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.