Start photos

The Kirghiz are a sunni muslim nomadic people of paleo-Siberian origin who speak the Kirghiz language, a branch of the eastern Turkish tongue. They were dislocated in medieval times from their original homeland west of Lake Baikal by the Uighurs and the Mongols. Traveling along the ancient Silk Road, they found permanent pastures in the Pamir lowlands. Before the 18th century Russian advances into Central Asia, and even for some time thereafter, the ancestors of the Kirghiz of Little Pamir, had used these same highlands as their summer quarters. When the Soviets took over Central Asia, and especially when they decided to settle the nomadic tribes of the region by force, this body of Kirghiz, nearly 30,000 in number, decided to stay in their summer quarters permanently.



Here, although in a limited form, they could practice their nomadic ways and enjoy the freedom that their ancestors had cherished. The decision, of course, permanently separated them from their kinfolk in the lowlands who had chosen, by force or otherwise, to settle, build villages and towns and lead a sedentary existence.

The Wakhan Corridor became part of independent Afghanistan in the 1920's. Fortunately for the Kirghiz, the distance between their camping grounds and Kabul was considerable. Besides, Afghan rulers benefited from trade with the Kirghiz. This modus vivendi with the Afghan Amirs ushered in a period of tranquility into the lives of the Kirghiz of the Pamirs. They roamed freely in a region surrounded by high mountains and sealed borders, preventing them from moving into India, China, or Russia. On the bright side, they could practice their traditional nomadic ways without having to deal with governmental officials, tax collectors, and security agents. In a way, they traded the comfort of the lowlands for the harsh but unencumbered life in the highlands.

In the Central Asian republics, the Kirghiz mainly live in the Kirghiz Republic and there is a population of Kirghiz yak herders across the river from Afghanistan in the Tajikistan Pamir in the Autonomous Oblast of Gorno Badakhshan. There is a population of Kirghiz also in western China, in Xinjiang, who are reported still to be herders.

Today Kirghiz living in Afghanistan are still true yurt-dwelling herdsmen, and do not cultivate crops. Their homes are in the round felt yurts so traditional, in their various forms, to the Turkic and Mongol peoples of the Central Asiatic steppe and mountains-Turkmen, Kirghiz, Kazakhs, Mongols and others. In Afghanistan, they live in the eastern Big Pamir and in the Little Pamir with their herds of yaks and cattle and flocks of sheep and goats, horses, donkeys, and Bactrian camels.

Their yurts are covered with felt, which they manufacture themselves with sheep wool. Inside they are decorated with carpets, which are traded or bought from itinerant merchants. The yurt is heated by horse and yak-dung stoves ventilated by wonkey metal chimneys. In the summer, the top of the dome is open, but it winter and at night it is covered with felt. They live in scattered family herding groups and shift their camps according to the season, weather and grazing. Their food consists in fried rice, yak-milk yogurt (mast), the Kirghiz "twist", occasionally sheep meat and tea. Rice, oil, tea and sugar are traded or bought from itinerant merchants coming from Wakhan and the rest of Badakhshan.

The leader of the Big Pamir is Hajji Tordia Akhan from Saremokur. In the Small Pamir, the leader is Abdul Rachid Khan from the camp of Kara Jilga. According to their respective leaders, there are around 120 Kyrghyz households living in the Big Pamir (around 700 people) and as many as 140 families in the Small Pamir (500 to 600 people). In total there may be as many as 1 300 or 1 400 people altogether between the two groups.

There are a number of Kyrghyz clans (taifeh in Persian, urun/uruk in Kyrghyz), which also define their herding groups. They are as follows, as given by the UNEP report and confirmed by Islam-u-Din Nasri, leader of Bourguitiar in the Little Pamir: the Shahin ('falcon'), the Bogha ('the bull'), the Now Ruz ('New Year'), the Kopchak ('Kipchak'), the Ala Pa ('speckled feet'), the Otunchu ('block-heads' ?), the Tekran (singular, unique ?), Kezik 'wanderer, traveler' ?), Kochkor ('the ram'), Kyzylbash ('red head'), Durbul, meaning 'far sighted'), Khadar Shah ('the people of Gadar Shah'), Naima ('gentle'), Kyzyl Ayak, meaning 'red feet'), Kotan (plough) and Tchoorok.

For more information about the Kirghiz, see:



Start photos