Kyrgyzstan - language, government, economy, cities, history, tourism, people, education, religion, agriculture, climate
INTRODUCTION OF KYRGYZSTAN
Kyrgyzstan, officially Kyrgyz Republic (Kyrgyz Kyrgyz Respublikasy), landlocked republic in the eastern part of Central Asia that is bordered on the north by Kazakhstan, on the east by China, on the south by China and Tajikistan, and on the west by Uzbekistan. Bishkek is the capital and largest city.
The Kyrgyz, a Muslim people who speak a Turkic language that is also called Kyrgyz, constitute a majority of the population of Kyrgyzstan. Uzbeks and Russians form the largest ethnic minorities. Kyrgyzstan became part of the Russian Empire in the late 1800s. In 1924 it became an autonomous region of the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics (USSR), and in 1936 its status was upgraded to make it one of the 15 constituent republics of the USSR. Officially known as the Kirgiz Soviet Socialist Republic (SSR), it was also commonly known as Kirgizia. Kyrgyzstan became an independent nation in 1991. In 1993 the country ratified its first post-Soviet constitution.
LAND AND RESOURCES OF KYRGYZSTAN
The total area of Kyrgyzstan is 198,500 sq km (76,640 sq mi). The country is almost completely mountainous. More than half of Kyrgyzstan lies at an elevation higher than 2,500 m (8,200 ft), and only about one-eighth of the country lies lower than 1,500 m (4,900 ft). Glaciers and permanent snowfields cover more than 3 percent of Kyrgyzstan’s total land area. An underlying seismic belt causes frequent earthquakes.
Mountains and Valleys in Kyrgyzstan
Kyrgyzstan is located at the juncture of two great Central Asian mountain systems (the Tian Shan and the Pamirs). These two systems are geologically separated from each other in southern Kyrgyzstan, between the Alai Mountains of the Tian Shan and the Trans-Alai Range (Qatorkŭhi Pasi Oloy) of the Pamirs. The Trans-Alai Range, which is the northernmost part of the Pamirs, forms part of Kyrgyzstan’s southern border with Tajikistan. The main ridge of the Tian Shan extends along Kyrgyzstan’s eastern border with China, on a northeastern axis. Victory Peak (known as Pik Pobedy in Russian and Jenish Chokosu in Kyrgyz) is the highest peak in the Tian Shan system at an elevation of 7,439 m (24,406 ft). Located on the Kyrgyz-China border in northeastern Kyrgyzstan, Victory Peak is also the highest point in Kyrgyzstan and the second highest peak in the former USSR. A series of mountain chains that are part of the Tian Shan system, including the Alatau ranges, spur off into Kyrgyzstan. Most of these ranges run generally east to west, but the Fergana Mountains in the central portion of the country run southeast to northwest. The Fergana Valley in the west and the Chu Valley in the north are among the few significant lowland areas in Kyrgyzstan.
Lakes and Rivers of Kyrgyzstan
The Naryn River, Kyrgyzstan’s largest river, originates in the mountains in the northeast and flows westward through the middle of the country. The Naryn then enters the Fergana Valley and crosses into Uzbekistan, where it joins with another river to form the Syr Darya, one of Central Asia’s principal rivers. The Chu River, in northern Kyrgyzstan, flows northward into southern Kazakhstan. Ysyk-Köl, the largest lake in Kyrgyzstan and one of the largest mountain lakes in the world, is located at an altitude of 1,607 m (5,273 ft) above sea level in the northeastern portion of the country.
Plants and Animals in Kyrgyzstan
Forests occupy 4 percent of the country’s land area. Coniferous trees such as the Tian Shan white spruce grow along lower valleys and on north-facing mountain slopes. Many rare animal species inhabit the woodlands, including the Tian Shan bear, the red wolf, and the snow leopard, which are protected by government decree. Other animals in Kyrgyzstan include deer, mountain goats, and mountain sheep. Kyrgyzstan’s mountain lakes are an annual refuge for thousands of migrating birds, including the mountain goose and other rare species.
Natural Resources of Kyrgyzstan
Kyrgyzstan’s natural resources include significant deposits of gold and other minerals. Also present are deposits of coal, uranium, mercury, antimony, nepheline, bismuth, lead, and zinc. Exploitable but small reserves of oil and natural gas also exist. The country’s fast-flowing rivers provide hydroelectric power. Only 7 percent of the total land area is cultivated.
