|Anthem: National Anthem of the Kyrgyz Republic
(and largest city)
|Official language(s)||Kyrgyz (State)
|Ethnic groups||68.9% Kyrgyz
|-||Prime Minister||Daniar Usenov|
|Independence||from the Soviet Union|
|-||Established||14 October 1924|
|-||Kirghiz SSR||5 December 1936|
|-||Declared||31 August 1991|
|-||Completed||25 December 1991|
|-||Total||199,900 km2 (86th)
77,181 sq mi
|-||2009 estimate||5,482,000 (110th)|
|GDP (PPP)||2008 estimate|
|GDP (nominal)||2008 estimate|
|Gini (2003)||30.3 (medium)|
|HDI (2007)||▲ 0.710 (medium) (120th)|
|Time zone||KGT (UTC+6)|
|Drives on the||right|
Kyrgyzstan (pronounced /ˈkɜrɡɪstɑːn/; KUR-gi-stahn; Kyrgyz: Кыргызстан, IPA: [qɯrʁɯzstɑ́n]; Russian: Кыргызстан [kˠirɡˠisˈtan]), officially the Kyrgyz Republic, is a country in Central Asia. Landlocked and mountainous, it is bordered by Kazakhstan to the north, Uzbekistan to the west, Tajikistan to the southwest and China to the east.
The ethnonym "Kyrgyz", after which the country is named, is thought to originally mean either "forty girls" or "forty tribes", presumably referring to the epic hero Manas who, as legend has it, unified forty tribes against the Khitans. The 40-ray sun on the flag of Kyrgyzstan symbolizes the forty tribes of Manas.
The Kyrgyz state reached its greatest expansion after defeating the Uyghur Khanate in 840 A.D. Then the Kyrgyz quickly moved as far as the Tian Shan range and maintained their dominance over this territory for about 200 years.
In the twelfth century, however, the Kyrgyz domination had shrunk to the Altay Range and Sayan Mountains as a result of the Mongol expansion. With the rise of the Mongol Empire in the thirteenth century, the Kyrgyz migrated south. The Kyrgyz were conquered by Genghis Khan in 1207.
Chinese and Muslim sources of the 7th–12th centuries AD describe the early Kyrgyz as red-haired with white skin and blue eyes, features that were interpreted as suggestive of Slavic origins. Because of the processes of migration, conquest, intermarriage, and assimilation, many of the Kyrgyz peoples that now inhabit Central and Southwest Asia are of mixed origins, often stemming from fragments of many different tribes, though they speak closely related languages.
In the early nineteenth century, the southern part of what is today Kyrgyzstan came under the control of the Khanate of Kokand. The territory, then known in Russian as "Kirgizia", was formally incorporated into the Russian Empire in 1876. The Russian takeover was met with numerous revolts against Tsarist authority, and many of the Kyrgyz opted to move to the Pamirs and Afghanistan.
In addition, the suppression of the 1916 rebellion in Central Asia caused many Kyrgyz to migrate to China. Since many ethnic groups in the region were (and still are) split between neighbouring states at a time when borders were more porous and less regulated, it was common to move back and forth over the mountains, depending on where life was perceived as better; this might mean better rains for pasture or better government after oppression.
Soviet power was initially established in the region in 1919, and the Kara-Kyrgyz Autonomous Oblast was created within the Russian SFSR (the term Kara-Kirghiz was used until the mid-1920s by the Russians to distinguish them from the Kazakhs, who were also referred to as Kirghiz). On December 5, 1936, the Kirghiz Soviet Socialist Republic was established as a full republic of the Soviet Union.
During the 1920s, Kyrgyzstan developed considerably in cultural, educational and social life. Literacy was greatly improved, and a standard literary language was introduced by imposing Russian on the populace. Economic and social development also was notable. Many aspects of the Kyrgyz national culture were retained despite the suppression of nationalist activity under Stalin, and, therefore, tensions with the all-Union authorities were constant.
The early years of glasnost had little effect on the political climate in Kyrgyzstan. However, the Republic's press was permitted to adopt a more liberal stance and to establish a new publication, Literaturny Kirghizstan, by the Union of Writers. Unofficial political groups were forbidden, but several groups that emerged in 1989 to deal with the acute housing crisis were permitted to function.
In 1989 protests flared up against the discriminatory policy of the Soviet government directed at pushing ethnic Kyrgyz inhabitants out of major cities, which could then be occupied by new settlers from Russia and the other Soviet republics (According to the last Soviet census in 1989, ethnic Kyrgyz made up some 22 percent of the residents of Frunze (Bishkek), while more than 60 percent were Russians, Ukrainians, and people from other Slavic nations. Kyrgyzstan was the most Russified republic in the Soviet Union, according to the census, as more than 36 percent of all Kyrgyz citizens said Russian was their first language) .
In June 1990, ethnic tensions between Uzbeks and Kyrgyz surfaced in the Osh Oblast, where Uzbeks form a majority of the population. Violent confrontations ensued, and a state of emergency and curfew were introduced. Order was not restored until August 1990.
The early 1990s brought considerable change to Kyrgyzstan. By then, the Kyrgyzstan Democratic Movement (KDM) had developed into a significant political force with support in Parliament. In an upset victory, Askar Akayev, the liberal President of the Kyrgyz Academy of Sciences, was elected to the presidency in October 1990. The following January, Akayev introduced new government structures and appointed a new government composed mainly of younger, reform-oriented politicians.
In December 1990, the Supreme Soviet voted to change the republic's name to the Republic of Kyrgyzstan. (In 1993, it became the Kyrgyz Republic.) In February 1991, the name of the capital, Frunze, was changed back to its prerevolutionary name of Bishkek. Despite these aesthetic moves toward independence, economic realities seemed to work against secession from the Soviet Union. In a referendum on the preservation of the Soviet Union in March 1991, 88.7% of the voters approved the proposal to retain the Soviet Union as a "renewed federation."
