Kyrgyzstan, formally the Kyrgyz Republic, was previously known as Kirghizia. Kyrgyzstan is a landlocked and mountainous country that is bounded on the north by Kazakhstan, on the west by Uzbekistan, on the south by Tajikistan, and on the east by China. Bishkek is the capital and biggest city.
Kyrgyzstan’s documented history stretches over 2,000 years and includes a diverse range of civilizations and empires. Although physically isolated by its rugged terrain – which has aided in the preservation of its old culture – Kyrgyzstan has historically served as a crossroads for many major civilizations, most notably as a stop on the Silk Road and other economic and cultural routes. Though it has long been inhabited by a series of autonomous tribes and clans, Kyrgyzstan has been repeatedly subjugated by foreign powers and gained sovereignty as a nation-state only after the Soviet Union’s dissolution in 1991.
Kyrgyzstan has remained an officially unified parliamentary republic since independence, despite the fact that it continues to face ethnic tensions, revolts, economic difficulties, transitional administrations, and political party disputes. Kyrgyzstan is a member of the Commonwealth of Independent States, Eurasian Economic Union, Collective Security Treaty Organization, Shanghai Cooperation Organization, Organization of Islamic Cooperation, Turkic Council, TÜRKSOYcommunity, and United Nations.
The bulk of the country’s 5.7 million inhabitants are ethnic Kyrgyz, followed by substantial minority of Uzbeks and Russians. The official language, Kyrgyz, is closely linked to the other Turkic languages, but Russian continues to be widely used, a remnant of a century-long multicultural policy. The majority (64 percent) of the people are non-denominational Muslims. Apart from its Turkic roots, Kyrgyz culture is influenced by Persian, Mongolian, and Russian influences.
Issyk Kul Lake is one of Kyrgyzstan’s most popular tourist destinations. Along its northern coast, there are many hotels, holiday resorts, boarding homes, and sanatoriums. The most popular beach areas are at Cholpon-Ata and neighboring towns such as Kara-Oi (Dolinka), Bosteri, and Korumdy. In 2006 and 2007, more over a million visitors visited the lake each year. However, owing to the region’s economic and political instability, the number has decreased in recent years.
Every area has attractions and difficulties for people interested in hiking and camping. Southern Osh, the region between Naryn City and the Torugart pass, and the mountains and glaciers around Karakol in Issyk-Kul are among the most popular camping destinations. Many tour businesses in Bishkek and the provincial capitals provide local guides and porters for hiring.
Skiing as a tourist sector is still in its infancy, although there is one reasonably priced and well-equipped base approximately a half-hour drive from Bishkek. Toguz Bulak’s ski base is 45 kilometers (28 miles) from Bishkek, on the route to the Issyk Ata valley. Outside of Karakol, in the Karakol Valley National Park, there is a ski base with three T-bars and high-quality rental equipment.
Kyrgyzstan is a landlocked Central Asian nation bordered by Kazakhstan, China, Tajikistan, and Uzbekistan. It is located between the latitudes of 39° and 44° N, and the longitudes of 69° and 81° E. It is the furthest away from the sea of any individual nation, and all of its rivers run into closed drainage systems that never reach the sea. The Tian Shan mountain range occupies more than 80% of the nation (Kyrgyzstan is often referred to as “the Switzerland of Central Asia” as a consequence), with the rest made up of lowlands and basins.
Issyk-Kul Lake, or Ysyk-Köl in Kyrgyz, is the biggest lake in Kyrgyzstan and, after Titicaca, the second largest mountain lake in the world. The Kakshaal-Too range, which forms the Chinese border, has the highest peaks. Peak Jengish Chokusu, at 7,439 m (24,406 ft), is the highest point and the northernmost peak above 7,000 m (22,966 ft) in the globe, according to geologists. Heavy snowfall in the winter causes spring floods, which can cause significant damage downstream. Mountain runoff is also utilized to generate energy.
Kyrgyzstan has substantial metal reserves, including gold and rare earth metals. Because to the country’s mainly mountainous geography, less than 8% of the land is farmed, with the majority of this located in the northern lowlands and the outskirts of the Fergana Valley.
Bishkek, the capital and biggest city in the north, has a population of around 900,000 people (as of 2005). The historic town of Osh, situated in the Fergana Valley on the border with Uzbekistan, is the second city. The Kara Darya, which runs west across the Fergana Valley into Uzbekistan, is the main river. It joins another important Kyrgyz river, the Naryn, over the border in Uzbekistan.
The Syr Darya, which formerly flowed into the Aral Sea, is formed by the confluence. It no longer reaches the sea as of 2010, since its water is diverted upstream to irrigate cotton crops in Tajikistan, Uzbekistan, and southern Kazakhstan. The Chu River also passes through Kyrgyzstan shortly before entering Kazakhstan.
