For the most current version of this Note, see Background Notes A-Z.
Area: 77,181 sq. mi.
Cities: Bishkek (capital), Osh, Cholpon Ata, Karakol.
Terrain: 90% mountainous, with some desert regions. Elevation extremes--lowest point: Kulundy village in the Batken province 401 m; highest point: Jengish Chokusu (Pik Pobedy) 7,439 m.
Population (July 2008): 5,356,869.
Annual growth rate (2008): 1.38%.
Ethnic groups (2007): Kyrgyz 68.9%; Russian 9.1%; Uzbek 14.4%; Dungan (ethnic Chinese Muslims) 1%; Uighurs 1%; Tajik 0.9%, Kazakh 0.8%, Tatars 0.7%; Korean 0.4%, German 0.3%.
Main religions: Islam; Russian Orthodox.
Languages: Kyrgyz (state); Russian (official, 2001).
Education: Nine years compulsory. Literacy--98.7%.
Health (2006): Infant mortality rate--29.2 deaths/1,000 live births. Life expectancy--67.7 years.
Population distribution (2006): Urban 64.7%; rural 35.3%.
Independence: August 31, 1991 (from the Soviet Union).
Constitution: May 5, 1993; amended in 1996, 1998, 2003, 2006, and 2007.
Branches: Executive--president, prime minister. Legislative--parliament. Judicial--Supreme Court, Constitutional Court, local courts, Procurator-General.
Administrative subdivisions: Seven oblasts and the municipality of Bishkek.
Political parties and leaders: Ak Jol People's Party, no formal leader, but this is the party of President Bakiyev; Social Democratic Party of Kyrgyzstan, Almazbek Atambayev; Party of Communists of Kyrgyzstan, Deputy Iskhak Masaliev; Ar Namys (Dignity) Party, Feliks Kulov; Ata-Meken (Fatherland) Party, Omurbek Tekebaev; Jany Kyrgyzstan Party, Usen Sydykov; Erkindik (Freedom) Party, Shamshibek Utebaev; Zamandash Party, Muktarbek Omurakunov; Ak Shumkar Party, Temir Sariyev; Asaba (Flag), Azimbek Beknazarov; Green Party, Erkin Bulekbayev.
GDP: 2008 (est.), $4.6 billion; 2007, $3.75 billion; 2006, $2.8 billion; 2003, $1.9 billion.
GDP growth rate in 2008: 7.6%.
Inflation rate at end of 2008: 24.4%.
GDP per capita (2008 est.): $870.
Unemployment rate (as of the end of 2008): 11.1%.
Natural resources: Abundant hydropower; significant deposits of gold and rare earth metals; locally exploitable coal, oil, and natural gas; other deposits of iron, bauxite, copper, tin, molybdenum, mercury, and antimony.
Agriculture: Products--tobacco, cotton, wheat, vegetables (potatoes, sugar beets, beans), fruits (apples, apricots, peaches, grapes), berries, sheep, goats, cattle, wool.
Industry: Types--small machinery (electric motors, transformers), light industry (cotton and wool processing, textiles, food processing), construction materials (cement, glass, slate), shoes, furniture, mining, energy.
Trade: Exports (2008)--$1.6 billion: cotton, wool, meat, tobacco, gold, mercury, uranium, hydropower, machinery, shoes. Partners--Switzerland 27.3%, Russia 19.2%, Uzbekistan 14.3%, Kazakhstan 11.3%, France 6.7%, Afghanistan 2.8%. Imports--$3.3 billion: oil and gas, machinery and equipment, foodstuffs. Partners--Russia 44.3%, China 14.6%, Kazakhstan 11.4%, Uzbekistan 4.4%, U.S. 3.0%.
Total external debt mid-2008 was $3.16 billion, of which $2.19 billion was public debt.
PEOPLE AND HISTORY
According to recent findings of Kyrgyz and Chinese historians, Kyrgyz history dates back to 201 B.C. The earliest descendents of the Kyrgyz people, who are believed to be of Turkic descent, lived in the northeastern part of what is currently Mongolia. Later, some of their tribes migrated to the region that is currently southern Siberia and settled along the Yenisey River, where they lived from the 6th until the 8th centuries. They spread across what is now the Tuva region of the Russian Federation, remaining in that area until the rise of the Mongol Empire in the 13th century, when the Kyrgyz began migrating south. In the 12th century, Islam became the predominant religion in the region. Most Kyrgyz are Sunni Muslims of the Hanafi school.