Climate in Kyrgyzstan
The country’s climate varies by region. The climate is subtropical in the Fergana Valley and temperate in the northern foothill zone. The lower mountain slopes have a dry continental climate, as they receive desert-warmed winds from Kazakhstan and Uzbekistan, whereas the highest mountain elevations have a polar climate. In the valleys, the average daily temperature in July is 28°C (82°F). In January daily averages are as low as -14°C (7°F). Conditions are much colder at high elevations, where in July the average daily temperature is 5°C (41°F) and in January, -28°C (-18°F). Precipitation is from 100 to 500 mm (4 to 20 in) in the valleys and from 180 to 1,000 mm (7 to 40 in) in the mountains.
Environmental Issues in Kyrgyzstan
The environment of Kyrgyzstan suffers from the results of decades of ecological mismanagement. Industrial pollution is a problem in the cities. Water pollution is also a major problem, especially in the south, where waterborne diseases are prevalent. In agricultural areas, excessive irrigation and unrestrained use of agricultural chemicals have severely degraded soil quality. Overgrazing of livestock has also contributed to soil degradation, and a significant portion of Kyrgyzstan’s available grasslands has disappeared. Kyrgyzstan contains many abandoned uranium mines that are a potential threat to the environment.
Severe economic constraints have prevented the government from allocating significant funds for environmental improvements. However, with financial support from the international community, Kyrgyzstan has developed an environmental action plan designed to coordinate efforts to improve the environment. The government has designated 3.6 percent of the country’s land area protected and has ratified international environmental agreements pertaining to biodiversity, desertification, and hazardous wastes.
THE PEOPLE OF KYRGYZSTAN
Kyrgyzstan has a population (2009 estimate) of 5,431,747, giving it an average population density of 28 persons per sq km (74 per sq mi). The population is clustered in two principal areas: the Fergana Valley in the southwest and the Chu Valley in the north. Only 34 percent of the population lives in urban areas. The two largest cities are Bishkek, the capital, located on the Chu River in the far north; and Osh, located in the Fergana Valley.
Ethnic Groups in Kyrgyzstan
Ethnic Kyrgyz make up about 65 percent of the population of Kyrgyzstan. Uzbeks, who live primarily in the Fergana Valley, constitute about 14 percent of the population. Russians, who live principally in Bishkek and other industrial centers, make up about 13 percent of the population. Other ethnic groups include Hui (Chinese Muslims, also known as Dungans), Ukrainians, Uygurs (Uighurs), Tatars, Kazakhs, and Tajiks.
After Kyrgyzstan gained independence, many Russians and some other ethnic minorities chose to leave the country, mainly out of concern that their civil rights were not sufficiently protected in the face of Kyrgyz nationalism. More than 200,000 Russians and 60,000 Germans have emigrated since 1991. As a consequence, the Kyrgyz proportion of the population has increased by more than 10 percent.
Languages in Kyrgyzstan
Kyrgyz has been the official state language of Kyrgyzstan since 1989. At that time only 53 percent of the population was fluent in Kyrgyz, but within ten years 70 percent of the population claimed fluency. Russian remained the language of interethnic communication because of the country’s Russian and Russian-speaking minorities. In 2000 Russian was accorded the status of an official language of the state. Kyrgyzstan was the only former Soviet republic in Central Asia to make this concession to its Russian minority. Like most other Central Asian languages, Kyrgyz is a Turkic language. It was written in the Arabic script until 1928, when the Soviet authorities mandated a switch to a modified Latin (Roman) script. In 1940 a modified version of Cyrillic replaced the Latin script as part of a Soviet drive to increase literacy while simultaneously promoting the script of the Russian language. Cyrillic continues to be widely used, although the government of Kyrgyzstan is committed to the gradual reintroduction of the Latin script.
