Kyrgyzstan Has Become More Kyrgyz But No More Urban Since 1991 – OpEd


The population of Kyrgyzstan has become far more Kyrgyz than it was 30 years ago, 74 percent compared to 52 percent, but no more urban, with two thirds of the population living in rural areas now just as in 1991. That combination helps explain both what has changed there and what hasn’t over the last thirty years, Samar Syrgabayev says.

That the Central Asian republic has become more ethnically homogeneous is no surprise, the Bishkek sociologist says. That has been true of all the former Soviet republics and has made them more nationalistic as their governments and peoples seek to craft a new post-Soviet identity (

But the fact that it has not become more urban means that subnational clans continue to play a key role especially because Bishkek has not been able to build sufficient highways let alone railways to link the various parts of the mountainous country together. And the rural-based clans retain a disproportionate influence on newly urbanized Kyrgyz.

Two other demographic factors also continue to play a key role, a high rate of natural growth which means that there is a disproportionate number of young people who need jobs and who are often forced to work as guest workers in Russia or elsewhere and an underlying optimism among Kyrgyz that everything will work out.

Like the first two factors, these contradict one another, with the former placing demands on the government and society they have not been able to meet while the latter encourages Kyrgyz to expect that positive outcomes are just around the corner, an attitude that contributes to radicalization in the current situation.

Paul Goble

Paul Goble is a longtime specialist on ethnic and religious questions in Eurasia. Most recently, he was director of research and publications at the Azerbaijan Diplomatic Academy. Earlier, he served as vice dean for the social sciences and humanities at Audentes University in Tallinn and a senior research associate at the EuroCollege of the University of Tartu in Estonia. He has served in various capacities in the U.S. State Department, the Central Intelligence Agency and the International Broadcasting Bureau as well as at the Voice of America and Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty and at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace. Mr. Goble maintains the Window on Eurasia blog and can be contacted directly at [email protected] .

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