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Kyrgyz Republic

Kyrgyz Respublikasy

CAPITAL: Bishkek

FLAG: Red field with a yellow sun in the center; in the center of the sun is a red ring crossed by two sets of three lines, a stylized representation of the vent in a Kyrgyz yurt.

ANTHEM: Kyrgyz National Anthem.

MONETARY UNIT: The som was established in May 1993; som1 = $0.02492 (or $1 = som40.13) as of 2005.

WEIGHTS AND MEASURES: The metric system is in force.

HOLIDAYS: Constitution Day, 5 May; Independence Day, 31 August; National Day, 2 December.

TIME: 5 pm = noon GMT.


Kyrgyzstan is located in southern Asia, between China and Kazakhstan. Comparatively, it is slightly smaller than the state of South Dakota, with a total area of 198,500 sq km (76,641 sq mi). Kyrgyzstan shares boundaries with Kazakhstan on the n, China on the e, Tajikistan on the s, and Uzbekistan on the w. the country's boundary length totals 3,878 km (2,410 mi), and its capital city, Bishkek, is located in the north central part of the country.


The topography of Kyrgyzstan features the peaks of Tian Shan, which rise to over 7,000 m (23,000 ft), and associated valleys and basins which encompass the entire nation. About 90% of Kyrgyzstan has an elevation exceeding 1,500 m (4,900 ft). Slightly over 5% of Kyrgyzstan's land is under irrigation.

Seismic activity continues along the Tian Shan as these mountains continue to be uplifted. As a result, frequent and sometimes devastating earthquakes occur within the region. These also trigger massive mudslides and avalanches that have been know to destroy villages. In August 1992, a 7.3 magnitude earthquake occurred near Jala-Abad, killing 75 people and leaving several thousand homeless.


The country's climate is continental to polar in the Tian Shan Mountains. In the Fergana Valley the average temperature in July is 27°c (81°f). In January, the coldest temperatures are in the mountain valleys, with recorded lows below -30°c (-22°f). the climate is temperate in the foothill regions of the north.


The country's flora and fauna is similar to Tajikistan. there are several types of wildflowers in the valleys. Yak, mountain goats, and snow leopards can be found in the mountains. the country claims to have the world's largest natural-growth walnut forest. Numerous flocks of migrating birds pass through the country each year. As of 2002, there were at least 83 species of mammals, 168 species of birds, and over 4,500 species of plants throughout the country.


Among Kyrgyzstan's most significant environmental issues are water pollution and soil salinity resulting from improper irrigation methods. The pollution of the nation's water causes health problems for 25% of its people, many of whom draw water directly from contaminated wells and streams.

In 2003, about 15% of Kyrgyzstan's total land area was protected. According to a 2006 report issued by the International Union for Conservation of Nature and Natural Resources (IUCN), threatened species included 6 types of mammals, 4 species of birds, 2 types of reptiles, 3 species of invertebrates, and 1 species of plant. Threatened animal species include the great bustard, European bison, snow leopard, field adder, and tiger.


The population of Kyrgyzstan in 2005 was estimated by the United Nations (UN) at 5,172,000, which placed it at number 112 in population among the 193 nations of the world. In 2005, approximately 6% of the population was over 65 years of age, with another 33% of the population under 15 years of age. There were 97 males for every 100 females in the country. According to the UN, the annual population rate of change for 200510 was expected to be 1.3%, a rate the government viewed as satisfactory. the projected population for the year 2025 was 6,713,000. The population density was 26 per sq km (67 per sq mi).

The UN estimated that 57% of the population lived in urban areas in 2005, and that urban areas were growing at an annual rate of 1.45%. The capital city, Bishkek, had a population of 806,000 in that year. The second-largest city was Osh, with a population of 220,000.


As of 1999, the total number of registered and unregistered refugees was estimated to be between 40,000 and 50,000 (1% of the total population). There were about 13,000 officially registered refugees, mainly from Tajikistan, and about 700 from Afghanistan. The great majority of Tajik refugees were of ethnic Kyrgyz origin and desired to stay in Kyrgyzstan permanently. the government was working with the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) to implement an integration package to assist Tajik refugees in their transition to Kyrgyz citizenship. In the period 198995, some 296,000 Russians, 39,000 Ukrainians, and 3,000 Belarussians all departed from Kyrgyzstan. Also, 46,000 Germans (formerly deported under Stalin during World War II from Soviet and Volga regions) returned to Germany. In 2004, there were 3,753 refugees and 453 asylum seekers. Over 300 Kyrgyzstanis sought asylum in 2004 in Sweden and the Czech Republic. In 2005, the net migration rate was an estimated -2.47 migrants per 1,000 population, changed from -12.5 in 1990. the government viewed the immigration level as too high, but the emigration level as satisfactory. Remittances in 2003 were $52.1 million.


According to the latest estimates, about 66.3% of the total population are Kyrgyz, 11.2% are Russian, 14% are Uzbek, 1.1% are Dungan (ethnic Chinese Muslims), 1% are Uighurs, and 6.4% other. About 420,000 ethnic Kyrgyz reside elsewhere in the former Soviet Union and 170,000 in China. Kyrgyz speak a Turkic language and most are Sunni Muslims. There are major ethnic and clan based cleavages, including northsouth clan and regional tensions that threaten fragmentation.

According to some reports, 10% or more of Russians left Kyrgyzstan during 1991 because of ethnic tensions. Ethnic Germans, deported to Kyrgyzstan by Stalin during World War II, are also leaving Kyrgyzstan. In June 1990, in the Osh region on the eastern edge of the fertile Fergana Valley, a major ethnic conflict broke out between Kyrgyz and Uzbek inhabitants over land distribution. Approximately 250 people died in what has been termed "the most explosive region of Central Asia," because of its mixed population of Uzbeks and Kyrgyz, poverty, and high unemployment. Periodic clashes also occur between Kyrgyz and Tajiks along the border with Tajikistan over water resources. Beefed-up Kyrgyz security forces were placed in the Osh and Alais regions in early 1993 to prevent spillover from fighting going on between Tajik ex-communists and oppositionists in the mountains of northern Tajikistan and to halt the inflow of Tajik refugees.


A Turkic tongue, Kyrgyz is the official language. Until 1926, the Kyrgyz and Kazakh languages were not officially recognized as two distinct languages. Kyrgyz orthography was formally organized in 1923 and was modeled after the northern dialects using Arabic script. Afterward, Roman letters were used until 1940, when the Cyrillic alphabet was mandated by the Soviet government, with three special additional characters. Since independence, there has been discussion about switching back to the Roman alphabet.

Although the Kyrgyz language is the traditional language, most of Kyrgyzstan's population also speaks Russian, the language of business and commerce. In March 1996, the Kyrgyzstani legislature amended the constitution to make Russian an official language, along with Kyrgyz, in territories and workplaces where Russian-speaking citizens predominate.


Some 80% of the population are Muslim, mostly Sunni of the Hanafi persuasion. An estimated 11% are Russian Orthodox. Together, Jews, Buddhists, and Roman Catholics make up about 3% of the population. There are about 249 registered Protestant places of worship in the country and 12 Baha'i congregations.

The constitution provides for freedom of religion, a secular state, and the separation of church and state. However, in practice some minority Muslim groups as well as non-Muslim groups have reported discrimination by the government and social groups. All groups must be registered with the State Commission on Religious Affairs in order to operate legally; this same commission serves as a government forum to promote interfaith understanding and tolerance.


As of 2004, Kyrgyzstan's railway system consisted of 470 km (292 mi) of broad gauge railroad, the largest portion of which was a single eastwest rail line of 370 km (230 mi) that went from Issykkul' across the Chuskaya region into Kazakhstan. There were some 18,500 km (11,507 mi) of highways, of which 16,854 km (10,483 mi) were paved in 2002. Irregular service with public transportation occurs frequently. As a landlocked nation, water transportation is of minor importance with only 600 km (372 mi) of waterways as of 2004. However, inland travel is possible on several eastwest rivers. Kyrgyzstan has an estimated 52 airports and airfields as of 2004, of which 18 had paved runways as of 2005. The principal airport is Manas, located at Bishkek. In 2003, about 206,000 passengers were carried on scheduled domestic and international airline flights.


The area of present-day Kyrgyzstan contains evidence of human habitation from the time of the Lower Paleolithic era on, approximately 300,000 years ago. Archeologists suggest that two types of economies developed in the territoryfarming and pastoral nomadism. By the 7th century bc, nomadism had become predominant, and the area was controlled by various tribal alliances. In the north the Saki (7th3rd centuries bc) were succeeded by the Usuni (2nd century bc5th century ad); in the south, the Parkan state (2nd1st centuries bc) was replaced by the Kushani kingdom (1st4th century ad). The ethnic identity of those peoples is the subject of much debate, but they were not Turkic. From the 6th century on, various Turkic tribes began to push westward, eventually settling most of Central Asia, including Kyrgyzstan. Much of present Kyrgyzstan was united by the 7th century as part of the West Turkic Kaganate, and replaced in the 8th century by the Turgash, who in turn were conquered by the Karluk, who originated in the Altai region further north.

When the present-day Kyrgyz first came to this territory is the subject of much debate. References to tribes of that name living in the Altai occur in the 10th century, but another people with the same name who lived along the Enisei River are first mentioned in records from the 2nd century bc. The Enisei Kyrgyz formed the Kyrgyz Kaganate in about ad 650, which survived until defeat by Genghis Khan in 1209. Kyrgyz tradition prefers to see its origin in that state, but ethnographers and archeologists view the claim with considerable skepticism.

Evidence suggests instead that the present-day Kyrgyz are an amalgamation of various peoples, as existing tribes incorporated themselves into fresh waves of conquerors. The territory was part of the Karakhanid state from about 9501150, during which the urban population was actively involved in trade and manufacturing along the Silk Road. Conversion to Islam also began in this period.

Genghis Khan's Mongols conquered the area in the 13th century, destroying most of the Karakhanid culture and introducing large numbers of new peoples into the area, of Turkic, Mongol, and Tibetan stock. The resulting mix of tribes was almost certainly the basis for the present-day Kyrgyz people, who retain much of the memory of those origins in the orally preserved genealogies of their 40 clans and tribes. The present Kyrgyzstan flag includes the depiction of a sun with one ray for each tribe. The Kyrgyz follow the Mongol practice of dividing their people into left (ong ) and right (sol ) "wings," said to reflect either the deployment of troops in military formation, or the tribe's original place of habitation. There is also a third group, the ichkilik, which seems to include parts of the Kyrgyz identity.

From the 15th century until the 17th century, the Kyrgyz tribes were part of the larger delineation of Central Asian history, which distinguished agricultural sedents from pastoral nomads. the appearance of the same tribal names among Kazakhs, Kyrgyz, and Uzbeks suggests how the people of this territory formed a series of tribal alliances, rather than a true state.

In the 18th century the Kyrgyz began to come under pressure from Mongol tribes farther east. This prompted some of the northern tribes to send delegations to the Russians, who had pushed into Siberia in the 17th century, and who were beginning to take what is now northern Kazakhstan under its control. the Russians made no distinction between the Kazakhs and Kyrgyz, calling both Kyrgyz. The southern Kyrgyz, however, were conquered by the Kokand Khanate, established in the late 18th century, separating them from the northern Kyrgyz. This split between south and north continues to the present day in Kyrgyz life.

Russian expansion into what it called the Steppe included Kyrgyzstan. Most of northern Kyrgyzstan was incorporated into the empire by 1863; the south followed in 1876, when Russia destroyed the Kokand Khanate. Administratively, present-day Kyrgyzstan was split among four guberniias. Beginning in the 1890s Russia settled Russian and other European farmers into the fertile river valleys of the north, forcing Kyrgyz nomads higher into the mountains.

By 1916, Russia's policies of livestock requisition and land use had left the Kyrgyz badly impoverished. When Russia attempted to issue a draft call-up for Central Asian males, including the Kyrgyz, widespread fighting broke out all across the territory. the uprisings were suppressed, with great loss of life; population in the northern part dropped as much as 40%. Since independence in 1991, the state has commemorated the 1916 uprising as genocide.

Hostility to the tsars meant that there was some support for the Bolsheviks, at least until it became clear that Lenin was not going to encourage the development of national states. Resistance to the Russians continued sporadically until the mid-1920s in what Russian historians have labeled the "Basmachi Rebellion."

As Bolshevik power was consolidated, Kyrgyzstan was first made an autonomous oblast (political unit) of the Russian Federation in 1924; it was upgraded in 1926 to an autonomous republic, but still within Russia. (At that time Russia was one of the Soviet Republics.) Kyrgyzstan did not become a full Soviet Republic until 1936.

The republic was regarded as one of the least developed of the Soviet states, politically and economically. Thus, it came as a great surprise when, on 28 October 1990, Kyrgyzstan became the first Soviet republic to select its own leader. the Kyrgyzstan legislature refused to ratify Communist Party leader Absamat Masaliyev's bid to become the republic's president and elected instead, Askar Akayev, president of the republic's Academy of Science. Akayev and his supporters began asserting Kyrgyz nationalism and wresting political and economic control over the republic from the Soviet Communist Party. these efforts were briefly interrupted by an attempted coup in Moscow by Communist Party hardliners in August 1991. Akayev bravely condemned the coup and, after it fizzled, on 30 August 1991, he severed ties with the Communist Party and Kyrgyzstan declared its independence. On 12 October 1991, Akayev's presidency was confirmed by direct popular election.

A constitution was adopted on 5 May 1993. An economic and political crisis led to the resignation of the first government in December 1993, but Akayev's presidency was reaffirmed by a popular referendum of support conducted on 30 January 1994. Over 95% of registered voters participated in the referendum; 97% of those who voted supported President Akayev.

In September 1995, Akayev's supporters submitted a petition signed by 1.2 million people (52% of the voting age population) urging the legislature to approve a referendum extending Akayev's term to the year 2001. After contentious debate, the legislature rejected holding a referendum, and Akayev instead announced that a presidential election would be held on 24 December 1995. Thirteen candidates were registered, but 10 were disqualified, leaving Akayev, Masaliyev, and former speaker Medetken Sherimkulov. Akayev won reelection to a five-year term, receiving 72% of about 1.9 million votes in a race deemed generally "free and fair" by international observers, though questions were raised about the disqualifications. In July 1998, Akayev hailed a Constitutional Court decision permitting him to run for a third term in the year 2000. He was reelected president on 29 October 2000, receiving 74% of the vote in an election marred by serious irregularities. Opposition activity prior to the election had been severely curtailed.

Severely shaking Kyrgyzstan's stability, several hundred Islamic extremists and other guerrillas entered Kyrgyzstan from Tajikistan in JulyAugust 1999. The guerrillas seized hostages, including four Japanese geologists, and several Kyrgyz villages, stating that they would cease hostilities if Kyrgyzstan provided a safe haven for refugees and would release hostages if Uzbekistan released jailed extremists. The guerrillas were rumored to be seeking to create an Islamic state in south Kyrgyzstan as a springboard for a jihad in Uzbekistan. A Kyrgyz Security Council member in October 1999 alleged that the guerrillas were trying to seize the major drug trafficking route in southern Kyrgyzstan. Kyrgyzstan called out reservists and admitted that its military was unprepared for combat. Kyrgyzstan received air support from Uzbekistan and Kazakhstan, but protested Uzbek bombing of a Kyrgyz village. the Kyrgyz defense minister on 18 October 1999 announced success in forcing virtually all guerrillas back into Tajikistan.

The United States established a major airbase near Bishkek in December 2001 for military and humanitarian uses during its campaign in Afghanistan to oust the Taliban regime and al-Qaeda forces there. Kyrgyzstan and the United States have established closer political and security ties since 11 September 2001. At US prompting, the IMF reached agreement with Kyrgyzstan on a $93 million loan in December 2001. Since 11 September, all radical Islamic groups in the Central Asian nations have been linked with international terrorism. Both the Hizb-ut-Tahrir (Freedom Party) and the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan (IMU), two radical Islamic organizations looking to establish an Islamic state in Central Asia, have a strong presence in the country. The IMU, expelled from its own country, collaborated with the Taliban and al-Qaeda and led armed incursions into Kyrgyzstan. Following the antiterrorist operations led by the United States after 11 September, all major units of the IMU were destroyed. In addition, in October 2002, Kyrgyzstan and China staged their first joint military exercises, aiming to coordinate their response to terrorism.

In January 2002, legislative assembly member and opposition leader Azimbek Beknazarov was detained on charges which supporters said were politically motivated. In February, Sherali Azarkulov, a prominent human rights activist, died while on a hunger strike to protest Beknazarov's detention. In March, five people were killed in the southern Aksy rayon in clashes with police during a protest demanding Beknazarov's release, and in May, the government resigned after a state commission ruled that senior officials were to blame for the deaths of the protestors. Beknazarov was subsequently freed, after being given a one-year suspended sentence for abuse of office. A rally in June called for Akayev's resignation, increasing fears of political instability and civil war. Large protests and arrests continued throughout the year. In January 2003, Akayev announced a referendum would be held on his presidency and on amendments to the constitution to "improve democracy." On 2 February, 76.6% of Kyrgyz citizens supported the amendments in the referendum, and 78.7% of voters determined Akayev should remain in office until his term expired in December 2005.

In January 2004, several opposition members in parliament announced they had found listening devices in their offices. the ensuing scandal prompted parliament to set up a commission to examine the case. The commission's conclusion was that the National Security Service (NSB) had planted the devices. As of 2005 no action had been taken against the NSB although the lower house of parliament adopted a resolution to hold the NSB responsible.

Starting with the parliamentary elections in February, 2005 was a year of massive unrest for Kyrgyzstan. Of the 75 seats in parliament only 6 were won by opposition parties. The belief that the election had been rigged by the government led to widespread protests, culminating in the March Revolution, or as it is otherwise known, the "Tulip Revolution." The revolution forced President Akayev, to flee the country and formally abandon his role as president on 11 April 2005. Elections were held on 10 July 2005 with Kurmanbek Bakiyev receiving 88.6% of the vote. Although the next presidential elections were scheduled to be held in 2010, there had been massive unrest in Kyrgyzstan since Bakiyev took office and his own tenure was in question. In September 2005 Azimbek Beknazarov was dismissed as prosecutor general and parliamentary member Bayaman Erkinbayev was assassinated. Many northerners associated the rise in crime and corruption with the March Revolution, which was led mainly by politicians with southern political roots, including Bakiyev.


When Kyrgyzstan was still a Soviet republic, the legislature elected Askar Akayev president. Under his leadership, Kyrgyzstan declared independence and drafted a new constitution, ratified 5 May 1993. This constitution established a democratic presidential system with separation of powers and expansive human rights guarantees. In early September 1994, Akayev's supporters in the legislaturea slim majority of 168 out of 323 sitting deputies, most of whom were local administratorsboycotted the last session of the legislature before the expiration of its mandate in February 1995. This boycott prevented formation of a quorum, causing the dissolution of the legislature. Oppositionists alleged that the timing of the dissolution was aimed to squelch a legislative investigation into corruption in the government and to open the way for Akayev to create a more malleable legislature. Akayev took over legislative powers, and decreed that legislative elections would be held by the end of the year. He also decreed that a referendum would be held in October 1995 to approve amendments to the constitution, including provisions revamping the legislative system to weaken it relative to the presidency. He argued that legislative and other provisions of the May 1993 constitution were too "idealistic" because the "people are not prepared for democracy," and a "transitional period" was needed. Although the amendment process, like the dissolution of the legislature, contravened the constitution, the referendum questions were approved by over 80% of the voters.

Under the 1996 amendments, the president was given expanded powers to veto legislation, dissolve the legislature, and appoint all ministers (except the prime minister) without legislative confirmation, while making legislative impeachment more difficult. the legislature confirms the prime minister and high judges. Akayev spearheaded a referendum on 10 February 1996 to further alter the constitution. The amendments specify that Kyrgyzstan, or the Kyrgyz Republic, will be a secular, unitary state. It creates three branches of government: executive, legislative, and judicial. the Jogorku Kenesh (parliament or supreme council) has legislative responsibilities. The Jogorku Kenesh is made up of two housesthe 35-member legislative assembly and the 70-member assembly of people's representatives. The legislative assembly is responsible for day-to-day operations of the legislature, such as interpreting laws and ratifying international treaties. The legislative assembly also has the power to impeach the president. The assembly of the people's representatives meets periodically during the year to consider budget, tax, and appointment issues.

The executive branch is comprised of the cabinet of ministers, or ministries, appointed by the president and approved by the parliament. The head of the cabinet is the prime minister, also appointed by the president and confirmed by the parliament.

The president is to be elected once every five years, for no more than two terms, from among those citizens who are between 35 and 65 years of age, who have lived at least 15 years in the republic, and who are fluent in the state language, which is Kyrgyz.

There is no vice president. The usual functions of vice president, including the duty to replace the president in case of death or incapacity, are borne by the speaker of the parliament, who is elected from among the membership of the parliament.

Judges are chosen by the president, subject to parliamentary affirmation. Potential judges must be citizens between 35 and 65 years who have legal training and legal experience of at least ten years. The length of their service is unlimited, but can be terminated by the parliament.

In theory, the constitution provides a number of basic guarantees of human freedom, including freedom of religion, of the press and other forms of media, of movement about the republic and place of dwelling, of association, and unarmed assembly. It guarantees the privacy of post and other forms of communication, and guarantees private property. In terms of social benefits, the constitution guarantees pensions, unemployment compensation, legal representation, medical treatment, and free basic education.

Despite restrictions on its powers, in 199798, the legislature showed increasing signs of independence from executive power. Moving to further weaken it, Akayev spearheaded another referendum on 17 October 1998 to amend the constitution. Approved by 91.14% of voters, the amendments sharply restricted the legislature's influence over bills involving the budget or other expenditures, limited a legislator's immunity from removal and prosecution, increased the size of the legislative assembly to 60, and decreased the size of the assembly of people's representatives to 45. It also provided for private land ownership and upheld freedom of the press. The legislature has acted in subordination to the executive branch, but has at times asserted itself by overriding presidential vetoes. In November 1999, the assembly of people's representatives rejected the government's budget for 2000, calling for added social and defense spending.

Kyrgyzstan's 20 February 2000 legislative election (with a runoff on 12 March) reflected the erosion of Kyrgyzstan's earlier signal progress in Central Asian democratization, according to the US State Department. Under new laws, 15 seats in the upper chamber were set aside for party list voting. The Central Electoral Commission ruled that 16 parties out of 27 legally registered were disqualified from fielding party list candidates, though it urged that such candidates could instead seek single-member seats. the major opposition Democratic Movement of Kyrgyzstan-Dignity Party bloc was initially registered but then decertified. The Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) on 8 February criticized the decertification as a narrow interpretation of the law and as restricting popular choice in the election. In all, 545 candidates were finally permitted to run for 105 seats. Six parties received over 5% of the vote, giving them seats: the Party of Communists (5 seats), Union of Democratic Forces (4), Democratic Party of Women (2), Party of Veterans (2), My Country (1), and Ata-Meken (1). Only Ata-Meken and the Communist Party are clear opposition parties. Only three constituency races were decided in the first round. In the second round on 12 March, 84 members were elected in a confusing vote. Prominent opposition politician Daniyar Usenov was disqualified after the first round, although he actually had won, according to the OSCE. Similarly, opposition Dignity Party head Feliks Kulov received more votes than his opponents in the first round, but was heavily defeated in the second through apparent legerdemain, according to the OSCE. After the second round, the opposition Democratic Movement, Dignity Party, and the People's Party protested the results.

About 120 OSCE observers and 2,000 local observers monitored the election. In the first round, OSCE monitors pointed to problems such as the disqualification of prominent opposition parties and the pro-government composition of electoral boards, and in the second round criticized continued government harassment of opposition candidates, politically motivated court decisions disqualifying some opposition candidates, and irregularities in vote-counting. US State Department spokesman James Foley on 14 March stressed that "the United States is disappointed in the conduct of the 2000 parliamentary election in Kyrgyzstan," which "amounted to a clear setback for the democratic process." On 23 March, he criticized Kyrgyz authorities for forcibly suppressing a peaceable demonstration and for arresting Kulov the day before on vague charges of committing crimes several years ago. Kulov was acquitted of charges of abuse of office in August, but was rearrested in January 2001. That July, new charges of embezzlement were brought against him, and in May 2002, he was sentenced to 10 years' imprisonment.

On 29 October 2000, Akayev was reelected president with 74% of the vote in an election marred by serious irregularities. Throughout 2001, the government continued to harass the opposition, independent media, and human rights defenders. Police used force to disperse protesters and arrested them throughout 2001 and 2002.

On 13 January 2003, Akayev announced a referendum would be held on 2 February for amendments to the constitution, including the abolition of the two-chamber parliament in favor of a single chamber, the abolition of party-list voting for parliament, and immunity from prosecution of former presidents and their families. Voters could not vote on the changes individually, but were to approve or reject them wholesale. They also had to indicate whether or not they wanted Akayev to remain in office until his term expired in December 2005. 76.6% of Kyrgyz citizens supported the amendments in the referendum, and 78.7% of voters determined Akayev should remain in office. Turnout was over 86%. the opposition, which called for a boycott of the vote and sent observers to monitor the election, said that turnout had been less than 40%, failing to reach the 50% threshold for the referendum to be valid.

Elections for a new unicameral body (Jorgorku Kenesh) were held 27 February 2005, but the vast majority of positions remained undecided and protests over electoral irregularities culminated in the March Revolution which ousted Akayev from office. New legislative elections had not been rescheduled as of then. Kurmanbek Bakiyev was elected president in July 2005 with 88.6% of the vote, although the likelihood that he would remain in power throughout his term was thought unlikely.


There is no formal ruling party. Over two dozen parties are legally registered, though all are small and some are inactive. Fewer than one-half of legislators claim party affiliation. Pro-Akayev parties include the Birimdik (Unity) Party, and the Adilet (Justice) Party (formed by writer Chingiz Aitmatov in October 1999). the main "constructive opposition" party is the People's Party. Among other parties, the Party of Communists (PCK; headed by Masaliyev) calls for reunification with Russia. The Erkin (Free) Kyrgyzstan Progressive Democratic Party calls for elevating the rights of ethnic Kyrgyz. The Democratic Movement calls for democratic socialism. Erkin Kyrgyzstan, Asaba, the Social Democratic Party, Unity, Democratic Movement, My Country, and others decided in July 1999 to form a bloc to contest the legislative elections. the Dignity Party, headed by Felix Kulov (former vice president, security minister, and Bishkek mayor) was formed in August 1999. The electoral code forbade parties from taking part in the February 2000 legislative races unless they were more than one year old, eliminating eight new parties. The Central Electoral Commission in late 1999 also declared the People's, Citizens of Bishkek, Labor Popular, and the People of Manas Parties disqualified on technicalities from taking part in the race. Religious parties are banned. Regional interests are important in the political process. the Kyrgyz leadership reportedly favors interests of the Chu region. Ten major opposition parties formed a broad coalition, the People's Patriotic Movement, in April 2001. After the March Revolution, political parties realigned several times and as of October 2005 the Kyrgyz political situation was in constant flux.


The republic is divided into seven administrative regions, plus the capital city of Bishkek. In addition, there are rayons, or districts. Each oblast and rayon has a local administration consisting of a governor and a local assembly. According to a presidential decree of March 1996, regional governors are appointed by the president to four-year terms, and are responsible for making sure that the local executive and legislative branches cooperate in carrying out state decisions, upholding law and order, ensuring citizens' rights and freedoms, obtaining funds to maintain local government and public property, adhering to state budget strictures, ensuring that taxes are collected, making sure that local pensions and state wages are paid, and generally ensuring the local welfare. Although in theory answering to the president, in practice some of the governors have become powerful spokesmen for regional interests, and run their districts with considerable autonomy. In October 1999, the first elections of municipal, rayon (district) and oblast (region) assemblies or keneshs took place. A new electoral law called for the candidate who gained a simple majority of votes to be declared the winner, introduced multi-seat constituencies, and dictated that only a Kyrgyz citizen who has lived in a constituency for no less than two years could become an assembly deputy.


The 1993 constitution declares the independence of the judiciary from the other branches of government. Thus far, however, the courts remain under the supervision of the Ministry of Justice and continue to operate mostly under Soviet-era laws and procedures. Some judicial reforms are being introduced, such as a separate judicial budget and more judicial training. There are three levels of criminal courts: local courts, which handle petty crimes; provincial courts, which consider most categories of crime, and the appellate Supreme Court. Traditional elders' courts may also handle petty crimes in rural areas. Defendants in elders' courts may appeal to the local administrative court.

A state prosecutor, or procurator, remains responsible for criminal arrests, investigations, and presentations before a panel consisting of a judge and two people's assessors (pensioners or members of labor collectives). Since 1990 there has been a right to have legal counsel in criminal cases. In 1996, the Constitutional Court ruled that only the defense has the right of appeal. Counteracting these restrictions on prosecutorial power, the law continues to allow judges to remand a case to the procurator for further investigation, rather than to declare the defendant guilty or innocent.

Judges hold varying terms of office. Constitutional Court judges are appointed to 15-year terms, Supreme Court judges to 10-year terms, and first-term local court judges to 3-year terms by recommendation of the president and confirmation by the Jogorku Kenesh (legislature). The 1993 constitution instituted a Western concept of judicial review by a Constitutional Court which did not exist under the former Soviet regime. Formed in 1993, the Constitutional Court reviews legislation and administrative acts for consistency with the constitution. It also considers cases on appeal involving individual rights and liberties of citizens. Constitutional Court decisions are final. There is also a higher court of arbitration and a system of lower courts for economic cases.

Libel is a criminal offense and so there is much self-censorship among Kyrgyz journalists. Access to the internet is not controlled and there are no reports of government censorship of internet material. Freedom of assembly and association are generally respected, as seen by the massive protests of 2005. In March 2004, the president signed a law limiting the crimes that carry the death penalty to aggravated murder, rape of underage children, and genocide.

the trafficking of women and girls into forced prostitution abroad continued to be a serious problem and some victims have reported that Kyrgyz authorities are involved in trafficking. In response, the criminal code was amended in 2003 to punish trafficking with up to 20 years in prison, and the Ministry of Internal Affairs opened an anti-trafficking police unit in 2004. the tradition of bride kidnapping and forcing women into marriage persists despite being illegal, and few are prosecuted for the crime.