The climate varies by area. The Fergana Valley in the south-western part of the country is subtropical and very hot in the summer, with temperatures exceeding 40 °C (104 °F). The northern foothills are temperate, while the Tian Shan has a climate that ranges from dry continental to arctic, depending on elevation. Temperatures in the coldest regions remain sub-zero for approximately 40 days in winter, and some desert areas receive continuous snowfall throughout this time. Temperatures in the lowlands vary from about -6 °C (21 °F) in January to 24 °C (75 °F) in July. Summer temperatures in the low-lying Fergana Valley to the south may reach the low 40s.
Enclaves and exclaves
In the Fergana Valley, there is just one exclave, the small hamlet of Barak (population 627). Uzbek territory surrounds the hamlet. It lies approximately 4 kilometers (2 miles) north-west of the Kyrgyz–Uzbek border, in the direction of Andijan, on the route from Osh (Kyrgyzstan) to Khodjaabad (Uzbekistan). Barak is administratively part of Kyrgyzstan’s Osh Region’s Kara-Suu District.
Kyrgyzstan has four Uzbek enclaves. Sokh (area 325 km2 (125 sq mi) and a population of 42,800 in 1993, although some estimates go as high as 70,000; 99 percent are Tajiks, the remainder Uzbeks) and Shakhimardan (also known as Shahimardan, Shohimardon, or Shah-i-Mardan, area 90 km2 (35 sq mi) and a population of 5,100 in 1993; 91 percent are Uzbeks, the remainder Kyrgyz); Chong-Kara is located on the Sokh River, halfway between the Uzbek border and the Sokh enclave. Jangy-ayyl is located approximately 60 kilometers (37 miles) east of Batken, on the Kyrgyz-Uzbek border near Khalmion.
There are also two Tajik enclaves: Vorukh (exclave area between 95–130 km2 (37–50 sq mi), population estimated between 23,000 and 29,000, 95 percent Tajiks and 5 percent Kyrgyz, distributed among 17 villages), located 45 kilometers (28 mi) south of Isfara on the right bank of the Karafshin river, and Kairagach, a small settlement near the Kyrgyz railway station.
In 2013, the population of Kyrgyzstan was projected to be 5.6 million people. 34.4 percent are under the age of 15 and 6.2 percent are above the age of 65. The nation is rural, with just approximately one-third of the people living in cities. The average population density is 25 persons per square kilometer.
The Kyrgyz, a Turkic ethnicity, are the nation’s biggest ethnic group, accounting for 72 percent of the population (2013 estimate). Other ethnic groups include Russians (6.0%), who live in the north, and Uzbeks (14.5%), who live in the west. Dungans (1.9 percent ), Uyghurs (1.1 percent ), Tajiks (1.1 percent ), Kazakhs (0.7 percent ), and Ukrainians (0.5 percent ) are among the smaller ethnic minorities (1.7 percent ). There are approximately 80 ethnic groupings in the nation.
The Kyrgyz have traditionally been semi-nomadic herders who live in circular tents called yurts and manage sheep, horses, and yaks. This nomadic practice is still alive and well in the summer, when herding families return to the high mountain pasture (or jailoo). Sedentary Uzbeks and Tajiks have historically cultivated the Fergana valley’s lower-lying irrigated land.
Since independence, Kyrgyzstan’s ethnic makeup has shifted dramatically. The proportion of ethnic Kyrgyz has risen from about 50% in 1979 to over 70% in 2013, while the percentage of ethnic groups like as Russians, Ukrainians, Germans, and Tatars has decreased from 35% to around 7%. Since 1991, a significant number of Germans, who totaled 101,000 in 1989, have moved to Germany.
Kyrgyzstan’s main religion is Islam, with 80 percent of the population practicing Islam, 17 percent practicing Russian Orthodoxy, and 3 percent practicing other faiths. According to a Pew Research Center study from 2009, Kyrgyzstan has a greater proportion of Muslims, with 86.3 percent of the population practicing Islam. The majority of Muslims, 64 percent, are non-denominational Muslims, while approximately 23 percent are Sunni, following the Hanafi school of thought. There are a few Ahmadiyya Muslims in the nation, although they are not recognized by the government.
State atheism was promoted throughout the Soviet era. However, Kyrgyzstan is now a secular state, despite Islam’s increasing political influence. For example, there has been an effort to arrange for officials to go on hajj (the pilgrimage to Mecca) tax-free.
While many people in Kyrgyzstan see Islam as a cultural backdrop rather than a devoted daily practice, prominent leaders have voiced support for reinstating Islamic principles. Tursunbay Bakir-Ulu, the human rights ombudsman, for example, said, “It is not unexpected that in this age of freedom, there has been a return to spiritual roots not just in Kyrgyzstan, but also in other post-communist republics. It would be unethical to create a market-based society that had an ethical component.”
Furthermore, Bermet Akayeva, the daughter of Kyrgyzstan’s former President Askar Akayev, said in a July 2007 interview that Islam is spreading throughout the country. She highlighted that numerous mosques have lately been constructed and that the Kyrgyz are becoming more devoted to Islam, which she saw as a positive trend “That is not a negative thing in and of itself. It helps to maintain our culture moral and clean.” There is a modern Sufi order that follows a somewhat different version of Islam than mainstream Islam.
