Identification. The Khanty were called Ostyak" by Russians until the 1930s, when their name was changed officially to reflect their self-designation. They are closely related, culturally and politically, to their nearest neighbors, the Mansi, historically called "Voguls," with whom they share the Khanty-Mansiisk Autonomous District ( okrug ) in western Siberia. The district was called a "national" area until the 1970s. An area of intense energy development, the Khanty homeland, once larger than its current boundaries, has been inundated by temporary workers, most of them Slavs. Other native minorities in the district include the Nenets and Selkup (Samoyed groups) and the Komi (historically, Zyrian). Khanty also live outside their district, mostly in nearby regions of western Siberia. They are one of twenty-six "Peoples of the North," designated as a special legal category.
Location. The Khanty-Mansiisk District of the Tiumen Oblast is bordered by the Yamalo-Nenets District and the Komi Autonomous Republic to the northwest and the Sverdlovsk, Omsk, Tomsk, and Krasnoyarsk regions to the southwest and east. It stretches from 58° to 62° N and 60° to 85° E. Khanty live as far north as the Arctic Circle and the Gulf of Ob, and as far south as the Irtysh-Tavda confluence, although they are concentrated in the Samarovsk, Surgut, Lariak, Beriozovo, Vasiugan, and Kondinsk areas of the greater Ob River Basin. Their territory, inside and outside the Khanty-Mansiisk District, includes tundra and taiga, with foothills of the Ural Mountains and lowlands of the Ob River. Forests of cedar, pine, and larch abound along its multiple rivers. When the thick snow cover melts each summer, extensive flooding occurs, turning the lowlands into swamps of moss, peat, and marsh pine. The extreme continental climate is characterized by temperatures as low as —50° C and as high as +20° C.
Demography. The 1989 Soviet census recorded a population of 147,386,000 for the Russian Republic, 187,083 for the Peoples of the North, and 22,500 for the Khanty. The Khanty-Mansiisk District had a population of 1,282,396 in 1989. Thus, the Khanty are a tiny minority within their district and within western Siberia. Their numbers have increased only slightly from the 20,934 recorded in 1979 and the 17,800 recorded in 1926. Although industrialization and urbanization have escalated around them in the last twenty years, most Khanty have remained in collectives away from large towns. Their infant mortality rates are high, and their life expectancy rates, especially for males, are low. The average northern native 1980s life expectancy was 45 for men and 55 for women. Interethnic marriage is common with other Siberian minorities, and, to a lesser extent, with Russians.
Linguistic Affiliation. The Khanty speak an Ob-Ugrian language of the Finno-Ugric Family of Uralic. The Khanty, Mansi, and Hungarian languages comprise the Ugrian linguistic category. Khanty linguists divide the language into four dialects, roughly corresponding to the cardinal directions, with emphasis on northwestern and eastern distinctions. These reflect cultural and linguistic differences that developed among the Shurikarsk (or Obdorsk), Kazym, Irtysh, Surgut, and Vakh Khanty. In the nineteenth century Russian Orthodox missionaries made a few attempts to create a written Khanty language, but a standardized form was difficult to derive from the dialects. In the 1930s a Latin script was introduced, and then quickly changed to a modified Cyrillic system by 1940. Russian has become the dominant language in most Khanty schools.