The Yenisei Kyrgyz Kaganate and the Great Kyrgyz Statehood in the 7-13th centuries.
The period of the Great Kyrgyz Empire is very important from a historical point of view. It became the time the Kyrgyz could establish their state on the whole territory of Central Asia and create the stable conditions for the rise and formation of the Kyrgyz ethnic group. The Yenisei state laid the foundation on which the modern Kyrgyz ethnic group was developed. The formation of the Kyrgyz state and ethnology can be splitted into 4 stages:
1. Ancient Kyrgyz State
2. Yenisei Kyrgyz
3. Great Kyrgyz Empire
4. Ethnogenesis of the Kyrgyz people
And the history of Kyrgyz Kaganate of 7-10 centuries covers Yenisei Kyrgyz period and Great Kyrgyz Empire period.
Within the first six centuries AD there is no record of the Kyrgyz in Chinese sources, so their destiny within this period is unknown. Beginning from the 6th century, the information about the Kyrgyz can be received not only from Chinese but also from Greek, Arab, Persian, Turk, Uighur, Sogdian historical documents. Besides, in the 7th century the Kyrgyz developed their own Runic script.
In the 7th century the Kyrgyz established the Kyrgyz Khaganate on the Yenisei River. During this time, the state was ruled by Barsbek with the official title ajo.
The Turks created the Second Easter Khaganate, defeated their enemies and became the new rulers of the Steppe.
In the early 8 century the Yenisei Kyrgyz decided to send their missions to China and the Turgesh state, who also fought against Turks, in order to establish the anti-Turkic coalition.
However, Turks did not wait until their enemies attack them and decided to attack first. In winter 710 Turks attacked Yenisei Kyrgyzs. They could cross the Sayan Mountains and defeated the Kyrgyz army. The attack was so sudden that most of the Kyrgyz army was crashed. Barsbek with the remaining forces attempted to resist but was killed. Then Turks defeated Turgesh and Chinese one by one. As a result, Yenisei Kyrgyz did not participate in Central Asian military campaigns for more than 40 years.
Great Kyrgyz Empire
The first scholar who put the term “Great Kyrgyz Empire” into wide use was Barthold. He did so referring to the period of the 9-10th centuries when the Yenisei Kyrgyz could built up the Kyrgyz state, which at the peak of its power stretched from the Irtysh River in the west to the Big Hingan range in the east, from the Angara and Selenga Rivers in the north to the Gobi Desert in the south.
In the 8th century the new hegemon of Central Asia was the Uighurs who in the coalition with Karluks and Basmyls could defeat the Eastern Turkic Khaganate. In the early 9 century the Uighur Khanate lost its former might because of permanent internal strives. In 820 the Kyrgyz ajo made use of the situation and challenged the Uighurs announcing himself the Khagan.
In 840 after 20 years of struggling they crushed the Uighur Khanate. Uighurs fled to Eastern Turkestan chased by Kyrgyzs. Kyrgyzs reached the Tienshan Mountains and Semirechye, initiated successful military campaigns to Eastern Mongolia and Jungaria beyond the Baykal Lake and established the Great Kyrgyz Empire on the newly conquered territories. During the era of the Kyrgyz Empire its population increased. It included a great number of various non-Kyrgyz tribes, who adopted the name Kyrgyz. That is, the name Kyrgyz became not of ethnic but of political meaning.
However, the era of their empire didn’t last long. In the first quarter of the 10th century the majority of the Kyrgyz returned to Yenisei. At the same time, a number of small Kyrgyz kingdoms emerged on the territory of former Kyrgyz Empire. One of them appeared in Altai. Within a few centuries its population underwent great ethnic changes. Following the assimilation of the Kyrgyz with the local population, their appearance, language and culture had changed. At the same time, they had lost many achievements of their Yenisei ancestors, including Runic script. In the 13th century pressed by Mongols, Kyrgyzs of Altai and Jungaria moved to Central Tienshan. There they assimilated the local tribes and gave rise to the modern Kyrgyz ethnie.
Political system. The head of the Yenisei state was ajo, later khagan. The second person in the state was buiruk – advisor. The third level was occupied by boyla who announced decisions and yargan who put them into effect. The khagan appointed tutuks, tarkans, biys and tyutyuns to rule in regions and tribes.
In the periods of Kyrgyz Kaganate basis of the future administrative structure was set up. According to the Chinese sources, the Kyrgyz people were ruled by Ajo. Officials of the Kyrgyz Kaganat were divided into 6 categories- corresponding as 6 ministries, that was basis of governing the country in Tan China. There were the ministries of ceremonial, justice, the finance, the staff, military and the ministry of public works.
Economy. Kyrgyz were engaged in cattle breeding (horses, camels, cows and sheep), agriculture (wheat, millet, oats, artificial irrigation), metallurgy (daggers, hatchets, spears, arrows, harness), hunting (deer, goats, fur-bearing animals, goose, ducks), and fishing. Trade developed. A branch of the Great Silk Road named the Kyrgyz Way led to the Yenisei River from Turfan in Eastern Turkestan. There merchants purchased horses, furs, musk (a strong-smelling glandular secretion of the male musk deer, used in perfumery), mammoth tusk and bones, wood, silver kitchenware). The main currency was squirrel fur (in Kyrgyz tyyinchichkan), from where the word tyyin was derived. Exploration of mining, development of metallurgy and handicraft.
Religion – Tengri and Umai. They cremated their deceased, collected bones and after a year buried them.
Written language – Runic script spread in the 5 century among the Yenisei Kyrgyz and was in use till 12 century. Wrote on stone, wood, metal. Read from the right to the left. More than 120 monuments written by the ancient Kyrgyz script have been discovered on the Yenisei River and in Tuva city.