Late Stone age implements have been found in the Alamedin valley. Bronze
age artifacts have been found within the city boundaries and there is archaeological
evidence of early settlement in the area was by: the Saks - an iron age
nomadic people herding livestock; the Usans - who combined nomadic herding
with settled agriculture; the Turks - arriving from Siberia, they beat the
Huns in a battle at Talas and established a Khanate; the Sogd - based on
Samarkand and Bukhara, the Sogdians were Indo-European traders and farmers
whose cities became centres on the Great Silk Road; the Samanids - a sedentary
Muslim people; the Karakhanids («Black Khans») who established a capital
at Balasugan (Burana - near Tokmok); the Mongols and Tartars - under Genghis
Khan and the Kyrgyz themselves - first mentioned in Chinese chronicles in
the 2nd century BC, they arrived from the upper Yenisei River Valley in the
10th century, became firmly established in the region by the 15th century.
There have been four major settlements on the site that is now occupied
by Bishkek: Jul - 6th-12th century; Pishpek - 1825-1926; Frunze - 1926-1991;
Bishkek - 1991 to the present
Jul - A Sogdian city on the Great Silk Road - 6th-12th century. Although
archaeological excavations have recovered artifacts, all traces of this
city have now disappeared. A walled quadrangle, It occupied an area between
the modern streets Orozbekova, Lenigradskaya and Kirova. A varied population
included Zoroastianists, Buddhists, Nestorian and Manichean Christians.
The Mongols and Tartars under Genghis Khan destroyed it.
Pishpek - one of 35 fortresses built in the region by Khokand to extend
control over the Chu valley. Built in 1825, it occupied approximately 250
sq. m. It had high clay walls and two concentric perimeters and contained
living quarters, a guardhouse, armoury, workshops, mosque and treasury. About
150 soldiers were garrisoned here, and hostages of the local population also
lived here as a «peace pledge». A settlement grew up around the fortress
populated mainly by Sarts, (Uzbeks). Conquered by a detachment of 600 Russians
from Vernoe, (present day Almaty) in 1860 in a 7-day assault, it was abandoned,
although a stronger fortress was later built by Kokand. In 1862, local
Kyrgyz and Kazakh chiefs appealed for Russian aid in overthrowing Kokand
domination and succeeded in destroying Pishpek once again. According to
local legend the commandant of the fortress was invited to a feast and
then he and his detachment were killed on their return journey. A siege
began and with the help of 1400 Russian troops from Vernoe and after 10
days of quite vigorous fighting the fortress finally fell. In 1864 the
site became an important Cossack base and it became a regular relay point
for the imperial mail service. Increasing numbers of Russian settlers began
to arrive, mostly freed serfs, who enjoyed tax breaks, cash incentives and
free wood to help build new homes. At this time the Russians administered
the region from their base at Tokmok, but a flood in Tokmok 1877, led to
the adoption of a plan to develop Pishpek. Army engineers planned a rectangular
grid of streets, which survives to this day and was elaborated in the Soviet
period. The city occupied the area between the modern streets Jibek Joly,
Togolok-Moldo, Engels and the Alamedin River - an area of about 5 sq. km.
In the first official census in 1882, there were 2135 inhabitants, mostly
Sarts, Tartars, Dungans, Russians and Ukranians - there were 6 Kyrgyz. The
Dungans were probably refugees from the Uprising in Xinjiang - given subsidies
by the authorities and assigned a plot of land to the West of the town rubbish
dump. By the end of the century there were over 752 houses, mostly simple
thatched roofed brick shacks, two schools (for Europeans), one three-bed
hospital, and a small industrial sector with flourmills and leather works.
The city elected its first mayor in 1895 - Ilya Terentev. By 1914 the city
was home to some 20,000 inhabitants. There was a cinema, a newspaper, two
orthodox churches, several mosques, a Russian high school for boys, a horticultural
school as well as several other schools for the local population, a brewery,
a distillery, flour mills and other small plants and at least one automobile.
(The brewery made 10 times more money than the other 18 enterprises combined).
There were over 500 shops, a weekly market and an annual fair. A new one
with 14 beds had replaced the hospital, the ambulance was a sledge pulled
by a camel. In the uprising of 1916 - Pishpek was left alone although neighbouring
villages were raided.
After a New Year's party on 1st January 1918, a group of Bolsheviks armed
themselves and «arrested» the garrison command, releasing the prisoners
held in the local jail. Over the next few months, they established control
over the region, but in December they faced a counter-revolution. In the
village of Belovodsk, about 30km west of Bishkek, the post office was seized
by a curious group of anti-Bolsheviks who managed to take control of large
parts of both Pishkek and Djambul regions. Within a week they were marching
on Pishkek itself. The battle for the city lasted 8 days, but the defenders
(commanded by Logvinenko - who hurried here with reinforcements from Almaty)
- managed to overcome the attackers and the counter-revolution was defeated.
The soldiers who died in the fight defending the revolution were buried and
a memorial erected in Oak Park, near where the Russian Theatre now stands.
Logvinenko became a hero and had a street named after him. (When he died
in the 1930 he joined the «Martyrs» in their communal grave). This ended
the counter revolution in the North of the country, but during the civil
war the Bolsheviks were threatened by the Basmachi movement which even «liberated»,
for a time, the Parmir district in the South.
