Face Music - History: Horsemen – Nomads
      • History of the Horsemen




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P & C December 1998
- Face Music / Albi

- last update 03-2016


  • Kirghiz
    - 3rd BC to 19th century AC
    Khakass
    Kazakhs
- Landkarte:


Mythology gives several narrations on the origins of this people:

  • The most popular narration is about forty girls who were made pregnant by the waters of the lake Issyk-Köl which was at that time held sacred; in this way the lineage of this people was established.
  • Another version is about forty girls who go on peregrination. When they return back home they cannot find their tribe anymore as it has been eliminated by attacking enemies. These girls become good warriors and, in consequence, create the tribe of the Kirghiz.
  • According to a myth, the legendary Oghus Khan is supposed to have had a grandson with the name Kirghiz Khan who is said to have been the founder of this people.
  • Originally this was a confederation of forty different tribes. The narrators have gathered some forty tribes from the rather comprehensive epic Manas and specified them by their individual names. The epic is about the battles of the Kirghiz folk hero Manas and his companions and descendants in the ninth century A.C. against the Uyghurs.

The Kirghiz supposedly have their origins in the southern Altai mountains. There they were first mentioned by their neighbouring Chinese already as early as at the end of the 3rd century BC. Several Chinese writes included the characteristics "light-skinned, red-haired and light-coloured eyes" in their descriptions of the then "wild mountain people". About 49 BC they moved to the upper course of the river Yenisey and became neighbours of the Dingling and Ruan Ruan (who made up a part of the Hsiung-nu Empire), who then migrated to the Selenga River. Today there do not exist many definite records dating back to the early days of the Kirghiz.

Only in the 6th century, the Kirghiz history becomes real and concrete: In 560 AC the Göktürk ruler Muhan (who reigned 553-572) conquered the territories at the upper Yenisey, in this way turning the Kirghiz into vasalls. At that period of time the Yenisey Kirghiz even mined iron and gold which they had to hand over to the Göktürk leader as toll. In the following, the Kirghiz princes sought the contact with the Chinese Tang Dynasty and paid the Chinese leader their annual tribute, for example in the form of horses. Their area of settlement at this time is said to have been, at least according to Chinese chronists, in the west of Hami (city of Kumul in Xinjiang) and in the north of Karasar (former Buddhist kingdom located at the Silk Road at the northern fringe of the Taklamakan Desert in the Tarim Basin).

The "Orkhon Runes" inscriptions dating back to the 8th century AC describe, in a rather illustrative way, the bloody war of the Göktürks, in the course of which the well-esteemed Kirghiz ruler Bars Beg was killed in a battle (711/12). Similar events took place in 758 AC with the defeat against the Uyghurs who had assumed succession of the Göktürks in their supremacy in the steppe. The Uyghurs were able to defeat a Kirghiz army comprising more or less 50,000 men, and hence they succeeded in disintegrating the relation between the Kirghiz Empire and the Tang China.

The downfall of the Uyghurian Empire also goes back to a rather hard winter (839 AC) and, what is even more important, an Uyghurian renegade: General Külüg Bagha joined their sides in 840 AC, and together with Prince Uje Khan († 847 AC) from the Jaglaqar Clan, the Uyghurian Empire in today's Mongolia was eradicated; the remaining Uyghurs fled towards the south. The Kirghiz then became the predominant power in Central Asia and also sent some missions to Tang China. Their sphere of political control included the territories between Lena, Irtysh River, Lake Baikal and areas as far as Tian Shan. The Tannu-Ola Mountains in Tuva became their centre from 840 AC on – they and their descendants considered the former Uyghurian Empire and today's Mongolia, respectively, simply as their "hinterland". The Kirghiz, however, were not able to really make use of their newlyacquired power as the Tang leader was not willing to upgrade the Kirghiz nobility by means of Chinese titles. Although contemporary Turkish descriptions give a notion of nomadism, excavations have found proof that, apart from smaller towns, there were also well established the branches of mining, cultivation of land and drainage systems in addition to a Runic scripture and road construction. Furthermore, there were excavated Byzantine coins in the Altai area. They belong to the denomination of the Sunni Islam. The Great Kirghiz Empire, however, is only purely documented. Already in 924 AC it was conquered by the Khitans of the Apaoka Khan (died in 926 AC), and the people was pushed back to its original area of settlement at the Yenisey River. In the 10th century AC, the Kirghiz were pushed towards the south and into the Tian Shan Mountains by the neighbouring Tungus (Evenks). There, already at the end of the 8th century, some Kirghiz clans – in alliance with the Karluks – had settled at the eastern slopes of Tian Shan.

