H. B. Paksoy

     First published in Journal of the Anthropological
Society of Oxford  Vol. XVI, No. 1 (Hilary, 1985)

     Of the Kirghiz of the Pamirs approximately 1,000 have
been resettled in Eastern Turkish Republic since 1983.  They
are temporarily housed in the village of Karagunduz, in
individual cinder-block houses, some thirty miles north of
the city of Van (which is situated about fifty miles West of
the frontier with Iran).  Their permanent settlement village
is currently (1984) under construction at Altindere, almost
twelve miles from the Northern tip of Lake Van.
     The location of their permanent settlement appears to
have been selected by the Turkish government with an eye
towards climate and terrain compatible with their previous
home in the Pamirs.  The Kirghiz, in private as well as in
public, have expressed their approval of their new
environment, which is entirely suitable for raising sheep,
most of the grass around Altindere being of a variety with
which they are familiar from the Pamirs.  The grazing area
allocated to the Kirghiz by the Turkish government at
Altindere to tend the herds of sheep they will receive upon
moving there adds up to several thousand acres of rolling
land at an altitude of roughly 6000 feet above sea level.[1] 
During the past year they have also been experimenting with
sedentary agriculture, the seeds of various vegetables
having been provided for them.  On the whole they expect to
become largely self-sufficient in the near future  --once
they have moved to Altindere--  and hope to engage primarily
in sheep-raising, as they have done for centuries.  This
positive view is largely supported by the extensive and
long-established practice of animal husbandry in and around
Van province.
     All Kirghiz children under the age of eleven attend
classes in the village school, staffed by assigned teachers. 
Only the boys appear to be going on to middle- and high-
school education, as boarding students in Turkish
institutions 35 miles away.  Most of these young men are
desirious of going on to university, medicine ranking high
among careers they hope for.  The literacy rate is quite
high across the total group, albeit in the Arabic script. 
Shortly after arrival in Karagunduz they were given
individual instruction in modern Turkish orthography (based
on the Latin alphabet), and they are now able to read local
newspapers.  Language difficulties among individuals up to
the age of 35 are basically non-existent, as they all have
nearly total fluencey in modern Turkish.  The older members
of the group are able to comprehend spoken modern Turkish,
but their responses are intelligible only to the trained
ear.  A large majority are able to follow Turkish television
and radio broadcasts with ease.  A limited number of the
older men are proficient in Farsi, due to their dealings
with Afghan officials during the past three decades.
     The birth rate, according to the records of resident
health officials, is high, with 97 births to nearly 250
females in the 14 to 55 age group in the firts twelve months
of resettlement in the Turkish Republic.  The elders
indicate that in the Pamirs it would have taken up to seven
years to have this many surviving children.
     The Kirghiz now in the Turkish Republic are members of
one particular tribe.  They are adherents of Sunni Islam and
had their own hojas (clerics) in the Pamirs, all three of
whom were educated in medreses in Bukhara. [2]  The hojas
did not engage in tarikat  (mystical practice) work among
their kinsmen, although it is believed that the hojas
themselves are either adherents of, at least familiar with,
some of the religious orders.  The Kirghiz in Karagunduz are
under the leadership of Haci Rahman Kul,[3] who is not a
hereditary ruler but was informally and tacitly accepted as
Khan of the tribe by all its members.[4]  Perhaps because
they were brought into the Turkish Republic as a unified and
largely intact group, and are living as such, the Kirghiz
are able to maintain their tribal customs, dress and values
without much difficulty.  The HRK (Haci Rahman Kul) tribe
has claims on land, houses and fortified defensive positions
which they have inherited form their fathers and
grandfathers, and which are currently under Chinese
administration in Eastern Turkistan, at scattered locations
as far East as Urumchi.[5]  A number of HRK tribe members,
as well as Rhaman Kul himself, spent time many years ago
among the Uyghurs of Eastern Turkistan, fleeing from the
Soviet Union in the 1920s.  It is in fact from that date
that the Kirghiz settled in the Pamirs.  They still have
