Russia Minority Peoples and Their Territories

Russia Country Studies index

Russia - Minority Peoples and Their Territories

Formed as the Yakut Autonomous Republic in 1922, Sakha had a population of 1.1 million in 1994, of which 50 percent were Russian, 33 percent Yakut, 7 percent Ukrainian, and 2 percent Tatar. The Yakuts are a Mongoloid people who originated through the combination of local tribes with Turkic tribes that migrated northward before the tenth century.

Minority peoples and their territories

With a few changes in status in the post-World War II period, the autonomous republics, autonomous oblasts, and autonomous regions of the Russian Soviet Federated Socialist Republic retained the classifications assigned to them in the 1920s or 1930s. In all cases, the postcommunist Russian government officially changed the term "autonomous republic" to "republic" in 1992. According to the 1989 Soviet census, in only fifteen of the thirty-one ethnically designated republics and autonomous regions were the "indigenous" people the largest group. Of the twenty-one republics existing in Russia in the mid-1990s, nine fell into this category, with the smallest percentages of Russians in Chechnya, Dagestan, Ingushetia, and North Ossetia. Each region designated by ethnic group is home to the majority of Russia's population of that group (see table 9, Appendix).

Located in the middle Volga east of Mari El and Chuvashia and west of Bashkortostan, Tatarstan was established as an autonomous republic in 1920 for one segment of the large and widespread Tatar population of the Russian Republic. In the 1980s, less than one-third of Russia's Tatars lived in the republic designated for them. Extensive populations of Tatars, who are predominantly Muslim, are scattered throughout Russia as well as most of the other former Soviet republics. In the late Soviet period, numerous Tatars migrated to the Central Asian republics, in particular Uzbekistan and Tajikistan. The population of Tatarstan, about 3.8 million in 1995, is second only to that of Bashkortostan among Russia's republics. According to the 1989 census, the population was 49 percent Tatar, 43 percent Russian, 4 percent Chuvash, 1 percent Ukrainian, and 1 percent Mordovian.

Sakha, whose name was changed from Yakutia in 1994, is by far the largest of the republics in size. It occupies about 3.1 million square kilometers that stretch from Russia's Arctic shores in the north to within 500 kilometers of the Chinese border in the south, and from the longitude of the Taymyr Peninsula in the west to within 400 kilometers of the Pacific Ocean in the east. Sakha was annexed by the Russian Empire in the first half of the seventeenth century. Russians slowly populated the valley of the Lena River, which flows northward through the heart of Sakha. In the nineteenth century, most of the nomadic Yakuts adopted an agricultural lifestyle.

The republic was reinstated in 1957, and what was left of the original population was allowed to return. In the three decades following their return, the Chechen and Ingush populations recovered rapidly, accounting in 1989 for 66 percent of the population of their shared republic. At that time, the Chechen population was about 760,000, the Ingush about 170,000. This proportion reflects approximately the relative size of the two regions after they split into separate republics in 1992. (Ingushetia occupies a sliver of land between Chechnya and North Ossetia; in 1995 its population was estimated at 254,100.) In 1989 Russians constituted about 23 percent of the combined population of Chechnya and Ingushetia, their numbers having declined steadily for decades.

In 1995 the Adyghs constituted 22 percent of the population of Adygea, which was estimated at 450,400. The rest consisted of 68 percent Russians, 3 percent Ukrainians, and 2 percent Armenians. Adygea is the only Muslim republic of the Russian Federation where the Muslim share of the population has decreased in the last two decades. The official languages are Russian and Adygh. Rich soil is the basis for an agricultural economy specializing in grains, tobacco, sugar beets, vegetables, fruits, cattle, poultry, and beekeeping. Processing of meats, tobacco, dairy products, and canned goods is an important industry. The republic's only substantial mineral resource under exploitation is an extensive natural gas and oil deposit. The capital city, Maykop, is the main industrial center, with metallurgical, machine-building, and timber-processing plants.

Climatic conditions preclude agriculture in most of Sakha. Where agriculture is possible, the main crops are potatoes, oats, rye, and vegetables. The republic's economy is supported mainly by its extensive mineral deposits, which include gold, diamonds, silver, tin, coal, and natural gas. Sakha produces most of Russia's diamonds, and natural gas deposits are thought to be large. The capital of Sakha is Yakutsk.

