The Kyrgyz are a Turkic-Mongol people who have traditionally lived in the mountains of Central Asia and who are closely related the Kazakhs. Kyrgyz, Kazakhs and Mongolians have similar facial features, have many similar customs and speak similar languages. Many believe that Kyrgyz and Kazakhs are essentially the same people with Kazakhs residing in the steppes and Kyrgyz living in the mountains.

Kyrgyz technically refers to the Kyrgyz ethnic group although it can also refer to Kyrgyzstan citizens, which are officially called Kyrgyzstanis although this term is not that widely used — at least in the Western press anyway. The word Kyrgyz comes from two old Turkic words: “Kyrg”, which means "40" and “gyz” which means "tribe." Thus Kyrgyz means "40 tribes." According to some translation Kyrgyzstan means “Land of 40 Girls,” a reference to a group of 40 maidens who migrated to Kyrgyzstan from Siberia in ancient times and settled along Lake Issyk-Kul and founded the 40 traditional Kyrgyz clans. To avoid confusion between the Kazakhs and the Cossacks, the Russians used to call the Kazakhs “Kyrgyz.” Kyrgyz were called “Black Kyrgyz.” The Kazakhs and Kyrgyz Republics were created in the 1920s when the Russians decided that Kazakhs and Kyrgyz were different.

Kyrgyz are skilled horsemen and have traditionally been animal herders and nomads. Today most live in permanent settlements. Some stull live a nomadic life, raising sheep, horses, cattle and sometimes yaks and camels. Many move their animals in the summer to high mountain pasture, where they live in yurts.

Kyrgyz are well adapted to living at high elevations. They dominate the high mountain regions of the Tien Sien mountains in Kyrgyzstan and western China, the Pamirs in Tajikistan and the Wakhan in Afghanistan. Some Kyrgyz believe they are related to Japanese. According to one Kyrgyz legend, there was a tribe that lived in Siberia: one group within the tribe that liked fish and the headed east and became the Japanese. Another group that liked meat headed west and became the Kyrgyz.

Noun: Kyrgyzstani(s); adjective: Kyrgyzstani. Ethnic groups: Kyrgyz 70.9 percent, Uzbek 14.3 percent, Russian 7.7 percent, Dungan 1.1 percent, other 5.9 percent (includes Uyghur, Tajik, Turk, Kazakh, Tatar, Ukrainian, Korean, German) (2009 est.). Languages: Kyrgyz (official) 71.4 percent, Uzbek 14.4 percent, Russian (official) 9 percent, other 5.2 percent (2009 est.) Religions: Muslim 75 percent, Russian Orthodox 20 percent, other 5 percent. [Source: CIA World Factbook =]

Origins of the Kyrgyz

The forefathers of the modern Kyrgyz lived on the upper reaches of the Yenisey River in present-day Siberia. The origin of the Kyrgyz is still a matter of some debate. Based on common burial customs, animist traditions and herding practices, it is believed that the Kyrgyz originated in Siberia. Kyrgyz is one of the oldest ethnic names in Asia. It was first recorded in the 2nd century B.C. in the "40 girls" legend of 40 original clan mothers. Some Kyrgyz will tell you that it was their Siberian ancestors crossed the Bering land bridge to become the first native Americans.

The Kyrgyz are believed to have descended from nomadic tribes, the "Yenisey Kyrgyz," from the Yenisey River area in central Siberia. Their homeland is an Ireland-size chunk of land, covered by steppe and mountains, in the upper Yenisey River Basin near present-day Krasnoyarsk, They occupied this region between the 6th and 12th centuries, and are believed to have begun speaking a Turkic language around the 9th century.

The "Yenisey Kyrgyz” created an empire that stretched across Trans-Siberian and Central Asia from Kazakhstan to Lake Baikal from the 6th to the 13th century. They established ties with the Tang Dynasty (A.D. 618-907) in China and were in the 8th century Orkhan inscription. In 840, the Kyrgyz defeated the Uighar tribes and occupied their lands in what is now northwestern Mongolia. The Kyrgyz in turn were driven off these lands by the Khitan the 10th century.

