Omsk


Omsk is a city in southwest Siberia in Russia, the administrative center of Omsk Oblast. It is the second-largest city in Russia beyond the Urals. The distance from Omsk to Moscow is 2,700 km.

In the Russian Empire, it was the seat of the Governor General of Western Siberia, and later of the Governor General of the Steppes. For a brief period during the Russian Civil War in 1918–1919, it was proclaimed the Capital of Russia, and held the imperial gold reserves.

Situated on the banks of the north-flowing Irtysh, at its confluence with the Om River, at an altitude of 87 m, and on both branches of the Trans-Siberian railway, 2,700 km east of Moscow, it is the cross-junction of highways in the central part of Russian Federation. Passenger and freight boats along the Irtysh and the Ob Rivers provide connection from coal and mineral-mining towns in Kazakhstan, as well as oil, natural gas and lumber-rich northern Siberia. Scheduled and charter flights link Omsk Central Airport with multiple domestic and international (primarily, German) destinations, making it an important air gateway to Siberia and the Far East.

The wooden fort of Omsk was erected in 1716 to protect the expanding Russian frontier, along the Ishim and the Irtysh rivers against the Kyrgyz nomads of the Steppes. In the late 1700s, stronger works of brick were erected on the right bank of the Om; of these, the original Tobolsk and the restored Tara gates still stand, along with the original German Lutheran Church, an armory, a military jail, and commandant's house.

In the 1800s and the early 1900s, Omsk became the administrative center of Western Siberia and the Steppes (Kazakhstan), acquiring a few churches and cathedrals of various denominations, mosques, a synagogue, the governor-general's mansion, a military academy. Ink was joked to have been sold by the buckets. As the frontier receded and military importance diminished, the town fell into lethargy; it was during the mid-1800s that Dostoevsky lived and wrote in exile here.

The new boom began with the construction of the Trans-Siberian railway in 1890s, when the merchants flocked to the city on the rail/river junction. Many a trade company opened stores and offices here, building an elaborately decorated district of the city, and bringing the hustle-and-bustle of modern transportation, means of communications and entertainment. Foreign powers, including the British, Dutch and Germans, opened consulates to represent their commercial interests. The pinnacle came with the lavish Siberian Exposition of Agriculture and Industry in 1910, for which a complex of buildings and fountains was constructed. In line with the popularity of World Fairs of the day, the exposition influenced observers to foretell the wonders of the "Chicago of Siberia". Many of the period's buildings survive (though none from the expo), and the architecture gives the city center a distinguished historical Siberian town flavor.

Shortly after the 1917 revolution, the pro-monarchy "white" forces seized control of the city. The "Provisional Government of Russia" was established in 1918, headed by the polar explorer and decorated war hero Admiral Kolchak. Omsk was proclaimed the Capital of Russia, and its central bank kept the Imperial gold reserves, guarded by the Czechoslovakian garrison trapped in the chaos of World War I. The city proved to be a key to power in Western Siberia; eventually, Kolchak, the government, and the gold retreated along the Trans-Siberian eastward to Irkutsk, and the bolshevik "red" forces took control in 1919.

The Soviet government preferred the young Novonikolayevsk, now Novosibirsk, to be the designated center of Western Siberia, prompting the mass transfer of administrative, cultural and educational functions from Omsk, dampening the city's growth and sparking a rivalry between the two cities continuing to this day. It was during and after World War II that Omsk received a new boost: many industries were evacuated away from Russia's western front in 1941. In the event of a German victory during the Battle of Moscow, Omsk was to become the provisional Soviet capital. However, the concentration of military enterprises also had negative effects, as until 1990s, the city stayed closed to foreigners, and, after 1990, the collapse of the Soviet military demand led to high unemployment.

Since the 1990s, Omsk, along with all of Russia, has been struggling to find its place in the new world. The former party elite, new businessmen and the criminal world mixed together and fought for control of the city's most profitable enterprises. The most notorious cases involved Sibneft, and were reported by The New York Times, yet nothing was ever resolved. Until 2000, the feud between the regional and the municipal authorities made at least two points of view available to the public, and some work was done for the public good. This includes the establishment of the annual Siberian International Marathon (SIM), the celebration of City Days, construction of new leisure parks and renovation of the historic center. Nevertheless, the feud drained the city's resources, and two mayors were forced to leave, with a replacement all but appointed by the region's governor, in his post since the communist era. Currently, all of the region's important power levers, including the courts and the media, are in the hands of the regional government. The city is underperforming the Russian averages on economic growth and quality of life. On March 2, 2005, the Consulate General of the Republic of Kazakhstan was opened, the first consulate in Omsk since 1917.

The major museums in Omsk are the Omsk Vrubel Art Gallery and the State Historical Museum, located in the former bourse building and the governor-general's mansion, respectively.

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