distant relatives in this area  --both Uyghur and Kirghiz-- 
but no widespread contacts with them have been reported
since the communist revolution in China.
     The Kirghiz tribes that remain in the Soviet Union East
of Tashkurgan, Kashha and further to the Southeast (from
where the HRK clan members originally hailed before the
1920s) speak the same dialect, according to HRK tribal
informants.  North and West of the Tashkent-Alay line, they
claim, the Kirghiz dialect changes once again.  This latter
assertion may be viewed, however, with a certain amount of
scepiticism, since when I passed to the elders a printed
copy of Alpamysh, the Central Asian dastan (ornate oral
history), written in Turki, which has been the literary
language of Central Asia since the fourteenth century, they
were able to read it with ease.  Yet this text contains
material that was compiled from the very area which,
according to the same elders, possesses a different Kirghiz
     This discrepancy, between perception on the one hand
and practice on the other, may also provide a clue to the
large-scale linguistic unity found among the various tribes. 
The written language, especially because it is set down in
the Arabic script, conceals the distinctions between
phonetics of various tobgues.  Thus one basic language,
complete with its grammar, vocabulary and syntax, may
masquarade as many when spoken with different accents.  This
phenomenon of "different languages" or the creation thereof
was encouraged, indeed enforced, and their "existence"
propagandized by the Soviet authorities, and prior to that
by their tsarist predecessors.[6]
     The Kirghiz of Van express a strong affinity with the
Chaghatay dialect, referring to it as Turkistani, or simply
Turki.  In fact, the first response of the elders, upon
laying eyes on the text referred to above was to declare its
language to be Chaghatay.  They were aware of the dual
labelling of this single tongue; over the last 600 years,
all authors who had utilized it, such as Babur, Navai, Ulugh
Bey, Timur, etc. have termed it Turki.  However, the elderly
gravitate toward the Chaghatay designation, whereas middle-
aged men prefer Turkistani, or Turki, perhaps due to their
reverence towards the Turkistan Soviet Socialist Republic of
the 1920s, which was the predecessor of the present
"republics" of Central Asia.  The tendency to refer to all
of the Kazakhs, Kirghiz, Ozbeks and Uyghurs as Turks is
strong.  There is practically no memory of contact with the
Tajiks in the Pamirs.  The unly unprompted reference to the
latter that I noted during my stay amongst the Kirghiz of
Van came about in the following manner: during a set of
wedding festivities which I happened to witness, a Kirghiz
boy of seven was spotted riding a horse.  Immediately he was
chided for "riding like a Tajik."  The remark may have been
made in a jocular manner, but there was no doubt that this
un-Kirghiz style of novice horse-riding was not to be
tolerated.  The elders then apologized to me on behalf of
the boy, excusing him for having been forced to leave his
homeland before he could learn this traditionally vital
     After the forcible closure of the Soviet borders, which
the HRK clan members trace back to 1938, trade relations
with their kinsmen in Eastern Turkistan flourished.  It
seems that the Chinese knowingly aided these cross-border
transactions between Eastern Turkistan and the Pamirs during
the 1920s, the 1930s and the early part of the 1940s.  These
links were at their peak when the Soviet Union helped the
Chinese Communists with their revolution and physically
participated in impeding all such traffic.  Communications
along this route have been sparse ever since.
     During the 1930s, a rebellion led by Hoja Niyaz,
starting around Komul, was suppressed by the Chinese with
extensive aid from the Soviet Union.[7]  The objective of
the insurgency was to recover the Kirghiz home territories
and re-unite Eastern Turkistan.  For the most part, this
event was classified by Russian chroniclers as one of the
Basmachi[8] movements.  The word basmachi, as employed in
the Turki dialect, was coined by the Russians to designate
and denigrate the insurgents as "bandits."  The official
Soviet view is that the Basmachi are nothing but looters,
renegades and outlaws.  It is true that BAsmachi is the
correct term to decribe such people as defined by their
activities, but hardly portrays the notion of resistance
fighters, which the Basmachi actually were.  The Basmachi
themselves, namely those who were fighting the invading
Russian armies, called those of their kinsmen who
