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Kyrgyz Manaschi, Karakol.jpg
A traditional Kyrgyz Manaschi performing part of the Manas epic poem at a yurt camp in Karakol
Total population
approx. 4 million
Regions with significant populations
 Kyrgyzstan 3.616 million [1]
 Uzbekistan 225,000
 China 144,000 [1]
 Afghanistan 30,000 [2]
 Tajikistan 81,000
 Pakistan 60,000
 Russia 32,000 [3]
 Kazakhstan 11,000 [4]
 Ukraine 3,000 [5]
 Turkey 4,000 [6]



Predominantly Sunni Islam and Russian Orthodox, small Buddhist minority

Related ethnic groups

other Turkic peoples

The Kyrgyz (also spelled Kirgiz, Kirghiz) are a Turkic ethnic group found primarily in Kyrgyzstan.



There are several etymological theories on the ethnonym "Kyrgyz."

The word "Kyrgyz" is a derived from the Turkic word "forty", with -Iz being an old plural suffix, referring to a collection of forty tribes.[2]

Kyrgyz also means "imperishable", "inextinguishable" or "immortal". This version has an obvious popular appreciation. Historical evidence for many conflicts with other peoples also supports this theory. The Chinese transcription "Tse-gu" (Gekun, Jiankun) allows to restore the pronunciation of the ethnonym as Kirkut (Kirgut) and Kirkur (Kirgur). Both forms go back to the earliest variation Kirkün (Chinese Tszyan-kun) of the term "Kyrgyz" meaning "Field People", "Field Huns". The term Kirkün went through a notable evolution: Kirkün (Kirgün) = Kirkut (Kirgut) = Kirkur (Kirkor, Kirgur) = Kyrkyz (Kyrgyz). The evolution is traced well chronologically. The semantic connection between kün (gün) and gür is a chronologically consecutive development of the concept kün = "female progenitor" = her offsprings = "tribe" = "a people" at the last stage coincides with the gür = "people", like in the Khitan title Gurkhan. Application of affixes of plurality "t" - "r" - "z" in the ethnonym Kirkun shaded the initial sound, and then also the meaning, making its roots enigmatic. By the Mongol epoch, the initial meaning of the word Kirkun was already lost, evidenced by differing readings of the earlier reductions of the Uanshi. The change of ethnonym produced a new version of an origin, and the memory about their steppe motherland, recorded in Uanshi, survived only as a recollection of the initial birthplace of forty women. Subsequently, however, that recollection was also lost.[3] Kir-kis means "leader of the people with boars totem". kis,kas[-er],khiz,khuz, khi, khion (hunn) means boar.

In the 18th and 19th century European writers used the word "Kirghiz" (the early Anglicized form of the contemporary Russian "киргизы") to refer not only to the people we now know as Kyrgyz, but also to their more numerous northern relatives, the Kazakhs. When distinction had to be made, more specific terms were used: Burut (буруты), Kara-Kirghiz (кара-киргизы) or "Dikokamenni Kirghiz" (дикокаменные киргизы) for the Kyrgyz proper, and Koisaks for the Kazakhs.[4][5]


