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World Directory of Minorities and Indigenous Peoples - Kyrgyzstan

Publisher Minority Rights Group International
Publication Date May 2011
Cite as Minority Rights Group International, World Directory of Minorities and Indigenous Peoples - Kyrgyzstan, May 2011, available at: [accessed 1 December 2015]
Comments In October 2015, MRG revised its World Directory of Minorities and Indigenous Peoples. For the most part, overview texts were not themselves updated, but the previous 'Current state of minorities and indigenous peoples' rubric was replaced throughout with links to the relevant minority-specific reports, and a 'Resources' section was added. Refworld entries have been updated accordingly.
DisclaimerThis is not a UNHCR publication. UNHCR is not responsible for, nor does it necessarily endorse, its content. Any views expressed are solely those of the author or publisher and do not necessarily reflect those of UNHCR, the United Nations or its Member States.

Last updated: May 2011


The Kyrgyz Republic is a landlocked state in Central Asia bordering Kazakhstan to the north, Uzbekistan to the west, Tajikistan to the south-west and the People's Republic of China to the south-east. Much of the country's southern part is made up of the Tian Shan mountainous region, part of the Himalayan Belt.


Modern day Kyrgyzstan lies on the historic path of the Silk Road. It was therefore a route followed by population groups as well as invaders, which partially explains its population makeup. For much of its history after the 13th century the territory of Kyrgyzstan was under the control of Mongol khanates after Kyrgyz tribes were conquered by the son of Genghis Khan, Juche.

They subsequently regained their freedom in the 16th century, only to be overrun in the next century by the Kalmyks, by the Manchus in the 18th century, and the Uzbeks in the 19th century. It was then to be absorbed by Russia in 1876 - and then the Soviet Union - until it declared independence in August 1991. The last two periods of occupation - by the Russians and Uzbeks - and the geographic proximity of Russia and Uzbekistan are reflected by the presence of these large population groups in modern Kyrgyzstan.

Tensions between the majority Kyrgyz and minority groups erupted before independence. In 1990, minority Uzbeks and Kyrgyz violence broke out in the city of Osh, in the Ferghana valley.. These tensions remain since Kyrgyz nationals have sought to confirm their pre-eminence in the new state, increasingly replacing Russians and asserting their dominance by establishing Kyrgyz as the main language of government.

While Kyrgyzstan's first president, Askar Akayev, was seen as a moderate leader in his first term of office, criticisms emerged in the latter part of the 1990s as he began to show increasingly autocratic tendencies and began cracking down on opposition groups.

The increasing prominence of the Kyrgyz language, (though Russian remains as a 'language of inter-ethnic communication') signaled that the Russian-speaking minority were facing growing obstacles accessing rights, for example to employment, and particularly in the civil service. At the same time, there has been no recognition for the use of Uzbek language, speakers of which have surpassed the Russian minority. Tensions therefore have remained high in the Ferghana valley where Uzbeks are concentrated and there have been demonstrations by Uzbeks against the lack of status of their language and the limitations on their economic and employment opportunities.

As for the Russian minority, the diminishing prestige of their language coupled with limited employment opportunities and a sense that Kyrgyzstan was to be - increasingly - the country of Kyrgyzs led many of them and other Slavs to emigrate: perhaps half of the approximately 916,000 members of the Russian minority left the country between 1991 and 2005.

Parliamentary and presidential elections in the 1990s were seen as flawed, while those in 2000 were deemed by the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) not to have been free and fair. Pressure from the government on independent media and opposition politicians increased. Further elections in 2005 were again - despite some improvements - deemed not to have been free and fair by outside observers. Large demonstrations on 24 March 2005 led to President Akayev fleeing the country and eventually resigning on 4 April 2005 in what is sometimes known as the Tulip Revolution.

Acting President Kurmanbek Bakiyev won the presidential elections of 10 July 2005 with 88.9% of the vote. His popularity, however, declined amid accusations that his administration was unable to tackle Kyrgyzstan's problems of corruption, and concerns over the assassination of a number of parliamentarians. There were large opposition demonstrations in 2006 and April 2007 in the capital Bishkek accusing the president of not fulfilling his electoral promises to transfer some of his powers to Parliament. |In July 2009, Bakiev returned to office, having reportedly gained 85% of the vote in national elections. The elections were widely criticized by international monitors. In April 2010, deadly clashes erupted between police and thousands of protestors demonstrating against corruption and rising prices. The popular revolts ousted Bakiyev from power and an interim government was formed under the leadership of former Foreign Minister Roza Otunbayeva. A new constitution was passed by referendum in late June 2010, which included provisions to enable the country to transition to a parliamentary democracy. Parliamentary elections were held in October 2010. Elections were held on 10 October, with 29 parties participating and five winning seats. Although a coalition government was formed in mid-December, state policy towards interethnic relations remained uncertain. Roza Otunbayeva acts as interim president until Presidential elections are held in October 2011.

