Monuments of Bishkek: to the Revolution Fighters

city culture 16.07.2018

Monuments of Bishkek: to the Revolution Fighters

Diana Ukhina

This article from the magazine of the Laboratoria Ci “Monuments of Bishkek” (May, 2018). In this issue we refer to urban objects, this time to its monuments and memorials. They interest us because they serve as symbolic objects, documenting the dominant idea of the discourse or vice versa losing this dominant idea over time in view of the changing political and socio-economic context. Thus, we turn our attention to the processes and narratives in which these objects appeared, transformed and continue to exist.

Turning to the monument to the Revolution Fighters within the framework of this publication, I would like to point out that part of the material will intersect with the article “The Symbolic and Physical Transformation of Soviet Monuments to the Revolution fighters and Friendship of Peoples in Bishkek and Kiev,” written by me in 2017. However, due to the focus of this text on the central composition, additions and clarifications will be made – the change in the historical context and the almost unchangeable but transformable symbolic perception of the monument in the 1970’s and 2010’s, in connection with the image it is associated with.

Firstly, briefly about the history of the space from the words of a person who lived on the site of the monument since the 1960’s, prior to its installation. Until 1978, on the territory of the modern monument and the “new”[1] square, in front of it there were barracks, one two-story house (a “Stalin-era” building), set design storage of the Drama Theater and the Opera and Ballet Theater, as well as a small courtyard in which the stonemason was located, where artists made monuments. Residents who inhabited the space in the 1970’s were already waiting for resettlement, because the living conditions in the barracks and in the old “Stalin-era” building were not the best (no central heating, water from the street standpipe, outside toilet, etc.); moreover, wide-scale building of standard housing was already actively going on both in the city’s microdistricts and in its central parts. By 1977, residents of the barracks were resettled in apartments, the barracks were demolished. In the spring of 1978, one of the residents of the remaining “Stalin-era” building left for a long work trip around the Union and having returned from it in the summer found an empty space instead of his house, and on September 2, 1978, a monument to the Revolution fighters was opened (S. Kurochkin, interview, April 2018).

According to the newspaper articles of that year, the monument was opened in a solemn atmosphere to the sound of revolutionary songs and marches. The opening ceremony was attended by students, schoolchildren, city worker collectives with banners and slogans, as well as cultural and political figures of Soviet Kirghizia, such as the First Secretary of the Central Committee of the Communist Party of Kirghizia T. U. Usubaliev, First Secretary of the Frunze City Committee of the Communist Party of Kirghizia K. M. Moldobaev, people’s artist of the USSR M. K. Anikushkin, people’s writer of the Kirghiz SSR Ch. T. Aitmatov and others. The year of the opening of the monument coincided with the celebration of the 100th anniversary of Frunze city.

Opening of the Monument to the Revolution Fighters. The first secretary of the Frunze Municipal Committee Moldobaev perfoms. 1978. 1-23437. Central State Archive of audiovisual documents of Kyrgyz Republic

Authors of the monument are sculptor T. Sadykov, architects E. Pisarskoi and G. Kutateladze (Alyshbaeva , Budaichiev, Prytkova, 2001). Work on the monument lasted 10-12 years – from design development for the All-Union competition, announced by the Ministry of Culture of the USSR, before its construction. When developing the monument’s project proposal for the competition, the authors considered two versions of the central part – an equestrian sculptural composition or a female sculpture, which was eventually realized. A total of about 500 proposals were received for the competition, of which 14 were selected for the second stage of the competition and the final version was selected from among them. The lateral compositions of the monument were cast in Leningrad, the central part at the Mytishchi Plant of Art Casting, after which they were delivered to Frunze in separate parts (T. Sadykov, interview, September 2017).

The compositional solution of the monument consists of the central part and two sculptural groups on the sides – on the left is the sculptural group “Awakening,” which “reveals the movement of social forces in pre-revolutionary Kyrgyzstan,” on the right is “Revolution,” conveying “the image of a new stage of Kyrgyz history” (Alyshbaeva, Budaichiev, Prytkova, 2001, p. 69). In the center of the composition is a female figure raising the banner of freedom. After the opening of the monument, the central figure was immediately called Urkuya Saliyeva[2], and today, among many Bishkek residents, this monument is perceived as a monument to Urkuya. However, in a conversation with the sculptor it was found out that this figure was not conceived as a certain person, but was a collective image referring to motherland (T. Sadykov, interview, September 2017). You can see the image-bearing similarity of the female figure of the Bishkek monument to the revolution fighters with the sculpture the Motherland calls on Mamayev Burial Hill in Volgograd, where the female statue is an allegorical image of motherland ready to protect its children and calling them up to fight the enemy (Ryabov, 2014).

