Memos from Asia

Common Misconceptions and Stereotypes about Kyrgyzstan

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Bishkek, Kyrgyzstan: Rows of food stalls at Osh Bazaar, selling traditional central Asian round, flatbread Non or Naan, and local people walking along with goods in hand

Let’s first know, what is Kyrgyzstan and who is Kyrgyz. Kyrgyzstan is a Turkic-speaking country located in Central Asia. Kyrgyz are the ethnic majority in the country, but Uzbeks, Russians, Ukrainians also live in Kyrgyzstan. The Kyrgyz were formerly nomadic people until the invasion of the Russian Empire.

The population of the country is young, which has lower death rates and higher birth rates than the global average. (Britannica).

1. Kyrgyz are Chinese

Kyrgyzstan and China flags

The first and common belief about Kyrgyz is assimilating them to Chinese people. It is very astonishing for Kyrgyz person to be asked questions like: “Are you from China?”. The answer “No” will usually be followed by guesses like Korea, Japan, or Indonesia. However, Kyrgyz is another nation that is not related to any of the countries above.

Non-Asians especially Europeans and Americans assimilate Kyrgyzs to Chinese people due to their appearance. However, Kyrgyzstan is a Turkic country like Uzbekistan and Kazakhstan, while most Chinese people belong to the Han ethnicity group. (The China Guide).

2. Kyrgyzstan is Kurdistan, Pakistan, Afghanistan, and so on.

When talking about Kyrgyzstan, many foreigners think about Kurdistan, Pakistan, or even Afghanistan. However, Kurdistan and Kyrgyzstan are completely different places, situated in diverse regions of Asia. (Kloop).

Generally, most of the people outside Asia do not know anything about Kurdistan. Kyrgyzstan is a Central Asian country, while Kurdistan is located in the Middle East.

The issue can also be in the same ending of “stan” in all 3 countries. However, using other possible names of Kyrgyzstan like the Kyrgyz Republic or Kyrgyzia does not result in an easy and smooth understanding of foreigners.

The stereotype has a huge negative impact on the economy. This belief is hurting the tourism sector and making foreigners omit it when making a selection of countries for travel.

3. Homogeneity

Karakol, Kyrgyzstan

The idea of all Kyrgyzs people look similar to each other is another stereotype about the nation. Foreigners, who know the history of Central Asia know that Kyrgyzstan was invaded by the Mongol Empire and the Russian Empire. Afterward, it was a part of the Soviet Union until 1991.

As a result of inter-ethnic and international marriages, you can see many Kyrgyz people that do not look alike each other. For instance, foreigners sometimes do not believe that a person with Mongolian features and a person with fair hair and blue eyes are the representatives of the same nationality. (Kloop).

4. Buddism is widespread

Currently, one can hear false information that Kyrgyzstan is a Buddhist country. First of all, Kyrgyzstan is a secular country, and practitioners of different religions live together in the country. However, the major religion is Islam, which is practiced by 80-90% of the population. (The Diplomat).

One possible reason for the evolution of this wrong perception can be the geographical location of Kyrgyzstan.

It is known that the Kyrgyz Republic shares borders with China to the east. The biggest trade partner of the country is also China. According to Pew Research, half of the Buddhists live in the People’s Republic. (Pew).

Hence, some foreigners may think that if Buddhism is widespread in China, it should also be popular in the neighboring country of Kyrgyzstan, which is erroneous.

5. The worst conditions to live

Mount Lenin saw from Basecamp in Kyrgyzstan

Travelers usually expect the worst living conditions, infrastructure, and facilities like rustic African countries when visiting Kyrgyzstan. Let’s read the impressions of people who had visited the country rather than relying on the press. The 2 visitors from Lebanon stated that the capital city Bishkek was extraordinarily beautiful than they expected. They saw many gardens with attractive flowers and wide streets in the city. (Knews).

More importantly, we should compare Kyrgyzstan to neighboring countries or at least Asian countries rather than the most developed countries of the European Union to break common stereotypes and erroneous beliefs.

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