Kyrgyzstan (the Kyrgyz Republic or Kyrgyzstan) is a state in the north-east of Central Asia bordering Kazakhstan, Tajikistan, Uzbekistan and China. The area is 199,951 km². The population is 6,256,700 (2018), of which Kyrgyz are 52%, Russians are 22%, Uzbeks are 13%, there are also Ukrainians, Germans, and Tatars, about 70 nationalities in all. The state language is Kyrgyz, and the majority of believers are Sunni Muslims and Christians. The currency is som. It enters the CIS. The capital is Bishkek (966,000 inhabitants). Other large cities are Osh, Jalalabad and Tokmak.
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Geography and Climate
Kyrgyzstan lies within the mountain systems of the Tien Shan (the highest point is Pobeda Peak, 7,439 m) and Pamir-Alai. More than 90% of the territory lies at altitudes higher than 1,500 m above sea level. Mountain peaks are often covered by glaciers, the largest of which are South and North Inilchek and Kaindy. Mountain ranges are divided by valleys and hollows (Issyk-Kul, Chui, Fergana).
The main rivers are Naryn, Chu and Talas. The rivers of Kyrgyzstan are used as rafting routes. There are lots of small and large lakes (about 3,000), among which Lake Issyk-Kul, “the pearl of the Tian Shan”, stands out. The climate is continental: average temperatures range from -1 to -8°C in January in the valleys and up to -27°C in the highlands, in July 15-27°C and 5°C respectively. Annual rainfall ranges from 180 mm in the east to 1,000 mm in the southwest. Temperatures on the coast of Issyk-Kul are less contrasting and moderate all year round.
Flora and fauna
Vegetation of Kyrgyzstan is very diverse (4 thousand species of plants) and has a clearly marked altitude zone: the foothills are covered with semi-deserts and dry steppes with fragments of pistachio woodlands, and above 1,200 m above sea level begins the forest belt. Forests are formed by Tien Shan spruce, fir, and juniper. The high mountains (above 3000-3500 m) are covered with alpine meadows.
The animal world, protected in the Issyk-Kul and Sary-Chelek nature reserves and the Ala-Archa National Park is represented in the mountain forests by bear, lynx, wolf, wild boar, marten, snow leopards, mountain goats and sheep, numerous small mammals and birds, and in treeless foothills – mainly rodents, birds and reptiles. Kirghiz, though having ancient and rich cultural traditions, like the majority of peoples formed as nomadic herders, do not have any significant architectural monuments.
The most ancient traces of human habitation on the territory of Kyrgyzstan found in the Central Tien Shan (near Lake Issyk-Kul) and in the Fergana Valley date back to the Paleolithic. Paleolithic tools were also found in the south, in the Kapchigai area. Neolithic settlements were found in the vicinity of Bishkek and Naryn. In the caves in the valley of the Sary-Dzhaz River, rock carvings of animals were found. The tribes who lived here in V-III millennia B.C. made stone implements, clay crockery, used bow and arrow. The beginning of cattle breeding and agriculture belongs to this time. Later, in the Bronze Age, tools made of bronze and then of copper were used more and more often. Separate groups of farmers and cattle-breeders lived in different districts of Kirgizia.
The economic way of life and social structure of the population changed considerably in the 7th-6th centuries B.C. Use of iron tools and weapons became wide spread, nomads united and formed tribal unions, agricultural communities used slave’s work. The first of the known associations of tribes, the Sakis, formed in the north of the territory in question and existed from the 7th to the 3rd century B.C. Later, in the 2nd century B.C., a part of the Sak and Massaget tribes joined the tribal union headed by the Usun tribe, which existed till the 5th century A.D. In the 2nd century B.C. the southern regions were part of the Parcani state, and from the 1st to the 4th century A.D. they were under the dominion of the Kushan Empire.
At the beginning of the 8th century A.D. the political power was in the hands of the Turkic confederation of Turkic tribes, and in the middle of the century these lands were seized by the Karluks tribal union. During this period the number of cities and other settlements in the valleys of the Chu and Talas Rivers increased. Farmers began to actively trade not only with nomadic tribes, but also with large caravans, traveling through the Chu River valley on the Silk Road from Eastern Europe to Southeast Asia. It was at this time that the Kyrgyz first appeared here.