Kyrgyz Ethnic Identity

The Kyrgyz are one of the least Russified of all the groups in Central Asia. This is because they have remained fairly isolated in the mountains and there was little in Kyrgyzstan that was really valuable to the Russians or Soviets. Kyrgyz are of Mongolian, Turkish and mixed Asian origin. Descendants of tribes that originated in Siberia and migrated to what is now Kyrgyzstan between the 10th and 15th centuries, they stayed close to their nomadic roots. Kazakhs and Kyrgyz are close relatives. The Kyrgyz, however, have a longer and more coherent history than the Kazakhs.

The ethnic identity of the Kyrgyz has been strongly linked to their language and to ethnic traditions, both of which have been guarded with particular zeal once independence provided an opportunity to make national policy on these matters. Less formally, the Kyrgyz people have maintained with unusual single-mindedness many elements of social structure and a sense of their common past. The name Kyrgyz derives from the Turkic kyrk plus yz , a combination meaning "forty clans."[Source: Library of Congress, March 1996 *]

The idea of a Kyrgyz nation was fostered under Soviet rule. Kyrgyz traditions, national dress, and art were defined as distinct from their neighbors. Today people will name the Kyrgyz national hat (kalpak), instrument (komuz), sport ( uulak ), house (boz-ui), drink (koumisss), and foods. Stalin then intentionally drew borders inconsistent with the traditional locations of ethnic populations, leaving large numbers of ethnic Uzbeks and Turkmen within Kyrgyzstan's borders. This was supposed to maintain a level of interethnic tension in the area, so that these closely related groups would not rise up against him. [Source:]

The Kyrgyz also have retained a strong sense of cultural tradition. Figures from the 1989 Soviet census show that Kyrgyz males were the least likely of the men of any Soviet nationality to marry outside their people (only 6.1 percent of their marriages were "international") and that Kyrgyz women did so in only 5.8 percent of marriages. Moreover, although the degree of such changes is difficult to measure, Kyrgyz "mixed" marriages seem uncommonly likely to assimilate in the direction of a Kyrgyz identity, with the non-Kyrgyz spouse learning the Kyrgyz language and the children assuming the Kyrgyz nationality. *

Even ordinary citizens are thoroughly familiar with the Kyrgyz oral epic, Manas , a poem of several hundred thousand lines (many versions are recited) telling of the eponymous Kyrgyz hero's struggles against invaders from the east. Many places and things in Kyrgyzstan, including the main airport, bear the name of this ancient hero, the one-thousandth anniversary of whose mythical adventures were cause for great national celebration in 1995. *

Ethnic Groups in Kyrgyzstan

Ethnic groups: Kyrgyz 70.9 percent, Uzbek 14.3 percent, Russian 7.7 percent, Dungan 1.1 percent, other 5.9 percent (includes Uyghur, Tajik, Turk, Kazakh, Tatar, Ukrainian, Korean, German) (2009 est.). [Source: CIA World Factbook =]

According to the 1999 census, the following ethnic groups were present in Kyrgyzstan: 65 percent Kyrgyz, 14 percent Uzbek, 13 percent Russian, 1 percent Dungan (ethnic Chinese Muslim), 1 percent Tatar, 1 percent Uyghur, and 1 percent Ukrainian. Substantial numbers of Tajik refugees entered the country in the 1990s. In the early 2000s, about 15,000 Russians left the country annually. The Uzbek minority is concentrated around the southwestern city of Osh, and the Russian population is concentrated in Bishkek and adjacent Chu Province. [Source: Library of Congress, January 2007]

