Great Women in the History of the Kyrgyz Republic

Nestled in the heart of Central Asia, Kyrgyzstan boasts a rich tapestry of history woven by extraordinary women who have played pivotal roles in shaping the nation. From political pioneers to cultural icons, these women have left an indelible mark on the nation. To mark International Women’s Day, we remember some great women in the history of Kyrgyzstan, acknowledging their contribution and enduring impact.

 Kurmanjan Datka

Photo: Carl Gustav Mannerheim

Known as the “Queen of the South,” Kurmanjan Datka, the “Tsaritsa of Alai” was a courageous and noble woman who was not afraid to break with tradition. An important politician, in the second half of the eighteen century Kurmanjan ruled over the region wisely. Seeking both compromise and fighting for the rights of her people, she played a crucial role in unifying the Kyrgyz tribes during a tumultuous period, when her leadership and diplomacy skills were instrumental in maintaining peace.

Aside from Kurmanjan, no other woman has ever been honored with the title “Datka” – meaning “general” – in the history of Kyrgyzstan. Kurmanjan was the only woman to rule over the Kyrgyz nation. Recognized as the “mother of the nation,” 2011 was declared the year of Kurmanjan Datka in the Republic, where her face adorns banknotes.

Olga Manuilova


Olga Manuilova’s contributions were valued highly by the Government of the Kyrgyz SSR, which in 1954 recognized her with the prestigious title, People’s Artist of the Kyrgyz SSR. In acknowledgment of her outstanding work, she was also honored with many other awards, including the Order of the Red Banner of Labor, the Badge of Honor, and the medal For Valorous Labor. Additionally, Manuilova received commendations in the form of diplomas from the Supreme Soviet of the Republic.

Among her notable creations were artistic masterpieces such as “Builders of the Great Chui Canal,” “In Aid of the Front” from 1942, and a monument to General Panfilov, which entwined her work with the fate of the nation. These remarkable works earned Manuilova the distinguished title of “Honored Art Worker of the Kyrgyz SSR.” This recognition underscored the significant impact of her artistic endeavors and highlighted her exceptional role in contributing to the cultural and artistic heritage of Kyrgyzstan. In 1973, a main belt asteroid was named after her.

Urkuya Salieva


At the age of just seventeen, in 1927 Salieva became the secretary of her local Komsomol cell in the Osh Oblast, indicating her early inclination towards political activism. The following year, she defied societal expectations by assuming the role of chairperson for the council of her birth village of Murkut. Displaying exceptional leadership, Salieva was elected chairperson of the Kyzyl-Asker collective farm despite opposition from affluent individuals who underestimated her ability to navigate the challenges of this role. Showing devotion to her people, Salieva worked tirelessly to surpass all expectations, securing a seat on the Central Executive Committee of the Kyrgyz Autonomous Republic. In 1934, she was murdered by members of the Basmachi movement – an Islamic group opposed to Soviet rule. The collective farm which she had overseen was later renamed after her.

Sabira Kumushalieva

Photo: Alexander Fedorov

A hugely gifted actor, starting at the age of fourteen, Kumushalieva portrayed over a hundred different characters across theater and cinema in both Kyrgyzstan and Kazakhstan, demonstrating her ability to breathe life into a wide array of roles. She was a recipient of Order of the Badge of Honor, and named both People’s Artist of the Kyrgyz Republic and Honored Artist of the USSR. Among Kumushalieva’s most unforgettable performances which are etched into the memories of the Kyrgyz people are the prominent characters played by her in the movies “Milky Way,” “White Steamboat,” “Urkuya,” and “Elevator.” Following her passing, in 2008 a postage stamp bearing her image was issued to commemorate her life and work.

Zhetikashkayeva Nurkamal


The celebrated poet Zhetikashkayeva Nurkamal completed her education at the Lunacharsky Institute in Moscow in 1941 and subsequently became an artist at the Republican Kyrgyz Theater. Concurrently, Nurkamal engaged in research activities at the Institute of Kyrgyz Language, Literature, and History. She was inducted into the Union of Writers of the USSR in 1946, and in 1949 her first poem, entitled “Zhangan Zhalyn” (“Sparkling Flame”), was published.

A comprehensive collection of Nurkamal’s poems, along with a compilation of works in Russian entitled “I am the Daughter of October” was published posthumously in 1953. In her thirty-four years of life, Nurkamal received the medal For Labor during the Great Patriotic War of 1941-1945. In 1988, a street in Bishkek was named after her. Her legacy endures in the literary realm, showcasing the profound impact of her poetic contribution.

Dinara Asanova


A luminary in the world of film, Dinara Asanova was known for her multifaceted roles as a director and actress. Born in November 24 1942, in Bishkek – then known as Frunze – she left a significant mark in the late Soviet-era with her unique storytelling and directorial style.

Starting her career in the early 1960s, Asanova worked as an assistant at the Kyrgyzfilm studio, showcasing her versatile acting skills in films like “The Girl from Tien Shan” and “Everyone Has His Own Way”. Furthering her passion for cinema, she completed her studies in the directing department of VGIK in 1968.

In 1973, Asanova assumed the role of a director at Lenfilm, one of the most prominent studios in the USSR. Her directorial venture, “The Woodpecker Doesn’t Get Headaches” resonated with audiences and critics alike, marking a significant milestone in her career. This feature film solidified her reputation as a talented and impactful director. Despite her untimely death at the age of 42, Asanova’s contributions to the world of cinema continue to inspire and influence filmmakers today.

Kulbubu Mademilova


A respected figure in the performing arts, Mademilova held the prestigious titles of People’s Artist and prima ballerina of the Kyrgyz Opera and Ballet Theater. Not only did she mesmerize audiences with her performances, but she also blazed a trail as the first female ballet master in Kyrgyzstan. Additionally, Mademilova was instrumental in establishing the department of professional ballet masters at the Kalya Moldobasanov National Culture Center.

Over the course of her distinguished career, Mademilova amassed a wealth of creative productions and extensive pedagogic experience. As a ballet director, she played a pivotal role in the evolution of ballet theater in Kyrgyzstan, leaving a lasting legacy that transcends national boundaries. Her influence extended to such countries as Mongolia and Vietnam, where she staged iconic ballets such as “Giselle,” “Daughter of the Sun,” and “Don Quixote.” Her contributions to the world of ballet had a profound impact both locally and globally.

The great women of Kyrgyzstan have left an enduring legacy, shaping the cultural, political, and educational landscape of the nation. From Kurmanjan Datka’s leadership to Dinara Asanova’s cinematic vision, these remarkable women have enriched Kyrgyzstan’s history, leaving an indelible impact which will continue to inspire generations to come.


Times of Central Asia