ETHNONYMS: Kik-Kun, Kirghiz, Kirgiz
Identification. The Kyrgyz are a Turkic-Mongol people who live primarily in the mountainous regions of Central Asia, where their traditional livelihood was that of pastoral nomadism. The ethnonym "Kyrgyz" is derived from the Turkic kyrk + yz, "the forty clans," reflecting their patrilineal clan kinship system. In early twentieth-century texts, the term "Kyrgyz" was also used in reference to the Kazakhs, a group with quite similar ethnic characteristics.
Location. The majority of the modern Kyrgyz (about 2 million) live in Kyrgyzstan (the former Soviet republic of Kirghizia), located in the southeastern part of the Tianshan range and the northwestern area of the Pamir-Altai Mountains. These two mountain ranges separate the north and south of Kyrgyzstan not only geographically but also in terms of their economic, religious, and political orientations. Well-adapted to living in the higher elevations, some Kyrgyz fled to Afghanistan, Pakistan, and eastern China during various land disputes among the Russians, Chinese, and Afghans over the regulation of pasturage. More so than their Soviet counterparts, the Kyrgyz diaspora still practices nomadic pastoralism. Kyrgyzstan is a landlocked country in the center of Asia—with China bordering on the east, Kazakhstan on the north, Uzbekistan on the west, and Tajikistan on the south and southwest. Occupying 198,500 square kilometers, Kyrgyzstan is situated at elevations between 1,000 meters and 7,400 meters with only about 7 percent of its land being desert, steppe, and arable river valleys. Located between 39° and 43° N, Kyrgyzstan has a harsh continental climate with temperatures as low as -23° C and as high as 41° C. More than 600 glaciers cover 6,578 square kilometers of the country. Lakes and rivers abound in this part of Central Asia, including one of largest lakes in the world, Lake Issyk Kul. This unique saltwater lake—at an elevation of 1,500 meters—covers about 6,000 square kilometers, has a maximum depth of nearly 700 meters, and is geothermally heated. Sometimes referred to as the "little Switzerland of Central Asia," Kyrgyzstan, with its exceptionally high mountain ranges and intense seismic activity, is a major site for the study of the geology of Central Asia.
Demography. Kyrgyzstan's population of 4.5 million is 52.4 percent Kyrgyz. Other major ethnic groups living there include Russians, Uzbeks, Ukrainians, Germans, Tatars, Dungans, Kazakhs, Uighur, and Tajiks. Since Kyrgyzstan's independence in 1991, there has been a large exodus of Russians, Germans, Ukrainians, and Jews who are migrating to other parts of the Commonwealth of Independent States, Germany, and Israel. In 1989 Kirghizia had the third-highest rate of reported abortions (86 percent of women reporting at least one abortion) of the Soviet republics, with Russia and the Ukraine first and second. Prior to 1990 Kirghizia had one of the lowest rates of emigation in the Soviet Union. Approximately 83% of the population of Kyrgyzstan live in the rural regions around Lake Issyk Kul, the Fergana Valley, Naryn River valley, and the low-lying areas of the Tianshan and the Pamir-Altai Mountains. The other 17 percent live in Biskek, the capital city, or Osh, which is on the former Silk Road and is one of the oldest cities of Central Asia.
Linguistic Affiliation. The Kyrgyz language belongs to the Northwestern (Kipchak) Division of the Turkic Branch of the Altaic Language Family. It is closely related to Kazakh, Nogay, Tatar, Kipchak-Uzbek, and Karakalpak and should not be confused with Yenisei Kyrgyz. Kyrgyz was not a written language until the late nineteenth century. Before that, "Turki," a written form of Uzbek, was the script in use. At the turn of the century, Kyrgyz was first written using the Arabic alphabet, and in 1924, the Arabic alphabet was modified for writing Kyrgyz. In 1928 Arabic was dropped and the Latin alphabet substituted. In 1940, under Soviet influence, the Kyrgyz adopted the Cyrillic alphabet.
The official language recognized by the 1993 constitution of Kyrgyzstan is Kyrgyz. Although all urban dwellers know Russian because it was the language of instruction in the Soviet educational system, the rural population has maintained Kyrgyz as the primary language. Recently, the five Central Asian nations of Azerbaijan, Turkmenistan, Uzbekistan, Kazakhstan, and Kyrgyzstan have all agreed to adopt the Latin alphabet by 1995 in order to smooth trade and increase affiliation among themselves.
History and Cultural Relations
Archaeological remains indicate that Kyrgyzstan was first inhabited by humans about 300,000 years ago, during the Lower Paleolithic period. Stone implements and stone quarries of the Middle Paleolithic period have been located in several primitive sites. Settlements from the the Neolithic period have been found in caves near the city of Naryn and also on the northern shore of Lake Issyk Kul. Archaeologists infer from the burial sites and settlements that during the Bronze Age both agricultural and pastoral groups inhabitated the valley regions in what is now Kyrgyzstan. By the fifth century b.c., iron tools and weapons were in use, indicating that the economy had shifted more toward nomadic herding. The Scythians' domestication of the horse (1000 b.c. to a.d. 900) made Kyrgyzstan an important transcontinental trade route. Later in the Middle Ages, Kyrgyzstan was one of the several routes for the Silk Road through the Tianshan and the Pamir-Altai Mountains. Religious artifacts of the Zoroastrians, Buddhists, early Christians, and Muslims, who transversed these well-traveled mountain valleys, are found at Burana Tower outside of Tokmak. This strategic garrison of early tribes was one of the few sites not destroyed by the Mongol conqueror Chinggis (Genghis) Khan (eleventh century) on his many warring expeditions to the western parts of Central Asia and eastern Europe.
The nomadic history of the Kyrgyz is more difficult to trace. The modern history of the Kyrgyz is currently undergoing revision, as Soviet-period accounts were formulated to support Marxist ideals. The Kyrgyz were not originally from the area that is now Kyrgyzstan. Most frequently, their cultural origin is traced to the region around the Yenisei River in southern Siberia. Similar cultural elements, including the practice of animism, certain burial customs, and animal husbandry suggest common roots with other nomadic peoples of Siberia. The existence of a Kyrgyz people is believed to date to at least 200 b.c. In the eighth century a.d. they were mentioned in the Orkhan inscriptions. In 840 the Kyrgyz tribes defeated the Uighur tribes and inhabited their lands in what is now northwestern Mongolia. The Kyrgyz were themselves dispossessed of these lands by the Khitai in the tenth century.
Most historians specify the sixteenth century as the time when the Kyrgyz tribe migrated in large numbers into the area now known as Kyrgyzstan. The tribal history of Central Asia is marked by continuous upheavals between warring tribes. Throughout the last millennium, the Kyrgyz tribes utilized vast areas of land from the eastern shores of the Aral Sea to the western border of China for herding their sheep and horses. In southern Kyrgyzstan, caravans of traders moved along the Silk Road, bringing silk and spices to the West. Bennigsen and Wimbush (1986) have argued that because of the relative geographic isolation of Kyrgyzstan, the Kyrgyz have been less influenced by the pan-Turkic and pan-Islamic ideologies that are especially deep-rooted in Uzbekistan. It is nevertheless important to realize that the Tianshan range divides the southern Kyrgyz from the northern Kyrgyz, who have maintained a seminomadic economic existence much longer than those in the south and have been less influenced by Islam. Southern Kyrgyzstan historically has had a sedentary, agricultural economic base, with the Fergana Valley as its center, a region the Kyrgyz share with the Uzbeks and Tajiks. The southern city of Osh is where Islam took hold in the Middle Ages.