Kyrgyzstan is a member of many international organizations including the United Nations and the World Trade Organization.


Active armed forces in 2005 totaled 12,500 personnel. the Army had 8,500 personnel. Major components included 215 main battle tanks, 30 reconnaissance vehicles, 387 armored infantry fighting vehicles, 63 armored personnel carriers, and 246 artillery pieces. The Air Force had 4,000 personnel for which key combat elements included 72 fighter aircraft, of which 24 were in storage, and 9 attack helicopters. There was also an estimated 5,000 member paramilitary border guard force. Kyrgyzstan provided the UN with a total of 14 observers in four African countries. The United States, Denmark and Russia each have small contingents in Kyrgyzstan. The defense budget in 2005 totaled $73.1 million.


Kyrgyzstan was admitted to the United Nations (UN) on 2 March 1992; it is part of several specialized organizations, such as the FAO, IFC, IMF, UNCTAD, UNESCO, and the World Bank. the country is a member of the CIS, the WTO, the Asian Development Bank, the Euro-Atlantic Partnership Council, the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development, the Organization of the Islamic Conference (OIC), the NATO Partnership for Peace, and the OSCE. In June 2001, leaders of Kazakhstan, China, Russia, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, and Uzbekistan met in China to launch the Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO) and to sign an agreement to fight terrorism and ethnic and religious militancy while promoting trade. Kyrgyzstan, Kazakhstan, Russia, Belarus, and Tajikistan established the Eurasian Economic Community in 2000.

The United States and the European Union (EU) nations, along with many others, have diplomatic relations with the country. Kyrgyzstan has especially good relations with Germany, neighboring Central Asian states, and China. The country maintains close ties with other former USSR nations. In environmental cooperation, Kyrgyzstan is part of the Basel Convention, Conventions on Biological Diversity and Air Pollution, the Kyoto Protocol, the Montréal Protocol, and the UN Conventions on Climate Change and Desertification.


Kyrgyzstan is among the poorest of the post-Soviet countries. the poverty rate was officially estimated at 40.8% in 2004, although Western estimates place it at around 84%. Although coal, gold, mercury, and uranium deposits are considerable, the country boasts few of the oil and gas reserves that promise a badly needed economic windfall to other Central Asian republics.

Kyrgyzstan's economy is primarily agricultural, with cotton, tobacco, wool, and meat being the primary agricultural products, although only cotton and tobacco are exported in any significant quantities. In 2005, 37.1% of GDP was in the agricultural sector; industry accounted for 21.9% and services for 41%. Over 50% of the labor force is engaged in agriculture.

Under the presidency of Askar Akayev, the process for economic restructuring toward a free market orientation outpaced that of most other post-Soviet republics, yet the transition has been an extremely difficult one. Dissolution of the state ordering system in Kyrgyzstan and its reduction in other post-Soviet republics have disrupted the traditional supply channels and effective markets for the country's industries, severely affecting overall economic performance. Akayev was ousted in spring 2005, and former Prime Minister Kurmanbek Bakiyev was elected president in July 2005. Under Bakiyev, concerns to be addressed include continuing privatizations, expansion of democracy and political freedoms, and reduction of corruption, among others.

As of 1995, 59.5% of enterprises had been privatized or converted to joint stock companies; privatized firms accounted for more than half the GDP that year. Some 50% of industrial firms, 75% of agriculture, and 90% of retail trade were privatized by 1995. By 1999, most of the state-owned enterprises had been sold. Kyrgyzstan was the first CIS country to become a member of the WTO.

The Kyrgyz government instituted tight monetary and fiscal policies in 1994 that reduced inflation from 23% per month in 1993 to 5.4% in 1994 and further, to 2.3% in 1995. Inflation was up again to 18% in 1998. Gross domestic product grew by an average annual rate of 7% from 1987 to 1998, with a 1998 growth rate of 1.8%.

A reform of the government structure in early 1992 consolidated 41 ministries into 13 ministries and 7 commissions. As part of this change, the Ministry of Economy and Finance was established to assume the fiscal and economic planning duties previously carried out separately by the Ministry of Finance and the State Planning Committee. In May 1993, Kyrgyzstan was the first country of the CIS countries to announce the introduction of its own currency, the som. Although taken in order to stabilize the national economy in face of continuing turmoil in the ruble zone, this step posed a large setback to previous negotiations for a single monetary union with other post-Soviet republics. The som has been remarkably stable since 1994, and is considered the most stable currency in Central Asia, although the government still faces excessive debt.

A decline in output from the Kumtor gold mine in 2002 resulted in an 0.5% decline in GDP, although GDP growth rebounded to some 6% over the 200305 period. The government reduced the fiscal deficit to 1% of GDP in 2005. The government in 200506 was embarking upon a poverty-reduction and economic-expansion program, and promised reforms in the tax system.


The US Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) reports that in 2005, Kyrgyzstan's gross domestic product (GDP) was estimated at $9.3 billion. The CIA defines GDP as the value of all final goods and services produced within a nation in a given year and computed on the basis of purchasing power parity (PPP) rather than value as measured on the basis of the rate of exchange based on current dollars. The per capita GDP was estimated at $1,800. the annual growth rate of GDP was estimated at 2%. The average inflation rate in 2005 was 4.2%. It was estimated that agriculture accounted for 37.1% of GDP, industry 21.9%, and services 41%.

According to the World Bank, in 2003 remittances from citizens working abroad totaled $108 million or about $21 per capita and accounted for approximately 5.6% of GDP. Foreign aid receipts amounted to $198 million or about $39 per capita and accounted for approximately 10.7% of the gross national income (GNI).

The World Bank reports that in 2003 household consumption in Kyrgyzstan totaled $1.36 billion or about $269 per capita based on a GDP of $1.9 billion, measured in current dollars rather than PPP. Household consumption includes expenditures of individuals, households, and nongovernmental organizations on goods and services, excluding purchases of dwellings. It was estimated that for the period 1990 to 2003 household consumption grew at an average annual rate of -3.7%. In 2001 it was estimated that approximately 33% of household consumption was spent on food, 11% on fuel, 3% on health care, and 22% on education. It was estimated that in 2004 about 40% of the population had incomes below the poverty line.


In 2000 (the latest year for which data was available), the labor force totaled an estimated 2.7 million persons. As of that year, agriculture engaged 55%, industry 15%, and services 30%. the estimated unemployment rate in 2004 was 18%.

A labor comprehensive law protects the right of all workers to form and belong to unions. The Federation of Independent Trade Unions of Kyrgyzstan (FITUK), successor to the former Sovietera official unions, remains the single trade union umbrella organization. Nineteen of the 20 union organizations in Kyrgyzstan are affiliated with FITUK. The exception is the union of entrepreneurs and cooperative members, which essentially is an association of over 80,000 self-employed persons. Strikes are permitted. Collective bargaining is legally recognized and is used to negotiate workers conditions on a limited basis.

The standard workweek is 41 hours. Safety and health regulations in factories are generally not enforced. Child labor is widespread due to economic hardship. The government set the minimum wage at $2.00 per month, which does not provide a decent standard of living.


In 2003, Kyrgyzstan's crop-producing land amounted to 1,365,000 hectares (3,373,000 acres), or 7.1% of the total land area. About 50% of this area is used to cultivate fodder crops, 42% for winter wheat and barley, 5% for commercial crops (cotton, sugar beets, mulberry trees for silkworms, and tobacco), with the remaining 3% used for growing potatoes and other vegetables. Cultivation occurs primarily in the Shu, Talas, and Fergana valleys. About 39% of GDP was derived from agriculture in 2003. Since independence, about 75% of state farms have been privatized.

Wheat is Kyrgyzstan's main grain crop. Total wheat production was estimated at 998,000 tons in 2004. Individual farmers account for over half of production; state farms, about 40%; and the rest by private households. Production of barley in 2004 was estimated at 233,000 tons; corn, 453,000 tons; and rice, 18,000 tons.

Tobacco is an important cash crop in Kyrgyzstan. the areas around Osh and Jalālābād in the Fergana Valley and the Talas oblast to the north of Osh are the three major tobacco growing regions. The estimated total production was 13,000 tons in 2004.


About 48% of the total land area is considered permanent pastureland. Because of the rugged topography, pasture-based stock breeding is the agricultural mainstay.

Livestock in 2005 included 4 million chickens, 2,964,900 sheep, 1,035,000 cattle, 361,100 horses, 808,400 goats, and 83,000 pigs. Yaks are also bred. Meat production in 2005 totaled 196,000 tons; cow's milk, 1,114,000 tons; wool (greasy), 10,000 tons; and eggs, 18,000 tons.


The Naryn River is the primary site of fishing activity, but fishing is of little commercial significance. The Yssk Kol Lake is slightly saline and not conducive to the development of fresh water species fishing. The total catch in 2003 was 26 tons, including 14 tons of carp.


Forests and woodlands account for about 5.2% of the total land area. With 85% of the country covered by high-altitude mountain ranges, and coupled with an underdeveloped transportation system, the forestry sector is not commercially significant. Imports of forest products totaled $13.3 million in 2004.


Kyrgyzstan's southwestern region contained most of the nation's mineral wealth, including, most importantly, antimony (often found with lead-zinc), mercury (often found with fluorspar), and gold. Principal deposits of these minerals were found in the Kadamzhayskiy Rayon and Khaydarkan regions, in the Alay foothills. The Khaydarkan mercury mining and metallurgical complex, in the Osh region, was the major producer of metallic mercury in the former Soviet Union.

In 2002, Kyrgyzstan produced 537 metric tons of metallic mercury, a decline from 579 metric tons in 2001. Antimony metal and compounds production in 2002 totaled 1,504 metric tons. the mountains also contained deposits of gold, mercury, tungsten, molybdenum, rare earth metals, indium, sulfur, tin, and arsenic. Gold production in 2002 was estimated at 18,000 kg. Output figures in 2002 were: fluorspar concentrate, estimated at 2,750 metric tons, up from 1,175 metric tons in 2001; and cement 532,800 metric tons, up from 468,900 metric tons in 2001.


Unlike its Central Asian neighbors, Kyrgyzstan has insignificant reserves of petroleum and natural gas. Kyrgyzstan's principal energy resources are its deposits of coal. Sub-bituminous coal deposits are found on the southern fringe of the Fergana Valley (at Suluktu and Kyzl-Kyya), while hard coal comes from the west and northwest fringes of the valley (at Tash-Komur, Jalal-Abad, and Osh) and in the Tian Shan foothills east of Ysyk Kol Lake. In 2002, coal production amounted to 506,000 short tons, of which lignite or brown coal accounted for 387,000 short tons and bituminous copal 119,000 short tons. However, demand for coal in that year amounted to 1,369,000 short tons, necessitating the import of 978,000 short tons to make up the difference.

Several large hydroelectric projects are spread along the Naryn River and its headwater tributaries, and a series of dams built on irrigation canals, produce power for the manufacturing sector around Bishkek. The two major electric power plants are a 1,200 MW facility at Toktogul and a 760 MW generator at Bishkek. In 2002, electrical production totaled 13.046 billion kWh, of which nearly 91.8% came from hydropower and 8.2% from fossil fuels. Of the electric power produced, 27% was exported in 2002, mainly to Uzbekistan. Total installed capacity in 2002 was 3.779 million kW. Consumption of electricity in 2002 was 8.938 billion kWh.

Production of oil and natural gas in small quantities comes from fields at the northeastern edge of the Fergana Valley. In 2002, Kyrgyzstan produced an average of 2,000 barrels per day of oil. However, demand for oil averaged 10,090 barrels per day in that year, requiring Kyrgyzstan to import (including crude oil) an average of 8,320 barrels of oil per day. As with oil, domestic natural gas production satisfies only a small percentage of domestic demand. In 2002, Kyrgyzstan's natural gas consumption came to 42.38 billion cu ft, while production was only at 350 million cu ft. Natural gas imports for that year came to 42.38 billion cu ft. A crude oil refinery was built in Dzhalalahad in 1997 by a Kyrgyz-Canadian joint venture. It produces heavy fuel oil, diesel fuel, and gasoline. In 2002, production of refined petroleum products averaged 2,350 barrels per day.


During the Soviet era, industry in Kyrgyzstan was totally dependent on the other republics for raw materials and other resources. Between 1985 and 1989, industrial output increased at a rate of over 5% annually. With the disruption of traditional supply and export arrangements within the former USSR, however, industrial output declined by 1% in 1990 and dropped by over 23% in 1992. Industrial production decreased by 24% in 1994 and by another 12.5% in 1995. By mid-1995, production began to recover and in 1997, Kyrgyzstan reported an industrial growth rate of 7%, and one of 14% for 1998. The high growth rate in 1998 was associated with a steep rise in gold production. Nearly all of Kyrgyzstan's industrial output derives from the capital of Bishkek and surrounding areas. Mechanical and electrical engineering (vehicle assembly, washing machines, electrical appliances, electronics), light industry (mainly textiles and wool processing), and food processing make up close to 75% of the country's industrial production and 80% of its industrial exports. Other important industries include chemicals, leather goods such as shoes, and construction materials (primarily cement). In 2004, the industrial production rate stood at 7.l%. In the early- and mid-2000s, the mining sector accounted for the majority of foreign investment. the high world price for gold also contributed to a rise in GDP and attracted foreign investment in the mid-2000s.

The government passed the Privatization and Denationalization Act in December 1991, authorizing the transfer of all small, medium, and large-scale industrial enterprises to the private sector. The Concept Law on Privatization, passed in 1994, was designed to correct early problems with the transition. By 1995, about 600 enterprises had been sold, with 250 fully privatized. the transition was also expected to involve the conversion of defense industries to civilian use under private ownership. One important conversion involved the participation of a South Korean firm in establishing electronics manufacture at a plant previously geared toward military-related production. The government is encouraging the purchase of substantial shares of individual enterprises by worker collectives, although more widespread and noncollective ownership is also being promoted. By 1999, much of the government's stock had been sold.


The Kyrgyz Academy of Sciences, founded in 1954 at Bishkek, has departments of physical engineering, mathematics, mining geological sciences, and chemical-technological, medical-technological, agricultural, and biological sciences. Attached to the academy are 24 specialized learned societies and research institutes concerned with agriculture, medicine, natural sciences, and technology. Kyrgyz State University has faculties of geography, physics, mathematics, information science and applied mathematics, biology, and chemistry. Agricultural and medical institutes and a technical university are located in Bishkek. The city also has a botanical garden and a scientific and technical library.

In 198797, science and engineering students accounted for 14% of college and university enrollments. In 2002, there were 413 researchers and 51 technicians actively engaged in research and development (R&D) per million people. For that same year, R&D expenditures totaled $16.104 million, or 0.20% of GDP, with business and government accounting for 52.7% and 45.9%, respectively. Higher education accounted for only 0.1%, with foreign sources providing the remaining 1.2%. High technology exports in 2002 amounted to $6 million, or 6% of manufactured exports.


As in other post-Soviet republics, structural reform appears to be proceeding most rapidly in the domestic retail sector. Small shops and traders predominate among the country's private retailing entities. However, expansion in the number of private wholesale distributors has been much less marked, placing small retailers in a disadvantaged position compared with large-scale and potentially monopolistic producers within the country's industrial sector. As of 2006, the government continued to work toward reforms, including greater privatization, that would strengthen a market economy. A 20% value-added tax applies to most goods and services.

Most businesses open around 9 am and close at about 6 pm, with lunch taken sometime between noon and 2 pm. Some offices are open from 9 am to 1 pm on Saturdays. Retail shops are usually open from 7 am to 8 pm, with an afternoon lunch period. Department stores, bookstores, and other shops usually open according to state institution hours. Bazaars are open from 6 am until 7 or 8 pm.


Since 1992, Kyrgyzstan's trade balance has been negative, continuing the structural deficit caused by the costs of oil and gas, pharmaceuticals, and agricultural resources formerly supplied through internal trade with other Soviet republics. The primary export partners in 2004 were: the United Arab Emirates (28.2%); Russia (19.1%); China (12%); Kazakhstan (11.1%); and Switzerland (6.3%). Import partners included: China (26.3%); Russia (22.3%); Kazakhstan (17.1%); and Turkey (5.4%).

Kyrgyzstan exports metals, including gold, mercury, iron, steel and uranium; hydropower; tobacco; cotton; road vehicles; and inorganic chemicals.


Kyrgyzstan had traditionally maintained a trade deficit, derived mostly from dependence on imports from other former Soviet republics. Exports began to increase by 1995, however; the country registered relatively high growth rates in the early 2000s and had a trade surplus in 2001. Foreign exchange reserves are minimal ($593.2 million in 2005). In 2001, the IMF awarded Kyrgyzstan $93 million in aid over a three-year period. Total external debt as of January 2005 stood at $2.428 billion.

In 2005, exports were valued at $759 million, and imports at $937.4 million. The current-account balance in 2005 was estimated at -$77.02 million.


The central bank of Kyrgyzstan is the National Bank of the Kyrgyz Republic (NBK). It heads all 20 banks in the system, the savings bank, three former specialized state banks that have been converted into joint-stock commercial banks, two foreign joint-venture banks, and commercial banks. The specialized banks still dominate the allocation of credit and the taking of deposits, although some smaller banks are starting to challenge the major banks. However, many of the country's commercial banks have only one office. The larger banks have large bad loan portfolios; Promstroybank (Construction Bank) had 80% of its loans overdue at the end of 1994. Bank failures and bank consolidation were common during the late 1990s.

The NBK, formerly the local branch of Gosbank (the State Bank of the former Soviet Union), began to operate independently in

Country Exports Imports Balance
World 581.7 717.0 -135.3
United Arab Emirates 144.3 7.8 136.5
Switzerland-Liechtenstein 117.9 2.5 115.4
Russia 97.0 176.1 -79.1
Kazakhstan 57.1 170.9 -113.8
Canada 31.0 8.3 22.7
China 23.3 77.7 -54.4
Tajikistan 18.9 3.1 15.8
Uzbekistan 16.3 39.2 -22.9
Turkey 11.0 26.0 -15.0
Latvia 9.4 9.4
() data not available or not significant.
Current Account -44.0
     Balance on goods -82.7
         Imports -673.0
         Exports 590.3
     Balance on services 7.0
     Balance on income -61.7
     Current transfers 93.4
Capital Account -0.9
Financial Account -23.0
     Direct investment abroad
     Direct investment in Kyrgyzstan 45.5
     Portfolio investment assets 1.1
     Portfolio investment liabilities 5.0
     Financial derivatives -20.0
     Other investment assets -78.1
     Other investment liabilities 23.5
Net Errors and Omissions 71.6
Reserves and Related Items -3.8
() data not available or not significant.

December 1991 and is intended to perform all the functions of a central bank. The government has stuck with a tight monetary policy. The currency unit was initially the ruble following independence; however, with IMF support, the government introduced a new currency, the som, in May 1993 in order to stabilize the economy, avoid the inflation of the ruble, and attract foreign investment. The International Monetary Fund reports that in 2001, currency and demand depositsan aggregate commonly known as M1were equal to $114.9 million. In that same year, M2an aggregate equal to M1 plus savings deposits, small time deposits, and money market mutual fundswas $170.2 million. the money market rate, the rate at which financial institutions lend to one another in the short term, was 11.9%.

The country has a small stock exchange, opened in May 1995. As of January 1996, 298 companies issued securities, with 7 trading on the stock exchange.


No recent information is available.


During the early 1990s, economic output declined, while inflation escalated. As a result, the proportion of public revenues in GDP plummeted. Transfers from the former Soviet Union amounting to over 11% of GDP largely created an overall budget surplus equivalent to 4.1% of GDP in 1991. In 1992, parliament agreed to a further tightening of fiscal policy (including decreased expenditures and the elimination of transfers to inefficient state enterprises) due to the virtual termination of inflowing subsidies caused by the demise of the Soviet Union. The som, currency introduced by the government in May 1993, has proven fairly stable, and monthly inflation has slowed from 40% to about 10%.

The US Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) estimated that in 2005 Kyrgyzstan's central government took in revenues of approximately $516.3 million and had expenditures of $539.9 million.

Revenue and Grants 12,482.1 100.0%
     Tax revenue 9,187.9 73.6%
     Social contributions
     Grants 622 5.0%
     Other revenue 2,672.3 21.4%
Expenditures 13,098.8 100.0%
     General public services 3,202.7 24.5%
     Defense 980.6 7.5%
     Public order and safety 752 5.7%
     Economic affairs 1,423.1 10.9%
     Environmental protection
     Housing and community amenities 800.9 6.1%
     Health 1,379 10.5%
     Recreational, culture, and religion 295 2.3%
     Education 2,847.6 21.7%
     Social protection 1,417.9 10.8%
() data not available or not significant.

Revenues minus expenditures totaled approximately -$23.6 million. Total external debt was $2.428 billion.

The International Monetary Fund (IMF) reported that in 2001, the most recent year for which it had data, budgetary central government revenues were som12,482.1 million and expenditures were som13,098.8 million. The value of revenues was us$258 million and expenditures us$271 million, based on a official exchange rate for 2001 of us$1 = som48.378 as reported by the IMF. Government outlays by function were as follows: general public services, 24.5%; defense, 7.5%; public order and safety, 5.7%; economic affairs, 10.9%; housing and community amenities, 6.1%; health, 10.5%; recreation, culture, and religion, 2.3%; education, 21.7%; and social protection, 10.8%.


The personal income tax varies up to a maximum rate of 40%; the corporate rate ranges from 1555% with a standard rate of 35%. Also levied are a 20% value-added tax; a withholding tax ranging from zero to 5%; and a social security contribution of 37% by employers and 1% by employees.


Imports are subject to customs duties at an average rate of 10%. The rate is 1020% for certain products, including tobacco, alcoholic beverages, precious metals, and petroleum. Imported raw materials and imports from the former USSR are exempt. Also, a 20% value-added tax is levied on products from everywhere except Azerbaijan, Belarus, and Russia. Kazakhstan, Belarus, Kyrgyzstan, Russia, Tajikistan, and Uzbekistan have formed a customs union. Kyrgyzstan and the United States signed a most-favored nation agreement in 1992.


In June 1991, the Kyrgyzstan parliament passed the Foreign Investment Law guiding the establishment of local enterprises with foreign shareholding as well as 100% foreign ownership. the law secures the right to repatriation of profits and allows foreign investment in all sectors of the economy except military production and certain forms of ownership in agriculture. Foreign buyers may acquire small enterprises being transferred from the state to the private sector directly on the open market; foreign participation in auctions or other forms of bidding for medium and large-scale enterprises requires special government permission. At present, the government is attempting to attract overseas investors, particularly to the minerals, electronics, and agro-processing sectors of the economy. In 1995, the Foreign Investment Law was amended to expand foreign investment opportunities, to clarify investors' rights, and to remove or extend some time limits on certain aspects of foreign investment. Foreign direct investment (FDI) that year amounted to about $800 million, and was rising at a slow but steady rate. Investments from Canada represented 45% of the total; these were concentrated primarily in gold mining (the largest single project being the $375 million development of the Kumtor gold field). Investments from Turkey comprised about 20% of the total; those from the United States, 12%; and China, 10%. In 1998, foreign direct investment totaled $102 million, up from $83 million in 1997.

In 2004, the Kyrgyz government founded the National Council for Good Governance that was tasked with tackling corruption. The government is working with NGOs, international financial institutions, and international donors, to develop a plan to combat corruption. The government and members of the business and diplomatic communities have met to discuss reforms and a strategy to market the Kyrgyz Republic to foreign investors. Reforms are to be made in the banking sector, in addition to legal reforms and infrastructure improvement. Taxes are complex, with businesses paying anywhere from 12 to 19 different taxes; some of these are not financially burdensome, but require time-consuming accounting. There are currently four free economic zones (FEZs) in Kyrgyzstan: at Bishkek, Naryn, Karakol, and Maimak. FDI totaled $116 million in 2002, an increase from $90 million in 2001. In 2002, the countries providing the largest sources of FDI included: the United States ($39.1 million); Germany ($31.4 million); Turkey ($30 million); Canada ($25.7 million); South Korea ($11.7 million); and China ($10 million).


Under the Soviet system, economic planning efforts in Kyrgyzstan focused on increasing agricultural production (particularly in the meat and dairy subsectors during the 1980s) and specialized development of industrial sectors in line with the wider Soviet economy. Transfer payments from the central government as well as capital inflows into state enterprises covered the republic's modest balance of trade deficit with its Soviet trading partners and countries beyond. With this support, GDP growth was sustained at moderately high levels in the late 1980s, averaging 5.1% in 198589.

Kyrgyzstan declared its independence in 1991. Since then, the Kyrgyzstan government faced the task of sustaining a viable national economy despite the sudden cessation of transfers from the central government, the country's critical dependence on oil and gas imports, and its landlocked geographic position that has hampered development of trading ties outside the economically troubled former Soviet Union. Reforms have aimed at making the transition to a market-oriented economy.

Kyrgyzstan experienced declines in gross domestic product (GDP) from 199194. Both per capita income and overall output fell to well below the 1990 level. Agricultural output fell by an estimated 20%, and industrial output, by 42%. By 1996, however, Kyrgyzstan had begun to show progress, especially when compared to the other former Soviet republics, in the areas of privatizing state enterprises, ending the state ordering system, lifting price controls, and converting military enterprises to civilian uses. Prime Minister Apas Jumagulov reported in 1995 that the economic crises had eased, and the rates of decline were slowing.

A value-added tax was introduced in 1992 to help strengthen the government revenue base. Expected state revenues, however, have fallen short of expectation due to steeply declining consumption and collection difficulties within the new tax system. With seriously declining revenues since 1991, the government's ability to make new development investments in either the productive sectors or physical and social infrastructure has been severely constrained. Capital expenditures as a percentage of total budgetary expenditures declined from 15% in 1990 to only 7% in 1992. Because of its commitment to democracy, Kyrgyzstan has received favorable treatment from international economic aid agencies. In 1992, the government signed a formal agreement with Russia transferring its share of the former Soviet Union's external debt to the latter in return for relinquishing most claims to the financial and other assets of the former USSR.

In May 1996, President Akayev negotiated an aid package from the Asian Development Bank that included $60 million in loans to finance privatization of agriculture and to renovate power and heating facilities in Bishkek. In support of the government's efforts to evolve the country's agriculture from large communes to private farms, the Asian Development Bank also offered loans to small farmers. In July 1996, the International Finance Corporation promised $40 million to finance a project to mine for gold near Issy-Kul', a large lake in the northeast. In November 1996, the World Bank moved to support programs to reform the Kyrgyzstan banking system and to modernize the electric power generating system. In 2001, the IMF awarded Kyrgyzstan $93 million in aid over a three-year period, and that year Kyrgyzstan received $50 million in aid from the United States.

In 2001, the government published its Comprehensive Development Framework (CDF) for 200110. The CDF contains the following goals for strengthening the economic stability of the country: modernization of the telecommunications, transportation, and tourism infrastructures; reduction and rationalization of the government's regulatory role in the economy; implementation of more sound fiscal, monetary, and taxation policies; reform of the judicial system to protect property rights; poverty reduction and employment creation, especially among Kyrgyz youth; and strengthening and reforming the banking sector. In addition to these goals, by 2006 other ingredients of future growth included progress fighting corruption, further restructuring of domestic industry, and success in attracting foreign investment.


Old age, disability, and survivorship pensions are provided to all employed persons and members of cooperatives and collective farms. Contributions of 8% of earnings from employees, and 25% of payroll by employers finance the program. A universal medical care system exists for all residents. Maternity benefits for employed women include 100% of pay for 126 days of leave. Workers' compensation, unemployment benefits, and family allowances are also provided.

Women have equal status under the law, although discrimination persists. Women are well-represented in the workforce in urban areas, and participate in higher education and professional fields. However, they appear to be disproportionately affected by growing unemployment. A women's congress in Bishkek convenes periodically to consider women's issues. Opportunities for women are lacking in the rural areas. Domestic abuse and violence against women remain common. The lack of government funds impacts the programs aimed at assisting children. Child labor is increasingly common.

There is reported discrimination in hiring, promotion, and housing against citizens who are not ethnic Kyrgyz. Police brutality has been reported, as well as arbitrary arrest and detention. The government violates basic civil rights, including the freedoms of speech, assembly, association, and the press. In 2004 the human rights record showed improvement. There were problems with freedom of speech and the press, due process for the accused, religious freedom, ethnic discrimination, and electoral irregularities. There are cases of police brutality and arbitrary arrest, but the number of incidents is declining. Citizens have only a limited ability to peaceably change their government. there are independent newspapers, magazines, and radio stations, and some independent television broadcasts, although the government takes measures to curtail the operations of independent media.


Kyrgyzstan's health care system has remained state-run following the breakup of the Soviet Union. Primary health care is being restructured using a family group practice model. As of 2004, there were an estimated 268 physicians, 675 nurses, and 26 dentists per 100,000 people. Approximately 26% of the country's hospital beds were eliminated between 1990 and 1996, but hospital expenditures still account for more than 70% of health care spending. Total health care expenditure was estimated at 4.4% of GDP.

The infant mortality rate in 2005 was 35.64 per 1,000 live births and the maternal mortality rate was 65 per 100,000 live births. As of 2002, the crude birth rate and overall mortality rate were estimated at, respectively, 26.1 and 9.1 per 1,000 people. Major causes of death were communicable diseases and maternal/perinatal causes and injuries. Immunization rates for children up to one year old were tuberculosis, 97%, and polio, 84%. As of 1999 the rates for DPT and measles immunizations were, 98% and 97%, respectively. Tuberculosis incidence and mortality rates are rising steeply, reflecting economic hardship and the deterioration of the health infrastructure. Controlled for 30 years, diphtheria has reemerged since the breakup of the Soviet Union. Nearly 50% of these cases occurred in persons 15 or under. The cancer mortality rates in Kyrgyzstan were higher than the medium human development countries. In 2005, life expectancy was 68.16 years.

