Abdykerim Sydykov – the father of Kyrgyz statehood

October 30th, 2014 Sections: Soviet Union, Who's Who

Bust of Abdykerim Sydykov in the Alley of Statesmen

Abdykerim Sydykov is regarded as one of the founders of the Kyrgyz state – with a bust in the Alley of statesmen, with one of the streets in Central Bishkek, and a school named after him.

Born on 26th October, 1889, into the aristocracy of the Solto tribe in, what is today, the Alemedin District.

He was related to Baityk Baatyr, the Kyrgyz leader who asked the Russians to help destroy the Kokand fortress at Pishkek; his grandfather, (Uzbek Boshkoev), was the local regent who was succeeded in that post by his father, (Sydyk Uzbekov). Despite this aristocratic background, and his own service as an interpreter for the imperial administration, (for which he was decorated), and service in the “colonial administration”, he became a revolutionary and a scholar.

He wasn’t the only leading member of the early Communist Party in Kyrgyzstan to have such a privileged background – for example, there were such as Arabaev, Aidarbekov, Babkhanov, Khuddaukulov and Toichinov … among others), and it is sometimes said that if he had come from a European background, (that is, Russian), then he, (and the others), might have had a much more difficult time being accepted into their ranks. Even so, he didn’t have it easy – being expelled from the party three times.

Although there were others in the leadership that came from more modest backgrounds … this cadre with privileged backgrounds formed the majority of the early communist leadership … but this background was also to serve as a handicap; raising doubts about their loyalty to the revolutionary movement.


As a boy, he attended a local Muslim Elementary School, and then in 1904 entered the Verney Gymnasium. After graduating from High School in 1911, he entered the Faculty of Veterinary Medicine in the University of Kazan … but his studies were cut short in 1913, due to illness. It was then that he began working as an interpreter for the Pishkek County Administration, eventually rising to the rank of Deputy County Commissioner.

In 1917, after the new Provisional Government came into being, he was appointed as Assistant to the Pishkek District Commissioner and Chairman of the Muslim Bureau of the Communist Party in the Semireche (Seven Rivers) District – which encompassed the Chui valley. Although he had long been active in “left wing politics”, it was only in 1918 that he actually joined the Bolshevik Party.

He went on to occupy other posts – including as a Vice President of the “Gosplana” – responsible for the development of agriculture in the region. He was instrumental in promoting the settlement of the nomadic peoples because he thought that preserving the nomadic way of life and traditions would only hold back the peasantry. He was a supporter and promoter of Collectivization. He also sponsored research into scientific methods of managing livestock.

As a scholar he published many articles, including several in the first issues of the first Kyrgyz newspaper (Erkin Too) – on History and Economics. He wrote of Kyrgyzstan as being a multinational land – populated by Kyrgyz, Russians, Uzbeks, Tajiks, Turkmen, Turks, Uighurs, Tartars, Kazakhs and others.

He was particularly interested in the tribal system and wrote a seminal article on the subject whilst in Tashkent in 1927.


In the 1920’s the Soviet authorities did not distinguish between Kazakhs and Kyrgyz – neither at the local level, in Tashkent, nor centrally, in Moscow.

There is no clear consensus on how the two peoples were separated. There are some problems with the Soviet dogma, (often accepted by Western historians), that the Kyrgyz had existed as a distinct and separate ethnic group for centuries.

Those whom we would today recognize as Kazakhs were actually referred to as “Kyrgyz” – possibly, in order to avoid confusion with the Cossacks – and, whilst their nomadic cousins (whom we would today identify as Kyrgyz) were referred to as Kara-Kyrgyz (= “Black Kyrgyz”) to distinguish them. This confusion continued up until the early twentieth … and I have lost count of the number of times I have come across mentions of the Kyrgyz only to realize that they actually refer to Kazakhs.

As an aside: another way of distinguishing the two groups, it is sometimes said that the difference was that the the Kazakhs were nomads who travelled “horizontally” across the Kazakh steppes, whereas the Kyrgyz were nomads who travelled “vertically” through the mountains of the Tien Shan and the Pamir ranges.

When proposals for the creation of a new Autonomous territorial unit was first proposed in 1920, as part of the Nationalities Question in the fledgling Soviet Union, it was for the creation of a single body which incorporated what is now the Northern part of Kyrgyzstan.  All the officials and Kyrgyz delegates seemed to accept the recommendations. Some of the Kyrgyz leadership, however, were not happy – Sydykov and Arabaev – and in 1922 began lobbying for a separate territorial unit for the Kyrgyz, distinct and separate from their neighbours – the Kazakhs.

In 1922, Sydykov, who was at the time the head of the Semirechiye oblast local government, possibly fearing the loss of national identity and/or political influence, argued for the creation of a “Mountain oblast” for the Kyrgyz, (consisting of the areas which are now known as Talas, Chui, Issyk Kul and Naryn provinces and the Kyrgyz settled areas within the Ferghana valley in the South – in other words, apart from the loss of the most of the lowlands of the Ferghana valley to Uzbekistan, pretty closely corresponds to the present state – although most of the Ferghana valley ). His proposal also differed from the original in that he wanted this Mountain oblast to remain with Turkestan rather be aligned with the Kazakh Autonomous Republic.

There was a lot of infighting and scheming, (which included disparaging remarks about Sydykov’s history as an apparatchik of the Tsarist empire), at the convention called to discuss the issue. Sydykov and his allies were able to dominate the convention and when the time came to decide which of the options (joining the Kazakh or the Turkestan Republic) was preferable, Turkestan won the vote.

The affair caught Moscow off guard and two officials were dispatched to investigate the state of affairs.  Sydykov was removed from his post as head of the Semirechiye Executive Committee – although he was appointed to a post in Tashkent.

So, these two nomadic peoples in the region, (Kazakhs and Kyrgyz), were only separated in 1925 when the Autonomous Republics within the RSFSR were created.  The Kyrgyz had to wait until 1936, when the process of collectivization of agriculture was almost complete, before being granted the status of full constituent republic in the USSR.

This was just one occasion when Sydykov ran into trouble. Having been an important member of Revolutionary party in Kyrgyzstan – he was expelled from membership of the Party on four different occasions – being reinstated three times. Eventually, in 1938, he was accused of being a “nationalist”, and wanting to set up a separate country separate from the Soviet Union. Even though he continued to deny this was the case, he was charged, arrested, tortured, tried, convicted, condemned and executed.

In 1958, along with a number of other victims of the Stalinist regime he was posthumously “rehabilitated”.

He was considered a “master politician”; a psychologist; quick-witted; someone who had firm convictions; a loyal friend; and someone who could win people over by the charisma of his personal charm. He neither drunk alcohol, nor smoked.

He and his wife had four children, (a daughter and three sons), two of whom survived into the twenty-first century.


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