In the early nineteenth century the Kyrgyz were defeated by the Uzbeks in 1845, 1857, 1858, and 1873. These intertribal conflicts were among the factors that led the Kyrgyz to ally themselves with the Russians in the mid-nineteenth century. As the Russians colonized the Kyrgyz and surrounding ethnic groups, they also confiscated the better agricultural lands. Competition for lands for farming and herding, along with compulsory service in the Russian army, resulted in a revolt by the Kyrgyz in 1916. They were disastrously defeated by the Russians, who burned villages and killed many Kyrgyz. Thereafter, about one-third of the Kyrgyz fled to eastern Turkistan (the western region of China). The Kyrgyz continued their resistance to the Russians even after the 1917 Revolution, but eventually, in 1924, the new Soviet regime established Kirghizia (the Russified name of Kyrgyzstan) as an oblast within the Russian Soviet Federated Socialist Republic (RSFSR), and in 1926 it was declared a Soviet autonomous republic.
During Stalin's collectivization of 1927-1928, Kyrgyz pastoralists were forcibly settled on collective and state farms; many responded by slaughtering their livestock and moving to Xinjiang, China. Between 1926 and 1959 the Soviets moved many Russians and Ukrainians into the republic, and for a time the Kyrgyz were in the minority. Kirghizia joined the USSR as a Union republic in 1936. The capital, Bishkek, was called Pishpek until 1925 and Frunze from 1925-1991. Kyrgyzstan declared itself independent on 31 August 1991, joined with ten other former Soviet republics in the Commonwealth of Independent States on 21 December 1991, and achieved complete independence with the dissolution of the USSR on 25 December 1991.
Until recent decades, the Kyrgyz were nomadic, as they needed to move their livestock from one grazing area to another. The Soviet government has both encouraged and forced settlement, first into kyshtaks, villages intended to be transitional, and then into permanent Soviet-style settlements in cities and towns and on collective and state farms. Many kyshtaks remain, however, and not all Kyrgyz have been settled. Most Kyrgyz living on kolkhozy and sovkhozy were only partially settled.
Subsistence and Commercial Activities . The Kyrgyz have long been transhumant nomadic pastoralists who raise primarily sheep, but also horses, goats, cattle, Bactrian camels, and yaks; in some areas swine are important. Horses provide not only transportation, but also meat and milk, the latter of which is fermented to make koumiss.
In the warm months the higher meadows are grazed, and in the colder months the people and their animals move to lower elevations. Transhumant pastoralism has survived under the Soviets because it is the most efficient way to raise livestock, given the ecological conditions. During the 1960s Khrushchev acknowledged the importance of nomadic pastoralism and launched an economic plan that included the production of factory-made yurts, the traditional dome-shaped tents of Central Asian nomads.
Under the Soviets, the previously self-sufficient Kyrgyz families became enmeshed in the Soviet imperial economy. Their production efforts were collectivized and controlled by the central Communist party in Moscow, and the products they made went to other republics and to foreign markets. The Kyrgyz also became dependent on foreign manufactured goods, especially medical supplies, which they do not manufacture themselves and which, over the last several years, they have been unable to afford.
Industrial Arts. The Soviets introduced a great complex of industries, including food processing, oil drilling, coal and gas mining, lumbering and woodworking, textiles, leatherworking, sugar refining, agricultural and electrical machinery production, and various others. Two industries have been especially well developed in Kyrgyzstan: hydroelectric power and the extraction and processing of nonferrous metals, notably mercury, antimony, zinc, tungsten, and uranium. Kyrgyz agricultural products include wheat, cotton, maize, grapes, sugar beets, poppies, hemp, potatoes, fruits, nuts, tobacco, wool, silk, and sheep.
Trade. The traditional nomadic life-style made the Kyrgyz self-sufficient. They were isolated by mountains, which made trade less viable. Under Soviet rule the Kyrgyz became enmeshed within the great Soviet interdependent trade network as producers and consumers.
Division of Labor. The traditional division of labor in the Kyrgyz nomadic pastoralist household was unique among Central Asian groups. It was often noted in historical records that Kyrgyz women were less conservative in behavior and dress than were other Muslim women of Central Asia. The transhumant life-style required that both men and women operate independently of one another; thus, both sexes rode horses and knew how to hunt and prepare food. Women were principally in charge of putting up and striking the large yurt, caring for all domestic animals used as food sources, and shearing sheep for wool to construct felted rugs (shurdak ). Both men and women herded nondomestic animals as well. Although tribal organization of the clan system included a de facto male army to protect pasturelands, there are legends of Kyrgyz women warriors. Three prominent historical women were very popular among the Kyrgyz: Konikey, the powerful wife of the legendary figure Manas; Kurmanjon Datka, the Kyrgyz leader who signed the original treaty between the Kyrgyz and the Russians in the late nineteenth century; and Jongil Misar, the female warrior who conquered khans in the sixteenth century. These Kyrgyz women, despite Islamic ideals, are ail perceived as self-sufficient, powerful, and wise advisers to their people.
After the 1917 Revolution, the collectivization of farms and pastures changed the division-of-labor strategy. Women were relegated to the more traditional roles of dairy work and textile manufacture. With an increase in literacy, both men and women had the opportunity to train in specialized fields. Although Soviet socialist policy was to treat women and men as equals in all arenas, economic demands more than ideological guidelines set out by Marx and Engels have historically influenced Soviet women's involvement in the work force. Not until perestroika were questions raised about the economic and social welfare of women rather than the economic welfare of the state.
Land Tenure. Each family traditionally had its own pasturage, which it defended from use by others. This continued under the Soviets, although it was then each brigade that guarded its own interests. The Soviets exerted rather rigid control over production, including land use, and so reduced the expression of tensions between groups over land use. Since independence, Kyrgyzstan has embarked on a privatization program in which people are given coupons with which they may purchase state property; preference has been given to the employees of each business concern.
Kin Groups and Descent. Kyrgyz society is organized on agnatic descent principles. The basic, and in some respects, most important social group is the oey, or patrilineally extended family. The oey includes a man, a wife or wives, all sons and unmarried daughters, and the wives and offspring of the married sons. All of these people typically live together in a single yurt. Several oeys, all sixth- or seventh-generation descendants of the same apical male ancestor, belong to a kechek oruq (patrilineage) which is also conceptualized as a large exogamous patrilineally extended family known as bir atanyng baldary, or "children of the same father." Members of this group often live together in one camp and assist each other in trade, herding, migration, and religious activities. Above this level, Kyrgyz are organized by chung oruq (clan) and orow (tribe). Kyrgyz place great emphasis on being able to trace their patrilineal ancestors seven ascending generations, in order to prove membership in an oruq. In earlier times, those who could not prove oruq membership in this fashion were made slaves (qul ).
Marriage. The traditional Kyrgyz marriage was arranged by parents and extended family members. Young adults often courted, however, and their wishes frequently influenced or determined the choice of mate. In the past, marriage was often highly endogamous for clans and lineages in areas in which the hated Uzbeks, Uighur, and Tajiks were predominant. Only marriages to other Kyrgyz or Kazakhs were acceptable, and children of marriages between Kyrgyz and people of other ethnic groups were often assigned low-status positions in the clan.