The economy of Kabardino-Balkaria is based on substantial deposits of gold, chromium, nickel, platinum, iron ore, molybdenum, tungsten, and tin. The main industries are metallurgy, timber and food processing, the manufacture of oil-drilling equipment, and hydroelectric power generation. The republic's capital is Nalchik.

The North Caucasus

The region of Russia adjoining the north slope of the Caucasus range includes eight republics--Adygea, Chechnya, Dagestan, Ingushetia, Kabardino-Balkaria, Kalmykia, Karachayevo-Cherkessia, and North Ossetia. The North Caucasus retains its historical reputation as a trouble spot, although the majority of the region's republics are relatively peaceful and undeveloped.

Both the Chechens and the Ingush remain strongly attached to clan and tribal relations as the structure of their societies. Primary use of their respective North Caucasian languages has remained above 95 percent, despite the long period that the two groups spent in exile. Chechnya was fully converted to Islam by the seventeenth century, Ingushetia only in the nineteenth century. But the region has a two-century history of holy war against Russian authority. When the indigenous populations were exiled in 1944, Soviet authorities attempted to expunge Islam entirely from the region by closing all mosques. Although the mosques remained closed when the Chechens and Ingush returned, clandestine religious organizations spread rapidly.

Of the sixteen autonomous republics that existed in Russia at the time of the Soviet Union's breakup, one (the Chechen-Ingush Autonomous Republic) split into two in 1992, with Chechnya subsequently declaring full independence as the Republic of Chechnya and with Ingushetia gaining recognition as a separate republic of the Russian Federation. Three Soviet-era autonomous oblasts (Gorno-Altay, Adygea, and Karachayevo-Cherkessia) were granted republic status under the Federation Treaty of 1992, which established the respective powers of the central and republic governments. Two republics, Chechnya and Tatarstan, did not sign the treaty at that time. Most provisions of the Federation Treaty were overtaken by provisions of the 1993 constitution or by subsequent bilateral agreements between the central government and the republics.

Located in the industrial zone of the south Ural Mountains, Udmurtia has a substantial and diversified industrial economy that emphasizes locomotives and rolling stock, metallurgy, machine tools, construction materials, clothing, leather, and food processing. The capital city, Izhevsk, is also the largest industrial center. The most important agricultural products are grains, vegetables, and livestock.

The Tatars are a Turkic people whose language belongs to the Kipchak group and has several regional dialects. The region of present-day Tatarstan was occupied by the Mongols when the Golden Horde swept across the middle Volga region in the early thirteenth century. When the Mongol Empire fragmented two centuries later, one of its constituent parts, the Tatar Kazan' Khanate, inherited the middle Volga and held the region until its defeat by Ivan IV. Shortly thereafter, Russian colonization began.

The Volga and Ural Republics

Forming a crescent from the middle Volga to the southern extent of Russia's Ural Mountains, six republics represent a variety of ethnic and religious groups. Included in this group are the republics of Bashkortostan and Tatarstan, two of Russia's richest and most independent republics.

Tyva was called the Tuva ASSR until the new Russian constitution recognized Tyva, the regional form of the name, in 1993. The republic occupies 170,500 square kilometers on the border of Mongolia, directly east of Gorno-Altay. After being part of the Chinese Empire for 150 years and existing as the independent state of Tannu Tuva between 1921 and 1944, Tyva voluntarily joined the Soviet Union in 1944 and became an autonomous oblast. It became an autonomous republic in 1961. The Tuvinians are a Turkic people with a heritage of rule by tribal chiefs. The republic's predominant religion is Tibetan Buddhism. In 1995 the population of about 314,000 was 64 percent Tuvinian and 32 percent Russian.

The republic was established in 1920 as an autonomous oblast. The Kalmyk ASSR was established in 1935, dissolved in 1943, then reconstituted in 1958, when its indigenous people were allowed to return from the exile imposed in 1944 for alleged collaboration with the Nazis. The republic officially changed its name to Kalmykia in February 1992. In 1989 the republic's population was 45 percent Kalmyk, 38 percent Russian, 6 percent Dagestani peoples, 3 percent Chechen, 2 percent Kazak, and 2 percent German. The Kalmyk economy is based on the raising of livestock, particularly sheep, and the population is mainly rural; the capital and largest city, Elista, had about 85,000 people in 1989.

