As guests arrived at the venue they were greeted with samples of Kyrgyz bread puffs offered by Kyrgyz youth wearing traditional clothing. Guests also received complimentary gifts of jewelry boxes shaped in the form of traditional Kyrgyz homes, or yurts, which were handcrafted in leather and wool.
The Kyrgyz American Convention saw an impressive turnout for its inaugural debut. The official delegation from Kyrgyzstan had the opportunity throughout the Convention to connect with 16 U.S. Members of Congress and one U.S. Senator. The Gala Reception saw 3 Members of the the Jogorku Kenesh (Parliament) of the Kyrgyz Republic; one former Minister of the Kyrgyz Republic; Ambassadors from Kyrgyzstan, Kazakhstan and Tajikistan; two former U.S. Ambassadors; diplomatic staff from the Embassies of Kyrgyzstan, Turkey, Azerbaijan, Russia and Afghanistan; several high-ranking representatives from the Departments of State and Commerce, USAID, the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund; representatives of prominent research institutions, businesses and legal firms; and 40 congressional staffers, including over 10 Chiefs of Staff. In addition to the official delegation, over 100 Kyrgyz attended the Convention from various Kyrgyz organizations in Bishkek, Istanbul, Cleveland, Chicago and New York.
Lunch commenced around noon and was keynoted by U.S. Representative Dana Rohrabacher, a veteran Congressman from California who serves as Chairman of the Subcommittee on Europe, Eurasia and Emerging Threats. Congressman Rohrabacher highlighted the amazing potential that Kyrgyzstan holds for the region, as well as for the United States. He also alluded that the U.S. must not forget the enormous debt it owes to Kyrgyzstan throughout the strategic services it has provided the U.S. during the war in Afghanistan. H.E. Muktar Djumaliev, Ambassador of Kyrgyzstan, also addressed the crowd, thanking the organizers of the Convention and expressing his optimism for the future of U.S.-Kyrgyz relations. The Honorable Kanybek Imanaliev, Chairman of the Committee on International Affairs of the Kyrgyz Parliament, echoed these sentiments and extended an invitation for the Second Annual Kyrgyz American Convention to be held in Bishkek next year.
Following the luncheon was the academic and policy component of the Convention—the Forum Session. Organized by the Rethink Institute, a non-governmental think tank, two panel sessions deliberated on the themes of U.S.-Kyrgyz Relations and Investing in Kyrgyzstan. Panelists included 3 members of Kyrgyz Parliament, 1 former Kyrgyz Minister, 1 former U.S. Ambassador, and distinguished officials from the U.S. State Department, the U.S. Department of Commerce, USAID and the IMF. The moderators included a visiting scholar at the Kennan Institute of the Wilson Center and a research fellow at Rethink Institute. The sessions bore fruitful discussions that addressed the impressive overall societal development of Kyrgyzstan, including groundbreaking strides in democratic and parliamentarian reforms, a strengthening civil society and a robust economy. Indeed, Kyrgyzstan is a trailblazer among post-Soviet republics in many respects. Nonetheless, there is still great room for improvement in these same areas, in addition to development in the areas of tourism, resource extraction, trade and foreign investment. Furthermore, the upcoming July 2014 closing of the U.S. transit center at the Manas International Airport and the overall drawdown of the U.S. military presence in Afghanistan has led to much speculation over the future of relations between Kyrgyzstan and the United States.
The highlight of the Convention, the Gala Reception, took place from 6:00pm to 9:00pm. Eleven U.S. Representatives and one Senator attended the Gala and addressed the crowd with special remarks about Kyrgyz-American relations. These distinguished speakers included Senator Joe Donnelly (IN) and Representatives Alan Lowenthal (CA), Matt Salmon (AZ), Mark Takano (CA), Paul Gosar (AZ), Tammy Duckworth (IL), Robin Kelly (IL), Todd Rokita (IN), Mike Turner (OH), Brad Schneider (IL), Mo Brooks (AL) and Leonard Lance (NJ). The emcee for the Convention was Lamija Silajdžić of the Turkic American Alliance.