Astrakhan Region
// GENERAL INFORMATION

Today is Oct. 7, 2006 3:23 PM (GMT +0400) Moscow

Endless steppes and the green banks of the Volga; the ice of the
Northern Caspian and flowering lotus fields-Astrakhan Region located
in the Caspian Lowlands of southwestern Russia is all of these
things. Its rich historical past, the unique beauty of its natural
landscapes, and age-old traditions of hospitality have attracted
tourists for a long time. The region was formed as part of the
Russian Federation on December 27, 1943 by decree of the Supreme
Soviet Presidium of the USSR, although Astrakhan Province was
actually formed by Peter the Great in November 1717. It has an
exceptionally favorable geographical location as a link between the
Northern Caucasus and southern Russia and between Kazakhstan and
Central Asia. It also connects Russia with Iran via the Caspian Sea.
Astrakhan Region extends 120 km from west to east between Kalmykia
and Kazakhstan and 375 km from north to south along the Volga and
Akhtuba rivers to the Caspian Sea. It covers an area of 44 100 km2 or
0.3% of the area of the Russian Federation and borders on Kazakhstan
in the east, Volgograd Region in the north and northwest, and the
Republic of Kalmykia in the west.


Despite the region's nearness to the sea, it has a severe dry
continental climate, with annual precipitation ranging from 180-200
mm in the south to 280-290 mm in the north; most of the precipitation
(70-75%) falls in the warm season. Winter precipitation is in the
form of snow, wet snow, and rain. In summer, torrential rains are
accompanied by thunderstorms and sometimes hail. The average yearly
temperature is from 8.5 to 10 °C with a maximum of +42 °C and a
minimum of -30 °C. About 70% of the region is desert or semidesert.
The topography is flat with salt dome uplifts.


Astrakhan Region has been Russia's "fish plant" for the past 400
years. It is known for sterlet soup, sturgeon, and black caviar and
is the capital of the Caspian fisheries. Fish are not only caught
here, but are also processed into high-quality products. Astrakhan's
processing plants dry and smoke Caspian roach (also called vobla) and
prepare balyk [cured steaks of sturgeon and other similar fish],
Caspian herring, and various canned fish.

The region is made up of 11 rural districts, 6 cities (the largest
are Astrakhan, Akhtubinsk, Kamyzyak, Znamensk, and Kharabali), and
442 villages and other small communities. The capital is the old
Russian city of Astrakhan situated on the scenic banks of the Volga
River. The city lies 1534 km southeast of Moscow on islands of the
Volga delta and is known for its large number of bridges over the
branches and channels of the Volga that pass through it.

The first written mentions of Astrakhan date from the 13th century
when the Astrakhan Khanate was formed in the Lower Volga after the
collapse of the Golden Horde. For several centuries, Astrakhan was
the crossroads of trade routes between Europe and Asia.

Today, Astrakhan (pop. about 484 000) is an important industrial and
cultural center and a major cargo transfer point from rail to sea and
river transport and vice versa. The city's main industrial sectors
are shipbuilding, the light and food industries, and engineering and
metalworking. Znamensk is a city of missile specialists. It is a
relatively young city that grew up from mud huts and tents, and its
history is inseparably linked with the Kapustin Yar test range.
Through the efforts of its residents, the streets of Kapustin Yar
gradually became green. Thousands of trees were planted in parks and
around houses, barracks, and soldiers' messes. Everyone from generals
to soldiers and pensioners to first-grade pupils had their own
"personal trees" to care for.

Akhtubinsk (pop. 50 800) is a regionally administered district center
292 km north of Astrakhan. Two railway stations (Vladimirovka and
Akhtuba) on the Volgograd-Astrakhan line and a river wharf are
located in the city, and the Moscow-Astrakhan and the
Volgograd-Astrakhan highways pass through it on the right and left
banks of the Volga, respectively.

The city of Akhtubinsk was formed in 1959 from the communities of
Vladmirovka, Petropavlovka, and Akhtuba and a military housing
complex. Its industries include a shipbuilding and repair yard, a
brickyard, a canning plant, a dairy, a meat-packing plant, and a
bakery. Akhtubinsk is also the transfer point from which the Bassol
Company ships salt extracted from Lake Baskunchak. The institutions
of higher education include a branch of the Moscow Aviation Institute
(MAI). The city's main point of interest in the memorial complex
dedicated to aviation and the test pilots who perished.

