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The Kalmyks (
The Kalmyk are a branch of the
At the start of this 400-year era, the Western Mongols designated themselves as the
Together, these nomadic tribes roamed the grassy plains of western Inner Asia, between
The Four Oirat was a political entity formed by the four major Oirat tribes. During the 15–17th centuries, they established under the name "10 tumen Mongols", a cavalry unit of 10,000 horsemen, including four Oirat tumen and six tumen composed of other Mongols. They reestablished their traditional pastoral nomadic lifestyle during the end of the Yuan dynasty. The Oirats formed this alliance to defend themselves against the Khalkha Mongols and to pursue the greater objective of reunifying Mongolia.
Until the mid-17th century, when bestowal of the title of Khan was transferred to the
In response to the Western Mongols' self-designation as the Four Oirat, the Eastern Mongols began to refer to themselves as the "Forty Mongols", or the "Forty and Four". This means that the Khalkha Mongols claimed to have forty tümen to the four tümen maintained by the Four Oirat.
The Oirat alliance was decentralized, informal and unstable. For instance, the Four Oirat did not have a central location from which it was governed, and it was not governed by a central figure for most of its existence. The four Oirats did not establish a single military or a unified monastic system. Lastly, it was not until 1640 that the Four Oirat adopted uniform customary laws.
As pastoralist nomads, the Oirats were organized at the tribal level, where each tribe was ruled by a noyon or prince who also functioned as the chief taishi "chieftain". The chief taishi governed with the support of lesser noyons, who were also called taishi. These minor noyons controlled divisions of the tribe (ulus) and were politically and economically independent of the chief tayishi. Chief taishis sought to influence and dominate the chief taishis of the other tribes, causing intertribal rivalry, dissension and periodic skirmishes.
Under the leadership of Esen, Chief Taishi of the Choros, the Four Oirat unified Mongolia for a short period. After Esen's death in 1455, the political union of the Dörben Oirat dissolved quickly, resulting in two decades of Oirat-Eastern Mongol conflict. The deadlock ended during the reign of Batmunkh
After the death of Dayan in 1543, the Oirats and the Khalkhas resumed their conflict. The Oirat forces thrust eastward, but Dayan's youngest son, Geresenz, was given command of the Khalkha forces and drove the Oirats to
The Oirats would later regroup south of the Altai Mountains in Dzungaria. But Geresenz's grandson, Sholoi Ubashi Khuntaiji, pushed the Oirats further northwest, along the steppes of the Ob and Irtysh Rivers. Afterwards, he established a Khalkha Khanate under the name, Altan Khan, in the Oirat heartland of Dzungaria.
In spite of the setbacks, the Oirats would continue their campaigns against the Altan Khanate, trying to unseat Sholoi Ubashi Khuntaiji from Dzungaria. The continuous, back-and-forth nature of the struggle, which defined this period, is captured in the Oirat epic song "The Rout of Mongolian Sholoi Ubashi Khuntaiji", recounting the Oirat victory over the
At the beginning of the 17th century, the First Altan Khan drove the
Further west, the
Locked in between both tribes were the Choros,
Under the dynamic leadership of Kharkhul, the Dzungars stopped the expansion of the first Altan Khan and began planning the resurrection of the Four Oirat under the Dzungar banner. In furtherance of such plans, Kharkhul designed and built a capital city called Kubak-sari on the
The attempted unification of the Oirats caused dissension among the tribes and their Chief Tayishis who were independent minded but also highly regarded leaders themselves. This dissension reputedly caused Kho Orluk to move the Torghut tribe and elements of the Dörbet tribe westward to the Volga region where his descendants formed the Kalmyk Khanate. In the east, Güshi Khan took part of the Khoshut to the Tsaidam and
In 1618, the Torghut and a small contingent of Dörbet Oirats (200,000–250,000 people) chose to migrate from the upper Irtysh River region to the grazing pastures of the lower
Many theories have been advanced to explain the reasons for the migration. One generally accepted theory is that there may have been discontent among the Oirat tribes, which arose from the attempt by Kharkhul, taishi of the Dzungars, to centralize political and military control over the tribes under his leadership. Some scholars, however, believe that the Torghuts sought uncontested pastures as their territory was being encroached upon by the Russians from the north, the Kazakhs from the south and the Dzungars from the east. The encroachments resulted in overcrowding of people and livestock, thereby diminishing the food supply. Lastly, a third theory suggests that the Torghuts grew weary of the militant struggle between the Oirats and the Altan Khanate.