Other religions prevalent in Kyrgyzstan include Russian Orthodox and Ukrainian Orthodox forms of Christianity, which are mostly followed by Russians and Ukrainians, respectively. A population of 5000 to 10000 Jehovah’s Witnesses meet in congregations that speak Kirghiz, Russian, and some Chinese and Turkish. A tiny minority of ethnic Germans are also Christians, mostly Lutherans and Anabaptists, with a Roman Catholic population of around 600 people.
A few Animistic traditions remain, as do Buddhist influences such as the attaching of prayer flags to holy trees, however others consider this practice to be based in Sufi Islam. There are a few Bukharian Jews in Kyrgyzstan, although most emigrated to other countries, mostly the United States and Israel, after the Soviet Union collapsed. There is also a tiny population of Ashkenazi Jews who escaped to the nation from Eastern Europe after WWII.
The Kyrgyz parliament overwhelmingly approved a bill on November 6, 2008, raising the minimum number of followers for recognizing a religion from 10 to 200. It also made “aggressive action intended at proselytism” illegal, as well as religious involvement in schools and any activity by unregistered groups. On January 12, 2009, President Kurmanbek Bakiyev signed it.
There have been numerous reported police raids on peaceful minority religious gatherings, as well as allegations of authorities planting fake evidence, but there have also been several court rulings in favor of religious minorities.
Kyrgyzstan’s central bank is the National Bank of the Kyrgyz Republic. Kyrgyzstan was the poorest nation in the former Soviet Union, and it is also the poorest country in Central Asia today. According to the CIA World Factbook, one-third of the country’s population was poor in 2011. According to UNDP, the degree of poverty will continue to rise: in 2009, 31% of the population was poor, but this number increased to 37% in 2011.
Despite the support of major Western lenders such as the International Monetary Fund (IMF), the World Bank, and the Asian Development Bank, Kyrgyzstan has struggled economically since independence. Initially, they were the consequence of the Soviet trade bloc’s disintegration and the subsequent loss of markets, which hampered the republic’s transition to a demand economy.
The government has cut spending, eliminated most price subsidies, and implemented a value-added tax. Overall, it seems that the government is dedicated to the transition to a market economy. The administration aims to create a pattern of long-term steady growth via economic stability and reform. Kyrgyzstan joined the World Trade Organization (WTO) on December 20, 1998, as a result of reforms.
The fall of the Soviet Union and the subsequent loss of its large market had a significant impact on the Kyrgyz economy. In 1990, 98 percent of Kyrgyz exports were destined for other areas of the Soviet Union. As a result, the nation’s economic performance in the early 1990s was poorer than that of any other former Soviet republic save war-torn Armenia, Azerbaijan, and Tajikistan, as industries and state farms failed as their usual customers in the old Soviet Union vanished. While economic performance has improved significantly in recent years, especially after 1998, challenges persist in ensuring sufficient fiscal revenues and maintaining an adequate social safety net. Remittances from around 800,000 Kyrgyz migrants working in Russia provide for 40% of Kyrgyzstan’s GDP.
Agriculture is a significant economic sector in Kyrgyzstan. By the early 1990s, the private agriculture sector was accounting for one-third to one-half of certain harvests. Agriculture accounted for 35.6 percent of GDP and almost half of employment in 2002. Kyrgyzstan’s topography is hilly, which facilitates cattle farming, the country’s most important agricultural industry, and the resultant wool, meat, and dairy products are valuable commodities. Wheat, sugar beets, potatoes, cotton, tobacco, vegetables, and fruit are the most important crops. Because imported agrichemicals and gasoline are so expensive, most farming is still done by hand and horse, as it was decades before. Agricultural processing is an important part of the industrial economy and one of the most appealing areas for foreign investment.
Kyrgyzstan has abundant mineral resources but little stocks of petroleum and natural gas; it imports both petroleum and gas. Significant quantities of coal, gold, uranium, antimony, and other precious metals are among its mineral reserves. Metallurgy is a significant sector in which the government wants to attract international investment. The government has aggressively promoted foreign participation in gold extraction and processing at the Kumtor Gold Mine and other locations. Because of the country’s abundant water resources and hilly topography, it is able to generate and export significant amounts of hydroelectric electricity.
Nonferrous metals and minerals, woollen goods and other agricultural products, electric energy, and some engineering items are the main exports. Petroleum and natural gas, ferrous metals, chemicals, most equipment, wood and paper goods, certain foods, and some building materials are all imported. Germany, Russia, China, Kazakhstan, and Uzbekistan are among its most important trading partners.
In terms of telecommunication infrastructure, the Kyrgyz Republic ranks lowest in Central Asia according to the World Economic Forum’s Network Readiness Index (NRI) – an indicator used to determine a country’s degree of progress in information and communication technology. Kyrgyzstan was rated 118th overall in the 2014 NRI rating, the same as in 2013.