Kamyzyak (pop. 15 800) is a district center 35 km south of Astrakhan.
The city was founded in 1973 on the Volga delta in the Caspian
Lowlands. It is close to the Astrakhan I railway station, and the
highway to Astrakhan passes through it. Present-day Kamyzyak is the
center of an agricultural district with food-industry companies. A
research institute for irrigated vegetable and melon cultivation is
also located here.

Narimanov (pop. 11 600) is a district center 48 km northwest of
Astrakhan in the Caspian Lowlands on the right bank of the Volga. It
is 40 km from the Trusovo railway station on the Astrakhan-Gudermes
line and is just off the Astrakhan-Volgograd highway. The city was
formed from the town of Nizhnevolzhsk in 1984 and named in honor of
the Soviet political and party figure N.N. Narimanov. Narimanov is
the site of the Lotus (Lotos) plant, which produces superstructure
modules of floating drilling units.

Kharabali (pop. 19 100) is a district center 142 k from Astrakhan in
the Caspian Lowlands on the left bank of the Akhtuba River (an arm of
the Volga). The Astrakhan-Saratov railway line runs through the city.
It has been a city since 1974, and during this time, a vegetable
canning plant and dairy have been built and are in operation here and
a local history museum has been established.

Archeological monuments include the 13th-century city of Sarai-Batu,
the former capital of the Golden Horde, discovered 40 km southeast of
Kharabali, and a Kalmyk Buddhist monastery (khurul) built after 1812,
discovered 70 km south of the city.

The first inhabitants of what is now Astrakhan Region were Sarmatian
tribes. Their descendents, the Ases, who received a charter (tarkhan)
from Batu Khan, gave their name to the city of Astrakhan. The
Astrakhan Khanate that formed was a typical feudal state with a
population of nomadic cattle herders. Astrakhan was considered a
major commercial center where trade was conducted or through which
merchants from Venice, Khorezem, Bukhara, Kazan, the Crimea, and
Russia transported goods to other countries. The territory's
remoteness and the demand for labor attracted large numbers of
Russian migrants, who quickly populated Astrakhan and formed the
settlements of Sianova, Bezrodnaya, Terebilovka, Soldatskaya, and
Yamgurcheeva around it. Tatars and Armenians who had settled near the
city likewise formed their own Tatarskaya and Armyanskaya
settlements.

Today, the region's ethnic mix includes nearly 130 nationalities.
Russians make up most of the population (72%) followed by Kazakhs
(13%), mainly in Volodarsky and Krasnoyarsky districts. Next come
Tatars (7.2%), mainly in Privolzhsky and Narimanovsky districts;
Ukrainians (2%); Chechens (1%); Kalmyks (0.8%); Azerbaijanis (0.5%);
Belarussians and Nogais (0.4% each); Armenians and Dargins (0.3%
each); Gypsies, Turkmen, and Jews (0.2% each); and others (1.5%).
After centuries of coexistence, the boundaries between nations and
their languages, customs, and cultures have disappeared. Astrakhan
Region is considered one of Russia's most multinational regions,
mainly as a result of migration from former Soviet republics and many
other parts of the country. Most migrants come from Kazakhstan, which
shows in the large number of Kazakhs in the region's total
population.

At the same time, however, the demographic situation in Astrakhan
Region is deteriorating just as it is in the rest of Russia. Figures
showing a decrease in the resident population for the past 20 years
are disturbing.

The number of births is less than the number of deaths in all of the
region's population centers except Krasnoyarsky District and the city
of Znamensk; in other districts (Ikryaninsky, Volodarsky,
Kharabalinsky, Narimanovsky, and Akhtubinsky), the social demographic
situation is considered difficult. The number of deaths over the
number of births is increasing, and birthrates are falling even as
the number of women of childbearing age is increasing.