On August 19, 1991, when the State Emergency Committee assumed power in Moscow, there was an attempt to depose Akayev in Kyrgyzstan. After the coup collapsed the following week, Akayev and Vice President German Kuznetsov announced their resignations from the Communist Party of the Soviet Union (CPSU), and the entire bureau and secretariat resigned. This was followed by the Supreme Soviet vote declaring independence from the Soviet Union on August 31, 1991.
In October 1991, Akayev ran unopposed and was elected president of the new independent Republic by direct ballot, receiving 95% of the votes cast. Together with the representatives of seven other Republics that same month, he signed the Treaty of the New Economic Community. Finally, on December 21, 1991, Kyrgyzstan joined with the other four Central Asian Republics to formally enter the new Commonwealth of Independent States. Kyrgyzstan gained full independence a few days later on December 25, 1991. The following day on December 26,1991 the Soviet Union ceased to exist.In 1992, Kyrgyzstan joined the UN and the OSCE.
The "Tulip Revolution", after the parliamentary elections in March 2005, forced President Akayev's resignation on April 4, 2005. Opposition leaders formed a coalition, and a new government was formed under President Kurmanbek Bakiyev and Prime Minister Feliks Kulov. The nation's capital was also looted during the protests.
Political stability appears to be elusive, however, as various groups and factions allegedly linked to organized crime are jockeying for power. Three of the 75 members of Parliament elected in March 2005 were assassinated, and another member was assassinated on 10 May 2006 shortly after winning his murdered brother's seat in a by-election. All four are reputed to have been directly involved in major illegal business ventures.
Current concerns in Kyrgyzstan include privatization of state-owned enterprises, expansion of Western influence, inter-ethnic relations and terrorism.
The 1993 constitution defines the form of government as a democratic republic. The executive branch includes a president and prime minister. The parliament currently is unicameral. The judicial branch comprises a Supreme Court, a Constitutional Court, local courts and a Chief Prosecutor.
In March 2002, in the southern district of Aksy, five people protesting the arbitrary arrest of an opposition politician were shot dead by police, sparking nationwide protests. President Akayev initiated a constitutional reform process which initially included the participation of a broad range of government, civil and social representatives in an open dialogue, leading to a February 2003 referendum marred by voting irregularities.
The amendments to the constitution approved by the referendum resulted in stronger control by the president and weakened the parliament and the Constitutional Court. Parliamentary elections for a new, 75-seat unicameral legislature were held on February 27 and March 13, 2005, but were widely viewed as corrupt. The subsequent protests led to a bloodless coup on March 24, after which Akayev fled the country and was replaced by acting president Kurmanbek Bakiyev (see: Tulip Revolution).
Interim government leaders are developing a new governing structure for the country and working to resolve outstanding constitutional issues. On July 10, 2005, acting president Bakiyev won the presidential election in a landslide, with 88.9% of the vote, and was inaugurated on 14 August. However, initial public support for the new administration substantially declined in subsequent months as a result of its apparent inability to solve the corruption problems that have plagued the country since its independence from the Soviet Union, along with the murders of several members of parliament. Large-scale protests against president Bakiyev took place in Bishkek in April and November 2006, with opposition leaders accusing the president of failing to live up to his election promises to reform the country's constitution and transfer many of his presidential powers to parliament.
While it cannot really be described as an exodus, more and more ethnic white Russians want to leave Kyrgyzstan for Russia. The surge in the numbers of those seeking the necessary permits can be explained by the March events and the continuously shaky situation in Kyrgyzstan, both economically and politically. The Russians are increasingly pessimistic and concerned about an increasing lawlessness in Bishkek (where almost 50% of the country’s Russian population lives). Interfax reported on 8 February 2006 that if the current trend persists, more than half of Kyrgyzstan’s Russian population will have left within the next ten years. Besides the uncertain outlook for the future, there are signs of growing nationalism and even xenophobia in a country that was always known for one of the most tolerant populations in the Commonwealth of Independent States.
In December, 2008 the state-owned broadcaster UTRK announced that it would require prior submission of Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty programmes, which UTRK are required to retransmit according to a 2005 agreement. UTRK had stopped retransmitting RFE/RL programming on October 2008, a week after it failed to broadcast an RFE/RL programme called 'Inconvenient Questions' which covered the October elections, claiming to have lost the missing material. President Bakiyev had criticised this programme in September 2008, while UTRK told RFE/RL that its programming was too negative. Reporters Without Borders, which ranks Kyrgyzstan 111th equal out of 173 countries on its Press Freedom Index, strongly criticised the decision.
On 3 February 2009, President Kurmanbek Bakiyev announced the imminent closure of the Manas Air Base, the only US military base remaining in Central Asia. The closure was approved by Parliament on 19 February 2009 by 78–1 for the government-backed bill. However, after much behind-the-scenes negotiation between Kyrgyz, Russian and American diplomats, the decision was reversed in June 2009. The Americans were allowed to remain under a new contract, whereby rent would increase from $17.4 million to $60 million annually.
Kyrgyzstan is among the twenty countries in the world with the highest perceived level of corruption: the 2008 Corruption Perception Index for Kyrgyzstan is 1.8 on a scale of 0 (most corrupt) to 10 (least corrupt).
Kyrgyzstan is divided into seven provinces (sing. oblast (область), pl. oblasttar (областтар)) administered by appointed governors. The capital, Bishkek, and the second large city Osh are administratively independent cities (shaar) with a status equal to a province.
The provinces, and independent cities, are as follows:
Each province comprises a number of districts (raions), administered by government-appointed officials (akim). Rural communities (ayıl ökmötü), consisting of up to 20 small settlements, have their own elected mayors and councils.
Kyrgyzstan is a landlocked country in Central Asia, bordering Kazakhstan, China, Tajikistan and Uzbekistan. The mountainous region of the Tian Shan covers over 80% of the country (Kyrgyzstan is occasionally referred to as "the Switzerland of Central Asia", as a result), with the remainder made up of valleys and basins.
Lake Issyk-Kul in the north-eastern Tian Shan is the largest lake in Kyrgyzstan and the second largest mountain lake in the world after Titicaca. The highest peaks are in the Kakshaal-Too range, forming the Chinese border. Peak Jengish Chokusu, at 7,439 m (24,400 feet), is the highest point and is considered by geologists (though not mountaineers) to be the northernmost peak over 7,000 m (23,000 feet) in the world. Heavy snowfall in winter leads to spring floods which often cause serious damage downstream. The runoff from the mountains is also used for hydro-electricity.
