Discovery Kyrgyzstan
Discovery Kyrgyzstan travel guide #10/2008

Home | About us | Links | Subscribe | Advertising | Our Team | Support



A Brief History

The land occupied by the Kyrgyz Republic has a long and varied history …:
Ancient Times
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).

Petroglyphs (stone 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 recent times

  • 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 India.      
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 oblivion. 
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 disappeared. 
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 “Chinese”) developed.
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 Chagatai Khanate.
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 and scientific.    
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 Century.    
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 century.
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.
The Kyrgyz
The 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.

Discovery Kyrgyzstan
Travel guide#10/2008

Discovery Kyrgyzstan Travel guide #10/2008

Copyright © 2007 - Discovery Kyrgyzstan- - All Rights Reserved