The Osh conflict and the ‘Silk Revolution’

The sudden political freedom that came with the collapse of the Soviet Union generated unrest, Kyrgyz communist leaders, who were used to working within a strictly regimented system, were unable to cope. The activity of the new public organizations, most of which had memberships drawn from a single ethnic group, fuelled ethnic confrontation.

Violent conflict between Kyrgyz and Uzbeks

The results were especially tragic in the mixed Kyrgyz-Uzbek areas of Osh Province in the southwest, where a local dispute in 1990 over the allocation of land for housing triggered a violent conflict between Kyrgyz and Uzbeks in which hundreds died. Order was restored only by the intervention of Soviet troops from outside the republic.

Uzbeks and Kyrgyz both nursed grievances. Uzbeks resented the lack of official recognition of their language and the Kyrgyz near-monopoly of government employment in the province. The Kyrgyz resented Uzbek control of trade. These resentments were aggravated by lack of land and youth unemployment.

Askar Akayev

In 1990, the Supreme Soviet of the Kyrgyz SSR created the position of president. They chose a democratically inclined non-party figure, Askar Akayev, a physicist who had worked in Leningrad for twenty years and was then chairman of the Kyrgyz Academy of Sciences, to serve as the country’s first president.

Akayev elected first president of Kyrgyz Republic

In what became known as Kyrgyzstan's "silk revolution," Akayev peacefully dismantled the communist power structure. During the attempted hard-line coup in Moscow in 1991, Akayev supported Yeltsin. Following the collapse of the coup, Kyrgyzstan's parliament declared independence.

Akayev was confirmed by popular election as the first president of the Kyrgyz Republic. Unlike the other Central Asian states, Kyrgyzstan had a president who was not a former Communist Party leader.