In the years 1207/8 AC, the Kirghiz princes (Yedi, Inal, Aldi'er, Örebek Digin) submitted to the Mongols led by Genghis Khan's son Jochi, but revolted again not much later. The Kirghiz people was dissolved by the Mongolian rulers after several rebellions taking place in the 13th century, they were, in part, deported to Manchuria, they lost their Runic scripture and the little agriculture they had. The Kirghiz then assumed the nomadic life of the Mongols. In 1220 AC probably only a few Kirghiz moved to Central Asia, into the Tian Shan Mountains, accompanying Jochi Khan's army. These people are still living there. It was there that the people of Kara-Kirghiz was founded by the fusion of various Mongolian and Turkic tribes. Step by step, they were joined by groups then settling at the Yenisey River. In this way, huge groups in the entourage of the Oirats reached the Tian Shan in the years 1649 AC (led by Ababartsi Chinsang) and in 1702 AC. The Kirghiz living at the River Yenisey again got talked about at the beginning of the 15th century under the leaderhip of Ugechi (about 1402/03 AC) and his son Essekü († 1425) – but they only became famous for battles, that were finally dominated by the Oirats, published later on by Mongolian chroniclers in a rather confuse way. So Ugechi is made responsible for the murdering of the Mongolian Khan Elbek (1399 or 1401/02 AC).

But already in the 15th and 16th centuries, the name Kirghiz found its revival among those steppe nomads that were later known as Kazakhs. The Kara Kirghiz were in a rather loose alliance with the Kazakh Kirghiz (The steppe nomads were called "Kazakh Kirghiz", whereas the inhabitants of the mountain areas were called "Kara Kirghiz"). In the first half of the 16th century they fought against the Tshagatai-Khan Abdur Raschid and his son, and they raided some cities and towns like Tashkent.

In the first half of the 17th century there took place a serious confrontation with the Russians pushing towards Siberia, and the princes Ishej, Tabun and Ishinej regularly invaded Krasnoijarsk (founded in 1628) and other Russian settlements.
When the Oirats formed up a new under the leaderhip of the Dzungars about 1640 AC, the Kirghiz again became dependent on the Mongolian rulers, and they continued their attacks with their support and co-operation. They were, however, finally without any success after the defeats of 1640-42 and 1679 AC. After the downfall of the Oirat Empire, the Kirghiz formally got under Russian suzerainty, the real power, however, was still concentrated among the clan and tribe leaders.

In the middle of the 18th century, Russia and China engaged in a dispute over various border territories. In this way the Chinese Empire was finally able to push its influence as far as the southern shores of the Lake Balkhash, when it occupied Dzungaria and Zhetysu in 1757 AC. But within 1864 and 1976 AC, the Chinese predominance in this region came to an end. In 1864 the Tsarist Russia started to subject the west of Turkestan, a process that was then concluded by 1876 AC. But already in 1898 the Kirghiz revolted against the settlement of Russian and Ukrainian settlers. In 1916 the Kirghiz participated in various revolts and rebellions taking place in Turkestan.

  • In the 17th century today's Khakassia constituted the centre of the Yenisey Kirghiz, at that time vasalls of various Mongolian rulers. After the Kirghiz had left, the area was conquered by Russia – this was the beginning of Russian Agrarian settlers streaming in. In the 1820s, gold mines started to be developed around Minusinsk, which became a regional industrial center. After the victory of the Soviets, in 1923 the Khakas National District was established that was then reorganised into Khakas Autonomous Oblast in 1930. The Khakass language belongs to the group of the Turko-Tatarian group including ethnical groups such as Biltir, Sagai, Qatscha, Xoibal and Xyzyl. Their traditional economy was based on nomadic cattle breeding, in part also agriculture, hunting and fishing. The Biltir were specialised on smithery.

  • Kazakh: The name "Qazaq" (also spelled Kazak) is of Turkic origin and is today translated as "independent" or "steppe rider". Up to the present, the Kazakhs have been distinguished into three "Jüzes" or hordes (zhuz): the Junior Horde (Kisi Jüz), the Middle Horde (Orta Jüz) and the Senior Horde (Uli Jüz).

    – The development of the jüz formations has been subject to different interpretations and legends:
    1. In some Kazakh chronicles, the development of the jüz is dated back to the 13th century of Genghis Khan.
    2. According to other sources, the jüzes were developed in the 15th century, at the time when Timur-j Leng subdued the Kipchak horde.
    3. Other records put the formation of the jüzes into the pre-Mongolian period, which, as a consequence, means that they go back to mainly Göktürk origins and are hence essentially older than the Kazakh people proper.