North Ossetia, called Alania in the republic's 1994 constitution, is located along the northern border of Georgia, between the republics of Kabardino-Balkaria and Ingushetia. The Ossetians are of Iranian and Caucasian origin, and they speak an Iranian language. In the first centuries A.D., Ossetia was occupied by the Alani tribe, ancestors of the modern Ossetians. In the thirteenth century, the Tatars drove the Alani into the mountains; Russian settlers began arriving in the eighteenth century. Russia annexed Ossetia in 1861. In 1924 North Ossetia became an autonomous region of the Soviet Union; in 1936 it was declared an autonomous republic. In 1992 the campaign for separation waged by Georgia's South Ossetian Autonomous Oblast directly to the south drew significant support from compatriots to the north. North Ossetia is the only Caucasus republic of the Russian Federation to give official support to Russia's occupation of nearby Chechnya.

The most important product of what now is known as the Republic of Chechnya (and officially called the Republic of Chechnya-Ichkeria within the republic) is refined petroleum. The capital, Groznyy, was one of the most important refining centers in southern Russia prior to its virtual annihilation in the conflict of 1995-96. Several major pipelines connect Groznyy refineries with the Caspian Sea, the Black Sea, and Russian industrial centers to the north. The republic's other important industries are petrochemical and machinery manufacturing and food processing. When the Chechen-Ingush Autonomous Republic split in June 1992, Chechnya retained most of the industrial base.

The border-drawing process that occurred in tsarist times and in the first decades of Soviet rule sometimes divided rather than united ethnic populations. The Buryats of southern Siberia, for example, were divided among the Buryat Autonomous Republic and Chita and Irkutsk oblasts, which were created to the east and west of the republic, respectively; that population division remains in the post-Soviet era. By contrast, the Chechens and Ingush were united in a single republic until 1992, and smaller groups such as the Khanty and the Mansi were grouped together in single autonomous regions.

The republic has rich mineral resources, especially oil, natural gas, iron ore, manganese, copper, salt, and construction stone. The Soviet government built a variety of heavy industries on that resource base, and the republic's economy is relatively prosperous. The traditional Bashkir occupations of livestock raising and beekeeping remain important economic activities. Bashkortostan's population was about 4 million in 1995. In 1989 the major ethnic groups were Russians (39 percent), Tatars (28 percent), Bashkirs (22 percent), Chuvash (3 percent), and Mari (3 percent).

The Republics of Siberia

Of the five republics located east of the Urals in Asian Russia, four--Buryatia, Gorno-Altay, Khakassia, and Tyva--extend along Russia's southern border with Mongolia. The fifth, Sakha (formerly Yakutia), is Russia's largest subnational jurisdiction and the possessor of a large and varied supply of valuable natural resources.

Tyva is mainly an agricultural region with only five cities and a predominantly rural population. The main agricultural activity is cattle raising, and fur is an important product. Gold, cobalt, and asbestos are mined, and the republic has extensive hydroelectric resources. The capital is Kyzyl.

In 1995 Russians constituted about 61 percent of the republic's population of approximately 964,000. Another 33 percent were Mordovians, and 5 percent were Tatars. The total area of Mordovia is 26,200 square kilometers. The republic's economy is based mainly on agriculture, especially the cultivation of grains, tobacco, hemp, and vegetables. Industry includes some machine building and chemical manufacturing, as well as enterprises based on timber and metals. The capital of Mordovia is Saransk.

At 172,400 square kilometers, Karelia is the fourth largest of the autonomous republics of the Russian Federation. The republic shares a border with Finland from the Kola Peninsula in the north to Lake Ladoga in the south. The Karelians are of the same ethnic stock as the Finns. The status of Karelia has changed several times in the twentieth century. When Karelia first became an autonomous republic of the Soviet Union in 1923, it included only the territory known as Eastern Karelia, which had been Russian territory since 1323. When Western Karelia was gained from the Finns in 1940, the enlarged Karelia became a full republic of the Soviet Union, called the Karelo-Finnish Republic. After World War II, the southwestern corner of the republic, including its only stretch of open-water seacoast on the Gulf of Finland, became part of the Russian Republic. In 1956 the regime of Nikita S. Khrushchev (in office 1953-64) redesignated the artificial entity, which never came close to having a Karelian majority, as the Karelian ASSR. In 1994 the republic's population of about 800,200 was 74 percent Russian, only 10 percent Karelian, 7 percent Belarusian, and 4 percent Ukrainian. The dominant religion is Russian Orthodoxy.