Upon arrival to the lower Volga region in 1630, the Oirats encamped on land that was once part of the
The Oirats quickly consolidated their position by expelling the majority of the native inhabitants, the
At first, an uneasy relationship existed between the Russians and the Oirats. Mutual raiding by the Oirats of Russian settlements and by the
In reality, the Oirats governed themselves pursuant to a document known as the "Great Code of the Nomads" (Iki Tsaadzhin Bichig). The Code was promulgated in 1640 by them, their brethren in Dzungaria and some of the Khalkham who all gathered near the Tarbagatai Mountains in Dzungaria to resolve their differences and to unite under the banner of the Gelug school. Although the goal of unification was not met, the summit leaders did ratify the Code, which regulated all aspects of nomadic life.
In securing their position, the Oirats became a borderland power, often allying themselves with the Russian Empire against the neighboring Muslim population. During the era of
To encourage the release of Oirat cavalrymen in support of its military campaigns, the Russian Empire increasingly relied on the provision of monetary payments and dry goods to the Oirat Khan and the Oirat nobility. In that respect, the Russian Empire treated the Oirats as it did the Cossacks. The provision of monetary payments and dry goods, however, did not stop the mutual raiding, and, in some instances, both sides failed to fulfill its promises (Halkovic, 1985:41–54).
Another significant incentive the Russian Empire provided to the Oirats was tariff-free access to the markets of Russian border towns, where the Oirats were permitted to barter their herds and the items they obtained from Asia and their Muslim neighbors in exchange for Russian goods. Trade also occurred with neighboring Turkic tribes under Russian control, such as the Tatars and the Bashkirs. Intermarriage became common with such tribes. This trading arrangement provided substantial benefits, monetary and otherwise, to the Oirat tayishis, noyons and zaisangs.
Fred Adelman described this era as the "Frontier Period", lasting from the advent of the Torghut under Kho Orluk in 1630 to the end of the great khanate of Kho Orluk's descendant, Ayuka Khan, in 1724, a phase accompanied by little discernible acculturative change:
There were few sustained interrelations between Kalmyks and Russians in the frontier period. Routine contacts consisted in the main of seasonal commodity exchanges of Kalmyk livestock and the products thereof for such nomad necessities as brick tea, grain, textiles and metal articles, at Astrakhan, Tsaritsyn and Saratov. This was the kind of exchange relationship between nomads and urban craftsmen and traders in which the Kalmyks traditionally engaged. Political contacts consisted of a series of treaty arrangements for the nominal allegiance of the Kalmyk Khans to Russia, and the cessation of mutual raiding by Kalmyks on the one hand and Cossacks and Bashkirs on the other. A few Kalmyk nobles became russified and nominally Christian who went to Moscow in hope of securing Russian help for their political ambitions on the Kalmyk steppe. Russian subsidies to Kalmyk nobles, however, became an effective means of political control only later. Yet gradually the Kalmyk princes came to require Russian support and to abide in Russian policy.— Adelman, 1960:14–15
During the era of Ayuka Khan, the Kalmyk Khanate reached its peak of military and political power. The Khanate experienced economic prosperity from free trade with Russian border towns, China, Tibet and with their Muslim neighbors. During this era, Ayuka Khan also kept close contacts with his Oirat kinsmen in Dzungaria, as well as the Dalai Lama in Tibet.
Historically, the West Mongolian tribes identified themselves by their respective tribal names. Probably, in the 15th century, the four major West Mongolian tribes formed an alliance, adopting "Dörben Oirat" as their collective name. After the alliance dissolved, the West Mongolian tribes were simply called "Oirat." In the early 17th century, a second great Oirat State emerged, called the Dzungar Empire. While the Dzungars (initially Choros, Dörbet and Khoit tribes) were establishing their empire in Western Inner Asia, the Khoshuts were establishing the Khoshut Khanate in Tibet, protecting the Gelugpa sect from its enemies, and the Torghuts formed the Kalmyk Khanate in the lower Volga region.
After encamping, the Oirats began to identify themselves as "Kalmyk." This named was supposedly given to them by their Muslim neighbors and later used by the Russians to describe them. The Oirats used this name in their dealings with outsiders, viz., their Russian and Muslim neighbors. But, they continued to refer to themselves by their tribal, clan, or other internal affiliations.
The name Kalmyk, however, wasn't immediately accepted by all of the Oirat tribes in the lower Volga region. As late as 1761, the Khoshut and Dzungars (refugees from the Manchu Empire) referred to themselves and the Torghuts exclusively as Oirats. The Torghuts, by contrast, used the name Kalmyk for themselves as well as the Khoshut and Dzungars. (Khodarkovsky, 1992:8)
Generally, European scholars have identified all western Mongolians collectively as Kalmyks, regardless of their location (
Over time, the descendants of the Oirat migrants in the lower Volga region embraced the name "Kalmyk" irrespective of their locations, viz., Astrakhan, the Don Cossack region, Orenburg, Stavropol, the Terek and the Ural Mountains. Another generally accepted name is Ulan Zalata or the "red-buttoned ones" (Adelman, 1960:6).
