Here you can find everything possible information about KYRGYZSTAN. All facts about Kyrgyzstan on one page.
Over 94% of Kyrgyzstan lies above 1000 meters a.s.l. and 71% above 2000 meters, of which around 40% are covered with permanent snow. According to international standards anything above 1500 meters is counted as mountains. The average altitude of Kyrgyzstan is around 2700 meters a.s.l.
Our country possesses several peaks exceeding the 7000-meters benchmark. The highest peak on Kyrgyz territory is Peak Pobeda, which reaches an altitude of 7439 meters a.s.l.. It was the second highest peak in former Soviet Union and it also the most northern 7000-meters peak in the world! We have also 23 peaks higher than 6000 meters, including 3 virgin peaks. And more than 80 peaks higher than 5000 meters, including 14 virgin peaks, which nobody has ever climbed.
There are over 88 major mountain ranges in Kyrgyzstan, most of them forming the Tian Shan Massive. In Kyrgyz language Tian Shan means Celestial Mountains. The other, such as the Chon Alai range in the south of the country belongs to the Pamir Massive. The Tien Shan Range is one of largest in Asia and 2/3 of it lies in the territory of the Kyrgyz Republic. The Tian Shan Massive in the North and the Pamir Massive in South meet in Kyrgyzstan and separate towards Uzbekistan in the West, holding the notorious Fergana Valley in a tight and merciless scissors grip.
During one day you can see different types of mountains because of diverse altitudes. You can start from a sunny warm valley early in the morning and reach the snow-covered peaks in the evening.
There is a remarkable way of hunting in Kyrgyzstan. Nomads have special trained eagles and falcons for hunting. Even nowadays there are people who still use this ancient skill.
A hunter looks for just born baby birds and takes them home. Then he talks to them all the time in order to make them memorise his voice. Afterwards he feeds them with a piece of meat. He pulls it in front of the birds to make them follow the food. When the birds can fly the hunter fastens a piece of meat to one end of a rope and ties the other end to the horse's tail. Then he lets the horse run and birds try to catch the meat.
When falcons or eagles, respectively are ready and grown to their full size, the hunter chooses the best one for hunting. He closes the falcon's eyes and goes to the top of a mountain. Then he opens the bird's eyes and lets the falcon fly looking for the prey. During one season a hunter can get about 30 marmots, 40 foxes and 70 hares.
10 km to the South of the Tokmok, on the field nearby the Burana tower, are situated stone warriors of the nomadic Turks. These monuments are small statues of the dead warriors who were protecting their tribes and lands from different enemies in ancient times. In one hand they have a bowl with pure water that symbolizes struggle for their Motherland. In anther hand they have a dagger that shows that he died in fighting with enemies like a hero. Ancient people made such statues like gravestones not only for their own warriors, but even sometimes for brave and famous enemies. Balbals are dating from the 6-th century. These grave markers were used by nomadic Turkic people in Kyrgyzstan and in the whole Central Asia. Balbals were spread all over the Chyi Valley. They were found everywhere and people decided to save them for future generation. That's why government decided to gather all statues in one place for protecting them from disappearance. Nowadays there is a big collection of Balbals nearby the Burana tower. They are like a symbol of bravery, heroism, love and respect to the Motherland. That is why during your travel in Kyrgyzstan you can also look at them.
Over the years, many traditions of various peoples fell into oblivion. Not so in Kyrgyzsan, where the people kept all their customs and rituals. One of its striking "traditions" is bride-napping.
In early times, young men had to pay kalim in order to marry a girl. Kalim is the Kyrgyz word for ransom. The fiancé had to pay about 15 sheep for his bride. If she was from a rich family, he even had to pay about 50 sheep or 5-7 horses. There were many cases when a poor man was in love, but could not afford the kalim. And if his bride was in love with him, too - they usually ran away from their families. The bride's parents and relatives would not accept it, but hunting down the man who had abducted their daughter. And if they managed to find him they would kill him.
Step by step bride-napping was turned into a game and eventually became a "tradition" that people wanted to keep. Unfortunately, it turned the way that a man could steal a girl without her agreement. Very often the abducted girl did not see him until the marriage and could not come back home even if she did not like her husband. It was a shame for her parents and all relatives.
Nowadays this "tradition" still exists in remote villages. People from the big cities organize special groups who go to the far villages and explain the villagers that they must not keep and respect this "tradition".
There are even cases when guys from villages come to cities and abduct some girls, which nowadays of course is illegal and pursuit by court. However, when they are found and arrested, they really think that they are not guilty.
Sometimes young couples in love with each other organize a bride-napping just for fun or in honor of the original tradition. In this case, the bride is ready that one day the friends of her fiancé will steal her for him.
One of the most interesting historical places on the territory of Kyrgyzstan is Burana tower. The Burana tower is situated 10 km to the South of Tokmok town. According to different archeological findings we can say that this settlement wasn't an ordinary one, it was one of the main political and cultural center. The Tower was in the middle of Balasagun city. This place was the capital of Karakhanids people and it was established in the X century. The area of this city was 25- 30 km2. Walls which surrounded the town were thick enough to have two horse riders on top of it. On the territory of this town were found four religious buildings, bazaars, domestic dwellings, a central fortress, some handicraft shops, a bathhouse, and a khan's palace. In the 13th century, when Mongols came to the territory of modern Kyrgyzstan, they didn't destroy this city because citizens opened gates and allowed Mongols to come in (that meant that people of the city had given up). After this event the city was called as a Gobalik ( "good city"). Chingis Khan never destroyed cities that did not fight against him.