The average age of people living in the region is 35.7 years and the
population distribution by age group is as follows: children from 0
to 15 years, 24.2%; men and women from 16 up to pension age [60 for
men and 55 for women], 57%; and men and women of pension age, 18.8%.
The number of registered marriages among young people between 18 and
25 is decreasing, while the number of divorces is increasing. Over
the last several years, the number of pensioners has remained almost
unchanged at the same time as the proportion of the population of
working age and under has been decreasing, leading to gradual aging
of the region's population. About 240 000 pensioners are registered
at social welfare agencies and receive monetary and food aid along
with pensions.

Out of the total population of Astrakhan Region, 67% live in urban
areas and only 33% in rural areas.

HISTORY

Astrakhan is an old, hospitable city under the dazzling southern sun,
the pearl of the Lower Volga long known as a major industrial center
not only in Russia, but also in Europe. Astrakhan has been called the
"Fishing Capital", the "Gateway to the Caspian"; and the "Venice of
the Volga". All of these names reflect the geographical and economic
position of this outpost and transit center at the mouth of a great
river where vital water and land routes intersect.

The region's position at the meeting point of East and West has
determined its historical and cultural development. The Lower Volga
and Northern Caspian regions have a unique history as areas where the
tides of different civilizations mingled and new cities were born,
including the capitals of once powerful states like Itil, the center
of the Khazar Kingdom in the 9th century, and Sarai-Batu, the capital
of the Mongolian state known as the Golden Horde.

In 1242, Batu Khan, the grandson of Genghis Khan, made the Lower
Volga the center of his great state. Sarai-Batu was a city of
splendid palaces and mosques and a center of skilled tradesmen that
stood at the historical crossroads of the Great Volga caravan route
and the Great Silk Road leading from China to Europe and Rome. The
history of Astrakhan itself goes back to the heyday of the Golden
Horde.

After the Astrakhan Khanate was annexed to Russia in 1556, the city
was moved from the right bank of the Volga to the left, where a
Russian fortress (Kremlin) was built in 1558. The Artilleriyskaya (or
Pytochnaya), Krymskaya, and Zhitnaya towers are the oldest ones in
the Kremlin. Altogether, seven of the Kremlin's guard towers have
been preserved, two of which (Krasnaya and Artilleriyskaya) have been
turned into museums. The buildings of Uspensky Cathedral built in
1710 and the Troitsky Monastery with its late-17th century refectory
halls are splendid examples of old Russian architecture that add to
the beauty of the Kremlin complex, which has become an open-air
museum. The Kremlin's 80-m-high bell tower ornamented on top with old
chiming tower clocks nearly 3 m in diameter will amaze you with its
grandeur and beauty.

With the annexation of Astrakhan Territory, Russia gained an outlet
to the Caspian Sea for trade with eastern countries. Beginning in the
17th century, Astrakhan won an international reputation as a supplier
of prized fish products, such as black caviar and various kinds of
sturgeon.

Astrakhan acquired the status of a provincial city in 1717; and Peter
the Great established a naval fleet, shipyards, and a port to expand
the Great Volga trade route when he visited Astrakhan in 1722. This
had considerable influence on the city's subsequent development, and
it became one of the main seaports and shipbuilding centers of
southern Russia.

The names of the best Russian architects of the 18th and 19th
centuries are associated with the Venice of the Volga, and it is not
by chance that Astrakhan is numbered among Russia's most historically
important cities. The Astrakhan Historical Museum founded in 1837 is
housed in a building constructed in 1911 right in the city center.
Its huge collection of 400 000 items includes unique archeological
and numismatic collections, a rare set of Russian porcelain and
glass, and the Gold Storeroom, where gold and silver jewelry and
weapons of the Scythian and Sarmatian periods (1st millennium B.C.)
are exhibited. Another rare exhibit is the skeleton of a mammoth
three m high with tusks more than five m long, which inhabited the
Lower Volga more than 100 000 years ago. The museum's collection of
the flora and fauna of Astrakhan Territory is also of continuing
interest.

Despite its long and turbulent history, Astrakhan has retained its
distinctiveness. As in the past, the 16th century Kremlin in the city
center defines its appearance. It long ago became the symbol of
Astrakhan, from which the old streets and quarters of the city opened
out like a fan. The Volga River as a symbol of Russia and its
greatest transport corridor and cultural axis uniting different
peoples and cultures is also part of the Astrakhan lands.

