Reaching the Nations

Kyrgyzstan

By David Stewart and Matt Martinich

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KyrgyzstanGeography

Area: 199,951 square km.  Landlocked in Central Asia, Kyrgyzstan borders China, Tajikistan, Uzbekistan, and Kazakhstan.  Several enclaves from Uzbekistan and Tajikistan dot the extreme southwest.  Terrain consists of the high peaks and valleys of the Tien Shan Mountains.  Lake Issyk-Kul in the northeast is the second largest mountain lake in the world.  Large rivers exit to Uzbekistan the west.  High elevations experience cold, snowy climate and low elevation areas are subject to temperate or subtropical climates.  Environmental issues include water pollution and increasing soil salinity.  Kyrgyzstan is administratively divided into seven provinces and one city.

 

Population: 5,431,747 (July 2009)       

Annual Growth Rate: 1.396% (2009)

Fertility Rate: 2.65 children born per woman (2009)    

Life Expectancy: 65.43 male, 73.64 female

 

Peoples

Kyrgyz: 64.9%

Uzbek: 13.8%

Russian: 12.5%

Dungan: 1.1%

Ukrainian: 1%

Uyghur: 1%

Other: 8.2%

 

Like many Central Asian former Soviet Republics, Kyrgyzstan is a patchwork of differing ethnic groups.  Turkic groups include Kyrgyz, Uzbek, and Uyghur.  Russians and Ukrainians come from Eastern Europe.  Dungan are Chinese peoples who adhere to Islam. 

 

Languages: Kyrgyz (64.7%), Uzbek (13.6%), Russian (12.5%), Dungun (1%), other (8.2%).  Kyrgyz and Russian are the official languages.  Only Kyrgyz has over one million speakers (3.5 million). 

Literacy: 98.7% (1999)

 

History

The Kyrgyz are a Turkic people who have lived in Central Asia for over two thousand years, with evidence of statehood dating back to the third century BC.  The Kyrgyz were originally nomadic raiders living in the Altai and Yenesei regions of Siberia near the northwestern borders of China. With the defeat of the Uyghur Khanate in 840 AD, Kyrgyz hegemony expanded south to the Tien Shan mountain range.  The Kyrgyz were most influential around 1000 AD.  In the twenth century, Mongol raids progressively reduced Kyrgyz territory to the region between the Altai and Sayan mountains.  In the twelth and early thirteenth century, the Kyrgyz tribes migrated south to their current location in Kyrgyzstan, displacing or assimilating indigenous tribes before being conquered by Genghis Khan in 1207 AD.  Early Chinese and Muslim records dating from the 7th and 12th century AD describe the Kyrgyz of that time as having red hair, blue eyes, and light skin.[1] Modern Kyrgyz have primarily Mongoloid features, reflecting the genetic legacy of the Mongol conquest as well as centuries of intermixing with other Central Asian peoples.

 

For the following centuries Kyrgyzstan was ruled by many surrounding nations.  Kyrgyzstan was ruled by the Khanate of Kokand for most of the 18th and 19th centuries.  Russia took control of most present-day Kyrgyzstan by 1876.  Approximately one-sixth of the population perished in a rebellion in 1916.  Kyrgyzstan became a Soviet Republic by 1936 and achieved independence in 1991.  Kyrgyzstan is regarded as one of the more free and Western-leaning of the Central Asian former Soviet republics.  However, political instability and corruption have been major issues which have not been fully resolved since independence, contributing to popular uprisings and regime change in 2005 and again in 2010.   The Tulip Revolution in spring 2005 removed President Askar Akaev, who had served as president since independence, and provided hope for a more democratic government.  However since 2005, corruption has continued to worsen and political instability and ethnic hostilities have been exacerbated.  The April 2010 riots throughout the country overthrew the government of President Kurmanbek Bakiev and installed a provisional government.  Land reform and energy prices are additional issues which have further destabilized the country.

 

Since Kyrgyz independence, there has been a gradual exodus of Russians from Kyrgyzstan.  18.8% of the population was Russian in 1993; reliable present figures are not available but the percentage of Russians is believed to be under 10%.

