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General Skobelev’s expedition to Alai mountain ranges


South region of modern Kyrgyzstan was joined to Russian Empire 135 years ago in July - August of 1876. That time General Skobelev completed his expedition to Alai region.

In his routine report from 23rd October, 1876, General Major Skobelev M.D. who was a Commander-in-Chief of Alai region, later became famous as a “White General” reported on results from military scientific expedition “Kara-kyrgyzs inhabited in mountain area were subdued and was established Russian management between Kara-kyrgyzs and was discovered totally unknown land to European countries which was mapped about 25 thousand square versts (1 verst=1500 ft)”

It was fully reflected “voluntary-compulsory” character of the accession of Central Asia to the Russian Empire – in Alay campaign. The Imperial Authorities tried to avoid using force and tried to convince the people from future colonial possessions in the immeasurable benefits of being in the sphere of Russian influence.

Skobelev was testified by unique historical personality Kurmanzhan Datka (1811-1907) nicknamed as “Queen of the Alai” that she did her best to join her people to Russian power.




Queen of Alai

In 1865 only Fergana valley was directly subordinated to Kokand Khans after capture of Tashkent by Russian troops.

It is true that a purely formal sovereignty of Kokand influence was spread to the mountainous areas of southern Kyrgyzstan - Alai Valley. However martial nomadic people of this valley (that people were called “kara-kygyzs” and “kypchakis” in Russia) were never obeyed Kokand khanate essentially.

Kokand used to send troops regularly against Alai people but every time its punitive expeditions had failed that had encountered the stubborn resistance of the mountaineers.

In the end Kokand khans were forced to come to terms with the real independence of mountainous region and recognize virtually prevailed here the original patriarchal nation headed by a female ruler - uncommon situation to Islamic Eastern countries.

The female-ruler’s name was Kurmanzhan. She was born in a nomad’s family from Mongush clan. When she was 18 she was married to a person whom never knew before and saw first time on a wedding day. She didn’t like husband and she wouldn’t return to husband contrary to a custom at that time  and stayed at her father’s Yurt.

In 1832 feudal Lord from Alai, Alymbek who was given the title Datka (ruler) of all Alai kyrgyzs by Kokand Khan freed Kurmanzhan from a treaty of marriage then married to her.

Kurmanzhan started to rule Alai region because of frequent absence of her husband as Alymbek Datka was very close to Kokand Khan and later became the first vizier-minister in Kokand khanate.

In 1862 Alymbek fell a victim to the palace conspiracy in Kokand town. After his death Kurmanzhan openly took husband’s power because she didn’t want other people make conflicts for the sake of the vacant position.

She became famous in Fergana valley and was awarded the honorary title Datka  and  became the only female honored with a reception at the palace of the Emir of Bukhara.

Kurmanzhan quickly gained reputation as a wise ruler. She has successfully resolved all disputes of ancestral mountain Kyrghyz and conducted policy independent of the Kokand khanate. The remarkable woman well understood the significance of the Great Silk Road as well.

Russian General Skobelev’s expedition to the canyons of Alai mountain ranges was to include South Kyrgyzia to Russian Empire’s power.

Kokand Khanate was joined to Russia named as Ferghana Oblast. Skobelev was in charge of that oblast.

In summer 1876 Skobelev moved his expedition against kara-kyrgyzs with 6 infantry company and  500 cossak soldiers on behalf of General Governor of Turkestan Kauphman . Adbul-Kerim Khan who took powerful stand in Shat canyon decided not to block up Russian expedition’s road. Kara-Kyrgyzs were dispersed and acted by small groups.  Armed conflicts  soon with Kara-Kyrgyzs were changed by negotiations. AS a result Kara-Kyrgyzs agreed to express obedience to Russian power.

Behind Alai ranges Skobelev explored boundaries with Kashgar.  After exploration of border most part of Russian expedition team moved back.


K.P. Kaufman






Skobelev Peak (5051 m, Alaj range, Kyrgyzstan,)




Kurmanzhan-Datka and Karl Mannergeim