The climate varies regionally. The south-western Fergana Valley is subtropical and extremely hot in summer, with temperatures reaching 40°C (104°F.) The northern foothills are temperate and the Tian Shan varies from dry continental to polar climate, depending on elevation. In the coldest areas temperatures are sub-zero for around 40 days in winter, and even some desert areas experience constant snowfall in this period.
Kyrgyzstan has significant deposits of metals including gold and rare earth metals. Due to the country's predominantly mountainous terrain, less than 8% of the land is cultivated, and this is concentrated in the northern lowlands and the fringes of the Fergana Valley.
Bishkek in the north is the capital and largest city, with approximately 900,000 inhabitants (as of 2005). The second city is the ancient town of Osh, located in the Fergana Valley near the border with Uzbekistan. The principal river is the Kara Darya, which flows west through the Fergana Valley into Uzbekistan. Across the border in Uzbekistan it meets another major Kyrgyz river, the Naryn.
The confluence forms the Syr Darya, which originally flowed into the Aral Sea. At this time it no longer reaches the sea, as its water is withdrawn upstream to irrigate cotton fields in Tajikistan, Uzbekistan, and southern Kazakhstan. The Chu River also briefly flows through Kyrgyzstan before entering Kazakhstan.
There is one exclave, the tiny village of Barak, Kyrgyzstan (population 627), in the Fergana valley. The village is surrounded by Uzbek territory. It is located on the road from Osh (Kyrgyzstan) to Khodjaabad (Uzbekistan) about 4 km north-west from the Kyrgyz–Uzbek border in the direction of Andijan. Barak is administratively part of Kara-Suu District in Kyrgyzstan's Osh Province.
There are four Uzbek enclaves within Kyrgyzstan. Two of them are the towns of Sokh (area 125 sq. mi/325 km² and a population of 42,800 in 1993, although some estimates go as high as 70,000; 99% are Tajiks, the remainder Uzbeks) and Shakhimardan (also known as Shahimardan, Shohimardon, or Shah-i-Mardan, area 35 sq. mi/90 km² and a population of 5,100 in 1993; 91% are Uzbeks, the remainder Kyrgyz); the other two are the tiny territories of Chong-Kara (roughly 3 km long by 1 km wide or 2 mi by 0.6 mi) and Jangy-ayyl (a dot of land barely 2 or 3 km across). Chong-Kara is on the Sokh river, between the Uzbek border and the Sokh enclave. Jangy-ayyl is about 40 miles east of Batken, in a northward projection of the Kyrgyz-Uzbek border near Khalmion.
There also are two enclaves belonging to Tajikistan: Vorukh (exclave area between 95 and 130 km² [37–50 sq. mi], population estimated between 23,000 and 29,000, 95% Tajiks and 5% Kyrgyz, distributed among 17 villages), located 45 kilometres (28 mi) south of Isfara on the right bank of the Karafshin river, and a small settlement near the Kyrgyz railway station of Kairagach.
Despite the backing of major Western lenders, including the International Monetary Fund (IMF), the World Bank and the Asian Development Bank, Kyrgyzstan has had economic difficulties following independence. Initially, these were a result of the breakup of the Soviet trading bloc and resulting loss of markets, which impeded the republic's transition to a free market economy.
The government has reduced expenditures, ended most price subsidies and introduced a value-added tax. Overall, the government appears committed to the transition to a market economy. Through economic stabilization and reform, the government seeks to establish a pattern of long-term consistent growth. Reforms led to Kyrgyzstan's accession to the World Trade Organization (WTO) on December 20, 1998.
The Kyrgyz economy was severely affected by the collapse of the Soviet Union and the resulting loss of its vast market. In 1990, some 98% of Kyrgyz exports went to other parts of the Soviet Union. Thus, the nation's economic performance in the early 1990s was worse than any other former Soviet republic except war-torn Armenia, Azerbaijan and Tajikistan, as factories and state farms collapsed with the disappearance of their traditional markets in the former Soviet Union. While economic performance has improved considerably in the last few years, and particularly since 1998, difficulties remain in securing adequate fiscal revenues and providing an adequate social safety net.
Agriculture is an important sector of the economy in Kyrgyzstan (see agriculture in Kyrgyzstan). By the early 1990s, the private agricultural sector provided between one-third and one-half of some harvests. In 2002 agriculture accounted for 35.6% of GDP and about half of employment. Kyrgyzstan's terrain is mountainous, which accommodates livestock raising, the largest agricultural activity, so the resulting wool, meat and dairy products are major commodities. Main crops include wheat, sugar beets, potatoes, cotton, tobacco, vegetables and fruit. As the prices of imported agrichemicals and petroleum are so high, much farming is being done by hand and by horse, as it was generations ago. Agricultural processing is a key component of the industrial economy as well as one of the most attractive sectors for foreign investment.
Kyrgyzstan is rich in mineral resources but has negligible petroleum and natural gas reserves; it imports petroleum and gas. Among its mineral reserves are substantial deposits of coal, gold, uranium, antimony and other valuable metals. Metallurgy is an important industry, and the government hopes to attract foreign investment in this field. The government has actively encouraged foreign involvement in extracting and processing gold. The country's plentiful water resources and mountainous terrain enable it to produce and export large quantities of hydroelectric energy.
On a local level, the economy is primarily kiosk in nature. A large amount of local commerce occurs at bazaars and small village kiosks in country regions.A significant amount of trade is unregulated. There is also a scarcity of common everyday consumer items in remote villages. Thus a large number of homes are quite self-sufficient with respect to food production. There is a distinct differentiation between urban and rural economies.
The principal exports are nonferrous metals and minerals, woolen goods and other agricultural products, electric energy and certain engineering goods. Imports include petroleum and natural gas, ferrous metals, chemicals, most machinery, wood and paper products, some foods and some construction materials. Its leading trade partners include Germany, Russia, China, Kazakhstan and Uzbekistan.
