Kalmyks - Sociopolitical Organization

Social Organization. The basic traditional nuclear household was a tent, or ger. Ten to twelve gers, most often patrilineally related, comprised a khoton, with a senior elder as a headman. The khotons were associated into larger units, the ayimaks, which were not based on kinship. Instead, the ayimaks united a number of patrilinee that shared the same grazing area. The number of tents in the ayimak varied greatly, from 100 to 1,000. At the head of the ayimak was a Kalmyk noble with the title of zayisang. The largest socioadministrative unit was the ulus, a large group of tents united by political allegiance to their ruler, the tayishi. The tayishis and the zayisangs were the ruling elite. The majority of the society were the albatu, the commoners who were ruled immediately by the khoton headmen and by a variety of other officials. Today the distinction between social groups is primarily occupational.

Social Control. Written law was known to the Kalmyks as early as the middle of the seventeenth century. But it was the common law that was most widely used well into the twentieth century. Now strong tradition and a widespread police system are the main means of social control.

Conflict. The Kalmyks, a warrior society, have a history of continuous military, political, and social conflict. Until the late eighteenth century the Kalmyks were in an almost permanent state of war with their neighbors: the Nogays, the Tatars, the Don Cossacks, the Russians, the Ukrainians, and the Kazakhs. The Kalmyks participated in Russia's largest revolts, those by Stepan Razin in 1670-1671 and by Emelian Pugachev in 1773. In the eighteenth century Russia's interference led to protracted civil wars and a severe crisis in Kalmyk society. After the Bolshevik Revolution the policies of collectivization, forceful sedentarization, and deportation to Siberia wrought a heavy toll on the Kalmyk people.

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