In the 15th century there was a strong earthquake in Kyrgyzstan. People thought that the city was damned, and they abandoned this city very quickly without taking many of their belongings. That is why archeologists found a lot of interesting ancient things on the territory of this place.
The Burana tower itself served as a lighthouse, watchtower and the place from which people were called to pray. Originally the height of the tower was 45 m but after an earthquake in the 15th century half of it fell. And only 25 m remained after that. Burana Tower was reconstructed in 1970. The ornaments were reconstructed from the remains of old, initial ones. Inside the tower there is a staircase leading to the top.
It is possible to get a nice view of the Chyi valley and Tokmok town from the top of the tower. The name Burana is probably a corruption of the Turkic word Murana - Minaret.
It is possible that soon the Burana tower will disappear, because the underground water every day wash away the ground under the tower. That means that you have an excellent opportunity during your travel in Kyrgyzstan to see such a treasure of antiquity. May be you will be the last who will do it.
In the 4th century BC the first coins were made by Chinese people, but those coins were different from modern ones. Those coins were shaped like a hatchet with a circle on the end. But they were uncomfortable to use, so they changed it leaving only the round part. In the middle of coins were quadrangle holes. The Chinese people thought that they situated in the middle of the universe. So, the round coin symbolized the world and the square was the border of China.
The hole was used in order to wear coins on belts. At that time, people did not have "change". They just gave each other bunches of coins according to a proximate weight. We can learn from ancient coins who the leader of the country was, where and when they lived. Each coin had the name of a leader written on it, and the year when the coin was made. Some coins from Kyrgyzstan even had more than 33 words written on them. The proximate price for one horse was 21 000 coins.
At that time nomadic Kyrgyz used coins mostly like adornments because the main currency for them was cattle. Sometimes Kyrgyz decorated boxes for the Koran with coins to make it more beautiful.
Felt, felt, felt...
The main material for nomads is felt. Their yurts, clothes, carpets, bags, etc. are made of felt. There are many ways to produce a felt carpet. The fastest way takes just 3 hours. The name of this carpet is Ala Kiiz. You can participate in the process of carpet making.
To produce Ala Kiiz carpet people take some wool and put it in the form of a square on a mat. Then they take coloured wool. All dyes are of a natural origin. They get it from roots, leaves and barriers. Afterwards they make a pattern with coloured wool. Nomads have a lot of different patterns, all of them with a special meaning. For example sheep's horns mean wealth, a dog's tail means friend, a jar for kumis means generosity, a fire-bird is deep wish and triangles stand for the defence from evil spirits because they look like mountains, which are defence for nomads. As soon as the design is completed, people splash hot water on it and roll the future carpet with the help of a Chi (chi is a mat made of reed) and then beat it during 2-3 hours. As a result they get a beautiful carpet. All carpets are unique because nobody will be able to make the exact same pattern again.
Traditional Holidays in Kyrgyzstan
When we look at the religious holidays in Kyrgyrzstan, there are a noticeable number of Muslim celebrations. Our culture remains linked to ancient religious beliefs that we followed before the Soviet system. Such religious holidays as Noorus, Orozo Ite and Kurman Ite are the most important Muslim holidays. They are celebrated almost by all the people of Central Asia but in each country they have peculiar differences.
Noorus is the favourite holiday of the Muslim people in Kyrgyzstan. Many centuries ago the roots of this holiday were established. Noorus lasts two weeks (it is the longest holiday in the East). The first day of Noorus is on the 21st of March. This day is the first day of New Year for Muslim people. As the old story tell us, during Noorus people usually stopped fighting forgave each other, and opened their hearts to kind, pure and good feeling.
This holiday of spring is a family holiday, a holiday of getting together. The purpose of Noorus is to show respect toward the older members of the family.
All the people dress in their best clothes. Almost every family cooks "Noorus Kodgi", a soup* of meat and milk. Parens give gifts to their children, close friend and to each other. Rich people usually give money, clothes and food to poor people.
In the evening (especially in the villages) it is tradition to get the fire going and then to jump over it. Jumping over the fire is seen as helpful to the heart and mind. Noorus is also a holiday of the prayers. In the old days people usually prayed for good crops, good luck, health, peace and happiness.
" Allah akbar!" (Allah the greatest) is how all the prayers begin in the all the mosques of the world. This day is called Orozo Ait. It is the greatest Muslim holiday in Kyrgyzstan and the whole world. Orozo ait comes after the month called "ramazan", during which time religious people cannot eat during the day. After sunset they are allowed to do so. All the people must fast except women who are expecting or who have a baby, sick people, religious travellers and fighters.
During the three days of Orozo ait, believers usually visit the places where the dead members of their family or closest family friends rest. Also people meet their friends. Every body must act peacefully towards their friends and enemies. Small children on Orozo Ait could also be called the holliday of ancestors.
