The land occupied by the Kyrgyz Republic has
a long and varied history …:
Man first appeared in the land that is now known as Kyrgyzstan in
ancient times and there is archaeological evidence of early
settlements. For example:
- At Tosor, on the Southern shore of Lake Issyk
Kul, archaeologists have found the site of an ancient (Paleological)
settlement – said to date from 50,000 BC (!), (a recent book
says anywhere between 100,000 and 40,000 years old).
- In the 1950’s, during the
construction of Alamedin Hydroelectric power station, (near Bishkek),
stone tools dating from 6000 years ago were discovered.
- Osh, Kyrgyzstan’s second city
– the “Southern Capital” of the country
– has been the site of human settlement for over 3000 years).
inscriptions) are found at various places throughout the country and
also provide evidence of early man’s existence –
his life, religion and culture.
Unfortunately, only a few examples of old buildings or settlements
remain. The early inhabitants were nomads, and the great cities which
did exist in the past have long since disappeared. Many
buildings were made of clay and (like may mausoleums that can be seen
throughout the countryside) have been eroded so that only
archaeological excavations can reveal the true extent of much of
Kyrgyzstan’s early history.
The nomadic peoples did not leave written records either - their
tradition was an oral one – and what written records there
are come from other sources – Chinese, Arab, and the accounts
of travellers and traders.
A Troubled Region
The region has experienced troubled time being crossed several times by
marauding armies – from before the time of Alexander the
Great to modern times, such as:
- The armies of China, who reached the western
extent of their expansion when they were defeated at the Battle of
Talas in 751AD.
- The Mongols under Genghis Khan,
- The armies of Timur (Tamerlane),
… and in more
- Tsarist Russia,
- The Civil War and
- the Basmachi revolt.
Most accounts of the history
of the region tend to start in the 1st Millennium BC – when
the Kyrgyzstan was at the southernmost part of land occupied by the Sak
peoples – whom the Roman historian, Herodotus, called
Scythians. (It is claimed that some of the early historical
sources suggest that these people included some references to a
particular pointed felt hat – very similar to the Kalpak
which is still worn by the Kyrgyz today).
Alexander the Great extended his Macedonian Empire to Central Asia
– but his armies never conquered the Saks. Instead
they headed South and turned their attention towards
At the end of the second century BC, the area came under the Hun
Empire, which was a large confederation of nomadic tribes.
The Huns marched West, and nearly conquered Rome. The empire,
however, proved to be too vast and collapsed into historical
The Tokhars rose to fill the power vacuum created by the collapse of
the Hun Empire, only to replaced in their turn by the Usun tribes (who
saw the rise of the trade network now known today as the
“Silk Road”) – and then the Turkic Empire
(from which the people of modern Turkey trace their descent).
In the 6th to 9th Centuries – large settlements, such as
Balasagan and Barskoon, rose and flourished, then went into decline and
The unification of Turkic tribes gave rise to the Western Turkic
Khanate (there was later an Eastern version) the capital of which was
Suyab situated in the Chui valley (Bishkek lies in this valley). In the
10th-12th centuries, the Kara-Khanid Khanate (or Kara-Khitai Empire -
“Kitai” in Russian still means
From the Altai Mountains, the Kyrgyz displaced the Uighurs, who
themselves moved south to the steppes of western China (later
Turkestan) and in turn displaced the local Turkish peoples.
All was swept aside with the invasion of the Mongols under Genghiz
Khan. After his death, the empire was divided amongst his
sons … the land that is now Kyrgyzstan became part of the
One of his descendants of Genghis Khan rose to power – Timur
the Lame, or Tamerlane – leaving a mixed heritage marked by
ruthless cruelty and sponsorship of learning – both artistic
Later, this became the Kokand Khanate, dominated by Uzbeks from the
south, but following an uprising in 1870’s the Kyrgyz were
finally brought under the sway of the Russian Empire following the
expansion of the latter in the second half of the 19th
The land that now forms the Kyrgyz Republic was assimilated into the
Russian Empire in the nineteenth century and after the October
Revolution became part of the Soviet Union – eventually
becoming one of the sixteen Republics in 1936.
The Kyrgyz people, formerly nomadic, were – like others in
central Asia – subject to a campaign of settlement and
collectivization under the Soviet Union in its formative period, which
left a large percentage of the population dead from starvation and
disease. However, it cannot be denied that in later years the Russian
presence led to many benefits in the forms of heavy subsidies enabling
the relative modernisation of the country and its
infrastructure. Many Kyrgyz still give the Soviet
Union credit for the modernization of the country: factories, roads,
railroads, airports, modern housing and power stations, as well as
improvements in the education system and opportunities for young
people, and the health and social security system. The
country was one of the most favoured holiday destinations for Soviet
citizens, who flocked especially to the many resorts on Lake Issyk-Kul.
Literacy rates are high. Today, many Kyrgyz still feel admiration, and
even gratitude, for the development that took place in this period.
The present day borders of Kyrgyzstan, (Khirgizia, the Kyrgyz Republic)
were drawn up by the new Russian conquerors and rewritten in part under
the Soviet Union (for example, part of the Ferghana valley near Osh was
ceded by Stalin to the Uzbeks). Even today there remain some
border disputes, particularly in the south where enclaves of Uzbek land
are totally encompassed within the borders of Kyrgyzstan. (Talks are
going on to resolve these.)
Tensions were not far from the surface … in 1990 the
republic declared its sovereignty and in 1991seceded from the Soviet
Union following the abortive attempted August coup in Moscow.
It became one of the world’s newest independent states and
the government undertook a series of reforms with the support of
various international organizations and is making strides into the 21st
In 2005 the country leapt into the world’s attention when
protests over the results of the parliamentary elections led to the
storming of the White House, (the Presidential Palace and Government
House in the heart of Bishkek) and the fall of the government of
President Askar Akaev.
Kyrgyz themselves are one of the oldest nationalities in Central Asia
– mentioned in ancient Chinese texts over 2000 years ago
– 2003 was being dedicated as the 2200th year of Kyrgyz
Statehood. (The word “Kyrgyz” means
something like “forty tribes”).
They travelled to Central Asia from the Yenesei region of Siberia and
established themselves as a power in the mountainous region, at first
as part of tribal alliances of various nomadic groups and eventually
carving out the Kyrgyz Kaganat.
The Kyrgyz which descended upon the Uighur Empire around 832
– were a forest dwelling people from the Yenesei region in
Siberia – some 40 days travel from the Uighur capital of
Karabalasugin – a place where the trees grew so tall
“that an arrow could not reach their
peaks”. They had been in conflict with the Uighurs
for some 20 years … and succeeded in evicting them from
Balasugin to the Chinese borders where they fell easy victims to the
Chinese who sought revenge for centuiries of usery. The
Kyrgyz of this time were, apparently, a tall people with light coloured
hair and green or blue eyes. After their defeat of the
Uighurs, they quickly returned to their forested homeland, but in the
face of any serious opposition, they maintained control over the former
Uighur lands. The Kyrgyz Khanate lasted for several centuries
– eventually being defeated and replaced by a series of
empires. It stretched from the Yenesei River to the eastern Tien Shan
in the first millennium AD.