collaborated with the Russians dorduncu.  These traitors
accepted bribes of all kinds from the Russians and were
composed of individuals from amongst the Kirghiz, Chaghatay,
Kazakh, Ozbek, and Turkmen  --in short, of various origins. 
According to the mollas, the dorduncu would not learn, teach
or perform religious rites, but on the contrary believed in
and perpetuated heresy.  The Basmachi were called mucahit by
the Kirghiz, presumably because they were carrying out a
cihad (Arabic jihad, or holy war) against the invading
Russians.  But they had their shortcomings, to a certain
degree not respecting the private property of their kinsmen
and neighbors.  These mucahit would forcibly appropriate
horses, clothing, food, women, etc. according to their needs
or whims, without compensation or consent.[9]  In an effort
to discredit the Basmachi further, the Russians employed
widespread propaganda, declaring them to be without any
religious belief, scruples or loyalty to their own tribes. 
This was a continuation of the long-standing policies of the
tsarist military and civilian officials in promising
independent and totally autonomus republics to all of the
tribes, in which nomadic traditions would be preserved
unimpeded.[10]  These two factors, it seems, contributed
greatly to the eventual suppression of the revolt led by
Hoja Niyaz.
     Thus when "hunters" from the Soviet side started
appearing around HRK clan encampments in the PAmirs during
the early and middle 1970s, these memories were very much in
the minds of the Kirghiz elders.  Since Westerners were also
common in their area hunting the big-horned "Marco-Polo"
rams,[11] the presence of hunters from other regions was not
in itself something that should have created much concern. 
What caused consternation among the Kirghiz was that the
approach of this group of hunters to the "hunt" was rather
different, moving about in groups of four, armed with AK-47
assault rifles, and more interested in asking questions than
in chasing after game.  They were also carrying maps, which
they seemed to mark continuously as they looked around. 
Unlike Western hunting enthusiasts, they spoke Kirghiz and
Tajik.  Nor did their inquiries follow the usual line of
"where can we find the rams?"  The questions were directed
rather towards discovering the locations of Kirghiz summer
and winter camping places, the roads leading to them, the
relations of the Kirghiz with their neighbors, the names and
business of their visitors, and even the whereabouts of the
nearest Afghan security forces.  All the while, these
"hunters" were assuring the Kirghiz that the Russians were
good friends of Davud Khan (the king of Afghanistan at the
time).  Whatever their feelings towards Russians or or
Soviet hunters, the Kirghiz decided to leave the Pamirs upon
spotting Soviet military vehicles on the frozen tributary of
the Amu Darya river, which constitutes the border between
the USSR and Afghanistan.  Their former pastures are now
occupied by Soviet military encampments.
     In their new home in the Turkish Republic, the Kirghiz
are undoubtedly facing a variety of changes in their
domestic and traditional lives.  That is not to suggest that
they are being forced to give up their identity or social
customs.[12]  On the contrary, the Kirghiz have been
welcomed with open arms and fraternal ties.  However, by the
very fact of heaving been uprooted under the pressure of an
alien power from one habitat and settled into another,
albeit a very hospitable one, they will need to undergo a
number of adaptations.
     The first change that comes to mind is the issue of
leadership.  Will the Kirghiz choose a new Khan after the
death of the present one?  If so, will the new Khan command
the rspect that his predecessor presently enjoys?  In answer
to these questions, it seems unlikely that any new Khan
would command the same respect, to judge from the deeds
performed by Rahman Kul, especially within the environment
in which he has discharged his responsibilities.[13]  As for
making any new appointment at all, the answer here should be
a guarded "yes," for two reasons: first, because the force
of tradition will compell the Kirghiz to elect a new Khan;
and secondly, because under Turkish law each village must
possess an elected head-man, and it can be expected that the
new Khan will himself assume this post.
     The same current Turkish law also requires the election
and establishment of a "council of elders" for every
village, to work with the headman.  Perhaps this aspect of
contemporary Turkish law will also cause the re-emergence of
