The Kyrgyz people
themselves probably originated in the northern Altai Mountains. There
are references to them in ancient Chinese texts and these were used for
a justification of 2003 being declared the Year of Kyrgyz Statehood
– marking 2200 years of their existence. (In 2002
many visitors to Kyrgyzstan were somewhat confused by the number of
posters and roadside signs which seemed to refer to the year
2200. It wasn’t a mistake – the reference
was to the 2200 years of the Kyrgyz Nation … ).
A Kyrgyz Khanate stretched from the Yenesei River
to the Eastern Tien Shan, but this was replaced by other Turkic
empires, the Kara Khanid, the Mongol, Chagatal, … Khokand
and finally Russian and Soviet. Each brought about a mix of
nationalities, as did Kyrgyzstan’s position across the Great
Ethnically, the Kyrgyz tend to resemble somewhat
the Mongols or Chinese, while the Uzbeks and the Uighurs (the latter
live mainly in China) resemble more the people of Turkey.
The original Kyrgyz, however, were somewhat
different. For example, 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. Their homeland was a place where
the trees grew so tall “that an arrow could not reach their
peaks”. Apparently, they were a tall people with
light coloured hair and green or blue eyes.
There used to be some confusion in identifying the
Kyrgyz, themselves, and the Kazakhs. This is because the
Kazakhs, (a larger nationality), were often referred to as
“Kyrgyz”, (some suggest that this was to avoid
confusing them with the “Cossaks”), whilst the
Kyrgyz themselves were often referred to as
“Kara-Kyrgyz” (= “Black
Kyrgyz”) to distinguish them.
The Kazakhs were nomadic pastoralists who herded
animals on the steppes - and it is sometimes said that the Kyrgyz were
nomads who wandered from place to place vertically and the Kazakhs were
nomads who wandered from place to place horizontally.
There are sizeable Kyrgyz communities in
Afghanistan and Turkey. The Kyrgyz of the Wakhan corridor (in
Afghanistan) have, over the years, been granted considerable freedom by
the various rulesrs of that country to organize themselves.
There is also a large community of people in Siberia which identify
with the Kyrgyz – live by similar customs and speak a similar
language. On the Chinese side of the border, just past
Torugart is the Kyrgyz Autonomous County. Apparently it was
Kyrgyz nomads who showed Younghusband passes over the Pamir from
Hunza. It is even said that there was an ancient Kyrgyz
community settled in parts of Tibet.
There are Kyrgyz communities in a number of
countries around the world, including the United Kingdom and the United
States. (There is a tradition amongst some Kyrgyz that says
that long ago some of their ancestors crossed the Bering Land Bridge to
become the forefathers of today’s Native
Americans.) In the summer of 1992 the first Kyrgyz Kurultai,
(or “gathering”), took place in Bishkek, and
representatives of Kyrgyz communities from various parts of the world
(including Australia Saudi Arabia, Canada, Germany, Turkey, China,
Afghanistan and the US) attended. The second such gathering took place
in 2003. More than 300,000 Kyrgyz live in other parts of the former
Soviet Union, and 150,000 in China, Afghanistan and Pakistan. Smaller
communities can be found in Mongolia, India, Turkey and Jordan. In
China the Kyrgyz even have their own Kyzyl-Su autonomous district.
In recent years, some of the ethnic Kyrgyz have
been returning “home” to the Kyrgyz Republic.