According to recent findings of Kyrgyz and Chinese historians, Kyrgyz
history dates back to 201 B.C. The earliest descendents of the Kyrgyz people,
who are believed to be of Turkic descent, lived in the northeastern part
of what is currently Mongolia. Later, some of their tribes migrated to
the region that is currently southern Siberia and settled along the Yenisey
River, where they lived from the 6th until the 8th centuries. They spread
across what is now the Tuva region of the Russian Federation, remaining
in that area until the rise of the Mongol Empire in the 13th century, when
the Kyrgyz began migrating south. In the 12th century, Islam became the
predominant religion in the region. Most Kyrgyz are Sunni Muslims of the
During the 15th-16th centuries, the Kyrgyz people settled in the territory
currently known as the Kyrgyz Republic. In the early 19th century, the
southern territory of the Kyrgyz Republic came under the control of the
Khanate of Kokand, and the territory was formally incorporated into the
Russian Empire in 1876. The Russian takeover instigated numerous revolts
against tsarist authority, and many Kyrgyz opted to move into the Pamir
mountains or to Afghanistan. The suppression of the 1916 rebellion in Central
Asia caused many Kyrgyz to migrate to China.
Soviet power was initially established in the region in 1918, and in
1924, the Kara-Kyrgyz Autonomous Oblast was created within the Russian
Federal Socialist Republic. (The term Kara-Kyrgyz was used until the mid-1920s
by the Russians to distinguish them from the Kazakhs, who were also referred
to as Kyrgyz.) In 1926, it became the Kyrgyz Autonomous Soviet Socialist
Republic. On December 5, 1936, the Kyrgyz Soviet Socialist Republic (SSR)
was established as a full Union Republic of the U.S.S.R.
During the 1920s, the Kyrgyz Republic saw considerable cultural, educational,
and social change. Economic and social development also was notable. Literacy
increased, and a standard literary language was introduced. The Kyrgyz
language belongs to the Southern Turkic group of languages. In 1924, an
Arabic-based Kyrgyz alphabet was introduced, which was replaced by Latin
script in 1928. In 1941 Cyrillic script was adopted. Many aspects of the
Kyrgyz national culture were retained despite suppression of nationalist
activity under Joseph Stalin, who controlled the Soviet Union from the
late 1920's until 1953.
The early years of glasnost in the late 1980s had little effect on the
political climate in the Kyrgyz Republic. However, the republic's press
was permitted to adopt a more liberal stance and to establish a new publication,
Literaturny Kirghizstan, by the Union of Writers. Unofficial political
groups were forbidden, but several groups that emerged in 1989 to deal
with an acute housing crisis were permitted to function.
In June 1990, ethnic tensions between Uzbeks and Kyrgyz surfaced in
an area of the Osh Oblast, where Uzbeks form a majority of the population.
Violent confrontations ensued, and a state of emergency and curfew were
introduced. Order was not restored until August 1990.
The early 1990s brought measurable change to the Kyrgyz Republic. The
Kyrgyzstan Democratic Movement (KDM) had developed into a significant political
force with support in parliament. In an upset victory, Askar Akayev, the
president of the Kyrgyz Academy of Sciences, was elected to the presidency
in October 1990. The following January, Akayev introduced new government
structures and appointed a new government comprised mainly of younger,
reform-oriented politicians. In December 1990, the Supreme Soviet voted
to change the republic's name to the Republic of Kyrgyzstan. (In 1993,
it became the Kyrgyz Republic.) In February 1991, the name of the capital,
Frunze, was changed back to its pre-revolutionary name--Bishkek.
Despite these moves toward independence, economic realities seemed to
work against secession from the U.S.S.R. In a referendum on the preservation
of the U.S.S.R. in March 1991, 88.7% of the voters approved a proposal
to retain the U.S.S.R. as a "renewed federation."
On August 19, 1991, when the State Committee for the State of Emergency
(SCSE) assumed power in Moscow, there was an attempt to depose Akayev in
Kyrgyzstan. After the coup collapsed the following week, Akayev and Vice
President German Kuznetsov announced their resignations from the Communist
Party of the Soviet Union (CPSU), and the entire politburo and secretariat
resigned. This was followed by the Supreme Soviet vote declaring independence
from the U.S.S.R. on August 31, 1991. Kyrgyz was announced as the state
language in September 1991. (In December 2001, through a constitutional
amendment, the Russian language was given official status.)
In October 1991, Akayev ran unopposed and was elected President of the
new independent republic by direct ballot, receiving 95% of the votes cast.
Together with the representatives of seven other republics, he signed the
Treaty of the New Economic Community that same month. On December 21, 1991,
the Kyrgyz Republic formally entered the new Commonwealth of Independent
In 1993, allegations of corruption against Akayev's closest political
associates blossomed into a major scandal. One of those accused of improprieties
was Prime Minister Chyngyshev, who was dismissed for ethical reasons in
December. Following Chyngyshev's dismissal, Akayev dismissed the government
and called upon the last communist premier, Apas Djumagulov, to form a
new one. In January 1994, Akayev initiated a referendum asking for a renewed
mandate to complete his term of office. He received 96.2% of the vote.
A new constitution was passed by the parliament in May 1993. In 1994,
however, the parliament failed to produce a quorum for its last scheduled
session prior to the expiration of its term in February 1995. President
Akayev was widely accused of having manipulated a boycott by a majority
of the parliamentarians. Akayev, in turn, asserted that the communists
had caused a political crisis by preventing the legislature from fulfilling
its role. Akayev scheduled an October 1994 referendum, overwhelmingly approved
by voters, which proposed two amendments to the constitution--one that
would allow the constitution to be amended by means of a referendum, and
the other creating a new bicameral parliament called the Jogorku Kenesh.
Elections for the two legislative chambers--a 35-seat full-time assembly
and a 70-seat part-time assembly--were held in February 1995 after campaigns
considered remarkably free and open by most international observers, although
the election-day proceedings were marred by widespread irregularities.
Independent candidates won most of the seats, suggesting that personalities
prevailed over ideologies. The new parliament convened its initial session
in March 1995. One of its first orders of business was the approval of
the precise constitutional language on the role of the legislature.
On December 24, 1995, President Akayev was reelected for another 5-year
term with wide support (75% of vote) over two opposing candidates. President
Akayev used government resources and state-owned media to carry out his
campaign. Three (out of six) candidates were de-registered shortly before
A February 1996 referendum--in violation of the constitution and the
law on referendums--amended the constitution to give President Akayev more
power. Although the changes gave the president the power to dissolve parliament,
it also more clearly defined the parliament's powers. Since that time,
the parliament has demonstrated real independence from the executive branch.
An October 1998 referendum approved constitutional changes, including
increasing the number of deputies in the lower house, reducing the number
of deputies in the upper house, providing for 25% of lower house deputies
to be elected by party lists, rolling back parliamentary immunity, introducing
private property, prohibiting adoption of laws restricting freedom of speech
and mass media, and reforming the state budget.
Two rounds of parliamentary elections were held on February 20, 2000
and March 12, 2000. With the full backing of the United States, the Organization
for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) reported that the elections
failed to comply with commitments to free and fair elections and hence
were invalid. Questionable judicial proceedings against opposition candidates
and parties limited the choice of candidates available to Kyrgyz voters,
while state-controlled media only reported favorably on official candidates.
Government officials put pressure on independent media outlets that favored
the opposition. The presidential election that followed later in 2000 also
was marred by irregularities and was not declared free and fair by international