Visiting Yuri Gagarin’s Bust – Postcard from Kyrgyzstan

Mehrdad Nazari visiting Yuri Gagarin Bust in BarskoonAs the negotiations around the Kumtor Gold Mine are continuing with more audits and inspections, I had a chance to stop for a picture at one of the more famous tourist sites in the Barskoon valley: a bust from Yuri Gagarin, the first human to journey into outer space in 1961.  - (Shortlink:  

According to tour operators, the Barskoon valley is an interesting tourist destination in the Kyrgyz Republic. The road passing through this gorge used to be one of the routes of the Silk Road leading through mountain passes to China. Now, this road also serves as the main supply road for the Kumtor Gold Mine.

Following his historic space flight, Yuri Gagarin came to the southern shore of Issyk Kul Lake for some well deserved R&R. The bust located here commemorates that event. Justin Bourne (thanks!) sent me the image below of an even more impressive sculpture of Yuri Gagarin.

Yuri Gagarin bust

Other interesting tourist destinations in the area include the remains of a burial mound dating between the 5th and 3rd centuries BC, and remains of an ancient Silk Road settlement, dating from the 8th to 12th centuries

The Barskoon road also leads to the small village of Ak Shyrak. It is approximately 18 km eastward of the headquarters of the Sarychat Ertash Nature Reserve, and the main access point to the southern border of the Reserve which had also been the center of attention of complains about the Kumtor mine about which I blogged previously (Biodiversity & Positioning – Problem or Solution? and Biodiversity Management Strategy & Plan for Gold Mine).

Ak Shyrak has a population of about 120. This includes a number of the rangers tasked with protecting the Sarychat Ertash Nature Reserve (Zapovednik), which is home to snow leopards and Marco Polo sheep. The village is located well above the tree line elevation and originates from Soviet-era geological camps and outposts.

Tourism remains an important sector in the Kyrgyz economy. However, recent violent demonstrations appear to have spooked some regular tourists (Kyrgyzstan: Spring Riots Spoil Summer Tourist Season). This includes a protest related to Kumtor in late May, resulting in 55 people being injured during clashes with the police. According to the Kyrgyz Prime Minister’s Office, there were over 1,200 protests across the country in 2012.

Can we expect to see a normalization in 2013? This may be influenced by the on-going negotiations between Centerra Gold and the Kyrgyz Government. According to an article posted today (12 Aug 2013) on, the Kyrgyz Government is expecting that the analysis by independent environmental experts will be ready by the end of August and a new Kumtor agreement will be presented to the Kyrgyz Parliament on September 10th.

Do you think that an amicable agreement can be reached? Can the expectations of local communities and politicians be met? Will Centerra’s shareholders be happy with the outcome? And will the tourism sector return back to normal?


4 Comments to Visiting Yuri Gagarin’s Bust – Postcard from Kyrgyzstan

  1. […] « Visiting Yuri Gagarin’s Bust – Postcard from Kyrgyzstan […]

  2. Adam McEniry says:

    To answer accurately one would have to have a crystal ball. Nationalism I think plays a big part. It is an emotional issue, never very predictable. Anytime you’ve got one industry, particularly natural-resourced based, representing a large part of national GDP, you will deal with a lot of it.

    Kumtor is facing an uphill battle. When times are good for the industry there is a tendency for governments to whittle away at (if not appropriate themselves of) assets. Negotiations are never symmetrical, but governments want to at least appear fair. How Kumtor fares will largely be dependent on the quality of its arguments, studies, and its ability to address the concerns of its stakeholders.

  3. […] Postcard from Kyrgyzstan […]

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