Since 1991 significant numbers of the ‘ethnic’ Kyrgyz have accepted the Christian faith, a figure close to 20,000 Kyrgyz Christians. Kyrgyz number about 71% of Kyrgyzstan’s population, Uzbeks 14% and Russians 8%. Christianity has had a long history with Central Asia with historical links to Nestorian and Assyrian Christianity (Church of the East). However, the faith disappeared by the mid-14th century due to persecution and plague. Despite efforts to proselytise the community by the Russian Orthodox Church, the peoples of Central Asia maintained continuity within their affairs. This also meant that religious identification was tied to ethnicity and identity: to be Russian was to be Christian (ROC); to be Central Asian was to be Muslim. Of all the post-Soviet Central Asian nations, Kyrgyzstan has been considered the most open and least authoritarian of all post-Soviet Central Asian nations. While a relaxed policy of religious freedom led to a marketplace of religious ideas, Kyrgyz Christians are stigmatized by being labelled as sell-outs, deniers of their Muslim birth-identity, adherents to Russian God, and cultists. Nevertheless, the spread of Christianity has been due to factors such as cultural continuity and the person-to-person involvement of Kyrgyz Christians with those from their community.
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