Kyrgyzstan's population is estimated at 5.2 million in 2007. Of those, 34.4% are under the age of 15 and 6.2% are over the age of 65. The country is rural: only about one-third of Kyrgyzstan's population live in urban areas. The average population density is 69 people per square mile (29 people per km²).
The nation's largest ethnic group are the Kyrgyz, a Turkic people, who comprise 69% of the population (2007 estimate). Other ethnic groups include Russians (9.0%) concentrated in the north and Uzbeks (14.5%) living in the south. Small but noticeable minorities include Tatars (1.9%), Uyghurs (1.1%), Tajiks (1.1%), Kazakhs (0.7%) and Ukrainians (0.5%) and other smaller ethnic minorities (1.7%). Kyrgyz people are noted for a high percentage of r1a1 haplogroups, which indicates Indoeuropean founders. The Turkic influence was therefore mostly linguistic, while majority of paternal ancestry was Indoeuropean.
Kyrgyzstan has undergone a pronounced change in its ethnic composition since independence. The percentage of ethnic Kyrgyz increased from around 50% in 1979 to nearly 70% in 2007, while the percentage of European ethnic groups (Russians, Ukrainians and Germans) as well as Tatars dropped from 35% to about 10%.
The Kyrgyz have historically been semi-nomadic herders, living in round tents called yurts and tending sheep, horses and yaks. This nomadic tradition continues to function seasonally (see transhumance) as herding families return to the high mountain pasture (or jailoo) in the summer.
Kyrgyzstan is one of the two former Soviet republics in Central Asia to retain Russian as an official language (Kazakhstan is the other). It added the Kyrgyz language to become an officially bilingual country in September 1991. This sent a clear signal to the ethnic Russians that they were welcome in the new independent state, in an effort to avoid a brain drain. Kyrgyz is a member of the Turkic group of languages and was written in the Arabic alphabet until the twentieth century. Latin script was introduced and adopted in 1928, and was subsequently replaced by Cyrillic script in 1941.
Generally, people understand and speak Russian all over the country, except for some remote mountain areas. Russian is the mother tongue of the majority of Bishkek dwellers, and most business and political affairs are carried out in this language. Until recently, Kyrgyz remained a language spoken at home and was rarely used during meetings or other events. However, most parliamentary meetings today are conducted in Kyrgyz, with simultaneous interpretation available for those not speaking Kyrgyz.
It is debatable whether bride kidnapping is actually traditional. Some of the confusion may stem from the fact that arranged marriages were traditional, and one of the ways to escape an arranged marriage was to arrange a consensual "kidnapping."
During Soviet times, state atheism was encouraged. Today, however, Kyrgyzstan is a secular state, although Islam has exerted a growing influence in politics. For instance, there have been various attempts to decriminalize polygamy, and to arrange for officials to travel on hajj (the pilgrimage to Mecca) under a tax-free arrangement. Kyrgyzstan is an overwhelmingly Sunni Muslim nation and adheres to the Hanafi school of thought.
While Islam in Kyrgyzstan is more of a cultural background than a devout daily practice for many, public figures have expressed support for restoring religious values. For example, human rights ombudsman Tursunbay Bakir-Ulu noted, "In this era of independence, it is not surprising that there has been a return to spiritual roots not only in Kyrgyzstan, but also in other post-communist republics. It would be immoral to develop a market-based society without an ethical dimension."
Additionally, Bermet Akayeva, the daughter of Askar Akayev, the former President of Kyrgyzstan, stated during a July 2007 interview that Islam is increasingly taking root across the nation. She emphasized that many mosques have been built and that the Kyrgyz are increasingly devoting themselves to Islam, which she noted was "not a bad thing in itself. It keeps our society more moral, cleaner."
The other faiths practiced in Kyrgyzstan include Russian Orthodox and Ukrainian Orthodox versions of Christianity, practiced primarily by Russians and Ukrainians respectively. A small minority of ethnic Germans are also Christian, mostly Lutheran and Anabaptist as well as a Roman Catholic community of approximately 600. 
A few Animistic traditions survive as do influences from Buddhism such as the tying of prayer flags onto sacred trees, though some view this practice rooted within Sufi Islam. There are also a small number of Bukharian Jews living in Kyrgyzstan, but during the collapse of the Soviet Union most fled to other countries, mainly the United States and Israel.
On November 6, 2008, the Kyrgyzstan parliament unanimously passed a law making it much harder for minority religious organizations to be recognized. It was signed by President Kurmanbek Bakiyev on January 12, 2009. The new law ups the minimum number of members required from 10 to 200 and also outlaws "aggressive action aimed at proselytism – converting people from one faith to another." Additionally, it bans religious activity in schools and all activity by unregistered organizations.
The 40-rayed yellow sun in the centre of the flag represents 40 warriors of the mythical hero Manas. The lines inside the sun represent the crown or tündük (Kyrgyz түндүк) of a yurt, a symbol replicated in many facets of Kyrgyz architecture. The red portion of the flag represents peace and openness of Kyrgyzstan.
Educational institutions in Kyrgyzstan include:
The traditional national sports reflect the importance of horse riding in Kyrgyz culture.
Very popular, as in all of Central Asia, is Ulak Tartysh, a team game resembling a cross between polo and rugby in which two teams of riders wrestle for possession of the headless carcass of a goat, which they attempt to deliver across the opposition's goal line, or into the opposition's goal: a big tub or a circle marked on the ground.
Other popular games on horseback include:
For those interested in trekking and camping, every region offers different attractions and challenges. Some of the most popular locations for camping are southern Osh, the area between Naryn City and the Torugart pass, and the mountains and glaciers surrounding Karakol in Issyk-Kul. Local guides and porters can be hired from many different tour companies in Bishkek and in the oblast capitals.
Skiing is still in its infancy as a tourism industry, but there is one fairly cheap and well-equipped base about a half-hour from Bishkek. In the Karakol Valley National Park, outside Karakol, there is also a ski base with three T-bars and rental equipment available of good quality.