Traditional marriage practices in the rural regions maintain pre-Soviet sentiments and have been little affected by Soviet domination, although couples undertake both civil and traditional marriage rituals. Patrilocality remains the norm, and the groom's family in some instances pays a modified form of bride-price. Under the Soviet system, bride-price payments were illegal; the Kyrgyz simply substituted "gifts."
Domestic Unit. The basic residential unit is the oey, or patrilineal extended family, which traditonally shared a yurt.
Inheritance. Under Islamic law men own property, and a man's sons inherit his property. Under Hanafi law, however, which pertains to the Kyrgyz, women may also own property and may inherit their husband's property, although only one-half of the amount inherited by his sons.
Socialization. Prior to the 1917 Revolution, the Kyrgyz were primarily illiterate. The institutionalization of Soviet education throughout the rural and urban areas of Kirghizia in the 1920s and 1930s rapidly brought literacy to the country.
Social Organization. Kinship and descent principles play the preeminent role in social organization. Kinship may be real or fictive; fictive kin include milk kin, people who were nursed by the same woman and are forbidden to marry each other. Differences in wealth were traditionally relatively small. The wealthy are expected to assist poorer kin materially.
Political Organization. Politics within the Kyrgyz ethnic group follows tribal lines. Each tribe, which is made up of clans, belongs to one of two large federations. The larger of the two federations, Otuz Uul (thirty sons) has two kanats (wings). The right wing (Ong Kanat) of the Otuz Uul is located in northern, western, and southern Kyrgyzstan. One of its member tribes is the Tagay, who are the political and intellectual leaders of the Kyrgyz people. The Tagay have thirteen clans. Other tribes within the right wing are the Adigine and the Mungush. The left wing of the Otuz Uul has eight clans. The other federation is the Ich Kilik, which is composed of ten major and several minor tribes. The tribes of the Ich Kilik live in the southern Ferghana Valley in southern Kyrgyzstan and in Tajikistan. Some of the left wing and Ich Kilik tribes are of Mongol origin.
The qualities traditionally necessary for leadership, which was a male role, are: possession of good character, observance of Islamic laws, courage in battle, success as a herdsman, wealth, membership in a large lineage, and a good oratorical ability.
In Soviet times, members of each kolkhoz belonged to the same clan, and local Communist party organizations were composed of people belonging to the same clan or tribe. Soviet political and economic structures simply incorporated indigenous social structure unchanged.
Since independence in 1991, Kyrgyzstan has become a constitutional republic, with an elected president who acts as head of state. In April 1993 the first Kyrgyz constitution was ratified by the parliament.
Social Control. Within the oey, the head of the household exercises authority. Beyond the oey, but also governing its members' behavior, is the authority of Islamic law and Islamic courts, which is similar to that found in other Muslim areas.
Religion and Expressive Culture
Religious Beliefs. The Kyrgyz are Sunni Muslims of the Hanafi school of law, but the degree to which the north and south adhere to religious practices must be considered when understanding the role of Islam in Kyrgyzstan. The distinction is often made between the religious practices of Islam and the everyday cultural practices of Islam. Islamic mosques and madrassah were built by the sixteenth century in the southern regions of Kyrgyzstan. One of the most important holy places for Muslims in Kyrgyzstan is the Throne of Suleyman in the southern city of Osh. It is sometimes referred to by Soviet Muslims as the "second Mecca." By contrast, Islam infiltrated northern Kyrgyzstan in a slower, less encompassing manner. Many ancient indigenous beliefs and practices, including shamanism and totemism, coexisted syncretically with Islam. Shamans, most of whom are women, still play a prominent role at funerals, memorials, and other ceremonies and rituals. This split between the northern and southern Kyrgyz in their religious adherence to Muslim practices can still be seen today. Likewise, the Sufi order of Islam has been one of the most active Muslim groups in Kyrgyzstan for over a century.
The Sufi orders represent a somewhat different form of Islam than the orthodox Islam, and their adepts are generally more extreme in their views and in their intolerance of non-Muslims. The four Sufi tariqas (paths to God, or Sufi brotherhoods) that brought Islam to the Kyrgyz and remain in Kyrgyzstan are: the Naqshbandiya, which is Bukharan and very popular and powerful; the Qadiriya, an ancient tariqa; the Yasawiya, a south Kazakhstan tariqa; and the Kubrawiya, a Khorezm tariqa. In addition, there are two newer indigenous orders that sprang from the Yasawiya. The earlier of the two is the Order of Lachi, which formed in the late nineteenth century. It opposed the older orders and was oppressed by them in return. As a result of this enmity, the Lachi initially supported the Bolsheviks but later came to oppose them. The Lachi went underground, and the Soviets could not find them again until the 1950s. Several villages in the Osh Oblast are composed entirely of Lachi members. Another indigenous Sufi order is the Order of the Hairy Ishans, which formed in the 1920s and was intensely anti-Soviet. As a result of its opposition, the Soviets attacked them in 1935-1936 and again in 1952-1953, killing some of their leaders. The Hairy Ishan order, unlike other Sufi orders, allows women to participate in the zikr (prayers) and to form their own female-only subgroups. On the whole, however, under the Soviets the practice of Sufism became highly secretive, even to the point that the silent zikr has replaced the zikr said aloud.
Under the Soviets, religious activity and belief were strongly discouraged, although not eradicated. The Soviets printed anti-Islamic books for Kyrgyz consumption (sixty-nine titles between 1948 and 1975) and gave antireligious lectures (45,000 in Kirghizia in 1975 alone). Antireligious propaganda was seen or heard in the opera, the ballet, the theater, and over the radio. The Soviets also formed motor clubs, whose task it was to bring antireligious propaganda to isolated regions. Reforms in the 1980s made open religious observance possible for the first time in many decades. A significant number of Kyrgyz observe Muslim practices in their everyday lives but not in a religious sense. Kyrgyz women do not wear veils, nor do they avoid men to whom they are not related.
Religious Practitioners. The Kyrgyz Muslims have the Standard Islamic clerics. In addition, the Sufi orders have their own murshids, or leaders.
Ceremonies. The Kyrgyz practice standard Islamic ceremonies and rituals. Births, circumcisions, weddings, funerals, and Islamic holidays occasion celebrations. The wealthy and the politically powerful also hold large, well-attended festivals for weddings and to commemorate the death of a family member.
Arts. Kyrgyz cultural arts are rich and varied. From acrobatic horseback riding by both men and women to the fine craftsmanship of leather saddles and silver jewelry, the Kyrgyz have remembered their nomadic roots in keeping such traditional arts prominent in their everyday lives. One of the more significant cultural arts of the Kyrgyz is the recitation of their epic poem Manas, one of the longest epic poems in the oral tradition of the world's peoples. It is at least one million lines long and is said to take six months to perform. Manas is part of the Turkic dastan, a genre of literature that served as an educational medium by which the Kyrgyz transmitted from generation to generation their history, values, customs, and ethnic identity. The bard, called a manaschi, chanted Manas without musical accompaniment. This storytelling role was performed by an individual with shamanlike capabilities and in whom the community would confide. The Russian historian Basilov describes a nineteenth-century manaschi as one who used episodes of Manas as a curative ritual. Listening to the epic was reputed to have the power to cure a woman of infertility.
