Kyrgyzstan has built on centuries as a historical crossroads to become a unique, independent country at the confluence of East and West
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- Capital (and Largest City): Bishkek
- Population (2017): 6,140,200 (110th)
- Total Area: 199,951 km² (87th)
- Official Languages: Kyrgyz, Russian
- Currency: Kyrgyzstani som (KGS)
History of Kyrgyzstan
Ancient and Medieval History
While we may not know exactly how early people settled in Kyrgyzstan, we do know that the country reached its apex around the year 840 CE. The Khaganate ruled over vast swathes of Central Asia, until around 1200 when it became a part of the expanding Mongol Empire. The Kyrgyz people initially had much in common with Slavic tribes to the west, however years of assimilating new peoples and customs from both the East and West have resulted in a diverse demographic.
Early Modern History
Kyrgyzstan was often taken over by neighboring powers, namely the Mongols (previously mentioned), Qing Dynasty, and Uzbeks. Throughout these eras, it remained an important stop for trade and travel between Europe and Asia (particularly along the Silk Road). In the 19th century, the land was ceded to the growing Russian Empire. This was a time of unrest, as many rebelled against Tsarist rule – with one such rebellion in 1916 particularly damaging.
In 1919, Kyrgyzstan became part of a larger Soviet republic before finally becoming its own such republic in 1936. While the regime was tight, Kyrgyz culture was able to flourish in the early 20th century while the country advanced as a whole. By the final years of the USSR, tensions between Kyrgyzstan and Uzbekistan were on the rise and internally there was a strong division between pro-independence groups and those that supported the Soviet Union. Despite majority support for the latter, secession was approved and Kyrgyzstan declared independence in 1991.
Independence and Modern Era
Askar Akayev won the presidential election in 1991 with 95% of the vote. He ruled for over a decade until the ‘Tulip Revolution’ of 2005 forced him out of office. In the years following this, the government was plagued by corruption, organized crime, assassinations, and civil unrest. Making matters worse, tensions with Russia (there are many ethnic Russians in Kyrgyzstan) continued with some blaming the Kremlin for stirring unrest. This boiled over when ethnic clashes and riots occurred throughout the country around 2010, with some fearing a civil war could be imminent. While tensions have calmed somewhat, large-scale corruption doesn’t look to be going away anytime soon – and the battle for stability appears to be ongoing.
The culture of Kyrgyzstan brings together the traditions of many different peoples and ethnic groups. The Kyrgyz people are the dominant group, while many Russian traditions also remain. Nomadic culture, common throughout Central Asia, still remains in many areas – as seen with traditional tents, horse riding, and more.
The flag of Kyrgyzstan features a red background with a yellow sun/yurt in the middle. The lines that cross the sun represent the top of the traditional tents common throughout the country.
Food in Kyrgyzstan is similar to many nearby countries. Mutton, horse meat, and dairy are staples of the diet, while most foods are made to last long trips (due to the country’s nomadic history). Cities feature more diverse cuisine whereas it’s largely simple and traditional in the country. Pilaf is the national dish and green tea is the national beverage.
Soccer is the country’s most popular sport, while wrestling also has a large following. Ice hockey is growing as a sport in the Kyrgyzstan, while bandy is also played.
Geography of Kyrgyzstan
The landscape of Kyrgyzstan is very mountainous and high altitude. Tian Shan, a large system of mountain ranges, dominates about 80% of the country, while valleys and basins cover the remainder.
Cities and Towns
Bishkek, in the north of the country, is by far the largest city (numbering around 1 million people). It is designed mostly in the Soviet style. Osh is the second largest city in Kyrgyzstan, and serves as a political and cultural centre for the south.
Did you know?
- The folk hero Manas remains popular throughout the country
- It’s one of the world’s least densely populated countries
- Kyrgyzstan is sometimes called the ‘Switzerland of Central Asia’
- The name comes from the Kyrgyz saying ‘we are forty’, which references the 40 clans that unified to form the country
- Barak is a Kyrgyzstan village surrounded by Uzbekistan
- It has the world’s largest walnut forests
Corruption may be rampant, but this ancient and traditional country remains a treat for all who visit it!
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