Transport in Kyrgyzstan is severely constrained by the country's alpine topography. Roads have to snake up steep valleys, cross passes of 3,000 metre (9,000 ft) altitude and more, and are subject to frequent mud slides and snow avalanches. Winter travel is close to impossible in many of the more remote and high-altitude regions.
Additional problems are due to the fact that many roads and railway lines built during the Soviet period are today intersected by international boundaries, requiring time-consuming border formalities to cross where they are not completely closed. Horses are still a much-used transport option, especially in more rural areas; Kyrgyzstan's road infrastructure is not extensive, so horses are able to reach locations that motor vehicles cannot, and they do not require expensive, imported fuel.
At the end of the Soviet period there were about 50 airports and airstrips in Kyrgyzstan, many of them built primarily to serve military purposes in this border region so close to China. Only a few of them remain in service today.
This country appears on the E.U. list of prohibited countries with regard to the certification of airlines. This means that no airline which is registered with Kyrgyzstan may operate services of any kind within the European Union community. This is due to safety standards which fail to meet E.U. regulations.
The Chuy Valley in the north and the Ferghana valley in the south were endpoints of the Soviet Union's rail system in Central Asia. Following the emergence of independent post-Soviet states, the rail lines which were built without regard for administrative boundaries have been cut by borders, and traffic is therefore severely curtailed. The small bits of rail lines within Kyrgyzstan, about 370 km (1,520 mm broad gauge) in total, have little economic value in the absence of the former bulk traffic over long distances to and from such centres as Tashkent, Almaty and the cities of Russia.
With support from the Asian Development Bank, a major road linking the north and southwest from Bishkek to Osh has recently been completed. This considerably eases communication between the two major population centres of the country—the Chuy Valley in the north and the Fergana Valley in the South. An offshoot of this road branches off across a 3,500 meter pass into the Talas Valley in the northwest. Plans are now being formulated to build a major road from Osh into the People's Republic of China.
total: 30,300 km (including 140 km of expressways)
paved: 22,600 km (includes some all-weather gravel-surfaced roads)
unpaved: 7,700 km (these roads are made of unstabilized earth and are difficult to negotiate in wet weather) (1990)
Water transport exists only on Lake Issyk Kul, and has drastically shrunk since the end of the Soviet Union.
Balykchy (Ysyk-Kol or Rybach'ye), on Lake Issyk Kul.
|Currency||Kyrgyz som (KGS)|
|Population||5,213,898 (July 2006 est.)|
|Language||Kyrgyz, Russian (both official)|
|Religion||Muslim 75%, Russian Orthodox 20%, other 5%|
|Electricity||220V/50Hz, European plug|
|Time Zone||UTC +5|
Kyrgyzstan (Кыргызстан, formally the Kyrgyz Republic (Кыргыз Республикасы) is a Central Asian country of incredible natural beauty and proud nomadic traditions. Landlocked and mountainous, it borders Kazakhstan to the north, Uzbekistan to the west, Tajikistan to the southwest and China to the southeast. Annexed by Russia in 1876, it achieved independence from the Soviet Union in 1991.
Kyrgyzstan is divided into seven regions called oblasts; Chui Oblast, Issyk-kul Oblast, Naryn Oblast, Talas Oblast, Jalalabad Oblast, Osh Oblast, and Batken Oblast. These oblasts are each divided into smaller rayons (literally, regions).
Due to the presence of several mountain ranges, Kyrgyzstan can also be divided into northern and southern regions. The northern (and cooler) region consists of Chui, Issyk-Kul, Talas, and Naryn oblasts. While the southern (and warmer) region contains Jalalabad, Osh. and Batken. The southern half of Kyrgyzstan is also part of the Fergana Valley, a fertile agricultural region shared by Kyrgyzstan, Uzbekistan, and Tajikistan.
The Kyrgyz are descendants of tribes from the Tuvan region of Russia, which migrated to the area now known as Kyrgyzstan in the 13th century, during the rise of the Mongol empire. In 1876 the area was incorporated into the Russian empire and later the Soviet Union.
August 31st, 1991 marked a major event in the history of Kyrgyzstan. After unrest in various regions throughout the Soviet Union, a coup in Moscow against the regime of Mikhail Gorbachev failed. This move against the central government motivated the Kyrgyz power structure to declare independence from the U.S.S.R. Kyrgyzstan also saw during that time the election of the only non-communist party backed president in the Central Asian region, a physicist named Askar Akayev.
During the Soviet era, Kyrgyzstan’s economy was centralized and dependent on other Soviet states for trade. After the collapse of the Soviet Union, due to a combination of remoteness, poor infrastructure and lack of resources, Kyrgyzstan’s economy began to rapidly decline. By 1993, the unemployment rate was around 10%. In the following years, unemployment rates rose up to 77%.
As for President Akayev, it became evident that non-party affiliation did not guarantee honesty. The executive branch’s power increased through suppression of opposition and the President secured immunity from prosecution for himself and his family. After several years of questionable elections, in March 2005, massive groups of protesters from around the country converged on the capitol, causing Akayev to flee into exile in Russia.
The leader of the Tulip Revolution, Kurmanbek Bakiyev, formed an interim government and served as president and prime minister until later that July when emergency elections were held. Bakiyev ran for the office of President and won, but was unable to gain parliamentary approval of his cabinet until five months later. After several attempts to resolve a constitution, Bakiyev declared in 2007, that all previous versions of the constitution were illegal and instituted a modified constitution from the Akayev era. He then dissolved parliament and called for an early election to reform the parliamentary structure. The President’s own party gained the majority and the U.S. State Department expressed deep concern about the conduct of the elections, citing several issues including widespread vote count irregularities and exaggerations in voter turnout. Some of the current problems that Kyrgyzstan faces today are universal throughout the Commonwealth of Independent States, namely lack of political freedom, widespread corruption, and negative influences on democracy.
Dry continental to polar in high Tien Shan; subtropical in southwest (Fergana Valley); temperate in northern foothill zone.
Entirely mountainous, dominated by the Tien Shan range; many tall peaks, glaciers, and high-altitude lakes. Highest point: Jengish Chokusu (Pik Pobedy) 7,439 m. The mountains are beautiful for hiking.
