Kyrgyzstan: A profile
CBC News Online | March 29, 2005
This landlocked former Soviet republic is rich in natural beauty and nomadic traditions but remains a little challenged in the modernization department.
The economy depends on agriculture, despite significant supplies of natural resources, including hydropower, oil and gas, and minerals such as gold. A Canadian company Saskatchewan-based Cameco has invested heavily in gold operations in the country.
Cotton, tobacco, wool, and meat make up the bulk of what's raised on the land. Only tobacco and cotton are exported in any quantity. Industrial exports include gold, mercury, uranium, natural gas and electricity.
Kyrgyzstan is one of the five "Stans" that are, by virtue of their strategic location next to Afghanistan, a key component of the U.S.-led anti-terror coalition. The others are the republics of Kazakhstan, Uzbekistan, Turkmenistan and Tajikistan.
The "Stans" have other things in common, as well. They sit on some of world's largest untapped oil and gas reserves. And since gaining independence after the collapse of the Soviet Union, they have been led by authoritarian, communist-era strongmen.
Kyrgyzstan was annexed by Russia in 1864 and remained under Russian and Soviet control until 1991. It declared independence after the collapse of the Soviet Union.
Hopes were high as Askar Akayev became the newly-independent country's first president. Akayev a physicist and head of the Academy of Sciences during the Soviet era was named president a year before the Soviet Union imploded. At the time, he was seen as a reform-minded Communist perhaps the most liberal leader in former Soviet central Asia.
He was elected to the post in the country's first direct presidential election in 1991 on promises to build a democratic state and modernize the economy. Akayev won re-election in 1995. A year later, a referendum on extending the president's powers was ratified.
While the government began to sell off state-owned companies, economic change was slow to reach the vast majority of people. About half the population lives below the poverty line and per capita annual income sits stubbornly at about $330 US.
Opposition to Akayev's presidency grew, amid allegations of corruption. Still, he won a third term as president in 2000 in an election many international observers concluded was unfair.
» MORE: LEVEL OF UNREST DEEPENED
In 2000, the government became concerned that too many skilled ethnic Russians were leaving the country. The government made Russian one of the country's two official languages equal to Kyrgyz. As well, the Russian minority was promised dual citizenship.
Uzbeks who form a larger minority than the Russians were not offered the same rights. That helped fuel a sense among Uzbeks that the Kyrgyz majority were discriminating against them.
In 2002, the level of unrest deepened, partially over a deal that handed disputed territory to China. The government also cracked down on opposition politicians and closed opposition newspapers. Five protesters were killed in one demonstration. The incident eventually led to the resignation of the government.
Dissatisfaction with Akayev's rule flared up again over the results of parliamentary elections in February 2005. Demonstrators were outraged as the country's ruling party was the overwhelming winner in the vote. Akayev took a huge majority in parliament, including seats for his daughter and son.
Opposition critics accused the government of buying votes, manipulating the media, and disqualifying opposition candidates.
By late March, the protests were a daily occurrence. On the morning of March 24, 2005, what started out as a small, peaceful protest of about 1,000 people on the outskirts of the capital, Bishkek, mushroomed. By the afternoon, about 10,000 people were marching to Akayev's headquarters, where they met little resistance from riot police.
Akayev was already gone. He had fled to Russia about half an hour before the protesters reached the government buildings. From Moscow, he said he was the only legal president of Kyrgyzstan at least until elections are held in June 2005. He'd be prepared to return but only if his safety were guaranteed.
Akayev was the third long-entrenched leader of a post-Soviet state to be ousted in a popular uprising in a year-and-a-half. Presidents of Georgia and Ukraine were also forced out after anti-government demonstrations made it clear they had lost the support of the people.
NASA/MODIS image of Kyrgyzstan taken in December 2003
Government type: Republic|
Area: 198,500 sq. km
Official languages: Kyrgyz, Russian
Population: 5,081,429 (July 2004 est.)
Life expectancy at birth: male: 63.84 years, female: 72.05 years (2004 est.)
GDP (real growth rate): 6.7% (2003 est.)
Population living below poverty line: 50%
Estimated annual income per capita: $330 US
Export partners: UAE 24.7%, Switzerland 20.3%, Russia 16.7%, Kazakhstan 9.8%, Canada 5.3%, China 4% (2003)