the old second ruling stratum, that of the former "nobility"
together with the "lieutenants of the Khan."  Observed in
ancestral documents, the concept of this second-stratum
leadership does not seem to have had a clear-cut definition
in recent memory among the Kirghiz.  Historically, these
second-stratum leaders consisted of individual males who
performed valuable services for the good of the tribe, or to
the Khan in his external relations (such as carrying
ambassadorial messages to the rulers of hostile neighbors,
or protecting the herds of horses from being stolen by
marauders).  The offspring of the ruling family may or may
not take their places among their ranks, depending on
whether or not they are men of courage.[14]  These new
"lieutenents" may well constitute the "council of elders" in
the new setting, whatever their contemporary titles or
     In the past, the selection of a Khan (or, Tekin)
involved a series of rituals, some of which had strong ties
with the smbolism of lebensraum, etc.  Raising the new Khan
seated on a suitably large white felt seven times over the
heads of the "lieutenants," and his shooting of an arrow to
the four winds were two such prominent practices.  It is
possible to discern both in the Orkhon Tablets of the 8th
century AD[15] and the Oguz Khan dastan/[16]  The origin of
the latter very likely predates the former, also providing
scholars with some idea about how the second-stratum leaders
were sometimes "created."
     Owing to the migrations forced on the Kirghiz for
external reasons over the centuries, not all of their
election rituals have maintained their vigor.  On the other
hand, the Kengesh[17] tradition will no doubt rejuvenated,
spurred on by the Turkish law referred above.  The Kengesh
may well serve as a platform for future leaders, continually
providing the basis of village council deliberations in the
new environment.  Whether the Kengesh will involve every
member of the tribe or only the elite cannot yet be
determined.  There is a possibility that tribal members will
tacitly or explicitly designate the second-stratum leaders
to represent them at the Kengesh.  This would then be
tantamount to a two-tier election, designed by the tribe
itself, and providing a system of checks and balances.  (It
is possible to identify a precednet for this in the Orkhon
Tablets).  The lieutenants of former times seemed to have
been charged with the duties in a democratic society.  It
must be noted that there is not a shred of evidence to
suggest that this system was influenced by outside currents;
the traces of this institution found in the documents and
literature referred to point to an internal evolution.
     Another issue involves marriage.  The Kirghiz were
traditionally exagamous, there being another Kirghiz tribe,
living three days' ride away in the Pamirs, from which men
of the HRK tribe selected their brides.  In return, the men
of the second tribe married the women of the HRK tribe.  Now
that the HRK clan are in the Turkish Republic, with the
second Kirghiz tribe still in the Pamirs, the former faces
the problem of where to look for spouses when possible
pairings within the group are exhauseted.  They may first of
all explore marriage possibilities with members of other
recent emigre groups settled across the Turkish
Republic.[18]  The implications of this issue are probably
more profound then the leadership question, for a certain
amount of cultural dilution seems inevitable.
     As a final point, it is worth mentioning the effects
that a modern, higher education will have on the general
attitudes of the younfer members of the HRK tribe.  A
university course, which at least some of the young men are
looking forward to, is bound to alter their perceptions of
their traditional life-style, including marriage and
cultural integrity.  It should be possible to measure the
degree of any such transformation by the return of the young
men to the village after the completion of their courses at
university.  This assumes that such students will read a
subject directly applicable to the rural setting, which may
well provide yet another index, a ratio between adaptation
and a stubborn adherence to tradition.  A subsidiaryset of
indicators that could be examined involves the visits of
city-dwelling members of the tribe to the village.  Will
parents send their children back to the village during
summer vacations?  Will they attempt to provide cultural
continuity for future generations?  For the present, one can
only aks these questions and prepare to observe events, for
it may require several years before any appreciable
transformation takes place.