The first written mention of the Kyrgyz dates back to 569. It is reported that in that year a Byzantine ambassador received as a gift a Kyrgyz slave. Kyrgyz tribes are also mentioned as allies of the Turks in their unsuccessful campaigns against the Uighurs in the 8th-9th centuries. In the early 13th century the Kyrgyz were conquered by the Mongols and only in 1399 regained their independence.
In the 16th century some Kyrgyz tribes became dependent on the Mongols, while others were subordinated to the Kazakhs. For several centuries, the Kyrgyz were at the mercy of some or other neighboring peoples. In the middle of the 18th century, the Kyrgyz formed certain clan-tribal relations, which remained in the 20th century. The head of each clan was an elder – aksakal (white beard). The elders of the various clans of the tribe were members of the tribal council. Small tribes were headed by chiefs – manaps.
In the early 19th century the Kyrgyz fell into dependence on the Kokand Khanate. The Kirghiz sought to free themselves from the yoke of the khans, in different areas of the country there were spontaneous uprisings: in 1842-1843 – in Issyk-Kul region, in 1845 – around Osh, uprisings Tamlas and Chui Kirghiz occurred in 1857-1858, the largest broke out in 1873-1876.
The annexation of the Kyrgyz lands to Russia began in the mid-1850s. The Russian army, followed by immigrants from the European part of Russia, captured the best and most fertile lands. In 1867 Northern Kyrgyzstan was included in the Semirechenskaya oblast of Russia, and in 1876 the southern part of the country was included in the Syr Darya and Fergana oblasts.
Between 1903 and 1913 the population of Kyrgyzstan decreased by about 7-10% and the number of herds by 27%. Revolts against Russia occurred at Andijan in 1898 and 1916. As a result of suppression of these uprisings the Kyrgyz population decreased by about 30-40% (some died, some were forced to emigrate to Chinese Turkestan or Afghanistan) and the number of cattle decreased by 60-70%.
After the Russian Revolution of 1917, two political organizations of Kyrgyzstan united in the struggle for national independence: the Shura-i-Islam group (Council of Islam) and the nationalist party Alashorda. However, in April 1918 the central government of Bolsheviks, whose emissaries conducted an intensive agitation among Kyrgyz population of miners’ settlements and cities, announced about Kyrgyzstan’s incorporation into Turkestan ASSR. Basmachi units offered armed resistance to Soviet power, but failed to make serious progress. The final suppression of resistance occurred at the end of 1920.
The Soviet regime has made significant changes in the life of the Kyrgyz. In 1917 equal rights for men and women were proclaimed, in 1921 polygamy and kalym (bride price) were forbidden by law. In 1924 Kyrgyzstan was formed as a separate autonomous province of Kara-Kyrgyzstan. In May, 1925 the province was renamed as the Kyrgyz Oblast, and in February, 1926 it received the status of the Kyrgyz ASSR.
In 1920-1930s Kyrgyz was rapidly developing industry. By 1940 the Kyrgyz coal mines gave 88% of all hard coal used in Central Asia. Non-ferrous metallurgy, antimony and mercury production, food industry (sugar production) and some light industries were also developing. Beginning in 1929, collectivization of agriculture, which had previously been in the hands of semi-nomadic tribes and clans, was carried out. Opponents of collectivization – rich cattle breeders and landowners (beys) – were persecuted, killed, imprisoned; some were deprived of their property and condemned to starvation. By 1941 in Kyrgyzstan there were approx. By 1941 there were approximately 300,000 cattle-breeding collective farms in Kyrgyzstan.
As a result of the Stalinist repressions, which reached their peak in 1936-1938, the scientific and creative intelligentsia and the Muslim clergymen were almost completely annihilated. The repression destroyed books and manuscripts in Arabic.
The industrialization of Kyrgyzstan continued in parallel with the development of agriculture even after World War II. In the early 1980s a movement emerged to establish contacts with the Kyrgyz living in other areas of the USSR, China, and Afghanistan.
A democratic movement began in Kyrgyzstan in 1990. In October 1990 a democratic coalition succeeded in achieving elections in which the first president of Kyrgyzstan was elected. On August 31, 1991, less than two weeks after the putsch in Moscow, the government declared the independence of the Kyrgyz Republic.