By the early 18th century, there were approximately 300–350,000 Kalmyks and 15,000,000 Russians.[
In January 1771 the oppression of Tsarist administration forced the larger part of Kalmyks (33 thousand households, or approximately 170,000–200,000 people) to migrate to Dzungaria.
Ubashi sent 30,000 cavalry in the first year of the
Approximately five-sixths of the Torghut followed Ubashi Khan. Most of the Khoshut, Choros, and Khoid also accompanied the Torghut on their journey to Dzungaria. The Dörbet Oirat, in contrast, elected not to go at all.
Catherine the Great ordered the Russian army, Bashkirs, and Kazakhs to exterminate all migrants. After failing to stop the flight, Catherine abolished the Kalmyk Khanate, transferring all governmental powers to the governor of Astrakhan. The title of Khan was abolished. The highest native governing office remaining was the Vice-Khan, who also was recognized by the government as the highest ranking Kalmyk prince. By appointing the Vice-Khan, the Russian Empire was now permanently the decisive force in Kalmyk government and affairs.
After seven months of travel, only one-third (66,073) of the original group reached
The Qing shifted the Kalmyks to five different areas to prevent their revolt and influential leaders of the Kalmyks soon died. The migrant Kalmyks became known as Torghut in Qing China. The Torghut were coerced by the Qing into giving up their nomadic lifestyle and to take up sedentary agriculture instead as part of a deliberate policy by the Qing to enfeeble them.
After the 1771 exodus, the Kalmyks that remained part of the Russian Empire became under the control of the Russian Empire. They however continued their nomadic pastoral lifestyle, ranging the pastures between the Don and the Volga Rivers, wintering in the lowlands along the shores of the Caspian Sea as far as
Despite their great loss in population, the Torghut still remained the numerically superior and dominating the Kalmyks. The other Kalmyks in Russia included Dörbet Oirats and Khoshut. Elements of the Choros and Khoit also were present but were too few in number to retain their ulus (tribal division) as independent administrative units. As a result, they were absorbed by the ulus of the larger tribes.
The factors that caused the 1771 exodus continued to trouble the remaining Kalmyks. In the wake of the exodus, the Torghuts joined the Cossack rebellion of
The disruptions to Kalmyk society caused by the exodus and the Torghut participation in the Pugachev Rebellion precipitated a major realignment in Kalmyk tribal structure. The government divided the Kalmyks into three administrative units attached, according to their respective locations, to the district governments of Astrakhan, Stavropol and the Don and appointed a special Russian official bearing the title of "Guardian of the Kalmyk People" for purposes of administration. The government also resettled some small groups of Kalmyks along the Ural, Terek and Kuma rivers and in Siberia.
The redistricting divided the now dominant Dörbet tribe into three separate administrative units. Those in the western
Over time, the Kalmyks gradually created fixed settlements with houses and temples, in place of transportable round felt
Like most people in Russia, the Kalmyks greeted the
After the Bolsheviks took control, various political and ethnic groups opposed to Communism organized a loose political and military coalition called the
The second revolution split the Kalmyk people into opposing camps. Many were dissatisfied with the Tsarist government for its historic role in promoting the colonization of the Kalmyk steppe and in encouraging the russification of the Kalmyk people. But others also felt hostility towards Bolshevism for two reasons: (1) the loyalty of the Kalmyk people to their traditional leaders (i.e., nobility and clergy) – sources of anti-Communism – was deeply ingrained; and (2) the Bolshevik exploitation of the conflict between the Kalmyks and the local Russian peasants who seized Kalmyk land and livestock (Loewenthal, 1952:4).
The Astrakhan Kalmyk nobility, led by Prince Danzan Tundutov of the Baga Dörbets and Prince Sereb-Djab Tiumen of the Khoshuts, expressed their anti-Bolshevik sentiments by seeking to integrate the Astrakhan Kalmyks into the military units of the Astrakhan Cossacks. But before a general mobilization of Kalmyk horsemen could occur, the Red Army seized power in Astrakhan and in the Kalmyk steppe thereby preventing the mobilization from occurring.
After the capture of Astrakhan, the Bolsheviks engaged in savage reprisals against the Kalmyk people, especially against Buddhist temples and the Buddhist clergy (Arbakov, 1958:30–36). Eventually the Bolsheviks would draft as many as 18,000 Kalmyk horsemen in the Red Army to prevent them from joining the White Army (Borisov, 1926:84). This objective, however, failed to prevent many Red Army Kalmyk horsemen from defecting to the White side.
