilek Rivers, along the Orenburg - Kazalinsk caravan route. From this period Slavic settlers began to immigrate to the region in order to farm, and very soon neighborhoods had been built around the fort. In 1874 the fort was expanded in size, and streets were laid out to and from the fort's gate. In 1891 the settlement was labelled a district city, and officially named "Aktyubinsk": Актюбинск. In the late 19th and early 20th centuries the settlement rapidly expanded in size. While the 1889 population was listed as 2600, the 1909 population had increased more than four times to 10716 official residents. The physical characteristics of the city had developed as well, and by the turn of the century the city could boast two churches, a seminary, a Tatar mosque, a "Russian - Kyrgyz" boys' school and girls' school, a clinic, a bank, a post office, a city park, a movie theater and two mills. The Trans-Aral Railway was extended through the city in 1901, and in the years before World War I industry and economy began to develop in the town, including the construction of an electric factory, a brick factory and an annual trade fair.
The city was affected by the Russian Revolution of 1905, and strikes and riots took place during the period 1905 - 1907. Bolshevik revolutionaries were very active in the city (at least according to official Soviet histories). On January 8, 1918 Bolsheviks moved to seize control of the local soviet and by January 21, 1918 Bolshevik power was secured over the city.
In mid-1918, elements of the Bolshevik First Orenburg and Twenty-eighth Regiments, commanded by G.V. Zinoviev, were effectively besieged in Aktobe by forces commanded by Ataman Dutov. Dutov, commanding approximately 10,000 rifles, 5,000 sabres, and 500 jigits (warriors) of the Alash Orda movement's newly-formed Second Kazakh Mounted Regiment, attacked Aktobe in October, 1918. The attack only reached as far as the village of Ak Bulak.
In the autumn of 1918, Mikhail Frunze's Fifth Army and Mikhail Tukhachevsky's First Army were ordered to break through and clear the railway, in order to allow Red Army forces to link up with Bolsheviks along the Syr Darya. White pressure on Aktobe was relieved by Frunze's capture of Uralsk, Orenburg and Orsk in early 1919, but by April Dutov and Admiral Kolchak were able to launch a combined counteroffensive. Aktobe finally fell to the Whites on April 18, 1919, once again severing Bolshevik rail links to Central Asia. In this offensive, the Whites also managed to capture and execute Amangeldy Imanov, a Kazakh military leader who had been operating in the Aktobe region with the support of Moscow.
By June 1919, Frunze had received reinforcements and had moved back on to the offensive. On September 10, Aktobe was secured by the Fifth Army after an eight-day battle. 20,000 of Kolchak's troops were captured, along with the easternmost part of the city. From this point, Bolshevik forces were able to control the railway to Tashkent.
An All-Kazakhstan Conference of Soviet Workers was held in the city on March 13, 1920. This was the first of a series of regional organizing conferences held by the Bolsheviks that ultimately led to the creation of the Kirgiz Autonomous Soviet Socialist Republic - the entity that would ultimately develop into the Soviet Republic of Kazakhstan.
In 1932 Aktobe was named capital city of Aktobe Province. The city developed extensively during World War II as a result of the evacuation and reconstruction of factories from the Ukraine and from Moscow, including a worker's cooperative, a ferroalloy factory, and an X-ray factory. Chromium likewise began to be mined and processed in the province. In the 1960s, an extensive expansion of the city was undertaken by Soviet authorities, resulting in the construction of the city "Center" and sports stadium.
Since Kazakhstani independence in 1991 the city's society and economy have dramatically changed. Older heavy industries have declined and been replaced in importance with the energy sector. The city has continued to expand with new construction and with many Kazakh immigrants moving to the city from the surrounding countryside.