Turkish Airlines and Aeroflot offer direct flights to Manas International Airport in Bishkek (approx. 30km northwest of the city) from Istanbul and Moscow respectively. Additionally, Air Baltic offers connections via Riga and British Midland International (BMI) offers a service from London to Bishkek, with a brief refueling stop at Almaty.
Upon arrival at Manas International Airport, you will proceed through customs and pick up your baggage, then you will pass through a final customs check-point where your baggage will be scanned. Immediately after the check-point is the exit, where (if you do not have a vehicle waiting for you) you will be inundated by taxi drivers. Be very careful when acquiring your taxi, you will most likely be arriving very early in the morning and will have no other means of traveling to Bishkek from the airport. The taxi drivers are well aware of this and the less scrupulous ones will take advantage of the fact. When selecting a taxi: 1) make sure they have a sign on top of their vehicle declaring their company (some of the more trustworthy taxi companies are CITY, UDACHA), 2) negotiate your fare before walking to the taxi (as of May 2009, the fare to or from Manas International Airport to Bishkek is 300 som, but in september it was 400 som, after long negotiation 350) write it on a piece of paper and make sure your driver agrees, 3) most importantly, unlike most cab rides in Kyrgyzstan this is a private taxi for you only, do not share your taxi from the airport with strangers.
Trains to Bishkek depart from Moscow (Kazanskaia station) a few times a week (3714km, trip takes more than 3 days) going through Kazakhstan (Kazakh transit visa is required for most of non-CIS travelers). Details can be found at poezda.net or rzd.ru (the second one available only in Russian and contains current ticket prices which were about 100EUR in 2008 for "plackartniy" class). On the train it is forbidden to carry portable stove fuel cans.
In the past driving in Kyrgyzstan was, by Western standards, dangerous. It still is! However, the government has invested very heavily in reconstructing a core network of roads that now rival the highways in many western nations. The principal highway from Bishkek to Osh is an engineering marvel through the mountainous region. Further, the highway from Osh to the Chinese border at Irkeshtam and from the village of Sary Tash to the Tajikistan border is being reconstructed in stages to international standards. Many other highways are likewise being rehabilitated as funding permits. In addition, the maintenance roads that feed into the core network are being improved as funds become available. Likewise, maintenance is being privatized on an experimental basis. This is not to say that driving in the Republic is easy. But given the limited economic resources progress is being made.
In the cities and outlying areas locals have become used to missing road drain covers, dry dusty roads (where water tankers sometimes sprinkle water to keep dust down) and generally bad roads that are not effectively maintained.
Interesting usage of main and large roads: If your side is too damaged to drive fast then is quite normal to use the other side of the road.
If you get stopped by the police it's likely to cost some money.
Watch out for mini buses pulling out too.
Minibuses (marshrutka) and shared taxis are the best option for travelling within Kyrgyzstan, however also shared taxis for bigger companies are not bad. And it is also possible to hitch-hike but unlike in Europe/Australia/etc, you have to pay for that. Therefore ask before!
Kyrgyzstan's capital, like many places in the former Soviet Union, has an extensive network of minibuses, known as Marshrutkas. They typically have around 14 seats, with standing room for around ten extra people during busy periods. Marshrutkas are easily identifiable and display their number and basic route information (in Russian) on the front. To flag one down, simply hold out your right hand, parallel to the ground. Once you get on, pay the fare to the driver (as of May 2009, the fare is ten soms). When you want to get off say, "ah-stah-nah-VEE-tyeh" (Stop!). Note that although there are bus stops, and according to the law Marshrutkas should be hailed at bus stop only, but it is not followed too much. So, in practice you can ask driver to stop anywhere and and he will drop you off at any point on their route.
Bishkek also has a trolley bus system which is less extensive and generally slower (as of May 2009, the fare is five soms). They only stop at designated bus stops. Travellers enter at the back door and leave at the front, where they have to payl.
There are several private taxi firms in Bishkek that you can easily reach through their three digit numbers including: 150, 152, 154, 156, 166, and 188. Daytime taxis throughout the city are a flat rate of 75 soms and 100 soms past 10PM. There are also numerous "gypsy cabs" situated at nearly every intersection. While most travellers and long-time expats report no problems, you are cautioned to be aware, especially at night and near nightclubs.
The languages of Kyrgyzstan are Russian and Kyrgyz, a Turkic language related to Uzbek, Kazakh, and, of course, Turkish. Kyrgyz is more common in rural areas whereas Russian is the urban language of choice (in fact it's not uncommon to meet ethnic Kyrgyz people in Bishkek who cannot speak Kyrgyz). English, while becoming more popular, is still rarely spoken, so in order to effectively communicate one must at the very least learn a few basic words (yes, no, please, thank you, etc.) in Russian or Kyrgyz, depending on the location. If you are lost completely, try to ask young people, especially students.
Like most of the rest of the former Soviet Union, Kyrgyzstan uses the Cyrillic alphabet, which can present a problem for Western travellers. However, the characters are not too hard to learn and once that is done you'll find that many of the words are familiar. For example, "ресторан" is pronounced, "rest-o-ran," which means, "restaurant." But be careful. They use it for Kyrgyz language as well!
The official currency in Kyrgyzstan is the Som (written as 'com' or abbreviated as 'c' in Cyrillic, divided into 100 tyin). It comes in 10 tyin, 50 tyin, 1, 5, 10, 20, 50, 100, 200, 500, 1000 and from the 2nd March 2009, 5000 som notes. They began producing coins in 10 tyin, 50 tyin, 1 som, 3 som, and 5 som denominations the past year.
Exchange rates, as of December 21, 2008 are as follows:
In september 2009 you could get aprox 60 som per euro.
Changing money is relatively straightforward. Banks will accept a variety of major currencies while the money-changing booths that are ubiquitous in urban areas will typically only deal with US Dollars, Pounds, Euros, Roubles and Kazakh tenges. Note, however, that neither banks nor money changers will accept any foreign currency that is torn, marked or defaced in any way, or is excessively crumpled, so be sure to carefully check any notes you intend to bring into the country for defects.
