Vozrozhdeniya Island

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This article is about the former island. For the album by folk metal band Arkona, see Vozrozhdeniye.
Native name: Kazakh: Возрождение аралы
Uzbek: Vozrojdeniye oroli
Vozrozhdeniya Island.jpg
Location Central Asia
Population 1,500 (as of 1980s)
Rebirth Island joins the mainland in mid-2001.

Vozrozhdeniya Island (Russian: Остров Возрождения, Ostrov Vozrozhdeniya, which translates as Rebirth Island or Renaissance Island) was an island in the Aral Sea during the Soviet Union. Now the former island is owned by Uzbekistan and Kazakhstan (as of the early 1980s). In 1954, a biological weapons test site called Aralsk-7 was built there and on the neighboring Komsomolskiy Island.[1]


Vozrozhdeniya was once a small island; however, the island began to grow in size in the 1960s as the Aral Sea dried up due to its feeder rivers being dammed by the Soviet Union for agricultural projects.[2] The shrinkage of the Aral continued and accelerated, and Vozrozhdeniya became a peninsula in mid-2001 when the channel to its south dried up completely and became a land bridge.[3] Upon the disappearance of the Southeast Aral Sea in 2008, Vozrozhdeniya effectively ceased to exist as a distinct geographical feature. It briefly reemerged as a peninsula in 2010 when the eastern basin was flooded by heavy snow melt.


Located in the central Aral Sea, Vozrozhdeniya Island was one of the main laboratories and testing sites for the Soviet Union's Microbiological Warfare Group. In 1948, a top-secret Soviet bioweapons laboratory was established here, which tested a variety of agents, including anthrax, smallpox, plague, brucellosis, and tularemia.[4] In 1971, a release of weaponized smallpox from the island infected ten people, of whom 3 died.

In the 1990s, word of the island's danger was spread by Soviet defectors, including Ken Alibek, the former head of the Soviet Union's bioweapons program.[5] It was here, according to recently released documents, that anthrax spores and bubonic plague bacilli were made into weapons and stored. The main town on the island was Kantubek, which lies in ruins today, but once had approximately 1,500 inhabitants.

The laboratory staff members abandoned the small island in 1992.[6] Many of the containers holding the spores were not properly stored or destroyed, and over the last decade many of these containers have developed leaks.

In 2002, through a project organized and funded by the United States with Uzbekistan assistance, 10 anthrax burial sites were decontaminated.[7]

In popular culture[edit]

  • In the video game Command & Conquer: Generals, the island was under U.S. occupation but was captured by the fictional Global Liberation Army.
  • The area and its former Soviet biological weapons base and laboratories was featured in a mission in the video game Call of Duty: Black Ops.
  • In the novel The Home Team: Weapons Grade, by Dennis Chalker and Kevin Dockery, the villains dig two metric tons of "Anthrax 836" up from an impromptu dump site 11 km from Rebirth Island for use in a terror plot.[8]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Dembek, Zygmunt F., Julie A. Pavlin, and Mark G. Kortepeter (2007), “Epidemiology of Biowarfare and Bioterrorism”, Chapter 3 of: Dembek, Zygmunt F. (2007), Medical Aspects of Biological Warfare, (Series: Textbooks of Military Medicine), Washington, DC: The Borden Institute, pp 51-52.
  2. ^ Michael Wines (9 December 2002). "Grand Soviet Scheme for Sharing Water in Central Asia Is Foundering". The New York Times. Retrieved 29 October 2012. 
  3. ^ NASA Visible Earth - “Rebirth” Island Joins the Mainland, Aral Sea
  4. ^ Tom Mangold; Jeff Goldberg (2001). Plague Wars: The Terrifying Reality of Biological Warfare. Macmillan. pp. 46–47. ISBN 9780312263799. 
  5. ^ Hoffman, David (2009). The Dead Hand: The Untold Story of the Cold War Arms Race and Its Dangerous Legacy. Random House. p. 460. ISBN 9780385524377. 
  6. ^ Pala, Christopher (2003), Anthrax Island, The New York Times, January 12, 2003.
  7. ^ Powell, Bill (16 September 2002). "Are We Safe Yet? For all the warnings, there hasn't been another attack. But the hard work of enhancing homeland security has only just begun. Here's what we need to do". CNN. 
  8. ^ Chalker, Dennis and Dockery, Kevin (2006). The Home Team: Weapons Grade. New York, New York: Avon Books. p. 373. ISBN 9780061746901. 

External links[edit]

Coordinates: 45°09′N 59°19′E / 45.150°N 59.317°E / 45.150; 59.317