25+ Facts About Kyrgyzstan You Should Know

Kyrgyzstan Facts: Snow capped mountains in Kyrgyzstan

Kyrgyzstan, officially the Kyrgyz Republic is a landlocked country in Central Asia. Kyrgyzstan’s turquoise alpine lakes, towering snowcapped peaks, unique nomadic heritage, and fascinating Silk Road history make it one of the most fascinating countries in the world. Despite this, little is known about this nation to the outside world. Here are some interesting facts about Kyrgyzstan.

Facts about Kyrgyzstan

1. Kyrgyzstan is completely landlocked and shares a land border with four countries. 

Nestled in the heart of Central Asia, Kyrgyzstan is is bordered by Kazakhstan (1,212 km/753 mi) to the north, Uzbekistan (1,314 km/816 mi) to the west, Tajikistan (984 km/611 mi) to the south, and China (1,063 km/661 mi) to the east. 

2. Kyrgyzstan is the third-most mountainous country in the world.

One of the most intriguing Kyrgyzstan facts is that it is the third-most mountainous nation on the planet behind Bhutan and neighboring Tajikistan. According to environmental data from GRID-Arendal, 90.7% of Kyrgyzstan’s terrain is mountainous. 

Furthermore, according to the CIA World Factbook, Kyrgyzstan has an average elevation of 2,988 meters (9,803 ft).

3. The second-largest saline lake in the world is in Kyrgyzstan.

According to the CIA World Factbook, Lake Issyk-Kul, Kyrgyzstan’s largest lake, with a surface area of 6,240 km² (2.410 mi²), is the second-largest saline lake in the world after the Caspian Sea. 

Located at an elevation of 1,607 meters (5,272 ft), Issyk-Kul is also the second-highest mountain lake after Lake Titicaca in South America.

4. The name ‘Kyrgyzstan’ can be literally translated as the “Land of the Forty Tribes.”

According to the CIA World Factbook, the name ‘Kyrgyzstan’ is a combination of the Turkic words “kyrg” (forty) and “-yz” (tribes) with the Persian suffix “-stan” (country) creating the meaning “Land of the Forty Tribes.” 

The name refers to the 40 clans united by the mythic Kyrgyz hero, Manas.

5. Kyrgyzstan is more distant from the ocean than any other nation.

One of the lesser-known facts about Kyrgyzstan is that it tops the list as the country furthest from the ocean. At a minimum of 2,607 kilometers (1,620 miles) from any ocean, it is thus the most land-locked state in the world.

6. Kyrgyzstan was formerly part of the Russian Empire.

Kyrgyzstan was formally incorporated into the Russian Empire in 1876.

7. Kyrgyzstan was part of the Soviet Union (USSR) for nearly seven decades.

Having formerly been a part of the Russian Empire, Kyrgyzstan was subsequently incorporated as one of the constituent republics of the Soviet Union between 1922 and 1991. The country was initially part of the Kirghiz Autonomous Socialist Soviet Republic and from 1936 to 1991 existed as the Kirghiz Soviet Socialist Republic.

8. Kyrgyzstan was the first of the former Soviet republics in Central Asia to declare independence.

Out of the five Central Asian countries that were formerly a part of the Soviet Union (USSR), Kyrgyzstan was the first to break away from the USSR when it declared its independence on 31 August 1991.

9. Islam is the predominant religion in Kyrgyzstan.

During the 8th century, Arab invaders conquered what is now Kyrgyzstan and introduced Islam to the local population. Today, Kyrgyzstan remains a predominately Muslim country with around 90% of its population Sunni Muslim.

10. Bishkek is the capital and largest city of Kyrgyzstan.

Located in the northern part of the country near the border of Kazakhstan, Bishkek is the capital and the largest city of Kyrgyzstan. From 1926 to 1991, Bishkek was known as “Frunze” after the Bolshevik military leader Mikhail Frunze who was born there.

11. Kyrgyzstan was the scene of the “Tulip Revolution” in 2005.

Following the “Rose Revolution” in Georgia and the “Orange Revolution” in Ukraine, two other former republics of the Soviet Union, the “Tulip Revolution” rocked Kyrgyzstan in 2005. For a few days, Kyrgyzstan made headlines in the world press.

The revolution in Kyrgyzstan started in March 2005 as a massive protest on the behalf of Kyrgyz citizens who were fed up with President Askar Akayev’s (who had led Kyrgyzstan since 1990) corrupt, intolerant, and anti-democratic regime. 

The wave of protests, objections ultimately led to the resignation of Askar Akayev on 4 April 2005, and a new government was formed under President Kurmanbek Bakiyev.

12. Kyrgyzstan was the first country in Central Asia to have a female head of state.

Kyrgyz politician Roza Otunbayeva created history by becoming the first female Central Asian head of state when she was sworn in on 3 July 2010 as the President of Kyrgyzstan.

13. Kyrgyzstan has two official languages, Kyrgyz and Russian.

Kyrgyz is a Turkic language that contains many words from Russian and Arabic, as well as Mongol, Persian, and other Turkic languages. Originally written in Turkic runes, it is now written in the Cyrillic script.

Russian is mostly used in everyday business and is the designated language of interethnic communication.