Religion in Kyrgyzstan
The predominant religion in Kyrgyzstan is Islam. The Kyrgyz and Uzbek populations, along with the country’s other Central Asian groups, are almost all Sunni Muslims of the Hanafi School. The Muslims in the southern regions of Kyrgyzstan are generally more devout than those in the north. The Russian population is traditionally Orthodox Christian. Kyrgyz people practiced ancient rituals of shamanism before their conversion to Islam, which occurred mostly in the 19th century. During most of the Soviet period the officially atheistic Communist regime severely restricted religious practice. The importance of religion has increased substantially since Kyrgyzstan became independent.
Education in Kyrgyzstan
Kyrgyzstan has an adult literacy rate of 99.3 percent. Illiteracy was nearly abolished during the Soviet period, when the government instituted a comprehensive system of free and universal education. Education is compulsory for ten years, or until the age of 15. Institutes of higher education include Kyrgyz State University, the Kyrgyz-Slavonic University, and the Kyrgyz-American University, all located in Bishkek.
Culture of Kyrgyzstan
Oral epics dating from ancient times are an important cultural tradition in Kyrgyzstan and throughout Central Asia. These epos (unwritten narrative epics based on legend) are performed to a melody by minstrels, who the Kyrgyz call akyndar. In Kyrgyzstan the tradition includes an entire series of epos called Manas. The narrative revolves around a heroic archetype called Manas and his battles against hostile hordes in order to carve out a homeland for his people. Akyndar who can recite and improvise from the Manas epos are called manaschi. The oral tradition waned during the Soviet period as literacy increased, but in the mid-1990s the Manas epics were revived. They are venerated as a vital part of the Kyrgyz literary tradition.
In the early 20th century a reformist school of thought spread among the intelligentsia of Central Asia. One member of this movement was Kyrgyz poet, scholar, and nationalist political leader Qasim Tinistan-uulu. Tinistan-uulu was executed in 1934, during Soviet dictator Joseph Stalin’s massive purges of Soviet society. Later in the Soviet period, Kyrgyz writer Chingiz Aitmatov gained international renown, beginning with his collection of short stories entitled Tales of Mountains and Steppes (English translation published in 1969). His other important works include Farewell, Gulsary! (1970), The White Ship (1972), and The Day Lasts More Than a Hundred Years (1980). Aitmatov also cowrote the play The Ascent of Mount Fuji (first produced in Moscow in 1973) with Kazakh playwright Kaltay Muhamedjanov; the play delves into the moral compromises that people had to make under Stalin. Kyrgyz writer Kazat Akmatov used fiction to express criticism of Soviet oppression. Among his works is the novel Years Around the Sun (1992). In the late 1980s both Aitmatov and Akmatov were active in reformist politics; Aitmatov sought to revive interest in the Kyrgyz language, while Akmatov was a prominent figure in the Kyrgyz movement for democratic reforms.
Cultural institutions in Kyrgyzstan are limited mainly to the urban centers. The Kyrgyz State Museum of Fine Art and the State Historical Museum of Kyrgyzstan are both located in Bishkek.
Economy in Kyrgyzstan
The breakdown of established trading relationships following the dissolution of the USSR severely depressed the economy of Kyrgyzstan. Markets for the country’s highly specialized industries disappeared and the high cost of fuel imports—subsidized during the Soviet era—drained the country’s money reserves. By 1995 the gross domestic product (GDP), which measures the total value of goods and services, had fallen to 54 percent of its level in 1990. Beginning in the mid-1990s, however, the economy began to reverse its decline, led by increased agricultural output and a growing private sector. In 2007 the GDP was an estimated $3.74 billion.
Kyrgyzstan is widely seen as one of the leaders among the former Soviet republics in economic reform. In 1992 the government initiated the first in a series of privatization programs to bring about the transition from the centrally planned economy of the Soviet era to a free-market system. The initial step was to transfer the ownership of most housing to its occupants. Industrial privatization began in 1994, and by the end of the 1990s at least 75 percent of enterprises formerly owned by the state were privately owned. In 2000 the government sought to reduce its stakes in its largest assets. The state power company, gas provider, telecommunications company, and national airline were all opened to partial private ownership. Agricultural reform, which proceeded much more slowly, involved breaking up state farms and collectives established during the Soviet period. The transition to private farming has been helped by a constitutional amendment, approved by voters in 1998, legalizing private land ownership for the first time. Previously, farmers could lease land from the government but could not own it outright.
