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Kyrgyzstan (10/01)


For the most current version of this Note, see Background Notes A-Z.


Kyrgyz Republic

Area: 199,000 sq. mi.
Cities: Bishkek. Capital--Osh, Djalal-abad, Talas.
Terrain: 80% mountainous, with some desert regions. Elevation extremes--lowest point: Kara Darya 132 m; highest point: Jengish Chokusu (Pik Pobedy) 7,439 m. 15%.

Nationality: Kyrgyzstani.
Population (July 2000 est.): 4,685,230.
Annual growth rate (2000 est.): 1.43.
Ethnic groups: Kyrgyz 52.4%; Russian 18%; Uzbek 12.9%; Ukrainian 2.5%; German 2.4%; other 11.8%.
Religions: Sunni Muslim 75%; Russian Orthodox 20%; other 5%.
Official languages: Kyrgyz, Russian (as of 1996).
Education: Years Compulsory--9. Literacy--97%.
Health (2000 est.): Infant mortality rate--77.08 deaths/1,000 live births. Life expectancy--63.37 years.
Work force (1.7 million): Agriculture and forestry--55%; industry and consumption--15%; services--30%.

Type: Republic.
Independence: August 31, 1991 (from the Soviet Union).
Constitution: May 5, 1993.
Branches: Executive--president, prime minister).
Legislative--Parliament. Judicial--Supreme Court, Constitutional Court, Procurator-General.
Administrative subdivisions: Six oblasts and the municipality of Bishkek.
Political parties and leaders: Agrarian Party (leader NA); Agrarian Party of Kyrgyzstan [A. ALIYEV]; Banner National Revival Party or ASABA [Chaprashty BAZARBAY]; Communist Party of Kyrgyzstan or PKK [Absamat MASALIYEV, chairman]; Democratic Movement of Kyrgyzstan or DDK [Jypar JEKSHEYEV, chairman]; Dignity Party [Feliks KULOV]; Fatherland or Alta Mekel Party [Omurbek TEKEBAYEV]; Justice Party [Chingiz AYTMATOV]; Kyrgyzstan Erkin Party (Democratic Movement of Free Kyrgyzstan) or ErK [Tursunbay Bakir UULU]; Movement for the People's Salvation [Djumgalbek AMAMBAYEV]; Mutual Help Movement or Ashar [Zhumagazy USUPOV]; National Unity Democratic Movement or DDNE [Yury RAZGULYAYEV]; Peasant Party [leader NA]; Republican Popular Party of Kyrgyzstan [J. SHARSHENALIYEV]; Social Democratic Party or PSD [J. IBRAMOV].

Flag: flag of kyrgyzstan

Economy (1998 est.).
GDP: Purchasing power parity--$10.3 billion.
Real growth rate: 3.4%.
Inflation rate: 37%.
GDP (Purchasing power parity): $2,300.
Unemployment rate: 6.0%.
Natural resources: Abundant hydropower; significant deposits of gold and rare earth metals; locally exploitable coal, oil and natural gas; other deposits of nepheilne, mercury, bismuth, lead and zinc.
Agriculture: Products--tobacco, cotton, potatoes, vegetables, grapes, fruits and berries; sheep, goats, cattle, wool.
Industry: Types--small machinery, textiles, food processing, cement, shoes, sawn logs, refrigerators, furniture, electric motors, gold, rare earth metals.
Trade: Exports--$515 million; cotton, wool, meat, tobacco, gold, mercury, uranium, hydropower, machinery, shoes. Partners--Germany 37%, Kazakhstan 17%, Russia 16%, Uzbekistan 8%, China 3%. Imports--$590 million: oil and gas, machinery and equipment, foodstuffs.
Partners--Russia 24%, Uzbekistan 14%, Kazakhstan 9%, Germany 6%, China 5%.
Debt (external): $1.1 billion.

The earliest descendents of the Kyrgyz people, who are believed to be of mixed Mongol, Turkic, and Kypchak descent, probably settled until the 10th century around what is now the Tyva region of the Russian Federation. With the rise of the Mongol Empire in the 13th century, the Kyrgyz migrated south. They did not emerge as a distinct ethnic group until the 15th century. Various Turkic peoples ruled them until 1685, when they came under the control of the Mongol Oirots. Islam is the predominant religion in the region, and most of the Kyrgyz are Sunni Muslims of the Hanafi school.