The HIV/AIDS prevalence was 0.10 per 100 adults in 2003. As of 2004, there were approximately 3,900 people living with HIV/AIDS in the country. There were an estimated 200 deaths from AIDS in 2003.


During the Soviet era, there was a severe lack of urban housing in Kyrgyzstan. In 1990, Kyrgyzstan had 12.1 sq m of housing space per capita and nearly 85,000 households (or 18.6%) were on waiting lists for housing in urban areas. At the first census in 1999, there were about 1,109,716 households in the country; the average number of members per household was 4.3. Overcrowding is a problem both in urban and rural areas; it is not unusual for two or three generations of family members to live in a single household. From 19962000, only about 14,800 new dwellings were built. the rate of housing constructions has not kept pace with the growth of population. But just as troubling is the slow rate of maintenance and improvement of the existing housing stock. In some apartment complexes, an entire floor may share one toilet. In 2000, about 77% of the population had access to improved water sources; most residents had some access to improved sanitation.


The educational system was not developed until after the 1920s when the country came under Soviet control. Primary school covers four years of study and is compulsory. This is followed by five years of basic secondary studies. At this stage, students may continue for two years of complete secondary education (necessary for university studies) or opt for a three-year vocational program. There are also training programs available for over 200 trades. the academic year runs from September to July.

In 2001, about 14% of children between the ages of three and five were enrolled in some type of preschool program. Primary school enrollment in 2003 was estimated at about 89% of age-eligible students. It is estimated that about 93% of all students complete their primary education. The student-to-teacher ratio for primary school was at about 24:1 in 2003.

The State University of Kyrgyzstan is the main institution of higher education. In 2003, about 42% of the tertiary age population were enrolled in some type of higher education program. the adult literacy rate for 2004 was estimated at about 98.7%.

The Ministry of Education, Science and Culture is the primary administrative body. As of 2003, public expenditure on education was estimated at 4.4% of GDP, or 18.6% of total government expenditures.


Important libraries in Kyrgyzstan include the National Library of the Kyrgyz Republic, with over 3.6 million volumes, and the Scientific Technical Library of Kyrgyzstan, with over 5.8 million volumes. The Kyrgyzstan State University library contains over 931,000 volumes, the Kyrgyzstan Agricultural Institute holds 626,000, and the Kyrgyzstan Technical University holds 766,000 volumes.

The State Historical Museum of Kyrgyzstan has 20,000 items on display depicting the history of Kyrgyzstan. The Kyrgyzstan Museum of Fine Arts collects primarily modern work. There are several regional museums exhibiting primarily archaeological findings.


Telephone links to other former Soviet republics are via land line or microwave, and to other countries through Moscow. the telephone network is underdeveloped, with some 41,000 residents waiting for telephone lines as of 2003. In 2003, there were an estimated 76 mainline telephones for every 1,000 people. the same year, there were approximately 27 mobile phones in use for every 1,000 people.

The state-owned Kyrgyz National TV and Radio Broadcasting Corp. has the widest broadcast range, but still could not reach the entire nation as of 2005. In 1998, there were 12 AM and 14 FM radio stations. In 2003, there were an estimated 110 radios and 49 television sets for every 1,000 people. The same year, there were 12.7 personal computers for every 1,000 people and 38 of every 1,000 people had access to the Internet. There were two secure Internet servers in the country in 2004.

In 2004, between 40 and 50 newspapers and magazines were published on a regular basis. The largest daily newspapers (with 2002 circulation figures) were Sovetik Kyrzystan (circulation 162,625), Slovo Kyrgyzstan (in Russian, circulation 111,000), Vecherni Bishkek (also in Russian, with a circulation of 51,500), and Kyrgyz Tuusu. The state-operated printing house, Uchkun, is the primary printing facility for the nation's major newspapers. An independent printing press was opened in 2003 by a group known as Media Support Center; by late 2004, this press was reportedly publishing about 50 commercial and political newspapers.

On 2 July 1992 the government passed a law on the press and mass media which supports freedom of the press but also provides guidelines proscribing publication of certain information. the law supports the right of journalists to work, obtain information, and publish without prior restraint. The law prohibits publication of state secrets, material which advocates the overthrow of, or changes to, the existing constitutional order in Kyrgyzstan or elsewhere. It also prohibits publication of material that advocates war, violence, or intolerance toward ethnic or religious groups. Desecration of national norms, ethics, and symbols like the national seal, anthem, or flag is prohibited. Publication of pornography is prohibited, as is propagation of untrue information.


Important economic organizations in Kyrgyzstan include the Chamber of Commerce and Industry and the Kyrgyzstan Council of Free Trade Unions. Active political organizations include the Committee for the Defense of Human Rights, the Slavic Fund, Free Kyrgyzstan, Agigat, and Ashar. The Kyrgyz Bar Association was formed in August 1995. The Congress of Women of the Kyrgyz Republic serves as an umbrella organization for women's development groups. There are a number of sports associations and clubs through the country. The Kyrgyzstan Medical Association is one of several professional associations dedicated to research and education in specialized fields. Kiwanis International and the Lions Clubs have programs in the country. The Red Crescent Society and Habitat for Humanity are also active.


The development in tourism has been a main priority of Kyrgyzstan since it gained its independence in 1991. Osh, Kyrgyzstan's second-largest city, is considered a holy city by Muslim pilgrims who visit it annually to pray at its Islamic shrines. The capital city of Bishkek is surrounded by some of the highest mountain ranges in the world. Bishkek is known for its large public parks and gardens, shady avenues, and botanical gardens. Equestrian sports are very popular in Kyrgyzstan.

Passports and visas are required for entry to Kyrgyzstan and are not obtainable at land borders or other airports. the principal accommodations are hotels that formerly belonged to the Soviet Intourist system. However, foreign chains have developed a number of projects in Central Asia. In 2002 there were 139,589 visitors who arrived in Kyrgyzstan, of whom 63% came from Europe.

In 2004, the US Department of State estimated the daily expenses of staying in Kyrgyzstan at $189.


Askar A. Akayev was elected president of the republic of Kyrgyzstan, in October 1990, prior to the republic declaring its independence. He remained president until 2005, when he was deposed in the popular uprising known as the "Tulip Revolution." Kurmanbek Bakiyev (b.1949) became acting president in 2005. Chinghiz Aitmatov (b.1928), winner of two Lenin Prizes for literature, is a native Kyrgyzstani.


Kyrgyzstan has no territories or colonies.


Abazov, Rafis. Historical Dictionary of Kyrgyzstan. Lanham, Md.: Scarecrow, 2003.

Commission on Security and Cooperation in Europe. Human Rights and Democracy in Kyrgyzstan: Hearing Before the Commission on Security and Cooperation in Europe, One Hundred Seventh Congress, First Session, December 12, 2001. Washington, D.C.: U.S. Government Printing office, 2002.

Foreign Investment and Privatisation in Kyrgyzstan. London: Clifford Chance, 1993.

Handrahan, Lori. Gendering Ethnicity: Implications for Democracy Assistance. New York: Routledge, 2002.

Kolsto, Pal. Russians in the Former Soviet Republics. Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1995.

Kort, Michael. Central Asian Republics. New York: Facts On File, 2004.

Kyrgyzstan: The Transition to a Market Economy. Washington, D.C.: World Bank, 1993.

Seddon, David (ed.). A Political and Economic Dictionary of the Middle East. Philadelphia: Routledge/Taylor and Francis, 2004.

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Basic Data
Official Country Name: Kyrgyz Republic
Region: East & South Asia
Population: 4,685,230
Language(s): Kirghiz (Kyrgyz), Russian
Literacy Rate: 97%
Academic Year: September-May
Number of Primary Schools: 1,885
Compulsory Schooling: 10 years
Public Expenditure on Education: 5.3%
Foreign Students in National Universities: 125
Libraries: 1,001
Educational Enrollment: Primary: 473,077
  Secondary: 530,854
  Higher: 49,744
Educational Enrollment Rate: Primary: 104%
  Secondary: 79%
Teachers: Primary: 24,086
  Secondary: 42,286
  Higher: 3,691
Student-Teacher Ratio: Primary: 20:1
  Secondary: 13:1
Female Enrollment Rate: Primary: 103%
  Secondary: 83%

History & Background

The Republic of Kyrgyzstan is a small, mountainous, landlocked country in Central Asia approximately the size of the U.S. state of South Dakota and with a population in 1999 of 4.8 million inhabitants. Bordered by China in the east, Kazakhstan in the north, Uzbekistan in the west, and Tajikistan in the south, it was one of the smaller, more obscure constituent republics of the former Soviet Union when it declared its independence on 1 January 1991.

Kyrgyzstan gets its name from its largest ethnic group, the Kyrgyz. Originally a group of nomadic peoples from the southern Siberian steppes, they migrated south between the eleventh and sixteenth centuries into modern day Kyrgyzstan. As a nomadic people, the Kyrgyz did not possess a written language until it was transcribed around 1862, using the Cyrillic alphabet. This period also saw the beginning of Russian colonization of Kyrgyzstan, a migration that today has resulted in a significant number of ethnic Russians living in Kyrgyzstan. When the Kyrgyz arrived in present day Kyrgyzstan, they encountered a sedentary people in the flatter more southerly areas, the Uzbeks. Thus today the country is made up of 65 percent Kyrgyz, 12 percent Russian, and 13 percent Uzbeks with a very small number (less than 1 percent) of Tadjiks, Ukrainians, Koreans, and Jewish ethnic minorities. This breakdown, however, conceals regional differences whereby Russians are concentrated in the major cities, Uzbeks constitute a majority in the south, and ethnic Kyrgyz are predominant in the more mountainous and rural areas.

Russian presence and influence in Kyrgyzstan was particularly significant following the Russian revolution of 1917-1918. At this time central Russian control was exercised by the placement of Russians in positions of authority. Moreover, the educational system for the 70 years of Soviet control was based exclusively on the Russian/Soviet model of Marxist-Leninist orthodoxy, a system that today is generally being replaced by a more western capitalist model and curriculum. Therefore, understanding the Kyrgyz educational system invariably involves an understanding of the Soviet system that it replaced and the changes in the external and internal educational environments that have occurred since 1990. In addition to this environment is the emergence in certain parts of the country, particularly the south, of an Islamic system of schooling. This reflects both that the Kyrgyz and southern Uzbeks and Tadjiks are followers of Islam and that religion is a force in the cultural base. Thus there is a rise in Islam as a force in education in the country.

The period of Soviet control was particularly marked in Kyrgyzstan by a rise in literacy. In 1926, at the time of the first Soviet census, there were 65,636 males in the Kyrgyz Socialist Soviet Republic, and 30,846 were literate; there were 63,430 females, and 13,936 were literate. In the census of 1989, just before the collapse of the Soviet Union, only 3 percent of the population (males 1.4 percent and females 4.5 percent) was considered illiterate.

With limited natural resources, a lack of internationally competitive industries, and a landlocked status, Kyrgyzstan has had some difficulty adjusting to a privatized, market economy. It is generally agreed that the process of economic and political transition has been one of the more successful of the former Soviet Republics, but not without significant economic hardship to the people. This hardship has dramatically affected the educational system.

In the years since independence, the other major issue within the new nation that has affected the educational system has been the search for and establishment of a Kyrgyz national identity, along with its resultant impact on the Russian, Uzbek, and other minorities. As a result of measures to establish a Kyrgyz identity, many Russians have emigrated from Kyrgyzstan while those who remain have perceived an erosion of their cultural identity as a result of preferential treatment for Kyrgyz cultural elements. This is important, as Russians formerly held the most important positions in technology, trade, and education. The loss of some 300,000 highly educated Russians in the last 10 years has significantly affected the administrative and educational functions in the country. In an attempt to offset these perceptions, the government has made Russian an official language along with Kyrgyz, established a Slavic university, and appointed prominent ethnic Russians to key government positions. Perhaps more problematic has been the resolution of the issue of Islamic fundamentalism. While Kyrgyzstan is an avowed secular state with Islam the predominant religion, its government has been required to address the incursion of Islamic separatist armed rebels into southern parts of the country, which in turn has diverted public funds to the military that might have gone toward education.

Constitutional & Legal Foundations

Constitutional Provisions & Laws Affecting Education: Universal free education in Kyrgyzstan was first enshrined in the USSR constitution in the 1970s. It provided for state-subsidized education for all with the goal of 100 percent literacy.

Following the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991, the government wrote and adopted on the 12 May 1993 a constitution for the new nation. Article 32 in the constitution reads:

  • Every citizen of the Kyrgyz Republic shall have the right to an education.
  • General secondary education shall be compulsory and free of charge, and everyone shall be entitled to receive it in the state educational institutions.
  • The state shall provide for the vocational, special secondary, and higher education for every person in accordance with individual aptitude.
  • Paid education for citizens at national and other educational institutions shall be allowed on the basis of and in the procedure established by the legislation.
  • The state shall exercise control over the activity of educational institutions.

By also including in Article 16 of the constitution the recognition and guarantees of other human rights, Kyrgyzstan became party to other treaties that affect education, such as discrimination against women, social rights, and the rights of childrenall of which have major education provisions.

Upon independence, education was one of the first areas of social concern to be addressed. The Kyrgyz Republic's education law, enacted in 1992, has essentially governed the post-Soviet system of education.

In 1996, policy measures to implement the 1992 law on education were expanded in a national education program called "Bilim." These measures were to guide education development up to the year 2000. The policy addressed the issues of basic necessities (reading, writing, and problem solving), educational content (knowledge, values, and views), and the role of education in quality of life, decision-making, and educational goals. It is necessary to see "Bilim" as a response to what was perceived as a deteriorating system of education and the measures necessary for the government to take to stop this erosion in quality and accessibility. "Bilim" was essentially the policy framework under which Kyrgyzstan's educational system operated between 1996 and 2000, but various supplementary programs have also been introduced addressing such issues as access, educational response to rising poverty levels, international assistance, specialization in education, and bringing technology into the classroom.

In 1997 the Education Law of 1992 was amended to allow individual institutions to determine their own educational system and their own curriculum within set national funding amounts, standards, and curriculum guidelines. Essentially the system of higher education reflected item four of the constitution by becoming more fee-based and attempting to become more responsive to market demands.

Educational Philosophies: There were three dramatic changes in educational philosophy in Kyrgyzstan in the 1990s. The first paradigm shift was the move from a repetitive, rote learning educational philosophy to more problem-oriented critical thinking. The second was the attempt to offset declining literacy rates and school attendance with a program called "Education for All." This mobilized not only education professionals but also other government agencies, particularly social service agencies, and enlisted the assistance of a wide range of NGOs (nongovernmental organizations) and international aid agencies to combat the adverse effects on the school system of economic and social transition. The third is the movement toward a more national Kyrgyz identity that of necessity starts in the school system.

Educational SystemOverview

Compulsory Education & Age Limits: In 1996 Kyrgyzstan had a school age population of 674,000, which was up from 651,000 just 6 years earlier. Education is compulsory for 9 years, comprising 4 years in a primary school from age 6 through 10, followed by secondary school for 5 years up to the age of 15. At this point students can leave school or continue their studies in either an upper secondary school, a specialized secondary school, or a technical/vocational school. At 18 years of age, further education is conducted within the university system.

Academic Year: The academic year begins 1 September or as close to it as possible, and end of year exams are usually over by early June. Attestats (the graduation transcripts) are issued on 22 June and is usually the final event of the school year. The university year usually ends in May.

Enrollment: In 1995 enrollment in primary schools was 97 percent of the relevant age group; enrollment figures for compulsory secondary school are unknown, but in 1996 the gross enrollment percentage was 79 percent, which was down from a reported 100 percent in 1990. Thus it appears that as children get older they are increasingly not attending school but working to offset economic hardship in the family. Testament to this fact is that in 1996 enrollment for males (75 percent) was less than for females (83 percent). This suggests that the collapse of the Soviet Union has affected school enrollments.

Females & Minority Enrollments: Unlike many nations, Kyrgyzstan has full equality in education as a legacy of both the Soviet system and the new Kyrgyz constitution. In fact, the need for boys to assist in farm labor and periodic markets (bazaars ) means girls have a better attendance record than boys. Females make up 51 percent of primary school children, 55 percent of secondary school children, and 52 percent of university students Females also have a dominant role in the management of the educational system in Kyrgyzstan. The majority of teachers are female. Indeed, in 2001 Kyrgyzstan had an ethnic Kyrgyz female Minister of Education, Camilla Sharshekeeva. Similarly, the compulsory and universal access to education has meant that education for ethnic minorities has not been an issue at the primary and secondary level. The imposition of Kyrgyz nationalism within the educational system was a major driving force behind the establishment of a Slavonic University in 1993 to cater to the ethnic Slavic population in Kyrgyzstan.

Language of Instruction: In 1998, a total of 65.7 percent of primary and secondary schools taught in Kyrgyz, 6.9 percent in Russian, 20.1 percent mixed (Russian and Kyrgyz), 7.2 percent in Uzbek, and 0.3 percent in Tadjik. These figures indicate a rise in Kyrgyz instruction and a significant diminution (down 15 percent) in Russian in a 5 year period. In addition, of the 207 schools built between 1993 and 1998, some 138 were schools in which instruction is only in the Kyrgyz language. These percentages also reflect regional distribution of the ethnic groups within Kyrgyzstan, with most rural schools in the north and east teaching in Kyrgyz, while in the south, in the Fergana Valley, Uzbek and Tadjik are the preferred languages of instruction. The fact that prospective teachers attend and graduate from regional institutions of higher education in their own ethnic regions would seem to perpetrate this distribution.

In contrast, at institutes of higher education, Russian predominates as the language of instruction. This is due in part to the ready availability of Russian texts as opposed to Kyrgyz language texts. In 1993-1994, 64.6 percent of university students were taught in Russian, 34.7 percent in Kyrgyz, and 0.7 percent in Uzbek.

Examinations: Students are examined at the end of every semester with the summer examination determining whether the student advances to the next grade. Examinations at the end of secondary school are partly used as university entrance examinations. These are in conjunction with examinations set by the individual university for the field of study that the aspiring student wishes to enter. A national testing system was also introduced in 1993, but suspicion and distrust of the motives behind it has hampered its use as a barometer of success.

Grading System: Grading is done by individual teachers and professors. They enter grades into an official book, called unofficially by its Russian name of Zachotka, which the student will carry to prospective employers. It is common practice in Kyrgyzstan and throughout the former Soviet Union for teachers and university professors to accept payment to inflate student grades. This is directly attributable to the low salaries of the teaching staff. In addition, the institution is usually prepared to change student grades in order to place students in employment positions that will reflect favorably on the institution.

Private Schools: A large number of private schools commenced teaching in Kyrgyzstan following the breakup of the Soviet Union. All operate on a fee basis but often with outside sources subsidizing the institution. The most numerous are so-called gymnasiums, lyceums, innovation schools, and the purely private institutions. The 94 gymnasiums cater to 46,000 pupils, the 70 Lyceums to 19,700 pupils, and the 344 innovative schools to 109,000 pupils. The latter primarily target gifted children. In 1999, there were approximately 25 institutions totally supported by private funds. Most (20) are aimed at secondary school students and reflect efforts by ethnic minorities to preserve their culture. Hence Korean, Jewish, and Tatar associations provide some private schooling for their ethnic minorities, while evangelical church groups have been active in establishing church schools in Kyrgyzstan. Most visible have been privately funded Turkish educational establishments, particularly in higher education where the establishment in 1998 of a Turkish university was a major addition to higher education options.

Religious Schools: The revival of Islam in a formerly avowed atheist state has been marked by a rise, albeit small, in religious schools. At present, theological students study in such countries as Saudi Arabia and Turkey and return to small institutions attached to the mosque (Medressahs ). The curriculum is heavily dependant on learning from the Koran as opposed to general theological studies.

Instructional Technology (Computers): There is a serious lack of computers not only in the schools of Kyrgyzstan but also the country as a whole. It is estimated that fewer than 10 percent of the schools have computers. Most of the specialized institutions of higher education have computer labs working with donated and purchased computers, but state institutions, particularly in the outlying cities, have a serious lack of computers for instructional technology. In addition, the computers that are in existence are often dated and unable to accommodate technological advancements. In particular, the Internet is highly restricted and difficult to access consistently.

TextbooksPublication & Adoption: Severe budget difficulties have meant that new textbooks have not been produced or purchased. Moreover, most of the textbooks in Kyrgyzstan originated in Russia and are therefore in the Russian language. Kyrgyz educational authorities are aware that textbooks that reflect the change in the political and economic spheres are available, but access is highly problematic because of their cost. For example, in 1998, of 72 books that were to be published, only 25 were produced, with a circulation of 553,000 copies. Ministry data indicate a set of texts for the first year of schooling cost 160 soms per student, 220 soms for fifth year students, and 430 soms for the graduating classmore than a teacher's monthly salary (US$10 equals approximately 500 soms). Thus, access to English language texts is even more restricted. Most libraries have some donated English language texts, but relevance to the curriculum is coincidental if at all.

Audiovisuals: There is a serious deficiency in audiovisual services in classrooms at all levels. In large part this is a legacy of the Soviet pedagogical method of instruction by lecture. The severe budget restrictions since the collapse of the Soviet Union has further limited the use of audiovisual materials as modern teaching aids.

CurriculumDevelopment: There have been attempts to change the school curriculum since the fall of the Soviet Union to reflect new political and educational philosophies. At the primary level there has been a strong movement to introduce more Kyrgyz culture into the school curriculum, particularly Kyrgyz language study and a focus on Kyrgyz history and culture (art, music, and literature). At higher levels there is continued emphasis on Kyrgyz subjects with more intensive mathematics and the sciences. In addition, health awareness and sex education have entered the curriculum. A major impediment to the application of new curriculum materials is the slow movement away from the former Marxist-Leninist rubric, which is in large part owing to an aging teacher population unfamiliar with western educational subjects and systems. Thus one will still find economics classes that use statist and interventionist models as opposed to models of free market economics, private entrepreneurship, and western management systems. Teacher retraining has been a major focus of the state, and in 1992 the Kyrgyz Institute of Education, a major training institution, opened a retraining department. In Osh, the second largest city, a Skills Improvement Institute for practicing teachers has also enjoyed some success.

Foreign Influences on Educational System: Kyrgyzstan has been the recipient of significant foreign aid since the collapse of the Soviet Union, and education has been the beneficiary of much of this aid. The United States, through U.S. AID programs and U.S. Information Agency programs, has contributed significantly to educational development. Peace Corps volunteers have been especially active in teaching English in both urban and rural schools. Fulbright and MacArthur fellows, through the U.S. Department of Education, have been active in exchanges in higher education, particularly in the Kyrgyz-American School in Bishkek. Universities in the United States and Europe have established affiliations with a number of Kyrgyz universities. For example, Portland State University in Oregon established a link with Osh State University in the early years of independence; this has expanded to create a number of centers, including one for business. The Kyrgyz-American University has links with a consortium of Indiana universities, George Washington University, and Brown University. Private sector assistance through the Soros Foundation has been active in Bishkek, and those western businesses with a significant presence in Kyrgyzstan have generously supported Kyrgyz students and institutions. Turkish aid, in the form of a new university, has also been a marked part of foreign influence on education.

Role of Education in Development: More than 1.1 million persons are employed in Kyrgzy education, making it the most significant employer in the country. Moreover, education has been touted as a major path to bring Kyrgyzstan into the world economy. However, the educational system has regressed considerably since the days of high literacy rates and technological achievements of the Soviet era. The reasons for this are readily apparent: lack of funding for teachers, equipment, and buildings; a movement out of the country of the best and brightest graduates; and corruption at all levels.

Preprimary & Primary Education

General Survey: Before 1990, Kyrgyzstan had an extensive system of kindergartens that provided preschool care from the age of one year up to the time children started primary school. This system was state run and an excellent preparation for school system entry. Mass privatization and the divesting of kindergarten facilities by the state and the new private enterprises has led to a massive reduction in the number of preschool facilities. In 1990 there were 16,976 such institutions, whereas by 1996 the number had dropped to 449. Moreover, many had become private and were unable or not prepared to deliver preschool educational programs. In 1995-1996, 35,254 students were enrolled in preprimary institutions with 4,013 teachers. The Ministry of Education believes that this sector has suffered the most as a result of the change to a market economy.

In 1995-1996 there were 1,885 primary schools with 473,077 students being taught by 24,086 teachers, a ratio of 19 to 1. By 1998 the number of teachers had dropped to 19,122, of which fewer than 50 percent had a higher education. It is also believed that enrollment in primary schools is declining, particularly in rural areas where the need for child labor to help with farm and home chores to subsidize the family income is more important than schooling. Moreover, the amalgamation of some classes in primary schools as a result of unpaid teachers leaving the profession is contributing to this problem.

Urban & Rural Schools: Notwithstanding the difficulties in the school system, there were no school closures between 1990 and 2000, and enrollments increased as a result of high birth rates. By 1999 there were 1,939 schools in Kyrgyzstan, 1,614 of them in rural areas. However, as was noted above, rural primary schools seem to be suffering more than urban schools from the economic woes of the country. Class sizes are bigger than in urban schools as a result of class amalgamation, and, where high birth rates exceed capacity, schools operate in shifts. Indeed, seven schools offer evening classes to accommodate students who are unable to attend during the day. The physical condition of the schools in Kyrgyzstan is a significant problem. Many rural school buildings had no hot water or indoor toilet facilities, even in Soviet times, and since 1990 conditions have further deteriorated. Many need repair and refurbishment. City governments are wealthier than rural governments, hence urban school buildings are in better repair with utilities less disrupted and thus more conducive to teaching.

Teachers: Most rural teachers are women, usually trained at the local regional institute and teaching in a former collective school building. Teaching conditions are difficult and taxing; salaries are often absent, delayed, or only partially paid. The average monthly salary in 2001 was approximately 500 soms or US$10. Many continue to teach because, as some say, "We have nothing else to do, and it is our duty." In urban areas conditions are somewhat better, with more of a guarantee of salary and greater access to equipment and supplies.

Dropouts & Repeaters: In 1997 school authorities perceived that the decline in school attendance was becoming a serious problem. In particular it appeared that refugees from Tajikistan, as well as Kyrgyz peoples migrating from the predominantly Uzbek southern region, were moving into those regions near the capital city of Bishkek and not attending school. In 1997, a total of 8,588 children did not attend school; of these, 945 were primary school children. As a result of government action (providing school meals, clothing, and free transportation to school), the overall figure was reduced to 5,074 in 1998, but the number of primary school children not in school had risen to 2,287. The large reduction in dropouts had been achieved by reducing secondary school dropouts. The government is collecting detailed data on why these 5,074 students did not attend school, an important step in further reducing this number. The number of students repeating grades is not available, but there is anecdotal evidence that students can and do repeat. This number has been increasing as students dropout and are reinstated.

Secondary Education

General Survey: The drop in the number of teachers throughout the Kyrgyz Republic has been particularly marked in the secondary schools. In 1995 there were 38,915 secondary school teachers, but by 1998 this figure had fallen to 35,254. In 1995 there were 498,849 students.

CurriculumExaminations & Diplomas: The most important diploma a student obtains is his or her Secondary School Certificate (Attectat o srednem obrazzovanii ), which is necessary for entering higher education or a profession.

Teachers: Of the 35,235 teachers in the secondary schools, 87 percent have received a college education. Secondary school teachers tend to teach specialized subjects (9,434 of the 35,235 in 1998), such as music, physical education, the sciences, and art. With the falling number of teachers and the rising birth rate, class sizes are invariably increasing.

Dropouts & Repeaters: As in the primary schools, absent students were a worrisome feature of secondary schools in 1997. That year, 2,517 secondary school pupils were reported as having dropped out of school, the second largest age group of non-attending students in Kyrgyzstan (3,276 had never attended school). In 1998 this figure was reduced to 783. In the higher secondary schools, 1,850 students dropped out in 1997, but only 1,187 in 1998. Overall, dropout rates are low. Graduation rates are high with an average 853 pupils graduating per 1,000 students.

Vocational Education: As was noted earlier, upon completing the lower level of secondary education at the age of 15, a student can continue in the secondary school, attend a specialized secondary school, or begin specialized technical or vocational study. In 1996 there were 32,005 students in Kyrgyzstan's 115 vocational schools with 3,371 teachers teaching 350 subjects.

Nonformal Education: Private tutoring of students exists in Kyrgyzstan primarily for the purpose of passing examinations or improving language skills and for English.

Higher Education

TypesPublic & Private: Until 1990, the only university in Kyrgyzstan was Kyrgyz State University in the capital, Bishkek. However, in regional centers around the country, a large number of institutes affiliated with Kyrgyz State University offered a wide range of subjects and degrees upon graduation. Since the fall of the Soviet Union, Kyrgyz State University still exists, but the former institutes have invariably been transformed by title and courses into universities. Thus, for example, the Osh Pedagogical Institute founded primarily for linguistic study in 1951 was renamed Osh State University in 1992 and offers programs in business. The major change within higher education since 1990 has been the need to charge admission or tuition fees, in part to offset diminishing government subsidies.

Admission Procedures: Admission commences in the summer preceding September entry. Most institutions require an application form with particulars of the student's secondary or vocational record. Institutions that specialize in English subjects or teach in English may require TOEFL tests. In July, universities offer entrance exams, which are derived by the universities, and grant or deny entry based on the results.

Administration: Institutions administer themselves, with oversight by the State, which grants a license that reads:

University: has the right to practice teaching activity in the sphere of high professional education with a variety of majors, levels of education, duration according to the attachment of this license and on terms of considering all the basic requirements of this document and limited contingent of students.

Enrollment: In 1995 there were 33 institutes of higher education in Kyrgyzstan serving 49,744 students. The most significant are Kyrgyz State University with 15 faculties and 7,300 students; the Kyrgyz-Slavonic University; the Kyrgyz Technical University with 7 schools; the Kyrgyz Humanities University with 3,873 students; the new Manas Kyrgyz-Turkish University with 750 students in 2000 (its third year of operation); and the Kyrgyz-American School with more than 1,000 students.

Teaching Styles & Techniques: The principal language of instruction in these institutions is Russian, but with the proliferation of higher education institutions in Kyrgyzstan, instructors use a wider variety of source material.