14. The world’s largest area of naturally grown walnuts is in Kyrgyzstan.

According to a report by the World Bank in 2012, Kyrgyzstan is home to the world’s largest natural walnut forests that cover an area of 35,000-47,000 hectares. 

15. Kyrgyzstan has never won a gold medal at the Olympics.

Despite having participated in every Winter Olympics since 1994 and the Summer Olympics since 1996, Kyrgyzstan is yet to win a gold medal. However, it has won 7 medals (3 silver and 4 bronze) in the Summer Games but is yet to win a medal in the Winter Games.

16. Gold is Kyrgyzstan’s leading export.

According to a report by the World Bank in 2021, Kyrgyzstan’s economy is poorly diversified and dependent on export commodities. Gold accounts for 8 percent of Kyrgyzstan’s GDP, 36 percent of exports, and 25 percent of government revenues.

17. The national instrument of Kyrgyzstan is the komuz.

Dating back to the 4th century, the komuz is an ancient fretless string instrument made out of wood (apricot or juniper). It is one of Kyrgyzstan’s best-known national symbols.

18. Kyrgyzstan is home to three Unesco World Heritage Sites.

Kyrgyzstan has three UNESCO World Heritage Sites — two cultural and one natural. The two cultural sites are the Chang’an-Tianshan Corridor of the Silk Road Routes Network and the Sulaiman-Too Sacred Mountain, The Western Tian-Shan Mountains is the only natural UNESCO World Heritage Site in Kyrgyzstan.

19. The national dish of Kyrgyzstan is Beshbarmak.

Widely regarded as the national dish of Kyrgyzstan, Beshbarmak literally means “five fingers” because it is traditionally eaten with one’s hands using all five fingers.

Beshbarmak is composed of horse or mutton meat slow-boiled in a deep broth and served over homemade noodles.

20. Kyrgyzstan created and hosted the first three World Nomad Games.

Harking back to its rich nomadic heritage, Kyrgyzstan created and hosted the first three editions of the World Nomad Games – in 2014, 2016, and 2018 respectively. The World Nomad Games are a biennial event showcasing nomadic sports, lifestyle, and culture. 

Kyrgyzstan has so far dominated the World Nomad Games. The nation comfortably sits at the top of the medal tally having won more than a quarter of all medals awarded.

21. The art of eagle hunting is still practiced in Kyrgyzstan.

One of the more unique Kyrgyzstan facts is that eagle hunting or rather hunting with eagles is still practiced in the country. The tradition of hunting with eagles in Kyrgyzstan is rumored to go back almost 1000 years.

The eagles are trained in a manner that they can hunt foxes, hares, badgers, lynxes, and even wolves.

22. The Epic of Manas, Kyrgyzstan’s national epic is one of the longest epics in the world and is 20 times longer than Homer’s Odyssey.

The Epic of Manas is Kyrgyzstan’s most significant cultural treasure. It is one of the world’s longest epic poems and is 20 times longer than the Greek epic Odyssey.

The Epic of Manas chronicles Manas’s efforts to unite various warring tribes to create a peaceful homeland for his people. The influence of Manas is huge in Kyrgyz culture; statues of him are ubiquitous, streets, a university, and even the country’s main airport are named after him.

The Epic of Manas has even been inscribed by UNESCO on its List of Intangible Cultural Heritage.

23. Kyrgyzstan is one of the most remittance-dependent countries in the world.

Based on a report by the World Bank in 2021, Kyrgyzstan is one the most remittance-dependent countries in the world, based on the percentage of GDP. 30% of its GDP was made up of remittances.

Since gaining independence in 1991, Kyrgyzstan has struggled to forge a strong economy because of conflict and poor governance. This means many workers head to Russia and Kazakhstan and send their money home.

24. Football is the most popular sport in Kyrgyzstan.

Though football (soccer) is the most popular sport in Kyrgyzstan, the Kyrgyz men’s national football team has never qualified for the FIFA World Cup.

25. If the popular word game Scrabble allowed place names (proper nouns are not permitted), Kyrgyzstan would have the second-highest score of all the one-word countries.

This is one of the random bits of trivia about Kyrgyzstan. If Scrabble allowed proper nouns, Kyrgyzstan would be worth 30 points (along with Kazakhstan). Of all the countries made up of just one word, only Mozambique could top it (34).

26. Bride kidnapping is still practiced in Kyrgyzstan.

Kyrgyzstan is one of the world’s hotspots of marriage by abduction. Though bride kidnapping (known as “ala kachuu”) in the country became illegal in 1994, the practice continues today, especially in rural areas. 

The kidnapping is normally worked out in advance, often with the aid of the man’s family. The most common scenario involves a group of young men abducting a young woman off the street, and taking her to the groom’s family home where she is held against her will, subjected to psychological pressure, and sometimes even raped to force her to submit to the marriage. 

Most women who are abducted agree to get married because spending the night in the house of an unknown man amounts to a social stigma that is tough to erase. Fleeing brides also risk further brutality and even death.

27. Capital punishment is outlawed in Kyrgyzstan.

The death penalty was abolished by Kyrgyzstan in 2007.

28. The currency of Kyrgyzstan is the Kyrgyzstani som (KGS).

The som has been used as the currency of Kyrgyzstan since it replaced the Russian Ruble in 1993. A peculiar aspect of the Kyrgyz som is that it uses a 3 som coin denomination.