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Discovery Kyrgyzstan travel guide #10/2008
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The history of Russian geographical names in today's Kyrgyzia

The history of Russian geographical names in today's KyrgyziaThe first Russian settlements on the territory of Kyrgyzia developed into military bases such as Aksuyskoe, Narynskoe and Karakol'skoe. Established between 1863 and 1873, they derived their names from the nearby rivers Ak-Suu, Karakol, Naryn. But military affairs were not an effective basis for economic development and consolidation of the Cossack empire in the new territories. So a decision was taken to resettle peasants from central provinces of Russia into the area. The greatest number of migrants was from the Poltavskaya, Kurskaya, Voronezhskaya, Khar'kovskaya, Kievskaya, Ekaterinoslavskaya and Orlovskaya provinces of Russia.

As the peasants' migration progressed, numerous villages with Russian names started to appear. One of the very first villages to be given a Russian name was the village of Slivkino named after the first settler Slivkin. The farmer Slivkin founded his farm on the Issyk-Kul Lake in 1867 (later it became Slivkino-Pokrovka, and is now known as Kyzyl-Suu). From 1868 the flow of migrants increased. At that time the first peasants' settlement of Alamedin was founded on the river of the same name river (Alamudun) near the fortress of Pishpek. About 300 families from the Voronezhskaya province settled here. Several Russian families settled near the ruins of the Pishpek fortress. Fifty eight families (182 people) are known to have lived there in 1876, among them forty eight Uzbek families. The villages of Teplokluchenka (present name Ak-Suu), Preobrazhenskoe (today's Tup), Semenovka, Bystrorechenskoe (now Kemin), Bol'shoy Tokmak, Tokmak (now Tokmok), Lebedinovka, Belovodskoe, Aleksandrovka (today's Kyzyl-Adyr), and others appeared on the maps in 1876. The villages grew in a row along the post roads, on the river banks and around the lakes.

In 1888 a Russian settler M. Bachin built a house in Kyzyl-Tokoi that gave rise to the village of Bachino. In 1909 the fifteen house village was renamed Rybachino. In 1916 there were already 24 houses and 96 residents (Rybach'e Issyk-Kul, today's Balykchi).

During the times of Stolypin's reforms, the colonization of the region by Russians increased enormously. In 1911 all the provinces of the region were again open for migration. The number of Russian settlements increased considerably. The new villages were called after the first settlers: Semenovka, Grigorievka, Lipinskoe, Samsonovka (today's Kochkor); Kol'tsovka (today's Bokonbaevo); after land surveyors: Vasilievka, Voenno-Antonovka or the Tsar's generals: Samsonovka, Fol'baumskoe; after parishes: Pokrovka, Preobrazhenskoe, Blagoveshenka; after the settlers' places of origin: Poltavka, Moldovanovskoe, Kurskoe. The names also recalled past military campaigns: Groznoe, Balkanskoe; or the settlers' hopes for the new life: Otradnoe, Razdol'noe. Some names gave the description of the village location: Visokoe, Pogornenskoe, Stepnoe, Kamenka; sometimes they reproduced Kyrgyz names in a Russian manner: Belovodskoe (from Ak-Suu), Aksuyskoe, Barskaunskoe, Tasmanskoe.

In search of 'no man's lands' Russian migrants crossed the steep high passes to settle in the Talas and Ketmen'-Tubinskaya valleys. "I suppose," wrote the chief of Namangan district to the military governor of Fergana region, "it'll be better for us to establish a village there rather than let the newcomers settle there chaotically." So the governors were allowed to found a village as proscribed by the Namangan district chief. Thus was the village of Alekseevka founded, named after the crown prince and destined for a great future. But after being renamed Toktogul, it was flooded by the waters of the large Toktogul reservoir.

The history of Russian geographical names in today's KyrgyziaIn the Talas valley Russian and Ukrainian settlements appeared towards the end of the 19th century. Among them are Dmitrievka in 1887 (today's Talas), Pokrovka in 1881, and Aleksandrovka in 1887 (Kirovka, now Kyzyl-Adyr).

In 1882 in the Talas valley German settlers came and established a village of Nikolaipol (later Leninopol, now Bakai-Ata). The villages of the settlers stood out among the ails and kyshtaks of local people, and the Russian houses served as an example when the Kyrgyz constructed new dwellings. They started to change their nomadic way of life for a more settled one by establishing entirely Kyrgyz villages (Tash-Debe) or Kyrgyz-Russian settlements (Tarkhan, Tosor).

During the first years of Soviet power forced measures were used to establish Kyrgyz settlements. During the collectivization period the process of settlement was completely finished. At that time the villages, kolkhozes, sovkhozes were called after the communist leaders, heroes and ideological terms: Marx, Engels Lenin, Stalin, Kirov, Voroshilov, Kalinin, Chapaev, Chkalov, Communism, Komsomol, Oktyabr', and so on. Later on most of the towns and villages were renamed, for ideological, political or nationalistic reasons. During the Soviet times many places were called after the communist leaders, national heroes and poets. The town of Kara-Balta once was called Kalininskoe, the village of Belovodskoe was Stalinskoe, and Alamedin was Voroshilovskoe.

Most names were long forgotten. Places were once again known by their previous names. A great deal of renaming is taking place at present as Kyrgyzstan consolidates and strengthens its independence. Russian names are being replaced by typical Kyrgyz ones all over the country and especially in the Talas region, where only the village of Pokrovka has retained the same name it had at its foundation in 1881. The capital of Kyrgyzia, known from 1926 to 1991 as Frunze in honour of the Red Army commander Mikhail Frunze, received its new Kyrgyz name of Bishkek.

The names of rivers and lakes were less affected. The lakes were simply given a distorted term "Kul" instead of the Kyrgyz "Kol" ("lake"). Different nations had their own name for the lake Issyk-Kul ("hot lake"). The Chinese called it "Je-Hai", "Tianchi", "Yan'-Hai", "Ta-Cin-Chji", that meant hot, water-filled, salty, clear lake. Turks called it "Temurtu-nor" and "Tuz kul-nor", that is iron and salty lake. On the old missionary and first Russian maps it was indicated as 'salty lake'. To the typical Kyrgyz names of some rivers the Russian words "Malyi" (small), "Bol'shoi" (big), "Yuzhniy" (south), were added.

The river Engilchek (in Kyrgyz "lichen") and the glacier were known to everyone as Inylchek. In Soviet times during the exploration of high-altitude and virtually inaccessible mountainous regions, Russian names and especially the names of personalities were given to the majority of remarkable peaks, glaciers and passes such as Pobeda Peak, Lenin Peak, Semenov and Mushketov Glaciers. These names are indicated on the maps and are known mostly to specialists.

Russian geographical names which existed on the territory of Kyrgyzstan reflect a significant period in the life of the Kyrgyz nation. It is perhaps regrettable that politicization and nationalism do not always allow the genuine historic facts to be known. By Vladimir Petrov and Nicolai Schetnikov

Discovery Kyrgyzstan #4

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