Cholpon-Ata: Photos 2

The Issyk-kul Regional Museum was an interesting collection of Kyrgyzstan history and artifacts. The only problem for me was that, about halfway through, the English descriptions stopped, and there was only Kyrgyz and Russian. I assume that’s what it was – both paragraphs were in Cyrillic, but the letter combinations were slightly different.

The area around the lake has been inhabited since the Paleolithic Era. Cave drawings and stone tools bear silent testimony to these settlements. In the Late Paleolithic Era, considered to have begun around 40,000 B.C., the people in these settlements formed matriarchal clan communities, and in the Mesolithic Era, “blood-kindred tribes” appeared and tools became more advanced, made of flint, examples of which have been found near the Sary-Jaz caves. Red ochre drawings of people, bulls, goats, and snakes testify to the existence of primitive inhabited sites near Cholpon-Ata, along the Sary-Jaz River in the Neolithic Era (about 10,000 – 6,000 B.C.)

The first written records of civilization in the area appear in Chinese records about 2,000 B.C. But it was not until the 2nd Century B.C., when the Wusun people arrived from the east, that a political state came into existence. They moved into the Semirechye, Jungaria, and the Central Tian Shan areas, and founded the oldest state that existed on the territory of modern Kyrgyzstan: Wusun-Gao.

Wusun-Gao was led by a hereditary ruler called Kunbag, and the people resided in Chiguchan, Chinese for “City in the Red Valley,” on the shore of Lake Issyk-kul. Ruins of Chiguchan were found in the now sunken settlement of Sary-Bulun in the Gulf of Tup. There was a tribal aristocracy with vassal princes, and the state was allied with the Chinese through marriages. The Huns also sought alliances with the Wusun people.

I like to give some history of the countries I visit, but there is not a lot of history written by the Kyrgyz until more modern times. It is almost as if there were two parallel nations: the Silk Road society and the nomad tribes, who lived mainly in the hills and mountains, visiting the Silk Road cities only when necessary. So what I will pass along will be disjointed.

Mahmud ibn Hussein ibn Muhammed was an 11th century scholar who organized the first known lexicon of the “Turkic” languages, of which Kyrgyz was one.

Everyone has heard of Genghis Khan, an Anglicized transliteration of the closer “Chingiskhan,” a Turkic phrase meaning “Ocean King.” I don’t know why the “ocean” part, the museum comments didn’t explain it, and I haven’t found anything through online research. He and his army invaded the area around Issyk-Kol around 1219, destroying nearly everything – farms, villages, and cities.

This painting represents the men who became “Manaschys.” A manaschy is a man who recites the Manas Epic. Manas is the hero who, with his army of 40 brave warriors, reclaims the ancestral lands and unites the 40 tribes into one nation, Kyrgyzstan. Some people believed that the manaschy’s talent for reciting was a gift from God, and most believed that becoming a real manaschy only happened after the reciter meets the spirits from the world of Manas in a dream. During the recitation, the narrator and his audience enter a trance-like state. One of the most famous manaschys was Sayakbai Karalaev, who recited for “three days and three nights incessantly. His version of the epic is the longest and most heroic and vivid.”

Here, a well-known manaschy of his time and a scribe, apparently committing the epic to written form.

This is a portrait of Manas in the Cholpon-Ata museum, and his image can be found throughout Kyrgyzstan. He is the embodiment of national and civic virtue for the Kyrgyz.

The English narrations disappeared by the time the museum displays reached the Soviet era, but it’s pretty obvious this was the Kyrgyzstan flag during the time of the Kyrgyz Soviet Socialist Republic: the Kyrgyz S.S.R.

And, likewise, the crest of the Kyrgyz S.S.R. The “CCP” is the SSR in Cyrillic alphabet, C making an “s” sound and P making an “r” sound.

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