Kyrgyzstan's recorded history spans over 2,000 years, encompassing a variety of cultures and empires. Although geographically isolated by its highly mountainous terrain, which has helped preserve its ancient culture, Kyrgyzstan has been at the crossroads of several great civilizations as part of the Silk Road and other commercial and cultural routes. Though long inhabited by a succession of independent tribes and clans, Kyrgyzstan has periodically fallen under foreign domination and attained sovereignty as a nation-state only after the breakup of the Soviet Union in 1991.
Pictured left: Kenesh Jusupov, a prominent Kyrgyz writer, in his home village of Echki-Bashy in On-Archa village area.
The culture of Kyrgyzstan has a wide mix of ethnic groups and cultures, with the Kyrgyz being the majority group. It is generally considered that there are 40 Kyrgyz clans, symbolized by the 40-rayed yellow sun in the center of the flag. The lines inside the sun are said to represent a yurt. The dominant religion of Kyrgyzstan is Sunni Islam (91%). The Russian population is Russian Orthodox.
Kyrgyzstan is the only former Soviet Central Asian republic to start out with two official languages, in this case Russian and Kyrgyz. An aggressive post-Soviet campaign was established to make the latter the official national language in all commercial and government uses by 1997; Russian is still used extensively, and the non-Kyrgyz population, most not Kyrgyz speakers, are hostile to forcible Kyrgyzification.
Kyrgyzstan has a high literacy rate (99%), and a strong tradition of educating all citizens. However, its ambitious program to restructure the Soviet educational system is hampered by low funding and loss of teachers. School attendance is mandatory through grade nine. Kyrgyz is increasingly used for instruction; the transition from Russian to Kyrgyz has been hampered by lack of textbooks. It remains to be seen whether Russian will continue as the second language of choice, or whether English will supersede it as a lingua franca.
Almazbek Atambaev was born in 1956 in the Northern region of Chui. He received his degree in economics while studying at the Moscow Institute of Management.
Atambaev has four children from his marriage to his first wife Buazhar, two sons Seyit and Seytek, and two daughters Diana and Dinara. In 1988 he married his second wife, Raisa. They have two children, a boy Khadyrbek and a girl Aliya. Raisa is an ethnic Tatar, born in the Urals in Russia, who moved to Osh as a child, with her parents. She is a doctor.