In 1993 the population of Kyrgyzstan was estimated at 4.46 million, of whom 56.5 percent were ethnic Kyrgyz, 18.8 percent were Russians, 12.9 percent were Uzbeks, 2.1 percent were Ukrainians, and 1.0 percent were Germans. In the late 1980s the population was 52 percent Kyrgyz, 22 percent Russian, 13 percent Uzbek, 3 percent Ukrainian and 2 percent German. The rest of the population was composed of about eighty other nationalities. Of some potential political significance are the Uygurs. That group numbers only about 36,000 in Kyrgyzstan, but about 185,000 live in neighboring Kazakstan. The Uygurs are also the majority population in the Xinjiang Uygur Autonomous Region of China, whose population is about 15 million, located to the northeast of Kyrgyzstan. In November 1992, the Uygurs in Kyrgyzstan attempted to form a party calling for establishment of an independent Uygurstan that also would include the Chinese-controlled Uygur territory. The Ministry of Justice denied the group legal registration. [Source: Library of Congress, March 1996 *]

Kyrgyz are found in sizable numbers in Uzbekistan, Tajikistan, Russia, China, Afghanistan and other parts of theformer Soviet Union as well as Kyrgyzstan.

People of Central Asia

The people of Central Asia are basically divided into two types: the traditional nomads and semi-nomads (Kazakhs, Kyrgyz, Mongols and Turkmen) and the settled people (the Uzbeks and Tajiks). According the DNA studies, Tajiks, Uzbeks and Turkmen have retained their "ethnic purity."

There has traditionally been a lot of intermarriage between the ethnic groups of Central Asia. Uzbeks and Tajiks have traditionally been difficult to distinguish from one another. The same is true with Kyrgyz and Kazakhs. Clan and regional ties have historically been more important than ethnic identity.

Alexandre Bennigsen wrote in 1979 that ‘sub-national and supra-national loyalties remain strong in Central Asia and actively compete with national ones’; however, his thesis that this supra-national identity ought to be based on anti-Russian ‘pan-Turkestanism’ with the Uzbeks as its directing element is difficult to accept, at least as far as Tajikistan is involved.” [Source: “Tajikistan” by Kirill Nourzhanov and Christian Bleuer, Australia National University, 2013 ]

Ethnic Migrations and Tensions in Kyrgyzstan

Between 1989 and 1993, a significant number of non-Kyrgyz citizens left the republic, although no census was taken in the early 1990s to quantify the resulting balances among ethnic groups. A considerable portion of this exodus consisted of Germans repatriating to Germany, more than 8,000 of whom left in 1992 alone. According to reports, more than 30,000 Russians left the Bishkek area in the early 1990s, presumably for destinations outside Kyrgyzstan. In 1992 and 1993, refugees from the civil war in Tajikistan moved into southern Kyrgyzstan. In 1989 about 64,000 Kyrgyz were living in Tajikistan, and about 175,000 were living in Uzbekistan. Reliable estimates of how many of these people subsequently returned to Kyrgyzstan have not been available. [Source: Library of Congress, March 1996 *]

The Fergana Valley, which eastern Kyrgyzstan shares with Central Asian neighbors Uzbekistan and Tajikistan, is one of the most densely populated and agriculturally most heavily exploited regions in Central Asia. As such, it has been the point of bitter contention among the three adjoining states, both before and after the collapse of the Soviet Union. Members of the various ethnic groups who have inhabited the valley for centuries have managed to get along largely because they occupy slightly different economic niches.*

The sedentary Uzbeks and Tajiks traditionally have farmed lower-lying irrigated land while the nomadic Kyrgyz have herded in the mountains. However, the potential for ethnic conflict is ever present. Because the borders of the three countries zigzag without evident regard for the nationality of the people living in the valley, many residents harbor strong irredentist feelings, believing that they should more properly be citizens of a different country. Few Europeans live in the Fergana Valley, but about 552,000 Uzbeks, almost the entire population of that people in Kyrgyzstan, reside there in crowded proximity with about 1.2 million Kyrgyz.

