Aktobe (Kazakh: А?т?бе / Aqtöbe / ??????), formerly known as Aktyubinsk (Russian: Актюбинск, until 1999), is a city on the Ilek River in Kazakhstan. With a population of 277,700, 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 "а?" (white) and "т?бе" (hill); the name is a reference to the heights on which the original 19th century settlement was located.


Founding and growth

The territory of modern-day Aktobe province has borne witness to the rise and fall of many Central Asian cultures and empires. The region has figured prominently in the history of the Kazakh "Little Horde" (Kaz. Кіші Жуз, Rus. Младший Жуз). The Kazakh war-leader Eset Batyr (Kaz. Есет Батыр) based his campaigns against the Dzungars from this area. His mausoleum is located 35 km. to the south of Aktobe city. Abulkhair Khan (1693 - 1748) was also based in this region.

In March 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.

Civil War

With its location on the Trans-Aral Railway, Aktobe was a strategic point much contested between the Red Army and their White opponents during the Russian Civil War. Kazakh and Russian inhabitants of Aktobe and its environs actively supported both sides in the conflict.

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.[2]

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.[3] 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.[4] 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.

Modern history

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.

Geography and climate

The Kargala River flows into the Ilek River on the outskirts of Aktobe

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 -41C, with an average of -24C. Summer temperatures can reach a high of 45C, with an average temperature of 31 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 ?она?, 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.


While Aktobe Province is the second-largest province in area in Kazakhstan, it has the second-lowest population density of 2.3 people per square km.[6] The 1999 Census estimated that approximately 682,600 people lived in the province, and over 250,000 people lived within the city of Aktobe. While the census does not enumerate ethnic breakdowns by province, Aktobe and Aktobe Province would appear to host a large Kazakh ethnic majority (55.6%).[7] Russians are the second-largest ethnic group (23.7%),[7] and smaller ethnic groups also inhabit the province, especially the city of Aktobe. Among these are sizeable Ukrainian, Tatar, Chechen, Armenian, Jewish, and Greek populations, among many others. The Volga Germans once maintained a large community in Aktobe, but since the early 1990s many of their number have emigrated to Germany. The population in this province is very mobile, and concrete numbers and percentages can rapidly become obsolete.

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.

Law and government

Government building

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.[8] A Russian military presence is maintained in the province at the Emba missile testing range.


New buildings in Aktobe

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.[10] 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.


Aktobe is host to a number of state and private institutions of higher learning, including Zhubanov State University and the West Kazakhstan Medical Academy. The military of Kazakhstan also maintains a pilot school in the city. During the Soviet Era many pilots were trained there.


World War II Memorial

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.

Two Russian Orthodox churches are located in Aktobe, three mosques, with the third mosque completed in 2006, as well as a Catholic and a Pentecostal church.

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.