Location: Kyrgyzstan is located along the eastern border of the Central Asian region, southeast of Kazakhstan, west of China, east of Uzbekistan, and north of Tajikistan.
Size: The second-smallest of the five Central Asian states, Kyrgyzstan has an area of 198,500 square kilometers, of which 7,100 square kilometers is water.
Land Boundaries: Kyrgyzstan has 1,099 kilometers of border with Uzbekistan, 1,051 kilometers with Kazakhstan, 870 kilometers with Tajikistan, and 858 kilometers with China.
Disputed Territory: Kyrgyzstan has unresolved border disputes with Tajikistan (in the Isfara Valley to the southwest) and with Uzbekistan (on the status of Uzbek enclaves in Kyrgyzstan and elsewhere along the common border).
Length of Coastline: Kyrgyzstan is landlocked.
Principal Rivers: Kyrgyzstan has no navigable rivers. The Chu River arises in the mountains of northern Kyrgyzstan and flows northwest into Kazakhstan. The Naryn River arises in the Tien Shan Mountains of eastern Kyrgyzstan and crosses central Kyrgyzstan before meeting the Kara Darya to form the Syr Darya in the Uzbek part of the Fergana Valley.
Climate: The major climatic influences are the mountains and Kyrgyzstan’s location at the center of the Eurasian land mass, far from any body of water. The resulting continental climate includes winter temperatures averaging –30° C in the mountain valleys and summer temperatures averaging 27° C in the Fergana Valley. The western mountains receive as much as 2,000 millimeters of precipitation per year, but the west bank of the Ysyk-Köl, Kyrgyzstan’s largest lake, receives only 100 millimeters per year.
Natural Resources: Kyrgyzstan’s only mineral resource of economic value is gold. Substantial amounts of antimony and coal are present, but economic factors preclude large-scale exploitation. Kyrgyzstan also has deposits of mercury, tin, tungsten, and uranium oxide. Most of Kyrgyzstan’s terrain is too mountainous to grow crops, but higher-elevation pastures support livestock raising.
Land Use: In 2005 some 6.5 percent of Kyrgyzstan’s land surface was classified as arable, and 0.3 percent was planted to permanent crops. The remainder is mountains, glaciers, and high- altitude steppe that is used for grazing. More than 85 percent of arable land is irrigated.
Environmental Factors: Because it was not designated as a heavy industrial zone in the Soviet system, Kyrgyzstan has avoided the grave environmental problems encountered by the other Central Asian countries. The main problems are inefficient use and pollution of water resources, land degradation, and improper agricultural practices. Gold and uranium mining operations have leached toxic chemicals into soil and water in the eastern half of the country, and salinization is a problem along the eastern stretches of the Naryn River. In the post-Soviet era, increased automobile use has made air pollution a problem in urban centers. Overuse of forest reserves also is an environmental issue. In 2004 an unusually high number of avalanches, floods, and landslides was attributed to the melting of glaciers in the eastern mountains. The Ministry of Ecology and Emergency Situations is the national enforcement agency for environmental policy, which is summarized in the National Environmental Action Plan. However, that plan is heavily subsidized and directed by international donors, and the president’s strong role in environmental policy has politicized some issues.
Time Zones: Kyrgyzstan’s time zone is five hours ahead of Greenwich Mean Time.
The modern Kyrgyz Republic is based on a civilization of nomadic tribes that moved across the northern part of Central Asia, intermixing with other tribes and peoples. The first Kyrgyz state, the Kyrgyz Khanate, existed from the sixth to the thirteenth century and extended at its greatest size from present-day south-central Siberia to present-day eastern Kazakhstan and eastern Kyrgyzstan. That state had trading relations with China, Tibet, and Persia. The khanate’s territory began to shrink in the eleventh century, and by the twelfth century it occupied only regions in the Altay and Sayan mountains. Meanwhile, Kyrgyz tribes moved across Central Asia and mingled with other tribes. Islam was introduced to the Kyrgyz sometime between the ninth and twelfth centuries. In the thirteenth century, all the Kyrgyz groups were conquered by the Mongolian leader Dzhuchi, son of Genghis Khan, and the Kyrgyz remained under oppressive Mongol rule until 1510.
￼After gaining freedom from the Mongols, the Kyrgyz were overrun by the Kalmyks in the seventeenth century, the Manchus in the eighteenth century, and the Uzbeks in the nineteenth century. In 1876, after Kyrgyz forces had fought three unsuccessful wars of liberation against the Uzbek Quqon (Kokand) Khanate, Russia conquered the khanate, and the Kyrgyz became part of the Russian Empire. In the last decades of the nineteenth century, large numbers of Russian and Ukrainian settlers moved into the territory of the Kyrgyz tribes. Oppressive Russian land and taxation policies severely damaged the nomadic culture of the Kyrgyz, resulting in a bloody revolt that began in 1916 and spread to other parts of Central Asia. After the Bolshevik Revolution of 1917, the territory of the Kyrgyz became part of the Soviet Union, first as the Kara–Kyrghyz Autonomous Region (1924), then as the Kyrgyz Autonomous Republic (1926), and finally as the Kyrgyz Republic (1936). During the Soviet era, the Kyrgyz Republic played a specialized, uneventful role as the supplier of agricultural products and specific mineral and military products. Until the 1960s, Russians dominated the republic’s government. Beginning in that decade, the accession of Kyrgyz politicians to high-level positions established the pattern of local patronage that still underlies politics in Kyrgyzstan.