Geographic Divisions in Kyrgyzstan

The population of Kyrgyzstan is divided among three main groups: the indigenous Kyrgyz, the Russians who remained after the end of the Soviet Union, and a large and concentrated Uzbek population. Topography divides the population into two main segments, the north and the south. Each has differing cultural and economic patterns and different predominant ethnic groups. [Source: Library of Congress, March 1996 *]

Because of the country's mountainous terrain, population tends to be concentrated in relatively small areas in the north and south, each of which contains about two million people. About two-thirds of the total population live in the Fergana, Talas, and Chu valleys. As might be expected, imbalances in population distribution lead to extreme contrasts in how people live and work. In the north, the Chu Valley, site of Bishkek, the capital, is the major economic center, producing about 45 percent of the nation's gross national product (GNP). *

The Chu Valley also is where most of the country's Europeans live, mainly because of economic opportunities. The ancestors of today's Russian and German population began to move into the fertile valley to farm at the end of the nineteenth century. There was a subsequent influx of Russians during World War II, when industrial resources and personnel were moved en masse out of European Russia to prevent their capture by the invading Germans. In the era of Soviet First Secretary Leonid I. Brezhnev, a deliberate development policy brought another in-migration. *

Bishkek is slightly more than 50 percent Kyrgyz, and the rest of the valley retains approximately that ethnic ratio. In the mid-1990s, observers expected that balance to change quickly, however, as Europeans continued to move out while rural Kyrgyz moved in, settling in the numerous shantytowns springing up around Bishkek.

Divisions Between North and South in Kyrgyzstan

The direct distance from Bishkek in the far north to Osh in the southwest is slightly more than 300 kilometers, but the mountain road connecting those cities requires a drive of more than ten hours in summer conditions; in winter the high mountain passes are often closed. In the Soviet period, most travel between north and south was by airplane, but fuel shortages that began after independence have greatly limited the number of flights, increasing a tendency toward separation of north and south. [Source: Library of Congress, March 1996 *]

The separation of the north and the south is clearly visible in the cultural mores of the two regions, although both are dominated by ethnic Kyrgyz. Society in the Fergana Valley is much more traditional than in the Chu Valley, and the practice of Islam is more pervasive. The people of the Chu Valley are closely integrated with Kazakstan (Bishkek is but four hours by car from Almaty, the capital of Kazakstan). The people of the south are more oriented, by location and by culture, to Uzbekistan, Iran, Afghanistan, and the other Muslim countries to the south. *

Geographical isolation also has meant that the northern and southern Kyrgyz have developed fairly distinct lifestyles. Those in the north tend to be nomadic herders; those in the south have acquired more of the sedentary agricultural ways of their Uygur, Uzbek, and Tajik neighbors. Both groups came to accept Islam late, but practice in the north tends to be much less influenced by Islamic doctrine and reflects considerable influence from pre-Islamic animist beliefs. The southerners have a more solid basis of religious knowledge and practice. It is they who pushed for a greater religious element in the 1993 constitution. *

Population of Kyrgyzstan

Population: 5,664,939 (July 2015 est.), country comparison to the world: 114. Population pyramid: Dependency ratios: total dependency ratio: 53.2 percent; youth dependency ratio: 46.9 percent; elderly dependency ratio: 6.3 percent; potential support ratio: 15.8 percent (2014 est.) [Source: CIA World Factbook =]

Age structure: 0-14 years: 29.92 percent (male 867,668/female 827,235); 15-24 years: 18.18 percent (male 523,347/female 506,453); 25-54 years: 39.55 percent (male 1,096,430/female 1,144,265); 55-64 years: 7.34 percent (male 180,874/female 234,733); 65 years and over: 5.01 percent (male 108,776/female 175,158) (2015 est.). Median age: total: 25.7 years; male: 24.7 years; female: 26.7 years (2014 est.). =

In 2006 Kyrgyzstan’s population was estimated at 5,213,898. The annual growth rate was 1.32 percent. In the early 2000s, increased emigration of Russians and other minority nationalities with technical expertise has been an important economic issue. In 2005 the net migration rate was −2.5 persons per 1,000 population. The population is concentrated in small areas in the north and southwest in the Chu (north-central), Fergana (southwestern), and Talas (northwestern) valleys. About two-thirds of the population lives in rural areas, and that figure has risen as the predominantly urban Russian population decreases. [Source: Library of Congress, January 2007 **]

Population: In 1994, estimated at 4.46 million; annual growth rate 1.9 percent; 1994 population density 22.6 people per square kilometer.