Finance (Tuition Costs): Typical tuition fees at private universities range from $1,500 for Kyrgyzstan nationals to $2,000 for foreign students, but fees for Kyrgyz State University and other public universities are significantly lower, about 5,000 to 10,000 soms (US$100 to US$200) per annum. Scholarships in the form of fee waivers are available at most institutions to deserving students. Only Manas Kyrgyz-Turkish University has no fee structure.

Courses, Semesters, & Diplomas: Higher education in Kyrgyzstan usually lasts five years; the two-semester system commences in September and ends in May with a one month winter recess. As was noted earlier, institutions generally select the courses they wish to offer, and students graduate with a "Diploma of (Specialization in the field of study)." Students can pursue a "Candidate of the Sciences" for a further three years, during which they usually write a thesis and finally may obtain a doctoral degree, which requires another thesis. This last tends to be synonymous with postgraduate training.

Professional Education: The only professional education in the republic is offered by western-owned businesses to train their workers and managers. Most of this training is done "in-house," but there have been instances of workers being sent out of the country for professional development. A part of the U.S. AID monies of the mid-1990s was dedicated to middle management training, particularly for lawyers and government officials who, after a month overseas, returned to Kyrgyzstan to participate in privatization and democratization.

Postgraduate Training: There is a long history in Kyrgyz institutes of post-graduate teaching, which was usually linked with the award of the doctorate. Of necessity, this training is highly specialized and is found in institutes established under the Soviet system to produce an intellectual elite.

Foreign Students: Very few foreign students study in Kyrgyzstan, due almost entirely to the deteriorating state of the country's educational system. Typical of the extent of foreign student enrollment was Kyrgyz Humanities University and Osh State University with 44 foreign students (or 1.1 percent of total student enrollment) and 200 foreign students (3.3 percent) respectively in 1998.

Students Abroad: Given the difficulty of transition and the uncertain future of the nation, an ability to speak a foreign languageparticularly Englishwith the resultant opportunities to study abroad, has become a major goal for students in higher education. Unfortunately, once students complete their studies overseas, they are often reluctant to return to Kyrgyzstan to become part of the labor force. Essentially a brain drain is occurring, and although it is on a small scale, it is enough to warrant concern. In 2001 there were 126 Kyrgyz students in the United States and fewer in Europe, with the majority of these in the United Kingdom. The major deterrent for Kyrgyz students to studying abroad is the high cost of tuition and living expenses outside Kyrgyzstan; hence most students studying outside Kyrgyzstan are on some kind of scholarship. Those few students whose studies abroad are funded with Kyrgyz money are required to return to Kyrgyzstan for a minimum of two years; however, often upon graduation, these students remain outside Kyrgyzstan to work.

Role of Libraries: Libraries have a reduced role in higher education primarily because they lack current books, texts, and periodicals. Much of the literature published before 1990 is considered by students and faculty alike to be tainted and hence of little use.

Administration, Finance, & Educational Research

Government Educational Agencies: There are essentially two levels of educational responsibility in Kyrgyzstan. At the local level, administrative bodies (Village, Rayon, and Oblast councils) are responsible for school provision, maintenance, and teaching materials, including teachers. At the state level the Ministry of Education sets the curriculum for all primary and secondary public schools, while institutions of higher education set their own curriculum within limits set by the state. Control over education policy is exercised by the state through the financing, certifying, and licensing of education. In reality the severe economic hardships that have beset rural areas since 1990 have required significant state intervention in the running of local schools. This is particularly significant in the area of teacher salaries, whereby the state has been required to assume payment because rural agencies have no money to pay salaries. Moreover, in recent years, unlicensed educational establishments have arisen and are functioning, and the state is desirous of bringing these institutions into the state system.

Ministry of Education: Day to day responsibility for state education resides in the Ministry of Education, Science, and Culture, based in Bishkek. This ministry also collects data for baseline reference and applied research.

Educational Budgets: Notwithstanding the rise of private funding in the post-Soviet years, state budgeting is still the primary source of funds. Kyrgyzstan's gross domestic product was $1.3 billion in 2000, of which education contributed approximately 4 percent.

In 2000, some 2.3 billion soms (US$47 million) were spent on education. This is 3.3 percent of the gross domestic product, which is less than in 1990 when it accounted for 8 percent.

Education spending in 2000 represented 20.1 percent of all government expenditures, which was second only to that of the large category of government administration, military, and pensions. In 1991 and 1997, government expenditures on education were 23 and 22.6 percent, respectively. Notwithstanding the government's commitment to funding education, it is apparent that not only is education spending falling, but also that current allotments are inadequate to cover education needs. In addition, inflation has significantly eroded the purchasing power of these expenditures over the years.

Types of Expenditures: Notwithstanding the fall in preprimary schools, preprimary education in 1996 consumed 6 percent of the national education budget; 68 percent was directed to secondary schools and 14 percent to tertiary schools. The government believes funding for universities is still too high and that the priority for expenditure should lie in the primary and preprimary schools.

National Education Organizations: There are no national education organizations in Kyrgyzstan. Oversight is delivered in part by international organizations such as UNESCO and the United Nations Development Program.

Nonformal Education

Adult Education: Adult education has been recognized as a priority in the republic in order for adults to adjust to the new socioeconomic system. However, requiring students or businesses to pay for this learning seems to be a major obstacle to its success in difficult economic times. Foreign languages, bookkeeping and accounting, marketing and market economics, management, and computer literacy have been identified as priorities. External NGOs, such as Carana Corporation, have provided such training, but few business establishments offer these programs at present.

Open Universities & Distance Education: Open university does not exist in Kyrgyzstan. Distance learning is possible through existing universities in the form of correspondence courses called externat, but these are supplementary to the universities' normal in-residence structure. Students studying by correspondence courses with major universities make up a significant part of the part time student body. In 1998, Kyrgyz State University had approximately 6,000 students in correspondence courses along with the 7,300 students in residence, while at Osh State University more than 200 students take correspondence courses. There are no distance education courses delivered through television, radio, or the Internet because of the scarcity of such media in Kyrgyzstan.

Teaching Profession

Training & Qualifications: Thirteen higher education institutions offer teacher training, along with four dedicated teacher training colleges. Prospective teachers attend these institutions for five years before graduating. In 1999 teacher training colleges enrolled 14,000 students, and each year the nation graduates 1,000 to 1,500 new teachers. In view of the high birth rates, this number is insufficient to meet the demand. Moreover, the loss of teachers, particularly in rural areas where demand is highest, is cause for concern. Finally, there is a shortage of teachers in English, Kyrgyz, mathematics, and all the sciences.

Salaries: The average teacher salary has increased every year since 1990 but is grossly inadequate both in purchasing power and in its ability to keep up with inflation. It remains one of the most problematic areas of Kyrgyzstan's educational system. In 1993 the average monthly salary was 100 soms; in 1996, 230 soms; 1998, 315 soms; 1999, 385 soms; and, as earlier stated, in 2000, 500 soms. (In 2000, US$1.00 equaled 48 soms). However encouraging these salary increases are, they should be seen in light of the official Kyrgyzstan figure for minimum living expenses of 1,280 soms per person per month. Finally and sadly, these figures do not indicate that, owing to significant cash flow problems in state and local governments, teacher salaries are often delayed as long as six months or not paid at all.

Unions & Associations: There are no teachers' unions or associations in Kyrgyzstan.


The Kyrgyz educational system faces significant challenges. Once a model of literacy, availability, and accomplishment, it has been eroded by external environmental problems and a difficult adjustment to a necessary internal structural change. The principal challenges appear to be:

  • The grave economic situation, which causes students, especially boys, to forgo school to attend to help support their families.
  • The apparent inability of the central government to adequately fund education and in particular to pay public school teachers a living wage.
  • The need for curriculum change to reflect the new, market-driven, privatized economy.
  • The widespread corruption and associated grade inflation at all levels of the educational system.
  • An increasing birth rate, particularly in the rural areas, that will add pressure to the educational system.

The former Soviet republics enjoyed a period of significant western interest in their transition for most of the 1990's. It is unfortunate that since then, for whatever reason, interest has waned, yet the problems are still present. In the initial stages of transition, much of the interest involved the use of international programs as a means of assisting in the transition. However this interest has stabilized. Those programs that remain are heavily politicized or driven by religious interests.

It would therefore appear that the most significant changes required for Kyrgyzstan's educational system to stabilize would be for the country to enjoy economic stability and prosperity, from which education could take its place as a significant contributor to the country's viability. Unfortunately, most observers cannot see this kind of stabilization and growth occurring any time soon.


Europa Publications 2001. The Europa World Yearbook 2000. 41st ed. Vol. 2. London: Europa Publishers.

International Association of Universities 1998. International Handbook of Universities. 15th ed. New York: Groves Dictionaries.

Natskomstat Kyrgyzskoy Respubliki (National Statistical Committee of the Kyrgyz Republic). 1999 Census. Available from

Republic of Kyrgyzstan. The Constitution of the Kyrgyz Republic. Available from

Union of Soviet Socialist Republics. Vsesoiuznaia perepis naseleniia 1926 goda. (Tsentral'nyy Statistcheskoye Upravleniye SSSR 56 vols.) 1926.

Union of Soviet Socialist Republics Itogi Vsesoiuznaia perepis naseleniia 1989 goda. (Tsentral'nyy Statistcheskoye Upravleniye pri Sovete Ministrov SSR 1989)

United Nations Development Program (UNDP). United Nations Development Program in Kyrgyzstan. Available from

United Nations Educational, Scientific, and Cultural Organization (UNESCO). World Education Forum's Assessment Report on Kyrgyzstan. Available at

. The Right to Education. World Education Report 2000. Paris: UNESCO.

Richard W. Benfield

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Kyrgyz Republic

Kyrgyz Respublikasy



Located in the central region of Asia, bordered by China on the east, Kazakhstan on the north, and Uzbekistan and Tajikistan on the west and south, Kyrgyzstan is a remote, landlocked, mountainous country with a total area of 198,500 square kilometers (76,641 square miles). It is a bit smaller than the U.S. state of South Dakota. Kyrgyzstan's capital, Bishkek, is located near the northern border of the country close to the border with Kazakhstan and Kazakhstan's largest city, Almaty.


The population of Kyrgyzstan was estimated at 4,685,230 in July 2000. In 2000 the birth rate stood at 26.29 births per 1,000 while the death rate was 9.15 deaths per 1,000 persons. The population growth rate was estimated at 1.43 percent in 2000. Migration out of the country was estimated at 2.8 per 1,000.

The vast majority of Kyrgyzstanis live in rural areas. The World Bank reported that only 33.6 percent of the population lived in urban areas in 1999. The population density for the entire country was 25 per square kilometer (65 per square mile) that same year, according to the World Bank.

At the beginning of the 21st century, roughly 50 percent of Kyrgyzstan's multinational population was ethnic Kyrgyz; 20 percent was ethnic Slavic (Russian, Ukrainian, and other Slavic groups); 13 percent was Uzbek; about 2 percent was German; and other groups comprised the remaining 12 percent. The Kyrgyz (also spelled Kirghiz) language is a Turkic language. Russian and Kyrgyz are the principal languages spoken in Kyrgyzstan, but Uzbek, Tajik, and Uigur are also widely spoken outside the major towns. In practice, most government and commerce is conducted in the Russian language in the large cities. Many Kyrgyz government officials and professional and technical workers use Russian as their principal language. Most rural areas use Kyrgyz or one of the other indigenous languages of the region as their principal language.


Kyrgyzstan is a remote, landlocked country with inadequate trade and transportation infrastructure . Kyrgyzstan's economy heavily emphasizes agriculture and animal husbandry, but there is a growing service sector in the urban areas. In 1999 agriculture accounted for 45 percent of the economy, while services comprised 35 percent. Industry made up the remaining 20 percent. Oil and gas, machinery and equipment, and foodstuffs are Kyrgyzstan's main imports. Kyrgyzstan's principal trading partners are Germany, Russia, Kazakhstan, and Uzbekistan. Cotton, wool, hides and meat are the main agricultural products and exports. Industrial exports include gold, mercury, uranium, and electricity. Kyrgyzstan is a mountainous country with significant hydroelectric power generating potential.

While it was part of the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics (USSR) from 1917 to 1991, Kyrgyzstan had a highly specialized economic niche in the communist economic system. Kyrgyzstan served primarily as a provider of primary commodities such as gold, mercury, and uranium, and unprocessed agricultural goods such as foodstuffs, cotton, wool, and meat. After the USSR collapsed in 1991, Kyrgyzstan's mining and industrial enterprises underwent rapid contraction due to the loss of orders from buyers and the inability of the existing transportation infrastructure to make possible a rapid entrance into other markets. Kyrgyzstan's military industrial enterprises soon lost their financing. Production at Kyrgyzstan's gold, mercury, and uranium mines fell sharply.

After national independence on 31 August 1991, the newly established Kyrgyz government planned to create a market-based economy and to integrate into the world economy. Among the former communist countries, Kyrgyzstan became a leader in the movement of the post-So-viet states toward an open market economy. But the transition to an open economy has been difficult for this small country with few manufactured goods. The economy underwent severe contraction between 1990 and 1995. However, the Kyrgyzstan economy began to rebound in 1996 as new, post-communist practices began to take effect. The budget deficit as a proportion of the GDP was cut in half during the period 1995 through 1997.

With assistance from international organizations, such as the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund, the Kyrgyzstan government has made good headway in establishing the legal and regulatory foundation for a market economy. Kyrgyzstan carried out privatization of small enterprises and overhauled the country's banking and financial systems. In 1998 the Kyrgyzstan constitution was amended to allow for private ownership of land. Kyrgyzstan was the first country of the CIS to join the World Trade Organization (December 1998). At the urging of international financial institutions, the Kyrgyzstan government took steps to liberalize its foreign trade relations. These steps included eliminating some tariff restrictions (1991-92), eliminating certain highly bureaucratic export registration requirements (1998), and eliminating export duties (1999).

But Kyrgyzstan's enthusiastic pro-market posture has not met with the anticipated level of economic success. Basic economic indicators plunged between 1991 and 1995 when Soviet-era government subsidies for industry, farming, and public services were eliminated. Rapid restructuring of the economy led to sharp drops in farm and industrial output. From 1996 to 1997, the declines in output were reversed and the economic picture for Kyrgyzstan brightened considerably. A large increase in government revenue from the newly opened Kumotr gold mine, the largest single industrial enterprise in the country, combined with favorable weather that helped boost agricultural production. Economic growth in 1996 registered 7 percent and climbed to 10 percent in 1997. Inflation declined, and the government's current account deficit, an indicator of the government's fiscal responsibility, dropped to its lowest level since independence.

This picture changed when Kyrgyzstan was hit hard by the 1998 financial collapse in its major trading partner, Russia. The financial collapse in Russia led to a sudden drop in orders for Kyrgyzstan goods from Russia. The contraction in output led also to a deterioration in Kyrgyzstan's balance of payments at the same time as the country's indebtedness to foreign lenders increased substantially.


The Republic of Kyrgyzstan was an early leader in the post-communist transition. The country's pro-reform leader, Askar Akaev, a scientist and former president of the republic's Academy of Sciences, quickly established an impressive record of encouraging political and economic liberalization. The Kyrgyz government liberalized most prices, established a national currency, began privatization and financial sector reform, and introduced the legal and regulatory framework for open trade with its neighbors. Non-tariff barriers were removed, and export taxes were eliminated on all goods between 1994 and 1997. In December 1998, the Kyrgyz Republic became the first former communist country to qualify for entrance to the World Trade Organization.

Kyrgyzstan's legal system is based on the continental legal system. Kyrgyzstan's constitution was adopted in 1993. The constitution recognizes a separation of powers among 3 branches of government: an accountable executive, a deliberative legislative, and an independent judiciary. The constitution has provisions to ensure checks and balances, competitive elections, and judicial independence. The judiciary consists of Constitutional Court (to decide issues of constitutional import), the Supreme Court, an arbitration court to resolve commercial disputes. There is a system of lower courts. The constitution was amended in February 1996 by a popular referendum that substantially expanded the powers of the president.

The Kyrgyzstan political system is formally a competitive system. Officials are popularly elected in multi-candidate elections. The country's president is elected by popular vote for a 5-year term. Kyrgyzstan president Askar Akaev was first elected in October 1990 and reelected in December 1995 and December 2000. High officials such as the prime minister and other top cabinet officials are appointed by the president and submitted for approval to the Kyrgyzstan legislature, the Zhogorku Kenesh. There are numerous parties and political movements. The officially registered political parties are the Agrarian Party, the Agrarian Party of Kyrgyzstan, the ASABA party, the Communist Party of Kyrgyzstan, the Democratic Movement of Kyrgyzstan, the Dignity Party, the Fatherland Party, the Justice Party, Kyrgyzstan Erkin Party, the Movement for the People's Salvation, the Ashar Party, the National Unity Democratic Movement, the Peasant Party, the Republican Popular Party of Kyrgyzstan, and the Social Democratic Party.

The Kyrgyzstan government has sought to limit the size of the public sector to enable greater opportunities for the growth of private industry and services. Accordingly the government has sought to reduce the total government revenue as a percentage of the GDP. However, after the 1998 economic crisis, tax collection fell behind anticipated levels. Tax revenue collection relies heavily on industry. Poor industrial performance contributed to the shortfall in tax revenue. Yet during the economic crisis total government expenditures were higher than anticipated in recent years due to the increased costs of social protection programs. International financial institutions urged the Kyrgyzstan government to maintain a tight monetary policy , reduce government spending, and increase revenue collection. Yet the Kyrgyzstan government was reluctant to adopt these politically unpopular measures.


The main components of Kyrgyzstan's physical infrastructure include roads, rail, electric grids, gas pipelines, and a telecommunications system. The country's road system consists 16,854 kilometers (10,467 miles) of paved roads. The rail system consists of 1 major rail line of a length of 370 kilometers (299 miles) linking the Kyrgyz capital, Bishkek, with Kazakhstan. The fixed (copper wire) telephone system and microwave relay stations dating from the Soviet period (consisting of 357,000 lines) are rapidly being overtaken by new, decentralized mobile phone services. Of the country's 14 airports, only the capital airport is capable of accommodating international flights.

Mountainous Kyrgyzstan has abundant low-cost hydropower but only very limited amounts of oil, gas, and coal. Consequently, Kyrgyzstan is dependent upon the other Central Asian countries for much of its gas and petroleum. Kyrgyzstan trades hydroelectric energy for natural gas with both Uzbekistan and Kazakhstan. With the urging of international donors, Kyrgyzstan is seeking to adopt an energy policy that will reduce the role of the state, increase private sector involvement, and explore the potential for energy exports, particularly to China. China's recently adopted "Go West" policy has opened a potentially rich market for hydroelectric energy in the adjoining Xinjiang-Uigur Autonomous Province of China.

Country Newspapers Radios TV Sets a Cable subscribers a Mobile Phones a Fax Machines a Personal Computers a Internet Hosts b Internet Users b
1996 1997 1998 1998 1998 1998 1998 1999 1999
Kyrgyzstan N/A 384 231 N/A 2 0.1 N/A 1.42 10
United States 215 2,146 847 244.3 256 78.4 458.6 1,508.77 74,100
Russia 105 418 420 78.5 5 0.4 40.6 13.06 2,700
Tajikistan 20 142 285 N/A 0 0.3 N/A 0.24 2
aData are from International Telecommunication Union, World Telecommunication Development Report 1999 and are per 1,000 people.
bData are from the Internet Software Consortium ( and are per 10,000 people.
SOURCE: World Bank. World Development Indicators 2000.

Since being corporatized (that is, separated from the previous unified Soviet system and turned into a Kyrgyzstan state-owned corporation) in 1994, the Kyrgyz state power company, Kyrgyzenergo, has operated 22 hydroelectric power stations with a combined capacity of over 30 billion kilowatt hours (kWh) annually. Electricity production averaged roughly 12 billion kWh per year. The expansion of electricity output was held back, though, by inadequate transmission equipment and inadequate pricing and cost recovery. Given these factors, Kyrgyzstan commenced the privatization of its energy utility in 1998. The process came to a conclusion in early 2001. The goal of the privatization was to separate regulatory functions from energy production and sales. As a result of the strategy to separate the various energy functions and shift to a cost-recovery basis for energy production, there have been significant increases in electricity and district heating costs. Loans and credits with the World Bank and other multilateral development banks are earmarked to reduce the social costs of the transition to a privatized energy sector.


The 3 most important sectors of Kyrgyzstan's economy are: agriculture, accounting for about 45 percent of the GDP (US$52.8 million in 1999); industry, accounting for about 20 percent of the GDP; and services, accounting for the remaining 35 percent in 1999. The most significant economic sector, agriculture, is the largest employer in the country, employing over half of the country's labor force . In 1999 the International Monetary Fund estimated that 886,000 workers were employed in Kyrgyzstan's agriculture and forestry sectors. Agriculture accounted for about 22 percent of the country's exports in 1999. Other important sectors are hydroelectric energy production, mining, particularly gold mining, and service. Small industries and processing plants are located in Kyrgyzstan's larger cities, particularly Jalalabod, Osh, and Talas in addition to the capital, Bishkek.


Kyrgyzstan produces cotton, sugar beets, vegetables, potatoes, grapes, melons, tobacco, fruits and berries, grain, wool, and meat. Total agricultural production dropped in 1992 from earlier levels and then began to rise. The disruption in farm inputs such as seeds, farm machinery, and agricultural extension services, along with transportation difficulties and weak consumer demand, led to the drop in output. After the effects of the market transition from communism began to be felt, overall agricultural production began to increase after 1996. However, livestock and wool production, 2 of the traditional mainstays of the Kyrgyzstan rural economy, continued to decline due to slack demand for products such as hides and wool and new competition from Turkish, Chinese, and other suppliers.

In connection with the Kyrgyzstan government's goal of maintaining an open market and liberal economic order, the government has avoided intervention in the agricultural economy through price supports and targeted subsidies. This policy contrasts sharply with that of neighboring Uzbekistan, where the government has continued to maintain a major presence in the agricultural economy. Kyrgyzstan instituted a land reform program to transfer use rights to land from the Soviet-era large state farm cooperatives to individual farmers. By 1999 over 90 percent of Kyrgyz farms were held in private hands with long term (99 years) use rights. Farm land may be bought and sold and transferred through inheritance. The CIA World Factbook reported that 55 percent of the Kyrgyzstan workforce was engaged in agriculture in 1999.


Since the collapse of the USSR, the industrial and manufacturing sector has undergone considerable contraction. Between 1990 and 1995 production declined in all sectors of the power industry, engineering and metal-work, and fuel, light, chemicals, and petrochemicals sectors. By 1999, the industry sector accounted for 20 percent of the country's GDP and employed 15 percent of the labor force, according to the CIA World Factbook.

Kyrgyzstan's manufacturing plants are concentrated in and around the capital, Bishkek. Many of these enterprises were not competitive on international markets and thus have been shuttered and closed since they lost subsidies from the government. The enterprises that remain tend to operate well below capacity.

Unlike other developing countries faced with transferring workers from low productivity subsistence agriculture to higher productivity industry, Kyrgyzstan faces the opposite problem. The government seeks to spur industrial restructuring to cut employment in formerly subsidized, inefficient industries, and to encourage the emergence of new lower tech enterprises in the agricultural and service sector.

The only industrial sector that experienced significant growth recently was gold mining. In May 1997 the Kumtor Operating Company, which is two-thirds owned by the Kyrgyzstan Republic and one-third by a Canadian company, began gold mining operations. The construction of the mine cost US$450 million. The initial estimate of recoverable gold was 16.5 million troy ounces of gold, and gold was expected to average around 485,000 ounces a year over the life of the project. In late 1999 the company revised its estimates of recoverable gold downward, taking into account the changes in the price of gold and a revision of the geological expectations of the mining work. Accordingly, the amount of recoverable gold was revised downward to 4.27 million troy ounces. Company officials announced that the mine would be closed in 2008. This represents a major setback for the Kyrgyz government's development plans, given that revenue from the gold mine constituted a major portion of the government's income (40 percent in 1999).


The service sector is the second largest sector after agriculture. An estimated 566,000 workers were employed in the Kyrgyzstan service sector in 1999, according to the International Monetary Fund. This sector was under developed during the Soviet period when the government put most emphasis on heavy industry and agriculture. After independence, the service sector expanded rapidly. New laws and regulations made it possible to open private businesses offering consumer goods and services. The small service sector surged ahead as business people began offering services, such as car repair, housing construction and improvement, real estate services, legal services, beauty shop services, and other small business that did not require substantial investment.

The banking and financial services industry expanded rapidly, although during the first decade of independence (1990-2000) this financial sector continued to be heavily oriented toward foreign economic activity rather than local financial services. The government adopted a program in 2000 to support micro-credit lending to put more emphasis on local financial services.


The year 2001 was declared the "year of the tourist." Since Kyrgyzstan is the "Switzerland of Asia," the government has sought to take advantage of the beauty of Kyrgyzstan's spectacular mountains and lakes to encourage greater tourism. The tourism sector is a priority area for economic development in Kyrgyzstan. The country, with major mountain ranges and some of the highest peaks in the world, possesses breathtaking natural features. The towering mountains of Peak Pobeda (7,439 meters), Peak Lenin (7,134 meters), and Peak Khan-Tengri (6,995 meters) exist in what is called the "realm of eternal ice and snow." The country offers white water rafting, pony trekking, hiking, mountaineering, skiing, mountain biking, and many other possibilities.


Very nearly one-half of Kyrgyzstan's foreign trade is with former Soviet countries. Kyrgyzstan's largest trading partner is Russia, comprising almost 40 percent of foreign trade. Behind Russia is Ukraine, the United States, Uzbekistan, Turkey, the United Kingdom, Germany, South Korea, and other countries. Kyrgyzstan exported to Germany goods worth US$148 million in 1999. Russia imported goods worth US$70 million, Kazakhstan imported goods worth US$50 million, Uzbekistan imported US$46 million, and China imported goods worth US$25 million. In the same year, Kyrgyzstan imported from Russia goods worth US$110 million, from Kazakhstan US$73 million, from Uzbekistan US$50 million, from the United States US$56 million, from Germany US$47 million, from China US$36 million, and from Canada US$26 million.

Kyrgyzstan's main exports are processing industry products (67 percent) and agricultural goods (17 percent), while the main imports were machine-building products (21 percent), coal and petroleum products (11 percent), food and tobacco (7 percent) and textiles (6 percent).

Kyrgyzstan is heavily dependent on the outside world for fuel imports. In 1999 Kyrgyzstan imported 576 million metric meters of natural gas, 1,075,000 tons of coal and 368 tons of high grade petroleum fuels (diesel and gasoline). Kyrgyzstan sustains this level of fuel imports primarily through exporting electricity. The country exported, primarily to Kazakhstan and Uzbekistan, 2,001 million kilowatt hours in 1999.

Trade (expressed in millions of US$): Kyrgyzstan
Exports Imports
1994 340 522
1995 408 837
1996 505 709
1997 603 841
1998 513 599
1999 453 201
SOURCE: United Nations. Monthly Bulletin of Statistics (September 2000).

The Kyrgyzstan government has taken measures to improve the trade environment. Customs procedures and non-tariff barriers have been reduced in recent years in anticipation of the country's joining the World Trade Organization (1998). However, Kyrgyzstan's trade potential is complicated by the fact that Kyrgyzstan is land-locked. Few goods and services move from Uzbekistan into Kyrgyzstan. The borders with Tajikistan and China have been subject to heavy security regulation. But Kyrgyzstan's border with Kazakhstan is a long and relatively open border. The Kazakh and Kyrgyz languages are closely related and mutually comprehensible. However, Kazakhstan produces few of the manufactured goods that Kyrgyzstan requires. Consequently, Kazakhstan serves mainly as a transshipment point for goods from outside Central Asia, particularly Russia and Europe.

The Kyrgyzstan government has taken steps to improve the foreign investment climate in the country. A new foreign investment law was adopted in September 1997. The law was adopted to bring the country into conformance with the standards of the World Trade Organization. The law provides protection against expropriation, that is, nationalization of property by the government. According to the law, foreign investors have the same legal status and conditions as Kyrgyz investors and can do business as wholly-owned foreign businesses in Kyrgyzstan or as joint ventures either with Kyrgyz partners or other foreign partners. Foreigners can buy stocks and securities in Kyrgyz companies and participate in privatization programs. Foreign investors can repatriate capital, that is bring earnings from foreign investments and foreign trade back into the country. They can also freely export profits as foreign currency or as goods produced or as commodities or services bought. Local currency is freely convertible into foreign currency, including for import purposes or payment against project expenses. Investors may retain earned foreign currency, without having to convert it into local currency.


Kyrgyzstan was the first country in Central Asia to introduce its own currency (May 1993) following the collapse of the USSR. When first introduced, 4 som were equal to US$1. However, over the years since the som was introduced inflation reduced the value of the som relative to the dollar. Kyrgyzstan experienced hyperinflation in the early 1990s, with inflation reaching 1,400 percent, but economic measures have since brought inflation down.

Between 1995 and 1997, positive developments in the economy reinforced the government's intention to restrict the supply of money. A scarce currency will tend to be valuable, but as the currency becomes more available, its value declines. Accordingly, as the money sup-

Exchange rates: Kyrgyzstan
soms (KS) per US$1
Jan 2001 48.701
2000 47.704
1999 39.008
1998 20.838
1997 17.362
1996 12.810
SOURCE: CIA World Factbook 2001 [ONLINE].

ply increased, the value of the Kyrgyz som declined. Following the 1997 crisis in the Asian financial markets and, in particular, following the collapse of financial markets in Russia in August 1998, the Kyrgyz economy suffered dramatically. Kyrgyzstan's money supply rose in 1998 and 1999. During this period inflation, which had been brought under control, rebounded in 1998 and reached nearly 40 percent in 1999. During 1999, the som lost 35 percent of its value to the U.S. dollar. Public confidence in the currency was further shaken by a major financial fraud involving some of the country's largest commercial banks.

