Bordered by Kazakhstan, Uzbekistan, Tajikistan and China, the landlocked country of Kyrgyzstan is a country known for its beautiful, striking mountain ranges, various protected natural areas and parks, and several monuments paying homage to its vibrant history (of which over 2,000 years of information is recorded).
Despite being under Russian rule for almost 75 years, it has since the early 90’s enjoyed its status as an independent state with an economy centred on agriculture.
Here are some interesting facts about Kyrgyzstan.
1. Its name is believed to have its origin in the Turkic word for 40
The word “Kyrgyz” is linked to the Turkic word for 40 as well as the 40 tribes of Manas, a celebrated champion in Kyrgyzstan’s history who managed to bring together 40 provincial tribes to rise against the Uyghur Khaganate. Completing the country’s name, the phrase ‘stan’ refers to the Persian word for ‘country’.
2. Kyrgyzstan’s current flag has been in use since 1992
The country’s flag was adopted shortly after its independence from Soviet rule. An interesting fact about Kyrgyzstan is that the number 40 also has significance in its design, as the yellow sun depicted on the flag’s red background has 40 rays. This is a symbol of the 40 clans that fought together against the Mongols. The yellow sun itself has a strong symbolism too, as it is designed to depict the three crisscrossing laths across the round opening of a yurt (a traditional Kyrgyz tent still seen today in the country).
3. Bishkek, the country’s capital, was named Pishpek and Frunze previously
Pishpek refers to the fortress of Pishpek where local caravan routes were regulated. In 1868, it became the site for a Russian settlement which would first be known as Pishpek, and later Frunze, named after Bolshevik leader Mikhail Frunze in 1926. As of 1991, the capital has been known as Bishkek.
4. Kyrgyzstan is home to three UNESCO World Heritage Sites
The United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) has the following sites listed as World Heritage Sites in Kyrgyzstan: Western Tien-Shan, Silk Roads (the Routes Network of Chang’an-Tianshan Corridor) and Sulaiman-Too Sacred Mountain.
5. Its oldest city is called Osh
Estimated to be around 3,000 years old, Osh is also the country’s second-largest city. Sometimes referred to as the “capital of the south”, the city is home to several historical landmarks and attractions, a fun fact about Kyrgyzstan. These include Jayma Bazaar (which is one of Central Asia’s biggest markets), a statue of Lenin, a memorial park, and the Osh Regional Museum.
6. The som is the country’s currency – and it is one of only a few countries to use a denomination of 3
The som replaced the Soviet Ruble in 1993. At first, only banknotes were issued, with coins following in 2008. What makes the coin denominations unique is that the currency includes a denomination of 3 in coin – an occurrence that is not seen in many countries, a fun Kyrgyzstan fact.
7. Kyrgyzstan has 13 national parks that are part of its protected areas
The country’s national parks include, among others, Ala Archa National Park, a popular tourist destination with well-known peaks and glaciers, and Kara-Shoro Nature Park that has the purpose to protect several animal and bird species, as well as conserve geological formations.
8. Its Issyk-Kul State Nature Reserve with the Issyk-Kul Lake is included in the Ramsar wetlands of international importance list
Being named a Ramsar site means that Issyk-Kul is considered to be a wetland of international importance, according to the Ramsar Convention (an intergovernmental environmental treaty created by UNESCO). The Issyk-Kul State Nature Reserve is, for instance, home to various bird species, including the endangered White-headed duck, whilst the lake has about 28 fish species. Seven of these fish species are unique to this area.
9. Kyrgyzstan has some of the world’s largest natural Walnut forests
Arslanbob, a village nestled in the Arslanbob valley, is famous for its massive stretches of walnut forests as well as plentiful fruit such as apples and cherry plums. About 1,500 tons of walnuts are harvested annually at these forests.
10. The famous UFC champion Valentina Shevchenko was born in Kyrgyzstan
Shevchenko, who has the nickname ‘Bullet’ due to her speed in the fighting ring, was born in Bishkek in 1988 when it was still known as Frunze, Kirghizia. She is the current Women’s Flyweight Champion of the Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC), an event with a focus on mixed martial arts.
11. Gold is one of the country’s biggest exports
The Kumtor Gold Mine in the Tian Shan Mountains is considered the second-highest gold mining operation in the world, an interesting fact about Kyrgyzstan. Other high ranking exports from the country include dried legumes, precious metal ore and refined petroleum.
12. Its national dish is called Beshbarmak
Literally translated, Beshbarmak means “five fingers” and was named so as it was originally meant to be eaten with one’s fingers, not cutlery. This dish is prepared using noodles which are topped with boiled meat such as horse, mutton or beef. Beshbarmak is usually served during times of significance, such as the birth for a child, an important birthday or at a funeral.
13. Kyrgyzstan hosted the first three World Nomad Games
This international sporting event takes place every second year, showcasing the ethnic sports of Central Asia, a fun Kyrgyzstan fact. These sports include activities such as belt wrestling and horse racing, to name a few. Kyrgyzstan hosted the World Nomad Games in 2014, 2016 and 2018, and Turkey was earmarked to host the 2020 games.
Kyrgyzstan’s authentic character is undeniable. Its rich heritage and variety of different ethnic groups that include Kyrgyz, Russians, Uzbeks, Ukrainians, Germans, Tatars, Kazakhs, Dungans, Uighurs, and Tajiks make this beautiful country one of the most culturally rich locations in the world.
For travellers it is a location that more than deserves to be on a bucket list of places to visit; for its people, it is without a doubt a country to be proud of and to celebrate for generations still to come.
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