Kyrgyz - Economy

Subsistence and Commercial Activities . The Kyrgyz have long been transhumant nomadic pastoralists who raise primarily sheep, but also horses, goats, cattle, Bactrian camels, and yaks; in some areas swine are important. Horses provide not only transportation, but also meat and milk, the latter of which is fermented to make koumiss.

In the warm months the higher meadows are grazed, and in the colder months the people and their animals move to lower elevations. Transhumant pastoralism has survived under the Soviets because it is the most efficient way to raise livestock, given the ecological conditions. During the 1960s Khrushchev acknowledged the importance of nomadic pastoralism and launched an economic plan that included the production of factory-made yurts, the traditional dome-shaped tents of Central Asian nomads.

Under the Soviets, the previously self-sufficient Kyrgyz families became enmeshed in the Soviet imperial economy. Their production efforts were collectivized and controlled by the central Communist party in Moscow, and the products they made went to other republics and to foreign markets. The Kyrgyz also became dependent on foreign manufactured goods, especially medical supplies, which they do not manufacture themselves and which, over the last several years, they have been unable to afford.

Industrial Arts. The Soviets introduced a great complex of industries, including food processing, oil drilling, coal and gas mining, lumbering and woodworking, textiles, leatherworking, sugar refining, agricultural and electrical machinery production, and various others. Two industries have been especially well developed in Kyrgyzstan: hydroelectric power and the extraction and processing of nonferrous metals, notably mercury, antimony, zinc, tungsten, and uranium. Kyrgyz agricultural products include wheat, cotton, maize, grapes, sugar beets, poppies, hemp, potatoes, fruits, nuts, tobacco, wool, silk, and sheep.

Trade. The traditional nomadic life-style made the Kyrgyz self-sufficient. They were isolated by mountains, which made trade less viable. Under Soviet rule the Kyrgyz became enmeshed within the great Soviet interdependent trade network as producers and consumers.

Division of Labor. The traditional division of labor in the Kyrgyz nomadic pastoralist household was unique among Central Asian groups. It was often noted in historical records that Kyrgyz women were less conservative in behavior and dress than were other Muslim women of Central Asia. The transhumant life-style required that both men and women operate independently of one another; thus, both sexes rode horses and knew how to hunt and prepare food. Women were principally in charge of putting up and striking the large yurt, caring for all domestic animals used as food sources, and shearing sheep for wool to construct felted rugs ( shurdak ). Both men and women herded nondomestic animals as well. Although tribal organization of the clan system included a de facto male army to protect pasturelands, there are legends of Kyrgyz women warriors. Three prominent historical women were very popular among the Kyrgyz: Konikey, the powerful wife of the legendary figure Manas; Kurmanjon Datka, the Kyrgyz leader who signed the original treaty between the Kyrgyz and the Russians in the late nineteenth century; and Jongil Misar, the female warrior who conquered khans in the sixteenth century. These Kyrgyz women, despite Islamic ideals, are ail perceived as self-sufficient, powerful, and wise advisers to their people.

After the 1917 Revolution, the collectivization of farms and pastures changed the division-of-labor strategy. Women were relegated to the more traditional roles of dairy work and textile manufacture. With an increase in literacy, both men and women had the opportunity to train in specialized fields. Although Soviet socialist policy was to treat women and men as equals in all arenas, economic demands more than ideological guidelines set out by Marx and Engels have historically influenced Soviet women's involvement in the work force. Not until perestroika were questions raised about the economic and social welfare of women rather than the economic welfare of the state.

Land Tenure. Each family traditionally had its own pasturage, which it defended from use by others. This continued under the Soviets, although it was then each brigade that guarded its own interests. The Soviets exerted rather rigid control over production, including land use, and so reduced the expression of tensions between groups over land use. Since independence, Kyrgyzstan has embarked on a privatization program in which people are given coupons with which they may purchase state property; preference has been given to the employees of each business concern.

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