Kyrgyzstan is a small mountainous country in Central Asia. It is landlocked and home to the Tienshan Mountains in the north and the Pamir Mountains in the south. The highest point is Peak Pobeda (Victory Peak) at 7439m in the far east of the country. Kyrgyzstan borders Kazakhstan in the north, China in the east, Tadjikistan in the southeast and Uzbekistan on the west and southwest.
“Stan” is a Persian word for land, and the Kyrgyz are the tribe of people who inhabit that land.
The capital, Bishkek, is at 700m above sea level. Outside the capital people live at up to 3000m.
Kyrgyzstan is predominantly rural. Outside of the two major cities, Bishkek in the north and Osh in the south, people live in small towns and villages sporadically located around the country. There are only two major north-south roads, leaving much of the country isolated and connected by only dirt roads, often snowed over in winter.
Formerly part of the Soviet Union, Kyrgyzstan is divided geographically, culturally and economically between the north and the south. The north is predominantly Kyrgyz and has closer ties to Russia, while the south has much larger Uzbek populations.
National languages are Kyrgyz and Russian, with more people speaking Uzbek in the south. Kyrgyz is a Turkic language, with kin languages spoken in Kazakhstan, Uzbekistan, Xinjiang (Western China) and Turkey.
Kyrgyzstan is part of the Old Silk Route, and has had many influences over the the years. Today approximately 86% of people are Muslim, but Islam in Kyrgyzstan is mild. Kyrgyz are traditionally Shaman, and when Islam expanded into Central Asia, the Kyrgyz – hidden away in high pastures – were the last of the Central Asian Republics to be Islamified. Recent years sees some attempts to re-ignite “Tengrisim,” a Kyrgyz stream of Shamanism.
The Kyrgyz people originally migrated from the Yenisey River region in Siberia between the 6th and 9th centuries, traditionally they are a nomadic people. You can still see today many of the same traditions in the Turkic-Altaic belt of Central Asia and Siberia: the Sayan and Altai Mts in Southern Siberia and Western Mongolia, Lake Baikal on the overland Trans-Siberian route and even as far as Yakutia, in the frozen depths of north east Russia. In summer people live in high pastures with their herds, descending in winter to low lying villages. In the high pastures they live in yurts, and still today maintain a very traditional way of life.
Kyrgyzstan is a developing country full of traditional mountain folk and much pristine wilderness. For those that like adventure, the mountains of Kyrgyzstan are a wonderful, wild playground.
To quote George Mallory;
“Because it’s there……….”