" Kurban mairam " or as we usually call it " Kurman Ait " is a holiday of sacrifice. It begins on the 10th of Zuthidga's month (the 12th month of the Muslim lunar calendar). This is two month and ten days after Orozo Ait. This is the day that ended Muhammed's journey to Mecca. In memory of that event, every year in the Mina Valley near Mecca, the visiting Muslims kill animals. So do other Muslims throughout the world. And Kyrgyzstan is not an exception. It includes the saying of a special prayer, the visiting of the resting places of the dead, and the visiting of friends and the giving of gifts.
The link berween all these holidays, it seems, is to show respect and love towards ancestors, God, older people, other people and nature.
From the ancient time horses played a big role for people in Kyrgyzstan. In 3rd century people were even buried with their horses. Children were given the name of horses, because it was believed that evil spirits were afraid of horses. Horses were real friends for nomads. It's not a secret that horses are very clever and in past time, if a person lost his way he could let horse go and the horse would find the right way home.
Even today horses take an important part in different Kyrgyz rituals and festivals.
There are many horse games in Kyrgyzstan. The most widespread games are:
One of the most famous games is Ulak Tartish. The origin of this game developed in antiquity when herds of cattle grazed in the steppes and mountains all year round, exposed to possible attacks by wolves or other big-sized predators.
Nomads did not have firearms and that is why shepherds could not deal with wolves. In this way they were beating a wolf with sticks until somebody managed to catch it and to through up. The wolf would break his bones and would not be able to move anymore.
People wanted to be ready for such cases and they began to have wrestling on horseback for a goat's carcass. The weigh of a goat on an average is 30 - 40 kilograms. The game is played on a field that is 300 meters long and 150 meters wide. The goal of the game is to seize the goat's carcass and deliver it into the gates of the contesting team.
Another game is Long-Distant Race - Aht Chabysh. Usually this game took place in connection with some holiday or festival. The distance was 100 kilometres. Very often the riders were young boys of 10-13 years age, sometimes riding without a saddle.
Oodarysh - Wrestling on Horseback. Wrestling on horseback is also a popular activity. There are two riders who try to pull each other off their horses. It is allowed to throw the rival together with his horse to the ground.
Chase the bride - Kyz -Kumai. In older times, this game was a part of the wedding. The bride had the best horse and she had to ride away from her groom. The husband-to-be had to chase her and prove his love by giving all in order to catch her. The game stopped when he caught and kissed her. As mentioned above, the groom got the worse horse, why he would sometimes fail to catch his fiancée. In this case, he would ride away and his fiancée would follow him to beat with her Kamchi (or horse-whip). But the wedding would be held anyway.
Besides the above-mentioned, there are also games where a rider shows his skills by picking up a coin from the ground or shooting at a target while galloping, as well as many others interesting tasks.
KYRGYZSTAN has many unusual things. And one of them is Kumis. Kumis is a very interesting and curing beverage!
The centuries-old heritage of nomadic culture, the national pride of Kyrgyz, the unique product on the curative properties, and also with specificity of the taste - is a national drink "kumis" that has no analogues in the world.
For many centuries the main food for Kyrgyz people was various sour-milk products.
The most favorite beverage of nomadic people from Kyrgyzstan is kumis. Kumis is fermented mare's milk. The kumis has a strong and bitter taste. This beverage is stored in jars made of animal skins - chinach. People used to live the fresh mare's milk for tour days in a warm place of the yurt to make it ferment. On the 3rd day, the milk is mixed with new milk, and then it is churned. It is beaten with a wooden stick, called bishkek, and becomes alcoholic. You can drink kumis only during 3 days after its production. But now, in the Naryn region, with special
facility which was made, they began to produce the pasteurized kumis
which can be stored nearly a year.
A Kyrgyz man, to show this strength and courage usually takes the largest
crockery (a big leather jar for kumis) and drinks it in public.
It is approved that kumis has striking curative properties. Kumis promotes improvement of digestion, blood circulation, metabolism etc. And "kumis" is a result of huge diligence of our ancestors which succeeded in finding the technology of eternity.
There are many ancient petroglyphs in our celestial Kyrgyzstan.
Petroglyphs - are pictures drawn or entered into stones (from Greek language this word means "petros" - stone and "glyphe" -fretwork). Petroglyphs have different subject - matter: ritual, memorial. These drawings left for us on high rocks and in deep caves and can provide evidence of the way of life and the environment of times when there was no system of writing.
In the epoch of neolith people begin to image the primitive scene of tribe: hunting process, battle and shamanism ceremonies. These kinds of petroglyphs approximately dated to VI-IV centuries B.C.
Such pictures were made by ancient people and they show us their way of life. The main kind of petroglyphs was the symbol of the God of Sun. In this way ancient people asked the God of Sun for help and support.
There are images of animals especially ibex, wolves, horses, and less frequently camels, snow leopards and reindeers. Also you can see in Kyrgyzstan hunting and battle scenes, agriculture activities, traditional ritual dances and shamanist symbols.
On the pictures of first petrogliphs animal's tale always touches its head or goat's horns touché its back - it was also the symbol of sun.