Population Growth and Fertility in Kyrgyzstan

Population growth rate: 1.11 percent (2015 est.), country comparison to the world: 115. Birth rate: 22.98 births/1,000 population (2015 est.), country comparison to the world: 69. Death rate: 6.65 deaths/1,000 population (2015 est.), country comparison to the world: 141. Net migration rate: -5.22 migrant(s)/1,000 population (2015 est.). [Source: CIA World Factbook =]

Total fertility rate: 2.66 children born/woman (2015 est.), country comparison to the world: 72. Sex ratio: at birth: 1.07 male(s)/female; 0-14 years: 1.05 male(s)/female; 15-24 years: 1.03 male(s)/female; 25-54 years: 0.96 male(s)/femalel 55-64 years: 0.77 male(s)/female; 65 years and over: 0.62 male(s)/female; total population: 0.96 male(s)/female (2015 est.). =

In 2006 some 31 percent of the population was 14 years of age or younger, and 6 percent was 65 years of age or older. The birthrate was 22.8 births per 1,000 population, and the death rate was 7.1 per 1,000 population. Infant mortality was 34.5 deaths per 1,000 live births. Life expectancy for the total population was 68.5 years: 72.7 years for females and 64.5 years for males. The fertility rate was 2.7 births per woman. In 2006 the population’s sex ratio was 0.96 males per female. [Source: Library of Congress, January 2007]

The censuses of 1979 and 1989 indicated annual population growth of a little over 2 percent, with a birth rate of 30.4 per 1,000 in 1989. The estimated birth rate in 1994 was twenty-six per 1,000, the death rate seven per 1,000, with a rate of natural increase of 1.9 percent (see table 2, Appendix). In 1993 average life expectancy was estimated at sixty-two years for males, seventy years for females — the second lowest rate among the former Soviet republics. In 1993 the infant mortality rate was estimated at 47.8 deaths per 1,000 live births. Early marriage and large family size have combined to make Kyrgyzstan's population a relatively young one. In 1989, some 39.5 percent of the population was below working age, and only 10.1 percent was of pension age. The 1989 census indicated that only about 38 percent of the country's population was urbanized.

Birth Control in Kyrgyzstan

Contraceptive prevalence rate: 36.3 percent (2012). In 1989 Kyrgyzstan had the third highest rates of abortion in the Soviet Union after Russia and the Ukraine. About 83 percent of surveyed had at least one abortion. [Source: CIA World Factbook =]

According to the U.S. Department of State: “Couples and individuals have the right to decide the number, spacing, and timing of their children and to have the information and means to do so and the right to attain the highest standard of reproductive health, free from discrimination, coercion, and violence. National health regulations require that family planning counseling and services be readily available through a range of health professionals, including not only obstetricians and gynecologists but also family doctors, paramedics, and nurse-midwives. At the level of primary health care, regulations require that women who request contraceptives receive them regardless of ability to pay. UN Population Fund figures for 2010 indicated that 30 percent of girls and women between the ages of 15 and 49 used various forms of contraception. [Source: “Country Reports on Human Rights Practices for 2014: Kyrgyzstan,” Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights and Labor, U.S. Department of State *]

“National health protocols require that women be offered postpartum care and counseling on methods and services related to family planning. The government offered special programs to meet the needs of vulnerable target groups, such as adolescents, IDPs, new urban migrants, persons in prostitution, and the very poor. In many remote villages; however, reproductive health services were nonexistent. Where services did exist, the rugged terrain, inadequate roads, or lack of transport made it nearly impossible for people to reach them.”