Sculptor T.Sydykov. Central State Archive of audiovisual documents of Kyrgyz Republic

Thus, it is now difficult to trace who initiated the connection between the central figure and Urkuya, but in newspaper articles about the opening of the monument journalists immediately indicated that “the prototype was the first Kyrgyz communist Urkuya Salieva, who died heroically at the hands of the enemies of the Soviet power” (Sergienko, 1978). In Vecherniy Frunze newspaper, excerpts from the speeches of officials speaking at the opening of the monument are quoted, and in their words there is no reference to the person, there is only a statement about the symbolic importance of the monument, for example, “The Monument to the Revolution Fighters will become one of the sacred places of the city. After all, for a Soviet man there is nothing more important than the ideals of the Great October Revolution, the immortal ideological and moral values ​​of Bolshevism. It piously honors the memory of those who consolidated and defended the Soviet power, erected a bright building of socialism” (Sergienko, 1978).

Probably, this personalization was related to the interest in the personality of Urkuya due to a number of activities on mainstreaming the image both on the part of the authorities and on the part of the people. In 1971, T. Okeev makes a film “Bow to fire,”which tells a story based on real events, the struggle and death for the Soviet ideals and principles of the heroine of the film Urkuya. In the same year, the main newspaper of the country, Sovetskaya Kirghizia (Mambetaliev, 1971), published a note about the completion of the film production. In 1974, in Frunze, Tokmakskaya Street was named after the “glorious daughter of the Kyrgyz people” Urkuya Saliyeva (most likely dedicated to the 50th anniversary of her death). By 1978, many streets, kolkhozes, schools, vocational schools and pioneer squads were named after her throughout the Kyrgyz Republic (Mambetseitova, 1978). And in 1980, the Urkuya Saliyeva Museum was officially opened in the village of Murkut, Osh oblast, where she was killed. Thus, the discussion about her personality was maintained throughout the decade of the 1970’s and by the time the monument was opened, it was relevant. The discourse of appealing to Urkuya’s image was later also partially supported by the sculptor, but more ambivalently, i.e., without direct personification, but with a reference. For example, in 1980, T. Sadykov published an article in the issue of Vecherniy Frunze, dedicated to the October Revolution Day, in which he wrote about the revolutionaries who inspired him to create the monument: “The path to victory was not easy. Thousands of wonderful people gave their lives for the assertion of revolutionary ideas. Among them was a simple Kirghiz woman, my countrywoman Urkuya Salieva. […] The spiritual appearance of Urkuya Saliyeva and other revolutionaries, their selfless service to the revolution, the feat of their life inspired me to create the monument” (Sadykov, 1980).

In the book Soviet Monumental Art 1960-1980, a historian and art historian N. Voronov (1984) writes that since the 1960’s, the openings of symbolic monuments was often associated with anniversary dates in the history of the country, they are devoted to generalized heroes and events of past years, such as: Revolution, Victory, and others. The policy of the state was aimed at developing patriotic feelings, the sense of unity of the multinational people, understanding the past events. Thus, symbolically the monuments are dedicated not only to individual events, but also to the people who realized these events, overcame and survived them.

The Monument to the Revolution Fighters is created precisely during the period when the authorities turned to the passed landmark events in the history of the state, their comprehension and foundation for the formation of the memory of Soviet citizens. “Sadykov worked on the monument to the Fighters of the revolution when revolutionary events were perceived by the people in the aura of romantic heroism, faith in a bright future. Many participants of those events were still alive and the memory of those who gave their lives for the happiness of future generations, for the rebuilding of life is alive…” (Alyshbaeva, Budaichiev, Prytkova, 2001, p. 68).

Opening of the Monument to the Revolution Fighters. Frunze. 1978. 1-23438. Central State Archive of audiovisual documents of Kyrgyz Republic

Since 2010, on the square near the monument, from time to time, events have been organized by the feminist initiatives of Bishkek. The first event was a campaign on November 29 dedicated to the International Women Human Rights Defenders Day. During 2010, events are being held near the monument in the framework of the alternative celebration of March 8 – International Women’s Solidarity Day and the struggle for equal rights and opportunities and within the framework of 16 Days of Activism Against Gender-Based Violence between November 25 (International Day for the Elimination of Violence Against Women) and December 10 (International Human Rights Day). Activists hold public events: rallies, flash mobs, dances and others. For example, on March 8, 2018, a peaceful march was held in honor of the International Day of Women’s Solidarity and the Struggle for Equal Rights, the endpoint was the Monument to the Revolution fighters, near which the march ended with the proclamation of slogans about freedom of choice and non-discrimination.