Aktobe Province is located in Western Kazakhstan, and is the second largest province by area in Kazakhstan. The city of Aktobe is located where the Kargala and Ilek rivers meet. It is in the north-central part of Aktobe province. The Russian city of Orenburg is located some 200 km to the northwest, while the Russian city of Orsk is about 150 to the northeast. The area around the city of Aktobe is mostly flat steppe, with low hills rising to the northeast. Other rivers, such as the Emba and the Ural River, flow through the province. The province is bordered on the south by the Aral Sea. The natural vegetation cover around Aktobe city is steppe, while the southern parts of the province are semi-desert.
Aktobe's climate is continental, with wide seasonal variations in temperature. In winter, temperatures can reach a low of -30C, with an average of -18C. Summer temperatures can reach a high of 30C, with an average temperature of 25 C. The weather can change rapidly, especially during spring and autumn (the especially windy days in March when the weather changes are known locally as the Бес Қонақ, or "Five Guests". Precipitation usually occurs in early spring and late autumn/early winter, and is otherwise sporadic throughout the year. Overall, Aktobe receives about 300mm of precipitation per year.
Aktobe has a fast-paced apartment-building boom, possibly due to the expansion of the oil industry and immigration from nearby villages. The construction boom is connected with the general economic growth in the province and in Western Kazakhstan.
Aktobe is the capital city of Aktobe province. An akim (governor) is appointed by the President of the Republic of Kazakhstan to act as chief executive. Aktobe has both a province and a municipal government (whose chief is also called Akim). The Municipal akim is appointed by the province akim.
Province headquarters for the Kazakh National Security Committee (KNB), the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and for the Registry of the Republic of Kazakhstan are located in Aktobe.
Aktobe is the Headquarters for the Western Military District of the Republic of Kazakhstan. This district's responsibilities include defence of the Caspian Sea region, and the district is commanded by a Rear-Admiral. A Russian military presence is maintained in the province at the Emba missile testing range.
Agriculture and ranching play a large role in Aktobe province's economy and in rural employment. Beef, mutton and dairy products are major products in this area. Heavy industry was established in Aktobe during the Second World War. Many of today's fastest-growing industries in Aktobe are related to food production (such as the company "Ramazan"), construction ("Dastan") or vodka distilling ("Wimpex" and "Ayazhan"). A number of foreign companies, notably German and Austrian firms, have established partnerships with local light industry firms. Both copper and chromite are mined in the Khromtau district of Aktobe province.
However, the major engine of economic growth in Aktobe and Aktobe province has been the development of energy resources. The Chinese National Petroleum Company (CNPC} owns a 60% stake in AktobeMunaiGaz, and is investing heavily in oil and natural gas extraction from Aktobe province oilfields. A pipeline has been constructed to transport oil to Xinjiang (see Energy and Utilities).
The revenues from oil and gas extraction have helped to develop banking, real estate, and support services in Aktobe.
There are two theaters in Aktobe, as well as one Children's Palace theater.
There are also two museums in Aktobe: the Province Museum, dedicated to the natural and human history of Aktobe province, and the Aliya Moldagulova museum. There is also a geological exhibition in the city.
There are a large number of outdoor bazaars and indoor shopping centers located across the city. Most unusually, a major indoor shopping center shares space with the Nurdaulet mosque in the city Center.
An international airport offers daily flights to Moscow, Almaty, Astana, Aktau, Atyrau, Baku and Erevan.
Bus service connects Aktobe with villages in Aktobe Province and across the border with Russia.
Major oil and natural gas pipelines transect Aktobe and the surrounding region. The Keniyak-Orsk pipeline, 400 km pipeline with an annual capacity of 7.5 million tons, carries oil from the Aktobe fields to a refinery in Orsk, Russia. The Kazakhstan-China Pipeline has transported oil from Aktobe's fields to Atyrau since 2003. The Keniyak-Kumkol phase of the pipeline is scheduled for completion in 2011, and will link Aktobe's oil fields to the current Atasu-Alashankou pipeline supplying crude oil to Xinjiang. Aktobe is connected to the Bukhara-Urals natural gas pipeline.