Language in Kyrgyzstan

Languages: Kyrgyz (official) 71.4 percent, Uzbek 14.4 percent, Russian (official) 9 percent, other 5.2 percent (2009 est.). There was an aggressive post-Soviet campaign to make Kyrgyz the official national language in all commercial and government uses by 1997. Russian is still used extensively. The non-Kyrgyz population and most not Kyrgyz speakers are hostile to forcible Kyrgyzification.[Source: CIA World Factbook =]

Kyrgyz and Russian are official languages. Initially after Kyrgyzstan became independent only Kyrgyz was the official language. As part of a campaign to halt the exodus of Russians, Russian was recognized as an official language along with Kyrgyz in 1996. Most Kyrgyz can speak both Kyrgyz and Russian and many speak Russian as there first language. Both languages are taught in schools. Some emphasize Kyrgyz, others Russian. There has traditionally been a large variety of both Russian-language and Kyrgyz-language publications and radio and television broadcasts.

Russian dominates commerce and science. It is also widely spoken in urban areas and often used by members of different ethnic groups to communicate with one another. Russian-language karaoke is popular in the cities. Kyrgyz is spoken widely in the countryside. All during the Soviet era, Kyrgyz in rural areas kept Kyrgyz as their primary language.

Kyrgyz is a Turkic language closely related to Uzbek, Kyrgyz, Turkmen and Turkish. The other main Central Asian language, Tajik, is a Persian language. Kyrgyz shares many words and grammar structures with Turkish. It developed from Chagatai, a language used in the eastern Turkish world. Over time it has incorporated many Persian and some Russian words.

The Cyrillic alphabet is still widely used. A rudimentary grasp of the Cyrillic alphabet is useful. The Roman alphabet has made a comeback on signs and printed matter. After the break up of the Soviet Union Azerbaijan, Turkmenistan, Uzbekistan, Kazakhstan and Kyrgyzstan agreed to adopt the Latin alphabet in order to make trade easier and improve relations among themselves and the outside world.

English is not nearly as widely spoken as it is in Western Europe, and even Russia. More and more people, though, especially young people, are learning it. In the cities and tourist industry you will find some people that speak English. People are also learning German and French.

Kyrgyz Language

The Kyrgyz language belongs to the Northwestern (Kipchak) division of the Turkic Branch of the an Altaic language family. It is closely related to Kazakh, Nogay, Tatar, Kipchak-Uzbek and Karakalpak and should not be confused with Yenisei Kyrgyz.

Mongolian, Kazakh, Manchu, Uigur, Turkish and other Altaic, Tungusic and Turkic languages are Altaic languages in the Ural-Altaic family of languages. Some linguists believe they are related. Other believe they share similarities because of the borrowing of words by traditionally nomadic peoples. Ural-Altaic languages include Finnish, Korean and Hungarian.

The languages of the Kazakhs, Kyrgyz, Mongols and Uyghurs are so similar that they can easily communicate with each other and often eat and party together when they live near one another. These languages are difficult to learn and speak. Travel writer Tim Severin wrote they sound “like two cats coughing and spitting at each other until one finally throws up..” Some of the more guttural sounds sound like someone is having difficulty breathing.

There are different Kyrgyz dialects. The Kyrgyz have traditionally been organized into two major tribes, corresponding with different dialects spoken in the north and south. The language used in the southern oblasts (Osh, Batken and Jalal Abad) are often influenced by Uzbek. In the Northern regions the title often afforded to older men as a sign of respect is “baike” – whereas in the south it would be aka (or ake). [Source:]

