Map of Kyrgyzstan
Map of Kyrgyzstan

Introduction to Kyrgyzstan

Kyrgyzstan (Kyrgyz: Кыргызстан, variously transliterated), formally the Kyrgyz Republic, and sometimes known as Kirghizia, is a country in Central Asia. Landlocked and mountainous, it borders China, Kazakhstan, Tajikistan, and Uzbekistan. Its capital is Bishkek. Once a republic of the Soviet Union, Kyrgyzstan has been independent since 1991. Remaining reasonably stable throughout most of the 1990s, the country's young democracy showed relative promise under the leadership of former President Askar Akayev, but moved towards autocracy and authoritarianism.

Following a somewhat unexpected revolution after the parliamentary elections in March 2005 and 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 Felix Kulov.

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 have been assassinated since then, most recently Tynychbek Akmatbayev. All three are reputed to have been directly involved in illegal business.

As in many former Soviet republics, after Kyrgyzstan regained independence in August 1991 many individuals, organisations, and political parties sought to reestablish (and, to a certain extent, to create from scratch) a Kyrgyz national cultural identity; oftentimes one that included a backlash against Russians.

Kyrgyzstan is a landlocked country in Central Asia, bordering Kazakhstan, China, Tajikistan and Uzbekistan. The mountainous region of the Tian Shan covers the majority of the nation, with the remainder made up of its valleys and basins. Issyk-Kul in the north-western 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. Pik Pobedy (Victory Peak), at 24,400 ft (7,439 m), is the highest point and is considered by geologists (though not mountaineers) to be the northernmost 7,000 m peak in the world. Heavy snowfall in winter leads to heavy spring floods which often cause serious damage downstream. The runoff from the mountains is also utilized, however, for substantial generation of hydro-electricity.
Flag of Kyrgyzstan
Flag of Kyrgyzstan

Cultural notes about Kyrgyzstan

Kyrgyzstan has a wide mix of ethnic groups and cultures, with the Kyrgyz being the majority group. In 1994, the population of Kyrgyzstan was estimated as being 52 percent ethnic Kyrgyz, 22 percent Russians, 13 percent Uzbek, 3 percent Ukrainian, 2 percent German. The rest of the population was composed of about eighty other nationalities.

Of some potential political significance are the Uygurs. That group numbered only about 36,000 in Kyrgyzstan, but about 185,000 lived in neighboring Kazakstan. The Uygurs are also the majority population in the Xinjiang Uygur Autonomous Region of China, whose population is about 15 million, located to the northeast of Kyrgyzstan.

It is generally considered that there are 40 Kyrgyz tribes. This is symbolized by the 40-rayed yellow sun in the centre of the flag of Kyrgyzstan. The lines inside the sun are said to represent a yurt.

As of 1994, the dominant religion of Kyrgyzstan was Sunni Islam (70 percent), with a heavy influence of tribal religions. The Russian population is largely Russian Orthodox. The main Christian churches are Russian Orthodox and Ukrainian Orthodox.

An aggressive post-Soviet campaign was established to make the Kyrgyz language the official national language in all commercial and government uses by 1997; Russian is still used extensively, and the non-Kyrgyz population, most not Kyrgyz speakers, are hostile to forcible Kyrgyzification.

Kyrgyzstan has a high literacy rate (97 percent in 1994), and a strong tradition of educating all citizens. However, its ambitious program to restructure the Soviet educational system is hampered by low funding and loss of teachers. School attendance is mandatory through grade nine. Kyrgyz is increasingly used for instruction; the transition from Russian to Kyrgyz has been hampered by lack of textbooks.

Official Canadian government advisories for travelling to, in and around Kyrgyzstan

Violent crime is high and foreigners have been targeted. According to Kyrgyz law enforcement officials, the situation has worsened since the change of government in March 2005. Organized gangs are common. Robbery, mugging, and pickpocketing occur frequently near major hotels, bars, and parks, and on public transportation. Remain vigilant, and ensure personal belongings and documents are secure. Do not show signs of affluence. Avoid carrying large sums of money. Keep a legally certified copy of your visa and registration with you at all times and keep your passport and visa in safe-keeping facilities. The police can arrest visitors who do not carry identification. Some robberies have been committed by men in police uniforms. If approached, ask to see police credentials. Do not walk or travel alone, especially at night. Use only officially marked taxis, pre-negotiate fares, and do not share a ride with strangers. Men posing as "meet and greet" airport facilitators lure unsuspecting foreigners into cars and demand money. Canadians should make prior arrangements with their contacts and ask for identification upon arrival. Do not leave with anyone who does not show pre-arranged identification.
Country Data
Population 5,081,429
Capital City Bishkek (Kyrgyzstan)
Major Cities(s) Bishkek
Major Religion(s) Muslim 75%, Russian Orthodox 20%, other 5%
Physical Size 198,500 km²
Land Area 191,300 km²
Water Area 7,200 km²