The Kyrgyz also have a long and popular tradition of informal recitation of folklore. The singing of folk songs is often accompanied by the three-stringed instrument akomuz. Among some of the most famous Soviet writers of the last thirty years, Kyrgyz writer Chingis Aitmatov has distinguished himself as the author of books and screenplays. His works include Dzamilya, A Day Lasts Longer than One Hundred Years, and The White Steamship.
Soviet influence in Kirghizia has included the formation of a Kyrgyz orchestra; the publication of books, magazines, and newspapers in Kyrgyz and Russian; the establishment of libraries; radio and television broadcasts; and the creation of a feature-film industry to disseminate cultural material.
Medicine. Traditional Kyrgyz medicine, Chinese acupuncture, and Soviet rest sanitoriums offer the major methods of healing available to people in Kyrgyzstan. Since 1991 Western aid has focused on providing pharmaceutical medicines and medical training to the country. Medical help is inadequate in the rural mountainous regions, especially since the breakup of the Soviet infrastructure in 1991 and the earthquake in August 1992.
See also Kirgiz in Part Two, China
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KATHLEEN RAE KUEHNAST AND DANIEL STROUTHES
"Kyrgyz." Encyclopedia of World Cultures. . Encyclopedia.com. (September 16, 2018). http://www.encyclopedia.com/humanities/encyclopedias-almanacs-transcripts-and-maps/kyrgyz
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POPULATION: 2.5 million
LANGUAGES: Kyrgyz; Russian; English
1 • INTRODUCTION
The Kyrgyz people were nomads throughout much of their history, initially living in the region of south-central Russia between the Yenesei River and Lake Baikal about 2,000 years ago. The ancestors of the modern Kyrgyz were probably not Turks, like most people in the area are. The ancestors of the Kyrgyz exhibited European-like features (such as fair skin, green eyes, and red hair). At some time between the twelfth and sixteenth centuries, they settled in the Tien Shan Mountains.
In modern times, the Kyrgyz people have seen much of their land taken by Russians as the Russian empire spread east. From 1917 to 1991, the Kyrgyz lived in the Soviet Union as residents of the Kirghiz Soviet Socialist Republic. With the collapse of the Soviet Union, the Kyrgyz people became independent and created their own country.
Since 1991, Kyrgyzstan has been led by an elected president and parliamentary form of government. The government has concentrated on elevating the status of Kyrgyz culture in Kyrgyzstan without alienating persons of other ethnic backgrounds (a citizen of Kyrgyzstan does not need to be Kyrgyz). However, there have been conflicts between Kyrgyz and Uzbeks, as well as periodic clashes between Kyrgyz and Tajiks along the border with Tajikistan.
2 • LOCATION
There are approximately 2.5 million Kyrgyz living throughout the former Soviet Union, about 88 percent of them in Kyrgyzstan. Ethnic Kyrgyz constitute slightly more than half of the population of Kyrgyzstan.
Kyrgyzstan is located in Central Asia, along the western range of the Tien Shan Mountains. The boundaries with neighboring countries (Kazakstan, China, Tajikistan, and Uzbekistan) run along mountain ranges, and about 85 percent of Kyrgyzstan itself is mountainous.
The largest mountain lake, Issyk-Kul, is located high in the mountains of eastern Kyrgyzstan. Many Kyrgyz fishing villages are located around the edge of the lake.
3 • LANGUAGE
Most Kyrgyz people speak the Kyrgyz language, which is a distinct Turkic language with Mongol influences. Although the Kyrgyz language is spoken in the home, most Kyrgyz also speak Russian, which is the language of business and commerce. English is the third language of communication.
The Kyrgyz people have many proverbs and sayings related to horses, such as: "A horse is a person's wind."
4 • FOLKLORE
The telling of epic oral tales dates back about 1,000 years among the Kyrgyz people. One of the most famous epics tells the saga of Manas, the father of the Kyrgyz people; his son Semetey; and his grandson Seytek. The entire poem is incredibly long (about twice as long as the Iliad and the Odyssey combined). It can take up to three weeks to recite and was not written down until the 1920s. In the epic, the forty Kyrgyz tribes strive for freedom and unity. Under the leadership of Manas, the Kyrgyz people who were the slaves of various tribes are gathered as a nation. Manas is believed to be buried at a small mausoleum near the town of Talas, in western Kyrgyzstan near the border with Kazakstan.
5 • RELIGION
Horses figured prominently in the traditional spiritual beliefs of the early Kyrgyz. It was believed that a horse carried the spirit of a dead person to a higher world. Most Kyrgyz today are followers of Islam (Sunni Muslim), but many ancient traditions persist.
Since the eighth century ad, Islam has been the dominant religion in the Fergana River Valley in southwest Kyrgyzstan. Even so, it did not gain a strong presence among all the Kyrgyz until the nineteenth century.
The Kyrgyz are generally more secular (nonreligious) in daily life than some of the other peoples in the area. Kyrgyzstan also has a large population of non-Muslims. The government has made no moves to use Islamic law.
6 • MAJOR HOLIDAYS
New Year's Day (January 1) and Orthodox Christmas (January 7) are official holidays in Kyrgyzstan. The spring equinox (around March 21) is called Nawruz and is an important holiday among the Kyrgyz people because it marks the start of the Muslim new year. Kurban Ait (Remembrance Day, June 13) and Independence Day (August 31) are also official Kyrgyzstan holidays.
7 • RITES OF PASSAGE
Kyrgyz rites of passage include large birthday parties with many friends and relatives. These feasts often last five or six hours. Celebrations are held for a birth, for a baby's fortieth day of life, for the first day of school, and for school graduation.
A wedding serves to honor the married couple and assemble an extended family or clan. Traditionally, marriages were arranged by the parents, and a dowry payment was expected. Many modern Kyrgyz young people want to influence the selection of their spouse.
8 • RELATIONSHIPS
Kyrgyz women typically greet one another with handshakes or hugs. Male-female relations among the Kyrgyz are less formal and less rigid than among their neighbors, the Uzbeks or Tajiks. Men and women eat together and share some household tasks.
Like many other peoples of Central Asia, the Kyrgyz are very hospitable. Kyrgyz often honor their guests by serving them a cooked sheep's head.
9 • LIVING CONDITIONS
The traditional Kyrgyz home is a yurt or yurta— a round, felt-covered structure built upon a collapsible wooden frame. Most Kyrgyz today live in individual permanent homes, but about 40,000 Kyrgyz still live in yurts. The arched opening of a yurta is called the tundruk. The flag of the Republic of Kyrgyzstan features a tundruk.
Life in the city has some challenges. There is a lack of housing, and public transportation does not run on schedule. In Bishkek, for example, evening bus service is not reliable. There are taxis in the city, but people looking for a ride will often stop a private car and pay the driver because it is cheaper than using a taxi.
10 • FAMILY LIFE
Women in Kyrgyz society still perform the bulk of household chores. Women in the cities are encouraged to be professionals as well as mothers. Both men and women may marry more than one spouse. It is more common for a man to have more than one wife. A husband must provide each wife with her own separate house, and must support her children. In order for a woman to have multiple husbands, she must have substantial wealth or influence.
Kyrgyz families are large, with an average of four to six children. In the capital city of Bishkek, families are slightly smaller. In the countryside, it is common for three generations to live together. As many as ten to twelve people may share a home during the cold months. It is very important to the Kyrgyz to know about ancestors. Some people are able to recount their ancestors as far back as seven generations or 200 years.