The Republic of Buryatia, formerly the Buryat ASSR, occupies 351,300 square kilometers along the eastern shore of Lake Baikal and along the north-central border of Mongolia. The Buryats, a nomadic herding people of Mongolian stock, first faced colonization by Russian settlers in the seventeenth century. After initially resisting this intrusion, most of the Buryats eventually adapted to life in farming settlements, which continues to be the predominant mode of existence. In 1989 the Buryats constituted only about 24 percent of the republic's population; Russians made up about 70 percent. The total Buryat population of the Soviet Union in the 1980s was about 390,000, with about 150,000 living in the adjacent oblasts of Chita and Irkutsk. In 1994 the population of the republic was 1.1 million, of which more than one-third lived in the capital city, Ulan-Ude.

The Adygh (or Adygey) Autonomous Oblast was established in 1922 as part of Krasnoyarsk Territory; between 1922 and 1928, it was known as the Cherkess (Adygh) Autonomous Oblast. It was redesignated as the Republic of Adygea in 1992. A landlocked sliver of land, Adygea occupies 7,600 square kilometers just inland from the northeast coast of the Black Sea, reaching southward to the northern foothills of the Caucasus Mountains. The oblast was formed by the early Soviet government for the Adygh people, who are one of three branches of the Cherkess, or Circassian, tribes--the other two being the Cherkess and the Kabardins. The general group from which these three peoples descend has occupied the northern border of the Caucasus Mountains at least since the Greeks began exploring beyond the Black Sea in the eighth century B.C. The Adyghs, most of whom accepted Islam early in the nineteenth century, speak a Caucasian language.

In the fifteenth century, Crimean Tatars and Ottoman Turks brought Sunni Islam of the Hanafi school to the territory that is now Kabardino-Balkaria, but Muslim precepts have been observed rather superficially since that time. A small group of Christian Kabardins remains. Despite Russian immigration into the republic, the Muslim Kabardins and Balkars now constitute nearly 60 percent of the republic's population, which was estimated at 800,000 in 1995. Of that number, 48 percent were Kabardin, 9 percent Balkar, and 32 percent Russian, according to the 1989 census.

The Avars, known for their warrior heritage, live mostly in the isolated western part of the republic, retaining much of their traditional village lifestyle. Numbering nearly 600,000, the Avars are by far the largest ethnic group in Dagestan. The Lezgins (also seen as Lezghins and Lezgians) are the dominant group in southern Dagestan; because of the Lezgins' location, their society has been more affected by foreign cultural influence than the other groups. Like the Avars, the Dargins, divided into several distinct groups, maintain their village communities in relative isolation. The Kumyks, the largest Turkic group in the republic, are descendants of the Central Asian Kipchak tribes; they inhabit northern Dagestan.

Chechnya has been the scene of the most violent of the separatist movements against the Russian Federation (see Movements Toward Sovereignty, this ch.; Chechnya, ch. 9; Security Operations in Chechnya, ch. 10). The Chechens and Ingush belong to ancient Caucasian peoples, mainly Muslim, who have lived in the same region in the northern Caucasus Mountains since prehistoric times. The two groups speak similar languages but have different historical backgrounds. The Chechen-Ingush Autonomous Oblast was established in 1934 by combining two separate oblasts that had existed since the early 1920s. In 1936 the oblast was redesignated an autonomous republic, but both ethnic groups were exiled to Central Asia in 1944 for alleged collaboration with the invading Germans.

Buryatia possesses rich mineral resources, notably bauxite, coal, gold, iron, rare earth minerals, uranium, manganese, molybdenum, nickel, and tungsten. Livestock raising, fur farming, hunting, and fishing are important economic pursuits of the indigenous population. The main industries derive from coal extraction, timber harvesting, and engineering.