 

Culture 

The Kyrgyz take pride in their nation’s historical legacy as nomadic herders.  Decades of former Soviet rule have heavily influenced architecture and attitudes toward religion.  There are some distinctions between northern and southern areas involving living conditions, culture, etiquette, and food.  Southern areas are seen as more traditional and conservative. Agriculture is dominant in the south whereas herding is most prominent in the north. The Kyrgyz language was not written until the 20th century and consequently oral tradition influences modern culture.  Family roles are traditional.  Alcohol consumption rates are lower than many nations and comparable to Kazakhstan.  Cigarette consumption rates are similar to the United States. 

 

Economy

GDP per capita: $2,100 (2009) [4.53% of US]

Human Development Index: 0.710

Corruption Index: 1.9

One of the poorest former Soviet Republics, Kyrgyzstan has an agriculturally-based economy that primarily produces cotton, tobacco, wool, and meat.  Agriculture produces 31% of the GDP and employs 48% of the workforce and services produce 53% of the GDP and employ 40% of the workforce.  Growth in the economy is largely dependent on gold prices and gold mine productivity.  However little has been done to extract the abundant precious metals and develop hydropower potential.  40% of the population lives below the poverty line and 18% of Kyrgyz were unemployed in 2004.  Primary trade partners include Russia, Switzerland, China, and neighboring Central Asian nations.   

 

Corruption is a major factor which has limited economic growth and deterred foreign investment.  Accusations of corruption have strong influenced political instability in the 2000s and were at the forefront of riots in April 2010. 

 

Faiths

Muslim: 75%

Christian: 20%

Other: 5%

 

Christians

Denominations  Members  Congregations

Russian Orthodox  600,000

Jehovah’s Witnesses  4,749  61

Seventh-Day Adventists  1,061  18

Catholic  500  3

Latter-Day Saints  less than 100

 

Religion

Religious affiliation usually coincides with ethnicity.  Islam is the dominant religion and the primary religion of Turkic peoples.  Most Christians are Russian Orthdox and Russian or Ukrainian.  Participation in religious practices is low to modest for most the population, with southern areas experiencing the highest levels of religious activity.  Many non-traditional Christian groups have arrived in the past two decades and are registered with the government.[2]     

 

Islam is the primary religious influence. Although some Islamic influences date back as early as the 8th century, more widespread conversions occurred only in the 17th century. Kyrgyz Islam is not as deeply ingrained or as fundamentalist as in many other Muslim nations, although that has begun to change in recent years.

 

During the 1990s, Kyrgyzstan experienced the most rapid and dynamic Christian growth of any Central Asian or Turkic nation.  In the mid-2000s, a resurgent Islamist backlash and cultural pressures led to progressive declines in receptivity to Christian proselytism and to significant attrition among Christians.  Well-funded Islamic groups from the United Arab Emirates, Saudi Arabia, Turkey, and other Muslim nations bankrolled the construction of mosques across the country, hired unemployed young Kyrgyz men to serve as Islamic preachers, missionaries, and mosque builders, and introduced strict interpretations of Islam such as the Wahabbi sect.  Kyrgyz Islam, which was previously fairly superficial outside of the Ferghana Valley, is hardening into a more fundamentalist faith as a result.

 

A 2009 analysis by the U.S. Embassy in Kyrgyzstan reported that registered religious communities included 49 Jehovah's Witness, 49 Pentecostal, 43 Charismatic, 35 Presbyterian, 48 Baptist, 30 Seventh-Day Adventist, 21 Lutheran, and 3 Catholic congregations.[3]  There are over 50,000 Protestants, nearly 5,000 active Jehovah's Witnesses and over 1,000 Seventh-day Adventists in many congregations.  The Protestant Church of Jesus Christ claims over 11,000 members and is the country's largest denomination.  Since 1996, over 1,200 foreign citizens have been registered as missionaries in Kyrgyzstan, but not a single LDS missionary has served in the country.

 

Religious Freedom

Persecution Index: 83rd

The constitution ostensibly protects religious freedom and forbids religious discrimination, although recent changes have eroded these protections.  The government does not sponsor any religious groups but recognizes Islam and Russian Orthodoxy as traditional religions.  Some laws and practices restrict religious freedom.  A religion law came into effect in 2009 limiting religious activities, including switching religious affiliation and barring children and youth from involvement in religious organizations.  To register with the government, religious groups need at least 200 Kyrgyz adult citizen members.  Prior to the passage of the new legislation, only 10 adult citizen members were required for registration.  Foreign missionaries may operate with restrictions and must register with the government annually.  Missionaries often report delays obtaining visas.[4]

 

Largest Cities

Urban: 36%

Bishkek, Osh, Jalal-Abad, Karakol, Tokmok, Kara-Balta, Özgön, Talas, Kyzyl-Kiya, Bazar-Kurgan.

