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The total population (of April 1, 1999) of Kyrgyzia is 4 856 200 people. Kyrgyzia is a multi-ethnic state. Representatives of more than 80 ethnic groups live in the republic: Kyrgyz (60,3%), Russians (15,7%), Uzbeks (14,2 %), Ukrainians (3.1%), Germans (0,5%), Tatars, Kazakhs, Dunghans, Tajiks, Turks, Koreans, Azerbaijanians and other minorities. 3/5 of the population is rural.
The native Kyrgyz are Turkic people who were traditionally pastoral nomads. The Kyrgyz are one of the ancient peoples. The first historical data about them refer back to 201 A.D. The Kyrgyz people migrated from the region of the upper Enisei and China to settle in the area that is now Kyrgyzia in about the 16th century. The region was conquered by Mongolians in the late 17th century, and came under the Kokand khanate in the 19th century. Tsarist Russian forces defeated the khanate in 1876, and incorporated present-day Kyrgyzia into the Russian Empire. From time to time the territory of Kyrgyzia became the arena for battles by various states for domination in the region. That time and events are well depicted in the unique masterpiece - epos Manas, which reflected the ancient history of the Kyrgyz people and their social life covering the period of millennium. The epos "Manas" is the national pride of the Kyrgyz people, the peak of their spiritual life, which they inherited from their ancestors. The main occupation of the Kyrgyz was agriculture and animal husbandry (horse and sheep breeding). For centuries, horses were the principal "mean of conveyance" of the Kyrgyz people. Nowadays horses are still used as carriers in remote areas and villages. The Kyrgyz are tireless riders able to be in a saddle for a long time, riding over passes, crossing rushing rivers or riding up or down steep slopes. For centuries, the nomadic people of Central Asia have lived in portable, circular dwellings known as yurts. The yurts were easy to assemble and transport. They were warm in cold and cool in summer. The yurts are used by Kyrgyz people until now but only during summer pasture time or during celebrations or funerals. The ground of yurts, traditionally, is covered with felt rugs ("koshma") and walls are decorated with felt shyrdaks and other decorative bands.
The Kyrgyz people wear both Western-style and traditional clothing. Traditional clothing for men includes a padded or a sheepskin coat, boots, and a white felt hat with black or red flaps ("ak-kolpak"). Married women often wear a white turban made of a long scarf. Kyrgyz food shows the effect of its location and history. Traditional Kyrgyz foods include shorpo (mutton and vegetable soup), and besh barmak (lamb and noodles). Popular milk products include cheese, ayran (a yogurtlike drink), and kumiss (fermented mare's milk)). The Kyrgyz and the Kazakhs are almost alone among Central Asian peoples in eating horse meat; only young mares are used and they are fed on the Alpine grasses, which are thought to impart a particularly good flavor. In ancient times, polygamy was quite common among Kyrgyz. Number of wives depended on man's welfare. Women's kidnapping had frequently occurred. Nowadays those traditions are in the past and families became monogamy. The Kyrgyz profess Islam, though it has sat relatively lightly on the Kyrgyz people. It is mentioned in some of the sources that the Kyrgyz were "bad Muslims" since they had made religious devotions occasionally and in making that they were not diligent. During Kokand khanate, confession of Islam became more active. Nowadays a new burst of religiosity is observed. Mosques are being built nation-wide and religion schools are opening. Since Kyrgyzia is a multi-ethnic country, apart from Islam some other religions are spread as well (Christianity, Judaism, etc.)