Kabardino-Balkaria, the territory of the Kabardin and Balkar peoples, is located along the north-central border of Georgia and the northern slope of the Caucasus Mountains. Occupying about 12,500 square kilometers, the autonomous republic was established in 1936 after fourteen years as an autonomous oblast. In 1944 the Balkars, like certain other North Caucasus groups, were deported to Central Asia because of their alleged collaboration with the Nazis, and the region was renamed the Kabardin Autonomous Oblast. Republic status was restored in 1957 when the Balkars were allowed to return. In 1992 both the Kabardins and the Balkars opted to establish separate republics within the Russian Federation, using an ethnic boundary established in 1863, but the incumbent parliament of the republic declared the separation unlawful. Since that time, the issue of the republic's configuration has awaited a referendum. In 1994 Kabardino-Balkaria signed a bilateral treaty with Russia defining respective areas of jurisdiction within the federation.

Although the tribal system of the Kabardins disappeared with the first contact with Russians, some aspects of the traditional clan system persist in society, and family customs are carefully preserved. Unlike other ethnic groups in the region, the Kabardins were strongly pro-Russian in tsarist times; they did not participate in the numerous uprisings of Caucasus peoples between the eighteenth and twentieth centuries. This affinity survived into the Soviet period despite the dominant position of the aristocracy in Kabardin society.

Located just southwest of the oil-rich Yamal Peninsula, Komi has become an important producer of oil and natural gas; in 1994 a pipeline leak caused extensive damage to the tundra and rivers in the Pechora Basin. Vorkuta, in the far northeastern corner of the republic near the Kara Sea, is an important Arctic coal-mining center. The capital of Komi is Syktyvkar.

Khakassia, an autonomous oblast that was redesignated an autonomous republic in 1992, is located about 1,000 kilometers west of Lake Baikal on the upper Yenisey River. Before the arrival of the first Russians in the seventeenth century, Khakassia was a regional power in Siberia, based on commercial links with the khanates of Central Asia and with the Chinese Empire. The sparsely populated republic (total population in 1995 was about 600,000) occupies 61,900 square kilometers of hilly terrain at the far northwestern end of the Altay Range. The Khakass people are a formerly nomadic Turkic Siberian group whose modern-day sedentary existence depends on sheep and goat husbandry. Russians now constitute nearly 80 percent of the population of Khakassia, although in 1989 more than three-quarters of oblast residents spoke Khakass. The Khakass population is 11 percent of the total. The republic produces timber, copper, iron ore, gold, molybdenum, and tungsten. The capital of Khakassia is Abakan.

In 1995 the republic's population was estimated at 660,000, of which 53 percent were Ossetian, 29 percent Russian, 5 percent Ingush, 2 percent Armenian, and 2 percent Ukrainian. The area of North Ossetia totals about 8,000 square kilometers. The outputs of industry and agriculture were of approximately equal value in 1993. The main industries, concentrated in the capital city of Vladikavkaz, are metalworking, wood processing, textiles, food processing, and distilling of alcoholic beverages. The main crops are corn, wheat, potatoes, hemp, and fruit. Lead, zinc, and boron are mined.

The Republic of Chuvashia, the former Chuvash ASSR, occupies about 18,000 square kilometers along the east bank of the Volga River, about sixty kilometers west of the river's confluence with the Kama River and some 700 kilometers east of Moscow. The Chuvash are a Turkic people whose territory first was settled and annexed by Ivan IV (the Terrible; r. 1533-84) in the sixteenth century (see Ivan IV, ch. 1). At that time, the Chuvash already were a settled agricultural people. In 1920 Chuvashia became an autonomous oblast, and in 1925 it was redesignated an autonomous republic. The republic declared its sovereignty within the Soviet Union in 1990. The primary economic activities are agricultural; grain and fruit production and logging are emphasized. Except for phosphates and gypsum, Chuvashia lacks significant amounts of minerals and fuels.

Despite the close ethnic relationship of the Ingush and Chechen peoples, the Ingush opted to remain within the Russian Federation after Chechnya initially declared its sovereignty in 1991. In June 1992, Ingushetia declared itself a sovereign republic within the Russian Federation. At that time, Ingushetia claimed part of neighboring North Ossetia as well. When hostilities arose between the Chechens and the Ingush following their split, Russian troops were deployed between the two ethnic territories. Ingushetia opposed Russia's occupation of Chechnya, but it supported the regime of President Boris N. Yeltsin on other issues in the mid-1990s. The capital of Ingushetia is Nazran.

