Where Is Kyrgyzstan? What Americans Should Know About the Caucases


Kyrgyzstan has been a country of insignificant priority to the international community since it gained independence from the Soviet Union in 1991. Unfortunately, after the tragic events that took place during the Boston Marathon, the Tsarnaev brothers might shine a new light on this ignored region of the world in a negative way. Does the geography and history of the Caucasus and Central Asian regions of the former Soviet Union have any significance to understanding the terrorist attacks perpetrated on April 15?

First, let us look at the Chechen ethnic connection to Kyrgyz Republic. Most of the Chechens that are settled in Kyrgyzstan migrated to the region during three different occasions. The forceful expulsion of Chechens by the Soviet regime during 1940-44 because of Stalin's mistrust of the Chechens as well at the group's traditionalism led to the first phase of Chechen migration from the Caucasus. By 1959, about 25,208 ethnic Chechens lived in the Kyrgyz Republic. This number massively reduced when the Soviets reversed policies and allowed Chechens to return to their native home in the Caucasus. But during the 1990s, when the dissolution of the Soviet Union was imminent and the threat of a crumbling Russian Federation was ever-present, two Chechen Wars were fought to suppress Chechen rebels and their movement to succeed from the new Russian Federation. During the two conflicts, Chechens fled to Kazakhstan and Kyrgyzstan, but most returned home or to neighboring Dagestan after peace was finally established in 2009. As of that year, only 1,875 (less than 0.1% of total population) Chechens reside in Kyrgyzstan so the connection that the media is trying so hard to establish between Kyrgyzstan and the Caucasus ethnic group is a weak one at best.

The second aspect to look into is the possible ties of Islam and politics in Kyrgyzstan. Is it possible that while the Tsarnaev Brothers spent time in the Kyrgyz Republic they developed a more radical form of Islamic belief? The answer to this is most likely no. If the atrocities perpetrated by the Tsarnaev Brothers were motivated by religious ideals, those ideals were most likely fostered by the elder brother’s visit to Chechnya last year. Salafist practice has been more noticeable in the countryside since the Chechen Wars, and it is likely that the bombers would have picked up their radical religious interpretations from Chechnya rather than their time in Kyrgyzstan. Since independence in 1991, the Kyrgyz people and politicians have continued to practice Islam in a more secular manner. Also, the Kyrgyz government has taken many initiatives to prevent terrorist sects from infiltrating is borders and society since the U.S. invasion of Afghanistan in 2001. The government of Kyrgyzstan has even provided airbases for counter-terrorism operations led by the United States. Also, the government has banned the terrorist organization Hizb-ut-Tahrir, which is believed to have ties with the Taliban and al-Qaeda. As a result, with the geographic location of Kyrgyzstan and the vulnerability of its southern provinces to agitation by foreign terrorists, the government has done an adequate job of banning potentially threatening organizations and encouraging the continued practice of Islam through the ideals of Sufism.

Is the Kyrgyz Republic a potential nest for terrorist activity or just an unfortunate destination of the Tsarnaev Brothers? I would proclaim the latter. Kyrgyzstan is a country that has practiced secularism and counter-terrorist policies since its independence from the Soviet Union. Also, it is not a resource wealthy country. It only ranks as the 111th highest oil exporter, so the chances of it funding terrorists with oil money is unlikely. It seems that this Central Asian country that is still trying to develop its own identity and position in the international community has been caught in the cross-fire of the news media's eagerness to find answers to the tragic crimes perpetrated by the Tsarnaev brothers.