In the early 19th century, the southern territory of Kyrgyzstan 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 of the Kyrgyz opted to move to the Pamirs and Afghanistan. In addition, 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 1919, and the Kara-Kyrgyz Autonomous Oblast was created within the RFSR (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). On December 5, 1936, the Kyrgyz Soviet Socialist Republic (SSR) was established as a full Union Republic of the USSR.

During the 1920s, Kyrgyzstan developed considerably in cultural, educational, and social life. Literacy was greatly improved, and a standard literary language was introduced. Economic and social development also was notable. Many aspects of the Kyrgyz national culture were retained despite the suppression of nationalist activity under Stalin, and, therefore, tensions with the all-Union authorities were constant.

The early years of glasnost had little effect on the political climate in Kyrgyzstan. 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 the acute housing crisis were permitted to function.

In June 1990, ethnic tensions between Uzbeks and Kyrgyz surfaced in 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.

The early 1990s brought measurable change to Kyrgyzstan. By then, the Kyrgyzstan Democratic Movement (KDM) had developed into a significant political force with support in Parliament. In an upset victory, Askar Akayev, the liberal 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 prerevolutionary name of Bishkek. Kyrgyz replaced Russian as the official language in September 1991. (Kyrgyz is a member of the Southern Turkic group of languages and was written in Arabic until the 20th century. Latin script was introduced and adopted in 1928, and was subsequently replaced by Cyrillic in 1941.) Despite these aesthetic 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 the 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 had collapsed the following week, Akayev and Vice President German Kuznetsov announced their resignations from the Communist Party Soviet Union (CPSU), and the entire bureau and secretariat resigned. This was followed by the Supreme Soviet vote declaring independence from the USSR on August 31, 1991.

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 that same month, he signed the Treaty of the New Economic Community. Finally, on December 21, 1991, Kyrgyzstan joined with the other four Central Asian Republics to formally enter the new Commonwealth.

In the first years of full independence, President Akayev appeared wholeheartedly committed to the reform process. However, despite the backing of major Western donors, including the International Monetary Fund (IMF), Kyrgyzstan had consequential economic difficulties from the outset. These came mainly as a result of the breakup of the Soviet trading bloc, which impeded the Republic's smooth transfer to a free-market economy.

In 1993, allegations of corruption against Akayev's closest political associates blossomed into a major scandal. One of those accused of improprieties was Vice President Feliks Kulov, who resigned for ethical reasons in December. Following Kulov's resignation, 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 (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, that 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.

Kyrgyzstan's independent political parties competed in the 1996 parliamentary elections. A February 1996 referendum--in violation of the Constitution and the law on referendums--amended the Constitution to give President Akayev more power. It also removed the clause that parliamentarians be directly elected by universal suffrage. Although the changes gave the President the power to dissolve Parliament, it also more clearly defined Parliament's powers. Since that time, Parliament has demonstrated real independence from the executive branch.

An October 1998 referendum approved constitutional changes, including increasing the number of deputies in the upper house, reducing the number of deputies in the lower house, rolling back Parliamentary immunity, reforming land tender rules, 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 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 reported favorably on official candidates only and government officials put pressure on independent media outlets that favored the opposition. The Kyrgyz Government is being urged to pursue more free, fair, and transparent elections in the future.

Principal Government Officials
President--Askar Akayev
Prime Minister--Kurmanbek Bakiyev
Minister of Foreign Affairs--Muratbek Imanaliyev
Ambassador to the U.S.--Baktybek Abdrisaev

The Kyrgyz Embassy is located at 1732 Wisconsin Ave., NW, Washington, DC 20007--telephone (202) 338-5141; fax: (202) 338-5139.

The economy of Kyrgyzstan was severely affected by the collapse of the Soviet trading block. 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 an adequate social safety net.

The principal sector of the economy in Kyrgyzstan is agriculture, which contributes about one-third of the GDP and more than one-third of employment. The republic possesses a mountainous terrain, which accommodates livestock rearing, the largest sector within agriculture. The main crops are cotton, hemp, tobacco, vegetables, and fruit. By the early 1990s, the private sector provided between one-third and one-half of some harvests. Wool, leather, and silk also are major products, and much of the industrial sector is devoted to agroprocessing, the most attractive proposition for foreign investors.

The position of the country geographically works to its disadvantage. The region is prone to harsh climatic conditions and is in an earthquake zone. In 1992 there were earthquakes and mudslides, and in 1998 two mudslides also occurred in southern Kyrgyzstan

With respect to Kyrgyzstan's potential for mining and energy extraction, the Republic is rich in mineral resources but has negligible petroleum and natural gas reserves. Among its reserves are substantial deposits of coal, gold, uranium, antimony, and other rare metals. The main barrier to development has been the inaccessibility of many of the potential resources. The government has actively cultivated foreign cooperation in processing and extracting gold while building up the nation's own reserves in the process. OPIC has recently been involved in the establishment of two joint ventures in Kyrgyzstan with Western gold companies.

Kyrgyzstan's plentiful water resources and mountainous terrain have enabled it to export hydroelectric energy. However, Kyrgyzstan imports petroleum and gas. There are plans to construct a petroleum refinery in Kyrgyzstan. The metallurgy industry is among the most important in Kyrgyzstan, and the government is hopeful of attracting foreign investment in the field.

Kyrgyzstan's principle exports, which go overwhelmingly to other CIS countries, are nonferrous metals and minerals, woolen goods and other agricultural products, electric energy, and certain engineering goods. In turn, the Republic relies on other former Soviet states for petroleum and natural gas, ferrous metals, chemicals, most machinery, wood and paper products, some foods, and most construction materials. In 1999, Kyrgyz exports to the U.S. totaled $11.2 million, and imports from the U.S. totaled $54.2 million. Kyrgyzstan exports antimony, mercury, rare-earth metals, and other chemical products to the U.S., and it imports grain, medicine and medical equipment, vegetable oil, paper products, rice, machinery, agricultural equipment, and meat from the U.S.

The Kyrgyzstan Government has reduced expenditures, ended most price subsidies, and introduced a value added tax. Overall, the government appears committed to transferring to a free market economic system by stabilizing the economy and implementing reforms, which will encourage long-term growth. These reforms have led to Kyrgyzstan's accession to the WTO on December 20, 1998.

Kyrgyzstan favors close relations with other CIS members, in particular with Kazakhstan and Russia. Recognizing Russia's concerns about the Russian-speaking minority in Kyrgyzstan, President Akayev has been sensitive to potential perceptions of discrimination. For example, although the 1993 Constitution designates Kyrgyz as the official language, a June 1994 presidential decree stipulated that Russian will have official status alongside Kyrgyz in regions and at enterprises where Russian speakers constitute a majority, as well as in sectors--health, technical science--where the use of Russian is appropriate.

While Kyrgyzstan was initially determined to stay in the ruble zone, the stringent conditions set forth by the Russian Government prompted Kyrgyzstan to introduce its own currency, the som, in May 1993. Kyrgyzstan's 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 Kyrgyzstan was short-lived, and the three nations signed an agreement in January 1994 creating an economic union. This led to the relaxation of border restrictions between the nations the following month. Kyrgyzstan also has contributed to the CIS peacekeeping forces in Tajikistan.

Turkey has sought to capitalize on its cultural and ethnic links to the region and has found Kyrgyzstan receptive to cultivating bilateral relations. The Kyrgyz Republic also has experienced a dramatic increase in trade with China, its southern neighbor. Kyrgyzstan has been active in furthering regional cooperation, such as joint military exercises with Uzbek and Kazakh troops.

In January 1999, a new OSCE office opened in Bishkek; on February 18, 2000 the OSCE announced that an additional office will be opened in Osh to assist Bishkek in carrying out its work. Kyrgyzstan is a member of the OSCE, the CIS, and the United Nations.

Kyrgyzstan favors close relations with the United States and would like to deepen bilateral relations. Kyrgyzstan has advanced quickly in the area of democratic reform; however, recent setbacks in democratization have caused serious concern IIN the United States and make it difficult to expand relations to areas outside of security and the economy. The United States is disturbed by the deregistration of political parties, the pursuit of criminal charges, and the arrests of political figures by the Kyrgyz Government in order to pressure opposition. Because of the threat posed by insurgents and their ties to foreign terrorist organizations, security remains a top concern of the United States. The U.S. Government provides humanitarian assistance, nonlethal military assistance, and assistance to support economic and political reforms. It also has supported Kyrgyzstan's requests for assistance from international organizations.

The United States helped Kyrgyzstan accede to the WTO in December 1998, and U.S. assistance has aided Kyrgyzstan to implement necessary economic reforms, support the Ferghana Valley, and fund important health programs.

Principal U.S. Officials (Bishkek)
Ambassador--John O'Keefe
Deputy Chief of Mission--Deborah Klepp
Political-Economic Officer--Peter Eckstrom
Administrative Officer--Patricia Miller
USAID Director--Tracy Atwood

The U.S. Embassy is located at 171 Prospekt Mira 720016 Bishkek, Kyrgyz Republic 996-312-55-12-41 (phone); 996-312-55-12-64 (fax)

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