The author spent part of summer 1984 in the Eastern portion
of the Turkish Republic undertaking linguistic research
amongst Kirghiz refugees.  He gratefully acknowledges the
financial support received from the Society for Central
Asian Studies (Oxford), and the valuable comments made by
Dr. Mark Elvin on a previous draft of the manuscript.

1. A Coordinating Committee, with representatives from all
relevant governmental departments in Ankara, is functioning
under the Chairmanship of the Governor of Van to ease the
strains of resettlement.  Also, a private organization, the
Van and Environs Development Foundation (headed by Dr. Ahmet
Akyurek, who is a member of the Coordinating Committee) is
channeling private contributions to this end.

2. One of the hojas died in Pakistan, shortly after the
group's escape from the forward elements of the Soviet Army.

3. According to Turkish law, all the refugees have adopted
family names.  Haci Rahman Kul chose the old Turkic word
Kutlu as his surname, meaning "auspicious; fortunate."  This
is derived from the word Kut, as in Kutadgu Bilig, the title
chosen by Yusuf Has Hajib for his celebrated book in the
11th c.

4. A biography of Rahman Kul Kutlu is currently being edited
by Dr. Nazif Shahrani at the Humanities Center, Stanford
University.  Shahrani worked as the anthropological
consultant with Dr. Andre Singer, of Oxford Ethnographic
Films, in the making of a film in 1979 on the flight of the
Kirghiz from the Soviet-occupied Pamirs.

5. For a history of their migrations and cultural
background, see M. N. Shahrani, The Kirghiz and Wakhi of
Afghanistan: Adaptation to Closed Frontiers (Seattle:
University of Washington University Press, 1979); Remy Dor,
Si tu me dis chante! chante!....: Documents pour servir a la
connaissance et l'etude de la tradition orale des Kirghiz du
Pamir Afghan (Paris, 1981); idem, "Orature du Nord-est
Afghan: Les Kirghiz du Pamir"  Turcica Vol VIII (1976); A.
Hatto, "The Marriage, Death and Return to Life of Manas: A
Kitghiz Epic Poem of the Mid-Nineteenth Century" Turcica,
Vol XII (1980), and Vol XIV (1982); idem, "Koz Kaman" 
Central Asiatic Journal Vol XV (1971); idem,  Memorial Feast
for Kokotoy Khan (Oxford, 1977).  For the Settlement in the
Turkish Republic of the Kirghiz, see M. N Shahrani,
"Afghanistan's Kirghiz in Turkey" Cultural Survival Vol
VIII, No. 1 (1983); Deborah Denker, "The LAst Migration of
the Kirghiz of Afghanistan" Central Asian Survey Vol. II No.
3 (1983).

6. See N. Devlet, "A Specimen of Russification: The Turks of
Kazan" Central Asian Survey Vol. II, No. 3 (1983).

7. Isa Alptekin's ancestors, an extended family that fought
its way out of China, were closely involved in this

8. To place the Basmachi in perspective, see A. Bennigsen
and S. E. Wimbush, Muslim National Communism in the Soviet
Union (Chicago, 1979).

9. This brings to mind the contrast with the old Chinese
gueerilla maxims and practice based on the concept of "fish
in water."  During the period of Communist Chinese guerilla
activities, it was usual for a fighter to be quartered in a
household in the vicinity of his operational area.  Mao had
issues strict orders to his guerillas, requiring them to
leave their hosts with more than they had found on arrival,
and forbade such wanton personal satisfaction.  If the
guerillas could not leave behind anything material, they
would perform manual chores instead.

10. The Soviet Union has continually followed precisely this
policy line since 1917 revolution, without exception.

11. Some big-game enthusiasts and collectors in the West
were reportedly prepared to spend as much as $500,000 to
obtain a "Marco-Polo" ram trophy.

12. See H. B. Paksoy, "Oglak Tartis Tradition Among the
Kirghiz" Journal of the Royal Asiatic Society

13. See Shahrani, The Kirghiz, op. cit., for details.

14. In larger tribes or confederations of tribes, this group
traditionally included individual "champions" (of contests
or competitions) and high-ranking officers of the army.

15. H. N. Orkun, Eski Turk Yazitlari (Istanbul, TDK, 1936). 
The se Tablets were first "decoded" by Wilhelm Thomsen in
1896.  For details and and English translation, see Talat
Tekin,  A Grammar of Orkhon Turkic (Bloomington, 1968)

16.  See Z. V. Togan, Oguz Destani (Istanbul, 1972)

17. Literally, "assembly," and also known as Kurultay in
other dialects, this is the gathering which requires the
members of the tribe to vote for a leader when the previous
one has died.  The Kengesh was also used by the ruler as a
council of elders convened on his order, and enabling him to
obtain advice from experienced men on issues confronting the
larger body.

18. These include Turkmens, Ozbeks Uyghurs nd Kazakhs, each
of which has been resettled by the Turkish government along
the lines offered to the Kirghiz.  Members of these groups
have remained in contact with one another in the Turkish
Republic, as formerly in Pakistan.

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