Petroglyphs were drawn twice a year: In spring for good hunting and in autumn to help animals to have good generation for the next year.
During your travel in Kyrgyzstan you can look at petroglyphs in the Ferghana ang Issik-Kul region and at some of them near Burana Tower. Also a lot of petroglyphs you can see in Saimalu Tash and Ak-Chunkur. Saimaly Tash - layson the attitude of 3200 meters in Fergana. The name means "Patterned stone" and refers of the fact that there is a gallery of thousand of stone paintings which are lettered around the landscape. Another famous place is situated near Issyk Kul Lake. There are many petroglyphs that are situated on the origin places and there is a nice view on the surface of the lake.
Rivers are the Veins of the Earth
Kyrgyzstan is rich in water, which is stored in our mountains. Mountains take moisture from the sky and keep it in glaciers. There are about 40 000 rivers in Kyrgyzstan. All rivers together have a total length of around 150 000 kilometres, is 30 times more than the Kyrgyz border line or almost 4 times the length of the equator!
Our potential water power could supply England, France, Spain and Germany with electricity!
Also we have about 2000 lakes, with a total area of 6836 sq km. The most famous lakes are Issyk-Kul Lake, Song Kul Lake, Chatir Kul Lake and Merzbacher Lake.
Also we have about 8000 glaciers, which cover some 8100 square kilometres - about 30% of the total land area of the Kyrgyz Republic.
How did Silk Road appear?
In the 2nd century B.C. Fergana valley was famous for its celestial horses. These horses were fast and strong and could gallop without needing any rest, why they strongly demanded. Many centuries later, scientist proved that these horses were as strong as the old stories wanted people to believe. According to ancient documents the meat of such horses was sweet... But the sweetness did not come from the taste of the meat, but from the parasites that lived under their skin. They hurt horses all the time that is why the horses tried to ran as fast as possible to scratch themselves for ease.
There was a legend in China that if their imperator would ride such a horse - he would rule forever. One day the imperator sent his warriors to go and to find these horses. After two years, they returned with these horses and also with many interesting stories and findings. They told their imperator about the numerous tribes they had met and their traditions and customs, cultures, cities and people. The imperator was surprised that he knew so little about the outside world and sent another expedition abroad for 15 years, led by his best friend. After their return, they reported about many places as far as the amazing city of Rome, where they traded precious stones and had a beverage called wine. This impressed the imperator so much, that he decided to start trade with Rome. At that time, only the Chinese knew the secret of producing silk. And silk became the most important good of this ancient trade.
For many centuries the Great Silk Road connected a complex network of trade routes from Europe with Asia. It was a way to establish contact with the great civilizations of China, India, the Near East and Europe. Trade caravans, diplomatic missions, merchants representatives of religious circles, dervishes, warriors - millions people have passed on this road through time with nothing frightening these brave travelers, neither the difficult roads, nor the waterless deserts.
Tash Rabat - Stone Castle
Not far from China is another unique place - Tash Rabat that means Stone Castle.
It was a place for tired traders to have a rest and to have protection from robbers.
The caravanserai Tash Rabat is an architectural monument of the 14th century. It is built in a gorge at an altitude of 3200 m above sea level. More than half of it is directly built into the rock. The front of Tash Rabat has minaret-like columns. There is a long corridor inside. On which side it has doors to rooms. The thickness of walls is one meter. In total there are 31 rooms in Tash Rabat. And you can see there a special deep hall to keep prisoners.
To put on a horse
Nomads have many legends, myths, songs, stories and customs that are connected with Kambar-ata (spiritual patron of horses).One of them is a tradition "Atka mingizuu" that means "to put on a horse".
A father with proud put his son at the age of 3-4 years on a horse and gives him for the first time the rein. After this the most respectful aksakal (old wise man) takes reins and begins to lead the horse with the child along ail, Kyrgyz village.
It is considered, that in the future the son should substitute his father and he should be a good master in his house. In the honor of having this ritual parents organize a cheerful toi (celebration). Aksakals give their blessing to the child and explain him that from this moment he becomes a real horseman. In pass time it was one of the most important traditions in Kyrgyzstan.
Ritual of circumcision
One of the most important Muslim rituals is "balany oturguzuu" or ritual of circumcision.
It is a big celebration for Kyrgyz families. When a boy is 3-5 year old he must go through this ritual.
It is considered to be the most important and happiest event in the life of each boy. Relatives and friends are invited to the ceremony of circumcision. Sometimes the celebration with a lot of food lasts for several days; guests play national games such as ulak tartysh, at chabysh, er oodarysh, etc. Invited guests must bring gifts for the boy. The most valuable gift is a horse. Horses are considered to be very important for all people who live in Kyrgyzstan. Even nowadays when peole use cars - a horse is still one of the symbols of Kyrgyz nation.
Conduction of this ritual is a sacramental duty for Muslims.
A name for a child
People from Kyrgyzstan think that the future of a child in many cases depends on his name. That is why parents try to choose for their child such a name which would bring him happiness, luck, and honor. This tradition appeared when Kyrgyz adopted Muslim religion.
