Introduction / History
While most of the Kyrgyz live in their homeland, Kyrgyzstan, large communities can also be found in the Central Asian Republics, China, and Russia. Most of these live in the Central Asian Republic of Uzbekistan, primarily in the western portion of the Ferghana Valley. Although they are related to the Kazakh and other Turkic peoples of the region, the Kyrgyz are very Mongol in appearance. In fact, they are the people who most clearly resemble Genghis Khan.
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. The basic unit of their society is the extended family, which consists of between five and fifteen families who have all descended from a common ancestor. Villages are formed by combining five to seven extended families. Above the villages are numerous clans and tribes.
What are their lives like?
The Kyrgyz have been forced to adapt to the rigorous conditions of daily life in Uzbekistan. Climate and altitude are both extreme, with heavy snow covering the ground for as long as nine months of the year, and temperatures sometimes falling to minus 40 degrees F. To avoid the long bitter winters, the Kyrgyz travel from place to place, living in thick felt-covered tents called yurts. They move these homes only short distances during the winter months, taking shelter by the sunnier edges of the mountains. Then, they move to the plateaus for grazing during the summer months.
The Kyrgyz depend entirely on their animals for survival. They have particularly hardy and adaptable breeds of sheep, goats, yaks, horses, and camels. Not only are the animals used for food and exchange, but they also provide the only means of transportation in the region. The people, like the animals, must be able to endure these harsh conditions. Outsiders visiting the region are often vulnerable to altitude sickness (which causes severe headaches), nausea, and breathing problems. Such incidences can even be fatal.
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 relative openness of the Central Asian Republics has allowed evangelistic efforts to take place.
* Ask the Lord of the harvest to send forth laborers into Uzbekistan.
* 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 missions agencies 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 and television 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.