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History, Soviet Period

Askar Akayev, Kyrgyz people, direct election, RSFSR, Mikhail Gorbachev

During the Russian Civil War (1918-1921), the Bolsheviks sought to reclaim territories in Central Asia and other parts of the former Russian Empire that had split off following the collapse of the monarchy. Despite resistance by the basmachis, an organized movement of armed Islamic and nationalist guerrillas, the Bolsheviks managed to reestablish control over Central Asia. In 1921 the area of present-day Kyrgyzstan became part of the Turkistan Autonomous Soviet Socialist Republic (ASSR) within the Russian Soviet Federated Socialist Republic (RSFSR). The Turkistan ASSR also included present-day Tajikistan, Turkmenistan, Uzbekistan, and part of Kazakhstan. The Bolsheviks founded the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics (USSR) in December 1922. In 1924 the Soviet authorities began to delineate new territories in Central Asia along ethnic lines. That year the area of present-day Kyrgyzstan became the Kara-Kirgiz Autonomous Region (renamed Kirgiz Autonomous Region in 1925), and in 1926 the region was upgraded to an autonomous republic, or ASSR. Ten years later it was again upgraded, this time to the status of a constituent republic of the USSR, and was officially named the Kirgiz Soviet Socialist Republic (SSR). It was commonly known as Kirgizia.

Soviet policies had a drastic impact on the life of the Kyrgyz people. The traditional Kyrgyz way of life, which was based on nomadic livestock-herding, was abolished in the course of land reforms during the 1920s and 1930s. The Soviet government consolidated all arable and grazing lands into large state-owned farms, and by the mid-1930s the majority of Kyrgyz had been forcibly settled to work on these farms. Other Kyrgyz fled to the mountains, and even into China, to escape this fate. The collectivization of agriculture eradicated longstanding Kyrgyz landholding patterns, which were based on family and kinship ties.

Large-scale industrialization was another centerpiece of the Soviet planned economy. Heavy industries and uranium-mining operations were established in the Kirgiz SSR. This was accompanied by a large influx of Russians into the republic’s urban areas, and Russians came to constitute a majority of the population in Bishkek (now Bishkek). The Russian language was promoted as the primary language in education, business, and politics. Kyrgyz-language schools were virtually nonexistent in urban areas.

The Soviet regime meanwhile sought to eliminate any opposition to the new order. The Kirgiz Communist Party, a local branch of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union (CPSU), was established as the only legal party in the republic. During Soviet leader Joseph Stalin’s violent purges of the 1930s, many members of the Kyrgyz intelligentsia and any others who expressed dissent were imprisoned or executed. A modest political relaxation occurred after Stalin’s death in 1953, but centralized control from Moscow was by then firmly established.

In 1985 Mikhail Gorbachev became Soviet leader. Gorbachev instituted a program of far-reaching political and economic reforms called glasnost (Russian for “openness”) and perestroika (“restructuring”). Gorbachev’s policies led to demands within the various Soviet republics for greater levels of autonomy. Several unofficial quasi-political groups formed in the Kirgiz SSR in 1989. In 1990 the Soviet government agreed to change the Soviet constitution to allow non-Communist parties to take part in political life. However, the conservative Kirgiz Communist Party leadership opposed this development. In February candidates affiliated with the party ran virtually unopposed in elections to the 350-member Kirgiz Supreme Soviet (legislature), thus securing the party’s control over government in the republic.

Meanwhile, reformist groups rallied around the issue of the republic’s acute housing shortage and challenged the Kyrgyz government to alleviate the problem. In June 1990 disagreement between Uzbeks and Kyrgyz over access to land and housing around the city of Osh, near the Kirgiz-Uzbek border, sparked violent interethnic clashes. The Kyrgyz government imposed a state of emergency, and the border between the Uzbek and Kirgiz republics was closed. The violence continued to escalate, however, and at least 300 people were killed. Order was restored in August, although the state of emergency was to remain in effect until 1995.

In October 1990 the Kirgiz Supreme Soviet convened to elect a president of the republic. Although the legislature was dominated by the Kirgiz Communist Party, the violence in the Osh region had discredited the party’s candidate, and Askar Akayev, a liberal academic on the reform wing of the republic’s party organization, was elected to the newly created post. Akayev allied himself increasingly with the new political forces emerging in Kirgizia, and he pushed for economic and political reforms that were opposed by many officials in the Kirgiz Communist Party bureaucracy.

In 1991 the Soviet republics began to declare independence. Taking the name Kyrgyzstan, Kirgizia declared its independence in September, shortly after a failed coup attempt by Communist hard-liners in Moscow. Among the heads of the 15 Soviet republics, only Askar Akayev in Kirgizia and Boris Yeltsin in Russia openly resisted the coup. In the wake of the coup, the Kirgiz Communist Party was temporarily dissolved (until 1992). Although Communist conservatives continued to dominate the legislature, they did not put forth a candidate in the presidential election in October. Akayev ran unopposed in the direct election and was reelected president. After the USSR collapsed officially in December 1991, Kyrgyzstan joined most of the other former Soviet republics in the newly formed Commonwealth of Independent States (CIS), a loose alliance for political and military cooperation.



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