Kyrgyzstan faced economic difficulties associated with the transition to a market economy, and interethnic conflicts intensified. Relations with the Uzbek minority deteriorated: inter-ethnic clashes occurred in the Osh province. Similar demonstrations took place in neighboring Tajikistan in relation to the Kyrgyz minority.
In 2004 aggregate GDP reached only $2.4 billion, $430 per capita. Kyrgyzstan is the second poorest country in the region after Tajikistan. More than half of the population is engaged in agriculture and animal husbandry.
As of early February 2005, Kyrgyzstan’s external public debt reached $1.92 billion. The Kyrgyz economy shrank by almost half over 1990-1996, largely due to the shutdown of industrial enterprises in the north of the country following the mass exodus of skilled Russian workers. Industry provides only a quarter of Kyrgyz GDP. According to observers, industry in agrarian Kyrgyzstan was artificially created during the Soviet era and can hardly be restored. About 40% of the industrial output is provided by gold mining, which is the only actively developing sector of the republic (in 2003, Kyrgyzstan produced 22.5 tons of gold, coming third in the CIS after Russia and Uzbekistan).
In Kyrgyzstan, according to various estimates, more than 70% of state enterprises have been privatized. Most of the large enterprises were controlled by relatives of the first president Akayev (see details).
The controlling stakes of the Kyrgyz energy sector holdings – Electric Stations OJSC and Kyrgyzneftegaz OJSC – are state-owned.
The population of Kyrgyzstan is 5.05 million people (current statistics for 2006). This is much more than in 1959 (2.065 million), 1970 (2.935 million), 1979 (3.523 million), 1989 (4.258) and 1999 (4.823). Until the 1960s, the population of the republic grew rapidly due to migration and natural increase, which was especially significant among rural Kyrgyz, Uzbeks, and other Central Asian peoples. The main source of population growth after the 1970s was a gradually decreasing natural increase with an increasing migratory outflow of the Russian and Russian-speaking population.
The core of the population of the republic – 69.5% – are Kyrgyz. The Kyrgyz live all over the country and prevail in most rural areas. Russians make up 9% of the population, most of them live in urban areas. Uzbeks, who make up 14.5% of the population, are concentrated mainly in Osh oblast. Other ethnic groups with significant numbers include Dungans, Ukrainians, Germans, Tatars, Jews, Kazakhs, Uighurs, and Tajiks.
The majority of those who left the country after 1991 were Russians, representatives of other Slavic peoples, as well as Germans and Jews. The Kyrgyz, who initially moved into the country intensively from neighboring Tajikistan and the PRC in the early years of independence, after 2000 left the country, mainly for economic reasons to the Russian Federation and Kazakhstan (see Gastarbeiters).
The main part of the population in the south of modern Kyrgyzstan is made up by Kyrgyz (majority) and Uzbeks. In addition to them, Tajiks, Uighurs, Dungans and others form a noticeable part of the population. Among them, only slightly more than 1% are Russians and representatives of Russian-speaking diasporas.
Most of the population is concentrated in the valleys – Chui on the border with Kazakhstan and Ferghana on the border with Uzbekistan, in the valleys of the Naryn and Talas Rivers and in the Issyk-Kul hollow.
History of Kyrgyzstan
The history of Kyrgyzstan covers the periods from ancient petroglyphs to the Great Silk Road, from the Soviet Union to the adoption of independence by the country. Kyrgyzstan has long been a historically important point in the center of Asia, as it was located at the confluence of trade routes and empires. Situated right between the Chinese, Persian, Arabic, Indian, Turkic, and Russian empires, the land that forms Kyrgyzstan today has changed the history of many peoples, religions, cultures, and travelers.
