History of Kyrgyzstan

Early history

Stone implements found in the Tian Shan mountains indicate the presence of human society in what is now Kyrgyzstan as many as 200,000 to 300,000 years ago. The first written records of a civilization in the area occupied by Kyrgyzstan appear in Chinese chronicles beginning about 2000 B.C.

Origins of the Kyrgyz people

According to recent historical findings, Kyrgyz history dates back to 201 BC. The early Kyrgyz lived in the upper Yenisey River valley, central Siberia. Chinese and Muslim sources of the 7thЦ12th centuries AD describe the Kyrgyz as red-haired with fair complexion and green (blue) eyes. First appearing in Chinese records of the Grand Historian as Gekun or Jiankun, and later as part of the Tiele tribes, they were once under the rule of Gokturks and Uyghurs.

The descent of the Kyrgyz from the autochthonous Siberian population is confirmed on the other hand by the recent genetic studies (The Eurasian Heartland: A continental perspective on Y-chromosome diversity). Remarkably, 63% of the modern Kyrgyz men share Haplogroup R1a1 (Y-DNA) with Tajiks (64%), Ukrainians (54%), Poles (56%) and even Icelanders (25%). Haplogroup R1a1 (Y-DNA) is believed to be a marker of the Proto-Indo-European language speakers.

Kyrgyz genesis legend tells about an ancestor and father of all Kyrgyzes Kyzyl Taigan (Red Dog). A daughter of the khan was in the habit to take long walks in a company of 40 maidens-servants. Once, on return home after her usual walk, the Princess saw that her native aul (village) was ravaged by an enemy. In the aul they found only one alive creature, a red dog. The princess and her 40 maids become mothers, in a company with only one male attraction, a red dog. By the number of matrons, the posterity of 40 maidens, kyrk-kyz, began to be called Kyrgyz people. The cult of the Heavenly Dog was widespread between the tribes west and east of the ancient China.

The Kyrgyz state reached its greatest expansion after defeating the Uyghur Khaganate in 840 AD. Then Kyrgyz quickly moved as far as the Tian Shan range and maintained their dominance over this territory for about 200 years. In the 12th century, however, the Kyrgyz domination had shrunk to the Altay Range and the Sayan Mountains as a result of the rising Mongol expansion. With the rise of the Mongol Empire in the 13th century, the Kyrgyz migrated south. Plano Carpin, an envoy of the Papal states, and William Rubruck, an envoy of France, all wrote about their life under the Mongols.

Various Turkic peoples ruled them until 1685, when they came under the control of the Oirats (Dzungars).

Early medieval times

The first Turks to form a state in the territory of Central Asia (including Kyrgyzstan) were Gokturks or Kok-Turks. Known in medieval Chinese sources as Tujue, the Gokturks under the leadership of Bumin/Tuman Khan/Khaghan (d. 552) and his sons established the first known Turkic state around 552 in the general area of territory that had earlier been occupied by the Xiongnu, and expanded rapidly to rule wide territories in Central Asia. The Gokturks split in two rival Khanates, of which the western one disintegrated in 744 AD.

The first kingdom to emerge from the Qokturk khanate was the Buddhist Uyghur Empire that flourished in the territory encompassing most of Central Asia from 740 to 840 AD.

After the Uyghur empire disintegrated a branch of the Uyghurs migrated to oasis settlements in the Tarim Basin and Gansu, such as Gaochang (Khoja) and Hami (Kumul), and set up a confederation of decentralized Buddhist states called Kara-Khoja. Others, mainly closely related to the Uyghurs (the Karluks), occupying the western Tarim Basin, Ferghana Valley, Jungaria and parts of modern Kazakhstan bordering the Muslim Turco-Tajik Khwarazm Sultanate, converted to Islam no later than the 10th century and built a federation with Muslim institutions called Kara-Khanlik, whose princely dynasties are called Karakhanids by most historians. Its capital, Balasagun flourished as a cultural and economic centre.
The Islamized Karluk princely clan, the Balasagunlu Ashinalar (or the Karakhanids) gravitated toward the Persian Islamic cultural zone after their political autonomy and suzerainty over Central Asia was secured during the 9-10th century.