11 • CLOTHING
Traditional everyday clothes were made of wool, felt, and fur. Ornate silks were, and still are, used for special occasions and ceremonies. By the 1990s, cotton denim and other fabrics had become popular for everyday wear.
Headgear figures prominently in Kyrgyz culture. During the Soviet era, women were prohibited from wearing their large traditional hats, which were a symbol of Kyrgyz culture. There is also a traditional hat proudly worn by men as a symbol of Kyrgyz culture, the ak-kalpak (white hat).
12 • FOOD
Because many Kyrgyz live in areas with little rain, the variety of crops grown depends on irrigation from the mountains. Sugar beets and cereal grains are the main crops. Livestock are an important source of food, with sheep, goats, cattle, and horses most common. Pigs, bees, and rabbits are also raised.
Examples of traditional Kyrgyz food include manti (mutton dumplings), irikat (a type of pasta salad made with noodles, carrots, and radishes), and koumiss (fermented mare's milk).
A great Kyrgyz delicacy reserved especially for guests is a combination plate of fresh sliced sheep liver and slices of sheep tail fat. It is often boiled and salted and tastes far more delicious than it sounds.
At the breakfast table, one often finds bountiful amounts of yogurt, heavy cream, butter, and honey served with bread and tea. Dairy products are an essential part of Kyrgyz life.
13 • EDUCATION
For the most part, Kyrgyz people have been influenced by Russian culture. Most Kyrgyz cannot speak or understand their own native language very well, except for people living in rural areas. Most high school and university instruction is in Russian. Although this is slowly beginning to change, rural Kyrgyz (who are less likely to learn Russian) have a hard time competing at the national level on university entrance exams.
Parents tend to favor a broad education for their children. It is often not possible for parents to send their children to universities and technical schools because education is not free in independent Kyrgyzstan. When Kyrgyzstan was part of the former Soviet Union (1917–91), university education was free.
14 • CULTURAL HERITAGE
The kyiak and komuz are traditional musical instruments used by the Kyrgyz. The kyiak resembles a violin and is played with a bow but has only two strings. The three-stringed komuz is the favorite folk instrument among the Kyrgyz.
The Kyrgyz have several titles of honor that are given to various musical performers. A jïrchiï is a singer-poet, whereas an akin is a professional poet and musician-composer. The jïrchiï is primarily a performer of known music, while the akin is a composer who plays original compositions as well as traditional music.
A special performer called a manaschï performs the famous saga of Manas (see Folklore section). There are also several types of Kyrgyz songs, such as maktoo (eulogies), sanat and nasiyat (songs with a moral), and kordoo (social protest tunes).
15 • EMPLOYMENT
Work hours vary. Most often work runs from 8:00 am to 5:00 pm. Mills and factories operate on a relay system, with shifts set up by the management. Retail shops are usually open from 7:00 am to 8:00 pm, with an afternoon lunch period. Department stores, bookstores, and other shops usually open according to the hours set by government offices. Bazaars (street markets) are open from 6:00 am until 7:00 or 8:00 pm.
16 • SPORTS
Equestrian sports (sports with horses) are very popular among the Kyrgyz. Racing and wrestling on horseback are especially enjoyed. Wrestling on horseback for a goat's carcass, called ulak tartysh or kok boru, is a common game among the Kyrgyz. (Kok boru means "gray wolf.") The game may have its origin in ancient times, when herds of cattle grazed in the steppes (plains) and mountains and were exposed to the threat of attack by wolves. Shepherds would chase after a wolf on horseback and beat it with sticks and whips, and then try to snatch the dead carcass away from each other for fun.
Kok boru was later replaced with ulak tartysh, played with a goat's carcass on a field measuring about 328 yards by 164 yards (300 meters by 150 meters). The two goals are at opposite ends of the field. A goat carcass, usually weighing 60 to 90 pounds (30 to 40 kilograms), is placed in the center of the field. Each game lasts fifteen minutes. The object is to seize the goat carcass while on horseback and get it to the goal of the other team. Players may pick up the carcass from any place within the limits of the field, take it from opponents, pass or toss it to teammates, carry it on the horse's side, or suspend it between the horse's legs.
Falconry (the sport of hunting with trained falcons) while on horseback is another part of Kyrgyz culture that has been practiced for centuries. In addition to falcons, golden eagles are also trained for the sport. Jumby atmai is a game that involves shooting at a target while galloping on horseback. Tyin enmei is a contest to pick up coins from the ground while riding at full speed on horseback.
17 • RECREATION
The capital city, Bishkek, has large parks, public gardens, shady avenues, and botanical gardens enjoyed by people traveling on foot. Opera, ballet, and national folklore groups are also popular forms of entertainment. The most popular form of relaxation for city dwellers is to spend a weekend at a country cottage. Tens of thousands of these cottages are located on the outskirts of Bishkek. There are no bars or shows in Bishkek, so the city becomes quiet after 11:00 pm.
18 • CRAFTS AND HOBBIES
The Kyrgyz are best known for crafting utensils, clothes, equipment, and other items used in everyday life and making them beautiful. Many articles are made of felt: carpets (shirdak and alakiyiz), bags for keeping dishes (alk-kup), and woven patterned strips of carpet sewn together into bags or rugs (bashtyk). Ornate leather dishes called keter are also made.
19 • SOCIAL PROBLEMS
After years of life under the Soviet system (1917–91), the transition to a market economy is a difficult undertaking for the Kyrgyz. The poor service and uninspired work ethic that were results of the Soviet era will take a long time to change. Alcoholism and public drunkenness are now a visible social problem, partly because of rising unemployment.
20 • BIBLIOGRAPHY
Allworth, Edward, ed. Central Asia: 130 Years of Russian Dominance, A Historical Overview. Durham, N.C.: Duke University Press, 1994.
Çagatay, Ergun. "Kyrgyzstan: A First Look." Aramco World (Houston: Aramco Services Company) 46, no. 4 (1995): 10–21.
Geography Department. Kyrgyzstan. Minneapolis, Minn.: Lerner Publications Co., 1993.
Thomas, Paul. The Central Asian States—Tajikstan, Uzbekistan, Kyrgyzstan, Turkmenistan. Brookfield, Conn.: Millbrook Press, 1992.
Embassy of Kyrgyzstan, Washington, D.C. [Online] Available http://www.kyrgyzstan.org/, 1998.
World Travel Guide, Kyrgyzstan. [Online] Available http://www.wtgonline.com/country/kg/gen.html, 1998.