During the 15th-16th centuries, the Kyrgyz people settled in the territory currently known as the Kyrgyz Republic. In the early 19th century, the southern territory of the Kyrgyz Republic came under the control of the Khanate of Kokand, and the territory was formally incorporated into the Russian Empire in 1876. The Russian takeover instigated numerous revolts against tsarist authority, and many Kyrgyz opted to move into the Pamir mountains or to Afghanistan. The suppression of the 1916 rebellion in Central Asia caused many Kyrgyz to migrate to China.
Soviet power was initially established in the region in 1918, and in 1924, the Kara-Kyrgyz Autonomous Oblast was created within the Russian Federal Socialist Republic. (The term Kara-Kyrgyz was used until the mid-1920s by the Russians to distinguish them from the Kazakhs, who were also referred to as Kyrgyz.) In 1926, it became the Kyrgyz Autonomous Soviet Socialist Republic. On December 5, 1936, the Kyrgyz Soviet Socialist Republic (SSR) was established as a full Union Republic of the U.S.S.R.
During the 1920s, the Kyrgyz Republic saw considerable cultural, educational, and social change. Economic and social development also was notable. Literacy increased, and a standard literary language was introduced. The Kyrgyz language belongs to the Southern Turkic group of languages. In 1924, an Arabic-based Kyrgyz alphabet was introduced, which was replaced by Latin script in 1928. In 1941 Cyrillic script was adopted. Many aspects of the Kyrgyz national culture were retained despite suppression of nationalist activity under Joseph Stalin, who controlled the Soviet Union from the late 1920s until 1953.
The early years of glasnost in the late 1980s had little effect on the political climate in the Kyrgyz Republic. However, the republic's press was permitted to adopt a more liberal stance and to establish a new publication, Literaturny Kirghizstan, by the Union of Writers. Unofficial political groups were forbidden, but several groups that emerged in 1989 to deal with an acute housing crisis were permitted to function.
In June 1990, ethnic tensions between Uzbeks and Kyrgyz surfaced in an area of the Osh Oblast, where Uzbeks form a majority of the population. Violent confrontations ensued, and a state of emergency and curfew were introduced. Order was not restored until August 1990.
The early 1990s brought measurable change to the Kyrgyz Republic. The Kyrgyzstan Democratic Movement (KDM) had developed into a significant political force with support in parliament. In an upset victory, Askar Akayev, the president of the Kyrgyz Academy of Sciences, was elected to the presidency in October 1990. The following January, Akayev introduced new government structures and appointed a new government comprised mainly of younger, reform-oriented politicians. In December 1990, the Supreme Soviet voted to change the republic's name to the Republic of Kyrgyzstan. (In 1993, it became the Kyrgyz Republic.) In February 1991, the name of the capital, Frunze, was changed back to its pre-revolutionary name--Bishkek.
Despite these moves toward independence, economic realities seemed to work against secession from the U.S.S.R. In a referendum on the preservation of the U.S.S.R. in March 1991, 88.7% of the voters approved a proposal to retain the U.S.S.R. as a "renewed federation."
On August 19, 1991, when the State Committee for the State of Emergency (SCSE) assumed power in Moscow, there was an attempt to depose Akayev in Kyrgyzstan. After the coup collapsed the following week, Akayev and Vice President German Kuznetsov announced their resignations from the Communist Party of the Soviet Union (CPSU), and the entire politburo and secretariat resigned. This was followed by the Supreme Soviet vote declaring independence from the U.S.S.R. on August 31, 1991. Kyrgyz was announced as the state language in September 1991. (In December 2001, through a constitutional amendment, the Russian language was given official status.)
In October 1991, Akayev ran unopposed and was elected President of the new independent republic by direct ballot, receiving 95% of the votes cast. Together with the representatives of seven other republics, he signed the Treaty of the New Economic Community that same month. On December 21, 1991, the Kyrgyz Republic formally entered the new Commonwealth of Independent States (CIS).
