Land and People

Kyrgyzstan is a mountainous country in the Tian Shan and Pamir systems, rising to 24,409 ft (7,440 m) at Pobeda Peak on the Chinese border. Ninety-four percent of the country is over 3,300 ft (1,000 m) above sea level, with an average elevation of 9,020 ft (2,750 m). Lake Issyk-Kul lies in the northeast. The climate is continental with great regional variations; there are glaciers in the north, and the subtropical Fergana Valley highlands lie in the southwest. The Talas Alatau and the Fergana ranges roughly separate SW Kyrgyzstan from the larger northeast.

The borders with neighboring Central Asian nations, were often not clearly defined under Soviet rule, and they have yet to be finally demarcated. In the Fergana Valley, several small sections of Uzbekistan and Tajikistan form enclaves in Kyrgyzstan, and there is a small Kyrgyzstani exclave in Uzbekistan. The jumbled geography has led at times to border incidents and tensions.

The Kyrgyz, a Sunni Muslim, Turkic-speaking pastoral people, constitute about two thirds of the population; the rest are Uzbeks (about 14%), Russians (about 12%), and other minorities. The Uzbeks reside largely in the southwest. Some 20% of the people are Russian Orthodox Christians. About two thirds of the population is rural. Kyrgyz and Russian are both official languages, and Uzbek is also spoken.

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