"Kyrgyz." Junior Worldmark Encyclopedia of World Cultures. . Encyclopedia.com. (September 16, 2018). http://www.encyclopedia.com/international/encyclopedias-almanacs-transcripts-and-maps/kyrgyz
"Kyrgyz." Junior Worldmark Encyclopedia of World Cultures. . Retrieved September 16, 2018 from Encyclopedia.com: http://www.encyclopedia.com/international/encyclopedias-almanacs-transcripts-and-maps/kyrgyz
Modern Language Association
The Chicago Manual of Style
American Psychological Association
"Kyrgyz." World Encyclopedia. . Encyclopedia.com. (September 16, 2018). http://www.encyclopedia.com/environment/encyclopedias-almanacs-transcripts-and-maps/kyrgyz
"Kyrgyz." World Encyclopedia. . Retrieved September 16, 2018 from Encyclopedia.com: http://www.encyclopedia.com/environment/encyclopedias-almanacs-transcripts-and-maps/kyrgyz
Modern Language Association
The Chicago Manual of Style
American Psychological Association
"Kyrgyz." Oxford Dictionary of Rhymes. . Encyclopedia.com. (September 16, 2018). http://www.encyclopedia.com/humanities/dictionaries-thesauruses-pictures-and-press-releases/kyrgyz
"Kyrgyz." Oxford Dictionary of Rhymes. . Retrieved September 16, 2018 from Encyclopedia.com: http://www.encyclopedia.com/humanities/dictionaries-thesauruses-pictures-and-press-releases/kyrgyz
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LOCATION: Kyrgyzstan; China
POPULATION: 5.3 million
LANGUAGES: Kyrgyz; Russian; English
RELIGION: Islam (Sunni Muslim)
Tracing the origins and history of the Kyrgyz people is difficult because, until recently, they used no written language. There-fore, much of what is known about the early Kyrgyz is based on archeological discoveries and oral stories passed down over the generations. The Kyrgyz people were nomads throughout much of their history, initially living in the region of south-central Russia between the Yenesei River and Lake Baikal about 2,000 years ago. The ancestors of the modern Kyrgyz were probably not Turks at all, but either Yeniseyans (ancestors of the modern Kets) or South Samoyedic peoples, and they exhibited European-like features (such as fair skin, green eyes, and red hair). During the 6th through 9th centuries, the Kyrgyz mixed with the various invading Mongol and Turkic tribes. At some time between the 12th and 16th centuries, they settled in the Tien Shan Mountains.
During the era of Mongol rule, the Kyrgyz were loosely governed until the Kokand Khanate lost control in about 1850. At that time, imperial Russia was expanding its control in Central Asia by moving Russian colonists into the area. The Russians finally gained control over the Kyrgyz in 1876. The new Russian settlers staked claims on the most fertile land, and the nomadic Kyrgyz were given minimal attention by the Russian government. In 1916, ethnic Kyrgyz inhabitants revolted against this practice, but the rebellion was crushed by Russian forces.
After the Russian Revolution of 1917, the area inhabited by the Kyrgyz was made part of Soviet Turkistan. In 1921, its status changed by becoming part of the Turkistan Autonomous Soviet Socialist Republic. In 1924, the region was split away from the Turkistan ASSR and assigned as an autonomous area (oblast) within the Russian Soviet Federated Socialist Republic (RSFSR). In 1924, the region became the Kirghiz Autonomous Soviet Socialist Republic of the RSFSR. In 1936, the territory finally became a full-fledged republic of the USSR.
During the Soviet era, from 1917 to 1991, the way of life for the Kyrgyz people as residents of the Kirghiz Soviet Socialist Republic (KSSR) changed significantly. Forced collectivization of farming quickly ended nomadic life. Mechanization, irrigation, and mining were introduced, but many Kyrgyz wanted to keep farming or raising livestock. As a result, the Kyrgyz became ethnic minorities within the industrial and urban areas of the KSSR. The economic and political restructuring that occurred in the Soviet Union during the late 1980s under Soviet leader Gorbachev never made it to the KSSR. In 1990, ethnic tensions along the border with Uzbekistan resulted in 200-400 deaths. The chaos created by that event caused the ruling Kyrgyz Communist Party (KCP) to lose any credibility that it had with the people. During the attempted Soviet coup of August 1991 in Moscow, there was a similar coup taking place in the KSSR. When the attempted coup failed, the KCP voted itself out of existence. When the Soviet Union dissolved in 1991, the KSSR became independent Kyrgyzstan.
Since 1991, Kyrgyzstan has been led by an elected president and parliamentary form of government. The government has concentrated on elevating the status of Kyrgyz culture in Kyrgyzstan without alienating persons of other ethnic backgrounds. Unlike in some of the other former Soviet republics, a citizen of Kyrgyzstan does not need to be Kyrgyz. In 2005 Kyrgyzstan experienced its "Tulip Revolution," which resulted in the mainly peaceful ouster of the former president, Askar Akayev and the parliament elected during his rule. Today it is somewhat politically stable, but faces a very dissatisfied population because of its very poor economy.
LOCATION AND HOMELAND
There are approximately 5.3 million Kyrgyz living throughout the former Soviet Union, with about 88% of them in Kyrgyz-stan. Ethnic Kyrgyz constitute slightly more than half of the population of Kyrgyzstan. There are also about 80,000 Kyrgyz living in the Sinkiang-Uygur Autonomous Region of China and a few tens of thousands in Afghanistan.
Kyrgyzstan is located in Central Asia along the western range of the Tien Shan Mountains. This area was known as the Kirghiz Soviet Socialist Republic during the Soviet era. The boundaries with neighboring countries (Kazakhstan, China, Tajikistan, and Uzbekistan) run along mountain ranges, and about 85% of Kyrgyzstan itself is mountainous. In the southwest, the Fergana River Valley is the largest expanse of lowlands in the country. The only other lowland areas are in the north, along the Chu and Talas valleys. Most of the lowland area occupied by Kyrgyz people is arid, receiving less than seven inches of rainfall per year. Although the climate is dry where the land is cultivated, mountain lakes and streams provide ample water through irrigation.
The largest mountain lake, Issyk-Kul, is located high in the mountains of eastern Kyrgyzstan, and many Kyrgyz fishing villages are located around the edge of the lake.
Most Kyrgyz people speak the Kyrgyz language, which is a distinct Turkic language with Mongolian influences. The Kyrgyz language is a member of the Nogai group of the Kypchak division of the Turkic branch of Ural-Altaic languages. Until 1926 the Kyrgyz and Kazak languages were considered as one. The Kyrgyz literary language was therefore heavily shaped by Kazak, with some Mongolian influences in the vocabulary. Although the Kyrgyz language is spoken in the home, most Kyrgyz also speak Russian, which is the language of business and commerce. English is the third language of communication. The Kyrgyz government had begun a program to gradually switch over to the Kyrgyz language for all state institutions and educational establishments by 1998, but this has been delayed because of its impracticality. The written language originally used Arabic script, but the Roman alphabet was introduced after World War I. The written Kyrgyz language was formally organized in 1923 and was modeled after the northern dialects. In 1940, Stalin forced all Central Asian republics to switch to the Cyrillic alphabet (which is used by the Russian language). Since independence, there has been discussion of switching back to the Roman alphabet.
The Kyrgyz people have many proverbs and sayings related to horses, such as: "A horse is a man's wind." Some proverbs deal specifically with pacers. Two examples of such are: "Don't let your horse run beside a pacer" and "If you have only one day left to live, you should spend half of it riding a pacer."
The telling of traditional oral tales dates back about 1,000 years among the Kyrgyz people. One of the most famous epics tells the saga of Manas, the father of the Kyrgyz people, his son Semetey, and his grandson Seytek. The entire poem is about a million lines long is (twice as long as the Iliad and the Odyssey combined) can take up to three weeks to recite, and went unwritten until the 1920s. Here is a translated example of some of the epic's verse: "The mighty Manas resembles a tower built of silver. His snow-white steed Ak-Kula carries him swiftly over the mountain tops. The horse looks like a bird hovering over the sharp peaks of mountains." In the epic, the 40 Kyrgyz tribes strive for freedom and unity. Under the leadership of Manas, the people, who were the slaves of various tribes, are gathered as a nation. Manas is believed to be interred at a small mausoleum near the town of Talas, in western Kyrgyzstan near the border with Kazakhstan. Throughout the 1990s and into the 2000s, the Manaschi (reciters of the Manas) have made tours with Central Asian artistic groups all over the world, including many performances in the United States.