In 1993, allegations of corruption against Akayev's closest political associates blossomed into a major scandal. One of those accused of improprieties was Prime Minister Chyngyshev, who was dismissed for ethical reasons in December. Following Chyngyshev's dismissal, Akayev dismissed the government and called upon the last communist premier, Apas Djumagulov, to form a new one. In January 1994, Akayev initiated a referendum asking for a renewed mandate to complete his term of office. He received 96.2% of the vote.
A new constitution was passed by the parliament in May 1993. In 1994, however, the parliament failed to produce a quorum for its last scheduled session prior to the expiration of its term in February 1995. President Akayev was widely accused of having manipulated a boycott by a majority of the parliamentarians. Akayev, in turn, asserted that the communists had caused a political crisis by preventing the legislature from fulfilling its role. Akayev scheduled an October 1994 referendum, overwhelmingly approved by voters, which proposed two amendments to the constitution--one that would allow the constitution to be amended by means of a referendum, and the other creating a new bicameral parliament called the Jogorku Kenesh.
Elections for the two legislative chambers--a 35-seat full-time assembly and a 70-seat part-time assembly--were held in February 1995 after campaigns considered remarkably free and open by most international observers, although the election-day proceedings were marred by widespread irregularities. Independent candidates won most of the seats, suggesting that personalities prevailed over ideologies. The new parliament convened its initial session in March 1995. One of its first orders of business was the approval of the precise constitutional language on the role of the legislature.
On December 24, 1995, President Akayev was reelected for another 5-year term with wide support (75% of vote) over two opposing candidates. President Akayev used government resources and state-owned media to carry out his campaign. Three (out of six) candidates were de-registered shortly before the election.
A February 1996 referendum--in violation of the constitution and the law on referendums--amended the constitution to give President Akayev more power. Although the changes gave the president the power to dissolve parliament, it also more clearly defined the parliament's powers. Since that time, the parliament has demonstrated real independence from the executive branch.
An October 1998 referendum approved constitutional changes, including increasing the number of deputies in the lower house, reducing the number of deputies in the upper house, providing for 25% of lower house deputies to be elected by party lists, rolling back parliamentary immunity, introducing private property, prohibiting adoption of laws restricting freedom of speech and mass media, and reforming the state budget.
Two rounds of parliamentary elections were held on February 20, 2000 and March 12, 2000. With the full backing of the United States, the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) reported that the elections failed to comply with commitments to free and fair elections and hence were invalid. Questionable judicial proceedings against opposition candidates and parties limited the choice of candidates available to Kyrgyz voters, while state-controlled media only reported favorably on official candidates. Government officials put pressure on independent media outlets that favored the opposition. The presidential election that followed later in 2000 also was marred by irregularities and was not declared free and fair by international observers.
March 2002 events in the southern district of Aksy, where six people protesting the arbitrary arrest of an opposition politician were shot dead by police, engendered nationwide protests. President Akayev initiated a constitutional reform process, which initially included the participation of a broad range of government, civil, and social representatives in an open dialogue. The reform process resulted in a February 2003 referendum, which was marred by voting irregularities. The amendments to the constitution approved by the referendum resulted in further control by the president and weakened the parliament and the Constitutional Court. Under the new constitution, the previously bicameral parliament became a 75-seat unicameral legislature following the 2005 parliamentary elections.
Parliamentary elections were held February 27 and March 13, 2005. The United States agreed with the findings of the OSCE that while the elections failed to comply with commitments to free and fair elections, there were improvements over the 2000 elections, notably the use of indelible ink, transparent ballot boxes, and generally good access by election observers.
Sporadic protests against widespread fraud during the parliamentary runoff elections in March 2005 erupted into calls for the government to resign. By March 24, 15,000 pro-opposition demonstrators called for the resignation of the president and his regime in Bishkek. Some injuries were reported when opposition demonstrators were attacked by police and pro-government thugs. Protestors seized the presidential administration building, after which President Akayev left the country for Kazakhstan, and then Russia. Looting broke out in parts of Bishkek on the evening of March 24, causing an estimated $100 million in damage.
Opposition leaders, caught by surprise by developments, moved to form a broadly inclusive "Committee of National Unity." Opposition leader Kurmanbek Bakiyev was named acting President and Prime Minister. Bakiyev formed an alliance with primary rival Feliks Kulov whereby Kulov agreed to drop out of the presidential race if Bakiyev appointed him Prime Minister upon winning the elections.
