Accessibility links

Breaking News

Hats Off To The Kalpak! Traditional Kyrgyz Cap Tipped For Official National Status

Kyrgyz people wear traditional hats and carry a big Kyrgyz cap (kalpak) and national flags during a rally marking Kyrgyz Cap Day" in Bishkek in March 2016.

The kalpak, the traditional Kyrgyz hat, is tipped to become a national cultural symbol.

A bill that would officially raise the kalpak's status is widely expected to be approved by lawmakers in the next few days.

The bill makes the felt hat -- also known as the "ak kalpak," or white kalpak -- an official symbol "alongside the country's national flag, coat of arms, and national anthem."

If approved, it would become compulsory for the president, the prime minister, and members of the cabinet and parliament to wear the hat during foreign visits and official events.

The bill also recommends that athletes and others representing Kyrgyzstan in sports or cultural affairs at home and abroad sport the kalpak during official ceremonies.

People wear kalpaks and carry a giant one and national flags during a rally on Flag/Kalpak Day in Bishkek on March 5, 2016.
People wear kalpaks and carry a giant one and national flags during a rally on Flag/Kalpak Day in Bishkek on March 5, 2016.

The document describes the kalpak as an "important element of the cultural heritage of the Kyrgyz nation." If it becomes a national symbol, disrespecting the kalpak would be illegal and offenders could face a fine or up to a year in jail.

In December 2017 a pet owner caused public anger when her Shiba Inu, a Japanese dog breed, appeared at a Bishkek dog show wearing a kalpak.

The incident prompted a small protest and widespread condemnation. Several months later, the so-called kalpak bill, drafted by lawmakers Ekmat Baybakpaev and Bakirdin Subanbekov, was made public.

The bill tasks the government with ensuring the proper use of the kalpak and to control its production, import, and sale.

Kalpaks must be made from "only from natural felt using pure wool," the document states.

The kalpak has been worn by Kyrgyz men of all ages and social standing for centuries.

According to Kyrgyz tradition, the kalpak must be treated with respect. For example, it should not be placed on the ground or near someone's feet.

Kyrgyzstan officially marks Kalpak Day on March 5 with public gatherings, concerts, and cultural events.

In 2016, when the honorary day was introduced, a group of Kyrgyz students made a 3-meter-high kalpak to take part in Kalpak Day celebrations in central Bishkek.

  • 16x9 Image

    Farangis Najibullah

    Farangis Najibullah is a senior correspondent for RFE/RL who has reported on a wide range of topics from Central Asia, including the region’s ongoing struggle with the coronavirus pandemic and its economic impact. She has extensively covered efforts by Central Asian states to repatriate their citizens who joined Islamic State in Syria and Iraq.