Agriculture of Kyrgyzstan
Agriculture, which in 2007 accounted for 34 percent of GDP, is Kyrgyzstan’s healthiest economic sector. The raising of sheep and cattle remains the dominant agricultural occupation, particularly in the central and eastern mountains. Soviet central planners demanded high meat production from Kyrgyzstan, which forced farm managers to increase herd sizes, resulting in extensive overgrazing. Since independence, the size of herds has been reduced. Vegetables, particularly potatoes and tomatoes, and fruits are grown in the irrigated and intensely cultivated Fergana Valley. Other crops include cotton, tobacco, and sugar beets. Much of Kyrgyzstan’s grain farming takes place in the foothills of the northern mountains.
Manufacturing in Kyrgyzstan
Once based almost exclusively on agriculture, the Kyrgyz economy underwent extensive industrialization during the Soviet period. Raw materials were imported from other parts of the USSR for processing; the resulting products were then exported to other parts of the USSR. In the economic turmoil associated with the breakup of the USSR, industrial production was cut nearly in half as material costs increased and markets for finished goods disappeared. By 2007 industry contributed only 19 percent of GDP. The processing of agricultural goods such as wool, meat, and leather accounts for much of the country’s manufacturing; other manufactured products include textiles, clothing, and shoes. Kyrgyzstan also makes agricultural machinery and refines metal. Most manufacturing plants are concentrated in Bishkek and its environs.
Mining in Kyrgyzstan
Kyrgyzstan has vast mineral resources, including extensive deposits of gold, antimony, and mercury. The country has entered into agreements with foreign companies to assist in developing its gold reserves, estimated to be among the richest in the world. Antimony and mercury refineries are the largest among the former Soviet republics. Coal mining is significant, although production is falling because of aging equipment and increased extraction costs. Unlike neighboring countries, Kyrgyzstan has limited oil and natural gas reserves, although deposits have been found in the Fergana Valley.
Energy in Kyrgyzstan
The Naryn and Chu rivers are used for hydroelectric power, although considerable hydroelectric potential remains undeveloped. Some 86.79 percent of the country’s electricity is generated in hydroelectric facilities. The remaining 13.19 percent comes from thermal plants burning coal. Sales to China, Kazakhstan, and Uzbekistan make electricity Kyrgyzstan’s principal export.
Currency and Trade in Kyrgyzstan
Germany, Uzbekistan, Russia, Kazakhstan, and China are Kyrgyzstan’s chief purchasers of exports. In addition to electricity, leading export items are unprocessed agricultural products, refined metals, and machinery. Leading sources for imports are Russia, Uzbekistan, Kazakhstan, the United States, and China. Major imports include petroleum and gas, machinery, and processed food. Kyrgyzstan joined with Russia, Belarus, and Kazakhstan in forming a customs union in 1996 to reduce or eliminate barriers to trade; Tajikistan subsequently became a member as well. In 2000 these five countries broadened the scope of the customs union by founding the Eurasian Economic Community (EAEC) to coordinate trade policies and promote economic interaction.
In 1993 Kyrgyzstan became the first former Soviet republic in Central Asia to introduce its own currency, the som (37.30 som equal U.S.$1, 2007 average). In 1994 Kyrgyzstan joined a common economic zone established by Kazakhstan and Uzbekistan for the purpose of deepening regional integration. In response to the initiation of market reforms and government efforts to keep inflation low, Kyrgyzstan has received financial assistance from the International Bank for Reconstruction and Development (World Bank) and the International Monetary Fund (IMF). In 1998 Kyrgyzstan became the first former Soviet republic to be admitted as a member in the World Trade Organization (WTO), an international body that promotes and enforces trade laws and regulations.
GOVERNMENT OF KYRGYZSTAN
Kyrgyzstan is a democratic, secular republic. Its first post-Soviet constitution was ratified in 1993 after a great deal of public debate. Major constitutional amendments were approved by referendum in 1994, 1996, 1998, and 2003. A new constitution was ratified in November 2006, and an amended version of that charter was signed into law in January 2007. After the Constitutional Court ruled that the new constitution was invalid, a new draft constitution was approved by referendum in October 2007. Under the constitution, all citizens age 18 and older are eligible to vote.
