Kyrgyz - History and Cultural Relations

Archaeological remains indicate that Kyrgyzstan was first inhabited by humans about 300,000 years ago, during the Lower Paleolithic period. Stone implements and stone quarries of the Middle Paleolithic period have been located in several primitive sites. Settlements from the the Neolithic period have been found in caves near the city of Naryn and also on the northern shore of Lake Issyk Kul. Archaeologists infer from the burial sites and settlements that during the Bronze Age both agricultural and pastoral groups inhabitated the valley regions in what is now Kyrgyzstan. By the fifth century B.C. , iron tools and weapons were in use, indicating that the economy had shifted more toward nomadic herding. The Scythians' domestication of the horse (1000 B.C. to A.D. 900) made Kyrgyzstan an important transcontinental trade route. Later in the Middle Ages, Kyrgyzstan was one of the several routes for the Silk Road through the Tianshan and the Pamir-Altai Mountains. Religious artifacts of the Zoroastrians, Buddhists, early Christians, and Muslims, who transversed these well-traveled mountain valleys, are found at Burana Tower outside of Tokmak. This strategic garrison of early tribes was one of the few sites not destroyed by the Mongol conqueror Chinggis (Genghis) Khan (eleventh century) on his many warring expeditions to the western parts of Central Asia and eastern Europe.

The nomadic history of the Kyrgyz is more difficult to trace. The modern history of the Kyrgyz is currently undergoing revision, as Soviet-period accounts were formulated to support Marxist ideals. The Kyrgyz were not originally from the area that is now Kyrgyzstan. Most frequently, their cultural origin is traced to the region around the Yenisei River in southern Siberia. Similar cultural elements, including the practice of animism, certain burial customs, and animal husbandry suggest common roots with other nomadic peoples of Siberia. The existence of a Kyrgyz people is believed to date to at least 200 B.C. In the eighth century A.D. they were mentioned in the Orkhan inscriptions. In 840 the Kyrgyz tribes defeated the Uighur tribes and inhabited their lands in what is now northwestern Mongolia. The Kyrgyz were themselves dispossessed of these lands by the Khitai in the tenth century.

Most historians specify the sixteenth century as the time when the Kyrgyz tribe migrated in large numbers into the area now known as Kyrgyzstan. The tribal history of Central Asia is marked by continuous upheavals between warring tribes. Throughout the last millennium, the Kyrgyz tribes utilized vast areas of land from the eastern shores of the Aral Sea to the western border of China for herding their sheep and horses. In southern Kyrgyzstan, caravans of traders moved along the Silk Road, bringing silk and spices to the West. Bennigsen and Wimbush (1986) have argued that because of the relative geographic isolation of Kyrgyzstan, the Kyrgyz have been less influenced by the pan-Turkic and pan-Islamic ideologies that are especially deep-rooted in Uzbekistan. It is nevertheless important to realize that the Tianshan range divides the southern Kyrgyz from the northern Kyrgyz, who have maintained a seminomadic economic existence much longer than those in the south and have been less influenced by Islam. Southern Kyrgyzstan historically has had a sedentary, agricultural economic base, with the Fergana Valley as its center, a region the Kyrgyz share with the Uzbeks and Tajiks. The southern city of Osh is where Islam took hold in the Middle Ages.

In the early nineteenth century the Kyrgyz were defeated by the Uzbeks in 1845, 1857, 1858, and 1873. These intertribal conflicts were among the factors that led the Kyrgyz to ally themselves with the Russians in the mid-nineteenth century. As the Russians colonized the Kyrgyz and surrounding ethnic groups, they also confiscated the better agricultural lands. Competition for lands for farming and herding, along with compulsory service in the Russian army, resulted in a revolt by the Kyrgyz in 1916. They were disastrously defeated by the Russians, who burned villages and killed many Kyrgyz. Thereafter, about one-third of the Kyrgyz fled to eastern Turkistan (the western region of China). The Kyrgyz continued their resistance to the Russians even after the 1917 Revolution, but eventually, in 1924, the new Soviet regime established Kirghizia (the Russified name of Kyrgyzstan) as an oblast within the Russian Soviet Federated Socialist Republic (RSFSR), and in 1926 it was declared a Soviet autonomous republic.

During Stalin's collectivization of 1927-1928, Kyrgyz pastoralists were forcibly settled on collective and state farms; many responded by slaughtering their livestock and moving to Xinjiang, China. Between 1926 and 1959 the Soviets moved many Russians and Ukrainians into the republic, and for a time the Kyrgyz were in the minority. Kirghizia joined the USSR as a Union republic in 1936. The capital, Bishkek, was called Pishpek until 1925 and Frunze from 1925-1991. Kyrgyzstan declared itself independent on 31 August 1991, joined with ten other former Soviet republics in the Commonwealth of Independent States on 21 December 1991, and achieved complete independence with the dissolution of the USSR on 25 December 1991.

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