Chorobek Saadanbekov

Wikipedia editor Chorobek Saadanbekov wants to resuscitate Kyrgyz, a language in decline.
Chorobek Saadanbekov photo” by Karen Sayre, under CC BY-SA 3.0

Since the breakup of the Soviet Union in 1991, Kyrgyzstan has grappled with the declining in use of its state language, Kyrgyz. Many reasons have been cited for its declining usage among nationals, including its limited vocabulary for recent state issues and the fact that Russian is widely spoken in Kyrgyzstan. To fight this decline, Chorobek Saadanbekov has been spreading knowledge in Kyrgyz by putting it on Wikipedia.

Saadanbekov has been an active Wikipedian since 2011. With many Kyrgyzstan nationals speaking both Russian and Kyrgyz, Saadanbekov believes that the lack of educational resources in Kyrgyz hinders learning opportunities for those who only read Kyrgyz. Kyrgyzstan’s population is around 5.5 million people, and the Kyrgyz are the nation’s largest ethnic group.

“We need [to] develop free, accessible knowledge for the majority of our country,” says Saadanbekov.

His first open knowledge project involved creating an electronic library of Kyrgyz language books. Saadanbekov and others digitized about 200 books and put them online for free access. But during his first project he realized that putting those articles on Wikipedia would boost the chances that they would actually be read.

Initially, Saadanbekov was unfamiliar with the process of creating articles on Wikipedia. So in 2011, he attended a WikiWeek session by the Soros Kyrgyzstan Foundation where experienced editors trained those who were curious about editing Wikipedia. Since then, Saadanbekov has written more than 600 articles on the Kyrgyz language Wikipedia.

Saadanbekov grew up in the countryside of Kyrgyzstan and attended a Kyrgyz language school in his youth. He then went on to become a historian and archivist after graduating from the Russian State University for the Humanities in Moscow. An avid reader of Kyrgyz culture and history, Saadanbekov has also written numerous articles about the Epic of Manas. Manas tells the story of the Kyrgyz people and is an important part of Kyrgyzstan’s oral tradition, consisting of hundreds of thousands of lines of text. “It’s [the] history of our nation, in epic [form].” says Saadanbekov.

“If I [create a] very good article in Kyrgyz language about Manas, I can translate it into English and place it in English Wikipedia,” says Saadanbekov. “So we can connect our knowledges [in] a good way.”

Despite the rich history of the Kyrgyz people, educational resources in Kyrgyz are in short supply, impacting the quality of education among Kyrgyz students. Saadanbekov says he hopes that Wikipedia can be a good alternative for paper books that are already scarce in many schools.

“Coming of information technologies gives us [a] very good chance of increasing [our] educational quality and quantity,” he says.

Today the Kyrgyz Wikipedia is comprised of 27,471 articles and has come a long way since its start in 2011.

Yoona Ha, Communications Intern, Wikimedia Foundation
Interview by Jonathan Curiel, Wikimedia Foundation