Bakiyev easily won the July 10, 2005 presidential elections with over 88% of the vote. An unprecedented number of domestic and international observers monitored the elections and noted significant improvements in the electoral process over the parliamentary elections, although there were some reports of irregularities.
Opposition groups held a series of demonstrations in 2006, including the entire first week of November, to protest the lack of progress on reform, in particular of the constitution, promised by President Bakiyev in 2005. The Kyrgyz parliament adopted amendments to the constitution and President Bakiyev signed the amended constitution on November 9, 2006, which limited the powers of the president and increased the role of parliament. After the government resigned on December 19, the Kyrgyz parliament voted on December 30 to adopt new amendments restoring some of the presidential powers lost in November. President Bakiyev signed the changes into law January 15, 2007.
In March 2007, President Bakiyev appointed opposition leader Almaz Atambayev as Prime Minister. A week-long opposition protest in April 2007 ended when police cleared the main Ala-Too Square in Bishkek.
In September 2007, the Constitutional Court invalidated the November 2006 and December 2006 versions of the constitution. President Bakiyev then called a snap national referendum on a new version of the constitution, which strengthened the powers of the president and provided for a parliament elected by party lists. The new constitution was approved in an October 2007 referendum that was marked by serious irregularities, including massive inflation of turnout figures. President Bakiyev then dissolved the parliament, calling for new elections. The December 2007 elections were deeply flawed, with the new pro-presidential Ak Jol party gaining 71 out of 90 seats. The largest opposition party, Ata Meken, did not gain any seats, despite probably receiving enough votes to meet the regional thresholds required to enter parliament. Following the elections, a new government was formed, headed by the former energy minister, Igor Chudinov, as Prime Minister.
GOVERNMENT AND POLITICAL CONDITIONS
The 1993 constitution defines the form of government as a democratic republic. The executive branch includes a president and prime minister. The judicial branch comprises a Supreme Court, a Constitutional Court, local courts, and a Procurator-General. The legislative branch is composed of a 90-member unicameral parliament.
President Bakiyev made constitutional reform a key element of his campaign in 2005, and the November 2006 protests stemmed in part from members of parliament's demands for action on that reform. Following parliamentary elections in December 2007, President Bakiyev announced that political reform was complete and that the new government would focus on economic growth and privatization.
The next presidential election is now scheduled for July 23, 2009.
Principal Government Officials
Prime Minister--Igor Chudinov
Minister of Foreign Affairs--Kadyrbek Sarbayev
Ambassador to the U.S.--Zamira Sydykova
The Kyrgyz Republic maintains an embassy in the United States at 2360 Massachusetts Ave, NW, Washington, DC 20008 (tel.: (202) 338-5141; fax: (202) 386-7550).
Despite the backing of major Western donors, including the International Monetary Fund (IMF), the Kyrgyz Republic has had economic difficulties following independence. Initially, these were a result of the breakup of the Soviet trading bloc and resulting loss of markets, which impeded the republic's transition to a free market economy. The government has reduced expenditures, ended most price subsidies, and introduced a value-added tax. Overall, the government appears committed to the transition to a market economy. Through economic stabilization and reform, the government seeks to establish a pattern of long-term consistent growth. Reforms led to the Kyrgyz Republic's accession to the World Trade Organization (WTO) on December 20, 1998.
The Kyrgyz Republic's economy was severely affected by the collapse of the Soviet Union and the resulting loss of its vast market. In 1990, some 98% of Kyrgyz exports went to other parts of the Soviet Union. Thus, the nation's economic performance in the early 1990s was worse than any other former Soviet republic except war-torn Armenia, Azerbaijan, and Tajikistan. While economic performance has improved in the last few years, difficulties remain in securing adequate fiscal revenues and providing a sufficient social safety net.
Agriculture is an important sector of the economy in the Kyrgyz Republic. By the early 1990s, the private agricultural sector provided between one-third and one-half of some harvests. In 2002 agriculture accounted for 35.6% of GDP and about half of employment. The Kyrgyz Republic's terrain is mountainous, which accommodates livestock raising, the largest agricultural activity. Main crops include wheat, sugar beets, cotton, tobacco, vegetables, and fruit. Wool, meat, and dairy products also are major commodities.