RESOURCES

Astrakhan Region is rightly considered the pearl of the Caspian. Due
to its location in the delta of the Volga River, which flows for more
than 400 km through the region, the territory has an abundance of
water resources. The Caspian Sea and the great Volga are its greatest
assets. Water occupies about 10% of the region; there are nearly 900
rivers in the Volga delta, the deepest being the Bakhtemir, Staraya
Volga, Kizan, Bolda, and Kigach rivers. The region also has no equal
in the world in its abundance and variety of valuable fish species.
Fish are the region's main resource base: more than 70 species of
fish are found in the Volga and Caspian Sea alone, including a unique
shoal of sturgeon varieties (Russian sturgeon, beluga, and stellate
sturgeon). Most of the black caviar and sturgeon supplied to the
world market comes from Astrakhan Region. Eight fish hatcheries in
the region breed sturgeon and salmon and more than 25 million young
bream and sazan [a member of the carp family] are raised annually.

Astrakhan is a territory of numerous islands, steppes, and a large
number of salt lakes. Sagebrush-saltwort deserts and dry
(desertified) steppes divided by a wide belt of meadows and shrubs
along the main channels of the Volga occupy about 70% of the region.
There are also more than 700 salt lakes and 1300 salt marshes, many
with huge salt reserves. The largest lake is Lake Baskunchak, which
has an area of 115 km2. The Baskunchakskoe deposit produces nearly
80% of all the salt in Russia, and production of bromine salts from
the deposit is currently being set up. The huge lake in the hot
desert and the solitary mountain has attracted people since ancient
times, and figured in many legends and tales of the early nomads.

Soils in the region vary from light chestnut soil in northern
districts, brown semidesert soils in more southerly districts, and
floodplain soils in the Volga-Akhtuba floodplain and the Volga delta.
Alkali and saline soils are found among all types.

Astrakhan Region is the only place in Russia where the vegetation
ranges from shoreline to desert plants. It includes fodder,
industrial, food, and medicinal plants. The combination of these
varieties has created unique plant communities in which 750-850
species of higher plants and more than 700 species of lower plants
such as algae have been identified. More than 400 species of vascular
plants are found in the Volga-Akhtuba floodplain and the Volga delta.
These mainly belong to six families, which make up half the flora of
the Volga delta. Certain rare species are also encountered, including
20 that are vanishing from the region like the dwarf iris, water
chestnut, and sacred lotus. Occurrences of rare ferns are of special
interest.

Forests cover only slightly more than 1% of Astrakhan Region. Typical
species include hardwoods (oak, ash, and elm), softwoods (willow,
poplar), and shrubs (rose willow, oleaster). The forests protect
water bodies in the region and are a favorite place for recreation.

The wildlife of this beautiful territory is rich and surprising.
Slow-moving camels and swift saigas [an Asian antelope] graze on the
boundless steppes, and whole rookeries of Caspian seals can be seen
on the icefields of the Northern Caspian. Wild boars, raccoon dogs,
and ermines inhabit the forests of the Lower Volga; and beavers,
muskrats, and otters live along the numerous rivers and canals.
Nearly 2000 species of insects have been counted. The Lower Volga and
its delta are among the world's richest bird habitats and nesting
sites. More than 200 bird species have been recorded here, of which
60 are permanent residents and 23 are listed in the Red Book.
Waterfowl hunting is popular in the region. The region's wildlife, as
a valuable asset, is under government protection.

Astrakhan Region is distinguished by its rich natural resources,
which include a large number of important economic minerals such as
oil, gas, sulfur, salt, bromine, and iodine. The region's oil fields
are the second largest in European Russia in terms of reserves; and
the Astrakhan gas condensate field, with its deep gas reservoirs and
high hydrogen sulfide content, is considered to be the largest in
Europe. The region also has the necessary raw material base for
producing building materials. For example, cement materials such as
argillaceous chalk, marl, and limestone are found on the
Baskunchak-Kharabali Plain. Deposits of building sand and sandstone
have also been found in the region, and deposits of brick earth and
glass sand are being worked. Large deposits of gypsum, clay-gypsum,
mineral pigments, and gaize [a fine-grained sandstone] are being
explored and developed.

