It seems somehow appropriate that the first U.S. embassy in Central Asia was located on a street named "Freedom" in Bishkek. Twenty years ago, on December 25, 1991, President George H.W. Bush officially recognized Kyrgyz independence, saying, "The United States applauds and supports the historic choice for freedom...We will move quickly to establish diplomatic relations and build new ties." A few weeks later, our flag was raised above the first foreign embassy in Bishkek, at that time a one-story home on Erkindik Boulevard.
Soon citizens of our two countries began to meet and exchange ideas about life, culture, family, and history. In two decades, over three thousand citizens of the Kyrgyz Republic have visited the United States through our government-sponsored exchange programs. Kyrgyz high school students have lived with American host families and attended American schools. University students experienced American campus life and obtained graduate degrees. Professionals compared best practices with their American counterparts.
Meanwhile, American teachers, experts, artists, and many others traveled to Kyrgyzstan. Nearly one thousand Peace Corps Volunteers have lived in Kyrgyz homes and taught in schools or worked with local organizations. These Americans returned home to the United States to share their experiences, just as Kyrgyz citizens returned to Kyrgyzstan to share their impressions of the United States with family, friends, and colleagues. This mutual exchange gave us mutual understanding, and our nations' friendship deepened.
Today, the Kyrgyz Republic leads Central Asia in political reform with a new constitution, a government chosen by its citizens, and leadership whose primary goal is to guide the country on a path of progress and stability. U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton marked the significance of this reform, saying, "You are pioneers. Look around you in this region. You are trying to do something that no one else has done."
We stand firmly in support of the people of the Kyrgyz Republic who have cast their votes for effective, representative government. Since the establishment of our diplomatic relations twenty years ago, we have contributed over one billion dollars in assistance through the United States Agency for International Development (USAID) and other U.S. Government institutions.
Our two nations' friendship goes beyond the people-to-people exchange and joint efforts to improve livelihoods. We proudly stand shoulder-to-shoulder as genuine partners with shared interests in seeking a stable, secure region. The Kyrgyz Republic plays a major role in this regard by hosting the Transit Center at Manas International Airport, and the United States is deeply appreciative of this contribution to international efforts to stabilize Afghanistan.
As Kyrgyzstan has grown and transformed, so too has our friendship. It is my great honor to serve as the Ambassador of the United States of America to the Kyrgyz Republic during this twentieth year of independence.