Like other Central Asian countries, Kyrgyzstan is overwhelmingly a cash economy. Credit cards are rarely used. It is therefore advisable to enter the country with an adequate supply of cash in a major foreign currency - US Dollars are the most practical choice since they are more widely accepted.
There are a growing amount of ATM's connected the major services like Cirrus. Both Kazakkommerz Bank and Halyk Bank have several ATM's throughout the city. You can either withdraw USD or Kyrgyz Som. If withdrawing som, you will receive the interbank exchange rate, which is better than what the local exchange offices will give you.Visa is accepted everywhere, maestro in kazkommerzbank only!. It means that if you have maestro, you cannot even get money from machine at Manas airport.
and more locations coming; Halyk Bank- TSUM (Eastern Staircase)
Kyrgyz food is the product of a long history of pastoral nomadism and is overwhelmingly meat-based. And if we are saying overwhelmingly, it means really overwhelmingly. Those with vegetarian fixations may wish to revise their habits, purchase their own fresh fruits, vegetables, and fresh bread from one of the many small stands or food bazaars that are ubiquitous in every city, eat in Chinese restaurants or stay at bread and tea only. While people from the West are programmed to think of large vegetables as desirable, small and flavourful is the rule here. Same is valid for pistachios, almonds as well. Washing vegetables before consumption is recommended.
Besh barmak (“five fingers”) is the national soupy dish of Kyrgyzstan (Kazakhs would probably disagree). For preparation, a sheep or horse is slaughtered and boiled in a large pot. The resulting broth is served as a first course. The meat is then divided up between those at the table. Each person in attendance receives the piece of meat appropriate to their social status. The head and eyes are reserved for guests of honor. The remaining meat is mixed in with noodles and, sometimes with onions, and is traditionally eaten from a large common dish with the hands, although nowadays more often with a fork or spoon. Kyrgyz people like soupy food in general, those food that are served as kind of pasta in Russia (pelmene), they prefer it as soup.
Most other dishes encountered in Kyrgyzstan are common to the other countries of Central Asia as well. Plov or osh is a pilaf dish that at a minimum includes julienne carrots, onion, beef or mutton, and plenty of oil, sometimes rosins. Manti are steamed dumplings that normally contain either mutton or beef, but occasionally pumpkin. Samsa are meat (although sometimes vegetable or cheese) pies that come in two varieties: flakey and tandoori. Flakey somsa are made with a phyllo dough while tandoori somsa have a tougher crust, the bottom of which is meant to be cut off and discarded, not eaten. Lagman is a noodle dish associated with Uyghur cuisine, but you can find everywhere from Crimea to Ujgurs. Most of the time it is served as soup, sometimes as pasta. The basic ingredients of lagman (plain noodles and spiced vegetables mixed with mutton or beef) can be fried together, served one on top of the other, or served separately. Shashlik (shish kebabs) can be made of beef, mutton, or pork and are normally served with fresh onions, vinegar and bread
Almost all Kyrgyz meals are accompanied by tea (either green or black) and a circular loaf of bread known as a lepeshka. The bread is traditionally torn apart for everyone by one person at the table. In the south of Kyrgyzstan, this duty is reserved for men, but in the north it is more frequently performed by women. Similarly, tea in the north is usually poured by women, while in the south it is usually poured by men.
At the end of a meal, Kyrgyz will in some cases perform a prayer. Sometimes some words are said, but more often the prayer takes the form of a perfunctory swipe of the hands over the face. Follow the lead of your host or hostess to avoid making any cultural missteps.
Drinking is one of the great Kyrgyz social traditions. No matter if you are served tea, kymys, or vodka, if you have been invited to a Kyrgyz person's table to drink, you have been shown warm and friendly hospitality. Plan to sit awhile and drink your fill as you and your host attempt to learn about each other.
When offered tea, you might be asked how strong you want it. Traditionally, Kyrgyz tea is brewed strong in a small pot and mixed with boiling hot water to your desired taste. If you want light tea, say 'jengil chai'. If you want your tea strong and red, 'kyzyl chai'. You might notice that they don't fill the tea cup all the way. This is so that they can be hospitable and serve you lots of tea. To ask for more tea, 'Daga chai, beringizchi' (Please give tea again). Your host will happily serve you tea until you burst. So once you've truly had your fill and don't want to drink any more, cover your tea cup and say, 'Ichtym' (I've drunk). Your host will offer a few more times (and sometimes will pout if you say no), this is to make sure that you are truly satisfied. Once everyone at table has finished drinking tea, it is time to say, 'Omen', and hold your hands out palms up and then brush the open palms down your face.
When entering a local store, you might goggle at the amount of vodka on display. Introduced by the Russians, vodka has brought much joy and sorrow to the Kyrgyz over the years. Most vodka you will find for sale was made in Kyrgyzstan and can provide travellers with one of the worst hangovers known, mainly if you are stupid and buy one of cheaper ones. But for aprox 2 euros you can have good kyrgyz vodka, ex. Ak-sai. Some professional vodka drinkers say that this is because foreigners don't know how to properly drink vodka. To drink vodka in the right way, you need to have zakushkas (Russian for the meal you eat with vodka). This can consist of anything from simple loaves of bread to full spreads of delicious appetizers. Quite common are sour or fresh cucumbers, tomatoes, and of course meat.
First, find someone to drink with. Only alcoholics drink alone. Second, choose your vodka, the more you spend... the less painful your hangover. Third, choose your zakuska, something salty, dried, or fatty. This is so that the vodka is either absorbed by the food or repelled by the fat. Fourth, open your bottle... but be careful, once you open it you must drink it all (a good vodka bottle doesn't have a cap that can be replaced), now pour your shots. Fifth, you will toast! You must toast! Toast your friends, toast their futures, toast their sheep, toast their cars. Sixth, drink! Drink it all! Now chase it with a zakuska and repeat until you can't see the bottle or it is empty.
If you are drinking with locals its not problem to skip round. They would just pour you a symbolic drop and when they are clinking glasses you have to use your right hand and slap sparingpartners glasses slightly instead of your glass.