Central Asia and the areas around the Tien Shan have been inhabited for thousands of years, as evidenced by petroglyphs and numerous archaeological finds. The city of Osh in southern Kyrgyzstan is one of the oldest settlements in Central Asia and has been known since ancient times. Some of the early settlers were nomadic pagans who practiced Tengrism, an ancient monotheistic religion centered around nature. Before the Battle of Talas, between the Chinese Tang Dynasty and the caliphate of the Arab Abbasid in 751 CE, Central Asia was largely Buddhist territory, although other religions and cultures were certainly present, coming along with travelers and traders of the Great Silk Road. The battle at Talas was the turning point after which Islam became the dominant religion and began to have a huge impact on the region as a whole. The Karakhanids were one of the earliest Muslim dynasties, and they introduced many ancient Turkic elements to Islam. The Karakhanids were in power from the 9th to the 11th centuries, during which time they built the Burana Tower (all that remains of the capital of their empire, Balasagun today) and the mausoleums at Uzgen.
Beginning in the 13th century, when Asia was conquered by the Mongols, the people who became the ancestors of today’s ethnic Kyrgyz migrated from the territory of the Siberian Yenisei River to the Tian Shan. The Tian Shan remained under Mongol control for several hundred years, ruled here by Kalmyks, Oirats, and Dzungars, among others.
In the 18th century, the Qing dynasty in China reached its greatest size, and the Oirats became a vassal state. With the emergence of the Kokand Khanate in the early 1700s, Kyrgyzstan came under the rule of its rulers. The history of Kyrgyzstan records that during this time the region was an important destination for travelers on the Silk Road crossing Asia. Today tourists can see with their own eyes Tash Rabat, a 15th century stone caravanserai in Naryn. The languages and cultures of many countries, thanks to the merchants and wanderers traveling through what is now Kyrgyzstan, have had an iconic influence on the people living in the area.
Central Asia was a major spoils of the Great Game of Imperial Expansion in the 1800s, played between Russia to the north and Great Britain to the south. During this time, the influence of the Kokand Khanate waned, giving minor rulers in the regions much more power. When Alimbek Datka, the ruler of Alai (southern Kyrgyzstan), was killed in a palace coup, his wife, Kurmanjan, became the territory’s new leader in 1862. In 1867, the Alai region was annexed by the Russian Empire; Kurmanjan contributed to the peaceful resolution of the issue. The 2014 film chronicles the life of Kurmanjan, who is now considered an important part of Kyrgyzstan’s history.
From 1867 to 1918, Kyrgyzstan was part of the Russian Empire as part of the Governorate General of Turkestan. Turkestan remained a colonial outpost for a long time, fairly isolated from the capital in St. Petersburg, but the advent of railroads at the turn of the 20th century encouraged the arrival of large numbers of Russian settlers who occupied and used the already limited land and water resources. This led to the Basmachi uprising in 1916 and then to severe repression. Many Uzbeks, Kazakhs, and Kirghiz fled across the border to China after the 1916 uprising, as well as the forced arrival of the Communist Party in 1918.
After the establishment of the Soviet Union in 1917, Turkestan was divided into provinces along ethnic lines. Because some were nomadic and others identified with religion, city, or profession rather than ethnicity, it was problematic to establish boundaries, and many peoples found themselves outside their titular nation (which is why so many Uzbeks live in southern Kyrgyzstan today). In 1924, the Kara-Kyrgyz Autonomous Oblast was created, and in 1926 it was replaced by the Kyrgyz Autonomous Socialist Soviet Republic. Both were part of the Russian Socialist Federative Soviet Republic. In 1936 the Kyrgyz Soviet Socialist Republic was established, governed by the Kyrgyz branch of the Communist Party from the capital at Frunze, now Bishkek. One of the most notable figures from Soviet Kyrgyzstan was Chingiz Aitmatov, a famous politician, diplomat, and writer.
On August 31, 1991, the Republic of Kyrgyzstan declared independence from the Soviet Union. Askar Akayev became president of the new republic in 1990 and remained in office until the Tulip Revolution in 2005. Politics remained volatile until protests in 2010 led to the ouster of Bakiyev, who replaced Akayev. Tensions flared from ethnic violence between Kyrgyz and Uzbeks in Osh, reminiscent of similar unrest that erupted in Osh in 1990. Roza Otunbayeva became interim president in April 2010 and is one of the few female leaders in a Muslim-majority country. She also became the first Kyrgyz leader to hand over power peacefully, following the 2011 elections that led to the presidency of Almazbek Atambayev. Since then, Kyrgyzstan has remained relatively stable in 2014 and 2016, and even hosted two World Nomad Games festivals.