The Altyn Kol Cooperative was formed in 1996 by a small group of women from the remote Naryn Oblast of central Kyrgyzstan. The founding members lacked experience in the outside world, but they recognized that reviving the endangered art of Shyrdak making offered the chance to preserve dying traditions and create much-needed jobs. Today, more than 80 women practice the ancient tradition of Shyrdak making, and in doing so share their art and culture with travelers lucky-enough to visit the rural village of Kochkor where the cooperative has a small shop. The money they earn is of immeasurable help to families facing the perpetual challenge of getting-by in a harsh, mountainous region with few economic opportunities.
Shyrdaks are hand-made using locally sourced sheep's wool.
First, the wool is pressed, rolled and stamped into felt. It is then dyed and hung out to dry pefore the pattern is created and cut, the yarn is spun and the piece is stiched together.
Kyrgyzstan is a small, mountainous country in Central Asia. It is home to rich cultural and ethnic diversity, with Kyrgyz, Uzbek, Russian, Korean, and Uighur communities. Kyrgyzstan was incorporated into Tsarist Russia in the late nineteenth century, then eventually gained status as a Soviet Socialist Republic in 1936. Since the collapse of the Soviet Union, Kyrgyzstan has suffered significant economic depression and poverty. Although it is the most liberal of the countries in the Central Asian region, it remains hampered by widespread corruption.