Horses figured prominently in the traditional spiritual beliefs of the early Kyrgyz. It was believed that a horse carried the spirit of a dead person to a higher spiritual world. Most Kyrgyz today are Sunni Muslims, but many ancient shamanist and animist traditions persist.
Since the 8th century, Islam has been the dominant religion in the Fergana Valley. By the 10th and 11th centuries, the Kyrgyz had built many beautiful mosques and mausoleums in that region. During the 13th and 14th centuries, however, the development of Islam among the Kyrgyz slowed considerably, due to the conquest by the Mongols. Islam extended to the nomads of the northern regions over the next few centuries at first by force, but later through Islamic missionaries. Therefore, Islam did not gain a strong presence among all the Kyrgyz until the 19th century.
The Kyrgyz are generally more secular in daily life than some of the other Islamic peoples of Central Asia. This is probably because the religion was only firmly established in some areas of the country in the last century. Kyrgyzstan also has a large proportion of non-Muslims, and the government is not oriented toward incorporating any religion into the political structure. Outside Islamic influences from the Middle East and South Asia have featured in the creation of some radical Muslim movements in Kyrgyzstan, especially in the Osh and Jalalabad provinces, located in the southern part of Kyrgyzstan-its Ferghana valley region. Some of these mainly younger people are part of the Hizb-ut-Tahrir radical international movement. They wish to establish a theocratic government throughout the entire Muslim world. Overall, radical or extremist Islam is not a major threat to Kyrgyz sovereignty at the moment.
New Year's Day (January 1) and Christmas (January 7) are official holidays in Kyrgyzstan. Holidays with their origins to the Soviet era include Women's Holiday (March 8), International Day of Solidarity Among Workers (May 1), and the Day of Victory over Fascism (May 9). The vernal equinox (around March 21) is called Nooruz and is an important holiday among the Kyrgyz people as it marks the start of the Muslim new year. Kurban Ait (Remembrance Day, June 13) and Independence Day (August 31) are also official Kyrgyzstan holidays. Generally speaking, people do tend to celebrate religious holidays, especially the Muslim days of remembrance more now than during the Soviet period.
RITES OF PASSAGE
Kyrgyz rites of passage are similar to those of other Turkic-influenced peoples of Central Asia. Large birthday parties with many friends and relatives are important social occasions, and these feasts often last five or six hours. Celebrations are held for a birth, for a baby's 40th day of life, for the first day of school, and for graduations. A wedding serves to honor the married couple and assemble together an extended family or clan. In the past, arranged marriages were common, and a dowry payment was expected upon betrothal.
Kyrgyz people typically greet one another with handshakes or hugs if they are women, and then proceed to ask a series of questions about one another's lives. Male-female relations among the Kyrgyz are far less formal and rigid than, say, among the Uzbeks or Tajiks. Men and women eat together and share many work burdens together. Like many other peoples of Central Asia, the Kyrgyz are very hospitable, although more reserved and low-key than the Uzbeks or Tajiks. If you were invited to have tea in Kyrgyz yurta, you would not feel yourself quite the focus of attention as would be true in the case of an Uzbek village home. Kyrgyz often honor their guests by serving them a cooked sheep's head.
The traditional Kyrgyz home is a yurta-a round, felt-covered structure built upon a collapsible wooden frame. Most Kyrgyz today live in individual permanent homes, but about 40,000 Kyrgyzstani citizens still live in yurtas. The arched opening of a yurta is called the tundruk. The flag of the Republic of Kyrgyzstan features a tundruk.
One legacy of the Soviet era is a chronic lack of urban housing in Kyrgyzstan. In the late 1980s, housing space was equivalent to 12 sq m (129 sq ft) per person.
Irregular service with public transportation occurs frequently. In Bishkek, for example, evening bus service is erratic. There are a sufficient number of taxis in the city, but people looking for a ride will often stop a private car and pay the driver because it is cheaper than using a taxi.
Since the mid- to late-1990s, it has become increasingly common to find shanty-town type dwellings in major cities, such as Bishkek and Osh, because poverty has caused many people to take up urban residence in hopes of making a more prosperous life.
Women in Kyrgyz society still perform the bulk of household chores, but there is far more egalitarianism practiced between the sexes among the Kyrgyz than among nearby peoples such as the Uzbeks or Tajiks. The Kyrgyz and Kazaks are very similar in this regard. Women hold all manner of professional jobs and are encouraged to be professionals as well as mothers. Both forms of polygamy are legal in Kyrgyzstan, and the custom is not limited to ethnic Kyrgyz but is practiced by ethnic Russians and other residents in Kyrgyzstan. Polygyny (one man having multiple wives) is most common, and a husband must financially provide each wife with her own separate household as well as provide for all the children each wife bears. In order for a woman to have multiple husbands (polyandry), she must have substantial wealth or influence.
Kyrgyz families are large, with an average of four to six children, although they are slightly smaller in the capital city of Bishkek. In the countryside, it is common for three generations to live together in a patrilocal residence, which means that a married woman moves in with her husband's family). Th us, 10 to 12 people may share a home during the cold months and a yurt when the people go to the zhailovs (summer pastures) with their animals in the summer. Genealogical knowledge is very important to the Kyrgyz, and some older people are able to recount their ancestors stretching back as far as seven generations or two centuries.
One of Kyrgyzstan's oldest cities, Osh, was once an important trading point along the historic Silk Roads-the ancient overland trade route of commerce between China and the Middle East. Osh is the center of Kyrgyzstan's silk industry.
Traditional everyday clothes were made of wool, felt, and fur. Ornate silks were, and still are, used for special occasions and ceremonies. Since the Soviet era, cotton denim and other fabrics have become popular for everyday wear. Headgear figures prominently in Kyrgyz culture, although during the Soviet era women were prohibited from wearing their large traditional hats, which were a symbol of Kyrgyz culture. There is also a traditional hat proudly worn by men as a symbol of Kyrgyz culture, the ak-kalpak ("white hat"). This is a dome-shaped white felt hat with a black brim, black piping, abstract curved stitching, and a black tassel on top. The basic design of the ak-kalpak has been the same for generations.
Because many Kyrgyz live in areas with little precipitation, the variety of crops grown depends on irrigation from the mountains. Sugar beets and cereal grains are the main crops. Livestock is an important source of food, with sheep, goats, cattle, and horses most common. Pigs, bees, and rabbits are also raised in the uplands.
Examples of traditional Kyrgyz fare include manti (mutton dumplings), irikat (a type of pasta salad made with noodles, carrots, and radishes), and koumiss (fermented mare's milk). A great Kyrgyz delicacy reserved especially for guests is a combination plate of fresh sliced sheep liver and slices of sheep tail fat. It is often boiled and salted and tastes far more delicious than it sounds. At the breakfast table, one often finds bountiful amounts of yogurt, heavy cream, butter, and wonderful honey along with bread and tea. Dairy products are an essential part of Kyrgyz life.
Along with traditional cooking, the Kyrgyz also enjoy Russian, Korean, Ukrainian, German, and Chinese cuisine. The dishes of both local and European cooking dominate the menus in Bishkek's restaurants and cafés.
