Visions of Community: Literary Culture and Social Change among the Northern Kyrgyz, 1856-1924
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This dissertation examines the transformations in the northern Kyrgyz society and culture between the mid-nineteenth and early-twentieth centuries. I explore how a deeply-held and territorially-oriented sense of collective belonging among the Kyrgyz developed within the Russian imperial context through the efforts of the Kyrgyz poets and intellectuals during the late tsarist period. I search for this sense of collective belonging in the literary culture of the northern Kyrgyz. In the absence of written culture, oral tradition served as the primary depository of the northern Kyrgyz collective memory. Oral poets were the ones who shaped group identities and created various versions of Kyrgyzness based on culture, lifestyle, religious belief, social practices, and moral values. By the late imperial period, these existing conceptions of Kyrgyzness served as a fertile ground for the first generation of Kyrgyz intellectuals to develop their own visions of Kyrgyz community. They started collecting and writing what they believed to be the history of their people, thus contributing to the creation of the nationalistic narrative and participating in a broader discourse on the nation in the intellectual circles of the Central Asian elites. Breaking with existing scholarship, my analysis of social upheaval and cultural development among the Kyrgyz under the Russian rule reveals that the idea of the Kyrgyz nation, promoted by the Kyrgyz cultural and political elite during the creation of the Kara Kyrgyz Autonomous Oblast in 1924, was a direct product of the historical experiences and socio-cultural transformations of the late-imperial period. Poems, historical narratives, genealogies, administrative reports, newspaper articles, memoirs, and travel accounts serve as a source base of this dissertation. Using methods of literary and historical analysis, my dissertation examines how discourses on Kyrgyz identity and community developed, where those discourses took place and in what form, and how they shaped the way the Kyrgyz imagined themselves within the broader Central Asian and Russian imperial settings.