The earliest ancestors of the Kirghiz people, who are believed to be of mixed Mongol and Kipchak descent, probably settled until the 10th century around what is now the Tuva region of the Russian Federation. With the rise of the Mongol Empire in the 13th century, the Kyrgyz migrated south. They did not emerge as a distinct ethnic group until the 15th century. Various Turkic peoples ruled them until 1685, when they came under the control of the Kalmyks (Oirats, Dzungars). Islam is the predominant religion in the region, and most of the Kyrgyz are Sunni Muslims of the Hanafi school.
In the early 19th century, the southern territory of today's Kyrgyzstan 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 of the Kyrgyz opted to move to the Pamirs and Afghanistan. In addition, 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 1919, and the Kara-Kirghiz Autonomous Oblast was created within the Russian SFSR (the term Kara-Kirghiz was used until the mid-1920s by the Russians to distinguish them from the Kazakhs, who were also referred to as Kirghiz). On December 5, 1936, the Kirghiz Soviet Socialist Republic (SSR) was established as a full Union Republic of the USSR.
During the 1920s, Kyrgyzstan developed considerably in cultural, educational, and social life. Literacy was greatly improved, and a standard literary language was introduced. Economic and social development also was notable. Many aspects of the Kyrgyz national culture were retained despite the suppression of nationalist activity under Stalin, and, therefore, tensions with the all-Union authorities were constant.
The early years of glasnost had little effect on the political climate in Kyrgyzstan. 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 the acute housing crisis were permitted to function.
In June 1990, ethnic tensions between Uzbeks and Kyrgyz surfaced in 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.
The early 1990s brought measurable change to Kyrgyzstan. By then, the Kyrgyzstan Democratic Movement (KDM) had developed into a significant political force with support in Parliament. In an upset victory, Askar Akayev, the liberal 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 prerevolutionary name of Bishkek. The Kyrgyz language replaced Russian as the official language in September 1991. (Kyrgyz is a member of the Southern Turkic group of languages and was written in the Arabic alphabet until the 20th century. Latin script was introduced and adopted in 1928, and was subsequently replaced by Cyrillic in 1941.) Despite these aesthetic moves 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 the proposal to retain the U.S.S.R. as a "renewed federation."
On August 19, 1991, when the State Emergency Committee assumed power in Moscow, there was an attempt to depose Akayev in Kyrgyzstan. After the coup had collapsed the following week, Akayev and Vice President German Kuznetsov announced their resignations from the Communist Party Soviet Union (CPSU), and the entire bureau and secretariat resigned. This was followed by the Supreme Soviet vote declaring independence from the USSR on August 31, 1991.
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 that same month, he signed the Treaty of the New Economic Community. Finally, on December 21, 1991, Kyrgyzstan joined with the other four Central Asian Republics to formally enter the new Commonwealth of Independent States. In 1992, Kyrgyzstan joined the UN and the CSCE.
Current concerns in Kyrgyzstan include: privatization of state-owned enterprises, expansion of democracy and political freedoms, inter-ethnic relations, and terrorism.