Executive of Kyrgyzstan
The president of Kyrgyzstan acts as head of state. The president is directly elected for a five-year term and may serve no more than two consecutive terms. The president appoints the prime minister, with the approval of the legislature, to head the government. The political control of the president has been a major source of contention in Kyrgyzstan, as some political groups have sought to curb presidential powers and strengthen those of the legislature. Under the constitution approved in October 2007, the president has the power to dismiss the government and to directly appoint judges and local government administrators.
Legislature of Kyrgyzstan
Kyrgyzstan has a unicameral (single-chamber) legislature, the Jogorku Kenesh (Supreme Council). Under the constitution approved in October 2007, the Jogorku Kenesh comprises 90 members who are elected by proportional representation to serve five-year terms. In a system of proportional representation, members are chosen through central party lists according to a party’s nationwide vote tally. (Under the 2003 constitution members had been directly elected in a single-constituency system, which awarded seats to candidates receiving the most votes in specific districts.)
Judiciary in Kyrgyzstan
The judicial system consists of the Constitutional Court, the Supreme Court, the Higher Court of Arbitration (which decides legal disputes between businesses), and regional and local courts. The Constitutional Court holds supreme authority in constitutional matters and comprises seven judges, in addition to a chairperson and his or her deputies; its judges are appointed to serve for 15 years. The Supreme Court is the country’s highest court in matters of civil, criminal, and administrative justice; its judges are appointed to serve for 10 years.
Local Government of Kyrgyzstan
For purposes of local government, Kyrgyzstan is divided into seven regions and the municipality of Bishkek. Each region is in turn divided into districts. The most important official in each region is the governor, or akim, who is appointed by the president. Each region also has a popularly elected legislature, but these bodies have little political power. Bishkek is administered independently of regional authority, and its local government reports directly to the central government.
Political Parties of Kyrgyzstan
Until 1990 the Kirgiz Communist Party was the only legal party in the republic. It was disbanded in 1991 and then reestablished in 1992 as the Party of Communists of Kyrgyzstan, but by then it had lost its monopoly of power. Kyrgyzstan has since developed a multiparty system. Unlike other republics of Central Asia, where political opposition has been systematically repressed, Kyrgyzstan allowed the participation of opposition parties after it became a sovereign nation in 1991. However, in 1999 the government introduced legislation allowing it to ban political parties that it considered a threat to the country’s stability.
Defense of Kyrgyzstan
Until Kyrgyzstan became independent, its armed forces were part of the Soviet security system. In 1992 Kyrgyzstan began to form a national defense force, and by 2006 it had an army of 12,500 troops. All 18-year-old males must perform military service for a period of 12 to 18 months. Kyrgyzstan has entered collective security alliances with some other former Soviet republics—including Kazakhstan, Tajikistan, and Russia—as well as China to coordinate efforts to improve joint border security.
International Organizations in Kyrgyzstan
Since 1991 Kyrgyzstan has been a member of the Commonwealth of Independent States (CIS), a loose alliance of 12 former Soviet republics. Kyrgyzstan became a full member of the United Nations (UN) in 1992. Also that year, the republic joined the Economic Cooperation Organization (ECO), an organization that promotes economic and cultural cooperation between Islamic states, and the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE; until 1994 named the Conference on Security and Cooperation in Europe). In 1994 Kyrgyzstan became a participant in the Partnership for Peace program of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO), a program that allows for limited military cooperation between NATO and non-NATO states.
HISTORY OF KYRGYZSTAN
The Kyrgyz are believed to have originally inhabited the upper Yenisey River in central Siberia (now part of Russia). By the 9th century they spoke a Turkic language. In the late 16th century the Kyrgyz settled in the area that is now Kyrgyzstan. The region was conquered by the Oirats, a Mongol people, in the late 17th century. In the 19th century it came under the jurisdiction of the Uzbek khanate (state) of Qŭqon (Kokand). The first Russian invasion of the region took place in the mid-19th century. Russian forces conquered the Qŭqon khanate in 1876, thereby incorporating present-day Kyrgyzstan into the Russian Empire. Russia then designated Central Asia the Turkistan Kray (Russian for “territory”) within Russia. In 1916 many Kyrgyz and other Central Asian peoples waged a large-scale revolt against Russian rule. The Russian government responded with force, which compelled many Kyrgyz to seek refuge in China, across the eastern border. The Russian monarchy fell during the Russian Revolution of 1917, and the Bolsheviks (Communists) seized control of the Russian government.
