Introduction / History The Kyrgyz are a nomadic people who live on the western edge of China near the borders of Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan. They travel virtually all year round, herding their sheep and cattle through this mountainous territory. Only recently have the Kirgiz begun settling in communes for the winter seasons.
The Kyrgyz became a distinct nationality in the 14th century. They settled in their present highland dwellings of northwestern China during the 15th century. Sandwiched between world super powers, Russia and China, the Kyrgyz are a people striving to maintain their own, distinct ethnic identity.
Although the vast majority of the Kyrgyz profess to be Muslim, much of their behavior is considered to be quite unorthodox.
The Kyrgyz language belongs to the Turkic group, and is divided into two main dialects: northern and southern. The Kyrgyz had their own script, Yensei, as early as the 8th century. Unfortunately, this script was later lost. Shortly after their conversion to the Islamic faith, however, the Kyrgyz adopted a new script that was based on the Arabo-Persian alphabet.
What are their lives like? Most of the Kyrgyz are herdsmen who raise cattle, horses, sheep, camels, and goats. They live in white felt tents that are easily moved from place to place.
While the men take care of duties such as chopping wood or cutting grass, the women are responsible for milking, shearing, and grazing the animals. Women also take care of the household duties.
The Kyrgyz eat mainly potatoes, onions and cabbage, since these are the only vegetables that can grow in this mountainous area. Goats supply them with their favorite drink: goat's milk. Their diet also includes imported products such as wheat, flour, rice, tea, salt and sugar.
Alcoholism is a serious problem that dominates the lives of many of the Kyrgyz. It is not uncommon for some of them to go on drinking binges that last several days at a time.
Kyrgyz marriages are arranged by the parents. A special gift, such as a roasted sheep, is presented to the bride-to-be from the groom as part of the courting process. One interesting tradition is that the engaged couple is tied to posts near the bride's family. They are released only after the groom's family begs for mercy and presents gifts to the bride's family. The couple is then married in a Muslim wedding ceremony.
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? Communist domination and poor living conditions have made life very difficult for this nomadic people group. The Kyrgyz are in desperate need of laborers who will teach them about Jesus.
Many of the Kyrgyz people are trying to escape from their problems by turning to alcohol. They need to know that only Jesus can fill their lives with joy, peace, and hope.
Perhaps the greatest obstacle keeping us from reaching Kyrgyz of China is the government's unwillingness to open its doors to missionaries. Furthermore, the nomadic lifestyle of the Kyrgyz would make it extremely difficult for missionaries to locate the various clans and reach out to them.
Generations of spirit worship, coupled with their Islamic beliefs, have given the Kirgizian people a hopeless form of religion. God loves each of the precious Kyrgyz living in China. He desires that they will be set free from the delusions of spirit worship and from the false hope of Islam, and come to know abundant life through His son, Jesus Christ. The tragic reality, however, is that the Kyrgyz are unaware of the redeeming blood of Christ and that eternal life is theirs through Him.
Prayer Points * Pray that the doors to China will soon be opened to missionaries so that the Gospel can be preached freely to the Kyrgyz.
* Pray that God will raise up laborers who are willing to reach the Kyrgyz for Christ, no matter what the cost.
* Ask the Lord to deliver the many Kyrgyz who wrestle with alcoholism.
* Pray for Christian literature to be made available in the language of the Kyrgyz.
* Pray that strong local churches will be planted among the Kyrgyz people.