Kurmanjan Datka (1811 – 1907) also known as “The Tsaritsa of Alai” or “The Queen of the South”, was a stateswoman in Kyrgyzstan who acquiesced under duress to the annexation of that region to Russia. She is now a national heroine. See My Russia page for the story of the Russian Conquest of Central Asia.
The tall statue of Kurmanjan Datka in the center of Osh city (at the intersection of Masalieva & Kara Suu streets), is a highlight of a visit to Osh (See our Osh page) Osh’s main North-South street that runs the length of the city (parallel with the river) is also named after her.
Kurmanjan was born into a rich family of the Mungush clan in the Osh. At the age of 18 she was supposed to be married to a man whom she did not see until her wedding day. When she met him, she did not like him and broke with tradition — first fleeing into neighboring China and later deciding to stay with her father, Mambatbai.
In 1832, the local feudal lord, Alimbek, who had taken the title, “Datka”, and ruled all the Kyrgyz of the Alai, was attracted by the young, vivacious woman, and married her. An instrumental politician in the increasingly decrepit Kokand Khanate, Alimbek was murdered in the course of a palace coup in 1862 and Kurmanjan was recognized by the khans of Bukhara and Kokand as ruler of the Alai and given the title of “Datka”. In 1876 the Alai region was annexed by the Russian Empire. Recognizing the futility of resistance, Kurmanjan Datka persuaded her people to accept Russian overlordship.
During the subsequent continuing unrest and sporadic attempts by the local population to shake off Russian supremacy, gun-running and smuggling were profitable businesses and two of Kurmanjan’s sons and two of her grandsons were charged with contraband trade and murdering customs officials.
When her favorite son was sentenced to death, she refused the urging of some of her followers to effect a rescue, saying that she would not let her private hopes and ambitions be the cause of suffering for her people; she actually attended her son’s public execution. The others were then exiled to Siberia and she essentially retired from public life.
In 1906, she was visited by Baron Carl Gustaf Emil Mannerheim (later President of Finland) who was a colonel in the Russian army at the time. Mannerheim took her photograph. She died six months later.
Kurmanjan Datka lived to be well over 90 and was survived by two sons, two daughters, 31 grandsons, 57 great grandsons and six great-great-grandsons.
In 1995 a then newly founded women’s committee was named after her. Now it is known as Women’s Public Union “Erayim”.
In 2014, the film Queen of the Mountains (originally titled Kurmanjan Datka) was released, which centers around the story of her life
Osh is now well regarded as the home of this famous “Queen of the South” who even in black statue form stands tall but remains humble, simply holding a bowl out in service of others. Her statue once stood in the capital, Bishkek, in the days when it was known as Frunze, but when the capital followed suit with other regional cities and disposed of its communist monuments, the great leader was bussed unceremoniously over the mountains to adorn the republic’s second largest city.
This female leader featured on the 50-som note also is the star of the 2014 epic Kyrgyz film Kurmanjan Datka (Available or Free Public View on YouTube with English Subtitles HERE) which is the biggest budgeted Kyrgyz film to date and a world class epic on any scale. Real horse battles, not CGI,. we don’t make epics the way they used to.; Kurmanjan Datka is a modern classic which takes the pretty girl who put herself at risk for justice at the begining of the movie to the creator of a nation (Kyrgyz means forty as in forty tribes) by the end of the movie with much personal sacrifice in between.
Other peoples similar to Kyrgzs are Russian ethniic minorities today, if it were not for the respect Kurmanjan Datka gave to the Russians and the respect the Russians gave to her, Krygyzstan may not have been a independent nation.