Soviet Period in Kyrgyzstan
During the Russian Civil War (1918-1921), the Bolsheviks sought to reclaim territories in Central Asia and other parts of the former Russian Empire that had split off following the collapse of the monarchy. Despite resistance by the basmachis, an organized movement of armed Islamic and nationalist guerrillas, the Bolsheviks managed to reestablish control over Central Asia. In 1921 the area of present-day Kyrgyzstan became part of the Turkistan Autonomous Soviet Socialist Republic (ASSR) within the Russian Soviet Federated Socialist Republic (RSFSR). The Turkistan ASSR also included present-day Tajikistan, Turkmenistan, Uzbekistan, and part of Kazakhstan. The Bolsheviks founded the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics (USSR) in December 1922. In 1924 the Soviet authorities began to delineate new territories in Central Asia along ethnic lines. That year the area of present-day Kyrgyzstan became the Kara-Kirgiz Autonomous Region (renamed Kirgiz Autonomous Region in 1925), and in 1926 the region was upgraded to an autonomous republic, or ASSR. Ten years later it was again upgraded, this time to the status of a constituent republic of the USSR, and was officially named the Kirgiz Soviet Socialist Republic (SSR). It was commonly known as Kirgizia.
Soviet policies had a drastic impact on the life of the Kyrgyz people. The traditional Kyrgyz way of life, which was based on nomadic livestock-herding, was abolished in the course of land reforms during the 1920s and 1930s. The Soviet government consolidated all arable and grazing lands into large state-owned farms, and by the mid-1930s the majority of Kyrgyz had been forcibly settled to work on these farms. Other Kyrgyz fled to the mountains, and even into China, to escape this fate. The collectivization of agriculture eradicated longstanding Kyrgyz landholding patterns, which were based on family and kinship ties.
Large-scale industrialization was another centerpiece of the Soviet planned economy. Heavy industries and uranium-mining operations were established in the Kirgiz SSR. This was accompanied by a large influx of Russians into the republic’s urban areas, and Russians came to constitute a majority of the population in Frunze (now Bishkek). The Russian language was promoted as the primary language in education, business, and politics. Kyrgyz-language schools were virtually nonexistent in urban areas.
The Soviet regime meanwhile sought to eliminate any opposition to the new order. The Kirgiz Communist Party, a local branch of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union (CPSU), was established as the only legal party in the republic. During Soviet leader Joseph Stalin’s violent purges of the 1930s, many members of the Kyrgyz intelligentsia and any others who expressed dissent were imprisoned or executed. A modest political relaxation occurred after Stalin’s death in 1953, but centralized control from Moscow was by then firmly established.
In 1985 Mikhail Gorbachev became Soviet leader. Gorbachev instituted a program of far-reaching political and economic reforms called glasnost (Russian for “openness”) and perestroika (“restructuring”). Gorbachev’s policies led to demands within the various Soviet republics for greater levels of autonomy. Several unofficial quasi-political groups formed in the Kirgiz SSR in 1989. In 1990 the Soviet government agreed to change the Soviet constitution to allow non-Communist parties to take part in political life. However, the conservative Kirgiz Communist Party leadership opposed this development. In February candidates affiliated with the party ran virtually unopposed in elections to the 350-member Kirgiz Supreme Soviet (legislature), thus securing the party’s control over government in the republic.
Meanwhile, reformist groups rallied around the issue of the republic’s acute housing shortage and challenged the Kyrgyz government to alleviate the problem. In June 1990 disagreement between Uzbeks and Kyrgyz over access to land and housing around the city of Osh, near the Kirgiz-Uzbek border, sparked violent interethnic clashes. The Kyrgyz government imposed a state of emergency, and the border between the Uzbek and Kirgiz republics was closed. The violence continued to escalate, however, and at least 300 people were killed. Order was restored in August, although the state of emergency remained in effect until 1995.
