Kalmyks - History and Cultural Relations

In the early seventeenth century a large group of the Oirats, predominantly of the Torgut tribe, left Zungharia and began to migrate westward. By the 1630s, having conquered some Nogays and caused others to flee, the Kalmyks occupied pastures along the Emba, Yaik (today Ural), and Volga rivers. By the end of the century, joined by the Derbet and Khoshut tribes from Zungharia, the previously loose confederation of Kalmyk tribes turned into a powerful political and military force under Ayuki Khan. The increasing superiority of the Russian military and dependence on access to Russian markets, however, led to a closer alliance with Russia and eventual recognition of Russia's suzerainty in 1724. The Kalmyks continued to lose their political and administrative autonomy, and their pastoral economy declined with the arrival of agricultural colonists and a resulting shrinkage of Kalmyk pastures. In 1771 the Kalmyks resorted to the dramatic act of moving back to Zungharia. The majority of the Kalmyks—31,000 tents, or more than 120,000 people—departed from Russia. En route they were attacked by the Kazakhs. Only a small group survived a long and arduous journey; their descendants are still found in the Xinjiang region of China. The rest died from famine or fell victim to the hostile raids of the neighboring nomadic peoples. The 11,000 Kalmyk tents that were unable to cross the Volga because of an early thaw remained behind. The autonomy of the remaining Kalmyks was abolished by Catherine II, and throughout the nineteenth century they found themselves increasingly incorporated into the administrative and military structure of the Russian Empire. The Soviet government created by decree a Kalmyk Autonomous Region within the Russian Republic in 1920. In 1935 the status was upgraded to that of an autonomous republic. The Kalmyk ASSR existed until December 1943, when, charged with collaborating with German troops, the Kalmyks were deported to Siberia and the republic was abolished. Many Kalmyks died as a result of the deportation (compare 1939 and 1979 censuses under "Demography"). In 1957 the Kalmyks were rehabilitated and returned from Siberia. The Kalmyk ASSR was reestablished in 1958.

Tensions between the encroaching agricultural colonists and the nomadic Kalmyks had existed since the middle of the eighteenth century. After the creation of the Kalmyk ASSR, tensions between the Kalmyks and the Slavic residents of the republic (mostly Ukrainians and Russians) continued. During the fifteen years of Kalmyk exile, the Slavic population in the area increased, and the return of the Kalmyks brought a new wave of hostilities between the two groups. Today, a long-standing sense of injustice and the new rise of nationalism continue to fuel a traditional animosity.

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