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'-Stan' At Its End In Kyrgyzstan?

  • Farangis Najibullah

Ar-Namys party leader Feliks Kulov suggested "Kyrgyz El Republic," which would make use of the Turkic-origin "el" that means "nation" in Kyrgyz.

Ar-Namys party leader Feliks Kulov suggested "Kyrgyz El Republic," which would make use of the Turkic-origin "el" that means "nation" in Kyrgyz.

The "-stan" is under threat again.

Kyrgyzstan's Ar-Namys political party recently proposed removing the suffix from the country's name through a nationwide referendum.

"The -stan ending has Persian origins, and the word 'Kyrgyzstan' was created during the Soviet era," party leader Feliks Kulov told an Ar-Namys gathering on September 12.

The solution? Dropping the "stan" and adding an "el." The resulting "Kyrgyz El Republic" would make use of the Turkic-origin "el" that means "nation" in Kyrgyz.

Kulov suggested that a referendum be held in October 2015, while other party members suggested issuing separate ballots on the name change during parliamentary elections next year.

Other than the suffix's Persian origins, no clear argument for the change was made, but clues are out there.

Following Kulov's proposal, the Kyrgyz media recalled previous attempts to remove the "-stan," which were generally based on the idea that the suffix presented the wrong image abroad.

In 2012, for example, Aalam party leader Arslanbek Maliev pointedly said that "-stan" "creates associations with Afghanistan and other countries with unfavorable situations."

At the time, Maliev suggested changing the name to "Kyrgyz Zher," or "Kyrgyz Land."

"The name 'Kyrgyzstan' is bad because it is often confused with Kurdistan abroad," he added.

Others have recalled a famous gaffe by U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry, who referred to Kyrgyzstan as "Kyrzakhstan" during a speech in February 2013, apparently confusing it with neighboring Kazakhstan.

Does It Matter?

Technically, the country's full official name is the "Kyrgyz Republic," but "Kyrgyzstan" is widely used in official documents and laws.

That leads many to doubt whether officially changing a name that officially is not an official name is worth the effort.

"The government has no money for many other important things," says Topchubek Turgunaliev, director of the Manas Studies Institute in Bishkek. "In these difficult times, Ar-Namys wants to put another burden on the government budget?"

Turgunaliev calls the initiative "nonsense."

Comments on Kyrgyz social media express mixed feelings:

"KG-Balashka" agrees that "-stan" doesn't help the country's reputation but insists the name change alone wouldn't improve it. "Certainly, the '-stan' scares off foreigners, it's not a secret.... But in fact, our corruption and lawlessness is to blame."

A post by "Realnost" suggests that "Kyrgyzstan indeed is being confused with Kurdistan because our country is not developed and no one knows anything about it."

"If we want our country to be well-known, we have to build it up, because only changing names wouldn't be enough."

"Fox" writes sarcastically: "Well, we finally made it. Once renamed we will start living better than in the United States! It's because of the name that we are so poor."

And "Akhzhol.s95" weighed in with: "What would renaming the country give them? Solve real problems first, then if you have nothing else to do you can start renaming states, cities. By the way, doesn't Kulov want to change his own name? 'Feliks' is a Latin word."

Dumping The 'Stans'

Kyrgyzstan is not the only one of the five Central Asian often lumped together in the West as "the Stans" to express an interest in shedding the label.

In neighboring Kazakhstan, President Nursultan Nazarbaev has suggested banishing the suffix to distinguish the oil-rich country from its poorer neighbors.

"In our country's name, there is this 'stan' ending, which other Central Asian nations have as well," Nazarbaev said during a meeting in February.

Nazarbaev proposed "considering, with time, the issue of adopting Kazakh Eli -- the Land of Kazakhs" as the state's name.

The idea eventually fizzled, in part due to concerns over the potentially massive costs involved in changing official documents, banknotes, coins, and passports to reflect the new name.

Written by Farangis Najibullah based on Kyrgyz and Kazakh media and reports by RFE/RL's Kyrgyz Service