Introduction / History
While most of the Kyrgyz live in Kyrgyzstan, large communities can also be found in 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 livestock producers. 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 raisers, 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.
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?
Consecutive waves of Islamization have taken place since the Arabs first invaded Talas in 751 when many Kyrgyz tribes were still in Siberia. Northern nomadic tribes were able to skirt many of the Islamic traditions until recently. Within the last two hundred years, the majority had been completely converted to Islam. The present wave of Islamization in Kyrgyzstan is one of the most intense that the north has ever experienced. People who were only Muslim by name are now learning many of the more intricate practices, creeds, and doctrines.
Soviets were never able to change the Kyrgyz beliefs, even through they tried a number of methods including changing the alphabet, outlawing religious activity, and propaganda. In fact, since 1990, over 3000 new mosques have been built in Kyrgyzstan.
Today, most Kyrgyz still consider themselves to be Muslim; however, some Shamanistic and Tengrism practices still exist. (Shamanism is the belief that there is an unseen world of many gods, demons, and ancestral spirits. Tegrism is a belief system that coincides with the faith expressed throughout the biblical book of Genesis.) Many people still turn to mediums and seers to cure sickness with magic, communicate with powers, and control events. Almost all Kyrgyz believers have to go through a breaking of demonic powers over their lives once they become Christians.
The Kyrgyz epic hero Manas has taken on god-like status in some parts of Kyrgyzstan. His story reveals many practices and beliefs of the pre-Islamic Kyrgyz. There have been some comparisons made between the biblical "Manasseh son of Jacob" (Genesis 48) and the Kyrgyz "Manas son of Jakyb".
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 Kyrgyztan.
* 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.