Early color image of a Kyrgyz family, c.1905-1915

The early Kyrgyz people, known as Yenisei Kyrgyz or Xiajiasi (黠戛斯), first appear in written records in the Chinese annals of the Sima Qian's Records of the Grand Historian (compiled 109 BC to 91 BC), as Gekun or Jiankun (鬲昆 or 隔昆). The Middle Age Chinese composition "Tanghuiyao" of the 8-10th century transcribed the name "Kyrgyz" Tsze-gu (Kirgut), and their tamga was depicted identical with the tamga of present day Kyrgyz tribes Azyk, Bugu, Cherik, Sary Bagysh and few others.[6] According to recent historical findings, Kyrgyz history dates back to 201 BC. The Yenisei Kyrgyz lived in the upper Yenisey River valley, central Siberia. Yenisei Kyrgyzes in the Late Antique times were a part of the Tiele tribes. Later, in the Early Middle Age, Yenisei Kyrgyzes were under the rule of Göktürk Kaganate and Uigur Kaganate. In 840 a revolt led by Yenisei Kyrgyzes brought down the Uigur Kaganate, and brought the Yenisei Kyrgyzes to a dominating position in the former Turkic Kaganate. With the rise to power, the center of the Kyrgyz Kaganate moved to Jeti-su, and brought about a spread south of the Kyrgyz people, to reach Tian Shan mountains and Eastern Turkestan, bringing them immediately to the borders of China and Tibet. By the 16th century the carriers of the ethnonym "Kirgiz" lived in South Siberia, Eastern Turkestan, Tian Shan, Pamir Alay, Middle Asia, Urals (among Bashkorts), in Kazakhstan.[7] In the Tian Shan and Eastern Turkestan area, the term "Kyrgyz" retained its unifying political designation, and became a general ethnonym for the Yenisei Kirgizes and aboriginal Turkic tribes that presently constitute the Kyrgyz population.[8] Though it is obviously impossible to directly identify the Yenisei and Tien Shan Kyrgyzes, a trace of their ethnogenetical connections is apparent in archaeology, history, language and ethnography. Majority of modern researchers came to a conclusion that the ancestors of the southern Kyrgyz tribes had their origin in the most ancient tribal unions of Sakas and Usuns, Dinlins and Huns.[9] Approximately 300,000 Yenisei Kyrgyzes survived in the Tuva depression until present.

A Kyrgyz family

V.V. Bartold cites Chinese and Muslim sources of the 7th–12th centuries AD that describe the Kyrgyz as having red, sometimes blond hair, blue or green eyes, and white skin.[10] These features were totally different from those of modern Kyrgyz, which made Ibn al-Muqaffa suggest in the 8th century AD that the Kyrgyz were related to the Slavs.[10][11]

The descent of the Kyrgyz from the autochthonous Siberian population is confirmed by recent genetic studies.[12] Remarkably, 63% of modern Kyrgyz men share Haplogroup R1a1 (Y-DNA) with Tajiks (64%), Ukrainians (54%), Poles and Hungarians (~60%), and even Icelanders (25%). Haplogroup R1a1 (Y-DNA) is often believed to be a marker of the Proto-Indo-European language [13] speakers.

Because of the processes of migration, conquest, intermarriage, and assimilation, many of the Kyrgyz peoples that now inhabit Central and Southwest Asia are of mixed origins, often stemming from fragments of many different tribes, though they speak closely related languages.[7]

Political development

The Kyrgyz state reached its greatest expansion after defeating the Uyghur Khaganate in 840 AD. Then Kyrgyz quickly moved as far as the Tian Shan range and maintained their dominance over this territory for about 200 years. In the 12th century, however, the Kyrgyz domination had shrunk to the Altai Range and the Sayan Mountains as a result of the rising Mongol expansion. With the rise of the Mongol Empire in the 13th century, the Kyrgyz migrated south. In 1207, after the establishment of Yekhe Mongol Ulus (Mongol empire), Genghis Khan's oldest son Jochi occupied Kyrgyzstan without resistance. They remained a Mongol vassal until the late 14th century.

Various Turkic peoples ruled them until 1685, when they came under the control of the Kalmyks (Oirats, Dzungars).


A mosque in Tokmok, Kyrgyzstan

Kyrgyz are predominantly Muslims. Islam was first introduced by Arab traders who travelled along the Silk Road in the seventh and eight century.

In the 8th century, orthodox Islam reached the Fergana valley with the Uzbeks. Atheism, on the other hand, took some following in the northern regions under Russian communist influence. As of today, few cultural rituals of Shamanism are still practiced alongside with Islam particularly in Central Kyrgyzstan. During a July 2007 interview, Bermet Akayeva, the daughter of Askar Akayev, the former President of Kyrgyzstan, stated that Islam is increasingly taking root even in the northern portion which came under communist influence.[14] She emphasized that many mosques have been built and that the Kyrgyz are increasingly devoting themselves to Islam, which she noted was "not a bad thing in itself. It keeps our society more moral, cleaner."[14]

The Kyrgyz in China

China's Kyrgyz people (柯尔克孜族) portrayed on a poster near the Niujie Mosque in Beijing. (Fourth from the left, between the Dongxiang and the Dong)

The Kyrgyz form one of the 56 ethnic groups officially recognized by the People's Republic of China. There are more than 145,000 Kyrgyz in China. They are known in China as Kēěrkèzī zú (simplified Chinese: 柯尔克孜族traditional Chinese: 柯爾克孜族).

