The New York Times issued an unusual correction to one of its articles on Wednesday: it made up a country, “Kyrzbekistan.”
The admission came appended to an article on rock climber Tommy Caldwell. Caldwell has performed his sport on some of the world’s most mountainous regions, including the post-Soviet Central Asian Republic of Kyrgyzstan, where he was briefly captured by Islamist rebels between clashes with “the Kyrgyzstan army.”
However, as the newspaper put it, the original article “misstated the name of the country whose army chased Tommy Caldwell’s kidnapper… Caldwell was in Kyrgyzstan, not Kyrzbekistan, which does not exist.”
Foreign affairs experts enjoyed the brief respite from the grim news of the day, quickly creating a official Twitter handle for the @Kyrzbekistan government and joking that “We Austranians don’t like Kyrzbesistanis ever since they have sided with Luxemstein in the United States Of Amigos question.”
For his part, sports reporter John Branch took his mistake in stride, tweeting, “If anyone needs me, I’ll be in @kyrzbekistan, which is only fitting, since I’m the one who made it up.” Shortly thereafter, he was named president of the fictional country.
If anyone needs me, I’ll be in @kyrzbekistan, which is only fitting, since I’m the one who made it up.
— John Branch (@JohnBranchNYT) January 8, 2015
Kyrgyzstan, Uzbekistan and neighboring Central Asian republics rarely make the American news, despite frequent unrest from Islamist militias and often appalling human rights abuses. In its last human rights report, the U.S. State Department described Kyrgyzstan, or formally the Kyrgyz Republic, as containing “pervasive corruption” and “lack of judicial impartiality.”
Former presidential candidate Herman Cain famously mocked the inscrutability of Central Asia’s many republics in 2011, when he admitted to not knowing “who is the president of Ubeki-beki-beki-beki-stan-stan.” Uzbekistan’s president, Islom Karimov, has been in office since 1991.
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