In the early 1880s, a distinctive religious landscape developed in Kyrgyzstan. Until 1874, Mennonite colonists in southern Russia enjoyed special privileges which included a dispensation from military service. The withdrawal of those privileges sparked mass emigration. Many of the most effective farmers left Russia’s Volga region, some bound for North America, others heading for central Asia. Those who stayed in Russia were offered, as an alternative to military service, the chance to work in the Russian Forestry Service which quickly developed entire brigades composed only of Mennonites.