They are found mainly in the Kizilsu Kirghiz Autonomous Prefecture in the southwestern part of the Xinjiang Uygur Autonomous Region, with a smaller remainder found in the neighboring Wushi (Uqturpan), Aksu, Shache (Yarkand), Yingisar, Taxkorgan and Pishan (Guma), and in Tekes, Zhaosu (Monggolkure), Emin (Dorbiljin), Bole (Bortala), Jinghev (Jing) and Gonliu in northern Xinjiang. Several hundred Kyrgyz whose forefathers emigrated to Northeast China more than 200 years ago now live in Wujiazi Village in Fuyu County, Heilongjiang Province.

Certain segments of the Kyrgyz in China are followers of Tibetan Buddhism.[15]

Notable Kyrgyz people

Chinghiz Aitmatov

See also


  1. ^ Калктын улуттук курамы / Национальный состав населения (National Statistics Committee of the Kyrgyz Republic: Ethnic Composition of the Population). (Kyrgyz) (Russian). The Kyrgyz Statistics Committee estimates the number of the Kyrgyz in the republic at 3.616 million in 2008, and 3.396 million in 2004. This is consistent with the number (3.48 million) that can be obtained by from the CIA Fact Book by multiplying the country's population (5.357 million as of July 2008) by the percent of the Kyrgyz ethnic group (64.9% as of the 1999 census).
  2. ^ Pulleyblank 1990, p.108.
  3. ^ Zuev, Yu.A., Horse Tamgas from Vassal Princedoms (Translation of Chinese composition "Tanghuyao" of 8-10th centuries), Kazakh SSR Academy of Sciences, Alma-Ata, 1960, p. 103 (In Russian)
  4. ^ Michell, John; Valikhanov, Chokan Chingisovich; Venyukov, Mikhail Ivanovich (1865), The Russians in Central Asia: their occupation of the Kirghiz steppe and the line of the Syr-Daria : their political relations with Khiva, Bokhara, and Kokan : also descriptions of Chinese Turkestan and Dzungaria; by Capt. Valikhanof, M. Veniukof and [others. Translated by John Michell, Robert Michell], E. Stanford, pp. 271–273,  
  5. ^ Vasily Bartold, Тянь-Шаньские киргизы в XVIII и XIX веках (The Tian Shan Kirghiz in the 18th and 19th centuries), Chapter VII in: Киргизы. Исторический очерк. (The Kyrgyz: an historical outline), in Collected Works of V, Bartold, Moscow, 1963, vol II, part 1, pp. 65-80 (Russian)
  6. ^ Abramzon S.M. The Kirgiz and their ethnogenetical historical and cultural connections, Moscow, 1971, p. 45
  7. ^ Abramzon S.M., p. 31
  8. ^ Abramzon S.M., pp. 80-81
  9. ^ Abramzon S.M., p. 30
  10. ^ a b V.V. Bartold, The Kyrgyz: A Historical Essay, Frunze, 1927. Reprinted in V.V. Bartold, Collected Works, Volume II, Part 1, Izd. Vostochnoi Literatury, Moscow, 1963, p. 480 (Russian)
  11. ^ Mirfatyh Zakiev, Origins of the Turks and Tatars, Part Two, Third Chapter, sections 109-100, 2002. Retrieved on 15 May 2009
  12. ^ The Eurasian Heartland: A continental perspective on Y-chromosome diversity
  13. ^ Wells 2001, Karafet 2001, Zerjal 2002, Underhill 2000, and others
  14. ^ a b EurasiaNet Civil Society - Kyrgyzstan: Time to Ponder a Federal System - Ex-President's Daughter
  15. ^ "柯尔克孜族". Retrieved 2007-02-18.   (Chinese)

References and further reading


Up to date as of January 15, 2010

Definition from Wiktionary, a free dictionary




Wikipedia has an article on:




Kyrgyz (plural Kyrgyz)

  1. A person from Kyrgyzstan or of Kyrgyz descent.


Proper noun




  1. The Western Turkic language of Kyrgyzstan.


External links


Kyrgyz (not comparable)


not comparable

none (absolute)

  1. Of, from, or pertaining to Kyrgyzstan, the Kyrgyz people or the Kyrgyz language.


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