In 1998 the Kyrgyzstan banking system suffered a major financial crisis which led to closing half of Kyrgyzstan's 26 commercial banks in 1999. The Soviet-era banking system had been expanded and slightly modified during the period between 1992 and 1995 but had not adopted standards of bank operations in accordance with international practice. As a result, in 1995, according to a World Bank study, over half of the commercial banks had a negative net worth. The study also concluded that 60 percent of all the banking sector's loans were considered unrecoverable, that is, these loans would never be paid back by the borrowers, according to the IMF. The public lost confidence in the banking system, and many people withdrew their funds, leading many of the banks to go out of business.

Kyrgyzstan is a relatively heavily indebted country. Outstanding debt in the first quarter of 2000 amounted to US$1,409 billion, according to the IMF. Much of the Kyrgyzstan republic's debt is concessional; that is, it has been loaned by public entities as special assistance at better-than-market terms by international financial institutions such as multilateral development banks. But a considerable portion is non-concessional; that is, it is money that was loaned by private lenders such as commercial banks. Even if Kyrgyzstan is granted special repayment terms, delays, or postponements in the repayment schedule, the burden of future debt will remain high. The Kyrgyzstan government will need to bolster its fiscal position through reducing government expen-

GDP per Capita (US$)
Country 1975 1980 1985 1990 1998
Kyrgyzstan N/A N/A N/A 1,562 863
United States 19,364 21,529 23,200 25,363 29,683
Russia 2,555 3,654 3,463 3,668 2,138
Tajikistan N/A N/A N/A 718 345
SOURCE: United Nations. Human Development Report 2000; Trends in human development and per capita income.

ditures and increasing revenue. More competent debt management and limits on contracting debt will help. More emphasis on government reforms may also improve the overall economic pictures by improving the investment climate and enhancing the productive and export potential of the country.


Poverty in Kyrgyzstan increased between 1994 and 2000. IMF estimates of the consumer price index rose in 1995 to 143 percent, in 1996 to 189 percent, in 1997 to 233 percent, in 1998 to 252 percent, and in 1999 to 343 percent, and in 2000 to over 400 percent. At the same time, the index of real wages (adjusted for inflation and other factors) climbed only gradually from 100 percent in 1994, to 117 percent in 1995, to 112 percent in 1996, to 116 percent in 1997, to 139 percent in 1998, dropping to 128 percent in 1999 and further to 105 percent in 2000. Thus, while the cost of living increased fourfold between 1994 and 2000, wages remained approximately at the same level.

In 2000 Kyrgyzstan ranked 98 out of 174 countries listed on the UNDP Human Development Index. Income distribution and social indicators for Kyrgyzstan fell considerably behind other countries at comparable stages of

Distribution of Income or Consumption by Percentage Share: Kyrgyzstan
Lowest 10% 2.7
Lowest 20% 6.3
Second 20% 10.2
Third 20% 14.7
Fourth 20% 21.4
Highest 20% 47.4
Highest 10% 31.7
Survey year: 1997
Note: This information refers to income shares by percentiles of the population and is ranked by per capita income.
SOURCE: 2000 World Development Indicators [CD-ROM].
Household Consumption in PPP Terms
Country All food Clothing and footwear Fuel and power a Health care b Education b Transport & Communications Other
Kyrgyzstan 33 11 11 3 22 6 14
United States 13 9 9 4 6 8 51
Russia 28 11 16 7 15 8 16
Tajikistan 48 7 10 0 14 5 18
Data represent percentage of consumption in PPP terms.
aExcludes energy used for transport.
bIncludes government and private expenditures.
SOURCE: World Bank. World Development Indicators 2000.

development. For instance, nearly a quarter of the population was not expected to reach age 60. The proportion of young people enrolled in schools dropped. The rates of infectious diseases, particularly tuberculosis, increased. By 1997 an estimated one-half of the population had fallen below the official poverty line, living on the equivalent of less than US$0.75 per day. The average monthly pension payment was among the lowest in the former Soviet states, amounting to less than US$10 in 1999.

Although on national average only 1 in 2 persons in Kyrgyzstan is categorized as poor, 80 percent of the poor live in rural areas. During the 1990s, despite substantial recovery in agricultural production, rural incomes per capita fell substantially. The degree of poverty in rural areas has also become more severe relative to urban areas. While extreme poverty decreased from 19.1 percent of the population in 1996 to 14.8 percent in 1997, most of this resulted from a targeted poverty reduction program in urban areas only. Poverty is also distributed unevenly in the population, affecting more women than men. The Kyrgyzstan government has initiated a national poverty reduction program, the Arakat program. Moreover, the government is waging major efforts to revamp its poverty-fighting strategy in coordination with major donors, including the Asian Development Bank and the World Bank.


Kyrgyzstan had a working population in 1999 of 1,854,000 people, but the total number of people within working age (16 to 60) was 2,542,000. An estimated 1,718,000 of these were employed, and 54,000 people were estimated as unemployed in 1999, only 5,400 of whom received unemployment benefits.

The decline in Kyrgyzstan industrial sector has pushed many people out of technical and professional positions. Most of this movement has been in the direction of the service sector. A large proportion has also moved to agricultural employment. While the legal system and social security systems traditionally provide for fewer protections for these sectors, in fact working conditions in Kyrgyzstan's declining industry deteriorated significantly in the post-Soviet years as workers' unions and collective bargaining was unsuccessful in promoting the health and safety of working conditions in such declining industries. The international donor organizations, such as the World Bank and the multilateral development banks, have identified social protection as one of the highest priorities of future assistance to Kyrgyzstan.


552. Formation of the first Turkic khanate, uniting Turkic-speaking regions under one political leadership.

750. Arabs conquer the area that is now Kazakhstan, spreading the influence of the Islamic culture and religion.

840. Formation of the Kyrgyz khanate.

1240-1440. The Mongol Hordearmies originating from what is now Mongoliaoverwhelm the Kipchak nomads. The Mongol Horde sweeps westward and southward, extending Mongol influence over much of modern-day Central Asia.

1850. Major Russian emigration to Kyrgyzstan occurs as emigrants search for new agricultural lands.

1867. The Russian tsar decrees the establishment of the Turkestan general-governorship, extending official Russian rule into Kyrgyzstan, making the country part of the Russian Empire.

1917. The Russian provisional government, unable to rule a country exhausted by World War I, falls to the Bolshevik Revolution. Bolshevik revolutionaries (communists) in St. Petersburg proclaim the establishment of a communist government.

1918. The communists announce the establishment of the Russian Socialist Republic (which includes the territory of present-day Kyrgyzstan). Opponents of the communists rally to restore the monarchy. Civil war ensues and continues for 2 years.

1924. The Kyrgyz Autonomous District is formed within Russia.

1936. The Kyrgyz Autonomous District is transformed into the Kyrgyz Socialist Republic.

1957-61. Under Soviet leader, Nikita Khrushchev, a new agricultural initiative called the "Virgin Lands Campaign" relocates tens of thousands of people from the European parts of the USSR to Central Asia, including Kyrgyzstan.

1991. An unsuccessful attempt to take over the Soviet government by Communist Party hard-liners precipitates a crisis in Moscow. Kyrgyzstan declares independence from the USSR on 31 August. A group of 11 high Communist Party officials gather in Almaty (then known as Alma-Ata) to sign a document announcing the end of the USSR and the establishment of the Commonwealth of Independent States (CIS) on 21 December.

1992. Kyrgyzstan joins major international organizations: the UN, World Bank, the Asian Development Bank, and the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development.

1993. The Kyrgyzstan constitution is adopted.

1995. A new version of the Kazakhstan constitution, assigning greater powers to the executive branch, is adopted.

1998. Kyrgyzstan is the first post-Soviet state to be admitted as a member of the World Trade Organization.

2000. Kyrgyzstan joins the Eurasian Economic Community, an international organization designed to create a common economic market throughout much of the former USSR.


Kyrgyzstan faces major challenges. The country has liberal trade orders in the former Soviet Union. However, as a small, landlocked country with only limited trade potential, the latitude for development through globalization is limited. The most urgent issue is reducing poverty. Changes in the way that the government treats foreign investors, tourists, and foreign companies may lead to an improvement in the country's ability to promote investment and create new jobs.


Kyrgyzstan has no territories or colonies.


Anderson, John. Kyrgyzstan: Central Asia's Island of Democracy? London: Harwood Academic Publishers, 1999.

Brinton, William M. An Abridged History of Central Asia, 1998. <>. Accessed September 2001.

Child, Greg. "Fear of Falling." Outside Magazine. November 2000. < 200011hostages1.html>. Accessed September 2001.

Haghayeghi, Mehrdad. Islam and Politics in Central Asia, NewYork: St. Martin's Press, 1995.

Hopkirk, Peter. The Great Game: The Struggle for Empire in Central Asia London: Kodansha International, 1994.

International Monetary Fund. "Kyrgyz Republic: Selected Issues and Statistical Appendix." IMF Staff Country Report No. 00/131, October 2000.

Pomfret, Richard. The Economies of Central Asia. Princeton:Princeton University Press, 1995.

Rashid, Ahmed. The Resurgence of Central Asia: Islam or Nationalism? Karachi [Pakistan]: Oxford University Press, 1994.

Roy, Olivier. The New Central Asia: The Creation of Nations London: Tauris, 1998.

United Nations Development Programme. Human Development Report 2000. <>. Accessed September 2001.

Gregory Gleason


Bishkek (formerly known as Frunze).


Som (KS). One som equals 100 tyiyn. Som are circulated in denominations of 1, 3, 5, 10, 50, 100, 500, 1,000, 2,000, and 5,000.


Cotton, wool, meat, tobacco, gold, mercury, uranium, hydropower machinery, shoes.


Consumer durables, oil and gas, machinery and equipment, foodstuffs.


US$10.3 billion (purchasing power parity, 1999 est.).


Exports: US$515 million (1999 est.). Imports: US$590 million (1999 est.).

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The Kyrgyz Republic (formerly the Kirghiz Soviet Socialist Republic of the former U.S.S.R.)

Major City:

Other Cities:
Dzhalal-Abad, Osh, Przhevalsk, Tokmak


This chapter was adapted from the Department of State Post Report dated January 1996. Supplemental material has been added to increase coverage of minor cities, facts have been updated, and some material has been condensed. Readers are encouraged to visit the Department of State's web site at for the most recent information available on travel to this country.


The Republic of KYRGYZSTAN declared its independence on August 31, 1991, during the collapse of the Soviet Union. Formerly known as the Kirghiz Soviet Socialist Republic, its independence was recognized by the United States on December 25, 1991 and an embassy was opened in Bishkek the following February. The country was admitted to the United Nations on March 2, 1992. Of all the former Soviet republics, Kyrgyzstan has been the most reform-minded, politically and economically. However, the country has severe economic problems, along with continuing ethnic and clan-based conflict.



Bishkek is located in the extreme northern part of Kyrgyzstan, 10 miles from the border with Kazakstan. It's population in 2000 was approximately 662,000. A 30-minute drive from Bishkek, and one climbs into the foothills of the Ala-Too range of the Tien Shan, or "Heavenly" mountains. Bishkek has lovely tree-lined walking parks and wide streets (although one must watch for open manholes).


Shopping for food on the local economy requires knowledge of local sources, perseverance, and a high tolerance level for crowds and less than hygienic conditions.

Those who prefer to do their own shopping on the local market find the best source of basic foodstuffs to be found in the large open-air food bazaars such as the Osh or Alamedin bazaar. During summer and fall there is a plentiful supply of fruits (apples, oranges, local berries, melons, pears, peaches, tomatoes and imported bananas) and vegetables (cabbage, beans, loose leaf lettuce, onions, cucumbers, radish, squash, beets, spring onions, summer squash, pickled vegetables and, of course, potatoes). During the winter and early spring months the selection shrinks dramatically leaving only basic root vegetables and a very limited selection of high priced imported fruit.

There are a number of small private shops which import canned goods from Western Europe for sale to the expatriate community. Prices tend to be high but these shops do provide variety during the winter months. Noticeably lacking in even these shops are fresh dairy products. Post continues to experience difficulty in finding reliable sources of long-life milk products. Staff members usually purchase long-life milk in shops in the neighboring capital of Almaty (a seven-to-eight hour round trip drive from Bishkek). Almaty also provides a much larger selection of Western food products, albeit at high prices.

Purchase and preparation of meat products are of particular concern to staff members. There are no western style butchers and most meat is sold in open air, unrefrigerated bazaar stalls. Usually a large piece of meat must be purchased and cut down into smaller pieces at home. Great care must be taken to thoroughly cook all meat products to eliminate the risk of bacterial contamination. Beef, mutton, pork, and a limited selection of chicken, (and horse, if desired) meat products are available year round. Frozen chicken from Holland and the United States can also be found in the markets.

A selection of soft drink products including Coke, Sprite, Fanta is available. Currently the products are imported from Turkey by a joint venture Coke representative company. This company plans to begin bottling operations in Kyrgyzstan in 1996. A selection of European beer is available on the local market as well as Kyrgyz champagne and cognac products.

Local sources of sugar, flour, salt, baking soda, and macaroni are adequate but the quality of these products may not be suitable for American tastes. Local salt is not adequately iodized.

There is an abundance of local spices but they are sold in bulk and the purchaser must provide his/her own container. The markets also have an abundance of locally-pickled cabbage, onions, cucumbers, tomatoes. There is excellent rice available locally in bulk.

Items which are difficult to find locally include coffee (other than instant), cleaning products (though a Proctor & Gamble representative has recently opened a retail store in the city which sells P&G products such as TIDE), personal care products (some available through the P&G store), paper products (to include toilet paper, tissues, paper napkins, paper towels, note paper, computer paper, construction paper for school supplies, wrapping paper for gifts, gift cards, etc.), women's nylon stockings, chemical products to fight insect infestation (cockroaches, flies, mosquitoes, pet care flea/tick products), school supplies (pens, pencils, notebooks), batteries, English language books and magazines, contemporary music tapes and CDs.


The choice of shoes and clothing in Bishkek is limited. The type of clothing worn in the northeast of the U.S. is appropriate in Bishkek. Winters are cold, snowy and icy. However, Bishkek does have many crystal clear winter days. Late spring, summer, and fall are generally pleasant with long stretches of sunny temperate weather. Midsummer can be very hot (mid-90s). Temperatures average 30°F (-2°C) in midwinter and 80°F (22°C) in midsummer.

A warm coat with a hood or a separate warm hat, several pairs of woolen and waterproof gloves and appropriate shoes are recommended. A good supply of shoes and boots for all types of weather, such as tennis, dress shoes, rubber rain boots, hiking boots and lined, thick-soled winter boots for children and adults is also recommended. Drycleaning is available in Almaty, Kazakstan (4 hours away). Commercial laundries are not available. Washable clothing is most practical.

Both heavy and light topcoats are desirable for spring and fall. Warm waterproof gloves, overshoes, and sweaters are also necessary. Woolen suits worn in the U.S. are satisfactory for winter in Bishkek, but some prefer heavier suits and sweater vests during the coldest months. Lighter suits are needed for summer.

Versatile clothing for luncheons, receptions or the theater is essential. Slacks, skirts, blouses and sweaters are ordinary daily wear. Most Kyrgyz women wear skirts or dresses, not slacks. Women are rarely seen in shorts. Women wear woolen clothing of several weights during fall and winter. Cottons, synthetics and blends, preferably washable, are worn in the summer. Raincoats with removable linings and a heavy coat are necessary.

Children need washable, sturdy wool, corduroy and other heavy clothing. Waterproof boots with insulated foam lining, several pairs of waterproof mittens, long thermal underwear, both heavy and lightweight pajamas, and waterproof snowpants all come in handy. Since children's clothing available locally is not of Western quality and limited in quantity.

Supplies and Services

Laundry service provided in hotels is hard on clothes. Drycleaning is available in Almaty, Kazakstan.

Tailoring and dressmaking is available in Bishkek. Service varies from place to place, and it is best to frequent shops or dressmakers recommended by others with similar tastes. The choice of fabrics available in Bishkek is limited.

Local barbers and beauty shops are plentiful. Although relatively inexpensive, techniques and methods used by hairdressers differ from those in the West. Some European hair products are available in a few stores. Special hair products generally are not available.

Religious Activities

Religious services are held in several mosques, the Russian Orthodox Church, the Jewish Synagogue, the Presbyterian (Korean), Baptist and the Seventh Day Adventist churches in Bishkek. Several missionary groups are in Bishkek including the Hare Krishna, the Church for Unification and other nondenominational faiths. Some offer services in English.


The Bishkek International School, a private institution which opened in September, 1994, offers English language instruction for elementary students from 5 years through 13 years of age. The school operates under the control of Quality Schools International, a private nonprofit organization, which operates schools in Yemen, Albania, Kazak-stan, and Ukraine. The school typically has an enrollment of less than 10 students.

The school term is from early September to mid-June. The curriculum includes English, mathematics, cultural studies, science, art, music and physical education.

Some American parents have placed their children in local Russian language schools. If children are prepared for the extra work involved in learning Russian and if parents are prepared to devote the time to give children extra help, the experience can be rewarding.


Many sports are available in Bishkek and the surrounding countryside. A large outdoor swimming pool is available in the summer, and a modest indoor pool is sometimes available in the winter. A limited number of tennis courts are available in good weather. An indoor tennis court (converted basketball court) is available for rent in the sports palace during the winter. Some spectator sports such as soccer and wrestling are available.

Downhill skiing is possible in the mountains, about a one hour drive from Bishkek. Ski weekends are organized to the slopes with chalets.

Horseback riding is available in Bishkek. Trekking through the mountains of Kyrgyzstan by horseback and on foot are popular ways to see the beautiful areas of the country during the spring, summer and autumn. Fishing, hunting and white-water rafting are other popular sports in Kyrgyzstan.

In general, bring all your own sports equipment and clothing as items are difficult to find and/or unavailable locally.

Recreation Shopping

Bishkek offers wide range of local products of interest to staff members. Kyrgyz rugs are unique in their design and construction. Local jewelers produce beautiful designs utilizing semiprecious stones and local rocks. Craftsmen also produce stone boxes with inlaid designs from types of rock found throughout the country. Kyrgyz musical instruments, local wool felt hats and ethnic clothing, and pottery are also of great interest to expatriates. There are a large number of expert painters and sculptors in Kyrgyzstan.

Prices for quality Kyrgyz artwork and crafts are still reasonable.


Bishkek has several cultural activities. The Bishkek Opera and Ballet Theater offers autumn and winter performances. The Philharmonic provides classical, modern symphony and Kyrgyz orchestral and traditional performances. The Philharmonic was built in 1980. The gigantic statue in front depicts the 1,000-year-old epic hero Manas atop his magic steed Ak-Kula slaying a dragon. The Kyrgyz Drama Theater and the Russian Drama Theater perform classic productions.

Bishkek has many beautiful parks and monuments. Walking tours to the many architectural and historical landmarks are a good way to get a feel for the city. Within three blocks of the Embassy are the Museum of Fine Arts, the National Library, the Opera House, the National Museum, the Circus (a Kyrgyz troop of horse riders and acrobats have just begun a one year tour with the Barnum and Bailey Circus in the U.S.), the Frunze Memorial House-Museum, the Zoological Museum and the Monument to the Great Patriotic War.

Directly in front of the U.S. Embassy is Erkindik Prospect (Erkindik means "freedom" in Kyrgyz) It is a one mile long walking park lined with huge oak trees. One can stroll Erkindik Prospect through an outdoor sculpture garden, past the Drama Theater, along the Art Gallery in the Park, by the Tea House and continue in the large walking park for 30 minutes until you reach the Train Station. This walk provides a pleasant break in summer and winter.

Markets (rynoks) provide a colorful feature to Bishkek life. The largest market is the Osh market, named for the second largest city in Kyrgyzstan. The Osh market features the greatest variety and least expensive fruits, vegetables, meats and souvenirs in Bishkek. On the weekends, cats, dogs and birds are sold at the Osh market. The Alamedin market is a smaller market located near the U.S. Embassy. On the weekends, the "Push" Market, so-named because you have to push to get through the market, offers the greatest selection of merchandise in Bishkek, the latest from the popular shopping trips to India, Turkey and the Middle East.

Two Chinese, one Korean, two Turkish and one pizza restaurants are the eating establishments most frequented by the international community in Bishkek. Ethnic Kyrgyz food such as shaslik, plov and manti is served in a few restaurants, but primarily from stands on the streets. One should be careful when deciding to try the local cuisine from street vendors.

The two main hotels in Bishkek have bars, cafes and souvenir gift shops.

Movie theaters, for the most part, show films in Russian. Some Western films also play in theaters, but they are dubbed in Russian. Kyrgyz television programming includes some interesting cultural events and historical documentaries.

Social Activities

The American community in Bishkek numbers around 125 and is composed primarily of USAID contractors and a few businessmen/women. Embassy personnel, as well as contractors, entertain each other informally at dinner, receptions or theatrical performances.

On an informal level, individuals organize visits to areas of interest and short trips for rest and recreation. Members of the international community get together for volleyball, softball, and touch football.

The International Women's Club is a social organization for women of the foreign community of Bishkek. The organization is nonpolitical, nonreligious and wishes to promote friendship and understanding between their members and the people of Kyrgyzstan. The group was founded in May, 1995 to give English-speaking women a chance to get together socially and to meet new women in the foreign community. Currently the club has over 50 members representing 15 countries. The club has meetings twice a month on Thursdays; new arrivals to Bishkek are always welcome. Meetings are held in homes and restaurants.

Canadian citizens are numerous in Bishkek due to the Kyrgyz-Canadian joint venture gold mining company. Many international visitors with international organizations such as the IMF, UNICEF, UNDP and British, Dutch, German, and European Community assistance organizations are active on the social scene. Social relationships with Kyrgyzstani citizens are not difficult to establish, particularly if one possesses Russian or Kyrgyz language skills. There is no prohibition on establishing social relationships with Kyrgyzstani citizens. On the contrary, reaching out and making Kyrgyzstani friends is encouraged.

Special Information

Americans are popular and generally welcomed by all segments of society in Bishkek. The level of violent crime is not high by American standards; however, theft, burglaries, and even mugging is on the increase because of the declining economy. Westerners are likely to become targets as they are associated with wealth.

Because of energy deficits and broken, unreplaced street lamps, Bishkek is poorly lit after dark. The precautions necessary in any large Western city should taken in Bishkek after dark. One should avoid walking alone at night, especially where there are few people.

Many apartment buildings have poorly lit entrances through courtyards or in the rear of the building. A pocket flashlight is essential for nighttime activities. Some bars and restaurants are frequented by the local "mafia." It is better to avoid these facilities.

Travel by train from Bishkek to Moscow and other locations is not recommended due to an increase in crime on the trains. Bus travelers have had backpacks slashed.

Normal precautions, such as not exposing money or dressing ostentatiously, are recommended.


DZHALAL-ABAD , with a population of approximately 74,000, is located in southwest Kyrgyzstan near the border with Uzbekistan. Surrounded by an agricultural area, the city's main commercial enterprises are food processing plants and other light industries.

OSH is near the Uzbekistan border, only 30 miles from the Uzbek city of Andizhan. A large number of ethnic Uzbeks live in the Osh region. Agriculture and mining are the most important enterprises. Silk, cotton textiles, and food processing are the main industries. Many Muslims make a pilgrimage to Osh to visit Takht-i-Sulaiman, a hill mentioned in Islamic lore.

PRZHEVALSK (formerly Karakol) is located in northeast Kyrgyzstan on the eastern boundary of Issyk-Kul. The city is in the center of an agricultural region. A resort area, it is also a transportation hubas a port for water transportation on the Issyk-Kul and as a commercial transport center with routes to the north and east.

TOKMAK is an industrial town, located just east of Bishkek. The building of a railway in 1938 contributed to the city's development. Tokmak has a population of 72,000.


Geography and Climate

Located in Central Asia, it is about the size of the State of Nebraska, with a total area of 198,500 square kilometers. It is 900 kilometers east to west and 410 kilometers north to south. Kyrgyzstan is bordered on the Southeast by China, on the north and west by Kazakstan, and on the south and west by Uzbeki-stan and Tajikistan. Bishkek (formerly Frunze), the capital, and Osh are the principal cities.

Kyrgyzstan is a mountainous country with the Tien Shan and Pamir mountain ranges dominating 65% of the country. The average elevation is 2,750 meters, ranging from 7,439 meters (24,409 feet) at Pik Pobedy (Mount Victory) to 394 meters in the Fergana Valley of the south. Kyrgyzstan's estimated 6,500 distinct glaciers are thought to hold 650 billion cubic meters water. The alpine regions provide rich pastures for sheep, goats, cattle, horses and yaks. Agriculture is conducted in the Chui River valley of the north and in the Fergana valley in the south. Over half the cultivated area is irrigated. Cotton, sugar beets, silk, tobacco, fruit, grapes and grains are grown. There are gold, coal, antimony, lead, tungsten, mercury, uranium, petroleum and natural gas deposits. Industries include food processing, the manufacture of agricultural machinery and textiles. The country is lightly forested; woods cover only about 3.5% of the country. However, forests in southern Kyrgyzstan include the largest wild nut (walnut) groves on earth.

The local climate is cold in the winter and desertlike hot in the summer. In January, evening temperatures can be in the teens (Fahrenheit); daytime temperatures often rise to above freezing, enough to start melting ice and snow. Summer temperatures can rise above 90 degrees by the end of May. The air is dry year round.

Bishkek, the capital of Kyrgyzstan, is situated in the extreme northern region of the country.


In 2000, the population of Kyrgyzstan was approximately 4,600,000, of whom 52.4% were ethnic Kyrgyz. Russians make up 18% of the population, Uzbeks 12.9%, Ukrainians 2.5% and Germans 2.4%.

Because of the country's mountainous terrain, the population tends to be concentrated in a relatively small area. About two-thirds of the population live in the Fergana, Talas and Chui valleys. The Chui valley, where the capital Bishkek is located, is the major economic center, producing about 45% of the nation's gross national product. Virtually all ethnic Uzbeks live in the southern area of the country, the Fergana valley. As a result, the Fergana region is more orthodox Muslim and traditional than the north.

The Kyrgyz language is a Turkic-based language with Mongol and Altaic elements. Kyrgyz did not become a written language until 1923, at which time an Arabic-based alphabet was used. Kyrgyz was changed to a Latin-based alphabet in 1928 and to a Cyrillic-based one in 1940. Most Kyrgyz living in the cities speak Russian. In rural areas, more Kyrgyz is spoken.

Arts, Science and Education

The Arts, Science and Education have suffered tremendously from lack of funding for the last four years. Public school teachers, especially in the rural areas, are seldom paid and usually in products rather than salary. Fuel shortages and the lack of funding to purchase fuel have forced many schools to operate without heating. Books and other learning materials are in short supply. At the university level, new private universities are operating entirely on revenues raised by tuitions and public universities likewise are charging tuitions to cover costs. Some universities are affiliated with foreign universities, including several American universities.

Education was one of the strongest features of the old regime, and many areas of strength still exist, especially in the sciences. The Academy of Science still operates. The recent introduction of Internet communications is expanding the ability of Kyrgyz scientists to work with scientists from other regions of the world. Ecological and environmental concerns of the country are observed by new NGOs which monitor the condition of Lake Issyk-Kul and measure fallout on Kyrgyz territory from Chinese Lop Nur nuclear tests.

Commerce and Industry

While a Soviet republic, Kyrgyzstan was dependent on transfer from Moscow for 12% of its GDP and had developed an industrial structure tightly integrated into Soviet structures and heavily weighted toward the defense industry. Consequently the breakup of the Soviet Union has had severe consequences for Kyrgyzstan's economic output. For this and other reasons, Kyrgyzstan has been in the forefront of economic reforms. Privatization was begun earlier than in other Central Asian states and is now proceeding steadily with U.S. assistance. Collective and state farms have been broken up and investment is being sought to develop gold mining and hydroelectric power.

Kyrgyzstan has stabilized its economy with a stable national currencythe Somwhich has traded at around 10 to 11 som per U.S. dollar, and a low inflation rate. Exports began to pickup in 1994 and continued to grow in 1995. The former CIS countries remain major trading partners but China is now the largest market for Kyrgyzstani exports and trade patterns continue to diversify away from traditional trading partners. The banking and financial sector remains weak and tourism, which has great potential, remains undeveloped.

Agriculture accounts for over 40% of GDP with wool, cotton and hides being important products. Since independence the country has not been self-sufficient in grains and has needed to import wheat, rice and animal feeds. Herds have decreased sharply in recent years.

The production of fruits, vegetables and cotton has increased. The agricultural sector is in the midst of a major transition and it will be several years yet before this important sector stabilizes. Aside from mining, food processing and textiles based on locally produced raw materials offer the best prospects for industrial growth.

Unemployment is high in Kyrgyzstan and standards of living for Kyrgyzstanis have dropped dramatically since independence.


Traffic regulations and procedures in Kyrgyzstan are similar to those in the U.S. However, driving habits of local drivers mean that one must use caution when driving and when crossing streets as a pedestrian.

Winter evenings in Kyrgyzstan are dark and cold with severe icing on city streets. Only the main streets of Bishkek are plowed regularly; side streets and housing complexes remain covered with snow and ice throughout the winter.


Public transportation in Bishkek is inexpensive, but overcrowded. The city's network of buses and trolley-buses covers the entire city. Riders should be ready to contend with a good deal of pushing and shoving during the morning and evening rush hours. Passengers enter the bus from the rear doors and exit/pay through the front doors. The city has no streetcars or subway.

Many taxis cruise the city and private cars often provide taxi services. There are taxi stands at some busy corners in central Bishkek. After a taxi or car stops, the required destination should be stated; if the driver agrees, a price should be negotiated before entering the vehicle. Kyrgyz or Russian is a necessity when dealing with taxis. Extra precautions should be taken in the evenings, when it is advisable to use only clearly marked taxi rather than a private vehicle.


Kyrgyzstan's rail and air transportation system is limited and service is marginal. The rail system runs from Bishkek east to Lake Issyk-Kul and to the north to connect with rail lines for Uzbekistan, Russia and Kazakstan. Trains are unclean, overcrowded, dangerous and have no ventilation.

