History and People

Legend: When humans first appeared God gave them land and everything the world could offer depending on their talents – fertile valleys, rocky mountains and waterless dessert, forest. On the last day of giving out land God noted a Kyrgyz man sleeping under a tree, whereas the others were struggling to get better areas. This lack of interest affected God so much that He decided to give the best land to the Kyrgyz man so that he would not need to work hard to live. 

The mountains of Kyrgyzstan are the cradle of its people. The landscape has shaped and preserved their nomadic lifestyle and culture for centuries. Step behind the veil of hills which line the roads to discover a world of yurts, galloping horses, grazing livestock and colorful carpets: a world that conjures up the great encampments of Chingiz Khan – here is the heart of Kyrgyzstan.

History and legend come together in the story of how the nomadic Kyrgyz tribes came to inhabit their mountain stronghold. Red-haired and blue-eyed, they are believed to have migrated from the Yenisei River in Siberia between the 9th and 12th centuries. Central Asia’s steppes and mountains had been home to waves of nomadic empires for thousands of years and the new arrivals found themselves fending off constant invasions by warrior tribes.

When the fiercest of the invaders, Chingiz Khan, swept through 1219, life changed forever. The Mongol Empire stretched across the region, razing the Silk Road, Bukhara and Khiva to the ground. The Kyrgyz owed their survival to their nomadic mountain lifestyle, intricately evolved over 2,500 years, and their excellent horsemanship, which gave them supremacy over sedentary people.

Early travelers to the region were struck by the impressive Kyrgyz camps with 50 or more yurts. These ails were led a manap (chief) with a help of aksakals (advisors). The most senior man by birth, he not only had to be wise, but also wealthy enough to fulfill his duties of hospitality. If he became too autocratic, the ail could move away to join another group.

Exquisite horsemanship was shown of at festivities during the day, but eloquence and poetry were also highly prized. In the evening, around the fire, akyns (bards) would improvise verses and competes with each other in witty banter, astonishing visitors with bare verbal dexterity.

The Kyrgyz settled into villages in the mid 20th century during the Soviet period but we identity is firmly rooted in our nomadic heritage and we still have a passion for their horses and akyns. The country is proud to have been the first of the former Soviet States to declare independence in 1991- a sign of our determination to forge their own destiny.

The Manas Epic

The Manas Epic is Kyrgyzstan’s most important cultural treasure and one of the world’s greatest oral poems. With half a million lines of verse, it is 20 times longer than Homer’s Odyssey and the Iliad combined. To the Kyrgyz , who regard it as our sacred ancient history, it goes to the heart of our spiritual identity and is a symbol of our nationalism and culture.

Dating back 1000 years, it has been passed down through manaschy, story-tellers called to their profession in a dream. The Epic, a collection of myths, folklore and legends about the warrior-hero Manas and his successors, reflect Kyrgyzstan’s nomadic past, beset by enemies and constant battles. Its theme of the struggle for freedom still resonates powerfully with the Kyrgyz today