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Kyrgyzstan: Historical Debate Straining Ties with Russia

A historic photo from 1916, when an estimated 100,000 or more Kyrgyz died during a failed uprising against the Russian Empire and the subsequent Urkun, or the Great Flight, to China. (Photo: Central State Archive for Cinema, Photo and Phono Documents of the Kyrgyz Republic)

In the countryside surrounding Kyrgyzstan’s capital Bishkek, lots of towns and villages in valleys have notably Slavic names while Kyrgyz-sounding settlements dot the hills and mountains.
 
Such were the divisions in 1916, an important but challenging date for authorities in Bishkek and Moscow. It is also a complicated topic these days at thousands of schools in Kyrgyzstan.
 
Over the past year, historians and politicians in Kyrgyzstan have been recalling the events of 1916, when an estimated 100,000 or more Kyrgyz died during an uprising sparked by the Russian Empire’s attempts to mobilize the Muslim population for service on the Eastern Front during World War I.
 
There is paucity of research on those events, particularly on the Kyrgyz side, but that has not prevented local historians from asserting that the Urkun, or the Great Flight, was the climax of a failed liberation movement. Vexingly for Russia and educators teaching ethnically mixed classes, the lack of scholarly research has also enabled some public figures to characterize the 1916 events as a genocide carried out by Tsarist forces.
 

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Kyrgyzstan: Historical Debate Straining Ties with Russia

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