The Kyrgyz for generations have made their own variety of beverages. At first, these drinks might seem a bit strange, but after a few tries they become quite tasty. Most are mildly alcoholic, but this is just a by-product from their fermentation processes.
In the winter, Kyrgyz wives brew up bozo, a brew made of millet. Best served at room temperature, this drink has a taste somewhere between yogurt and beer. On cold winter days, when you are snowed in, five or six cups gives you a warm fuzzy feeling.
In the spring, it is time to make either jarma or maxim. Jarma, a wheat based brew, has a yeasty beerlike quality but with a gritty finish (it is made from whole grains after all). Maxim, a combination of corn and wheat, has a very sharp and zesty taste. It is best served ice cold and is a great pick me up on hot days.
Summer sees yurts lining the main street selling kymys, fermented mares milk. Ladled out of barrels brought down from the mountains, this traditional drink is one of more difficult to get used to. It has a very strong and pungent foretaste and a smoky finish. Kymys starts off as fresh horses milk (known as samal), the samal is then mixed with a starter made from last year's kymys and heated in a pot. The mixture is brought to just before boiling and then poured into a horse's stomach to ferment for a period. A local grass called 'chi' is then roasted over a fire and cut into small pieces. Once the milk is finished fermenting, the roasted chi and milk are mixed in a barrel and will keep for the summer if kept cool.
Tang is another drink thought to be useful for the health and good for hangovers. It is made from gassed spring water that is mixed with a salted creamy yogurt called souzmu.
Kyrgyz have their own cognac distiller, which produces excellent, albeit highly sweet cognac, with the preferred brand being "Kyrgyzstan Cognac", which the locals sometimes call Nashe Cognac, meaning "our cognac".
You can also find an excellent selection of not so excellent local and imported beers as many Kyrgyz have been taking to drinking beer versus harder spirits. Locally produced beers include Arpa, Nashe Pivo, and Karabalta. Arpa is highly recommended by beer connoisseurs. While being considered a common person's beer, its style is somewhat similar to an American Pale Ale (less hoppy than its Indian counter-part). Due to the fact that Kyrgizes prefer more vodka than beer (actually, half litre of both costs the same...), beer is staying in tubes for longer time. Regular cleaning service is not common. Bottled beers are better, except their strange habit to pour all the beer into the glass at once.
There are also a multitude of bottled waters (carbonated or still) from various regions of the country. Especially popular with southerners is the slightly saline "Jalalabad Water".
Many private citizens rent out their flats to foreigners and a fairly luxurious flat could be agreed for quite low price a week. Noting that the average salary was $44 in 2004, now it could twice as big, you may think you are paying excessively. Look for cable, toilet and bath, and clean quarters. More adventurous visitors may wish to stay in a "yurta," for example in Bishkek it costs from 3 dollar a night in "yurtadorm". These are boiled wool tents used by nomads. Some tourist agencies in Bishkek will arrange this sort of stay, but be prepared to truly live the lifestyle of the nomad which includes culinary delicacies which may seem foreign to the western palette.
For those who are interested in learning Kyrgyz or Russian languages - there are universities you can go and there is a private school called the London School. The London School in Bishkek offers pretty cheap individual lessons for about $4/hour and home stay/cultural programs.
While the US travel advisory tells foreigners that some attacks on Westerners have occurred, the view of Kyrgyz people on this is varied. Fights and assaults generally focus around nightclubs and bars, just as in any other large city. There is to date no indication that Bishkek is particularly dangerous to foreigners. As for other cities in the Kyrgyz Republic, there is little evidence. Tourists will of course be drawn by Kyrgyzstan's amazing natural beauty although travel by car through mountain passes and villages is not advisable.
Although bride kidnapping is illegal in Kyrgyzstan, it is still common, particularly in rural areas, so women should be very careful - it would therefore be preferable that women travel with male family members or other men who they can trust to keep them safe. According to the United States Embassy, two American women were bride-knapped in rural Kyrgyzstan in 2007 , and you certainly don't want to be one of them.
Some friction exists between the Kyrgyz people and ethnic Russians and travelers on these lonely passes may be mistaken for Russians and have their cars stoned. Villages are generally safe but are best avoided. Especially avoid driving in a rented car from Kyrgyzstan to Kazakhstan. The border area can be subject to roadblocks where carjackers impersonate security officials. The border zones are somewhat akin to a wild frontier and are best crossed in a tour bus. Even seasoned Kyrgyz travelers approach these areas with extreme caution.
On the other hand, Lake Issyk-Kul is a well developed tourist area as is the nearby Tien Shan mountain range and they can be approached on standard byways with little threat of carjacking, rock attack or ambush.
The Osh Market in Bishkek is known for false policeman who try to get money from tourists. Don't show them any of your notes if they ask.
Western norms of respect are standard. Though nominally a Muslim country the Kyrgyz people are highly westernized. No special dress codes are in effect. Although standards of dress in Bishkek are Western and often revealing, in the south of the country women would be advised to dress more conservatively or risk attracting unwanted male attention. Evenings can be charged as alcohol intoxication can be quite prevalent at this time. Proceed with caution.
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[[File:|thumbnail|240px|Location of Kyrgystan in the world]] Kyrgyzstan (Kyrgyz: Кыргызстан), formally the Kyrgyz Republic, and sometimes known as Kirghizia, is a country in Central Asia. The country is landlocked (has no coast) and mountainous. It has borders with China, Kazakhstan, Tajikistan, and Uzbekistan. Its capital is Bishkek. It was a Socialist Republic of the Soviet Union, but became independent in 1991. The country was peaceful in the 1990s. Its president, Askar Akayev showed an autocratic and authoritarian character.
In 2005, there was an unexpected revolution after the elections of parliament (the legislature) in March. President Akayev resigned on April 4 of that year. Opposition leaders formed a coalition (a group from more than one party), and a new government was formed, led by President Kurmanbek Bakiyev and Prime Minister Feliks Kulov.
At the moment, different political groups are fighting for power in the republic. Three of the 75 elected members of Parliament have been murdered.
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