Cultural Overview

The Kyrgyz (over 2 million) are primarily found in one of the recently independent countries of the former Soviet Union, the Kyrgyz Republic (or Kyrgyzstan). To understand the Kyrgyz and their construction of gender, it is useful to mention their diverse historical predicaments during the past 150 years. Until the 1920s, the Kyrgyz were a seminomadic group, thought to have originated in the Yenisei River region in northern Siberia around 900 ce. Throughout the last millennium, the Kyrgyz, along with other nomadic groups, traveled vast distances from the eastern shores of the Aral Sea to the western border of China and south to Afghanistan for the purpose of herding their sheep and horses. Although the Kyrgyz cultural patterns resemble those of the nomadic tribes of Central Asia, nevertheless some among them became sedentary, especially in the southern areas of the country. Here mosques and madrassas (religious schools) were constructed in the 12th century. Among the northern tribes, the nomadic Kyrgyz did not significantly convert to Islam until the early 19th century.

Between 1925 and 1991, the Kyrgyz experienced intensive Soviet collectivization. This change had a major impact not only on their livelihood, but also on their family structure and kinship patterns. Prior to 1925, women were primarily illiterate. By the mid-1930s, female literacy rates had reached 35%, and by the early 1990s there was complete literacy of men and women.

It should be noted that among the Central Asian ethnic groups, the Kyrgyz and the Kazakh of Kazakhstan are more closely related in terms of their language, cultural practices, and kinship structures than any of the other major groups (Tajiks, Turkmen, or Uzbeks).

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