Bishkek is the capital and the largest city of Kyrgyzstan with a population of about 1 million. Bishkek is also the administrative center of Chuy Province which surrounds the city, even though the city itself is not part of the province but rather a province-level unit of Kyrgyzstan.
Founded in 1878 as the Russian fortress of Pishpek, between 1926 and 1991 it was known as Frunze, after the Bolshevik military leader Mikhail Frunze. The name is thought to derive from a Kyrgyz word for a churn used to make fermented mare's milk (kumis), the Kyrgyz national drink.
Bishkek is situated at about 800 m altitude just off the northern fringe of the Ala-Too range, an extension of the Tien Shan mountain range, which rises up to 4,800 m and provides a spectacular backdrop to the city. North of the city, a fertile and gently undulating steppe extends far north into neighboring Kazakhstan. The Chui River drains most of the area. Bishkek is connected to the Turkestan-Siberia Railway by a spur.
Bishkek is a city of wide boulevards and marble-faced public buildings combined with numerous Soviet-style apartment blocks surrounding interior courtyards and, especially outside the city center, thousands of smaller privately built houses. It is laid out on a grid pattern, with most streets flanked on both sides by narrow irrigation channels that water the innumerable trees which provide shade in the hot summers.
Originally a caravan rest stop (possibly founded by the Sogdians) on one of the branches of the Silk Road through the Tien Shan range, the location was fortified in 1825 by the Uzbek khan of Kokhand with a mud fort.
In 1862, the fort was conquered and razed when Tsarist Russia annexed the area. The site became a Russian garrison and was redeveloped and named Pishpek from 1877 onward by the Russian government, which encouraged the settlement of Russian peasants by giving them fertile black soil farms to develop. In 1926, the city became the capital of the newly established Kirghiz ASSR and was renamed Frunze after Mikhail Frunze, Lenin's close associate who was born in Bishkek and played key roles during 1905 and 1917 revolutions and during the Russian civil war of the early 1920s.
The early 1990s were tumultuous. In June 1990, a state of emergency was declared following severe riots in southern Kyrgyzstan which threatened to spread to the capital. The city was renamed Bishkek in early 1991 and Kyrgyzstan achieved independence later that year during the breakup of the Soviet Union. Before independence, Bishkek was a "Russified" city, the majority of its population being ethnic Russians. In 2004, Russians made up approximately 20% of the city's population. Today, Bishkek is a rapidly modernizing city, with many restaurants and cafes and lots of second-hand European and Japanese cars and minibuses crowding its streets. At the same time Bishkek still preserves its former Soviet feel, with Soviet-period buildings and gardens prevailing over newer structures.
Bishkek is also the country's financial center, with all of the country's 21 commercial banks featuring offices in the city. During the Soviet era the city was home to a large number of industrial plants, but most have been shut down or operate today on a much reduced scale. One of today's Bishkek's largest employment centers is Dordoy Bazaar, which is one the major entrepots for Chinese goods imported into CIS countries.
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