History of the Kyrgyz Language

The first reference to the language is recorded in an eighth Century inscription – when the Kyrgyz lived in Northern Central Mongolia. The rise of the Mongol empire caused the Kyrgyz to migrate towards the Tien Shan, (i.e. the present day Kyrgyzstan). In the face of many different invasions Kyrgyz speakers often migrated to other parts of Central Asia and now Kyrgyz speakers can be found in China (mainly in the Xinjiang-Uighur Autonomous region), Western Mongolia, Kazakhstan, Tajikistan and Uzbekistan and even as far afield as in Afghanistan, Turkey and Pakistan. [Source:]

In the period after A.D. 840, the Kyrgyz joined other Turkic groups in an overall Turkification pattern extending across the Tien Shan into the Tarim River basin, east of present-day Kyrgyzstan's border with China. In this process, which lasted for more than two centuries, the Kyrgyz tribes became mixed with other tribes, thoroughly absorbing Turkic cultural and linguistic characteristics. [Source: Library of Congress, March 1996 *]

The forebears of the present-day Kyrgyz are believed to have been either southern Samoyed or Yeniseyan tribes. Those tribes came into contact with Turkic culture after they conquered the Uygurs and settled the Orkhon area, site of the oldest recorded Turkic language, in the ninth century (see Early History). If descended from the Samoyed tribes of Siberia, the Kyrgyz would have spoken a language in the Uralic linguistic subfamily when they arrived in Orkhon; if descended from Yeniseyan tribes, they would have descended from a people of the same name who began to move into the area of present-day Kyrgyzstan from the Yenisey River region of central Siberia in the tenth century, after the Kyrgyz conquest of the Uygurs to the east in the preceding century. Ethnographers dispute the Yeniseyan origin, however, because of the very close cultural and linguistic connections between the Kyrgyz and the Kazaks.

In the period of tsarist administration (1876-1917), the Kazaks and the Kyrgyz both were called Kyrgyz, with what are now the Kyrgyz subdenominated when necessary as Kara-Kyrgyz (black Kyrgyz). Although the Kyrgyz language has more Mongolian and Altaic elements than does Kazak, the modern forms of the two languages are very similar. As they exist today, both are part of the Nogai group of the Kipchak division of the Turkic languages, which belong to the Uralic-Altaic language family.

One important difference between Kyrgyzstan and Kazakstan is that the Kyrgyz people's mastery of their own language is almost universal, whereas the linguistic phase of national identity is not as clear in the much larger area and population of Kazakstan. As in Kazakstan, mastery of the "titular" language among the resident Europeans of Kyrgyzstan is very rare.

Written Kyrgyz Language

Kyrgyz is written in a modified form of Cyrillic which was introduced in 1940. Other modified alphabets were introduced for other Central Asian languages (such as Kazakh and Uzbek) at about the same time. Prior to this, until 1923 an Arabic script was used - as it is still for Uighur across the border in China. Following the standardization of the language, in 1924, a modified form of Arabic was used, but this was replaced in 1924 by the Unified Turkic Latin Alphabet (UTLA).

The modern Kyrgyz language did not have a written form until 1923. Before that time, “Turki,” a written form of Uzbek, was used. In the early 13th century, under Genghis Khan, the Mongols created a vertical script based on the Uyghur script, which was also adopted by many Turkic-speaking peoples and is related to the alphabets of Western Asia. It looks like Arabic written at a slant. The source of the Uyghur alphabets was the alphabet of the Sogdians, a Persian people centered around Samarkand in the A.D. 6th century.

At the turn of the 20th century, after the Kyrgyz had become more Islamic, Kyrgyz was written using the Arabic alphabet. In 1928, the Soviets gave Kyrgyz a standard literary form and introduced the Roman alphabet and then replaced it with Cyrillic script in 1940.

In the years immediately following independence, another change of alphabet was discussed, but the issue does not seem to generate the same passions in Kyrgyzstan that it does in other former Soviet republics.

In China, most Kyrgyz can speak Uyghur, Kazakh or Chinese. There are many borrowed words from the Chinese language. In the 1950s, a new alphabet was then devised, discarding the old Arabic script and adopting a Roman alphabet-based script but it was never widely embraced.

