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 Hanafi school.
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, whoÊcontrolled 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 theseÊmoves 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 States (CIS).
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 the election.
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 observers.
Nationwide demonstrations in 2005 and 2010 resulted in the ouster of the country’s first two presidents, Askar AKAEV and Kurmanbek BAKIEV. Interim President Roza OTUNBAEVA led a transitional government and following a nation-wide election, President Almazbek ATAMBAEV was sworn in as president in 2011. In 2017, ATAMBAEV became the first Kyrgyzstani president to step down after serving one full six-year term as required in the country’s constitution. Former prime minister and ruling Social-Democratic Party of Kyrgyzstan member, Sooronbay JEENBEKOV, replaced him after winning the 2017 presidential election, which was the most competitive in the country’s history, although international and local election observers noted cases of vote buying and abuse of public resources. In October 2020, protests against legislative election results spread across Kyrgyzstan, leading to JEENBEKOV’s resignation from the presidency, and catapulting previously imprisoned Sadyr JAPAROV to acting president. In January 2021, Kyrgyzstanis formerly elected JAPAROV as president and approved a referendum to move Kyrgyzstan from a parliamentary to a presidential system. In April 2021, Kyrgyzstanis voted in favor of draft constitutional changes that consolidated power in the presidency. Pro-government parties won a majority in the Jogorku Kenesh (Kyrgyzstan’s legislature) in November 2021 elections. Continuing concerns for Kyrgyzstan include the trajectory of democratization, endemic corruption, a history of tense, and at times violent, interethnic relations, border security vulnerabilities, and potential terrorist threats.