Historical background

The Kyrgyz are probably descended from indigenous people, Turkic, and Mongol migrants. The Manas epic tells of the early struggle of the Kyrgyz against conquerors who were probably the Mongol Oirats.

Subjugated in the early 19th century by the Kokand Khanate

After a brief period under Chinese rule in the late 18th century, the Kokand Khanate subjugated the Kyrgyz in the early 19th century. It was under Kokand domination that Islam took root among the Kyrgyz, though their old beliefs and customs were not erased. It was at this time a Kyrgyz woman named Kurmanjan was recognized by the Kokand Khanate as the ruler of Alai (southern Kyrgyzstan). She was given the title of "Datka" as is also known as the "Alaiskaya Tsaritsa" or the Tsarina of Alai. When Russia destroyed the Kokand Khanate and annexed southern Kyrgyzstan, Kurmanjan Datka was instrumental in persuading her people to live peacefully under Russian rule.

The heavy tax burden led the Kyrgyz to rebel against Kokand in 1845 and again in 1870-71. The Russian army captured the fortress at Pishpek (now Bishkek) in 1862, and finally defeated the Kokand Khanate in 1876.

Under the Czars

Under the Czars, the Kyrgyz lost much of their best land to Russian and Ukrainian settlers. In 1916, they also rose up against conscription during World War One. Many fled to China to escape the ensuing repression.

Kyrgyz under the Soviets

The Soviet authorities created a Kyrgyz Autonomous Republic within the RSFSR (Russia) in 1926. It was upgraded to the Kyrgyz SSR in 1936. It was in the 1930s that the Kyrgyz were forced to give up the nomadic way of life and join collective farms, from which many again fled to China.

The 1930s also saw industrialization on a large scale, mainly in the north of the republic and especially around the capital. It was accompanied by a massive influx of Russian-speaking people from other parts of the USSR. Frunze (as Bishkek was then named) developed as a mainly Russian city.

New public organizations and independent political groups

Despite the onset of Perestroika in the late 1980s, permission to register as an independent political group was only  reluctantly granted by the communist authorities to Ashar, a pressure group concerned with housing problems. Over the next year, many new public organizations appeared, the largest being the Democratic Movement Kyrgyzstan, formed in 1990 by Kyrgyz groups seeking democracy and national revival.