The majority of the Don Kalmyks also sided with the White Movement to preserve their Cossack lifestyle and proud traditions. As
By October 1920 the Red Army smashed
We could still hear scattered rifle fire and the sound of naval guns, and the Bolshevik sympathisers were sniping from the rooftops. In places Red infantry had infiltrated into the town, and were going in for murder, rape and every kind of bestiality, while explosions rocked the towns as Whites set fire to petrol tanks, and the wind blew an immense pall of smoke across the bay. The waterfront was black with people, begging to be allowed on board the ships. Some of the Kalmuk Cossacks still had their horses and the little tented carts in which they had travelled, and in the water all sorts of rubbish floated – trunks, clothes, furniture, even corpses. Conditions were appalling. The refugees were still starving and the sick and the dead lay where they had collapsed. Masses of them had even tried to rush the evacuation office and the British troops had had to disperse then at bayonet point. Women were offering jewels, everything they possessed – even themselves – for the chance of a passage. But they hadn't a ghost of chance. The rule was only White troops, their dependents and the families of men who had worked with the British were allowed on board.
From there, this group resettled in Europe, primarily in Belgrade (where they established the first Buddhist temple in Europe), Bulgaria, Czechoslovakia and France where its leaders remained active in the White movement. In 1922, several hundred Don Kalmyks returned home under a general amnesty. Some returnees, including Prince Dmitri Tundutov, were imprisoned and then executed soon after their return.
The Soviet government established the Kalmyk Autonomous Oblast in November 1920. It was formed by merging the Stavropol Kalmyk settlements with a majority of the Astrakhan Kalmyks. A small number of Don Kalmyks (Buzava) from the Don Host migrated to this Oblast. The administrative center was Elista, a small village in the western part of the Oblast that was expanded in the 1920s to reflect its status as the capital of the Oblast.
In October 1935, the Kalmyk Autonomous Oblast was reorganized into the Kalmyk Autonomous Soviet Socialist Republic. The chief occupations of the Republic were cattle breeding, agriculture, including the growing of cotton and fishing. There was no industry.
On 22 January 1922
In June 1941 the German army invaded the Soviet Union, ultimately taking (some) control of the Kalmyk Autonomous Soviet Socialist Republic. In December 1942, however, the Red Army in their turn re-invaded the Republic. On 28 December 1943, the Soviet government accused the Kalmyks of collaborating with the Germans and deported the entire population, including Kalmyk Red Army soldiers, to various locations in Central Asia and Siberia. Within 24 hours the population transfer occurred at night during winter without notice in unheated cattle cars.
According to N. F. Bugai, the leading Russian expert on deportations, 4.9% of the Kalmuk population died during the first three months of 1944; 1.5% in the first three months of 1945; and 0.7% in the same period of 1946. From 1945 to 1950, 15,206 Kalmuks died and 7843 were born.
The Kalmyk Autonomous Soviet Socialist Republic was quickly dissolved. Its territory was divided and transferred to the adjacent regions, viz., the Astrakhan and Stalingrad Oblasts and Stavropol Krai. Since no Kalmuks lived there any longer the Soviet authorities changed the names of towns and villages from Kalmyk names to Russian names. For example, Elista became Stepnoi.
Around half of (97–98,000) Kalmyk people deported to Siberia died before being allowed to return home in 1957. The government of the Soviet Union forbade teaching
In 1957, Soviet Premier
In the following years bad planning of agricultural and irrigation projects resulted in widespread
In 1992, after the dissolution of the Soviet Union, Kalmykia chose to remain an autonomous republic of the successor government, the Russian Federation. The dissolution, however, facilitated the collapse of the economy at both the national and the local level, causing widespread economic and social hardship. The resulting upheaval caused many young Kalmyks to leave Kalmykia, especially in the rural areas, for economic opportunities in and outside the Russian Federation.
The local Supreme Soviet decided in 1992 to change the name of the republic to Khalmg Tangch. In June 1993, the Kalmyk authorities laid claim to the 3,900 square kilometres (1,500 sq mi) of the Volga delta that were not returned to Kalmyks when the Kalmyk ASSR was recreated in 1957. The Kalmyk authorities claimed that under the terms of the 1991 law
The Kalmyks' ability to maintain a mostly homogenous existence contrasts with the Russian admixture with other similar people, "as there is evidence for Russian admixture with
The genetic results support the historical record in that they indicate a close relationship between Kalmyks and Mongolians. Moreover, the genetic results indicate that the Kalmyk migration involved substantial numbers of individuals, and that Kalmyks have not experienced detectable admixture with Russians.
In modern times, Kalmykia has friendly diplomatic and cultural ties with Mongolia.[