The seventy-year Soviet period was a mere blip in the long history of what is today Kyrgyzstan but its impact was unimaginably profound, resulting in the settlement of a people who had been largely nomadic for at least 2,500 years.
The story of how the peoples who inhabited the vast tracts of land between the Caspian Sea and China made their way to the modern age is complex and poorly documented. Amid the fierce heat and cold of desert and mountain, swathes of humanity migrated through Central Asia, replacing one another like weather fronts. Sir Olaf Caroe, historian, likened the process to:
... the movement of a crowd gathered on some great occasion. Groups meet and
coalesce, groups melt and dissolve; a sudden interest draws a mass in one direction, only to split up again.
Central Asia is important in world history as the birthplace of the great warrior tribes who invaded Eurasia: the Huns, Jenghis Khan, Timur. It was a land unknown, which glowed in the European imagination in images of camel trains laden with silk the rich smell of spices and in the poetic vision of Marlowe, Milton, Keats and Shelley.
The recent division of Central Asia into modern states is wholly unnatural, conjured up by Stalin for political reasons and only partly founded in the civilizations which rose and fell there until the dawn of the 20th century. Historically and geographically Central Asia was always seen as one land; distinctions were made only between steppe and mountain, desert and oasis. The mountain nomads within the borders of what is now Kyrgyzstan played little or no part in the cyclical establishment and sacking of the great empires of Central Asia, but the Fergana valley, Issyk Kul and the Chui steppes fell naturally under the dictate of settled rulers based in the great centres of Samarkand Bukhara and Merv (present-day Uzbekistan and Turkmenistan).