The beginning of ritual is accompanied by proclaiming of azan - when an honorable guest, turning to the west (exactly in this direction Muslim turn to Allah during the pray) and pronounces three times "Allah Akbar!" and than the name of the newborn child. It is done to inform people about new person that has come into our world. Execution of this ritual is entrusted to one of the most closest and respectable person.
The celebration goes very merrily. Gathered guests sincerely graduate parents and wish that the name will bring the child only happiness and luck.
Birth of a child for Kyrgyz, like for the other nationalities of the world is real happiness and the greatest celebration. After giving name to a child there is a special tradition in Kyrgyzstan - "beshik toi" or cradle celebration. Many guests are invited to celebrate it. Parents prepare a lot of food. During the celebration people sing songs, play games and dance.
According to the tradition parents from the mother's side should prepare a bed for a cradle, as an obligatory attribute for the child. A cradle is spread with oil and smoked with juniper. Noble grandmothers take left and right alchiks (small bones of sheep) and lay them on the bottom of the cradle. Alchiks fall into kultuk (a hole on the bottom of cradle) and grandmothers say: "On bol" - be lucky. After this they say the following words: "Mother-cradle, keep tightly, mother Umai, give him health" Umai is a feminine mythical creature, who protects children. Then they cover the cradle with different blankets and counterpanes. After this the cradle is given to the mother of the child. She goes with the cradle back and forward and at the same time she bows to all guests. Invited guests give their blessing to the mother and her child. A happy mother pronounces first lulling words: "Aldei-aldei ak bobok ak beshikke jat bobok" - Oh baby, you are so sweet, sleep in cradle, my little child.
From ancient time Kyrgyz people valued the spiritual wishes - blessings. Blessing as you know encourage people and give them hope and energy. All children had to be blessed in Kyrgyzstan. Usually the infants and adolescents are blessed by respected people - wise aksakals or noble baibiche.
Blessings are given for good beginning of new affair or after eating. Also grandparents bless their children and grandchildren in order to give them wisdom and strong health.
Kyrgyzstan is an amazing mountain country with an unbelievable history!
Kyrgyz people were nomads during the past 3000 years, passing on all their traditions until the present day!!! The mountains are their home, where they travel from one grazing field to another. They only settled down in the 20 century, yet some of them still live in the mountains, following their traditional origin...
Nomads have special collapsible dwellings, known as yurts. They began to use them 2500 years ago. They have a unique structure and are built without a single nail. A yurt has a wooden skeleton that is covered with felt. A good master can produce a yurt within 25 days that will last for 40 years. It takes just an hour to erect or to collapse it. Nomads transfer it from one place to another with the help of three horses.
The nomads divide the interior into two basic parts. The left part belongs to the man, where he stores his weapon, saddles and horse-whips. On the right side, the woman keeps the household goods such as dishes, cups and cutlery as well as her belongings like dresses and jewelry. A wall made of reed separates the cooking area from the living room. There is a special place inside a yurt. In front of the door is tor. Tor is the most honorable place in a yurt. There are a lot of beautiful carpets and blankets. They are put on each other in the special order. People are not allowed to use them. Because it the sign of wealth.
Usually nomads lived in ails. Ail is a Kyrgyz word for villages. One such a village contained 80-100 yurts.
There are some ancient Chinese documents about wars with Kyrgyz Nomads. It is written that when they wanted to attack the Kyrgyz in the morning, they could not do it, because during the night the whole village just silently disappeared ...
Usually Kyrgyz nomads placed their yurts on high places in order to not only more easily look after their herds, but also to enjoy the unbelievable view.
Many of our tours offer you to enter the nomad's lives and spend some nights inside yurts.
Kyrgyz are ancient nomads, succeeded to preserve integrity of the culture and ethnic originality for many centuries.
The outstanding Russian scientist, specialist in Turkic philology academician Radlov was the first who wrote about Kyrgyz people in Russian language. His work was written in 1863, but still has great interests even nowadays. He presented his own impressions when he first time visited places where Kyrgyz people lived.
In 5th century Kyrgyz people lived along the bank of Yenisei River. At that time Kyrgyz were blond hair people with blue eyes. Because of this some scientist guessed that Kyrgyz were Indo-European originally. Later Kyrgyz lost their previous appearances as blond people with blue eyes probably because of Mongols people who had a high influence on all tribes in 13 century.
Kyrgyz people stayed as a warlike nation. For instance other nations could live separately. On the contrary Kyrgyz people located their yurts in one valley and made a line with big number of yurts. There were not yurts located separately. When enemy was appearing, thousands of Kyrgyz warriors were ready for fighting. The main reason why Kyrgyz survived was the way of their life - tribalism.
A usual ancient Kyrgyz was gloomy, severe and tough. At that time hospitality was sacred for them. They had a saying "a guest is sent from God. Even if he stays for a while, he will see a lot".
From the very childhood children were taught to be active and to be able to protect themselves. Laziness and idleness were blamed. Boys were taught to ride a horse from their early three or four years. It was very important for nomads. They lived on the territory of Kyrgyzstan and they had to travel from one place to another for many times during one year.
