Kurmanjan Datka

Kurmanjan Datka (; or Datka Kurmanjan Mamatbai kysy) (1811–1 February 1907), also known as “The Tsaritsa of Alai” or “The Queen of the South,” was a stateswoman in Kyrgyzstan, who initiated annexation of that region to Russia. Kurmanjan was born into a rich family of the Mongush clan in the Osh. 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 favourite 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 Baron Carl Gustaf Emil Mannerheim (later President of Finland) who was a colonel in the Russian army at the time. Mannerheim took her photograph. She died six months later. Kurmanjan Datka lived to be 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”.