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Tenacious and Beautiful | Women in Charge

In celebration of Women on the 8th of March, this seems an appropriate time to dive into the stories of three notable women, woven into the hearts and ethos of modern day Kyrgyzstan.

In the history of Kyrgyzstan, women as authority figures are not common, but there are a few that truly stand out for the impact that they’ve had on the society and culture. 

The earliest, fictional or not, is Kanykei, the wife of Manas.  The daughter of a Tajik khan, she is renowned to this day for her strength, beauty, and exceptional wisdom.  She accepted the marriage proposal to Manas with fierce reprimands for his reckless behavior, endearing him to her ability to command authority with grace.  She became the mother of their son, Semetey, protecting him in Bukhara after the death of Manas, thus allowing the family line (and story) to continue.  Her wisdom and foresight is retold most often to visitors of Manas Ordo, in the region of Talas, where a mausoleum was erected at the site where Manas was possibly buried.  The actual burial place is unknown, as Kanykei knew that Manas’s enemies would attempt to exact their revenge even on his grave.  The grave marked with Manas’s name contained the remains of another soldier, while only Kanykei and the closest advisors to Manas knew his true resting place.

In more recent (and factual) history, the “Queen of the Mountains”, Kurmanjat Datka, was the wife of Alymbek Datka, ruler in the south of Kyrgyzstan.  On his death, Kurmanjat took over the responsibilities of ruling, eventually uniting the tribes of the Fergana Valley and leading them collectively to liberation from the Kokand khanate.   She earned the respect and trust of tribal leaders, and when the Soviet rule came into the region, she advocated for accepting the rule in order to remain united and peaceful, rather than face the inevitable conflict that continued opposition would bring.  Her role in mediating negations between Russian authorities and chiefs of the southern tribes cemented the respect and reverence of her place as a leader in the south, “Queen of the Alia”.

Lastly, Roza Otunbayeva was the first (and only) female to hold a position as the president of Kyrgyzstan.  She helped the country transition from a presidential republic to a parliamentary one, with a new constitution instituted.  It was a tumultuous moment, following the Tulip Revolution, but Roza has been recognized repeatedly for her courage and visionary leadership during this time.  In 2011, Newsweek listed her among the Top 150 Influential Women and she received the International Women of Courage award from the US Department of State, to name a few.   She continues to serve the Kyrgyz Republic through the Roza Otunbayeva Initiative, a foundation focused on developing Kyrgyz citizens through education, art, and culture.   

With Open Arms

Reminiscent of the Statue of Liberty, this monument to the Martyrs of the 1978 Revolution is placed prominently at one of the main intersections of Bishkek. While the woman is not meant to represent a certain female figure in particular, her posture and reverent placement are key to the remembrance and gratitude intended by the memorial. Throughout Kyrgyzstan, memorials to war heroes or fallen soldiers are often depicted by women, symbolizing the people for whom these heroes gave their lives.

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