Air travel from the Bishkek International Airport (Manas airport) is often unreliable due to delays, sudden cancellations, or lack of fuel, particularly in winter. The successor to Aeroflot in Kyrgyzstan, Air Kyrgyzstan, operates regular service throughout the country and on a limited basis to Tashkent, Uzbeki-stan and a few cities in Russia. There are regular charter shopping flights to the United Arab Emirates, Turkey, India and Thailand. A German charter flies several times per month to three cities in Germany.

The road system in Kyrgyzstan provides access to all cities, towns and most villages. However, north-south travel in Kyrgyzstan is impossible from December through March due to heavy snow in the mountain passes. In all seasons, the traveler should plan her/his trip carefully since information, food, water, lodging and fuel are often not readily available. In winter, the traveler must be well prepared with food, water, heavy clothing and fuel as roads can close quickly due to ice and snow, leaving the traveler stranded for hours.


Telephone and Telegraph

Telephone service from Kyrgyzstan to the U.S. and to most European cities is inadequate but improving. Local calls often have serious static interference. Calls requested through the operator may require a wait. International calls to the U.S. cost about $1.00 per minute. The phone system in Bishkek uses the "pulse" rather than the "tone" method as commonly found in the U.S.

Newspapers, Magazines and Technical Journals

No foreign newspapers and magazines are available in hotels or in newspaper kiosks. However, copies of the International Herald Tribune can be ordered and delivered from Singapore by air through Almaty.

Radio and TV

Television and radio programming in Bishkek provides regular news broadcasts and basic information about Kyrgyzstan and international affairs. Broadcasts rely heavily on educational documentaries, films, and concerts. One station broadcasts from Bishkek, two stations provide broadcasting from Moscow in Russian and one broadcasts in Turkish from Turkey.

Radio programs on Bishkek's radio stations begin early in the morning. Much of the programming is musical. A good shortwave radio is required to receive Voice of America, BBC World Service and Radio Liberty. VOA is broadcast on an AM station in Bishkek at Sam.

Health and Medicine

Medical Facilities

Local medical practice in general is not up to the standards of Western medicine. Pharmaceutical supplies and drugs are in short supply. Routine laboratory work is problematic due to lack of supplies or working equipment.

Community Health

Air pollution in Bishkek continues to increase. Utility smokestacks have no scrubbers. Residents of the suburbs burn coal or wood for heat and cooking, which adds to the haze trapped in the Bishkek valley. Persons with respiratory problems will notice increased sinus/allergic difficulties.

A high pollen count in the spring sometimes compounds air pollution problems. Persons susceptible to hay fever should bring an ample supply of medications and tissues as local supplies are uncertain.

Pests such as cockroaches and ants can be a nuisance in some apartments. Mosquitoes can be an annoyance in the summer. Travelers should bring an ample supply of insect repellent, traps, and fly swatters, as these items are not available locally.

Fruits and vegetables bought locally should be washed with a chlorine disinfectant.

The standard of cleanliness in many public buildings, restaurants, taxis, airports, and train stations fall short of Western standards. The few toilet facilities found on the roads while traveling are usually avoided for the cleanliness of nearby trees.

Drinking tap water is not recommended. Parents should bring fluoride fortified vitamins or fluoride tablets to add to the water supply for their children as once water is distilled, it loses its fluoride content. Locally produced carbonated mineral water is available, but it has a high sodium content.

The number of restaurants available in Bishkek is limited. Local markets have a good variety of fruits and vegetables in the summer, with winter produce consisting of potatoes, carrots, onions, cabbage and beets. Meats are hung in the market without refrigeration. No meat is packaged. A few small stores have opened with imported canned and packaged meats and vegetables.


Passage, Customs & Duties

A passport and visa as well as an invitation are required. For further information regarding entry requirements, contact the Embassy of the Kyrgyz Republic at 1732 Wisconsin Ave., N.W., Washington, D.C. 20007, telephone (202)338-5141, fax: (202) 338-5139, or on the Internet at Americans are required to register their passports with the Office of Visas and Registration, of the Kyrgyz Internal Affairs Ministry, within five business days of arrival in the Kyrgyz Republic. There are fines for failure to register and fines for late registration. This requirement does not apply to official delegation members and bearers of diplomatic passports.

U.S. citizens are encouraged to carry a copy of their U.S. passport with them at all times, so that, if questioned by local officials, proof of identity and citizenship are readily available. To this end, the American Citizen Services Unit of the Consular Section at U.S. Embassy Bishkek provides free-of-charge certified photocopies of the passports of U.S. citizens who register with the Consular Section.

In accordance with the Vienna Convention on Consular Relations and certain bilateral treaties, a consular officer from the U.S. Embassy must be given access to any U.S. citizen arrested in the Kyrgyz Republic. U.S. citizens who are arrested or detained should ask for the U.S. Embassy to be contacted immediately.

Americans living or visiting the Kyrgyz Republic are encouraged to register at the U.S. Embassy and obtain updated information on travel and security in the Kyrgyz Republic. The U.S. Embassy in Bishkek is located at 171 Prospect Mira, 720016 Bishkek, Kyrgyz Republic. The phone number is 996-312-551-241, fax 996-312-551-264.


All dogs and cats entering Kyrgyzstan and Kazakstan must be accompanied by a certificate of good health bearing the seal of the relevant local board of health and signed by a veterinarian. The certificate should not be issued more than 10 days prior to the animal's arrival. A rabies certificate is needed. Travelers should carefully check with the airlines to ensure that the airline has room on all portions of the trip to Almaty to ensure that the pets arrive at the same time as the owner.

There are some competent local vets in Bishkek, but in general, veterinary care is at a level similar to that of the U.S. in the 1950s. Few vets have access to up-to-date vaccines from reliable companies. Refrigeration of vaccines is frequently ignored, thereby putting the vaccine's effectiveness at risk.

Currency, Banking, and Weights and Measures

Kyrgyzstan is no longer a part of the Soviet centralized banking system and has established its own independent system. The Kyrgyz Republic is a cash-only economy. The banking system is not well developed and there are no automated teller machines. One or two hotels or banks may, on occasion, accept travelers checks or credit cards but fees can be quite high for travelers checks, as much as 20%. U.S. bills dated earlier than 1990, or bills that are worn, torn or stained are usually not accepted in Kyrgyzstan. Several years ago the country introduced its own currency, the som. The rate of the som to the dollar in December, 1995 was 11Som to US$1.

The metric system of weights and measures is used.

Disaster Preparedness

The Kyrgyz Republic is an earthquake-prone country. General information about natural disaster preparedness is available via the internet from the U.S. Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) at


Jan. 1 New Year's Day

Jan. 7 Christmas (Russian Orthodox)

Mar. 8 Women's Day

Mar. 21 Noruz (Persian New Year)

May 1 Worker's Day

May 5Constitution Day

May 9Victory Day

June 13 Commemoration Day

Aug. 31Independence Day

Dec. 2 National Day

Id al-Adha*


Id al-Fitr*



These titles are provided as a general indication of the material published on Kyrgyzstan. The Department of State does not endorse unofficial publications.

Atkinson, Thomas N. Oriental and Western Siberia. New York: Praeger, 1970.

Franck, Irene M. The Silk Road: A History, New York, 1986.

Hopkirk, Peter. The Great Game, The Struggle for Empire in Central Asia, New York, 1992.

Katz, Zev, ed. Handbook of Major Soviet Nationalities. New York: Free Press, 1975.

Makcemov, B. The Kirghiz Pattern,Frunze, 1986. Orozbakov, Sagymbai. Manas-UNESCO Edition, Bishkek, 1995. Prohorov, B. Frunze, Moscow, 1984.

Omurkulov, Kadyr. Kirghizia. Moscow: Novosti Press Agency Pub. House, 1987.

Prior, Daniel. Bishkek Handbook, Inside and Out. Bishkek, 1994.

Prior, Daniel. Manas, the Epic Vision of Theodore Hergen, Bishkek, 1995.

Shukurov, E. Discovery of Kyrgyzstan. Bishkek, 1993. Thubron, Colin. The Lost Heart of Asia, New York, 1994.

Whittel, Giles. Central Asia: The Practical Handbook. London, 1993.

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Basic Data

Official Country Name: Kyrgyz Republic
Region (Map name): East & South Asia
Population: 4,753,003
Language(s): Kirghiz, Russian
Literacy rate: 97.0%
Area: 198,500 sq km
GDP: 1,304 (US$ millions)
Number of Television Sets: 210,000
Television Sets per 1,000: 44.2
Number of Radio Stations: 28
Number of Radio Receivers: 520,000
Radio Receivers per 1,000: 109.4
Number of Individuals with Internet Access: 51,600
Internet Access per 1,000: 10.9

Background & General Characteristics

Kyrgyzstan was one of 15 constituent republics of the former Soviet Union that upon the devolution of the Soviet Union became a separate nation. It declared its independence in 1992 and since that time has been pursuing policies aimed at democratic government, decollectivization, privatization, and the change to a market economy. The policies enacted since independence and the relative success of these policies in achieving these goals have been cause for economists and political scientists to judge that the transition in Kyrgyzstan has been among the most successful of all the former republics. However, it is generally agreed that the transition to and relationship with a free and independent media has been the least successful of all its policies. In addition, since the start of the new millennium an even more adversarial relationship with the government has become apparent, to the extent that media relations are now seen by external observers as the most serious impediment to true progress, and indeed is cause for suggesting that many of the gains of the first 10 years of independence are now being seriously eroded. Some observers have suggested that the need for the United States to have a significant presence in the Muslim world following the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001, and in particular the predominantly Muslim Kyrgyzstan, has muted U.S. criticism of Kyrgyzstan government policies toward the media and perhaps encouraged Kyrgyz government attacks on the fledgling independent media.

The legacy of the 70 years of Soviet influence has created a highly educated, highly literate population. In a nation of 4.7 million people there is almost 100 percent literacy (99 percent males, 96 percent females). Most of the population is concentrated in the two large cities of Bishkek (the capital) and Osh, but a significant part of the population resides in smaller urban centers: 38 percent of the population is urban and 62 percent rural. Most of the urban centers have newspapers, and all have television coverage. In the rural areas radio and TV coverage is spotty, in large part due to the mountainous terrain, for much of Kyrgyzstan lies in the northern ranges of the Himalayas. Within the country there are significant ethnic concentrations geographically. The north and rural interior mountain valleys are predominantly populated by ethnic Kyrgyz with concentrations of ethnic Russians in the cities and larger communities. In the south, ethnic Uzbeks are a significant majority, and the media reflect their differing cultural attributes, particularly their Uzbek language. Small concentrations of ethnic Germans, Tatars, Jews, Tadjiks, who are often refugees from war in Afghanistan and Tadkjikistan, are present but are served by the mass media. All ethnic groups except Russians, Germans, and Jews are Muslim.

It is difficult to assess the quality of journalism in Kyrgyzstan for the turmoil over the past 10 years since independence has meant that there has been little history of a consistent regular press, and the turmoil caused by the constant animosity between the press and the government has provided little impartial basis on which to judge. Local westerners rate it a 3 out of 10 and getting worse as a result of the terrible economy, making it difficult for the media outlets to fund quality coverage. Moreover there is a complete lack of historical tradition in journalism, for up to 1990 the Communist government rigidly controlled the press in content and orientation. What can be said was that upon the fall of the Soviet Union there was an immediate and vociferous expression of dissatisfaction that was given voice by the media, and this dissatisfaction has not abated, notwithstanding persistent and punitive actions against the media by the government. In short, 10 years of a free press has been characterized by the voices of dissatisfaction accusing the government of seeking to curtail and control public opinion. The result has been a print media that has focused on providing political commentary to the detriment of providing solid factual news.

Following are the data on newspapers and electronic media in Kyrgyzstan, but what it does not show is the irregular appearance of many of the newspapers on the streets, the complete lack of audited sales (hence the circulation figures are generally unreliable), and the number of newspapers that come into circulation, publish for a short amount of time, and then cease publication without explanation. Most Kyrgyz newspapers are tabloids with 8 to 16 pages per issue. Twelve pages are average. Most are printed overnight and hence are morning editions. Later editions are unknown, and Sunday newspapers are rare. The Friday editions are the largest in volume with 32 pages and also contain the most advertisements, often up to 50 percent, and commanding the highest prices for ads. Otherwise advertising rarely exceeds 20 percent of the content and particularly in those newspapers out of favor with the government, this percentage may be as low as one percent.

Popular magazines (the most popular journal being the AKI Press journal) are available weekly and are dedicated to sports, fashion, film, or automobiles. There are three English language newspapers that come out sporadically and usually cover a week's news. They are the Kyrgyzstan Chronicle, The Times of Central Asia, and theBishkek Observer. Other language newspapers can occasionally be found in specialized bookstores and kiosks, though invariably the news is dated.

Of the urban centers in Kyrgyzstan, 10 have some form of electronic or print media. The largest and most competitive market is in Bishkek with 18 newspapers, 11 radio stations, and 4 TV stations. The most popular newspaper is Delo Nomar (50,000), followed by Slovo Kyr gyzstana (24,000), Moya Stolitsa (25,000), Aalam (18,000), Res Publica (7,000), Ordo (10,000), Kyrgyz Tuusu (10,000), and Kyrgyz Rukhu (7,000). Vechernyi Bishkek is the largest circulation newspaper with anywhere between 20,000 and 60,000 copies depending on press run, but in view of its government ownership has a dubious claim to being the most popular newspaper. Many other newspapers appear but have limited circulation. For instance Obshestvenniye Rating, Tribuna, andErkin Too all have circulations of less than 10,000 copies. The cost of a newspaper in 2002 was 3 soms or 0.10 cents U.S. on weekdays and 6 soms on Fridays. The high circulation newspaper Moya Stolitsa has been at the forefront of legal pressure, usually from government ministers for alleged libel. Publication ceased in 2001 as a result of the refusal of the government printing house to print the newspaper, but it has since resumed publication.

Twenty-four other smaller urban centers claim to have newspapers, but it is usually only one local newspaper (though Bishkek newspapers are circulated in these cities). For example the city of Jalalabad, the fourth largest city, has four local newspapers, but they only publish once per week. Similarly a city like Karakol in the mountains of Eastern Kyrgyzstan boasts seven newspapers, but circulation is significantly less than 5,000, and the papers only publish once per week. The exception to this pattern is the city of Osh with 12 newspapers, but none have a circulation larger than 5,000. Similar to Bishkek, Friday and Saturday are the most popular days of publication. In total with a circulation of only 15 per 1,000 people, Kyrgyzstan exhibits one of the lowest newspaper reader-ship levels in the world.

Economic Framework

The economic performance of Kyrgyzstan over the first years of its existence has been rated possibly the best of all former Soviet Central Asian republics. However, while this is cause for optimism in the long term, the performance has been dismal by world standards. Growth rates have been negative or very low; inflation has been as high as 300 percent and in 2002 was still at an unacceptable 37 percent. The result has been low wages, limited foreign investment, and a general moribund economy. Criticism of such a poor economic performance has been limited in the media; rather they have concentrated on the perceived practices of nepotism, cronyism, and corruption that are seen as underlying cases of the poor economic performance. Furthermore the media has spent much time reacting to the autocratic rule of the one man who has held the presidency in the 10 years since the Soviet Union disbanded, President Askar Akaev. Certainly low per capita incomes have limited newspaper purchases, but it would not appear to be a major factor in media success.

The irregular appearance of newspapers on the street and the popularity of television as a medium make television the preferred news source. Newspapers are either government owned (Vechernyi Bishkek has the government as a majority owner) or privately owned. There are approximately 14 private TV stations and 11 radio stations. In Osh two television stations (Osh Television and Mezon) broadcast in the Uzbek language, and there have been instances when the government has accused the station of both televising too much Uzbek programming and also inciting ethnic hate during elections. It is difficult to classify the types of Kyrgyz newspapers. They are generally popular, but the incessant criticism of government and other entities would suggest that some might be yellow. However, the vicious backlash that has been waged against such journalism is not in keeping with traditions of yellow journalism elsewhere in the world. The small circulations and small staffs have militated against any concentration of ownership in newspaper chains. Competition is ostensibly present, and hence there are no monopolies or the need for antitrust legislation.

The government, through the publishing house Uchkun, owns the distribution network in Kyrgyzstan. Being government-owned, they have few problems obtaining newsprint. The government recently passed a decree (De-cree 20) that gives Uchkun and, by default the government, a monopoly on newsprint allocation, a potentially serious threat to a free press. In addition the government controls the small advertising market and hence has a considerable control over editorial and news content. The average cost of newspaper printing was US$10,500 for 35,000 copies in 2002.

Press Laws

The relationship between the government and the media since the fall of the Soviet Union is the one area that has dominated the emergence and functioning of the press and currently appears to be getting worse rather than better.

The Constitution of the Kyrgyz Republic, adopted in 1993, provides, under Article 16, the rights of all citizens "to free expression and dissemination of one's thoughts, ideas, opinions, freedom of literary, artistic, scientific and technical creative work, freedom of the press, transmission and dissemination of information." Two supplementary laws that govern the media were passed in 1997: "On guarantees and free access to information" and "On the protection of professional activities of Journalists." "The Law of the Kyrgyz Republic on Mass Media" was originally passed in 1992, and despite pressure to amend this law, it remains in place as the most important law governing the media. There are no freedom of information laws in Kyrgyzstan.

As a requirement of that statute all of the country's mass media, including media owners and journalists, must register with the Ministry of Justice in the case of print, or the National Agency for Communications in the case of electronic media and cannot work or publish until permission has been granted by the Ministry. Permission is usually forthcoming in the one-month period required for a decision. The National Agency for Communications also reviews program schedules and issues electronic frequencies for broadcasting. In some cases the agency has unilaterally required stations to change frequencies thus incurring significant disruption and cost to the station. As a result of these restrictions Radio Free Europe estimates only two radio stations in the country are broadcasting legally. There is a fee for registration, but posted bonds are not required.

The press laws establish quite clearly what is prohibited material, namely official state secrets, intolerance toward ethnic minorities, pornography, and desecration of Kyrgyz national symbols like the national seal, anthem, or flag. The statute also identifies "encroachment on the honor and dignity of the person" as an offense. The statute (Articles 24-28) takes great care to identify indemnity of moral damage and other offences of this kind, and it is these provisions in the law that have been extensively used to stymie and restrict the media. Furthermore libel is a criminal, not a civil, action, and attempts to change this have been overwhelmingly defeated in the national Parliament with little hope given for this status to change. The result has been imprisonment of journalists, heavy fines, and ultimately media cessation of publication. It is this situation and the lack of an incentive to change that suggests an unfavorable prognosis for improvement. In the application of these press laws the judiciary has generally been favorable to the plaintiff in the case of honor and dignity suits launched against the media. This might be expected insomuch as the president and Parliament appoint the judiciary.

State-Press Relations

The right to free speech and freedom of the press, while enshrined in the Constitution and the media laws, is in practice generally not respected. Moreover, legislation that would further restrict the media seems to be an ongoing threat.

The state controls the television and much of the radio, and these outlets receive significant subsidies, which permit the government to influence the media. While the power of the government to affect and in some cases silence media agents has been clearly shown (many of whom were imprisoned, fled, or faced trial on flimsy charges), it might be suggested that in lieu of a strong vocal opposition to the president, the fact that there is independent media who still voice opposition and protest suggests that there may be hope for some form of editorial influence on government policies.

In an attempt to break the stranglehold on the printing and distribution of the print media by Uchkun, the European Union attempted in 2002 to sponsor the import of new printing presses. To date the government has withheld an import license for the equipment, and hence alternative presses for newspaper publishing are not available. Ironically, while the former Soviet Union promoted a strong and vociferous trade union movement, in the years since independence no form of worker protest against media manipulation has occurred.


There is no single agency in Kyrgyzstan concerned with monitoring the press, but the fact that Uchkun is the only newspaper-publishing house in the country and that it is government owned creates a de facto censorship. For example, Uchkun refused to publish Res Publica (pending payment of a fine to the president of the state TV and corporation) in 2000, and in 2002 it was refusing to print both Res Publica and Moya Stolitsa-Novosti (notwith-standing court orders to publish the newspapers) over alleged "moral damage" to the president of Uchkun. In view of the possibility of jail and the heavy fines that have been levied against journalists and independent newspaper owners, it is generally agreed that self-censorship is a significant occurrence in Kyrgyzstan. For example, one journalist in Jalalabad was sentenced to two years in prison and a fine equivalent to US$2,250both penalties were subsequently reduced on appeal. In 2001 Res Publica was fined an equivalent of US$5,000 for criticizing the justice department, and the independent newspaper Asaba was required to pay the equivalent of US$105,000 to a parliamentary deputy for repeated insults over an eight-year period. The challenge, as one observer put it, is "to stay out of jail but publish something that has some relation to the truth." In what may be seen as a response to the increasing pressure on the media from government, there has been a significant increase in the number of agencies, foundations, and associations both internally and externally created. Most important is the Public Association of Journalists, a media non-government organization or NGO, "Glasnost (openness) Defense" Public Foundation to defend journalists in court (established in 1999); the public association "Journalists" representing 160 media professionals in the republic (founded in 1998); the Public Foundation of Media Development and the Protection of Journalists' Rights (founded in 1998); and the "Press Club" founded in 2000. The Association of Independent Electronic Mass Media of Central Asia, "Anesmi," (founded in 1995) represents the electronic media but is for all practical purposes defunct. There is also a Center of Women Journalists of Central Asia, as there are a large number of female journalists in Kyrgyzstan, where gender issues are increasingly coming to the fore in this predominantly Islamic country. Journalists can also be part of the Union of Journalists of the Kyrgyz Republic. In Osh the Resource Media Center has been active in the fight for journalists' rights. Sadly there is no Press Council that mediates disputes between plaintiffs and the media in the event of perceived slights; rather litigation is the preferred means of dispute resolution.

Attitude toward Foreign Media

Article 30 of the state media law guarantees the right of foreign mass media to operate in Kyrgyzstan without opposition. Generally the government's attitude toward foreign media has been one of dislike as a result of the criticism that has been directed toward Kyrgyzstan's record on media freedoms. There have been instances of foreign journalists being assaultedin 2002 a journalist from the Kyrgyz-Turkish newspaper Zaman Kyrgyzstan was assaulted, but whether this was directed against him as a representative of the media or just unrelated street crime cannot be ascertained. More significantly western governments, particularly the United States and UNESCO, have played a major role in the protection and education of journalists in order to stimulate an independent media. UNESCO has established a Media Resource Center in Bishkek to which journalists from Europe and the America's come to instruct others in the best practices for journalists. English language classes and computer literacy classes have also been taught. In the future management courses will be taught. Of more direct impact has been the establishment, as a result of U.S. State Department funding, of Internews. Internews is a nongovernmental organization (NGO) that operates "based on the conviction that vigorous and diverse mass media form an essential cornerstone to an open society." To that end it produces TV news programs and youth radio stations but more recently has become involved in the defense of TV stations, radio stations, and journalists who have been sued under the nation's media laws. Internews is also active in the proposed amendment of current media laws. Foreign correspondents do not have to be accredited, nor do they require special visas. Cables are not approved, nor have there been any instances of foreign correspondents being prevented from doing their job. Domestic journalists have free access to international press organizations. The Kyrgyz government tacitly supports the UNESCO Declaration of 1979 by its support of the OSCE office in Bishkek that monitors this declaration.

News Agencies

The official government news agency is named Kabar. It is responsible for all government pronouncements and is the best source for local news but is generally considered untrustworthy. Western NGOs and other interested parties have incontrovertible proof of Kabar supplying patently false and misleading information in the past. There are a number of independent news agencies: Belyi Parokhod, Jihan, and Internews, all of which provide both national and international coverage as well as local politics and commentary. Most major international news bureaus cover Kyrgyzstan out of Moscow (AP) or Karachi (Reuters). Thus detailed, ongoing international pressure on the government to recognize and respect media freedoms is less than in other, larger countries.

Broadcast Media

The state owns and controls the TV station transmitters and therefore is in a position to control electronic news broadcasts. There are five TV channels in the capital city of Bishkek. Channel one is Kyrgyz programming, channels two and three are feeds from Moscow, channel four is a Turkish feed, and channel five is the independent channel showing mostly soap operas and pirated western movies.

Electronic News Media

The importance of the Internet as a source of information is limited owing to the lack of computers and the poor telecommunications network in the country. In an attempt to expand the Internet as a news source, the U.S. State Department opened seven information centers in seven cities and towns with free access to the Internet to enable citizens to access various press sites. In 2003 it will open five more urban centers. In yet another example of a contradiction between theory and practice, the government has undertaken to increase electronic access and communication, while shutting down the online news site "Politica KG" in 2000 during the presidential election.

Education & TRAINING

There are a number of schools of journalism in Kyrgyzstan institutes of higher education. The primary institutions teaching journalism are the American University in Kyrgyzstan (AUK), Slavic University, and Bishkek Humanities University. Many Kyrgyz students in standard literature classes also see journalism as a viable and attractive career. The numbers graduating from these institutions are small. For example, AUK graduated 10 journalism students in 2001.


The most serious problem facing the provision of an independent media in Kyrgyzstan is the attitude and policies of the government. In the earliest years of independence there was cause for hope that the media would grow to become a solid acceptable force in the progress of the nation. By the late 1990s the situation had begun to deteriorate with a significant growth in the number of lawsuits, harassment of journalists by means of intimidation, and use of the taxation system to challenge the existence of an independent media. Matters came to a head in 2000 when the president, Askar Akaev, sought a third term in office, normally prohibited under the Constitution but permitted by the Supreme Court on the basis that he became president under the old Soviet regime and hence technically had not served two terms. The media outcry was met by a series of punitive measures against any of the media that opposed his campaign for a third term. Thus the situation exists in the early twenty-first century where, on a scale of one to one hundred (Free= 0-30, partly free= 31-60, and Not free 61-100), the 1999 Freedom House Survey of Press Freedom rated Kyrgyzstan 64 and is considered without a free press, a situation reminiscent of the press under the Soviet regime only 10 years earlier.

The prospects and prognosis for the media in the twenty-first century is dependent on the state of relations with the government. Certainly the government in its official statements espouses the need for a free and independent media, but in practice it is a long way from that reality. From here the government can go even further in its challenge to the independence of the media, secure in the knowledge that for the foreseeable future western governments need to be on good terms with Islamic governments. Or it can address the concerns voiced by both the OSCE and the U.S. government that human rights and the state of the mass media are areas of immediate and serious concern and can address these issues to the satisfaction of Kyrgyz journalists, media, and outside observers.


Freedom House Media Ratings, 2002. Available from

Kyrgyzstan 2001 World Press Freedom Review. Available from

U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID). "Report on Independent Media," 2002. Available from

U.S. Department of State. "Country Reports on Human Rights Practices 2001." Available from

Richard W. Benfield

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The Kyrgyz Republic gained its independence from the Soviet Union in 1991. Since then, the family law of the former Kyrgyz Soviet Socialist Republic (KSSR) remains in effect. With the transition to a market economy that began in 1991, Kyrgyz children and families face many new social and economic problems. Independence brought a significant revival of Islamic tradition, especially in the south. These changes have brought with them a need to reform family law.

The evolution of Kyrgyz family law can be divided into three periods: The first was the time before the 1917 Russian Revolution. The second began with the family law reforms instituted in 1917. The third commenced in 1991, when Kyrgyz Republic achieved its independence from the Soviet Union, and prevails through the beginning of the twenty-first century.

Prerevolutionary Period

It is impossible to understand the role of the family in the Kyrgyz Republic without studying family relations in Kyrgyzstan in the second half of the nineteenth and beginning of the twentieth centuries. During this period, family law combined customary law, the norms of Muslim law, and the law of the Russian Empire. The three were inter-connected, influenced each other, and contradicted each other. None of the three systems was dominant.

Customary, or traditional, law is a set of unwritten norms produced over a long period of time, regulating all kinds of activity and having a binding character. In Kyrgyzstan, the sources of customary law are custom (adapt or urp), the practice of courts (biilerdin bytymy), and the written decisions of the Congress of Judges (Ereje). Customary law was passed from generation to generation by word of mouth. Within this tradition, the standards of family law and inheritance varied among districts. In the south, customary law was strongly influenced by Muslim law. At the same time, traditional laws changed constantly as a region's economic relations developed and evolved.

In traditional Kyrgyz culture, almost all marriages are arranged, with the purpose of forming alliances between clans. Women, upon marriage, become part of the husband's clan; their status within the family depends on the number of male children they bear and their skills in performing their duties as wife, mother, and daughter-in-law. The pre-Soviet Kyrgyzs had no tradition of veiling or seclusion. Polygamy was common.

The oral folklore of the Kyrgyz people has its roots in ancient times; its prehistory remains alive in the legendary Manas epos (or body of traditional poems and stories on the same theme). Manas is an original encyclopedia for study of the customs, traditions, beliefs, and the worldview of the Kyrgyz people. As the historian V.V. Radlov notes, the epos, as a document of Kyrgyz history, presents a picture of family life, spiritual life, economy, ethics, popular philosophy, religious concepts, and matchmaking.

Soviet Period

In the Soviet period, the centralized government created a new family law when it presented countries with decrees, codes, and other acts. Turkestan, which included Kyrgyzstan, accepted the Soviet orders and decisions explaining the Family Code of 1918. The new legislation was carried out slowly because the population was still under the powerful influence of local clergy, aristocrats, and customary law judges (biev). The biev were wealthy elders informally chosen by the community, discretely maintained by the ruling class (baev) in the patriarchal-feudal aristocracy and imperial administration to keep peace between the classes. Their rulings were oral.

When they created the code, the Soviets did not take into account the conditions of the region. The people were used to living according to custom and Muslim law. Because of this situation, the Soviet Union subsequently permitted Islamic judges (kaziev) and the biev to decide family disputes by application of both the Family Code of 1918 and traditional norms, unless those norms were inconsistent with the Family Code. The Soviet Union also recognized household and national traditions in 1924 when the legal institution of adoption under customary law was restored in Turkestan. In general, however, Kyrgyzstan leaders were limited in their ability to regulate family relations and generally followed Soviet laws and rules.

