Introduction / History Although they are related to Kazakh 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. More than any other Central Asian people, the Kyrgyz have clung to their traditional way of life as nomadic cattle breeders. They have also maintained their tribal organization. Today, the Kyrgyz live in one of the highest plateaus of the world.
The name "Kyrgyz" means "the descendents of forty maidens." The Kyrgystan flag has forty sun rays to represent the Kyrgyz heritage.
During its 72 years under Communist rule, the Kyrgyz population grew to four times its original size. Hundreds of towns and villages were built as many abandoned their traditional nomadic lifestyles. Nevertheless, the majority of the population is still rural.
What are their lives like? Since the land is generally unsuitable for farming, many 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.
The nomads travel as extended family units and live in portable felt tents, or 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. They work hard, and their position in the household is considered important and respected.
Women are held in high esteem once they are married. However, bride stealing is still in practice in the region. A young man may abduct a single woman off the streets and take her home. Once she has spent one night there, she is presumed to have lost her maidenhood and therefore is unwanted by other men in society. She becomes a "kelin" or a new bride for the first year and she is unable to even speak the name of her father-in-law. She is a live-in servant and expected to get pregnant within the first year. Once she has borne children, she moves up in status.
This practice is most common in rural areas, but sometimes women are stolen from the cities and taken to the villages.
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, dance, and story telling are important parts of the Kyrgyz culture. Verbal folklore has been very well developed over the years. The Krygyz have the longest oral epic in the word entitled "Manas." It contains 100,000 lines of verse. Folk tales are often sung, accompanied by a three-stringed guitar called a dombra.
Among the men, hunting with the use of a golden eagle is very popular, and a well-trained eagle is quite valuable.
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 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 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? Kyrgyzstan is currently in the throes of an economic crisis. This has led to a sharp drop in production, creating shortages of almost all consumer goods.
A Kyrgyz who becomes a Christian is seen as betraying his identity and family unity. Recently Kyrgyz Christians have faced opposition from Muslims, but with a new twist. Their new strategy is not to persecute Christians, but win them back to Islam through kindness, compassion, sympathy, and shame.
Prayer Points * Pray that God will provide finances for training materials in the Kyrgyz language.
* Pray that local believers in Kyrgyzstan would be deeply discipled and from that mobilized to reach even more of their own people.
* Ask the Lord of the harvest to send forth laborers into Kyrgyzstan.
* 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 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.