In October 1990 the Kirgiz Supreme Soviet convened to elect a president of the republic. Although the legislature was dominated by the Kirgiz Communist Party, the violence in the Osh region had discredited the party’s candidate, and Askar Akayev, a liberal academic on the reform wing of the republic’s party organization, was elected to the newly created post. Akayev allied himself increasingly with the new political forces emerging in Kirgizia, and he pushed for economic and political reforms that were opposed by many officials in the Kirgiz Communist Party bureaucracy.
In 1991 the Soviet republics began to declare independence. Taking the name Kyrgyzstan, Kirgizia declared its independence in September, shortly after a failed coup attempt by Communist hardliners in Moscow. Among the heads of the 15 Soviet republics, only Askar Akayev in Kirgizia and Boris Yeltsin in Russia openly resisted the coup. In the wake of the coup, the Kirgiz Communist Party was temporarily dissolved (until 1992). Although Communist conservatives continued to dominate the legislature, they did not put forth a candidate in the presidential election in October. Akayev ran unopposed in the direct election and was reelected president. After the USSR collapsed officially in December 1991, Kyrgyzstan joined most of the other former Soviet republics in the newly formed Commonwealth of Independent States (CIS), a loose alliance for political, economic, and military cooperation.
In 1993 Kyrgyzstan adopted its first post-Soviet constitution. Although the constitution created a parliamentary system of government, the president retained considerable authority, including the power to dissolve the legislature and appoint the prime minister. The country’s first legislative elections were scheduled for 1995, thereby allowing the legislature that had been elected in 1990 to complete its term.
Akayev quickly went forward with an intensive program of market-oriented economic reforms, outpacing the reforms implemented in the other Central Asian states. He also championed democratic reforms, allowing political opposition and a free press to develop in the country.
In October 1994 Akayev called a national referendum on a constitutional amendment to make the legislature a bicameral (two-chamber) body, and voters approved the proposal. Elections to the lower house of the legislature, called the Jogorku Kenesh (Supreme Council), were held in February 1995. Although 11 parties won representation, independents (politicians with no party affiliation) claimed the majority of seats.
Also in 1995, Akayev sought to extend the length of his term through a national referendum, but the Jogorku Kenesh resisted this initiative. The legislature’s only concession was to allow an early presidential election, thereby giving other candidates little time to campaign. In December Akayev won a second term amid allegations of widespread voting irregularities. In early 1996 he called a referendum in which voters approved constitutional amendments enhancing his powers. Akayev was subsequently accused of developing an increasingly restrictive regime and of steering Kyrgyzstan from the path of democratic reform.
In the legislative elections of February and March 2000, independents again won a majority of seats. Six parties gained representation in the Jogorku Kenesh, with the most seats going to the Union of Democratic Forces, a newly formed alliance of three pro-Akayev parties. Many opposition politicians were disqualified from running on minor technicalities that were widely viewed as politically motivated. In the presidential election held in October, Akayev was reelected to a third term. Despite a constitutional limit of two terms, the Constitutional Court had authorized Akayev to stand for reelection because his first term began under the constitution of the Soviet period. International observers of both elections reported widespread voting irregularities.
Meanwhile, in the late 1990s militant Muslim groups began to stage armed guerrilla incursions into southern Kyrgyzstan from neighboring Uzbekistan and Tajikistan. The government responded with large-scale military interventions, at times aided by Uzbekistan forces. Like other Central Asian leaders, Akayev viewed Islamic fundamentalism as a potential threat to his country’s political stability. To improve border security in the region, he joined Kyrgyzstan to regional security alliances that include Russia and China. Following terrorist attacks in the United States on September 11, 2001, Kyrgyzstan allowed U.S. forces to use Bishkek’s Manas airport as a base for military operations in Afghanistan. In October 2003 Russian forces were allowed to establish a military base in Kant, near Bishkek, under the auspices of the Commonwealth of Independent States (CIS) Collective Security Treaty Organization.
In 2002 political unrest erupted in southern Kyrgyzstan, long the most economically depressed and politically marginalized region of the country. The arrest of an opposition politician from the region, Azimbek Beknazarov, sparked a series of protests. In March several protesters were killed and more than a dozen were wounded when police fired into a crowd in the southern district of Aksy. In the wake of the incident, additional protests were held demanding that those responsible for the killings be punished. Protesters also called for Akayev’s resignation. Several former regional prosecutors and police officials were subsequently sentenced to prison in connection with the Aksy shootings, but critics charged that senior officials who had authorized the use of force had not been prosecuted.
