The area that today constitutes Kyrgyzstan has been
controlled by various Central Asian ethnic groups due to the
large migrations in Central Asia in ancient times. The
Kyrgyz are believed to have come to the Tian Shan Mountains
from areas further north around 200 BCE.
In the 18th century, the Russians began to move further
southeast into Central Asia, and the Kyrgyz came under
Russian control towards the end of the 19th century. Along
with the other territories under Russian control, Kyrgyzstan
became part of the Soviet Union after the Russian Revolution
in 1917. Kyrgyzstan first had the status of an autonomous
Soviet nation, but gained the status of a full Soviet
Republic in 1936. The capital of the Republic was Frunze,
named after the Bolshevik leader Mikhail Frunze. See
abbreviationfinder for geography, history, society, politics, and economy of Kyrgyzstan.
Kyrgyzstan emerged as an independent state in the modern
sense only after the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991.
The capital Frunze was renamed Bishkek.
The oldest traces of people in Kyrgyzstan go back many
thousands of years. Given the great migrations of Central
Asia in ancient times, the territory that today constitutes
Kyrgyzstan has been controlled by various Central Asian
peoples for periods, including Mongols and Uighurs. The
Kyrgyz people are believed to have come to the Tian Shan
Mountains from areas further north around 200 BCE, but the
first signs of human civilization in the area date from
before the Stone Age.
Today's Kyrgyz people are of uncertain origin, but
possibly descend from a people who immigrated to the area
from Jenisej in Siberia around 200 BCE, and mingled with the
The notion of a common Kyrgyz people first appeared in
the sources in the 16th century. Up until modern times, the
Kyrgyz nation has been a tribal confederation where loyalty
to the tribe, clan and extended family has been strong.
There is an important distinction between the clans in
South Kyrgyzstan, which has been strongly influenced by the
Central Asian culture, and the Northern Kyrgyz who have been
oriented towards the steppes in the north and towards the
Kazakhs, with whom the Kyrgyz are closely related. The South
Kyrgyz people were converted to Islam in the late 16th
century, while the central and northern areas were Islamized
only 150–200 years later.
The Kyrgyz speak a Turkish language, but also have strong
Mongolian features in their culture. The traditional Kyrgyz
trade has been hunting and nomadic herding.
The Kyrgyz areas were conquered by the Mongolian Zhongs (oyots)
towards the end of the 17th century. The Kyrgyz were
displaced to the surrounding areas and did not return until
the Djungar Empire was crushed by the Chinese in 1758.
In the early 1800s the Kyrgyz areas conquered by Kokand -khanatet.
The Russians began to penetrate the area in the mid-1800s.
In 1862 they captured the fortress Pishpek, which today is
Kyrgyzstan's capital Bishkek (in the Soviet era called
Frunze). Some groups fought against Russian takeover of the
area. There are still Kyrgyz settlements in China and the
Afghan part of the Pamir Mountains, where the population is
descended from families who fled Kyrgyzstan at this time.
In the wake of the Russian conquest, large groups of
Russian peasants who cultivated much of the Kyrgyz's pasture
lands in the lowlands followed. The Kyrgyz frustration
peaked in a violent uprising in 1916 as the Russian tsar,
during World War I, tried to print aid troops from all over
Central Asia. Many thousands of Russians and Kyrgyz were
killed and hundreds of thousands of Kyrgyz fled to China.
Following the Bolshevik takeover in Russia after the
October Revolution in 1917, Kyrgyzstan first became part of
the Turkestan Autonomous Soviet Republic, and from 1926 as
an autonomous republic in the Russian Federation. It was not
until 1936 that Kyrgyzstan became a Soviet republic of its
own. At the republic level, the political leadership was
dominated by Russians, but locally the old tribal and clan
leadership survived more or less intact.
In Kyrgyzstan, Josef Stalin's forced collectivization
(see collective use) in the 1930s aimed to eradicate nomadic
culture and make the Kyrgyz people permanent. The
traditional economy of the Kyrgyz was destroyed. Again, many
fled to China, while others resisted armed resistance. The
small stratum of Kyrgyz intelligentsia built up under Lenin
was greatly reduced during the great purifications in
Kyrgyzstan's deposits of ore and gemstones have provided
a basis for some industrialization. However, during the
Soviet period, Kyrgyzstan was one of the smallest and
poorest republics. For the outside world, it was best known
through the novels of the Chingis Ajtmatov, written in
In June 1990, during the Perestroika period, Kyrgyzstan
was shaken by bloody settlements between ethnic Uzbeks and
Kyrgyz in the southern city of Osh, where over two hundred
people died. The poor handling of this crisis, as well as
the discrediting of the local Communist Party and its leader
Absamat Masalijev, opened the way for an outsider. The
chairman of the Kyrgyz Academy of Sciences, physicist Askar
Akajev, was appointed President of the Republic in October
of that year.
During the unsuccessful coup attempt in August 1991, the
local party and KGB leadership tried to topple Akajev, but
instead the party itself was banned.
Kyrgyzstan became an independent republic on August 31,
1991. Askar Akajev was elected as the country's president.
Akajev was long regarded as very liberal. Freedom of the
press in Kyrgyzstan has been considerably greater than in
neighboring countries, but has gradually narrowed. Akajev
has strengthened his power regionally by appointing
governors (akimers) who are responsible to him. In 1994, he
dissolved Kyrgyzstan's supreme Soviet and established a new
national assembly, Sjugorku Kenesj, with two chambers.
Kyrgyz politics and social life were increasingly
dominated by ethnic Kyrgyz people. The Constitution of 5 May
1993 emphasized Kyrgyz people in a special way as
state-bearing people, and the 1989 Language Act provided
that all universities and colleges should transition to
Kyrgyz education by 2000. All ethnic minorities were granted
full citizenship rights, but many slaves still have
preferred to move to Russia instead of fighting for their
rights in the country.
The loss of the often highly qualified workforce
represented by Europeans hit the Kyrgyz economy hard. In
1995, Akajev initiated a series of legislative changes aimed
at persuading Europeans to stay. Among other things, in June
1994, Russian was introduced as the official language in
areas mainly populated by slaves. At the same time, the
slaves were promised a fair representation in government,
and "dormant dual citizenship" with Russia.
In practice, anyone who moves from one country to another
will be able to obtain citizenship in their new home country
from the moment of moving. Migration flows out of Kyrgyzstan
dropped significantly from 1995, and there are certain signs
that some are moving back.