Tensions Over the Uses of the Kyrgyz and Russian Language in Kyrgyzstan

Since claiming independence the Central Asia nations have revived a language long suppressed by the Soviet Union. Although Russian is understood almost everywhere in Kyrgyzstan, and many Russian words have entered the Kyrgyz language, there are places (especially in the rural regions) where Kyrgyz is the definitive mother tongue and Russian is most definitely a second language. Kyrgyz is generally considered to be easier to learn than Russian, with a smaller vocabulary and lack of stress in spoken form. [Source:]

In the post-Soviet era, designation of official languages has been a sensitive issue in Kyrgyzstan. After a government campaign to expand the use of Kyrgyz in the 1990s, in 2001 the legislature designated Russian as the country’s second official language, alongside Kyrgyz. Russian is the primary language of commerce and higher education. [Source: Library of Congress, January 2007 **]

In the early 1990s, the Akayev government pursued an aggressive policy of introducing Kyrgyz as the official language, forcing the remaining European population to use Kyrgyz in most public situations. Public pressure to enforce this change was sufficiently strong that a Russian member of President Akayev's staff created a public scandal in 1992 by threatening to resign to dramatize the pressure for "Kyrgyzification" of the non-native population. A 1992 law called for the conduct of all public business to be converted fully to Kyrgyz by 1997. But in March 1996, Kyrgyzstan's parliament adopted a resolution making Russian an official state language alongside Kyrgyz and marking a reversal of earlier sentiment. Substantial pressure from Russia was a strong factor in this change, which was part of a general rapprochement with Russia urged by Akayev. [Source: Library of Congress, March 1996 *]

Names in Kyrgyzstan

Many Kyrgyz have a first and patronymic name (the father’s name followed by a suffix -ich or –ovich for son of or daughter of, respectively). Some Kyrgyz have Turkish, Arabic and Persian surnames with the addition of a Russian ending such as “ov”, “ev” or “in”. Kumar, for example, is a common Turkish name. In Kazakhstan many people have the last name of Kumarov.

In Kyrgyzstan different words are used to address an unknown person. If you can manage a few words of the local language or Russian, this will be very much appreciated. For a female it is "gospozha"(madam), "zhenshina"(woman), addressing elder Kyrgyz women (mostly in rural areas) say Edje (Older sister), and for a young woman "devushka"(girl) or Chon Kyz if addressing Kyrgyz girl. For a male it is "gospodin"(sir), and it is common to call a young man "paren" (boy) or "molodoi chelovek" (young man). Addressing elder Kyrgyz male say Baike (Older brother). [ ~~]

The words gospozha and gospodin are a very formal way of addressing people and are when you don't know the person very well, you would normally use either the gospozha So-and-So or gospodin So-and-So address or call people by their first name and patronymic ("otchestvo" in Russian). For example, gospozha Ivanova or Elena Petrovna for female and gospodin Niuhalov or Artem Dmitrievich for male. With friends you can use just the first name or even their nick names if have some. ~~

Image Sources:

Text Sources: New York Times, Washington Post, Los Angeles Times, Times of London, Lonely Planet Guides, Library of Congress, U.S. government, Compton’s Encyclopedia, The Guardian, National Geographic, Smithsonian magazine, The New Yorker, Time, Newsweek, Reuters, AP, AFP, Wall Street Journal, The Atlantic Monthly, The Economist, Foreign Policy, Wikipedia, BBC, CNN, and various books, websites and other publications.

Last updated April 2016

This site contains copyrighted material the use of which has not always been authorized by the copyright owner. Such material is made available in an effort to advance understanding of country or topic discussed in the article. This constitutes 'fair use' of any such copyrighted material as provided for in section 107 of the US Copyright Law. In accordance with Title 17 U.S.C. Section 107, the material on this site is distributed without profit. If you wish to use copyrighted material from this site for purposes of your own that go beyond 'fair use', you must obtain permission from the copyright owner. If you are the copyright owner and would like this content removed from, please contact me.