Agricultural processing is a key component of the industrial economy, as well as one of the most attractive sectors for foreign investment. The Kyrgyz Republic is rich in mineral resources but has negligible petroleum and natural gas reserves; it imports petroleum and gas. Among its mineral reserves are substantial deposits of coal, gold, uranium, antimony, and other rare-earth metals. The government hopes to attract foreign investment in mining and metallurgy, but local business conditions are very challenging to most companies. The Kyrgyz Republic's plentiful water resources and mountainous terrain enable it to produce and export large quantities of hydroelectric energy.
The Kyrgyz Republic's principal exports are nonferrous metals and minerals, woolen goods and other agricultural products, electric energy, and certain engineering goods. Its imports include petroleum and natural gas, ferrous metals, chemicals, most machinery, wood and paper products, some foods, and some construction materials. Its leading trade partners include Switzerland, Russia, China, and neighboring Kazakhstan and Uzbekistan.
The Kyrgyz Republic exports antimony, mercury, rare-earth metals, and chemical products to the United States. It imports grain, medicine and medical equipment, vegetable oil, paper products, rice, machinery, agricultural equipment, and meat from the United States. In 2008 Kyrgyz exports to the U.S. totaled $2.5 million; 2008 Kyrgyz imports from the U.S. totaled $44.3 million, much of which was equipment, food products, and commodities provided by assistance programs.
The Kyrgyz Republic maintains close relations with other former Soviet countries, particularly with Kazakhstan and Russia. Recognizing Russia's concerns about the Russian-speaking minority in the Kyrgyz Republic, President Akayev was sensitive to potential perceptions of discrimination. For example, although the 1993 constitution designates Kyrgyz as the state language, an amendment to the constitution in 2001 granted official status to the Russian language. The amended December 30, 2006 constitution reaffirmed the status of the two languages.
While the Kyrgyz Republic initially remained in the ruble zone, stringent conditions set by the Russian Government prompted the Kyrgyz Republic to introduce its own currency, the som, in May 1993. Withdrawal from the ruble zone was done with little prior notification and initially caused tensions in the region. Both Kazakhstan and Uzbekistan temporarily suspended trade, and Uzbekistan even introduced restrictions tantamount to economic sanctions. Both nations feared an influx of rubles and an increase in inflation. Uzbekistan and Kazakhstan's hostility toward the Kyrgyz Republic was short-lived, and the three nations signed an agreement in January 1994 creating an economic union. Economic cooperation within the region, though, is still hampered by unilateral barriers created by the Kyrgyz Republic's neighbors. The Kyrgyz Republic has been active in furthering regional cooperation, such as joint military exercises with Uzbek and Kazakh troops.
Turkey has sought to capitalize on its cultural and ethnic links to the region and has found the Kyrgyz Republic receptive to cultivating bilateral relations. The Kyrgyz Republic is a member of the OSCE, the CIS, the Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO), the WTO, and the United Nations.
Since December 2001, the Kyrgyz Republic has hosted Manas Air Base, an important logistical hub for the Coalition effort in Afghanistan. On February 19, 2009, in support of an earlier announcement by President Bakiyev, the Kyrgyz parliament voted to close the Manas Air Base.
The U.S. Government provides humanitarian assistance, non-lethal military assistance, and assistance to support economic and political reforms. It also has supported the Kyrgyz Republic's requests for assistance from international organizations.
The United States helped the Kyrgyz Republic accede to the WTO in December 1998. U.S. assistance aids the Kyrgyz Republic in implementing necessary economic, health sector, and educational reforms, and supports economic development and conflict resolution in the Ferghana Valley.
[Also see fact sheet on FY 2008 U.S. Assistance to Kyrgyz Republic.]
Principal U.S. Officials
Deputy Chief of Mission--Lee Litzenberger
Political-Economic Officer--Robert Burgess
Management Officer--Patrick Fenning
USAID Director--Patricia Shapiro
The U.S. Embassy in the Kyrgyz Republic is located at 171 Prospect Mira 720016 Bishkek (tel.: 996-312-55-12-41; fax: 996-312-55-12-64).