No cities in Kyrgyzstan have an LDS congregation.  28% of the national population lives in the 22 largest cities. 

 

LDS History

In 2000, Kyrgyzstan became part of the Europe East Area.  In 2002, half a dozen members serving in the United States military stationed in Kyrgyzstan held meetings in a tent used for religious services on a US military base.[5]  Elder Russell M. Nelson visited in August 2003, met with government leaders and dedicated the country.[6]  The Church attempted to register with the government in the 2004 but was still unregistered at the end of 2009.[7] 

 

Membership Growth

LDS Membership: less than 100 (2009)

LDS members in the US military have lived in Kyrgyzstan for nearly a decade.

 

The only native members are Kyrgyz baptized in Kazakhstan or Russia who have returned to Kyrgyzstan. As of late 2009, there were fewer than ten known LDS Kyrgyz members living in Bishkek.

 

Congregational Growth

A small group for US military and foreign members meets in Bishkek. However, this group is not accessible to native Kyrgyz.  No proselytism occurs.  

 

Activity and Retention

No missionary activity has occurred.  Kyrgyz members baptized abroad who have returned to Bishkek are unable to hold meetings or proselytize.

 

Language Materials

Languages with LDS Scripture: Russian

All LDS scriptures and many church materials are available in Russian.  The Kazakh language is mutually intelligible with Kyrgyz; Kazakh LDS materials are limited to the Sacrament Prayers, a basic unit guidebook, the Articles of Faith, and hymns and children’s songs. 

 

Meetinghouses

Church meetings are held on the US military base.  No home meetings occur.

 

Humanitarian and Development Work

In November 2008, the Church donated 250 new wheelchairs to the disabled in Osh and Batken.

 

Future Prospects

After missing the initial window of opportunity in the 1990s, there are currently no realistic prospects for the LDS Church to enter Kyrgyzstan.  The reason for the non-approval of the Church's 2004 application is unclear, but may be related to the possible lack of the ten adult citizen members apparently required at the time.  The current requirement of 200 adult citizen members for a religious organization to be registered poses a virtually insurmountable barrier, as no proselytism may occur without registration and there are very few Kyrgyz living in cities of Russia or Kazakhstan with LDS congregations who could conceivably join the church there and return to their homeland.

 

The LDS Church is respectful toward other faiths, Christian and Islam alike, and has a great deal to offer the people of Kyrgyzstan.  Beyond the many spiritual benefits of gospel teachings, The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints also teaches the importance of strengthening the family, respecting for culture and heritage, and avoiding harmful substances like alcohol and tobacco that have resulted in substantial morbidity in Kyrgyzstan. Latter-day Saints are loyal and patriotic citizens who support their nations, obey the law of the land, and pursue education and skills to build up their native lands.  Pray that the leaders of Kyrgyzstan may be blessed with wisdom to understand the many lasting benefits and blessings that their nation and people would experience from having The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints among them.

 



[1] http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Kyrgyzstan, accessed 17 May 2010

[2]  “Kyrgyz Republic,” International Religious Freedom Report 2009, 26 October 2009.  http://www.state.gov/g/drl/rls/irf/2009/127367.htm

[3] http://bishkek.usembassy.gov/uploads/images/qmR4HIg4Aunwg4bnNBClyA/Kyrgyzstan_IRFR09.pdf .  Accessed 17 May 2010.

[4] “Kyrgyz Republic,” International Religious Freedom Report 2009, 26 October 2009.  http://www.state.gov/g/drl/rls/irf/2009/127367.htm

[5]  Swensen, Jason.  “Fellowship in a far-off land,” LDS Church News, 10 August 2002.  http://www.ldschurchnews.com/articles/42253/Fellowship-in-a-far-off-land.html

[6]  “Elder Nelson Dedicates Kazakhstan, Kyrgyz Republic,” Ensign, Nov. 2003, 124–25

[7] http://bishkek.usembassy.gov/uploads/images/qmR4HIg4Aunwg4bnNBClyA/Kyrgyzstan_IRFR09.pdf .  Accessed 17 May 2010.