The Kyrgyz Republic is a landlocked country in Central Asia bordering Kazakhstan in the north, China in the east, Tajikistan in the south and Uzbekistan and Tajikistan in the south west. The Kyrgyz Republic has a population of 5.6 million (July 2011 est.) consisting of Kyrgyz, Russians, Uzbeks, and around 80 other smaller ethnic groups. The Kyrgyz Republic is a bilingual state: its official languages are Kyrgyz and Russian. The main religion is Islam, but other religions, such as Russian Orthodox, are also practiced. Most of the population lives in rural areas, only one third lives in urban areas. The capital city of Bishkek is the largest city with over 800,000 inhabitants.
Location and Geography. Kyrgyzstan has an area of 76,500 square miles (198,500 square kilometers). Its neighbors are China to the southeast, Kazakhstan to the north, Tajikistan to the southwest, and Uzbekistan to the northwest. In addition, Tajikistan and Uzbekistan control two enclaves each within Kyrgyzstan's borders in the southern part of the country. Ninety-four percent of the land is mountainous, and only 20 percent of the land is arable. The valleys are densely populated along the few paved roads.
The capital, Bishkek, is in the north, near the Kazak border, where it was known as Frunze during the Soviet era. The country is divided into north and south by mountain ranges. Northern culture has been influenced by Russians, while southern culture has absorbed Uzbek traditions. The Naryn region in central Kyrgyzstan is relatively isolated, and it is here that the Kyrgyz culture is most "pure."
Emergence of the Nation. The Kyrgyz people were originally settled in Siberia. Pressure from the Mongols forced their group to splinter into nomadic tribes and move to the region now known as Kyrgyzstan. Here they were subdued by the Kokandian Khanate, but there were many rebellions. The Kyrgyz allied with Russia as it expanded to the south. Russia then conquered the Kokands and ruled the Kyrgyz as a part of Russian Turkestan. The Kyrgyz rebelled in 1916 against the Russian peasant influx and the loss of grazing land. After the Communists took control, groups such as the Basmachi movement continued to fight for independence. Stalin's collective farms caused protests in the form of killing herds and fleeing to China.
National Identity. Until the advent of Communist control, the Kyrgyz were still a nomadic people made up of individual tribes. The idea of a Kyrgyz nation was fostered under Soviet rule. Kyrgyz traditions, national dress, and art were defined as distinct from their neighbors. Today people will name the Kyrgyz national hat ( kalpak ), instrument ( komuz ), sport ( uulak ), house (boz-ui), drink ( kumyss ), and foods. Stalin then intentionally drew borders inconsistent with the traditional locations of ethnic populations, leaving large numbers of ethnic Uzbeks and Turkmen within Kirghizia's borders. This was supposed to maintain a level of inter-ethnic tension in the area, so that these closely related groups would not rise up against him.
Kyrgyzstan, like many of its neighbors, voted against independence when the Soviet Union collapsed. With no history as an independent nation, they have struggled with the loss of centralized government control. The people of Kyrgyzstan are, however, meeting these challenges, and Kyrgyzstan is held up as the most democratic and market-oriented country in Central Asia.
Arts. Traditional crafts are taught in school, and the graphic arts are well developed. In most cases artisans create objects to be sold either as souvenirs to tourists or as heirlooms for people's homes. Some are displayed in the National Gallery or in museums abroad. Most of these are done in wool or silk, including the wool carpets called shirdaks and alakiis, embroidered wall hangings called tush-kiis, and small animal or human figures. Wood, horn, leather, and clay are also used. There are a number of painters as well, whose works are sold mostly to foreigners. These often have traditional Kyrgyz themes but often use modern and postmodern styles of painting. Galleries and art exhibits are almost exclusively in the capital city. Kyrgyz folk singing and music lessons are frequently offered in schools. There are several Kyrgyz children's performance groups, which feature traditional songs and dance as well as performances using Kyrgyz instruments. The best-known instruments are the komuz (a three-stringed lute), oz-komuz (mouth harp), the chopo choor (clay wind instrument), and the kuiak (a four-stringed instrument played with a bow). There also are adult folk, classical, and operatic musicians and groups who perform in the capital regularly. Popular television shows feature Kyrgyz pop and folk singers and musicians. There is a small but active film industry.
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