The Marxist-Leninist government encouraged the "liberation" of women from the home and into the workforce, particularly in the urban areas. Under Soviet rule, women were given equal access to employment, protection under family law, and social-support provisions. Girls were required to attend school. The Soviets prohibited bride-price and dowry, but officials rarely enforced the prohibition, and the practice remained common.

During the Soviet era, public law, not civil or private law, governed family relations. Many government decisions show this policy. To encourage motherhood, the Soviet government prohibited abortion in a 1936 decision. Women who had abortions in violation of that prohibition were punished under the Criminal Code until 1955.

During World War II, the government opened many orphanages to care for children whose parents had been killed in the war. On September 8, 1943, the Decree of Presidium of the Supreme Soviet "On Adoption" was issued to encourage adoption of these children. The Presidium enacted an edict on July 8, 1944, that specified that only a marriage registered with the state was accorded rights and obligations. This edict also made divorce very difficult and abolished paternity proceedings. From February 15, 1947, to January 21, 1954, marriages between foreigners and Soviet citizens were prohibited.

The Supreme Soviet enacted completely new family legislation on October 1, 1968. These "Fundamental Principles of Legislation on Marriage and the Family" were followed in 1969 by new family codes in the fifteen Soviet Republics. This 1969 Family Code remains in effect in the Kyrgyz Republic at the beginning of the twenty-first century. Under Soviet rule, the central marriage code was designed to establish equality between spouses, secularize marriage, and make divorce simple and accessible to both partners.

The constitution of the Kyrgyz Soviet Socialist Republic in 1978 established the protection of family as a constitutional principle. Other legislation mandated equality of men and women, the strengthening of the family, and the protection of children.


Kyrgyz Republic became sovereign and independent in 1991. Restoration of independence in Kyrgyzstan, as well as in its neighboring countries, was connected to the collapse of the USSR. With independence came the opportunity to continue the interrupted development of the market economy and institutions of the democratic state.

The Constitution of the Kyrgyz Republic, accepted by the Supreme Soviet in 1993, continues Soviet-era protection by providing in Article 26 that motherhood, fatherhood, and childhood will be under the defense of the State. The addition of fatherhood enlarges the provisions of the constitution.

Since independence, the Parliament of the Kyrgyz Republic (Jokorku Kenesh) has ratified many international conventions. Analysis of the conventions in the fields of women's and children's rights has shown that the existing base of Kyrgyz law as a whole agrees with international norms.

Development of family law after the restoration of independence has been determined by the common conception of civil or private law. A new civil code went into effect in 1996. According to Art.1 of this code, "Civil legislation shall be applied to family relationships, if such relationships are not regulated by family legislation." Portions of the 1969 family code have been moved into the 1996 civil code including trusteeship and the acts of a civil condition.

Legal regulation of marriage. In Kyrgyz law, marriage is the union of men and women, which brings legal consequences, creating a status for the married person and for the state. The only legal marriage ceremonies are state-sanctioned, although the participants may have religious ceremonies as well. Couples who plan to marry must file applications at a government office (the ZAGS bureau) one month in advance of the wedding. The waiting period may be reduced or extended by up to one month for justifiable reasons. In both cases, the ceremony must be preceded by a procedure before a civil registrar who issues written findings that there are no obstacles to the marriage. A civil wedding may be accompanied by a religious ceremony, but a religious ceremony without the civil ruling is not valid. Marriage is finalized by registration.

Under law, both parties to a marriage must be at least eighteen years old. The CMF Art.18 provides for the possibility of lowering the marriageable age, but only for the woman and not by more than one year. Couples who marry in religious ceremonies or under customary law at younger ages are not legally married and do not receive legal marriage benefits. The department of state generally decides questions about the lowering of marriageable age. Many marriages today are based on mutual consent of spouses; paternal consent is still a requirement by custom, maintaining a semblance of the tradition of arranged marriages.

According to civil wedding statistics from by the Ministries of Justice, the number of registered marriages has diminished. In 1996, 36,710 couples registered to marry; in 1997, the figure was 26,110; in 1998, 26,910; in 1999, 26,060; and in 2000, 26,557. There is an increasing number of unregistered, traditional unions or de facto marriages. De facto unions are popular especially in the south and among rich men in cities.

In Kyrgyzstan, bride-price, known as kalym, is again openly practiced in the post-Soviet era. According to Kyrgyz custom, the groom gives the bride's family a gift of livestock. Kyrgyz women sometimes bring family livestock into the marriage. The children of the marriage subsequently inherit the bride-wealth, not the husband and his family. De facto polygamous marriages have also increased in number. One statistic showed that as many as 70 percent of the men in the south had multiple wives. Polygamy typically takes the form of acquiring a woman over the age of twenty-five as a second wife. The second wife is called the tokol and is married in a religious ceremony conducted by the iman, or Muslim cleric. The tokol has no legal rights under Kygyz law.

Under the Criminal Code of 1997, bigamy and polygamy are punishable crimes and result in the annulment of the second marriage. Nevertheless, men take on additional wives under traditional and Muslim law. Traditional law permits more wives does Islamic law, which limits a man to four wives. These unions have created a conflict between traditional, religious, and civil law.

De facto marriage, or cohabitation, is of a personal and spiritual nature; it carries no legal family obligations (such as alimony or division of property) according to the civil code. De facto unions are not forbidden by law and are not prosecutable, but the law does not accord them any legal significance. Thus, men and women living together are not considered spouses and do not inherit from each other. Children born from these unions are considered illegitimate and bear the mother's surname. The relations between children and their natural fathers are not considered paternal in the same sense as those involving legitimate children. Although children have the right to receive child support from their natural father, the law does not provide for inheritance rights after his death. Nevertheless, many women who are second wives—who joined the household as a result of de facto marriage—apply to courts to defend the inheritance rights of their children. Such cases are a problem in legal practice.

There are two categories of de facto union. The first might be termed modern and voluntary. These unions exist as a result of a mutual agreement of the parties with little involvement of their families. They occur primarily in the cities. This is a contractual model as a voluntary union of two individuals. The second category, in which the family of the man or man himself pays a bride-price to woman's family, is consummated by the transfer of an agreed bride-wealth. These de facto unions are based on an agreement between families. A woman from a poor family may be forced to marry even if she believes that her rights are being violated. However, since the enactment of the 1997 criminal code, the purchase or ransom of bride-price by parents is no longer a criminal offense. The new code recognized this practice as a social custom and thus not punishable by criminal law.

The difficult question is determining the form of a relationship before its legal effects can be ascertained. Women in polygamous unions often believe that they are validly married under Islamic law, which recognizes these unions. Customary law in Kyrgyzstan also permitted polygamy. In the south, a first wife may not protest against her husband's expressed intention to marry other women. Women and their families do not demand a marriage certificate because the ceremony (nike) is performed by an Islamic official (moldo—a man who works in a mosque under an iman). These traditions date back to the prerevolutionary era and belong to both the Islamic and traditional laws. Given these circumstances, parties may remain ignorant of their actual legal status until a marital dispute or the death of one person throws a dark shadow on the validity of their marriage.

The Code of Marriage and Family does not include legal rules to govern the distribution of property when one of the cohabitants dies intestate before the validity of the relationship is decided in court. The law has no provisions that give economic protection to the woman who lives with the man and her children. This brings consequences for the second wife and her children. Fathers' and children's rights and duties arise from the establishment of the children's parentage. A child's parentage becomes legal when certified by the ZAGS. The parentage of a child born to unmarried parents may be established if the child's mother and father submit a joint declaration to the ZAGS. Based on the parents' free and willing declaration that they are the parents, ZAGS register the child's birth and issue the parents a birth certificate that indicates the child's father's and mother's name, patronymic, and surname.

The courts may determine a child's paternity if the child is born out of wedlock and if, at the time of birth, no joint declaration was submitted to the ZAGS. Paternity may be established based upon cohabitation and the running of a joint household by the mother and the respondent for at least six months prior to the birth of the child, the joint upbringing or maintenance of the child by the two, or documentary evidence authentically proving that the respondent recognizes his paternity. Paternity can be proved if only one of these is established. Cohabitation and running a joint household by the child's mother and the respondent before the child's birth may be proved if the two persons lived in the same household, ate together, took care of one another, and acquired property for mutual use and enjoyment or for the child. All these facts may be confirmed with various documents and witnesses' testimony. After the court exhaustively examines all evidence relevant to a paternity case, it declares whether the respondent is the child's father or not. The court's decision becomes the basis for the entry in the ZAGS registry, which brings about personal and property rights and obligations between the child and the father.

The process of establishing paternity may be difficult, particularly after the father has died. Documentary evidence is rarely available, and the illegal widow will have to offer proof of established cohabitation. In many cases, a de facto union may not last long enough to meet this test. Genetic evidence is accepted, but is expensive and only available in Moscow.

Experience shows that the woman usually loses when the second marriage is invalid under the general law. Since the Kyrgyz Republic republic gained its independence, polygamy and de facto marriage unions have spread in the neighboring republics of Kazakhstan, Uzbekistan, Tajikistan, and Turkmenistan. This has come about because of the interests of Muslim men and the revival of Central Asian traditions. Polygamy is against the law in all of these countries, but the governments do not enforce the laws. During the Soviet era, the criminal code prohibited both polygamy and the payment of bride-price. Even more important, a man with more than one wife (or a man who divorced) would lose his membership in the Communist Party and would lose prestige and even his job as a result.

Divorce. The Code of Marriage and Family required equal ownership and distribution of marital assets upon divorce. By the end of the twentieth century, the number of divorces exceeded 50 percent of the annual marriages.

Domestic violence increased in the post-Soviet era. Under the criminal code, husbands do not have a right to beat their wives, but domestic violence is only a crime if the abused partner complains. Hospital admission records indicate an increase in domestic violence injuries requiring medical attention.


The transition to independence and a market economy have brought a need for family law reform. Because of the large gap between the law on the books and the practices in Kyrgyz society, the shape of family law reform will be controversial. The 1969 Code on Marriage and the Family of the KSSR, which became effective on January 1, 1970, is still in force. A new family code for the Kyrgyz Republic will fundamentally change the system of family law in almost every aspect. The new family code will attempt to achieve an international standard of human rights, with particular emphasis on the rights of children In 1994, the country approved the International Convention on the Rights of the Child, but no legislation was passed to implement it.

The institution of family has undergone tremendous changes in the last century due to both societal and political upheaval. Marriage as an institution has diminished with the rise in cohabitation and illegitimate children. Further change is certain to occur.

See also:Islam


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Kyrgyzstan (kērgĬstän´), officially Kyrgyz Republic, republic (2005 est. pop. 5,146,000), c.76,600 sq mi (198,400 sq km), central Asia. It borders on China in the southeast, on Kazakhstan in the north, on Uzbekistan in the west, and on Tajikistan in the southwest. Bishkek, the capital, and Osh are the chief cities.

Land and People

Kyrgyzstan is a mountainous country in the Tian Shan and Pamir systems, rising to 24,409 ft (7,440 m) at Pobeda Peak on the Chinese border. Ninety-four percent of the country is over 3,300 ft (1,000 m) above sea level, with an average elevation of 9,020 ft (2,750 m). Lake Issyk-Kul lies in the northeast. The climate is continental with great regional variations; there are glaciers in the north, and the subtropical Fergana Valley highlands lie in the southwest. The Talas Alatau and the Fergana ranges roughly separate SW Kyrgyzstan from the larger northeast.

The borders with neighboring Central Asian nations, were often not clearly defined under Soviet rule, and they have yet to be finally demarcated. In the Fergana Valley, several small sections of Uzbekistan and Tajikistan form enclaves in Kyrgyzstan, and there is a small Kyrgyzstani exclave in Uzbekistan. The jumbled geography has led at times to border incidents and tensions.

The Kyrgyz, a Sunni Muslim, Turkic-speaking pastoral people, constitute about two thirds of the population; the rest are Uzbeks (about 14%), Russians (about 12%), and other minorities. The Uzbeks reside largely in the southwest. Some 20% of the people are Russian Orthodox Christians. About two thirds of the population is rural. Kyrgyz and Russian are both official languages, and Uzbek is also spoken.


Over half of Kyrgyzstan's population is engaged in agriculture and herding. There is rich pasturage for sheep, goats, cattle, and horses. Most of the cultivated area is irrigated. Cotton, tobacco, potatoes, sugar beets, vegetables, grapes, fruits, and berries are grown; sericulture is carried on, and grain crops are cultivated in the nonirrigated areas.

Kyrgyzstan has deposits of gold, rare earth metals, coal, oil, natural gas, nepheline, mercury, bismuth, lead, zinc, and uranium. Industries include food processing, nonferrous metallurgy, forestry, and the manufacture of apparel and textiles, agricultural machinery, appliances, furniture, and electric motors. In addition, the Kyrgyz are also noted for such traditional handicrafts as wood carving, carpet weaving, and jewelry making. Many citizens work abroad, especially in Kazakhstan and Russia, and their remittances are important to Kyrgyzstan's economy.

The nation's leading exports are cotton, wool, meat, tobacco, metals (particularly gold, mercury, and uranium), natural gas, hydropower, and machinery; the chief imports are oil and gas, machinery and equipment, chemicals, and foodstuffs. The main trading partners are China, Russia, the United Arab Emirates, and Kazakhstan.


Kyrgyzstan was the first of the former Soviet Central Asian republics to acquire democratic institutions. Under the constitution adopted in 2010 and fully effective when the interim government ends in 2011, the president, who is head of state, is elected by popular vote for a single six-year term. The government is headed by the prime minister. The unicameral legislature consists of the 120-member Jogorku Kenesh, the Supreme Council or Parliament; members are popularly elected by a system of proportional representation for five-year terms. No one party can hold more than 65 seats. Administratively, the country is divided into seven provinces and the capital area.


Formerly known as the Kara [black] Kyrgyz to distinguish them from the Kazakhs (at one time called Kirghiz or Kyrgyz), the Kyrgyz migrated to Kyrgyzstan from the region of the upper Yenisei, where they had lived from the 7th to the 17th cent. The area came under the rule of the Kokand khanate in the 19th cent. and was gradually annexed by Russia between 1855 and 1876. The nomadic Kyrgyz resisted conscription into the czarist army in 1916, leading to an uprising in which 100,000 and perhaps many more died and many fled to China. The Kyrgyz also fought the establishment of Bolshevik control from 1917 to 1921. As a result of war devastation, there was a famine in 1921–22 in which over 500,000 Kyrgyz died. The area was formed into the Kara-Kirghiz Autonomous Region within the Russian Soviet Federated Socialist Republic in 1924, becoming an autonomous republic in 1926 and a constituent republic in 1936.

In 1990, Askar Akayev, president of the republic's Academy of Sciences, was elected president as a compromise candidate by the legislature. After fighting off an attempted coup in 1991, the government declared Kyrgyzstan independent of the Soviet Union. Kyrgyzstan subsequently became a member of the Russian-dominated Commonwealth of Independent States, and a new consitutution was approved.

Akayev, who remained president, fostered ties with China and other neighboring nations and initiated an ambitious program of free-market reforms. He retained his post in the 1995 elections, which were denounced by opposition leaders but given guarded support by UN observers. Also in 1995, Kyrgyzstan, along with Belarus and Kazakhstan, signed a pact with Russia providing for close economic cooperation. In 1996, Akayev won a referendum on amending the constitution to increase the presidency's powers. Islamic militants seized several towns near the border with Tajikistan (where a civil war began in 1992) in 1999, and in 2000 Kyrgyzstani forces fought Uzbek guerrillas based in Tajikistan that had infiltrated into the Fergana Valley. Akayev was reelected president in Oct., 2000, in a contest that observers said was marred by intimidation and ballot fraud. A U.S. air base, used for operationsin Afghanistan, was established at Manas in late 2001, following the Sept. 11th attacks against the United States. A Feb., 2003, referendum approved constitutional changes and affirmed Akayev's current term in office. The vote was prompted by unrest prior to 2003, but the constitutional changes and outcome of the vote were denounced by those opposed to Akayev.

The 2005 elections for parliament ended in a lopsided victory for Akayev's supporters, a result that sparked unrest in a nation already beset by persistent poverty and corruption. In March, opposition demonstrators seized control of the southwestern cities and regions of Jalal-Abad and Osh, and the uprising spread to Bishkek. As a result of the "Tulip Revolution," Akayev fled the country for Russia (and officially resigned the following month), and Kurmanbek Bakiyev, a former prime minister who had resigned in 2002 and then opposed Akayev, was appointed prime minister and acting president. Despite the supreme court's annulment of the elections, the departing parliament decided to accept the results, and the new legislators took office.

In the months leading up to the July, 2005, presidential election, the country experienced an increased level of civil unrest as the provisional government struggled somewhat to establish its control, and the unrest continued sporadically through the rest of 2005. The July vote resulted in a landslide victory for Bakiyev, who had agreed in May to appoint his most significant political rival—Felix Kulov, the provisional government's former security services coordinator—as prime minister. Kulov was confirmed as prime minister in September.

At the end of 2005, the political situation remained somewhat tenuous, with the president seeking to consolidate his power and influence despite his pledge to reduce his powers and parliament seeking to increase the prime minister's powers. Corruption and crime, meanwhile, had become worse than it had been under Akayev; reform efforts stalled; and by 2006 interethnic tensions and violence appeared to be increasing. Increased antiterror operations in SW Kyrgyzstan, directed mainly against Uzbeks, appeared in part designed to suppress an Uzbek campaign for enlarged civil rights and aggravated ethnic strains.

Unhappiness with Bakiyev led to several large demonstrations against him in 2006, and a loss of support in parliament. In May, 13 government ministers resigned after being criticized by the parliament, but then remained in office after meeting with the president. Omurbek Tekebayev, a former parliament speaker and opposition leader, was arrested in Poland in Sept., 2006, on drug charges, then was released when the heroin was determined to have been planted. The president's brother and the deputy director of the state security service were implicated in affair, which was seen as a government effort to discredit its opponents.

The president and parliament continued to joust over constitutional reform, with each side preferring that it have the stronger powers in any new national charter. In November, however, after a week of opposition demonstrations in the capital, parliament passed a compromise constitution that reduced the president's powers, and the president signed it. In December, Prime Minister Kulov's government resigned, ostensibly to accelerate the election of a parliament under the new constitution so that the new parliament might elect the prime minister (as required under the new constitution), but parliament subsequently adopted revisions to the November constitution that restored some of the president's lost powers and also allowed the president to appoint a new cabinet until a new parliament was elected. Bakiyev then twice appointed Kulov prime minister, but parliament refused to approve the choice.

In late Jan., 2007, a compromise choice, Azim Isabekov, the agriculture minister, was appointed prime minister and confirmed, but he resigned in March after the opposition, which had become increasing critical of the government, refused to join in a coalition. Bakiyev then appointed opposition politician Almazbek Atambayev as prime minister, but many in the opposition continued to resist joining a coalition government, mounting demonstrations instead and calling for the president to resign and parliament to dissolve. In May, 2007, there was an apparent attempt to poison the prime minister, possibly over a government decision to nationalize a semiconductor plant, but he survived after treatment.

In Sept., 2007, the constitutional court ruled that the 2006 amendments to the constitution were invalid because a referendum was required. The following month, however, a referendum approved the changes, but independent observers questioned the result, saying that there was evidence of an inflated turnout and ballot stuffing. Subsequently, parliamentary elections were called for December, which were won overwhelmingly by the president's Best Path Popular (Ak-Jol Eldik) party. The largest opposition party was denied any seats and accused the government of fraud; despite winning 8% of the vote nationally, the election commission said it failed to win the .5% required in each region. Western observers said the election failed to meet international standards and were critical of the regional vote requirement. Igor Chudinov was named prime minister. The government moved in Feb., 2009, to end U.S. use of the Manas air base; although Kyrgyzstan denied it, the action appeared linked to the country's receipt of $2 billion aid package from Russia. In June, however, the government agreed to a new lease on the base in return for increased rent and other aid. Bakiyev was reelected in July, but the campaign was criticized as unfair and the vote, which was denounced by the opposition as fraudulent, was marred by widespread irregularities and criticized by OSCE observers. Chudinov and the cabinet resigned in Oct., 2009, as Bakiyev undertook a major government reorganization that placed control of foreign affairs and security forces directly under the president; Daniyar Usenov, the president's chief of staff, succeeded Chudinov as prime minister.

In early 2010 Bakiyev faced growing criticism, even from his supporters, for moves against opposition politicians and independent media outlets. In April, protests that began in Talas spread to Bishkek and other northeastern cities, and when clashes in the capital resulted in the deaths of some 80 people, Bakiyev fled to his native Jalalabad prov. in W Kyrgyzstan. Opposition politicians proclaimed an interim government, with former foreign minister Roza Otunbayeva as its leader. Bakiyev and Usenov subsequently went into exile, and were later convicted in absentia of various crimes.

The new government struggled to assert contol and reestablish order, especially in SW Kyrgyzstan, where support for the former president was stronger. When Uzbek volunteers helped the government regain control in Jalalabad in June, the move apparently sparked ethnic rioting in SW Kyrgyzstan, with the largely Kyrgyz police and the military reportedly supporting Kyrgyz mobs (though the government denied this and blamed the rioting on foreigners, some Uzbek leaders, and the Bakiyev family). An independent international inquiry estimated that 470 people were killed, and some 410,000 were displaced. The violence disproportionately affected Uzbeks, many of whom sought refuge in neighboring Uzbekistan.

A referendum later in the month approved a new constitution establishing a parliamentary republic; Otunbayeva was named to serve as interim president until the end of 2011. In the Oct., 2010, parliamentary elections, five parties won votes from more than 5% of the eligible voters (the threshold for representation in parliament); no party won more than 9%. A sixth party narrowly failed to win the necessary votes due to a change in the election commission's calculation of the number of eligible voters, leading to protests from the party and its supporters.

In Dec., 2010, three parties, including the SW-Kyrgyzstan-based Ata Jurt (Homeland) party, which opposed the creation of a parliamentary republic, formed a government; Social Democrat Atambayev became prime minister for the second time. He subsequently ran for president, handily winning in Oct., 2011, but the voting was marred by irregularities and reflected regional divisions, with most of his support coming from the northeast. In December the Social Democrats withdrew from the governing coalition, forcing the formation of a new government; a new four-party coalition was formed, with the Respublika party's Omurbek Babanov as prime minister. That government collapsed in Aug., 2012, when two of the parties withdrew from the coalition. Those parties and the Social Democrats formed a new government in September, with Jantoro Satybaldiyev, an independent, as prime minister.

In Oct., 2012, Kamchybek Tashiyev, the nationalist leader of Ata Jurt, was arrested when he led an attempt to storm the parliament complex in the capital; he was later acquitted (June, 2013) of having attempted to overthrow the government. In June, 2013, Kyrgyzstan decided to end the U.S. lease on Manas by July, 2014; the decision was apparently linked to Russia's forgiveness of some of Kyrgyzstan's debt and other aid. Most U.S. personnel left by Feb., 2014. In July, 2013, the government signed an agreement to sell control of the state natural gas distribution company to the Russian giant Gazprom for $1 in exchange for infrastructure investments in Kyrgyzstan's energy system and other considerations. In Mar., 2014, Prime Minister Satybaldiyev resigned after the Ata Meken (Fatherland) party withdrew from the government, and then stepped down as interim government leader. Djoomart Otorbayev, an independent, became acting prime minister and then prime minister when the prior three-party governing coalition formed a new government in April, but he resigned a year later. Tamir Sariyev succeeded him as prime minister. In 2015, Kyrgyzstan joined the Eurasian Economic Union.


See S. Akinev, Islamic Peoples of the Soviet Union (1986).

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Official name: Kyrgyz Republic

Area: 198,500 square kilometers (76,641 square miles)

Highest point on mainland: Victory Peak (7,439 meters/24,406 feet)

Lowest point on land: Kara-Daryya (Karadar'ya) (132 meters/433 feet)

Hemispheres: Northern and Eastern

Time zone: 5 p.m. = noon GMT

Longest distances: Not available

Land boundaries: 3,878 kilometers (2,410 miles) total boundary length; China 858 kilometers (533 miles); Kazakhstan 1,051 kilometers (652 miles); Tajikistan 870 kilometers (539 miles); Uzbekistan 1,099 kilometers (681 miles)

Coastline: None

Territorial sea limits: None


Kyrgyzstan is located in central Asia, west of China, south of Kazakhstan, east of Uzbeki-stan, and northeast of Tajikistan.


Kyrgyzstan has no territories or dependencies.


Average temperatures vary significantly by region in Kyrgyzstan. The coldest January temperatures are in the mountain valleys, where readings have been known to fall below -30°C (-22°F). The warmest January average is -4°C (25°F), near the southern city of Osh and around Lake Issyk-Kul, which never freezes. In July, the average temperature is around 27°C (81°F) in the Fergana Valley on the high mountain peaks.

Like temperatures, precipitation rates, which include snow as well as rainfall, are largely a product of Kyrgyzstan's mountains. Precipitation occurs to a greater extent in the western mountains and to a lesser extent in the flatter, lower regions of north-central Kyrgyzstan.

Average precipitation levels range from 10 to 50 centimeters (4 to 20 inches) in the valleys and 18 to 100 centimeters (7 to 40 inches) in the mountains. Extremes vary from less than 10 centimeters (4 inches) per year on the west bank of Issyk-Kul to 200 centimeters (79 inches) per year in the mountains above the Fergana Valley.


Landlocked in east central Asia, Kyrgyzstan covers just 198,500 square kilometers (76,641 square miles), making it the smallest of the Central Asian countries that became independent after the breakup of the Soviet Union in the 1990s. There are a number of small areas within southwestern Kyrgyzstan that belong to neighboring Uzbekistan or Tajikistan.

Kyrgyzstan is predominantly mountainous. Only about 10 percent of the terrain is below 1,500 meters (4,900 feet) in elevation; and more than half the land surpasses 2,500 meters (8,200 feet). Permanent snowfields and glaciers blanket about 3 percent of the country. Indeed, studies estimate that Kyrgyzstan's 6,500 glaciers contain an amazing 650 billion cubic meters (850 billion cubic yards) of water. This abundance of mountain moisture is the source of Kyrgyzstan's many lakes and fast-flowing rivers.

The primary mountain range in Kyrgyzstan is the great Tian Shan, whose peaks, valleys, and basins essentially define the whole republic. In addition, the Trans Alai mountains in the south, part of the Pamirs, are also significant. The only land flat enough to be suitable for large-scale agriculture is in the Chu, Talas, and Fergana Valleys of the north and east.


Kyrgyzstan is a landlocked country.


There are nearly two thousand lakes in Kyrgyzstan, located at the higher elevations of 3,000 to 4,000 meters (9,840 to 13,120 feet). Most are small, but together they have a combined surface area of some 7,000 square kilometers (2,703 square miles). Lake Issyk-Kul comprises most of the total area by itself; at 6,100 square kilometers (2,360 square miles), it is Kyrgyzstan's largest lake. Issyk-Kul is located in the northeastern Tian Shan mountain range. Some commercial fishing interests operate on the lake year-round, as it never freezes. Two other large lakes, Song-Kul and Chatyr-Kul, lie in the Naryn Basin.


The majority of Kyrgyzstan's many rivers are small, fast-flowing runoff streams with origins in the melting snows of the high eastern mountains. Not one of these is navigable, howevernot even the country's largest river, the Naryn, which converges with other rivers to become the great Central Asian Syr Darya. In the north, the Chu River flows northwestward, eventually drying up in the desert country of southern Kazakhstan.


The northern areas of Kyrgyzstan near the border with Kazakhstan are desert regions, with very little vegetation.


Only 4 percent of Kyrgyzstan is forest. Conifers predominate in the lower valleys and northern mountain slopes. Kyrgyzstan can boast the world's largest natural-growth walnut forest. Deer, mountain goats, and mountain sheep are abundant, but the country's forests also support many rare, protected wildlife species like the Tian Shan bear, the red wolf, and the snow leopard.

Because of its mountainous geography, Kyrgyzstan has many valleys throughout its mountain ranges. Of note are the lush Osh and Fergana Valleys.


Kyrgyzstan lies where two great Central Asian mountain systems, the Tian Shan and the Pamirs, come together. The Tian Shan Mountains run northeast to form the country's eastern border with China; Kyrgyzstan's southern border with Tajikistan follows the Trans Alai Range along the northernmost part of the Pamirs.

The Tian Shan is the largest system of mountains in Asia outside of the Himalayas, and its highest point, Victory Peak (Pik Pobedy, Jengish Chokusu; 7,439 meters/24,406 feet) is the highest peak in Kyrgyzstan. A series of secondary mountain ranges are considered part of the Tian Shan system. In Kyrgyzstan these include the Ala Tau, running generally east to west across northern Kyrgyzstan. Another chain, the central Fergana Mountains, runs southeast to northwest.


The Ala-Archa Canyon, located about 40 kilometers south of Bishkek, is a rugged area favored by hikers. Near Lake Issyk-Kul is the Jeti-Öghüz canyon, with cliffs composed of red sandstone.


Plateaus dot the country's mountain ranges, most significantly the Issyk-Kul plateau that overlooks the lake of the same name.


The Popan reservoir in southeastern Kyrgyzstan is vital to support agriculture in the Fergana Valley, which helps feed much of the country.



Thomas, Paul. The Central Asian StatesTajikstan, Uzbekistan, Kyrgyzstan, Turkmenistan. Brookfield, CT: Millbrook Press, 1992.


©agatay, Ergun. "Kyrgyzstan: A First Look." Aramco World (Houston: Aramco Services Company), Vol. 46, No. 4 (1995): 1021.

Web Sites

Kyrgyzstan Online. (accessed April 24, 2003).

Kyrgyz Embassy. (accessed April 24, 2003).

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Kyrgyzstan (formerly Kirghizia)


198,500sq km (76,640sq mi)



capital (population):

Bishkek (762,308)


Multiparty republic

ethnic groups:

Kirghiz 52%, Russian 22%, Uzbek 13%, Ukrainian 3%, German 2%, Tatar 2%







Landlocked republic in ne Central Asia, bordered by China, Tajikistan, Uzbekistan, and Kazakstan.