The instability which followed the overthrow of President Bakiyev saw a rise in interethnic tension in Chuy province, with anti- government protests escalating into attacks against ethnic Uighur and Dungan businesses. Interethnic violence erupted once again in June 2010 in the south of the country, as clashes took place between ethnic Kyrgyz and Uzbeks in Osh and Jalalabad. At least 418 people died in the violence, with some reports suggesting that casualties could be as high as 2000. Most of the victims were ethnic Uzbeks. Destruction of property overwhelmingly, though not exclusively, targeted ethnic Uzbek areas and Uzbek-owned establishments.


Main languages: Kyrgyz (state language), Russian (official since 2001), Uzbek

Main religions: Sunni Islam, Orthodox Christianity

Minority groups include Uzbeks (14.2%), Russians (10.3%), Dungans (1.1%), Uighurs (1%), as well as groups of Tatars, Kazakhs, Ukrainians, Germans, Tajiks, Koreans, Jews, and North Caucasians (US State Department, 2005).

Ethnic Kyrgyzs now make up almost 70 percent of the population. Slavs - mainly Russians but also some Ukrainians - were until recently the largest minority in Kyrgyzstan. Unlike in other Central Asian states, a significant proportion of Slavs are rural dwellers. Their numbers have however decreased rather dramatically in the last 10 years: some estimates now put their size at less than 9%, with Uzbeks, who represent perhaps as much as 15% of the current population, constituting the country's largest minority. They are concentrated mainly in the Fergana valley in the west of the country. The vast majority of Germans have also emigrated, mainly to Germany. Jews, once numerous in the capital and respected for their contribution to health care, engineering and culture, are another rapidly disappearing group. The vast majority have emigrated to Israel, others to the USA and Germany.


Official policies in Kyrgyzstan have often been described as more 'minority friendly' than some of its neighbours. There are a variety of mechanisms in place for consultations of minority groups, and state support is available for various minority organizations. By granting the Russian language a special status as a 'link language' under the Constitution, authorities seemed to have demonstrated their desire to be inclusive and encourage Russians and other Slavs to remain in the country.

Problematically, the treatment of the Uzbek minority seems somewhat unbalanced when compared to the Russian minority, in that whilst both groups are close to the same size, only Russian has any sort of official status, which benefits Russian-speakers in terms of access to employment and education. There is no status whatsoever in relation to the Uzbek language despite the large number of speakers. Recent legislation has increasingly reduced opportunities for non-Kyrgyz-speakers - and in particular members of the Uzbek minority in the south of the country where they are concentrated - such as 2004 legislation requiring that certain candidates and public services officials must be proficient in Kyrgyz. Though the law is 'pending' until 2015, it has caused considerable consternation and led to calls for it to be dropped altogether. Requests by Uzbek community leaders for Uzbek to be recognized under the new 2010 constitution were not heeded.

Emigration also presents a serious challenge for Kyrgyzstan. It causes a drain of skilled workers, adversely affects the economy and impairs the establishment of stable public institutions which need non-Kyrgyz staff. It can also result in the remaining members of minorities becoming more vulnerable to xenophobia.
Following the ousting of President Bakiyev in April 2010, the interim government held a referendum in June, paving the way for a parliamentary democracy.



Minority based and advocacy organisations


Advocates on behalf of Jews in Russia, Ukraine, the Baltic States & Eurasia (US)
Tel: +1-202-898-2500

Civic Human Rights Protection - Public Association of the Kyrgyz
Tel: +996-3312-220-318

Coalition of NGOs 'For Democracy and Civil Society'
Tel: +996-312-680-972

Foundation for Tolerance International
Tel: +996-312 644360

Jaiyl Regional Committee for Human Rights
Tel: +996-3133-21611

Kyrgyz Committee for Human Rights
Tel: +996-312-66 25 15

Kyrgyzstan Bureau on Human Rights and Rule of Law
Telephone: +996-312-211-874

Public Foundation Human Rights and Democracy Center
Tel: +996-3222-24438

Institute for Regional Studies
Tel +996-312-28-17-71


Center of Multicultural and Multilingual Education
Tel: +996-3222-27219

Jalal-Abad Regional Human Rights Organization 'Spravedlivost' (Justice)
Tel: +33722-5-60-02,5-60-38


Eastern Turkestan Information Centre (Germany)
Tel: +49-179 -966-21-45

International Uyghur Human Rights & Democracy Foundation (IUHRDF), (US)
Tel: +1-202-349-4192

Kyrgyzstan Uyghur Unity (Ittipak) Association
Tel.: +996-312 -228314

Uyghur Human Rights Project (US)
Tel: +1-202-349-1496

Sources and further reading


Akiner, S., Central Asia, London, MRG report, 1997.

Blandy, C.W., Instabilities in Post-Communist Europe: Central Asia, Sandhurst, Conflict Studies Research Centre, January 1994.

Centre of Innovative Education 'Peremena'' Public Foundation:

'Concluding observations of the Human Rights Committee: Kyrgyzstan 24/07/2000', 24 July 2000, Geneva, UN; International Covent on Civil and Political Rights, UN doc.

