Tuvans - Orientation

Identification. Most of Tuva is contained today in the Tuvan Republic, one of eighteen republics in Russia. The Tuvan Republic comprises about 171,000 square kilometers. The capital is Kyzyl.

Location. The Tuva region is located in southern Siberia. The Tuvan Republic is bounded on the west by the Gorno-Altai Autonomous Region, on the northwest by the Khakas Autonomous Region, on the north by the Krasnoyarsk Territory, on the northeast by the Irkutsk region, on the east by the Buriat Republic, and from the east to the southwest by Mongolia. Tuva is located at about 52° N, approximately the same latitude as Warsaw, London, and Calgary. Kyzyl was once thought to be the geographical center of Asia; an obelisk there contains the words "Centre of Asia," "Azianyng Tövü" (in Tuvan) and "Tsentr Azii" (in Russian).

The landscape of Tuva is mainly alpine. Mountains occupy about 82 percent of the country, plains only 18 percent. The entire territory lies above 500 meters; the highest mountain, Möngün Taiga (Silver Mountain) is 3,976 meters above sea level. Fertile lands are mainly in the river valleys, including those of the Ulug Khem (Tuvan: "Big River," the Yenisei between Kyzyl and Shagonar), Khemchik, Shagaan-Aryg, Chadaana, and Barlyk.

In Tuva one can find practically all the climatic zones and landscapes typical of Asia: deserts, tundra plateaus, reed jungles, alpine meadows, open steppe lands, high mountains, and dense taiga. Tuva is characterized by the diversity of its wildlife (antelope, foxes, bears, wolves, mountain goats, sables, snow leopards, and reindeer) and of its domestic herds (Tibetan yaks, reindeer [which are continually mixed with wild stock], Bactrian camels, small and sturdy horses, cattle, sheep, and goats, among others). Tuva's climate is sharply continental, with severe, cold winters and hot, dry summers. Temperatures range from a low of —61° C in the mountains in winter, to 43° C in the plains in summer. The mean annual temperature is —3.3° C in the plains and —6.1 ° C in the mountains. Winter, the longest season, lasts from the end of October to the end of March. Temperatures remain below 0° C 190 days on average, of which 60 days are below —30° C. January is the coldest month. Spring begins in April, summer begins in mid-May, and autumn begins in mid-September. Clear weather prevails all year in Tuva, with about 300 sunny days annually. The dry air makes it easier for people to withstand the winter cold and the summer heat. Precipitation ranges from about 20 centimeters per year in the river valleys to about 50 centimeters annually in the mountains.

Demography. In 1989 the population of the Tuvan Autonomous Soviet Socialist Republic (ASSR) was reckoned to be 308,557; of which 198,360 (64 percent) were Tuvan; 98,831 (32 percent) Russian; and 11,366 (4 percent) other nationalities. The same census showed there were 206,924 Tuvans in the USSR, 99 percent of whom considered Tuvan their native language. There were about 20,000 Tuvans living in northwestern Mongolia and about 4,000 in the Altai region (northern Xinjiang) of China. Nearly 30 percent of Tuva's population resided in the capital, Kyzyl, which had a population of more than 86,000 (mainly Russians). Most Tuvans still live in rural areas. The annual population increase among Tuvans is 21 per 1,000, or just over 2 percent.

linguistic Affiliation. Tuvan is a Turkic language influenced by Mongolian. It can be divided into four mutually intelligible territorial dialects that are distinguishable by pronunciation and vocabulary. About 3,000 inhabitants of southeastern Tuva speak Mongolian as well as Tuvan.

More than a thousand years ago, ancestors of the Tuvans used a runelike script to write ancient Turkic, but the system eventually died out. During the seventeenth, eighteenth, and nineteenth centuries, as Tuva was influenced by Lamaism, only Mongolian and Tibetan were written in Tuva. Around 1930 the Unified Turkic Latin Alphabet was developed for Tuvan and for other Turkic languages; little more than a decade later, various forms of the Cyrillic alphabet were devised for Turkic languages in the USSR. The Tuvan version uses the Russian alphabet plus three extra letters to accommodate specifically Tuvan sounds. Nevertheless, the Tuvan Cyrillic alphabet remains an imperfect vehicle for representing spoken Tuvan.

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