Rich person did not look differ from poor person as well as lord from servant. All of them had identical upbringing, level of maturity of mind, similar garments. Rich people just had bigger yurts and more adornments on the garments.
The Kyrgyz people were nomads and their preferable but not the only activity was stock raising. They used stocks for several reasons. First of all it was their food. Kyrgyz usually eat meat of sheep, but on holidays and in cases of sacrificing they eat horses. Camels were also in their stocks, but there were few of them. Kyrgyz people had shoes made of camel skin and warm clothes were always made of its wool.
In summer nomads used to be in mountains and in winter they lived in valleys. More that 90% of Kyrgyzstan are mountains and they had a lot of space to live.
The day of going from one place to another was set by the Biy or Chief Manap and was divulged to the whole tribe. They had a saying "If one family stays, it will never find the tribe", that's why this days were never delayed accept the cases when someone in a tribe died. But anyway even this sometimes could not stop them, they could just take the body with them to bury it during some pause in their journey. After arriving to a new place, they were erecting their portable houses - yurts. It was a very comfortable dwelling. It took people only an hour to erect or collapse it. And they needed just three or four horses to take it to another place.
They are Muslim and they do not eat pork. Polygamy is a usual thing for them but their women do not close faces from men. They have natural abilities to music with vast numbers songs. A lot of their neighbor tribes were inviting them to different holidays. The main their occupation was stock-raising. They bred basically horses, camels, sheep, goats, and large horned livestock. The agriculture was for them on the second place. In places of their being in winter on the lake Issik Kul they had small arable lands where workers lived and the basic part of people was wandering in mountains. Workers received a payment for the work with cattle instead of money. The received crop served as livelihood during winter time. They produced thick felt and made tissues from camel's wool. Kyrgyz people used to get all necessary goods by trade. In exchange for sheep they could receive silk and cotton tissues, some clothes.
Principles of tribalism formed in the gregarious epoch of mankind. People had to survive in terrible conditions of life struggling with different threats, by uniting into collectives, based on blood relationship, clans. Some clans united in one area and formed a tribe.
The main nomadic activity in Kyrgyzstan is stock-breeding. This occupation of the Kyrgyz prevented from appearing agriculture and settled way of life and impeded to liberation from primitive classless society.
Self-organization of the Kyrgyz society on the principles of tribalism applied to every sphere of their life and principles and rules of tribalism made a foundation of organizing, administrative, breeding and legal activities.
Family or tutun ("smoke") was the basic part of the Kyrgyz society, the next is generation of the sons with the common ascendant or uulu. Their number varied from several yurts to several hundreds. Consolidation of several uulu formed uruk or clan of blood relatives with a common ascendant. And, finally, tribe or uruu formed with several uruk or clans.
Property belonged to whole clan and there were strict rules of using it. No one can borrow a pasture from an honored clan; one can ask a permission to be a neighbor of that clan. Having been refused there was nothing to do with it. Land didn't pass from father to a son as legacy - land division and using was subject to decision of authorities of ail (village). Tribe supervision was carrying out by ajo, manaps or biys. When nomads lived on Yenisei they called their leader adjo, then they began to call him biy. And in the 19th century biy was replaced by manap. Honorary title of manap was like Russian duke. They were the best people from commons, those who stood out, the bravest and wisest, who gathered the people and carried about them. This status did not pass from father to a son; man had to serve it with his acts - worrying about well-being of the tribe. All decisions of the authorities were based on adat, and there were strict system of punishments and fines for crimes. For instance, kun (payment for man killing) must be paid not only by murderer himself, but by his whole clan. For example, for killing a man murder had to pay 300 horses, for killing a woman one had to pay 150 horses, for man's eye injuring- 150 horses and for woman's- 75 horses. And if person couldn't pay this penalty, all his clan had to pay it. All people of one tribe paid taxes without any arguing - they knew that the richer the tribe the more famous it will be. The taxes were taken for burials ceremonies, big holidays or to pay ransom for a bride. All of these examples show the importance of tribal traditions and existing of the tribe as one big family.
People from Kyrgyzstan could marry a representative of another tribe and very rare it was allowed to do inside his own clan. There were several reasons for this. First of all the relationships between the bridegroom's parents and their daughter-in-low were rather mild and it would be a problem to make her be obedient. Another reason was worsening of the relationships inside the clan, if a couple would divorce. And the final and most substantial reason was poor generation. People had already known that mixing of the same blood would give ill children. That is why Kyrgyz had to know their 7 forefather in order not to have marriages among close relatives.
It was aloud to adopt children in Kyrgyzstan. One could adopt a child of any age. The adopting person took all responsibilities for the child, and the duties of the adopted child were the same as step-brothers', though if he knew his native parents and wanted to return to them, he could do that.
If a man died, his wife and children were left in charge of the clan. A widow had to be married on the brother of her husband or another close relative, who became a stepfather to her children. If there was no immediate relative, she married some distant relative; meanwhile the belongings of the dead man were to belong to the same tribe.
If the were no any male relatives she could come back to her tribe. Nevertheless her children were the members of their father's clan. And when they grew up, they had to return to their father's tribe.
Kyrgyzstan has a deep history. There were many different tribes and nations in ancient time. And Kyrgyz themselves appeared only in the 10 century. There is a short history of the people who lived in Kyrgyzstan before nomads.