As they became increasingly Persianized they settled in the more Indo-Iranian sedentary centers such as Kashgaria, and became detached from the nomadic traditions of fellow Karluks, many of whom retained cultural elements of the Uyghur Khanate.

The principality was significantly weakened by the early 12th century and the territory of modern Kyrgyrstan was conquered by Uyghur Kara-Khitais. The Kara-Khitan Khanate(Xi Liao, 1124-1218), also known as Western Liao, was established by Yelu Dashi who led around 100,000 Khitan remnants after escaping the Jurchen conquest of their native country, the Khitan dynasty.

The Khitay conquest of Central Asia can thus be seen as an internecine struggle within the Karluk nomadic tribe, played out as dynastic conflict between the conquering Buddhist Khitay elites and the defending Kara-Khanid princes, resulting in the subjugation of the latter by the former, and in the subjugation of the Muslim Karluks by their Nestorian/Buddhist kin.

Mongol domination

The Mongols' invasion of Central Asia in the 13th century devastated the territory of Kyrgyzstan, costing its people their independence and their written language. The son of Genghis Khan, Juche, conquered the Kyrgyz tribes of the Yenisey region, who by this time had become disunited. At the same time, the area of present Kyrgyzstan was an important link in the Silk Road, as attested by several Nestorian gravestones. For the next 200 years, the Kyrgyz remained under the Golden Horde, Chagatai Khanate and the Oirats as well as Dzungars that succeeded that regime. Freedom was regained in 1510, but Kyrgyz tribes were overrun in the seventeenth century by the Kalmyks, in the mid-eighteenth century by the Manchus, and in the early nineteenth century by the Uzbeks.

Russian Empire
A 50-Kyrgyzstani som banknote representing Kurmanjan Datka.In the early 19th century, the southern territory of Kyrgyzstan came under the control of the Khanate of Kokand, but the territory was occupied and formally annexed by the Russian Empire in 1876. The Russian takeover instigated numerous revolts against tsarist authority, and many Kyrgyz opted to move into the Pamir Mountains or to Afghanistan. The ruthless suppression of the 1916 rebellion in Central Asia, triggered by the Russian imposition of the military draft on the Kyrgyz and other Central Asian peoples, caused many Kyrgyz to flee to China.

The Soviet Era

Soviet power was initially established in the region in 1918, and in 1924, the Kara-Kyrgyz Autonomous Oblast was created within the Russian SFSR. (The term Kara-Kyrgyz was used until the mid-1920s by the Russians to distinguish them from the Kazakhs, who were also referred to as Kyrgyz.) In 1926, it became the Kirghiz Autonomous Soviet Socialist Republic. On December 5, 1936, the Kirghiz Soviet Socialist Republic (SSR) was established as a full Union Republic of the U.S.S.R.

During the 1920s, Kyrgyzstan saw considerable cultural, educational, and social change. Economic and social development also was notable. Literacy increased, and a standard literary language was introduced. The Kyrgyz language belongs to the Western Turkic group of languages. In 1924, an Arabic-based Kyrgyz alphabet was introduced, which was replaced by Latin script in 1928. In 1941 Cyrillic script was adopted. Many aspects of the Kyrgyz national culture were retained despite suppression of nationalist activity under Joseph Stalin, who controlled the Soviet Union from the late 1920s until 1953.

Modern Kyrgyz religious affiliation is eclectically Muslim for a majority of the population. Typical Kyrgyz families vary in their devotion to Islam. Urbanized areas of Kyrgyzstan are similar to the United States in terms of religious identity; while most Americans claim to be Christian, the majority are rather eclectic in practice. The same is true for Kyrgyzstan, in that the more rural the individual, the more devoted to Islam they tend to be and vice-versa.