The Tsarina Who Kept the Peace
A clever woman who rose from obscurity to become a political force, playing nations against each other to protect her people.
It was beside the point, but she was also a renowned poet. Writing and performing under the name Zyinat, she would compete in contests with others. She even won a seven-day-long contest at a wedding.
Hudojar Khan, the keader under whom Kurmanjan had to work after becoming datka, was a real piece of work. The Kyrgyz sources relate stories of him overtaxing them, poisoning people, impaling them, kidnapping, drowning – you name it, he did it.
Legend tells of her, after becoming datka, being approached by a manap (tribal chief) named Shabdan to be his wife, so he could rule. As the story goes, Shabdan got flustered and messed up his proposal, so she dodged it by calling him “brother,” thus putting him down gently, and saving face for everyone. It’s unlikely this happened. In reality, Shabdan was working with the Russians, and helped set up a meeting between Kurmanjan and them (through capturing her).
After her son was executed, Kurmanjan went on to prevent a number of other threats to peace. When a local Islamic extremist known as the Spindle Man began stirring up anti-Russian sentiment, she shut him down, exclaiming that life under the Russians wasn’t perfect, but it was more peaceful than they’d ever had it.
There are very few English-language sources on Kurmanjan – so, as with so many historical figures, the tales of her life should be taken with a grain of salt. Especially as Kyrgyzstan works to solidify and promote itself, fiction can get swept in with fact. Regardless, though, Kurmanjan Datka was a heck of a woman, who kept the peace when any number of other leaders would have let all their gains crumble away to nothing.
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The setting is based off the hilly region in which she lived. The tents, the cooking pot, her horse whip, her outfit, and her jewelry are all taken from photo reference.
In the background, you can see some of the Khan’s people (blue) rounding up the Kyrgyz (red), as Kurmanjan’s horseback archers ready an ambush.