EARLY TIMES: 5.000 BC-AD 300
The city of Bishkek as it appears today is quite new-but human beings have left numerous signs of life in the neighborhood for thousands of years. Late Stone Age implements 6,000-7,000 years old were unearthed on the site of the nearby Alamedin hydroelectric station, and ground inside the city has yielded Bronze Age artifacts about 3,000 years old.
The earliest Iron Age people to inhabit Kyrgyzstan were the Saks who nomadized here from the seventh to the third centuries BC. They were succeeded by the Usuns, who practiced both nomadic stock-raising and agriculture in the region until the third century AD. The Saks and Usuns buried their noble dead in kurgans circular mound-tombs, some of which may still be seen dotting the landscape near, the city.
THE MEDIEVAL PERIOD: 600-1500
In the seventh century AD a process of mutual cultural assimilation began in Kyrgyzstan between two groups of people who were totally different in race, language, and habits. The first group was the Turks. Arriving from southern Siberia in the sixth century, the Turkic nomads defeated the Han superpower at Talas, drove them away into anonymity, and quickly caught on to the art of ruling. The Western Turkic Khanate then held sway over a widely spread nomadic confederation based upon the efficient "military democracy" of the knights of the steppe - a primitive but highly effective form of statehood. The second state was Sogd, with its rich centers at Samarkand and Bukhara. In the seventh century the Sogdians, who were traders and farmers of Indo-European (Iranian) stock, began to colonize in the Talas and Chu valleys in present-day Kyrgyzstan. Beginning with trading posts, the Sogdians established many important cities. Over the years, these helped give rise to and took sustenance from the full flower of the Great Silk Road network. In these cities, vigorous creole populations formed when sedentarized Turks blended with the Sogdians. One of the earliest, largest, and longest-lived of these Silk Road cities in the Chui Valley was Navekat, now known as the Krasnaya Rechka ruins. Another large city lies today under the streets of Bishkek.
Bishkek's medieval forerunner flourished from the 8th to the 13 centuries. It was a walled quadrangle occupying the space bounded on the east by the Alamedin River, on the west by Ulitsa Orozbekova, on the north by Ulitsa Leningradskaya, and on the south by Ulitsa Kirova. Mentions by medieval Arab and Persian authors suggest that the city was called Jul ("steppe-land» in Old Turkic). As was typical of pre-Islamic Silk Road centers, Jul was home to several peacefully coexisting religions: Zoroastrianism of the founding Sogdians, Buddhism arriving from the eastern points of (he route, and Nestorian Christianity and Manichacism coming from points west.
Muslim caliphs had had fitful control over Turkic and Sogdian lands in the wake of conquering armies as early as the mid-7th century. But the control of the Muslim rulers of Baghdad and, later, Bukhara over the Chu Valley was nominal. Then in the mid-7th century came the Karakhnnids ("Rich Khans"), converted Muslims of the Karluk Turkic line. The Karakhanids actively promoted the sedentary Muslim civilization of the Samanids whom they usurped. Near modern Bishkek they had a thriving capital named Balasagun, now known as Burana. Under the Karakhanids, Islam became established in the Kyrgyzstan. But the Karakhanids themselves did not last very long.
The Mongols and Tatars under Genghis Khan overran Kyrgyzstan in the early 13th century. Jul and countless other cities were utterly destroyed. Remnants of a settled population lived on at the site by the Alamedin River until the 15th century, but the human tide in the whole Tian-Shan and Semirech'e region had shifted once again to nomadism.
The Kyrgyz, an ancient Turkic people who had first arrived in the territory of modern Kyrgyzstan from the upper Yenisei in the tenth century, became fully established on the scene by the 15th century. We can assume that whoever lived by trade or farming amid the ruins at Jul-for the site probably remained inhabited as a market and caravan stop-kept a very low profile. The Kyrgyz epic poems, full of boasting aimed at their nomadic competitors, reserve the most scornful abuse for sedentary people, who were considered vermin.
PISHPEK FORTRESS: 1825-1862
From the early 16th century, the states closest to the Chu Valley were the Uzbek khanates of Bukhara, Khiva, and Kokand They were involved in incessant rivalries with one another and exerted no control over the distant Kyrgyz. Then in the early 1820's Kokand began a major military initiative to secure its exploitation of the Chu, Ferghana, and Talas valleys, the Issyk-Kul region, and the mountain areas of the Tien-Shan, Alai, and Pamir (in effect, all of modern Kyrgyzstan - and more). Over 35 fortresses were built within 20 years, including-on the age-old site by the Alamedin River-Pishpek. This was the pivotal point in a string of outposts, including Tokmak and Kara-Balta, which guarded the caravan routes extending from Tashkent through the Chu Valley to Issyk-Kul and Kashgar.
