Wednesday, July 11, 2012
Land Use Travels: Kyrgyzstan
Greetings from the Kyrgyz Republic, also known as Kyrgyzstan!
Kyrgyzstan is a Central Asian republic halfway around the globe. It's a fascinating place, and my third trip here in the past 12 months. I'm not here doing land use; actually I'm on a federal government mission relating to international law. But you know me: I'm always on the lookout for interesting land use issues. So I'm planning to keep my eyes open and hopefully share some thoughts and observations about land use in Kyrgyzstan. I'll start today with an intro to the country and some preliminary thoughts.
Kyrgyzstan is a small Central Asian republic tucked in between China, Tajikistan, Uzbekistan, and Kazakhstan (map thanks to Nations Online Project). It has a long history at the crossroads of empire. From its position on the ancient Silk Road to the 19th Century "Great Game" to the Soviet Union to today, this little-known country has long had a strategic importance globally.
Kyrgyzstan has been independent since the USSR dissolved in 1991. It has a population of about 5.5 million. The majority is ethnic Kyrgyz, with a substantial Uzbek minority, as well as Russian and other groups. The population is majority Muslim but the government is secular. It has a capital city, Bishkek--where I've spent most of my time here--and a few other smaller cities, notably Osh in the southern region. Its geography is 90% mountainous, located in the Tien Shan Mountains and the Fergana Valley. This makes it a stunningly beautiful place, but it is poor in natural resources and its economy relies heavily on the agricultural areas. It is a poor country but has maintained a relatively democratic society, at least compared to other countries in the region; however it has had two revolutions and ethnic riots in the past several years. For more information on Kyrgyzstan see the State Department's Background Notes and the CIA World Factbook.
There are many potential land use issues in Kyrgyzstan. It has a long geostrategic history based on its location, terrain, and people. It has a capital city that was completely planned and built from scratch by the Soviets. It has a post-Soviet economy that is reflected in the maintenance of the city. It has some serious local governance issues. There is an urban-rural divide that impacts national politics. And there are of course land issues of environment, natural resources, and climate.
If you aren't familiar with this part of the world, the name may sound like a fictional place, but Kyrgyzstan is quite real and very interesting. If I have more land-use related observations from Bishkek, I'll try to share them here. In the meantime, Саламатсызбы!