Kyrgyzstan is a landlocked country in Central Asia, which gained independence from the Soviet Union on the 31st of August, 1991. In Western countries it is mainly known as the Switzerland of Central Asia because of its mountainous terrain. It is also known as the most progressive and democratic country of the post-Soviet Central Asian nations. 

But how much more do we actually know?

Stone implements are the indicators of early human society in Kyrgyzstan, and these implements suggests that people lived here 200,000 - 300,000 years ago. However, the first written records of the peoples and land that make up the Kyrgyzstan we know today are found in Chinese chronicles dated at around 2000 years B.C.. The first Kyrgyz state – the Kyrgyz Khanate – was formed in the 6th century, but were conquered by the Mongol Empire in 14th century. Since then, Kyrgyzstan’s history has mainly been characterized by foreign invasion and dependence. 

The Kyrgyz used to be nomadic peoples, said to have migrated from Siberia in today's Russia. The Kyrgyz tribes had cattle and lived in mobile homes which are called yurts and can still be seen today in the countryside, especially in the mountainous areas. The Kyrgyz tribes were nomads until the Russian Empire expanded south. In 1876 Kyrgyzstan formally became a part of the Empire, and during the Russian, and later Soviet, rule the idea of a uniform Kyrgyz nation started to form.

Like other nomadic peoples, their culture was almost exclusively oral, which to some extent also has survived to present times expressed in the reciting of the Kyrgyz epic Manas. The epic Manas is the most treasured national heritage of the Kyrgyz people, reflecting their history and all aspects of their lives, such as customs, relationships with their surroundings and nature, and astronomy.

The exact origin and time of creation of the Manas is uncertain, but in the summer of 1995 the current Kyrgyz government, with support from UNESCO, arranged nationwide celebrations of the epic’s 1000th anniversary. Today, it is still recited by manaschiis, previously known as jomokchus, through rhythmic song accompanied only by acting, which has been the way of telling the stories of Manas for centuries.

A majority voted against independence from the Soviet Union, mainly because independence was an uncomfortable thought for a nation which had never really experienced independence before. In the period after independence, Kyrgyzstan had to gain knowledge and capacity in order to create functioning economic systems, reliable infrastructure and a national identity which could unify a diverse mix of ethnicities.

Unfortunately, these and other problems remain today. In 2015, Kyrgyzstan ranked as the 128th out of 168 countries on the Corruption Perception Index, suggesting a very high level of corruption in the public sector. The average life expectancy is 69.1 years, compared to Sweden’s 81.4 years. However, worth noting is that in comparison to its Central Asian post-Soviet neighbors, Kyrgyzstan ranks better than most in both instances mentioned above. Women’s situation in Kyrgyzstan is also generally considered better than its neighboring post-Soviet states, despite it being among the poorer of the five. Since independence, Kyrgyzstan’s strife to construct a unifying identity has in many ways tended towards a worsened situation for women, seeing as tradition and religion have become more central in understanding what is Kyrgyz and what is not.

A desire to find the essence of Kyrgyzstan has come to limit women’s freedoms and claims to rights through ideas of tradition. For example, the forced marriage through abduction of women (ala kachuu) is a widespread phenomenon which, even though criminalized by the state, has happened to approximately 60% of married women in the countryside of Kyrgyzstan today. This in combination with several outbreaks of violence post-independence have affected the security situation of women, rendering it less secure before, during and after those conflicts. Yet, if consulting the global Gender Gap Index, the Kyrgyz republic ranks well in 2014 – 67 out of 142 countries – ahead of Italy (69), the Russian Federation (75) and Czech Republic (96), to mention a few. 

The national flag of the Kyrgyz Republic consists of a sun, with a center which is known as the tunduk. The tunduk is in the mid-ceiling of the yurt and allows the sun to enter the home. It is the cornerstone of the homestead, and can symbolize brevity and valor. Its most important value in relation to the nation and the flag is unifying the forty rays of the sun. These forty rays in turn symbolize the forty clans which is said to have unified into one people – the Kyrgyz.

The word Kyrgyz is said to stem from the Turkic word ‘kirk’ (кырк) which means forty, and ‘yz’ is an old reference to plurality. In this way, the republic’s name can be translated into meaning “the land of forty”, and generally it is common to associate this number to the forty clans mentioned above. While this is not wrong, it does not unveil the entire story about the name of the land of forty, which has been one of the foundations to this project. Kyrgyz people also believe that the word comes from kirkkyz which means forty maidens. Legend has it that after a violent battle there were only 40 young women and girls left to rebuild the nation and to unite the forty clans of Kyrgyzstan. 

Read more: gap-report- 2014/rankings/ gap-report- 2014/economies/#economy=KGZ

Ministry of Social Affairs, Kyrgyzstan (2014). National Review of the 20th year anniversary of the Beijing Declaration and Platform for Action in Kyrgyzstan. [Accessed: 2016-10- 20]
Available at: review-of- the-20th- year-anniversary-of- the-beijing- platform-for- action-in- kyrgyzstan