Kyrgyzstan, officially the Kyrgyz Republic, and sometimes known as Kirghizia, is a country in Central Asia. Landlocked and mountainous, it borders China, Kazakhstan, Tajikistan, and Uzbekistan. Its capital is Bishkek. Once a republic of the Soviet Union, Kyrgyzstan has been independent since 1991. Remaining reasonably stable throughout most of the 1990s, the country's young democracy showed relative promise under the leadership of former President Askar Akayev, but unfortunately moved towards autocracy and authoritarianism. At present Kyrgyzstan is in turmoil following a sudden revolution and President Akayev's resignation on April 4, 2005, and the political situation in the country remains uncertain.
According to recent findings of Kyrgyz and Chinese historians, Kyrgyz history dates back to 201 BC. The earliest ancestors of the Kyrgyz people, who are believed to be of Turkic descent, lived in the northeastern part of what is currently Mongolia. Later, some of their tribes migrated to the region that is currently southern Siberia and settled along the Yenisey River, where they lived from the 6th until the 8th centuries. They spread across what is now the Tuva region of the Russian Federation, remaining in that area until the rise of the Mongol Empire in the 13th century, when the Kyrgyz began migrating south. In the 12th century, Islam became the predominant religion in the region. Most Kyrgyz are Sunni Muslims of the Hanafi school.
During the 15th-16th centuries, the Kyrgyz people settled in the territory currently known as the Kyrgyz Republic. In the early 19th century, the southern territory of the Kyrgyz Republic came under the control of the Khanate of Kokand, but the territory was occupied and formally annexed by the Russian Empire in 1876. The Russian takeover instigated numerous revolts against tsarist authority, and many Kyrgyz opted to move into the Pamir mountains or to Afghanistan. The ruthless suppression of the 1916 rebellion in Central Asia, triggered by the Russian imposition of the military draft on the Kyrgyz and other Central Asian peoples, caused many Kyrgyz to flee to China.
Soviet power was initially established in the region in 1918, and in 1924, the Kara-Kirghiz Autonomous Oblast was created within the Russian SFSR. (The term Kara-Kirghiz was used until the mid-1920s by the Russians to distinguish them from the Kazakhs, who were also referred to as Kirghiz.) In 1926, it became the Kirghiz Autonomous Soviet Socialist Republic. On December 5, 1936, the Kirghiz Soviet Socialist Republic (SSR) was established as a full Union Republic of the U.S.S.R.
In October 1991, Akayev ran unopposed and was elected President of the new independent republic by direct ballot, receiving 95% of the votes cast. Together with the representatives of seven other republics, he signed the Treaty of the New Economic Community that same month. On December 21, 1991, the Kyrgyz Republic formally entered the new Commonwealth of Independent States (CIS).
A new constitution was passed by the parliament in May 1993. In 1994, however, the parliament failed to produce a quorum for its last scheduled session prior to the expiration of its term in February 1995. President Akayev was widely accused of having manipulated a boycott by a majority of the parliamentarians. Akayev, in turn, asserted that the communists had caused a political crisis by preventing the legislature from fulfilling its role. Akayev scheduled an October 1994 referendum, overwhelmingly approved by voters, which proposed two amendments to the constitution—one that would allow the constitution to be amended by means of a referendum, and the other creating a new bicameral parliament called the Jogorku Kenesh.
The most recent elections were parliamentary, held February 27 and March 13, 2005. The OSCE found that while the elections failed to comply with commitments to free and fair elections, there were improvements over the 2000 elections, notably the use of indelible ink, transparent ballot boxes, and generally good access by election observers.
Sporadic protests against perceived manipulation and fraud during the elections erupted into widespread calls for the government to resign, which started in the southern provinces. By March 24, 15,000 pro-opposition demonstrators called for the resignation of the President and his regime in Bishkek. Injuries from police clashes were reported along with widespread looting. Protestors seized the presidential administration building, after which Akayev hurriedly fled the country, first for neighboring Kazakhstan and then for Moscow. Initially refusing to resign and denouncing the events as a coup, he subsequently resigned his office on April 4. A first attempt by parliament to ratify his resignation failed for lack of a quorum.