The Kyrgyz people were originally settled in Siberia. Pressure from the Mongols forced their group to splinter into nomadic tribes and move to the region now known as Kyrgyzstan. Here they were subdued by the Kokandian Khanate, but there were many rebellions. The Kyrgyz allied with Russia as it expanded to the south. Russia then conquered the Kokands and ruled the Kyrgyz as a part of Russian Turkestan. The Kyrgyz rebelled in 1916 against the Russian peasant influx and the loss of grazing land. After the Communists took control, groups such as the Basmachi movement continued to fight for independence. Stalin’s collective farms caused protests in the form of killing herds and fleeing to China.
Until the advent of Communist control, the Kyrgyz were still a nomadic people made up of individual tribes. The idea of a Kyrgyz nation was fostered under Soviet rule. Kyrgyz traditions, national dress, and art were defined as distinct from their neighbors. Today people will name the Kyrgyz national hat ( kalpak ), instrument ( komuz ), sport ( uulak ), house (boz-ui), drink ( kumyss ), and foods. Stalin then intentionally drew borders inconsistent with the traditional locations of ethnic populations, leaving large numbers of ethnic Uzbeks and Turkmen within Kirghizia’s borders. This was supposed to maintain a level of interethnic tension in the area, so that these closely related groups would not rise up against him.
Kyrgyzstan, like many of its neighbors, voted against independence when the Soviet Union collapsed. With no history as an independent nation, they have struggled with the loss of centralized government control. The people of Kyrgyzstan are, however, meeting these challenges, and Kyrgyzstan is held up as the most democratic and market-oriented country in Central Asia.