Official name: Kyrgyz Republic
Area: 198,500 square kilometers (76,641 square miles)
Highest point on mainland: Victory Peak (7,439 meters/24,406 feet)
Lowest point on land: Kara-Daryya (Karadar'ya) (132 meters/433 feet)
Hemispheres: Northern and Eastern
Time zone: 5 P.M. = noon GMT
Longest distances: Not available
Land boundaries: 3,878 kilometers (2,410 miles) total boundary length; China 858 kilometers (533 miles); Kazakhstan 1,051 kilometers (652 miles); Tajikistan 870 kilometers (539 miles); Uzbekistan 1,099 kilometers (681 miles)
Territorial sea limits: None
1 LOCATION AND SIZE
Kyrgyzstan is located in central Asia, west of China, south of Kazakhstan, east of Uzbeki-stan, and northeast of Tajikistan.
2 TERRITORIES AND DEPENDENCIES
Kyrgyzstan has no territories or dependencies.
Average temperatures vary significantly by region in Kyrgyzstan. The coldest January temperatures are in the mountain valleys, where readings have been known to fall below -30°C (-22°F). The warmest January average is -4°C (25°F), near the southern city of Osh and around Lake Issyk-Kul, which never freezes. In July, the average temperature is around 27°C (81°F) in the Fergana Valley on the high mountain peaks.
Like temperatures, precipitation rates, which include snow as well as rainfall, are largely a product of Kyrgyzstan's mountains. Precipitation occurs to a greater extent in the western mountains and to a lesser extent in the flatter, lower regions of north-central Kyrgyzstan.
Average precipitation levels range from 10 to 50 centimeters (4 to 20 inches) in the valleys and 18 to 100 centimeters (7 to 40 inches) in the mountains. Extremes vary from less than 10 centimeters (4 inches) per year on the west bank of Issyk-Kul to 200 centimeters (79 inches) per year in the mountains above the Fergana Valley.
4 TOPOGRAPHIC REGIONS
Landlocked in east central Asia, Kyrgyzstan covers just 198,500 square kilometers (76,641 square miles), making it the smallest of the Central Asian countries that became independent after the breakup of the Soviet Union in the 1990s. There are a number of small areas within southwestern Kyrgyzstan that belong to neighboring Uzbekistan or Tajikistan.
Kyrgyzstan is predominantly mountainous. Only about 10 percent of the terrain is below 1,500 meters (4,900 feet) in elevation; and more than half the land surpasses 2,500 meters (8,200 feet). Permanent snowfields and glaciers blanket about 3 percent of the country. Indeed, studies estimate that Kyrgyzstan's 6,500 glaciers contain an amazing 650 billion cubic meters (850 billion cubic yards) of water. This abundance of mountain moisture is the source of Kyrgyzstan's many lakes and fast-flowing rivers.
The primary mountain range in Kyrgyzstan is the great Tian Shan, whose peaks, valleys, and basins essentially define the whole republic. In addition, the Trans Alai mountains in the south, part of the Pamirs, are also significant. The only land flat enough to be suitable for large-scale agriculture is in the Chu, Talas, and Fergana Valleys of the north and east.
5 OCEANS AND SEAS
Kyrgyzstan is a landlocked country.
6 INLAND LAKES
There are nearly two thousand lakes in Kyrgyzstan, located at the higher elevations of 3,000 to 4,000 meters (9,840 to 13,120 feet). Most are small, but together they have a combined surface area of some 7,000 square kilometers (2,703 square miles). Lake Issyk-Kul comprises most of the total area by itself; at 6,100 square kilometers (2,360 square miles), it is Kyrgyzstan's largest lake. Issyk-Kul is located in the northeastern Tian Shan mountain range. Some commercial fishing interests operate on the lake year-round, as it never freezes. Two other large lakes, Song-Kul and Chatyr-Kul, lie in the Naryn Basin.
7 RIVERS AND WATERFALLS
The majority of Kyrgyzstan's many rivers are small, fast-flowing runoff streams with origins in the melting snows of the high eastern mountains. Not one of these is navigable, however—not even the country's largest river, the Naryn, which converges with other rivers to become the great Central Asian Syr Darya. In the north, the Chu River flows northwestward, eventually drying up in the desert country of southern Kazakhstan.
The northern areas of Kyrgyzstan near the border with Kazakhstan are desert regions, with very little vegetation.
9 FLAT AND ROLLING TERRAIN
Only 4 percent of Kyrgyzstan is forest. Conifers predominate in the lower valleys and northern mountain slopes. Kyrgyzstan can boast the world's largest natural-growth walnut forest. Deer, mountain goats, and mountain sheep are abundant, but the country's forests also support many rare, protected wildlife species like the Tian Shan bear, the red wolf, and the snow leopard.
Because of its mountainous geography, Kyrgyzstan has many valleys throughout its mountain ranges. Of note are the lush Osh and Fergana Valleys.
10 MOUNTAINS AND VOLCANOES
Kyrgyzstan lies where two great Central Asian mountain systems, the Tian Shan and the Pamirs, come together. The Tian Shan Mountains run northeast to form the country's eastern border with China; Kyrgyzstan's southern border with Tajikistan follows the Trans Alai Range along the northernmost part of the Pamirs.
The Tian Shan is the largest system of mountains in Asia outside of the Himalayas, and its highest point, Victory Peak (Pik Pobedy, Jengish Chokusu; 7,439 meters/24,406 feet) is the highest peak in Kyrgyzstan. A series of secondary mountain ranges are considered part of the Tian Shan system. In Kyrgyzstan these include the Ala Tau, running generally east to west across northern Kyrgyzstan. Another chain, the central Fergana Mountains, runs southeast to northwest.
11 CANYONS AND CAVES
The Ala-Archa Canyon, located about 40 kilometers south of Bishkek, is a rugged area favored by hikers. Near Lake Issyk-Kul is the Jeti-Öghüz canyon, with cliffs composed of red sandstone.
12 PLATEAUS AND MONOLITHS
Plateaus dot the country's mountain ranges, most significantly the Issyk-Kul plateau that overlooks the lake of the same name.
13 MAN-MADE FEATURES
The Popan reservoir in southeastern Kyrgyzstan is vital to support agriculture in the Fergana Valley, which helps feed much of the country.
14 FURTHER READING
Thomas, Paul. The Central Asian States—Tajikstan, Uzbekistan, Kyrgyzstan, Turkmenistan . Brookfield, CT: Millbrook Press, 1992.
©agatay, Ergun. "Kyrgyzstan: A First Look." Aramco World (Houston: Aramco Services Company), Vol. 46, No. 4 (1995): 10–21.