Kurmanjan Datka (1811-1907)

Kurmanjan Datka also known as the "The Tsaritsa of Alai" or "The Queen of the South", was a stateswoman in Kyrgyzstan, known for her initial resistance to the annexation of that region by Russia.

Kurmanjan was born into a nomadic family of the Mongush clan in the Alai Mountains. 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 General Mannerheim (later President of Finland) and was given Russian honors. Kurmanjan Datka lived to 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”.