I arrived in Bishkek on May 5, Constitution Day. So today, bank holiday, everyone was hanging around the main squares of the capital city, where many monuments tell history.
Funnily enough, Kirghizistan tried to emancipate from the soviet influence but everything in the city architecture and sculptures style remind it. Difficult, though, to escape the cold feeling given by those very large avenues, that reminded me of Ulan Bator urbanism, capital city of Mongolia…
Let me share with you a paragraph on the country history, so that we will understand better what we will see in the next two weeks…
Scythians : The earliest notable residents of what is now Kyrgyzstan were warrior clans of Scythians (The Scythians were Iranian equestrian tribes), from about the 6th century BC to the 5th century AD.
Turkic : From the 6th to 10th centuries, the region was under the control of various Turkic alliances (The Turkic peoples are a collection of ethnic groups that live in northern, eastern, central, and western Asia, northwestern China, and parts of eastern Europe). Allied to Arabs and Tibetans, the drove a large Tang Chinese army out of Central Asia in 751.The Turkic (who finally brought Islam to Central Asia for good) ruled here in the 10th to 12th centuries.
Mongols : Ancestors of today’s Kyrgyz people probably lived in Siberia until the 10th century, when they started to emigrate, running from the Mongol incursions, and more urgently with the rise of Jenghiz Khan in the 13th century.
Chinese : Peace was shattered in 1685 by the arrival of the ruthless Mongol Oyrats of the Zhungarian empire, who drove vast numbers of Kyrgyz south into the Fergana and Pamir Alay regions and on into present-day Tajikistan. The Man- chu (Qing) defeat of the Oyrats in 1758 left the Kyrgyz as de facto subjects of the Chinese, who mainly left the locals to their nomadic ways.
19th century : Russians move closer… And then begins contemporary history.
Bishkek fell in 1862 to Russia and the Kyrgyz were gradually eased into the tsar’s provinces. The Kyrgyz put up with it until a revolt in 1916, centred on Tokmak and heavily put down by the Russian army. 120,000 were killed and 120,000 fled to China. Kyrgyz lands became part of the Turkestan Autonomous Soviet Socialist Republic (Turkestan ASSR) within the Russian Federation in 1918, then a separate Kara-Kyrgyz Autonomous Oblast (an oblast is a province or region) in 1924. Finally, after the Russians had decided Kyrgyz and Kazakhs were separate nationalities. It became a full Soviet Socialist Republic (SSR) in December 1936, when the region was known as Soviet Kirghizia.
The above statue shows Kurmanjan Datka (1811-1907), also known as “The Tsaritsa of Alai” or “The Queen of the South,” was a stateswoman in Kyrgyzstan, known for her initial resistance to the annexation of that region by Russia.
But remains on Bishkek’ main square the People’s Friendship Monument, unveiled in 1974, that celebrates 100 years of Kyrgyzstan’s accession to what was then the Russian Empire…
During WWII, Kirghiz did fight along the soviets. On Victory Square, the statue of Chyngyz Aitmatov, the most popular Kirghiz author, who belonged to the post-war generation of writers.
On 31 August 1991, the Kyrgyz Supreme Soviet reluctantly voted to declare Kyrgyzstan’s independence, the first Central Asian republic to do so. Six weeks later Akaev was reelected as president, running unopposed.
In the meantime, land and housing were at the root of Central Asia’s most infamous ‘eth- nic’ violence, between Kyrgyz and Uzbeks in 1990 around Osh and Özgön, a majority-Uzbek area stuck onto Kyrgyzstan in the 1930s (p334), during which at least 300 people were killed.
Above : Ala-Too Square with its new statue of Kyrgyz national folk hero Manas. Unveiled in 2011 to mark the 20th anniversary of Kyrgyzstan independence, the nine metres-long bronze figure on horseback is called “Manas the Magnanimous”.
Kyrgyzstan’s first decade of independence was characterised by extreme economic hard- ship. Between 1990 and 1996, industrial pro- duction fell by 64%, dragging the economy back to the levels of the 1970s when produc- tion was one of the lowest in the USSR. Only in 1996 did the economy stop shrinking.
Above : A pair of guards in Ala-Too Square in Bishkek, Kyrgyzstan’s capital city. The monument in the background stands to celebrate Kyrgyzstan’s independence from the Soviet Union in 1991.
Akaev initially established himself as a persistent reformer, restructuring the executive apparatus to suit his liberal political and economic attitudes, and instituting reforms considered the most radical in the Central Asian republics.
Above : The White House, hosting both the government and the parliament.
By the early 2000s, Kyrgyzstan’s democratic credentials were once again backsliding in the face of growing corruption, nepotism and civil unrest.
The 2005 parliamentary elections were plagued by accusations of harassment and government censure. Demonstrators stormed governmental buildings in Jalal-Abad and civil unrest soon spread to Osh and Bishkek. On 24 March the relatively peaceful Tulip Revolution effectively overthrew the government amid bouts of looting and vandalism. President Akayev fled by helicopter to Kazakhstan and on to Moscow – subsequently resigning and becoming a university lecturer.
Above : commemoration of the Tulips Revolution.
Liberty statue (Erkindink), previously the very place of Feliks Dzerjinski statue, who founded the Cheka, soviet secret police, forerunner of the KGB. Some other sources say it replaces Lenine’s statue… But anyway, I guess everyone gets the message…
Oh, wait a minute, here is Lenine’s statue : in my bedroom !
Beyond those cold monuments and soviet urbanism, Bishkek is full of energetic people who try to make a living, that’s what I will report on tomorrow…
(To be continued)