Pishpek Fortress is the oldest site that one can visit in Bishkek. It was built in 1825 at the order of Madali Khan by generalissimo Kush-begi Lyashker. In its day it was a cookie-cutter design-"a typical late-medieval Central Asian fortification", according to historians. It had a compact, quadrangular plan roughly 250 meters square. The thick, high walls of stamped clay, in concentric inner and outer perimeters, had loopholes, crenellations, and towers at the corners. The deep, broad moat around the whole fortress was watered by a conduit from the adjacent Alamedin River. The inner citadel, with walls over 10 meters high, contained the quarters of the commandant and other officers, a guardhouse, the powder magazine, armorers' workshops, the mosque, and the treasury. Also within the secure inner wall lived the first "native inhabitants" of the settlement: hostages rendered by noble Kyrgyz clans as peace-pledges to Kokand.
Mythology of nomads
In the imagery of the sedentary cultures of high civilizations - the ones of yesterday as well as the ones of today - the world of the nomadic peoples often runs the risk of being considered a «different» world, even a primitive world. Then, when we reflect on its artistic production that, besides its originality, must be considered at a high level, one feels the desire to understand and deepen the material and spiritual roots which contributed to its development.
Many studies have been carried out since the time when the first gold objects reached the court of Peter the Great from Siberia. At first they were studies for the purpose of classification, and then they reached higher levels as data came in from field research, that is, from the past and present excavations carried on by archaeologists in the immense territory of the Eurasian steppes and mountains of Kyrgyzstan.
Given the fact that nomadic societies never actually left written records, archeology was the only way to derive information that could confirm or complete news handed down from the sources of those civilizations that had come in contact with them: Greece, Iran, and China. Herodotus recounts what he saw or heard say about them before and beyond the Ponto region, while visiting the Greek colonies near the Black Sea. He did not hide his astonishment at the news he heard, nor his difficulty in believing it. In the Achemenid inscriptions of Behistun and Persepolis, the Saka were mentioned among the subjugated peoples, in order to render glory to the sovereign. The Chinese Annals refer to the dangerous «barbaric peoples» living close lo their borders, and the description of their customs shows surprising similarities with Herodotus pages. All these sources, however, speak about a foreign world, describing it with their own standards.
It could be useful, then, to attempt a different approach to the problem: to make use of data fur-n shed by archeology, and at the same time try to interpret them from the viewpoint of semiotics.
Therefore, in recent times, a new awareness has been reached of the possible symbolic value of these finds and the need to go beyond an attitude that excluded the possibility that these peoples had reached an evolved system of thought, their own vision of the world, and the capacity and will to depict it. And we also now know that we have to reconsider the idea we had of the relationship between the nomads and the sedentary in Kyrgyzstan, because it is now clear, and recent archeological discoveries proved it that their contacts were numerous and could also be peaceable.
For such an analysis it seems useful to examine-considering their good preservation their good preservation - the kurgan found in the Siberian region, even if many comparisons can be done with the western area.
Tombs for dead people
Archeologists analyzed a kind of tomb prepared for the deceased large wooden cages built by laying tree logs one on top of the other and covering them with mounds of earth and stones The cage and the hole containing it wore usually square, while the mound was round and lowering toward the sky In many cultures, the square and the circle symbolize heaven and earth respectively, and the mound elevation could symbolize the mountain, that is a place closer to heavenly spheres.
Even more significant is the study of the bodies of the deceased which, thanks to the ice, are often very well preserved and make it possible to determine not only their gender, age illnesses and cause of death, but also their social place in the group, as well as the burial rite used. We have to remember that the body was embalmed, removing the soft parts and substituting them with aromatic herbs and earth. Sometimes the skull was trepanned and the face covered with wax, then the whole body was dressed-at least the ones of the most distinguished members of the group with sumptuous clothes. Mindful of Herodotus accounts (IV.71.1), some scholars thought that such a preparation served lo preserve the body, especially that of the tribal leader, which was then ought to be honored by the different clans of the tribe However, since not only «princely» tombs contained mummies, we can also assume that the use of this process was for cult purposes, that is the desire for the deceased to remain intact for their journey towards the afterlife.
The presence of horses in Kyrgyzstan that were sacrificed during the burial ceremony and placed along the north side of the burial place testifies to those populations' belief in the hereafter. They are fully harnessed steeds, with saddlecloth decorated with imagery of animal fights with saddles and masks with long branched horns in wood or leather, camouflaging the horses as deer, Elk, or reindeer. These horses too were prepared for a long and important journey a journey that thanks to the disguise would make it easier for them when traveling across the steppes, tundra and the snow-covered northern regions from which some of the first nomadic groups descended.
Interesting is the study of the coffins the bodies were buried in a tree trunk formed the sarcophagus, at times with the exterior decorated with splendid engravings of animals (Basadar). The tree is the symbol of life, as well as the symbol of rebirth. In Altaic populations, a tree trunk could be used as a burial place, especially for children and shamans (Polos'mak 1994 and Roux 1963) The branches of trees such as cedar larch and birch were imagined as reaching high into the sky, while the trunks, carved in the shape of a boat, as transporting the deceased into the world of the dead. This metaphor was present both in the western and eastern mythology, well illustrated by the boat of Carontis transporting souls to the other side of the River Styx Ethnographers observed that several populations m Siberia-the Ossiates, the Kets and the Selkups-still today practice the custom of burying their dead inside the trunks of larch trees, a tree associated with the Sun and the Heavens.
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