Monday, January 16, 2012

Window on Eurasia: Kyrgyz Who Fled Afghanistan to Turkey Now Seek Return to Kyrgyzstan

Paul Goble

            Staunton, January 16 – A group of ethnic Kyrgyz, whose ancestors fled to China because of Soviet oppression, then to Afghanistan because of Chinese Communist oppression, and finally to Turkey at the time of the Soviet invasion of that country, has now asked Kyrgyz President Almazbek Atabayev to allow them to resettle in their ancestral homeland.

            On Friday, Kasymbek Shahkir uulu, the leader of the Kyrgyz community in Turkey, travelled to Ankara to meet with visiting Kyrgyzstan President Alazbek Atambayev in order to ask him whether he could assist some of the 600 Kyrgyz families who live near Lake Van and in Istanbul to return to their homeland (

            Shakhir uulu told the media that “the life of the Kyrgyz who are now living in the Van region of Turkey was quite good but that they wanted to resettle in Kyrgyzstan because they were concerned about the future of their children and grandchildren,” who might be subject to assimilation.

            If Turkey’s Kyrgyz do return to Kyrgyzstan, that would complete a remarkable odyssey. The forefathers of this group, who participated in the anti-Soviet basmachi movement in Central Asia, fled to China in the late 1920s. Then when the Chinese Communists established their regime, the Kyrgyz then moved again to the Wakhan Corridor in Afghanistan. invaders, but

            Following the Soviet invasion in 1979, their leader, Rakhmankul, and many of his people – just over 1100 remain in Afghanistan -- subsequently decided to leave.  Initially, they fled  to Pakistan and then sought asylum in Alaska, a place they believed was like the Wakhan, but Washington refused their request. And they moved to Turkey in 1982.

            Ankara settled them in the Lake Van area around the village of Ulupamir in order both to present itself as the defender of all Turkic peoples and to strengthen the Turkic presence in a predominantly Kurdish region. The story of this remarkable people was portrayed in the documentary film, “37 Uses for a Dead Sheep: The Story of the Pamir Kyrgyz.”

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