Kyrgyz Republic is a truly multi-cultural society. Since the
days of the Great Silk Road, when travellers of many different
nationalities passed through the country, to the days of migrations
during the times of Soviet Union, the mountains of Kyrgyzstan many
different peoples have settled down in the mountains of
Kyrgyzstan. Each group has brought with it their own culture
and language, thus enriching the range and quality of cultural
experiences and understanding.
The population of modern Kyrgyzstan now includes representatives
of over eighty different nationalities as varied as Russian,
Korean, German, Tartar, Chechen, Uzbek, Kazakh, Chinese (including
Uighurs and Dungan) and, of course, the Kyrgyz themselves.
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 Silk
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
rulers 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.
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.