Conditions in Astrakhan Region are favorable for the development of
recreation and health centers for the population. Mineral waters and
the therapeutic sulfurous silty muds of Astrakhan Region's mineral
lakes form the basis of the region's recreational resources. One of
the best known lakes is Lake Tinaki located 30 km from Astrakhan. Its
brines have sulfide-chloride and sodium-magnesium contents of 127 to
310 g/l. The lake has an area of 90 km2 and has 23 000 tons of usable
mud reserves. Tinakskaya mineral water is also produced here.

The region has many historical monuments and unique nature preserves
with organized tours.

ECONOMY

Astrakhan Region is part of the Volga economic district. The region's
favorable geographical location has had a strong influence on its
economic development. The Volga River is a major artery for water
routes from countries on the Caspian Sea to the Black, Mediterranean,
Baltic, and North seas. Astrakhan is a natural through trade center
and important transportation hub at the meeting place of Europe and
Asia with their profitable transportation routes. An international
airport has been opened and airplanes now fly to almost everywhere in
the world. An international seaport that will be Russia's
second-largest port in terms of size and traffic is under
construction. Despite the political and economic crises that followed
the collapse of the Soviet Union, Astrakhan Region made a successful
recovery and is now one of Russia's most upcoming regions.

A diversified structure and high potential characterize the region's
industry. The region has abundant natural resources that include
fish, minerals, land, oil, gas, and gas condensate. There are five
oil and gas fields and one high-sulfur gas condensate field. Experts
estimate that the gas condensate field alone has enough reserves for
many centuries; there are currently 80 producing wells and a stock of
130 operating wells. In addition, five gas pretreatment units have
been put into operation. According to existing data, Astrakhan's oil
fields are approximately the fifth largest in the world.

Production of economic minerals is the basis of the regional economy.
Other sectors such as the fish processing, food, light, chemical, and
engineering industries and water transport are actively developing.
Production of stable gas condensate ensures fuel self-sufficiency.
Furthermore, over the past ten years the share of the fuel and energy
sector in the regional economy has been increasing, and considering
the prospects for development, this trend is expected to continue.

The fishing industry is one of the oldest industries in Astrakhan
Region. Fish canning plants and fish processing factory ships process
the catch.

The engineering industry mainly specializes in ship building and
repair for the fishing industry, metal-cutting machinery,
compressors, and a variety of other devices and equipment.

Economic development is impossible if the region cannot attract
investments; therefore, the government of Astrakhan Region is
implementing measures aimed at creating the conditions for active
capital investment, as well as creating a legislative basis to
protect invested funds.

The efforts of the Astrakhan City Administration and City Council to
stabilize the city's socioeconomic development are producing results.
For example, an upward trend has been noted in the fuel and energy
complex and operation of the food and construction industries has
stabilized. Moreover, in the last few years, Astrakhan Region has led
the country in housing construction growth rates. Foreign investors
from Bulgaria have participated in solving this problem.

The banking sector and financial institutions are expanding, and
currency and share markets have started operating. Twenty-six banks
and branches of other Russian banks operate in Astrakhan, and
favorable conditions for investors are being created.

The region's first financial and industrial group, Astrakhan
Shipbuilder (FPG Astrakhansky korabel), has been set up and includes
large shipbuilding companies, the Volga-Caspian Joint Stock Bank
(Volgo-Kaspiysky AB), and investment and finance companies.

The Astrakhan Chamber of Commerce and Industry represents the
interests of the business community and its associations. It takes an
active part in ensuring effective cooperation between businessmen and
government agencies, defends the interests of the region's
businesses, and participates in business development programs. The
Chamber unites more than 100 companies, organizations, firms, banks,
unions, and associations in the region and acts in accordance with
the Law of the Russian Federation "On Chambers of Commerce and
Industry in the Russian Federation."

The companies and organizations of Astrakhan and Astrakhan Region
have noticeably expanded the scope of their export-import operations
in recent years. Once they have incorporated, enterprises actively
search for new sales markets for their products and find reliable
customers, including foreign customers.

