Kyrgyzstan is one of the 5 Central Asian Republics which declared their independence from the ex-Soviet Union in 1991. It is a landlocked country and is surrounded by Kazakhstan in the north, China in the South and East, Uzbekistan and Tajikistan in the West. Like the other republics, it is situated on the ancient Silk Road which connected China with the West and trade has long been a staple of its economy. Today, it has become a transshipment point for illegal drugs entering Russia and Europe from Asia.
It has a mountainous terrain with both the Tian Shan and the Pamir mountain ranges covering much of the country. The mountains are bisected by numerous deep valleys and are home to many glaciers. Most of the agricultural land lies in northern and eastern plains areas. The land has many lakes and rivers that flow from the ice-capped mountains into the valleys. One of its lakes, Issyk-Kul, in the northern ranges of the Tian Shan Mountains, is the world's second largest alpine lake (Lake Titicaca in Bolivia is the largest) and is 5250 feet above sea level. The highest peak in the mountains, Jengish Chokusu, is 24,400 feet above sea level.
The climate is extremely varied with sub-polar conditions prevailing in the high mountains, temperate climate in the northern valleys and sub tropical conditions in the Southern Fergana valley area. Little of the land is suitable for farming but about half of the land is good for grazing and thus the area was long home to peoples with a nomadic or semi-nomadic lifestyle.
The area has good natural resources but many of them are only just beginning to be exploited. It has good sources of gold and other precious metals, coal, oil and natural gas, mercury, lead and other minerals. The exploitation and delivery of these natural resources has been hampered by the terrain of the country and its undeveloped infrastructure. A gas/oil pipeline exists which runs about 600 mile.s
The main economic mainstays are agriculture and tourism. Livestock is the main agricultural commodity and wool, meat and dairy products are major products. The area has excellent forests and the world's largest walnut forest. In addition, the country raises wheat, sugar beets, cotton, tobacco some vegetables and fruit.
The country suffers from undeveloped communication and transportation systems. While there are about 11,000 miles of paved roads, transportation is difficult because of the mountain ranges bi-secting the country, with their recurrent landslides, floods, and winter weather conditions. It has only 370 miles of railroad track. Modern communication is also lacking with only 200,000 telephones in the country. Kyrgyzstan has no television industry of its own, although it does transmit television programs from Russia and other countries.
The capital of the country is Bishkek, formerly called Frunze. Other major cities are Jalalabad, Karabalta, Karakol and Osh. Most of the Kyrgyz are Sunni Muslims; however, since Islam came late to the area, they tend to be fairly liberal and to combine Islam with traditional shamanistic elements. The second major religion is Russian Orthodox Christianity which is not surprising since the area was annexed by Russia in the middle of the 19th century. The ethnic composition of the country is, as in the other Central Asian republics, a deliberate mixture of groups, put into place by the Russians to prevent union and revolt against their rule. The Kyrgyz themselves make up about 52-53 percent of the population, with Russians next at about 18-20 percent of the population, followed by Uzbeks (14%) and other central Asian and Europeans (Germans in particular) forming small minority groups.