Below the snowy peaks of the Tien Shan mountains, evangelicals in Kyrgyzstan are fasting and praying for a government that will bring stability, revamp the languishing economy, and continue to allow them to worship freely. In the "Tulip Revolution" of late March, massive popular protests led to the sudden ousting of President Askar Akayev and an abrupt halt to his 14-year rule over the country's 5 million people.
The risk of instability remains high as the July 10 presidential elections approach. A new government will inherit a history of widespread corruption, economic stagnation, land seizures, and a possible north-south divide in a nation roughly the size of South Dakota. The election may signal whether Kyrgyzstan remains Central Asia's most pro-Western and religiously tolerant republic or begins to close its doors to democracy and reform. Most candidates appear to be reform-minded, but instability clouds the outcome.
Turkic armies imposed Islam on Kyrgyzstan in the 17th century, and for 70 years in the 20th century, communism tried to suppress the religion. During those years, Islam surfaced most often at weddings, funerals, and holidays among the 75 percent Muslim population. But since the country's independence in 1991, religion of all kinds has flourished.
Muslim leaders are witnessing a nationwide resurgence of Islam due to an influx of funds from Middle Eastern nations. Hundreds of new mosques have sprouted, and once-nominal Muslims, especially young men, are now flocking to Friday prayer. In 2004 there were 1,611 mosques registered with Kyrgyzstan's State Commission on Religious Affairs (up from an estimated 120 in 2001).
While Orthodoxy, the dominant Christian faith with some 20 percent of the population, is slowly ...1
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