In the Muslim world, only one woman has ever been twice honoured with the title of “Datka” (“General”). Her name was Kurmanjan Datka, the Alai (now Osh) province queen, who played a crucial role in the history of the Kyrgyz people.
An unusual historical figure, Kurmanjan Datka was born in 1811 in Kichi-Alai. He father, Mamatbay, was a nomad. At age 18, she was married to a man whom she saw for the first time on their wedding day. She did not like him, as he was much older, and despite all traditions Kurmanjan returned to her father’s yurt. After that she lived three years with her parents. Kurmanjan became a legend, because at that time oppressive attitude towards women dominated and no one would dare to take such a bold step. She became famous all over the county for her brilliant mind, courage and independent opinion.
In 1832, a rich feudal “Datka”, Alimbek, of Alai, freed Kurmanjan from the marriage contract and married her. She gave birth to six sons and became not just a wife and mother but his faithful assistant in all his affairs. In the absence of Alymbek Datka, Kurmanjan replaced her husband and sovereignly managed the tribe. After the death of her husband, victim of a palace conspiracy, Kurmanjan inherited the governance of Alai. However, Kokand Khan (king) Khudoyar announced that the Alai Kyrgyz were his subjects, and forced them to pay tribute. This was totally unacceptable to the nomads who had never been forced to pay for land. Of course, Kurmanjan was against it, as a result of persistent struggle she succeeded. After this incident, Muzaffar the Emir of Bukhara acknowledged the impact of Kurmanjan and awarded her the title of “Datka.” Later in 1865 Khudoyar Khan also confirmed her right to the title of Datka. Kurmanjan Datka became the only woman honoured with a reception in the palace of the Emir of Bukhara.
Kurmanjan Datka quickly gained the reputation of a wise ruler, successfully settling all tribal disputes of the Alai Kyrgyz. She organised a customs system to take advantage of the value of the Great Silk Road. She sent her men to meet and intimidate caravans (sellers travelling from one part to another) and then, when the merchants appealed to her as a ruler for help and protection, Kurmanjan called a price for safe trips.
In 1876, Russian troops invaded the territory of the Kokand Khanate. However, south regions including Alai remained undefeated. However, in one of the fights, Kurmanjan Datka’s troops lost and they were captured by the Russians.
After meeting Russian General Skobalev, Kurmanjan Datka became an ambassador of the Tsarist policy. To save her people from bloodshed, she officially announced the accession of the Alai Kyrgyz to Russia. “As long as I live in the world, there will be peace and quiet”, – such was the promise of Kurmanjan Datka.
In 1893, two sons and two grandsons were accused of smuggling and her favourite son, Kamchibek, of murdering customs officials. Some, faithful to her, offered to rescue the convicted son, but Kurmanjan refused, saying: “It’s bitter to realize that my youngest son will leave this world, but I could never bear the fact that my people perished because of my son. There will be no apology for me in this and the other world. ” Kurmanjan was present at the execution of her son. She said: “Do not worry son, keep your head up,” turned and walked away. He was hanged, and others were exiled to Siberia.
The death of her youngest son had a strong moral impact on the queen. After leaving public life, Kurmanjan Datka left her possessions and settled in a village not far from Osh. She died in 1907 at the age of 96. The Alai queen was buried in Sary-Mazar cemetery overlooking the sacred mountain Sulaiman-Too.