Introduction / History
While most of the Kyrgyz live in Kyrgyzstan, large communities can also be found in the other Central Asian Republics, China, and Russia. Although they are related to the Kazak and other Turkic peoples of the region, the Kyrgyz look very much like the Mongols. In fact, they are the people who most clearly resemble Genghis Khan.
The Kyrgyz live in the eastern portion of Kazakstan, wedged between three of the most spectacular, yet inaccessible mountain ranges on earth: the Himalayas, the Hindu Kush, and the Tein Shan. During the sixth century, their ancestors (the Xiajias) lived in the upper Yenisei River region, under the domination of Turk Khanate. Although they broke free in the seventh century, the Uighurs later established dominance in the area.
More than any other Central Asian people, the Kyrgyz have clung to their traditional way of life as nomadic cattle breeders. They have also maintained their tribal organization.
What are their lives like?
The Kyrgyz of Kazakstan tend to be more urbanized than their relatives who live in Kyrgyzstan. Nevertheless, since the land is generally unsuitable for farming, many of the rural Kyrgyz live as nomadic cattle breeders, following their herds from pasture to pasture. They depend entirely on their animals for survival. Fortunately, they have particularly hardy and adaptable breeds of sheep, goats, yaks, horses, and camels. The animals are used for both food and exchange. They also provide the only means of transportation in the region.
The Kyrgyz nomads travel in extended family units. They live in portable felt tents called yurts. The summers are short on the plateau, and there are only about 60 days in which the ground is not covered in snow. During this season, the families tend to camp close together. However, during the winter months, families live scattered away from each other so that they might best utilize the scarce grassland.
The Kyrgyz women enjoy more freedoms than do most other Central Asian women. For example, they are not required to wear veils; they are allowed to talk to men; and they may freely ride about on the grasslands. Although they work hard, their position in the household is considered important and respected.
The men devote themselves almost entirely to caring for the animals. They dress in baggy leather pants and coarse shirts. Outer coats made of cotton or wool are also worn. Embroidered felt skull caps are common; however, on important occasions, the wealthier men may wear tall steeple-crowned hats made of felt or velvet and embroidered with gold. Their favorite gear includes their belts, saddles, and bridles, which are sometimes covered with gold and precious stones. While the women dress in the same style clothing as the men, their shirts are usually longer and go all the way down to their heels.
Music and story telling are important parts of the Kyrgyz culture. They also make a wide variety of musical instruments. Verbal folklore has been very well developed over the years. Folk tales are often sung, accompanied by a three-stringed guitar called a komuss.
What are their beliefs?
The Kyrgyz were first introduced to Islam during the seventeenth century. Within two hundred years, they had been completely converted to the Islamic religion. The rapid spread of Islam was aided by the strong clan system of the people.
Today, only less than half of the Kyrgyz in Kazakstan claim to be Muslim; but even they are not orthodox in their beliefs. Some shamanistic practices still exist among them. (Shamanism is the belief that there is an unseen world of many gods, demons, and ancestral spirits.) The people depend on shamans (priests or priestesses) to cure the sick by magic, communicate with the gods, and control events.
What are their needs?
The harsh nomadic lifestyle of the Kyrgyz has made them nearly inaccessible with the Gospel.
* Ask the Lord of the harvest to send forth laborers into Kazakstan.
* Pray that God will raise up prayer teams to go and break up the soil through worship and intercession.
* Ask God to grant favor and wisdom to the missions agencies that are focusing on the Kyrgyz.
* Pray for effectiveness of the Jesus film among the Kyrgyz.
* Ask God to anoint the Gospel as it goes forth via radio to the Kyrgyz.
* Ask the Holy Spirit to soften their hearts towards Christians so that they will be receptive to the Gospel.
* Ask the Lord to raise up strong local churches among the Kyrgyz.