Land and climate

A mountainous country, the highest mountain, Pik Pobedy, is 7439m (24,406ft) above sea level. The largest of Kyrgyzstan's many lakes is Ozero (Lake) Issyk-Kul in the ne. The lowlands of Kyrgyzstan have warm summers and cold winters, but in the mountains, January temperatures drop to −28°C (−18°F). Much of Kyrgyzstan has a low annual rainfall. Mountain grassland is the dominant vegetation. Less than a tenth of the land is used for crops.

History and politics

In ancient times, nomadic herders populated the area that is now Kyrgyzstan. Mongol armies conquered the region in the early 13th century. Islam was introduced in the 17th century. China gained control of the area in the mid-18th century, but in 1876 Kyrgyzstan became a province of Russia. In 1916, Russia put down a rebellion and many local people fled to China. In 1922, when the Soviet Union was formed, Kyrgyzstan became an autonomous region. In 1936, it became a Soviet Socialist Republic. Under communism, nomads were forced to live on government-run farms. In August 1991, Kyrgyzstan declared independence. The Communist Party was dissolved. President Askar Akayev began to introduce free-market reforms. In 1994, a new constitution was adopted. There are tensions between the rural nomadic Kirghiz and the urban Russians and Uzbeks.


In 1997, private ownership became legal. Agriculture, especially livestock raising, is the chief activity (2000 GDP per capita, US$2700). Major products include cotton, eggs, fruits, grain, tobacco, vegetables, and wool. Industries concentrate around the capital, Bishkek, and manufactures include machinery, processed food, metals, and textiles. The largest single export is gold. Kyrgyzstan signed economic co-operation agreements with Kazakstan, Uzbekistan, and Belarus.

Political map

Physical map


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Culture Name


Alternative Names

Kirgiz, Kirghiz, Kara-Kyrgyz, Kirghizstan


Identification. The name qirqiz or kyrgyz dates back to the eighth century. The Kyrgyz people originated in the Siberian region of the Yenisey Valley and traveled to the area of modern-day Kyrgyzstan in response to pressure from the Mongols. The Kyrgyz people believe that their name means kirkkyz, (forty girls), and that they are descended from forty tribes. Today the majority of Kyrgyz people live in the Kyrgyz Republic, also known as Kyrgyzstan, but there are large populations living in China, Afghanistan, Tajikistan, and Uzbekistan. Kyrgyzstan was formerly the Kirghiz Soviet Socialist Republic, or Kirghizia.

Location and Geography. Kyrgyzstan has an area of 76,500 square miles (198,500 square kilometers). Its neighbors are China to the southeast, Kazakstan 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."

Demography. In 1998 the population of Kyrgyzstan was estimated at more than 4.5 million. Approximately 52.4 percent of the inhabitants are ethnically Kyrgyz. Ethnic Russians (22.5 percent) and Uzbeks (12.6 percent) make up the largest minorities. Many smaller groups, including Ukrainians, Germans, Dungans, Kazaks, Tajiks, Uighours, Koreans, and Chinese, make up the remainder. Many Kyrgyzstan-born Germans and Russians emigrated after the fall of the Soviet Union, but due to government efforts, Russian emigration has slowed. The Kyrgyz have a high birth rate, and have become the ethnic majority since independence.

Linguistic Affiliation. Kyrgyz is a Turkic language, most closely related to Kazak. Kyrgyz is mutually intelligible with both Kazak and Uzbek. Northern pronunciation varies from southern and has more Russian loanwords. Many Uzbek loanwords are used in the south.

Kyrgyz was originally written in Arabic script, but Soviet policy changed its alphabet first to Latin and then to a modified Cyrillic. After independence the Kyrgyz government discussed returning to the Latin alphabet, but this transition has not taken place. In 2000 Russian was adopted as an official national language. It is still commonly used as the language of business, and many ethnic Russians cannot speak Kyrgyz. All children study Kyrgyz, Russian, and English in school.

Symbolism. Public art abounds in the form of statues, murals, roadside plaques, and building decorations. One of the most popular themes is Manas, the legendary father and hero of the Kyrgyz people. His deeds are commemorated in the national epic Manas, which is chanted by manaschis. Manas is the symbol of Kyrgyz bravery and is often shown astride a rearing horse, with sword in hand, fighting the enemies of the Kyrgyz people.

While they call Manas their "father," the Kyrgyz do not see themselves as a warlike people. Instead, they are a family of artists. This identity is embodied in the yurt, or boz-ui, the traditional Kyrgyz dwelling. The boz-ui is an important cultural symbol, as both the center of the Kyrgyz family and the showplace of Kyrgyz art. The Kyrgyz flag reflects this. On a field of red a yellow sun is centered with forty rays coming from it. In the center of the sun is a tunduk, the top of the boz-ui. It was under this that the family gathered.

Inside the boz-ui are hung all the forms of Kyrgyz craftsmanship, including rugs called shirdaks. They are made of brightly colored appliquéd wool felt, with stylized nature motifs that have been passed down for generations. These motifs are also often used for borders and decorations on public art.

Other important symbols are taken from the Kyrgyz landscape. The unofficial national anthem is "Ala-Too," which names the various features of Kyrgyzstan's landscape. The mountains are described as a body wearing snow and sky, and Lake Issyk-Kul is the eye. Issyk-Kul, in the northeastern part of the country, is called the "Pearl of Kyrgyzstan," and its beauty is a source of great pride. Both the mountains and the lake are on the Kyrgyz seal behind a large golden eagle, flanked by shirdak designs, cotton, and wheat.

History and Ethnic Relations

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 interethnic 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.

Ethnic Relations. Kyrgyzstan is an ethnically diverse country, which leads to tensions between and among different groups. Unlike in neighboring Uzbekistan, the Russian people are not vilified or considered morally corrupt. However, Russians claim there is discrimination by Kyrgyz people. In addition, smaller groups, such as the Uighours and the Dungans, complain of widespread discrimination.

The strongest ethnic tensions are felt between the Uzbeks and the Kyrgyz, particularly in the southern region of Osh. In 1990 riots and fighting broke out between these groups over competition for housing and job segregation. It is estimated that two hundred to a thousand people were killed in the fighting. Intergovernmental tension is also high, fueling ethnic conflicts.

Urbanism, Architecture, and the Use of Space

The Kyrgyz people did not have an established architecture of their own before they came under Russian rule. Governmental and urban architecture is in the Soviet style. Cities were designed with many parks and plazas filled with benches that focused on monuments to Soviet achievements. Much of the housing in urban centers consists of large apartment blocks, where families live in two- or three-room apartments. Bazaars come in all sizes, and are divided so that products of the same type are sold side by side.

Most houses are of one story, with open-ended peaked roofs that provide storage space. Outer decorations vary by ethnicity. Families live in fenced-in compounds that may contain the main house, an outdoor kitchen, barns for animals, sheds for storage, gardens, and fruit trees. The traditional dwelling was the portable boz-ui, made of wool felt on a collapsible wooden frame, which people still live in when they take their animals to the summer pastures.

Furniture is a Western adaptation, and its use varies between the north and the south. In the north most families will have a kitchen table with chairs. They also may have a low table for meals, with either stools or sitting mats called tushuks. They sleep on beds or convertible couches, and usually there is a couch in the room where the television is kept. Many families also have an outdoor cooking area and eating place for summer use. Sleeping, cooking, and formal areas are kept separate.

In the south there is minimal furniture. A table, sofa, and chairs are kept in a formal room, along with a cabinet full of the family's glassware and books. Large social gatherings usually take place in a special room with two alcoves built into a wall. Decorative chests are placed in the alcoves, and the family's embroidered sleeping mats and pillows are displayed on top.

Southern families may have a low table, or they may spread a dastarkon (tablecloth) directly on the floor and surround it with tushuks to sit on. The dastarkon is treated as a table and is never stepped on. People sleep on the floor on layers of tushuks, which are neatly folded and placed in a corner of the room during the day. In summer, platforms are set out in the garden for eating and sleeping on, often with railings to lean against. Families may sleep in the kitchen in the winter if there is a woodstove.

Throughout the country, floors and walls are lined with carpets and fabric hangings. Furniture usually is placed along the walls, leaving most of a room empty.

Food and Economy

Food in Daily Life. Common dishes include: lagman (hand-rolled noodles in a broth of meat and vegetables), manti (dumplings filled with either onion and meat, or pumpkin), plov (rice fried with carrots and topped with meat), pelmeni, (a Russian dish of small meat-filled dumplings in broth), ashlam-foo (cold noodles topped with vegetables in spicy broth and pieces of congealed corn starch), samsa (meat or pumpkin-filled pastries), and fried meat and potatoes. Most meat is mutton, although beef, chicken, turkey, and goat are also eaten. Kyrgyz people don't eat pork, but Russians do. Fish is either canned or dried. Lagman and manti are the everyday foods of the north, while plov is the staple of the south.

Most people eat four or five times a day, but only one large meal. The rest are small, mostly consisting of tea, bread, snacks, and condiments. These include vareynya (jam), kaimak, (similar to clotted cream), sara-mai (a form of butter), and various salads.

Kyrgyz cafes, chaikanas, and ashkanas usually will have six or seven dishes, as well as two or three side dishes, on the menu. Many places also will serve shashlik, which is marinated mutton grilled on a skewer. It is common for only a few of the menu items to be available on any given day. Drink options are limited to tea, soda, and mineral water. Patrons are expected to order as a group and all eat the same entree. Ristoran (restaurants) usually have more varied European and Russian dishes.

Food Customs at Ceremonial Occasions. During holidays and personal celebrations, a sheep is killed and cooked. In the north, the main course is beshbarmak, which is accompanied by elaborate preparations. The sheep is slaughtered by slitting its throat, and the blood is drained onto the ground. Then the carcass is skinned and butchered, and the organ meats are prepared. The intestines are cleaned and braided. The first course is shorpo, a soup created from boiling the meat and organs, usually with vegetables and pieces of chopped fat. The roasted sheep's head is then served and distributed among the honored guests. The fat, liver, other organs, and the majority of the meat are divided equally and served to the guests, with the expectation that they will take this home. Guests receive a cut of meat that corresponds to their status. The remaining meat goes into the besh-barmak. It is shredded into small pieces and mixed with noodles and a little broth, which is served in a communal bowl and eaten with the hands.

In the south, the main course is most often plov. The sheep is killed and prepared in the same manner as in the north. Shorpo also is served, and the meat, fat, and organ meats are shared and taken home in the same way; however, it is rare for the head to be eaten. Plov is served in large platters shared by two or three people, and often is eaten with the hands.

For a funeral and sometimes a marriage, a horse will be killed instead of a sheep. The intestines are then used to make sausage.

In the summer a traditional drink called kumyss is available. This is made of fermented mare's milk, and is drunk at celebrations when it is in season. Multiple shots of vodka are mandatory at all celebrations.

Basic Economy. After the dissolution of the Soviet Union, Kyrgyzstan went into a deep recession. The economy seemed to be improving in 1997, with low inflation and high growth percentages predicted for 1998, but the troubled Russian economy caused renewed economic difficulties.

Kyrgyzstan is considered self-sufficient in both food and energy. Despite this, electricity is either unpredictable or rationed in the winter. About 35 percent of the people are involved in agriculture, and nearly every village family has a garden where they grow food to support their needs. Most people have a small amount of livestock, such as sheep, cows, and chickens. Excess produce and dairy products are commonly sold to neighbors or at the bazaar.

Unemployment is high, but many people make money by selling goods at the bazaar or by using their private cars as taxis. Kyrgyzstan is dependent on other countries, such as Turkey and China, for consumer goods and chemical products. Since independence, most manufacturing plants and factories have closed or are working at reduced capacities.

Average salaries are higher in the north. State employees may not be paid for months at a time. Pensioners receive minimal monthly payments as well as flour and cooking oil. In 1998, a total of 23 percent of households could not meet their basic food needs.

Land Tenure and Property. Early attempts at privatization led to rioting in Osh in 1990, so this process was put on hold. Farmland cannot be owned by individuals, but it is possible to hold land rights for up to ninety-nine years.

Commercial Activities. Kyrgyzstan is a country with few natural resources. The economy is based on agriculture, mining, and animal products. Most exports are in the form of raw materials. Kyrgyzstan has deposits of gold, coal, bismuth, mercury, antimony, tungsten, and copper. The most important export is hydroelectric power.

Major Industries. Craftsmanship accounts for nearly half of Kyrgyzstan's yearly production. Artisans make saddles, carpets such as shirdaks and alakiis, embroidered hangings called tushkiis, and are skilled at goldsmithing. Other industries include metallurgy as well as those for mechanical and electrical materials, motors and electronic components, and some textiles. The processing of animal products such as in tanning, shoe manufacturing, wool production, and animal slaughter also are important.

The Kumtor gold mine has been rated as the seventh biggest in terms of world importance. Agriculturally, wheat, potatoes, sugar beets, and tobacco are the most important crops. Cotton and silkworms for silk production also are grown.

Trade. Kyrgyzstan trades with one hundred other countries. Within the CIS, its largest-volume trading partners are Russia, Kazakstan, and Uzbekistan; outside the CIS, they are Germany, China, Turkey, the United States, and Korea. In 1998, Kyrgyzstan's exports came to $513.7 million (U.S.), and its imports equaled $841.5 million (U.S.). Kyrgyzastan's major exports are precious metals, power resources, tobacco, and cotton, while major imports include fuel and energy, commodity goods, equipment, and machinery.

Division of Labor. The law states that those under eighteen cannot work, but children often help their parents in the fields and by selling goods. At harvest time, village schools often close so that the children can work.

Jobs are scarce, and people take whatever is available. Russians tend to work in cities, where service sector jobs are available. Uzbeks typically work in the bazaar, selling goods. Many Kyrgyz grow crops and tend livestock. These divisions of labor are often a result of where people choose to live.

Social Stratification

Classes and Castes. Because of the economic hardships endured since independence, Kyrgyzstan has a very small upper class and a large lower class. While ethnic Kyrgyz may be in either class, it is more rare to find other ethnic groups in the upper class, which consists mainly of politicians and community leaders.

Symbols of Social Stratification. Speaking Russian and dressing in a Western manner, having a two-story house, a Mercedes, or a BMW are all signs of wealth. Poor knowledge of Russian is considered a sign of lower-class status.

Political Life

Government. The Kyrgyz government is basically democratic, with three governmental branches: the president and his advisers; the Parliament, which has two houses; and the courts. Parliament is made up of the Legislative Assembly and the Assembly of People's Representatives. In February 1996 a referendum was passed that expanded the president's powers with respect to Parliament, but Parliament has shown its ability to function separately from the president.

Leadership and Political Officials. As of 1996, there were fifteen political parties active within Kyrgyzstan. The parties with the most support are the "Bei Becharalar" Party with thirty-two thousand members, the Communist Party with twenty-five thousand members, the Party of Protection of Industrial, Agricultural Employees and Low Revenue Families with fifteen thousand members, and the Democratic Party "Erkin Kyrgyzstan" with nearly thirteen thousand members. Other parties include the Social Democratic Party, the Democratic Party of Women, the Democratic Party of Economic Unity, and the Agrarian Labor Party.

Political power is closely linked to wealth, both locally and on a national scale. Corruption and buying votes, as well as ballot box stuffing, are common during elections. Kyrgyzstan was the first Central Asian country to hold a presidential election after independence.

Social Problems and Control. The Ministry of Internal Affairs (MIA) is primarily responsible for the prevention and investigation of crime. Because of Kyrgyzstan's economic difficulties, funding for these activities has dropped since independence. Organized crime and drug trafficking are considered the most high-profile crimes, and this is where Kyrgyzstan's crime prevention resources are being utilized.

The national police force, or militzia, is underpaid and understaffed, so bribes and invented fines are common. Corruption and nepotism are widespread. Many people feel that the rich can do what they want and that the poor are helpless. The media have much more freedom than in other parts of Central Asia.

Military Activity. Kyrgyzstan has a small national guard and navy but no air force. Kyrgyzstan has signed accords with both Uzbekistan and Kazakstan for joint air defense. Military activity has been limited to dealing with an Islamic fundamentalist group in the southern region of Batken; the group began fighting in August 1999.

Social Welfare and Change Programs

The first program to offer social assistance was the National Program to Overcome Poverty. Its goal is to eliminate extreme poverty by developing entrepreneurship, particularly among women. Nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) are central to the implementation of the program.

Under this program, the Kyrgyz government has set up employment promotion companies. Their programs include infrastructure development, social assistance, public education, vocational training for youth and women, and assistance for rural migrants in urban areas.

There are also numerous international organizations working with and supplying funding for projects in Kyrgyzstan.

Nongovernmental Organizations and Other Associations

In 1995 there were three hundred NGOs in Kyrgyzstan. Fifty of them covered gender issues, and eighteen specifically targeted women. NGOs often are seen as vehicles for obtaining foreign aid and grants, and there have been problems with corruption. However, many small NGOs play important roles within their communities. Counterpart Consortium provides important training and assistance to developing NGOs.

Gender Roles and Statuses

Division of Labor by Gender. Historically, women had a fair amount of equality with men in the Kyrgyz culture. Soviet policies maintained this equality, providing women with jobs outside the home and a role in politics. Today women still work outside of the home, primarily in education and agriculture. However, women hold few managerial or political positions. In addition to these jobs, women are responsible for all work inside the home. Men are dominant in business and politics.

The Relative Status of Women and Men. While Kyrgyz women are not sequestered, like those in many other Muslim societies, they tend to have less status than men. Age is the most important determinant for status, however, and an older woman will be given respect by younger men.

Within the household women are often the seat of power, making everyday decisions about running the household. It is common for them to hold positions of power in schools as well. In politics and business, however, men have greater power.

Marriage, Family and Kinship

Marriage. Arranged marriages were once common, but are no longer. While couples may choose each other, they often know each other for no more than a few months before they are married. People are expected to marry in their early twenties, after they have finished secondary school, and to have children quickly.

The bride must have a dowry, consisting of clothing, sleeping mats, pillows, and often a handknotted rug. The groom is expected to pay a bride price in the form of cash and several animals. Some of the cash may go toward furnishing the bride's dowry, and often the animals are eaten at the wedding feast.

A typical wedding lasts three days. The first day consists of the bride and groom going to the city with friends and classmates to have the marriage license signed. The bride wears a Western-style wedding dress, and the couple's car is decorated with wedding rings or a doll in bridal clothes.

On the second day the bride and groom celebrate separately with their friends and family. There is food and dancing through the night.

On the third day the bride and her family travel to the groom's family's house. The bride is expected to cry, because she is leaving her family. At the groom's house there are more celebrations and games. Gifts are exchanged between the couple's parents. At the end of the night, a bed is made from the bride's dowry. Two female relatives of the groom are chosen to make sure that the marriage is consummated and that the bride was a virgin.

If the groom is the youngest son he lives with his parents and takes care of them in their old age. The new bride is known as a kelin, and it is her responsibility to take over the household duties from her mother-in-law. If the groom is not the youngest, the couple will live with his family only until they can provide the couple with a house.

An alternate marriage tradition is that of wife-stealing. A man may kidnap any unmarried woman and make her his wife. Usually the girl spends one night alone with her future husband. The next day she is taken to meet her mother-in-law, who ties a scarf around the girl's head to indicate that she is now married. She may run away, and it is legal to sue the man who steals her, but it is shameful to do so and unlikely that another man would marry her. Often a lesser bride price is still paid after a girl is stolen, but a dowry is not provided. Girls may be stolen when they are fifteen or sixteen years old.

Polygamy is not practiced, but it is common for people to have lovers when they are married. It is more acceptable for men to do so, and they may refer to their mistresses as their second wives. More than one in five couples get divorced.

Domestic Unit. Because of the tradition of the youngest son taking care of his parents, it is common for a family to consist of grandparents, parents, and children. Individuals live with their parents until they marry. Most families have three or more children, with larger families common in rural villages. Members of the extended family also may visit and live with the immediate family for months at a time.

Inheritance. The youngest son lives with his parents until their deaths, at which time he inherits the house and the livestock. He may decide to share this livestock with his brothers, and is expected to do so if they are in need. Daughters do not inherit from their parents because they become members of their husbands' families.

Kin Groups. Tribal ties were important just after independence, but now regional ties are more important. Favoritism for those from the same tribe or region is common.

There are three main tribal branches: the ong, sol and the ichkilik. Within these branches there are many smaller tribes.

Tribes become important during marriage. Two people from the same tribe may not marry, unless they do not share a common ancestor for seven generations.


Infant Care. Infants are primarily cared for by their mothers or other female family members. For the first forty days of an infant's life, he or she cannot be taken outside the home or be seen by anyone but the immediate family. Infants are strapped into their cradles much of the time and quieted when they make noise. When a mother visits another woman the mother usually will take her infant along. A child is rarely taken from his or her mother without the child's consent, and sometimes bribes are used to make the child reach out to another family member.

Child Rearing and Education. Children are expected to be quiet. They are not brought to parties or official functions, and so are prevented from disturbing guests. Girls begin to take on household duties when they are six or seven years old. By the time she is sixteen, the eldest daughter may be responsible for running the household. Boys are considered rowdy and active and often have fewer household chores.

Education is mandatory for both boys and girls. Public schools are found in all towns and villages, and they offer schooling from first to eleventh grade.

Higher Education. Primary and secondary education are free and nearly universal within Kyrgyzstan. Higher education is highly prized but expensive, and there is little financial aid.


The most important element of etiquette is respect. Respect is given to elders and authority figures. Verbal respect is given by using the polite pronoun and endings, and by using the titles eje (older sister) and baikay or aga (older brother). People always use these polite forms, even with close friends and relatives.

Respect also is shown physically. Men and women alike will give up their seats to elders on public transportation. A person's position at a table also shows his or her status. Men and women usually sit on opposite sides of a table, with the eldest and most respected at the head of the table, farthest from the door.

Strangers do not usually acknowledge each other while passing on the street. Any close contact, however, such as sitting near each other on public transportation or making a transaction at the bazaar, will open the way to introductions. It is common to invite new acquaintances into the home.

Friends greet each other differently in the north and the south. In the south, men and women both greet friends of the same gender by shaking hands, often with the left hand over the heart. The opposite gender usually is ignored. Greetings are a series of questions with no pause and spoken over the other person's greetings. Older women and female relatives often will kiss on the cheek while shaking hands. The Arabic greeting assalom aleikum is frequently used between men.

In the north, greetings are shorter, and only men shake hands with each other. Assalom aleikum is used only by a younger man to an elder, as a form of deep respect. Good-byes in both the north and the south are brief.

There is less personal space than in the United States, and strangers brush against each other in public without apologizing. People tend to sit shoulder-to-shoulder, and physical affection is common between members of the same sex. People usually don't form lines. Pushing to the front of a group for service is normal and inoffensive.

In the more conservative south, men and women often occupy separate rooms at large celebrations. Boys and girls do not commonly befriend each other.

Bread is considered sacred by the Kyrgyz and must never be placed on the ground or left upside down. It is never thrown away, and leftovers are fed to animals.

At the end of a meal, a quick prayer may be said. This is from the Qur'an, but it honors the ancestors. The hands are held out, palms up, and then everyone at the table cover their face in unison while saying omen.


Religious Beliefs. The Kyrgyz consider themselves Sunni Muslim but do not have strong ties to Islam. They celebrate the Islamic holidays but do not follow Islamic practices daily. Many areas were not converted to Islam until the eighteenth century, and even then it was by the mystical Sufi branch, who integrated local shamanistic practices with their religion. Ethnic Russians and Ukrainians tend to be Orthodox Christians.

Religious Practitioners. In the past, the Kyrgyz people relied on shamans as healers. Some theorize that the manaschis were originally shamanistic and that the Manas epic is derived from calling on ancestor spirits for help. There are still professional shamans, called bakshe, and usually there are elders who know and practice shamanistic rituals for families and friends. The Islamic mullah is called for marriages, circumcisions, and burials.

Rituals and Holy Places. Both graves and natural springs are holy places to the Kyrgyz people. Cemeteries stand out on hilltops, and graves are marked with elaborate buildings made of mud, brick, or wrought iron. Visitors say prayers and mark the graves of holy people or martyrs with small pieces of cloth tied to the surrounding bushes. Natural springs that come from mountainsides are honored in the same fashion.

Death and the Afterlife. Burials are done in Islamic fashion, but funerals are not. Contrary to Islamic law, the body will remain on display for two or three days so that all close family members have time to arrive and say good-bye. When someone dies, a boz-ui must be erected. This is the traditional home of the nomadic Kyrgyz, a round, domed tent made of wool felt on a collapsible wooden frame. A man is laid out inside on the left, while a woman is laid on the right.

Only women are allowed inside the boz-ui to lament, while men mourn through the tent wall, from the outside. The wife and daughters of the deceased sit by the body to sing mourning songs and greet each person who comes to view the body. A wife wears black, while daughters wear deep blue. As each visitor pays respects, the mullah recites from the Qur'an.

The burial usually takes place at noon. The body is washed and wrapped in a shroud, then cloth, and then sometimes a felt rug. The body is displayed outside the boz-ui and a final prayer, the janaza, is said. Only men go to the cemetery for[fj] the burial, but the women visit the grave early the next day.

Every Thursday for the next forty days the family must kill a sheep in remembrance. At this time, those who could not attend the funeral may come to pay their respects. At the end of the forty-day period there is a large memorial feast called kirku, where a horse or a cow is killed.

On the first anniversary another memorial feast is given, called ash or jildik, which takes place over two days. The first day is for grieving, and the second is for games and horse races.

The Kyrgyz believe that the spirits of the dead can help their descendants. Ancestors are "offered" food in prayers, and people pour water on graves when they visit so the dead will not be thirsty. It is forbidden to step on a grave, and cemeteries are placed on hilltops because high places are sacred.

Medicine and Health Care

Many people still go to the hospital for most illnesses, as they did before independence, but health care is limited by lack of funds. Food and medicine are not provided by the hospital, so friends and family must bring these in daily.

Traditional beliefs blame cold for most forms of illness: Sitting on cold stones or the ground can result in grave illnesses or hurt a woman's reproductive organs; drinking cold beverages will result in a sore throat or a cold; being exposed to cold drafts is considered the cause of most minor illnesses. People treat illnesses by wrapping a blanket or a shawl around the affected body part to keep it warm. Some home remedies that derive from shamanistic beliefs are still practiced as well. Certain grasses are burned because the smoke is believed to purify the air and to prevent sickness. The air above and the waters of Lake Issyk-Kul are attributed healing properties, and swimming in the lake is a popular cure for tuberculosis.

Secular Celebrations

Secular holidays include International Women's Day (8 March), May Day (1 May), Constitution Day (5 May), Victory Day (9 May), Last Bell (mid-June), Independence Day (31 August), First Bell (1 September), and New Year's Eve (31 December). Most holidays are celebrated with parties at work and at home that involve eating, drinking, dancing, and singing.

New Year's Eve is more elaborate, and many of the traditions come from Russian practices. There are costume parties, as well as performances at schools. At these performances, Det Moroze (called Ayaz-Ata in Kyrgyz) and his granddaughter give presents to good children. Det Morose wears a robe trimmed in fur and rides in a horse-drawn sleigh. Naughty children are chased by the witch Baba Yaga. People decorate yulkes, or fir trees, with garlands, ornaments, and lights, and set off fireworks at midnight. Kyrgyz people follow the Chinese zodiac, where each year is assigned an animal, and people whose sign is the same animal as the incoming year must wear something red and then give it away for good luck.

The Arts and Humanities

Support for the Arts. Support for the arts mostly comes from selling pieces or paid performances. There is little to no funding available from the government.

Literature. Kyrgyz was not written until the twentieth century. The Kyrgyz oral tradition included several epics about mythical warriors, including Manas, Jayin-Bayis, Kurmanbek, and Er Tabildi. The epic Manas is most widely known, and is still widely performed by manaschis. It is not a memorized piece; the best manaschis take the outline of the story and improvise verses, which have a distinct rhythmic beat and are accompanied by expressive hand gestures. Thirteen versions and four million verses have been recorded.

During the twentieth century, novel-writing in the historical and romance genres developed. The best-known Kyrgyz novelist is Chingiz Aitmatov, who is known for his critical novels about life in Soviet Central Asia.

Graphic 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.

Performance Arts. 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.

The State of the Physical and Social Sciences.

Scientists teach at the university level, but funding for research is limited. Most scientists have moved to other professions for financial reasons.


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Tiffany Tuttle

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The people of Kyrgyzstan are called Kyrgyz. Ethnic Kyrgyz (people who trace their ancestry to Kyrgyzstan) make up more than 50 percent of the population. The rest are Russians, 22 percent; Uzbeks, 13 percent; Ukrainians and Germans, 2.5 percent each; and Tatars, about 2 percent. For more information on the Russians and Tatars, see the chapter on Russia in Volume 7; for the Germans, see the chapter on Germany in Volume 4; and for the Ukrainians and Uzbeks, see the chapters on Ukraine and Uzbekistan in Volume 9.

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KyrgyzstanAbadan, Abidjan, Amman, Antoine, Arne, Aswan, Avon, Azerbaijan, Baltistan, Baluchistan, Bantustan, barn, Bhutan, Dagestan, darn, dewan, Farne, guan, Hahn, Hanuman, Hindustan, Huascarán, Iban, Iran, Isfahan, Juan, Kazakhstan, khan, Koran, Kurdistan, Kurgan, Kyrgyzstan, macédoine, Mahon, maidan, Marne, Michoacán, Oman, Pakistan, pan, Pathan, Qumran, Rajasthan, Shan, Siân, Sichuan, skarn, soutane, Sudan, Tai'an, t'ai chi ch'uan, Taiwan, Tajikistan, Taklimakan, tarn, Tatarstan, Tehran, Tenochtitlán, Turkestan, Turkmenistan, tzigane, Uzbekistan, Vientiane, yarn, Yinchuan, yuan, Yucatán •Autobahn • Lindisfarne •Bildungsroman • Nisan • Khoisan •Afghanistan • bhagwan • Karajan

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