The development of the jüzes or hordes has greatly influenced the Kazakh history in the course of several centures. The jüzes were established on the basis of natural and geographic factors. Thereby, they corresponded to the nomadic way of life as well as their traditions, these including the relations between clans and tribes – and still do. Hence these have to be considered as tribal unions – such as is true for the Mongolian hordes. The jüzes, however, were not organised on the basis of the principle of kinship but rather on the territorial principle; and the jüzes do not differ by their formation but rather by their area of dialect and their territorial limits. The fact that there may be found evidence of even two more classifications beyond geographical frontiers is rather interesting: The "Khoja" (or Khwaja, Turkish Hoca [German Hodscha]) and the "Tore" (Kazakh: Töre) constituting the highest Mongolian hereditary nobility among the Kazakh people. The Khoja were the representatives of the clergy (as well as descendants of the prophet Mohammed), and the Tore were the direct descendants of Genghis Khan. Only members of the Tore ("protector"; from the Old-Turkic word Törü [the old unwritten law of the Central Asian peoples]) were allowed to be elected Khan. Every single Kazakh, until now, has had to trace back the history of his tribe and his clan back to the seventh generation before him; this guarantees that the old tribal and clan traditions will survive. The vast majority of the Kazakh people speaks Kazakh – this is one of the Turk languages and hence shows a lot of common characteristics with Turkish, Kirghiz, Uzbek, Turkmen or Azerbaijani languages. The majority of the Kazakhs are Sunni Muslims. The Kazakh were the most influential and powerful people in the area in the 8th century AC, after the Arabs had come to Central Asia; in this way the Islam religion was spreading from today's Turkmenistan towards the north, finally reaching today's Kazakhstan. Similarily, the mission work performed by the Samanids (originating from an Old-Iranian language) also made numerous Kazakhs converting their religious belief. In the 14th century AC the Golden Horde (denomination for a Turkic-Mongolian Empire fraction in Eastern Europe and western Siberia) brought the Islam with them and hence reached the majority of the Kazakhs and other Central Asian peoples. The Islam was totally and utterly accepted only in the 19th century, when the Kazan Tatars arrived working for the Russian Tsar as merchants and interpreters. There is to be noted that Sufism as well as the numerous schamanic practices still remained deeply rooted in the Kazakh culture. In the time of the Soviet Union, the Kazakh-Islamic associations – as well as other religious institutions – had to suffer a lot and only survived in those areas where the Kazakh held the majority of the population. This brought about that many Kazakhs turned away from the Islam. The interest of the Kazakhs in the Islam did increase only after the downfall of the Soviet Union in the 1990ies.

Once, the area where the Kazakhs had settled down belonged to the khanate of the Orda Khans, one of Genghis Khan's grandson, and his horde. The proper people of the Kazakh developed between the 13th and 15th century AC, when the upper classes in Mongolia started to merge with the Turkic pre-population. Their immediate ancestors were, among others, the Kimeks and the Naimans (in the Middle Horde, especially in the east of the country – a part merged with the Kirghiz and the Usbeks), later on including also some peoples like the old Türgesh (On Okh, Onoq – ten arrows) and the Chigils (seceded in the 6th century AC from the Kipchaks) and the Yenisey Kirghiz. In the 14th century there is made the first reference to the Qazaq Orda, the "Kazakh Horde". These were part of a tribal federation still developing which would later on call themselves "Usbeks". The Kazakhs proper developed about 1456 AC in the course of their secession from the newly-founded Usbek Empire. The leaders Janibek and Kerei, Boraq Khans' sons († 1428), seceded from the White Horde (Orda Horde) of Abu'I-Chairs from the Usbek Empire, as they wanted to remain independent; hence they founded and established their own Khanate. On the basis of the numerous common characteristics and features with the neighbouring Kirghiz and Tatars, the Kazakhs were often also simply called Kazakh Kirghiz and Kazakh Tatars, respectively – the Kirghiz proper were then called "Kara Kirghiz". After the downfall of the tsardom the Kazakhs were then united in the Alash Orda (Kirghiz autonomy), and after its destruction they belonged to the Turkestan SSR. There they were united in the "Kazakh-Kirghiz Autonomous Oblast".

February - July 2009 – Albi – translated by Hermelinde Steiner – January 2010
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