The Astrakhan Paint Factory (Astrakhansky lakokrasochny zavod) was
one of the finalists in the All-Russian competition "The 100 Best
Goods in Russia." This once again confirms the stability of a company
that even in 1995 had acquired the name of "Russian Economic Leader"
and become one of the country's 5000 leading companies. Its products,
which include varnish, paint, household chemical goods, and packaging
paper, long ago found their market niche for goods produced by
domestic industry.

Salt has been produced at Lake Baskunchak for nearly 150 years. The
largest producer of salt for industry and agriculture today is AO
Bassol.

Astrakhan shipbuilders have been working with various European firms
for five years. Astrakhan's AO 3rd International Shipyard (
Astrakhansky sudostroitelny zavod im. III Internatsionala) has
received a lucrative order from Holland for the construction of three
dry cargo ships. The Astrakhan Shipbuilder financial and industrial
group has concluded another contract for the construction of three
sea-going dry cargo ships for Hungary. The general contractor is AO
Marine Shipbuilding Yard (Morskoi sudostroitelny zavod).

The management of AO Astrakhan Glass Fiber (Astrakhanskoe
steklovolokno) worked successfully with a Czech firm to deliver its
products and has now concluded a profitable contract with the
Romanian firm Stizomat to supply fiberglass thread and glass fiber.

The city is pinning great hopes on partnerships. Two agreements have
been concluded with twin cities in America and the cities of
Ljubljana (Slovenia) and Ruse (Bulgaria). Astrakhan also has close
ties with neighboring Russian cities such as Rostov-on-Don, Saratov,
Stavropol, and Volgograd.

AUTHORITIES

The Administration of Astrakhan Region headed by the Governor is the
highest executive body. The Governor is Astrakhan Region's highest
official.

The executive branch of the government develops and implements

* financial and investment policy in Astrakhan Region;
* government measures to develop the social sphere, improve the
well-being of the population, and protect the work and health of
the people.


It also adopts measures to

* uphold the law and protect the rights and freedoms of the
citizens of Astrakhan Region;
* develop entrepreneurship and restrict monopolistic activity.


District and city administrations and the regional Administration
exercise executive authority in the region.

The Astrakhan Regional Representative Assembly in the highest
legislative body.

The Astrakhan Regional Court, district (city) courts, and the
Arbitration Court of Astrakhan Region exercise judicial authority in
Astrakhan Region.

CULTURE AND ART

Astrakhan Region is considered the industrial center of the Lower
Volga, but it is also the home of many leading cultural and artistic
figures. Cultural points of interest include theaters, a
conservatory, a philharmonic, a combined historical and architectural
museum preserve, the Kustodiev Art Gallery, a large number of
museums, and of course the Kremlin.

The Kustodiev Gallery founded in 1918 is the pride of Astrakhan. Its
exhibits include paintings by Boris Kustodiev himself and other
masters of Russian painting. History lovers will be interested in
visiting the Kremlin, which houses exhibits of the Astrakhan Museum
of History and Architecture. Its collection includes more than 250
000 items that reflect the rich history of the Lower Volga from
Mesolithic times to the present. Numerous art schools, the Vlasov Art
College, and cultural institutions train professionals in eight
different cultural specialties. The teaching staff includes many
honored cultural workers and artists.

The Valeriya Barsova and Mariya Maksakova festivals that attract both
Russian and foreign performers are held in Astrakhan.

The Mussorgsky Music School (the oldest music school in the Volga
region), the Astrakhan Conservatory, the Astrakhan Regional
Philharmonic, and a new music theater preserve and advance
Astrakhan's rich musical culture.

Astrakhan is also the home of many famous talented Russians,
including film producer Vladimir Menshov [best known for the film
Moscow Doesn't Believe in Tears], actor Vladimir Steklov, pop singer
Igor Nadzhiev, and poet Velimir Khlebnikov.

The works of Khlebnikov, who loved the broad expanses of the Volga
River and the beauty of the Caspian Sea, are filled with love for the
people. He said, "One of the secrets of creative work is to visualize
the people you are writing for and find words in the center of life
of these people."

Official site of the Administration of Astrakhan Region:
http://www.adm.astranet.ru/

© 1991-2006 ZAO "Kommersant. Publishing House".

--Boundary_(ID_WdC2muKjUbF6TNv+ckWi5 g)--

From: Emil Lazarian | Ararat NewsPress