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LIVING IN ONE OF THE POOREST FORMER Soviet republics, facing a scarcity of goods, acute inflation, and high unemployment, the Kyrgyz people are eager to find the kind of consolation that comes with religion. After Kyrgyzstan gained independence in 1991, its residents seemed anxious to embrace Islam. It not only represented a spiritual retreat but also distinguished them from the Russians and other European groups who had dominated politics in the country for more than 70 years.