For the most part, Kyrgyz people have poor native language proficiency except in the remote auls (villages). Kyrgyzstan has been heavily Russified, and most high school and university instruction is in Russian. Although this is slowly beginning to change, rural Kyrgyz are often ill-equipped to compete at the national level on university entrance exams. The whole educational system requires overhauling. Parents tend to favor a broad educational development for their children, but it is impossible for many parents to send their children to universities and technical schools because education has become privatized and the costs are prohibitively expensive. Today, along with the Kazakhs, more and more Kyrgyz speak competent English than people in any of the other Central Asian countries. Th is is partly due to American influence and teaching in Kyrgyzstan as well as the people's own desire to add English as a part of their international focus, especially as a means toward increasing one's chances in the professional world.
The kyiak and komuz are traditional musical instruments used by the Kyrgyz. The kyiak resembles a violin and is played with a bow but has only two strings. The three-stringed komuz is the favorite folk instrument among the Kyrgyz and is played by strumming. The Kyrgyz have several titles of honor that are given to various musical performers. A jïrchiï is a singer-poet, whereas an akin is a professional poet and musician-composer. The jïrchiï is primarily a performer of known music, while the akin is a composer who plays original compositions as well as traditional music. A special performer called a manaschï performs the famous saga of Manas. There are also several types of Kyrgyz songs, such as maktoo (eulogies), sanat and nasiyat (songs with a moral), and kordoo (social protest tunes).
Work hours vary depending on the type of business and state institution. As a rule, people work between seven and eight hours a day. Most often work runs from 8:00 am to 5:00 pm, with lunch taken sometime between noon and 2:00 pm. Mills and factories operate on a relay system, with shifts set up by the management. Retail shops are usually open from 7:00 am to 8:00 pm, with an afternoon lunch period. Department stores, book stores, and other shops usually open according to state institution hours. Bazaars are open from 6:00 am until 7:00 or 8:00 pm.
Equestrian sports are very popular among the Kyrgyz. Racing and wrestling on horseback are especially enjoyed. Wrestling on horseback for a goat's carcass, called ulak tartysh or kok boru, is a common game among the Kyrgyz. (Kok boru means "gray wolf"). The game may have its origin in ancient times, when herds of cattle grazed in the steppes and mountains and were exposed to the threat of attack by wolves. Shepherds would chase after a wolf on horseback and beat it with sticks and whips and then try to snatch the dead carcass away from each other for fun. Kok boru was later replaced with ulak tartysh, played with a goat's carcass on a field measuring 300 meters by 150 meters (about 328 yards by 164 yards). The opposite ends of the field are the two goals. A goat's carcass, usually weighing 30 to 40 kilograms (66-88 pounds), is placed in the center of the field. Each game lasts 15 minutes, and the object is to seize the goat's carcass while on horseback and get it to the goal of the other team. Players are allowed to pick up the carcass from any place within the limits of the field, take it from opponents, pass or toss it to teammates, carry it on the horse's side, or suspend it between the horse's legs. Players are not allowed to ram other horses, take an opponent's horse by the bridle or remove its reins, whip another's horse, or talk with the opponent.
Falconry (the sport of hunting with trained falcons) while on horseback is another part of Kyrgyz culture that has been practiced for centuries. In addition to falcons, sakers and golden eagles are also trained for the sport. Jumby atmai is a game that involves shooting at a target while galloping on horseback. Tyin enmei is a contest to pick up coins from the ground while riding at full speed on horseback.
ENTERTAINMENT AND RECREATION
Bishkek has large parks, public gardens, shady avenues, and botanical gardens enjoyed by people traveling on foot. Opera, ballet, and national folklore groups are also popular forms of entertainment. The most popular form of relaxation for city dwellers is to spend a weekend in a country cottage. Tens of thousands of these cottages are located on the outskirts of Bishkek, the capital. In recent years, Bishkek and other cities have added many taverns, restaurants, and casinos, so city life has become nocturnally raucous, and part of these businesses cater to the tastes of expatriates from China, Europe, and the United States.
FOLK ART, CRAFTS, AND HOBBIES
The Kyrgyz are best known for crafting utensils, clothes, equipment and other items used in everyday life and making them beautiful. Many articles are made of felt: carpets (shirdak and alakiyiz), bags for keeping dishes (alk-kup), and woven patterned strips of carpet sewn together into bags or rugs (bashtyk). Ornate leather dishes called keter are also made.
After years of life under the Soviet system of central planning and socialism, the transition to a market-oriented economy is a difficult undertaking for the Kyrgyz. The poor service and uninspired work ethic that were results of the Soviet era will take a long time to change. Alcoholism and public drunkenness are now a visible social problem, partly because of rising unemployment. Even though Kyrgyzstan was supposed to have developed a large tourism industry, its development has been slow and not very lucrative; getting to Kyrgyzstan remains difficult and expensive.
From 2000-2005, Kyrgyzstan's economy stagnated and allegations of sizable political corruption brought down the government that had been in power since 1991. The much heralded "Tulip Revolution" did little to improve the politics or economics of the country, and since then the population has only become more disgruntled as most people become more impoverished. This has raised crime rate in urban areas and led to a more oppressive political environment than was true of the 1990s. The new government is perceived to be weak in the face of more powerful Central Asian states, such as Kazakh-stan and Uzbekistan. Close to one million Kyrgyz now seek at least temporary housing and employment abroad to help bolster their household budgets, and this has led to very trying conditions for many families. With the exception of Kazakh-stan, labor migration is the social problem as well as "social solution" story to emerge from contemporary Central Asia.
Along with the Kazakhs, the Kyrgyz long have featured a high degree of gender equity. Many scholars attribute this to their pastoral nomadic heritage. While there naturally is a division of labor between the sexes, many men and women do many things together, such as yurt erection and packing up as well as cooperative milking and food production activities. Men consider women to be their literal fellow travelers (yoldash) rather than simply the "wife" or the "mother of their kids." When it comes to education, Kyrgyz girls long have been seen almost as the equal of boys, but again with the exception that boys will be seen favorably to pursue higher education and advanced professional degrees. However, this is definitely not the rule in all families.
Since the early 2000s, gender issues have changed because of the increase in bride kidnapping, which is more and more common among the Kyrgyz, Karakalpaks, and Kazakhs. Th is relieves pressures on young men to make a bride wealth payment or qalym, just as it obviates the need for in-law arrangements in the first place, but it puts young women in a terrible position because they rarely can exercise their own free will once kidnapped. However, divorces often ensue shortly after these unhappy marriages take place. Still, it is a kind of traditional social institution that shows up as one very unfair aspect of gender relations.
Moreover, labor migration is changing the nature of gender relations as many men and women now work abroad to try and increase family wealth. While it provides young women with opportunities and a kind of freedom, it puts great pressure on mothers and wives who sometimes go abroad despite the disapproval they face from other family members, including husbands. Labor migration, generally speaking, puts huge pressure and stress on people willing to take what they consider to be a crucial step in making a better life for themselves and their families.
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—by R. Zanca
"Kyrgyz." Worldmark Encyclopedia of Cultures and Daily Life. . Encyclopedia.com. (September 16, 2018). http://www.encyclopedia.com/humanities/encyclopedias-almanacs-transcripts-and-maps/kyrgyz-0
"Kyrgyz." Worldmark Encyclopedia of Cultures and Daily Life. . Retrieved September 16, 2018 from Encyclopedia.com: http://www.encyclopedia.com/humanities/encyclopedias-almanacs-transcripts-and-maps/kyrgyz-0