CCPR/CO/69/KGZ, retrieved 18 January 2007,

'Conclusions of the results of the operational project 'Defining approaches to the raising activism and civic position of ethnic groups in the framework of common development of Kyrgyz Republic'', Soros-Kyrgyz Republic Foundation, Bishkek, 2002.

'Ethnic Minorities',3 December 2003, Stop Violence against Women, retrieved 18 January 2007,

'Ethnic Minorities in Kyrgyzstan: Recent Developments', October 2006, Mission Report by the International Helsinki Federation for Human Rights (IHF) and Memorial, retrieved 18 January 2007,

Human Rights Watch Kyrgyzstan:

Kangas, R., 'The state and civil society in Central Asia: the role of ethnic minorities', International Studies Association Conference paper, Chicago, IL, February 1995.

Kyrgyzstan Human Rights Links:

Multilingual education and mother tongue education for national minorities in Kyrgyzstan
Osh, Kyrgyzstan, 15-16 April 2003, CIMERA Bishkek and the OSCE/HCNM, 2004.

Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe, 'Analysis of the draft Law of the Kyrgyz Republic 'On Freedom of Religion and Religious Organizations'', 30 March 2001, Office for Democratic Institutions and Human Rights, retrieved 18 January 2007,

Patnaik, A., 'Nations, Minorities and States in Central Asia', MAKAIAS, 2003.
Rashid, A., The Resurgence of Central Asia, London, Zed, 1994.

Szajkowski, B., Encyclopaedia of Conflicts, Disputes and Flashpoints in Eastern Europe, Russia and the Successor States, London, Longman, 1993.

Sheehy, A. and Nahaylo, B., The Crimean Tatars, Volga Germans and Meskhetians: Soviet Treatment of Some National Minorities, London, MRG report, 1980.

Transitions Online - Kyrgyzstan: IdLanguage=1&IdPublication=4&tpid=13&ALStart=8


'Ethnic Minorities in the South of Kyrgyzstan', in Multilingual education and mother tongue education for national minorities in Kyrgyzstan, Osh, Kyrgyzstan, 15-16 April 2003, CIMERA Bishkek and the OSCE/HCNM, 2004, retrieved 18 January 2007,

'Ethnic Situation in the Osh District', in Multilingual education and mother tongue education for national minorities in Kyrgyzstan, Osh, Kyrgyzstan, 15-16 April 2003, CIMERA Bishkek and the OSCE/HCNM, 2004, retrieved 18 January 2007,

Eurasianet, 'Uzbeks Cry Foul', 30 January 2006, Transitions Online, retrieved 18 January 2007, l?IdLanguage=1&IdPublication=4&NrIssue=151&NrSection=3&NrArticle=15717&tpid=13&ALStart=8

Khamidov, A., Forging Broken Links: Uzbeks and the State in Kyrgyzstan, 28 September 2006, Institute for Public Policy, retrieved 18 January 2007,

Osmonov, J., Uzbek Community in Kyrgyzstan want Uzbek as Official Language, 14 June 2006, Central Asia - Caucasus Analyst, retrieved 18 January 2007, articleid=4285

Russians and Ukrainians

Commercio, M.E., Exit and voice in the near abroad: The Russian minority in Kyrgyzstan, Kazakhstan, and Latvia, Doctoral Thesis, University of Pennsylvania, 2004.

Kolstoe, P., Russians in the Former Soviet Republics, London, Hurst, 1995.

Laitin, D., Identity in Formation: The Russian-Speaking Populations in the near Abroad, Cornell UP, 1998.

Phibbs, I., A Visit to the Russians in Central Asia, Ross & Perry, 2003.

Shoumikhin, A., 'Russians in Central Asia and the Caucasus: An Uncertain Future', in Perspectives on Central Asia, Volume II, Number 9, December 1997, The Eisenhower Institute, retrieved 18 January 2007, http: //

Ziegler, C., 'Russian Diaspora in Central Asia: Russian Compatriots and Moscow's Foreign Policy', Winter 2006, Demokratizatsiya, retrieved 18 January 2007, 537301/pg_1


East Turkistan Information Center & Bishkek Human Rights Organization, 'Brief Report on the Situation with Human Rights of Uighurs in Kyrgyzstan', 16 February 2002, East Turkistan Information Center, retrieved 18 January 2007, 2002.html

Mukhamedov, R., The Uyghur Minority in Kyrgyzstan, 11 September 2002, Central Asia Caucasus Institute Analyst, retrieved 18 January 2007,

Mukhamedov, R., Uyghurs in Kyrgyzstan under Careful Government Supervision, 28 January 2004, Central Asia Caucasus Analyst, retrieved 18 January 2007, articleid=2108

Tabyshalieva, Anara, 'Researching Ethnic Conflict in Post-Soviet Central Asia', in Researching Violently Divided Societies, Ethical and Methodological Issues, Marie Smyth & Gillian Robinson (Eds), United Nations University Press, 2001.

Tabyshalieva, Anara, 'The Challenge of Regional Cooperation in Central Asia', in Prevention of Ethnic Conflict in the Fergana Valley, United States Institute of Peace. Washington DC. 1999.

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