Thus, the monument became the venue for public and media events. It was suitable both as space and, politically, as a symbol. In terms of location, the monument is in the center of the city; its organization includes a spacious area, along which a large number of people passing it. Symbolically, it is the identification of the main composition of the monument as a personalized image of Urkuya Saliyeva (Selbi, e-mail communication, October 2017)[3]. The heroine, who represents not only personal woman’s emancipation, but also the struggle for liberation, political and social transformations. Furthermore, it does not matter anymore whether the main composition was conceived as Urkuya or not. It is important that the space organized by the Soviet state ideology and filled with symbolism by citizens became politically important in the body of the city for a group of people who turn to it for the purpose of spreading the ideas of non-discrimination, emancipation, non-violence, solidarity and the struggle for human rights. Thus, a resignification of the monument takes place, through which work with cultural memory is carried out today. “We continue to use this monument as a symbolic place for raising the issues of women’s rights and the weakly represented communities. Urkuya Salieva was famous as an activist for the women’s and girls’ rights to education. Using this place for our events, we pay tribute to the already existing initiatives to promote women’s rights and tribute to the brave activists who fought for the expansion of our rights and opportunities. Moreover, there are not so many monuments dedicated to women public figures in the city, and this is another opportunity to make a statement about lack of representation and invisibility of women in the public space “(Saadat, e-mail communication, October 2017)[4].

Monument to the Revolution Fighters. Frunze. Valkovski V. 1980. 1-27361. Central State Archive of audiovisual documents of Kyrgyz Republic

Here, I will introduce a certain conceptual part about memory, referring to the theoretical developments of the German researcher, historian and culture researcher Aleida Assmann. According to Assmann (2014), our personality is formed through different types of memory, which become the basis of human identity. Simplifying the author’s ideas, you can identify the following types of memory – individual, social, cultural, and political. Individual and social memory are “from below,” which we independently gain throughout life, as well as through our relatives and a close circle of communication, when their memory through stories and history also becomes ours – we remember something that we were not witnesses of. Cultural and political is the memory “from above,” which is transmitted through symbols, texts, historical narrative, formed by the state. However, there is an important difference between cultural and political memory – the former seeks heterogeneity and interpretativeness, while the latter tends toward homogeneity and collective ritualization.

Thus, going back to the Monument to the Revolution Fighters, you can see how interweaving cultural and social memory re-signify accents, in accordance with the changed historical context. On the agenda of the Soviet authorities, which ordered the monument, it was primarily important that it was dedicated to the October Revolution, but in the local context it became no less important to identify the central composition with the image of Urkuya. After independence, the symbolic value of the monument as a dedication to the Revolution Fighters loses its relevance; however, personification of Urkuya becomes the basis for the broadcasting of ideas by feminist and human rights initiatives after 2010. And today the intertwining of cultural and social memory around the monument continues, on the one hand, many people perceive the monument as Urkuya (cultural memory), on the other hand, referring to this symbolic image, the initiatives that carry out activities around it load it with additional meanings, renewing cultural memory and making it modern through interpersonal communication, inherent in social memory.

[1] The square around the monument after its unveiling was called new.

[2] Urkuya Salieva is known as an activist, chairwoman of the village council, who in 1934 died at the hands of those who were against the policy of the Soviet authorities.

[3] Co-founder of Bishkek feminist initiatives

[4] Bishkek feminist initiatives



  1. Zh. Alishbaeva, B. D. Budaichiev, L. A. Prytkova (2001). Monumental art of Bishkek. Moscow: Galart.
  2. Assmann (2014). A long shadow of the past: Memorial culture and historical politics. Moscow: UFO.
  3. V. Voronov (1984). Soviet monumental art 1960-1980. Data from:
  4. V. Ryabov (2014). Motherland in the history of visual culture of Russia. Bulletin of the Tver State University. History Series, #1, 90-113.
  5. Sadykov (November 4, 1980). Art born by revolution. Vecherniy Frunze. #215 (1744).
  6. Mambetseitova (July 3, 1978). In memory of Urquya. Vecherniy Frunze. #129 (1163).
  7. Sergienko (September 4, 1978). Fidelity to the great October. Vecherniy Frunze. #174 (1206).
  8. Forever in the memory of the people. (September 3, 1978). Sovetskaya Kirghizia. #204 (15179).
  9. Kirgizfilm is shooting Urkuya. (November 10, 1971). Sovetskaya Kirghizia. #260 (13102).