A generation after independence from the Soviet Union, most villages in Kyrgyzstan are ramshackle, broken places, scenes of hopelessness and despair. Able young people leave – for Bishkek, the capital, or for menial jobs in Russia. But thanks to a secret gold mine, one little mountain hamlet is different.
Soviet geologists found the gold vein in remote Naryn Province in the 1940s, villagers say. But the gold was never tapped until economic collapse in the 1990s forced the village’s “wild geologists,” as they call themselves, to explore.
“Without it, our village would vanish in crime and theft,” says one miner, an agronomist by training. “It used to be a very criminal place before people started working at the mine. One wouldn’t even leave a broom in the backyard.”
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Asel Kalybekova is a freelance reporter based in Kyrgyzstan