In 1989 the liberalized policies of Communist Party First Secretary Mikhail S. Gorbachev ignited strife between the Kyrgyz and the minority Uzbek population in Osh Province. In the presidential election of 1990, the resulting general democratization movement led to the defeat of Communist Party chief Absamat Masaliyev by physicist Oskar Akayev. In 1991 Akayev, who was the first person without a substantial party résumé to lead a Soviet republic’s government, became the first president of independent Kyrgyzstan. Akayev’s stand in support of Gorbachev at the time of the August 1991 coup and his cautious approach to independence gained international respect for independent Kyrgyzstan. However, in the 1990s entrenched legislative and regional interests frustrated Akayev’s reform agenda to improve the depleted economy. Other problems of the 1990s were a serious “brain drain” of Russian technical experts, a stream of refugees into Kyrgyzstan from the civil war in neighboring Tajikistan, and instances of high- level official corruption.
Beginning in the mid-1990s, Akayev took several steps to increase presidential power vis-à-vis the legislative branch, including questionable referenda and suppression of opposition groups. Before the 2000 presidential election, Feliks Kulov, Akayev’s chief rival for the presidency, was imprisoned. In 2001 Kyrgyzstan offered the United States an air base at Manas Airport in support of Operation Enduring Freedom in Afghanistan, reinforcing relations with the United States but increasing tension with Russia. The arrest of dissident parliamentary deputy Azimbek Beknazarov in 2002 caused large-scale protests, and the harsh suppression of those protests brought about the resignation of the government. In 2003 a referendum, criticized by international monitors, approved Akayev serving his full presidential term (through 2005) in the face of strong demands for his resignation. That same year, the parliament approved lifelong immunity from prosecution for Akayev and his family. In February 2005, international monitors declared the first round of national parliamentary elections to have been unfair. In March the protests that arose in response, which came to be known as the Tulip Revolution, forced Akayev to flee into exile. Akayev resigned the presidency in April.
In a compromise division of power, an interim government was formed with opposition leader Kurmanbek Bakiyev as prime minister (hence, in the absence of a president, also acting￼president), but the already elected parliament took office as scheduled. In a special election, Bakiyev was elected president in July 2005, running on the same ticket as his main political rival, Feliks Kulov. Bakiyev then named Kulov prime minister to achieve unity. Bakiyev was unable to gain parliamentary approval of a full cabinet until December 2005, by which time the Kulov and Bakiyev factions were at odds, and Bakiyev was at odds with the parliament that he inherited. However, each unable to survive without the other, Kulov and Bakiyev continued their alliance amidst constant infighting through 2006. Bakiyev’s inability to end government corruption spurred periodic protests, and no reform measures were passed. Meanwhile, in July 2006 Kyrgyzstan negotiated an increase in the rent paid by the United States to use Manas Airport to a reported US$150 million.
The United States established diplomatic relations with Kyrgyzstan in 1991 following Kyrgyzstan’s independence from the Soviet Union. The two countries have a strong partnership. The United States supports Kyrgyzstan in its development of an inclusive democracy based upon the rule of law and respect for human rights. Kyrgyzstan’s 2011 presidential election marked the first peaceful transfer of presidential power in post-Soviet Central Asia. Kyrgyzstan will host the Transit Center at Manas International Airport, an important logistical hub for the coalition effort in Afghanistan, through July 2014. Significant impediments to Kyrgyzstan’s development include corruption, aging infrastructure, high unemployment, and endemic poverty. Kyrgyzstan, however, benefits from a robust civil society and a relatively free media sector.
Bilateral Economic Relations
Kyrgyzstan exports antimony, mercury, rare-earth metals, and chemical products to the United States. It imports grain, medicine and medical equipment, vegetable oil, paper products, rice, machinery, agricultural equipment, and meat from the United States. U.S. direct investment in Kyrgyzstan is concentrated in the hotel and telecommunications sectors. Kyrgyzstan has signed a bilateral investment treaty with the United States. The treaty on double taxation that was signed by the United States and the Soviet Union remains in effect between the United States and Kyrgyzstan. Kyrgyzstan also signed a trade and investment framework agreement with the United States and other Central Asian countries establishing a regional forum to discuss ways to improve investment climates and expand trade within Central Asia.
Kyrgyzstan’s Membership in International Organizations
Kyrgyzstan and the United States belong to a number of the same international organizations, including the United Nations, Euro-Atlantic Partnership Council, Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe, International Monetary Fund, World Bank, and World Trade Organization. Kyrgyzstan also is a participant in the North Atlantic Treaty Organization’s (NATO) Partnership for Peace program.