Ethnic Minorities
last updated 14 January 2009

The Kyrgyz population includes substantial minorities of ethnic Uzbeks, Russians, Uighurs, Dungans (ethnic Chinese Muslims), and Tatars. Between 1991 and 2002, more than 600,000 people emigrated from Kyrgyzstan, and the ethnic minority portion of the population declined from 47 to 33 percent.

Increased emigration is a trend affecting all minority ethnic groups in Kyrgyzstan. Minority groups cite ethnic tensions, rising nationalism, the collapse of the industrial sector, and discrimination in employment, education, and business as motivations for emigration.

Ethnic Uzbeks, who reside primarily in southern Kyrgyzstan, experience increased mistreatment by authorities primarily due to their association with Islam. Kyrgyz efforts to combat Islamic “extremism” has led to repression of Muslims. The majority of Muslims affected are members of the non-violent Islamic Hizb ut-Tahrir organization, whose members in Kyrgyzstan are mostly ethnic Uzbeks.

In addition, ethnic Uzbeks face social and informal governmental restrictions on civil liberties and cultural rights. Though ethnic Uzbeks held important national posts in the early post-independence years, the system of centrally appointing, rather than electing, mayors and governors has limited ethnic Uzbek participation in local politics, even in those areas in which they constitute a majority.

Ethnic Russians are emigrating steadily from Kyrgyzstan. Those remaining have complained about discrimination, particularly in the allocation of upper-level civil service positions, where Russians as a group are underrepresented.

Uighurs, a Turkic people whose dominant religion is Islam, are experiencing ever- worsening treatment in Kyrgyzstan. This is primarily a result of two developments. First, Kyrgyzstan's participation in regional efforts against Islamic “extremism” has led to repression of Uighur Muslims and other Muslims in Kyrgyzstan. Second, Kyrgyz officials are supporting China’s sometimes-violent campaign against Uighur “ethnic separatists” and their suspected supporters and sympathizers in China’s Xinjiang province.

Resources:

Human Rights Watch, World Report, 2009, Kyrgyzstan

“National Ideology and State-building in Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan”, Erika Marat, Central Asia-Caucasus Institute and Silk Road Studies Program, 2008

Ethnic Minorities in Kyrgyzstan Recent Developments, Mission Report by the International Helsinki Federation and Memorial”, October 2006

U.S. Department of State, Bureau of European and Eurasian Affairs, Background Notes: Kyrgyzstan, April 2003.

Freedom House, Nations in Transit 2003: Kyrgyzstan.

Human Rights Watch, Kyrgyzstan: Human Rights Fact Sheet, 2002.

Minorities at Risk, Minority Group Assessments: Uzbeks in Kyrgyzstan.

Amnesty International, Central Asia, 2001.

Human Rights Watch, World Report 2006, Kyrgyzstan.

Human Rights Watch, World Report 2001: Kyrgyzstan.

Amnesty International, Kyrgyzstan: Appeal Cases, 25 May 2001.

Uyghur American Association