Kyrgyzstan (formerly Kirghizia) is a rugged country with the Tien Shan mountain range covering approximately 95% of the whole territory. The mountaintops are perennially covered with snow and glaciers. Kyrgyzstan borders Kazakhstan on the north and northwest, Uzbekistan in the southwest, Tajikistan in the south, and China in the southeast. The republic has the same area as the state of Nebraska.
The Kyrgyz, a Turkic-speaking people, constitute a slim majority of the multi-ethnic population of Kyrgyzstan. The constitution enshrines Kyrgyz as the country’s state language, although Russian continues to be used widely. Kyrgyzstan became part of the Russian Empire in the late 1800s. In 1924 it was incorporated into the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics (USSR) as an autonomous region, and in 1936 its status was upgraded and it became one of the 15 constituent republics of the USSR, officially called the Kirghiz Soviet Socialist Republic (SSR). The republic was also commonly known as Kirgizia under Soviet rule, and Russians continue to call it that today. Kyrgyzstan became independent from the USSR in 1991. In 1993 the republic ratified its first post-Soviet constitution.
The total area of Kyrgyzstan is 198,500 sq km (76,640 sq mi). The country is almost completely mountainous. More than half of Kyrgyzstan lies at an elevation higher than 2,500 m (8,200 ft), and only about one-eighth of the country is lower than 1,500 m (about 4,900 ft). Glaciers and permanent snowfields cover more than 3 percent of Kyrgyzstan’s total land area. An underlying seismic belt causes frequent earthquakes.
The Kyrgyz Republic’s close proximity to fast-growing China, Russia and Kazakhstan provides an opportunity for it to expand its exports. Even after a decade and a half of transition, production in the Kyrgyz Republic is mostly concentrated on primary agricultural goods (cotton, tobacco and hides), services, extractive industries (gold mining), construction materials and light industry.