Social Features
The At Bashy Mountain Range is located within the Naryn Oblast, one of the seven oblasts that constitute Kyrgyzstan. Although the Naryn oblast covers ¼ of the country’s land area, it only hold 5% of the country’s population (271,280 people) making it the most sparsely populated oblast in Kyrgyzstan. The majority of the oblast’s  residents live in rural villages, with Naryn (population 44,000) as the only town of substantial size. A majority of households engage in agricultural activities, with livestock production being the most important pursuit. The arid mountainous landscape has limited crop production capabilities and is better suited for livestock grazing. Pastoralism is strongly rooted in Kyrgyz cultural identity as nomadic herding practices extend back thousands of years. Demise of regional pastoral nomadism occurred in the 20th century under the forced settlement regimes of the Soviet Union.  Since independence there has been a widespread resurgence of livestock herding as rural people attempt to maintain self-sufficiency through a combination of agriculture and animal husbandry. Today, many herding families are semi-nomadic, moving their animals from villages to high mountain pastures in the summer.

The economic and cultural ties to the landscape are reflected by a strong cultural pride. The Naryn oblast is often considered the most “Kyrgyz” in terms of ethnicity and is considered by many to be the Kyrgyz cultural heartland.  True to this generalization is the only mono-ethnic oblast in the country (99% Kyrgyz) and many residents of the province do not speak Russian.

The Kyrgyz people were nomadic tribes, considered to be a Turkic people, with ancestral original in Siberia. They came to occupy the Tien Shan in the 16th century, and many rural residents are seventh generation residents of their region. Islam was adapted by the Kyrgyz in the 10th century and today most Kyrgyz remain Sunni Muslims.  Religion is a component of cultural identity, however a significant diversity of practices and interpretation exist. Relationships are also central to Kyrgyz individual and group identity. The support and solidarity offered by extended family units and clans are of critical importance.

Despite abundant livestock and high levels of self sufficiency, the Naryn Oblast is the poorest oblast in the country. The poverty rate, as calculated by the Kyrgyz Republic National Statistics Committee, is 42.7%; notably higher than the national average of 31.7%. In 2007, the average per capita income was only 1,465 soms ($37 USD) per month. Other significant indicators of well being are low life expectancy (62 years for men and 71.2 yrs for women); unavailability of proper waste disposal (47.8% burn their trash) and inaccessibility of clean drinking water (12% of the population lacks access). Among the numerous indicators of poverty, positive signs exist.  A majority of the population (97%) has access to health care facilities. The literacy rate is 98.5% as a result of compulsory education under the Soviet Union. However from 2004-2008 the number of students in secondary education (grades 1-11) declined by 12%. Economic priorities appear to be rural residents’ greatest concern and will likely be the primary factor in the region’s future.

As rural residents balance multiple concerns, traditional rural livelihoods, notable pastoralism, will continue to shape the economic, environmental and cultural landscape of At Bashy and rural Kyrgyzstan.

Physical Features

The At Bashy Range is in Kyrgyzstan, located within the southern fringe of the Tien Shan Mountains, just north of the Chinese border. The Tien Shan, one of the largest mountain systems in Central Asia, stretch over 1980 km east to west.  The Tien Shan are part of the Himalayan orogenic belt which was formed by the collision of the Indian and Eurasian plates 540 million years ago. Located thousands of miles from the nearest ocean, the huge relief draws snow and rain on what would otherwise be a vast desert. With peaks up to 7000 meters tall, the complex mountain terrain creates significant differences in microclimates, but in general most of the region is very arid. These dry conditions combined with strong seasonal and elevational temperature variations are characteristic of Central Asia’s continental climate.

Located just north of the Chinese border within the country of Kyrgyzstan, the At-Bashy Mountain Range stretches for 160 km (100miles) with peaks in elevation up to 4800 meters (about 15,500 ft).  Numerous small villages, including the larger village of At Bashy (population 10,000) are located on the northern side of the range in the At Bashy basin. The Torugart Pass road, the main road connecting Bishkek with China, also passes along the north side. At the northern tip of the range, near the area of Bosogo, there are beautiful pine forests and mineral springs. In the south west is the touristed Tash Rabat Valley, with its ancient Silk Road stone caravanserai.  At the southern end of the range is Chatyrl-Kul lake, a self contained body of water and the third largest lake in Kyrgyzstan. On the southern side of the range sits the Ak-Sai basin, a high elevation broad grassland plateau which runs just north of the Chinese border. The valley is about 100 km in length and 70 km across at its widest point, while the Ak-Sai River, flowing down the center of the valley has a median elevation of roughly 3200m.  The valley is extremely isolated, only being accessible by two improved dirt roads which pass around either end of the At Bashy Range. Many herders travel to the Ak-Sai Valley in the summer from the At Bashy Valley to graze livestock.

There are over 190 glaciers in the At-Bashy region. Glaciers are located between elevations of 3526 – 4740 meters. The lowest elevation glacier termini are located in the center of the range where the largest glaciers are also concentrated. Glaciers are distributed across all aspects of the range however the largest glaciers are concentrated on southern aspects, a trait characteristic of the regional relationships of area and aspect.
In the At-Bashy Range, maximum precipitation and glacier accumulation occurs in the spring and summer when the weakened Siberian high allows for moisture to arrive from the west and north coinciding with maximum glacier melt rates.  Air temperature is the primary control of snowfall amount and melt rates, characteristic of “summer-accumulation glacier type” where the seasons of accumulation and ablation are similar. Increasing temperatures have a dual fold impact, increasing the amount of energy for melting and decreasing snow accumulation (greater proportion may fall as rain).  Recent satellite imagery analysis, lead by Dr. Chiyuki Narama  revealed a 12% reduction in glacier area from 1970-2000 and an additional accelerated loss of 4% from 2000-2007.

photo by S.Halvorson
The retreat of glaciers in the At Bashy Range is similar to patterns throughout the Tien Shan and worldwide. Although the rate and extent of retreat are not homogenous, reductions in glacier coverage are quantifiable. Predicted future effects are often devastating, but the exact impacts on local people are not well known. Most future scenarios calculate decreases in water discharges during the summer dry season. Given the arid nature of the region, the glaciers of the Tien Shan constitute a crucial water resource for Kyrgyzstan and many of its surrounding neighbors. Reductions in water discharge could easily heighten existing geopolitical tensions. However, natural dynamics are complex and not entirely predictable given the scarcity of research in the region. Many compounding factors, primarily the spatial variability of precipitation, will determine future environmental impacts and the extent of changes in water flow.

-National Statistical Committee of the Kyrgyz Republic. University of Central Asia. Bishkek, Kyrgyzstan 
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-Aizen, V.B., Aizen, E.M., Melack, J.M., 1995. Climate, snow cover, glaciers, and runoff in the Tien Shan, Central Asia. Water Resources Bulletin 31/6, 1113–1129.
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-Hagg, W., Braun, L., 2005. The influence of glacier retreat on water yield from high mountain areas: comparison of Alps and Central Asian. Climate and Hydrology in mountain areas. John Wiley & Sons, Ltd, pp. 263–275.
-Narama, N., Kaab, A., Duishonakunov, M., Abdrakhmatov, K, 2010. Spatial variability of recent glacier area changes in the Tien Shan Mountains, Central Asia. Global and Planetary Change 71:42-54.