Hey Mongolia, Meet Kyrgyzstan

Credit: telegraph.co.uk

In the summer of 2011, I had an opportunity to visit Kyrgyzstan as part of the Open Society Institute workshop.

The workshop was called Youth in 21st century: Debating, Citizen Journalism and Digital Media, and 3 other Mongolian students went there with other kids from Afghanistan, Uzbekistan, Turkmenistan, Kazakhstan and Tajikistan.

Naturally I didn’t know a lot about Kyrgyzstan as this was my first real exposure to the rest of Central Asia but I was amazed by how much we have in common with the Kyrgyz people in history and culture.

Recently I started a discussion with the Learning Circle (more information to follow) about Kyrgyzstan. During a research prepared for that I learned that Centerra Gold, a Canadian giant that operated Boroo gold mine in Mongolia (and pending Gatsuurt gold mine), also operates in Kyrgyzstan and has a large presence there much like Rio Tinto here.

It turns out that Centerra’s Kumtor gold mine in Kyrgyzstan has been paying 14% tax for the government while the other mining companies pay 17-20%. Rio Tinto’s Oyu Tolgoi pays 25%. In this article, Kyrgyz government wanted to renegotiate their deal but Centerra Gold said ‘We bring up half of your exports, and eighth of your national income’ and didn’t want to increase their tax rate.

As most of you might have heard, there has been some political instability in Kyrgyzstan in the last decade. There has been many clashes between the Kyrgyz and ethnic Uzbeki citizens in the Southern city Osh for a long time. The latest riot was in 2010 that took over the former president Kurmanbek Bakiev and place interim president Roza Otunbaeva. Although the government is stable now under Almazbek Atambaev, I guess from the business environment perspective, this instability gave the country a disadvantage to negotiate with Centerra.

During my visit in Bishkek, the capital of Kyrgyzstan, I visited a yurt that sells kymys just like us. I was so taken by them that I actually made a short (4min) documentary video about a lady that sells kymys with my Tajiki friend later as part of the workshop. It was my first shot at making it, so it sucks but while I was making it I learned that some Kyrgyz words have the same root with Mongolian, and furthermore that we have similar way of living, drinking, eating and speaking.

I remember my Kyrgyz friends asking me, ‘Your president is a Harvard graduate, right?’, one day during the workshop. They seemed to be pretty impressed with Mongolia to my surprise. Later, I noticed that there has been several articles in Mongolian media about Kyrgyz officials approaching us to learn from our practices. I hope we initiate a good dialogue and help each other out. We are after all, brothers.