History and Government

History : The Kyrgyz are descended from nomadic tribes who emigrated from northern Mongolia in the tenth century to the region around Lake Baikal in what is now known as Kyrgyzstan. They subsequently came under Mongol, then Chinese suzerainty - although they were afforded considerable autonomy by the standards of the age - before being incorporated into the Russian Empire at the end of the 19th century. In 1916 there was a revolt against Russian attempts to conscript the Kyrgyz to fight in World War I. The rebellion was ruthlessly suppressed, a reaction that explains why the Bolsheviks were welcomed in 1917-1918. Initially, Kyrgyzstan was included in the Russian Federation before gaining, at least in theory, greater independence - first as an autonomous region, and finally becoming the Kyrgyz Soviet Socialist Republic in 1934. The collectivization programme of Stalin destroyed much of the nomadic lifestyle of the Kyrgyz, but the impracticality of collectives, given Kyrgyzstanís geography, meant that more traditions survived here than in many other places in the USSR.

During the years of Soviet hegemony, immigration by ethnic Russians was encouraged and Bishkek has had a Russian majority for many years. With the accession of Mikhail Gorbachev to the Kremlin in 1985, there was a purge of top officials and many of the old-guard communists who ran Kyrgyzstan were swept out of office. Despite a commitment to economic restructuring, the new leadership was as politically conservative as their predecessors. This was borne out during the attempted coup in 1991 when the Kyrgyz leadership supported the plotters of the State Committee for the State of Emergency. By this time, however, Kyrgyzstan had a new leader in Askar Akayev, a former head of the Kyrgyz Academy of Sciences, who aligned himself with the opposition Kyrgyz Democratic Movement. Akayev moved quickly to forestall the attempted communist takeover, which quickly evaporated when the Moscow coup collapsed. In October 1991, Akayev was elected unopposed as President. Kyrgyzstan became an independent republic within the Commonwealth of Independent States at the end of that year.

Akayevís radical economic reforms - popular support for which was shown by a referendum - have gained strong support in the West and agencies such as the IMF and the World Bank have granted loans to keep the economy and the new currency afloat. Akayev is using the Turkish model of a non-fundamentalist Islamic policy coupled with Western free-market economics as the basis for his reforms. The strategy has only been partially successful : the economy is still in a poor condition and the political structure riven with corruption and in-fighting. The government also faces growing opposition from Islamist movements which have been active throughout Central Asia during the last decade. In December 1995, Akayev was reelected for a second five-year term defeating two other candidates and attracting 60 per cent of the vote. The parliamentary poll in February 2000 returned the Communist Party as the largest single bloc though without an overall majority; however, Akayev supporters remained in control of the assembly. Akayev himself once again came before the electorate in October 2000, and secured a third term with three-quarters of the poll. With the change in US policy towards Central Asia which followed the 11 September 2001 attacks, Kyrgyzstan has accepted military support from the US. It has also developed closer relations with China with whom it has held joint security exercises.

Government : Under the constitution accepted by referendum in 1994, legislative power is vested in the bicameral 105-strong Jogorku Kenesh. One-third of its members sit in a permanent lower chamber; the other two-thirds meet twice a year in the upper chamber. The whole parliament is elected every 5 years, as is the president, who holds executive power along with an appointed prime minister and Council of Ministers, subject to the approval of the Jogorku Kenesh.

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Information provided by Kyrgystan Tourism Board.


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