Monuments of Bishkek: Aykol Manas/Erkindik/V. Lenin monuments

city culture 30.07.2018

Monuments of Bishkek: Aykol Manas/Erkindik/V. Lenin monuments

Almaz Isakov

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.

One of the objects of interest for the study is the Aykol Manas monument in Ala-Too Square. In general, it is not surprising that this particular monument stands exactly in this place. Ala-Too Square is the main square of Bishkek, the main square of the country. As a Soviet project, it was an ideology deployed in physical space. A Lenin Museum, a monument to Lenin. This space manifests the dominant ideology. After gaining independence, Kyrgyzstan, as well as other countries of the former USSR, inherits its monumental architecture.

The leadership of the new independent state faces the issue of defining a new ideology that would re-describe its past and future, while outlining a new identity. This quest is the subject of a separate long conversation. We are, however, interested in that one of the manifestations of this process is the erection of the Erkindik monument (eng.: Liberty) by T. Sadykov instead of the monument to Lenin in 2004. The monument was a woman with wings, sitting on a ball and holding a tunduk (the top of the yurt) over her head. This action is logical – a new political force is committed to the appropriation of ideological space. From this moment, this symbol of the new ideology is inscribed in the daily routine of citizens and tourists. The monument, already incorporating some of the national symbols, is nevertheless a reserved statement. This is also natural for Akaev’s policy, combining the ideas of the Soviet intelligentsia and traditionalism according to the study of ideology in Kyrgyzstan (Asel Murzakulova, John Schoeberlein, 2009). However, in 2011, the Erkindik monument is dismantled (Kloop, 2011), in order to install Aykol Manas in its place. This change could not be called unambiguous even then – for example, voting for and against the dismantling of the monument on Radio Azattyk showed balance of the sides (Radio Azattyk, 2011). It is worthwhile to note that this happened only a year after the events of 2010. And the first attack on the monument happened a month after the revolution (, 2010). In 2011, the space of public policy was still turbulent. Many actors had the opportunity to claim their interests in the public field, trying to pressure the political authorities. Although, placing these processes in a broader context of the study of ideology in Kyrgyzstan, produced by Asel Murzakulova and John Schoeberlein, characterizes them as a democratic process in the formation of political discourse (2009). That is, the field of production of policies, meanings and symbols is decentralized and includes many actors besides the state, and the state cannot be defined as dominant. Also in this study, a comparative analysis is being carried out that asserts a similar distribution of forces in the formation of national ideology unique for the Central Asian region. Since in Uzbekistan, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan, and to a lesser extent in Kazakhstan, ideology is the prerogative of the state and mainly comes from the institution of presidency.

Photo from Central State Archive of audiovisual documents of Kyrgyz Republic

It would seem that such a democratic process should inspire faith in the society in which we live. However, the presence of a sign of the egalitarian nature of public policy alone is not enough to unequivocally affirm its democratic character. Therefore, moving beyond a simple attempt to characterize the process, we are headed toward analyzing the rhetoric of the forces involved in this process. And this rhetoric is traditionalist, nationalistic and, naturally, implicitly patriarchal. I will give as an example only a couple of phrases from an interview with activists of the NGO “Kyrgyz El”:

“We often nod in the direction of other countries and peoples, we remember Genghis Khan and Ataturk, but why should not the Kyrgyz turn to their origins and history, why not set our heroes as an example? We have Manas, Duishenkul Shopokov, Cholponbai Tuleberdiyev, victims of April 7, 2010, the soldiers who died during the Batken events in 1999-2000” (Knews, 2011). “According to Kyrgyz traditions and customs, a woman holds a tunduk only in two cases – when all men in the kindship died or were killed, or when all men were at war, but even then little boys held the tunduk” (Knews, 2011).

One should pay attention to the lack of women in the list of famous personalities or the complete disregard for the fact that not only Kyrgyz people live in the country. When referring to the second phrase, we come across a more complex metaphysics. An appeal to traditions and customs, which is nothing other than the production of mythology. In other words, we observe the conceptualization of a simple coincidence of circumstances or the preservation of the social system in a certain esoteric knowledge and superstition of a higher order. This is a fairly typical trick for traditionalist logic. The specificity of this case also clearly manifests the misogyny implicit in the conservative ideology. The female image in the conservative paradigm is a substitute for moral principles, which leads to aggressive suppression of any deviation. Therefore, a woman often becomes the personification of either pride or shame of the nation. That is why national patriots are so concerned with the behavior of fellow tribeswomen abroad. That is why a woman holding a tunduk bothers the fighters for “the Kyrgyz nation” so much.

Photo from Central State Archive of audiovisual documents of Kyrgyz Republic

What do we have in the end? Can the existence of a democratic process be considered progressive if it leads to the dominance of conservatism? One can again refer to the congenital defect of representative democracy known to everyone – the power of the majority. But those who were opposed to the dismantling of Erkindik were not fewer than those who criticized it.

In this regard, it is worth making two comments: the activists who lobbied the installation of the Aykol Manas monument had more influence on the state power, because they, according to their own admission, worked on this project for a long time (Knews, 2011). And their influence can also be related to their privileged position – again on their own admission – the members of the movement were mostly representatives of the commercial sector (Knews, 2011). The second point is that the supporters of Erkindik’s preservation probably did not do enough, or they could not do everything necessary for the struggle. This again convinces us that even with the possession of democratic features, its integration into the political struggle deprives it of its inclusive potential and shows the features of the basis – a fierce struggle given unequal forces.

Photo from Central State Archive of audiovisual documents of Kyrgyz Republic


  1. Asel Murzakulova, Johm Shoeberlein (2009). The Invention of Legitimacy: Struggles in Kyrgyzstan to Craft an Effective Nation-State ideology. Europe-Asia Studies, Vol. 61, No 7, Politics of the Spectacular: Symbolism and Power in Central Asia, p. 1229-1248
  2. The “Erkindik” statue was dismantled from the Ala-Too Square. (July 29, 2011). Information from:
  3. Do we need to erect a monument to Manas instead of the Erkindik statue? (July 26, 2011). Information from:
  4. In the capital of Kyrgyzstan, an attempt was made to demolish the Erkindik monument on Ala-Too Square. (May 15, 2010). Information from:
  5. Activists: “Let the tunduk be cut from the Erkindik statue, and then put where the authorities want.” (August 3, 2011). Information from: