- - Friday, March 9, 2012

BISHKEK, Kyrgyzstan — It’s blood red with a yellow sunburst in the center that’s covered by the top opening of a yurt - and it’s the focus of fierce debate in this Central Asian nation.

Kyrgyzstan’s flag has flown for 20 years since the country’s independence from the former Soviet Union - a tangible representation of the people’s history, heritage and pride, full of symbolism and meaning.

There’s the rub.

“State symbols are sacred for us, protected by law, and never should be the object of argument and discord,” says Abdyrahman Mamataliev, who heads a commission that is examining the issue of changing the flag.

“But now there are a lot of disputes. Part of the population doesn’t accept the flag. We need a flag that the whole nation can unite under, a flag we can be proud of.”

Part of the debate centers on what the flag’s symbols mean.

The crossed lines over the yellow sunburst represent the view through a tunduk, the chimneylike opening in the traditional tent known as a yurt.

The flaming yellow sun and red background are symbols of Manas, an ancient warrior hero of Kyrgyz legend who fought off foreign invaders and then conquered neighboring tribes.

Home, light and the blood of the people - symbols for these ideals can be seen in many flags, not just Kyrgyzstan‘s. But some Kyrgyz citizens see more in the symbols than others.

Other meanings

For playwright Mar Baygiev, symbols relating to Manas are inappropriate for modern Kyrgyzstan - a nation of 5.5 million people that includes Uzbeks, Uighurs, Dongans and other ethnic groups conquered by the epic hero.

“Why is it not blue sky but blood that is seen through the tunduk?” says Mr. Baygiev, a member of the flag-changing commission. “It is said that Manas had a red flag, but that was his personal battle flag for wartime, not a national one.”

He also is no fan of the presidential emblem, which depicts a mountain range on the back of an eagle. “And the bird on the insignia looks more like a chicken than an eagle,” he says.

Some critics say the flag’s red field represents communism and the yellow looks like a sunflower, which is regarded as a symbol of dependence because the plant turns toward the sun as it moves across the sky - a visual reminder of Kyrgyzstan’s historical dependence on Russia.

Others take issue with the flag’s crimson background and the turbulent, if not violent, history it represents.

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