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Afghanistan’s Kyrgyz trapped on the ‘roof of the world’

(AFP) – For centuries, the nomadic Kyrgyz people travelled freely across Central and South Asia, fording rivers and cutting across snow-capped mountains with their herds of livestock. Today they are stuck on the “roof of the world” – caught in Afghanistan’s remote and mountainous Wakhan Corridor with little hope of a way out.

Political upheaval and violence in the region has slowly boxed them in. There are no roads, and one by one the nearest borders have closed, condemning the Kyrgyz to a treacherous life.

“We are accidental Afghans,” says Jo Boi, the frail Kyrgyz chief with heavy-lidded eyes and a somnolent voice.

“We didn’t choose this land but we have no other place to go,” he explains of his tribe, which numbers just 1,100 according to analysts.

An inhospitable place where temperatures rarely rise above freezing and crops cannot grow, life expectancy here is low.

One in three women die from complications in childbirth while 53 percent of children do not survive beyond age five, says Jeff Walkes, the Bishek-based director of NGO Crosslink Development International.

He told AFP: “They live on a precipice between survival and succumbing to the realities of living in such a remote area.”

“They continue to exist… as they have for hundreds of years,” he added,

In the absence of doctors or clinics even minor ailments can be deadly.

“Death is more frequent than birth,” agrees local shepherd Tilo, his hands so chapped the skin is cracked and bloodied, a common feature among inhabitants of the corridor.

‘Roof of the world’

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