Faced with continuing demands for his resignation, Akayev called for a nationwide referendum in February 2003 asking voters to decide whether he should serve out the remainder of his term through 2005, as well as to approve or reject a package of amendments to the constitution. The amendments included guaranteeing former presidents immunity from prosecution for actions taken while in office. According to official results, an overwhelming majority of voters supported allowing Akayev to remain in office and approved the proposed amendments. However, local and international observers noted numerous voting irregularities.
The amendments of 2003 reconfigured the Jogorku Kenesh, making it a single-chamber body composed of 75 members, while also changing the system of voting in legislative elections. The system of proportional representation was abolished in favor of a “first-past-the-post” system, which critics charged would disadvantage smaller opposition parties. The changes, scheduled to go into effect with the 2005 legislative elections, were widely viewed as a bid by Akayev to strengthen his position ahead of his term’s expiration later that year.
Akayev Swept From Power
Many opposition candidates were disqualified from running in the 2005 legislative elections for alleged campaign violations, sparking a new wave of protests in southern Kyrgyzstan prior to the February poll. Following an indecisive first round of voting in many districts, runoff elections were held in mid-March. Supporters of Akayev won an overwhelming victory, but both the opposition and election observers from the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) described the vote as seriously flawed.
Akayev became the focal point of continuing protests, as opposition forces demanded his resignation in the wake of the elections. Protests gained momentum in the south, with demonstrators taking over government buildings in Jalal-Abad and Osh, and erupted in Bishkek in the north on March 23. The following day demonstrators stormed government buildings in the capital. Akayev fled the country, taking refuge in Russia. He initially refused to step down, but on April 4 he finally conceded, signing a resignation agreement in Moscow. The newly elected Jogorku Kenesh accepted his resignation on April 11 and scheduled presidential elections for July. Opposition politician Kurmanbek Bakiyev, the main leader of the protests in Bishkek, won the election by a landslide, taking 89 percent of the vote. Election monitors associated with the OSCE said the free and fair election represented tangible progress in establishing democratic standards in Kyrgyzstan.
Constitutional reform was a major rallying point of the protests that ousted Akayev, who had orchestrated many constitutional changes over the years to increase his power at the expense of the legislature. Once in office, however, President Bakiyev resisted implementing the democratic reforms he had promised. Massive protests demanding his resignation erupted in Bishkek in November 2006. Protesters also called for immediate constitutional reform. These demands found support in the Jogorku Kenesh, which was dominated by legislators who had supported Akayev. Faced with a growing political crisis, Bakiyev approved a new constitution in November that limited presidential powers and gave more authority to the legislature. However, in the following weeks amendments were written into the new constitution that returned many key powers to the president. Bakiyev signed the much-amended constitution into law in January 2007.
In September 2007 the Constitutional Court of Kyrgyzstan ruled that the new constitution was invalid because it had never been approved by referendum. The court restored the 2003 constitution. Bakiyev soon unveiled a new draft constitution and announced that voters would be asked to approve it in a referendum. According to the official results of the referendum, held in October 2007, voters gave overwhelming support to the new charter, as well as a new electoral law. However, independent election observers reported numerous violations in the voting. Among other provisions, the new constitution gave the president the power to dismiss the government and to directly appoint judges and local administrators.
Immediately following the referendum, Bakiyev dissolved the Jogorku Kenesh and called for early parliamentary elections. Under the new constitution members of the Jogorku Kenesh would be chosen from central party lists through a system of proportional representation, rather than by direct vote as before. In the elections held in December, Bakiyev’s new political party, Ak Zhol (Bright Path), won an overwhelming majority in the legislature. The opposition Ata Meken (Fatherland) party was denied any seats due to the new electoral law requiring parties to receive more than 5 percent of the national vote as well as a certain number of votes in each region. International monitors described the election as flawed.
In July 2009, Bakiyev was reelected president. His primary challenger, Almazbek Atambayev, withdrew on election day, citing massive voter fraud and calling for new elections. The Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) charged that the election was biased in favor of Bakiyev.