In 1924 Pishpek became the political and administrative centre of the
Kyrgyz Autonomous Region.
Frunze - the city was named in honour of MV Frunze, a famous Communist
leader and Soviet hero who was born in the city then called Pishpek in
1885 - the son of a Moldovian doctor«s assistant. His statue stands opposite
the railway station at the top of Prospect Erkindik - and there is a museum
dedicated to him on Frunze Street. In the museum a small house is preserved
that, so it is claimed, is the one in which he was born (although it is
now thought that they preserved the wrong one!). After a tempestuous youth
in Moscow, (and numerous arrests for revolutionary activity), he ended up
commanding the Red Guards who occupied the Kremlin in October 1917. He was
a major character in the Civil War directing the defeat of the White Army
in Siberia and the campaign in the Caucasus. Frunze led the Bolshevik forces
that seized Khiva and Bukhara after the uprising of 1920, and pushed the
Basmachi rebels out of the Ferghana valley. He replaced Trotsky as Commissar
for War, introduced compulsory universal conscription and helped shape the
Red Army into a formidable force. After Lenin»s death he survived several
mysterious car accidents, but in 1925 he was told he was ill and that he
had to undergo a stomach operation - not by a doctor but by the Central
Presidium! He died as a result of the Operation.
Faced with the disastrous winter of 1921, Lenin issued a appeal to the
workers of the world to come and help build Socialism. A group of Czech
socialists answered the call and arrived by train 1925. They built themselves
workshops and a small village (Rabochy Gorodok), which still exists. They
then set about constructing schools, hospitals, the town»s first bank, government
house and other major public works.
The population did not escape the repression of the Stalinist regime.
A short distance outside the city is Chon Tash - now a popular tourist resort
for people from the city. 1991 saw the televised excavation of a mass grave
of some of the victims of Stalinist repression. Diggers discovered a 4×4
× 4 chamber, 40 cm below ground, containing some 137 (or 138 according to
some sources) skeletons, some complete with personal effects/papers - It is
thought that the entire Supreme Soviet Central Committee of the Republic of
1937 - plus a few other important individuals including Torokul Aitmatov (father
of the Kyrgyz author Chinghiz Aitmatov) were murdered here by the KGB over
two nights. The bodies have since been moved 100m to the «Ata Beyit» cemetery
(«The cemetery of the fathers»). Chinghiz Aitmatov paid for the transfer.
The discovery was made because, although the KGB swore the caretaker to secrecy,
he told his daughter on his deathbed in the 1980s. After independence she
came forward to tell the story.
During WWII - Frunze developed as a major city. Several key factories,
(including the Lenin works on Prospect Mira) were evacuated to the city
away from the approaching German armies. Whole populations of Russian Germans
and Koreans were forcibly repatriated here. Kyrgyz soldiers fought in the
Red Army and number some 7 «Heroes of the Soviet Union» among their ranks.
Busts of these heroes can be found on Molodiya Gvardia (Avenue of the Young
Following the war there was a planned expansion of the city with the
development of the micro regions (like suburbs) with numerous apartment
blocks being built, and many public buildings. During the 1970 «and 1980»
there was again a massive building programme and many of the impressive,
white marble faced government and public buildings were erected.
In 1967, Bishkek saw one of the rare popular «uprisings» of the Soviet
period. The central market at that time was on the site now occupied by
Victory Park. A group of policemen on patrol stopped and beat unconscious
a drunken soldier. Shoppers, believing the soldier to be dead turned upon
the police, encircling them - and a riot ensued. The city«s main police
headquarters were actually stormed and ransacked, and others were attacked.
Patrolmen were dragged from their cars. A mass demonstration led to a march
on the KGB headquarters, which was broken up by troops.
Bishkek - The city was renamed Bishkek in April 1991. There are several
versions of what the name means - but the most common version is that is
from the name of an implement used by Kyrgyz women to beat milk in a churn
to make kumiz (a fermented drink made from mare"s milk). There is a legend
that the Khan»s wife forgot her bishkek and as it was very precious, being
studded with jewels, the khan was very angry and sent 40 men to search for
it. Unable to find it, and afraid to return - they settled down to a life
in exile and called their encampment Bishkek. Another legend refers to five
knights who found the land so beautiful the fought over it. In the Kyrgyz
language «Besh» means five and «kek» means «chief». A third links the name
to the grave of a busy craftsman whose nickname was «Bishbek» - because he
was always busy, like a Bishkek making Kumiz. Yet another links it to the
Kazakh words «Bes biik» which means «five peaks». The «official» version recorded
in the «Atlas of the Kirghiz SSR» - suggests that it is a corruption of the
ancient Sogdian term pishagakh - which means «place below the mountains».
The city saw troops moved onto the streets between the city and the airport
hours before the August 1991 coup in Moscow. No one seems certain who ordered
them to marshall there. On the day regular television and radio programmes
were replaced by broadcasts of Swan Lake, and eventually President Askar
Akaev announced to the nation what had happened.
The city continues to grow and develop. The skyline sees new building
designs (in an «individualistic» style), which are a deliberate break with
the Soviet Block architectural style. New, western style, café and shop fronts
have been erected, in summer time a large number of open-air cafes appear
in the parks and on streets, advertising hoardings have spring up and the
volume of traffic has grown. In short - Bishkek is developing into a modern,
western style city.