After the changes of the immediate post-Soviet years, twenty-one nationality-based republics existed in the Russian Federation and were recognized in the constitution of 1993 (see table 10, Appendix). They are Adygea, Bashkortostan, Buryatia, Chechnya, Chuvashia, Dagestan, Gorno-Altay, Ingushetia, Kabardino-Balkaria, Kalmykia, Karachayevo-Cherkessia, Karelia, Khakassia, Komi, Mari El, Mordovia, North Ossetia, Sakha (Yakutia), Tatarstan, Tyva (Tuva), and Udmurtia.

The Republic of Mari El, formerly the Mari ASSR, is located in the middle Volga Basin on the north shore of the river, directly east of the city of Nizhniy Novgorod (formerly Gor'kiy). The Finno-Ugric Mari people, also known as Cheremiss, first came into contact with the Russians in the sixteenth century, when the major Tatar outpost of Kazan', just downstream from the current republic, fell to Ivan IV. The autonomous oblast of Mari was established in 1920; an autonomous republic was designated in 1936. The economy is based mainly on timber products, agriculture, and machine building; the region is not rich in mineral resources. In 1989 the largest ethnic group was the Russians, who make up 48 percent of the population, with Mari constituting 45 percent and Tatars 6 percent. The predominant religion is Russian Orthodoxy, although some traces of animism remain in the Mari population. The total population in 1995 was 754,000, about 60 percent of whom dwell in cities. The republic's area is 23,300 square kilometers. The capital city is Yoshkar Ola.

Until 1992 an autonomous oblast, the Republic of Karachayevo-Cherkessia occupies 14,100 square kilometers along the northern border of Georgia's Abkhazian Autonomous Republic. A single autonomous region was formed in 1922 for the Cherkess (Circassian) and Karachay peoples; then separate regions existed between 1928 and 1943. The regions were recombined in 1943 as an autonomous oblast. The Cherkess converted to Islam after contacts with Crimean Tatars and Turks; the Karachay are an Islamic Turkic group. The Cherkess are the remnants of a once-dominant Circassian group of tribes that were dispersed, mostly to the Ottoman Empire, by the Russian conquest of the Caucasus region in the early nineteenth century. The original Cherkess now inhabit three republics, divided among five tribal groups: the Adyghs, Kabardins, Balkars, Karachay, and Cherkess (who inherited the original generic name).

The Kalmyks, also known as the Oirots, were seminomadic Mongol people who migrated from Central Asia in the sixteenth century. In the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, much of the Kalmyk population was dispersed or extinguished by Russian authorities, and the nomadic lifestyle largely disappeared during this period.

The Balkars and the Karachay belong to the same overall Turkic group, although the latter live in the Republic of Karachayevo-Cherkessia immediately west of Kabardino-Balkaria on the north slope of the Caucasus Mountains. Like the Chechens and the Ingush, the Karachay were exiled to Central Asia during World War II. The Cherkess and the Karachay were reunited when the latter were returned from exile in 1957. Established in 1992, the republic is mainly rural, with an economy based on livestock breeding and grain cultivation. Some mining, chemical, and wood-processing facilities also exist. The population, which was estimated at 422,000 in 1990, was 42 percent Russian, 31 percent Karachay, and 10 percent Cherkess. The capital city is Cherkessk.

The Laks, a small, homogeneous group, occupy central Dagestan; their region was the original center of Islam on the upper Caspian coast. The Tabasarans, who live in southern Dagestan, are strongly influenced by the more numerous Lezgins, although folk practices such as vendettas persist. The steppe-dwelling Nogay of Dagestan, the second Turkic group in the republic, are descendents of one of two Nogay hordes of the Middle Ages; the second and larger group settled to the west, in Stavropol' Territory, and speaks a different language. The Tsakhurs, Rutuls, and Aguls are small, isolated groups of mountain people who lack a written language and largely have preserved their traditional social structures. The capital city, Makhachkala, is located in southern Dagestan, on the Caspian Sea, in a region dominated by the Lezgins.

The Chuvash speak a unique Turkic language and are believed to have descended from the same stock as the modern Bulgarians, whose ancestors migrated from the area. The Chuvash also are the only Turkic ethnic group in Russia to have converted en masse to Russian Orthodoxy. In 1995 the Chuvash constituted 68 percent of the population of their republic, which totaled about 1.4 million. Other groups are Russians (27 percent), Tatars (3 percent), and Mordovians (1 percent). The capital city is Cheboksary.

In 1995 the discovery of a large oil field in northern Tatarstan promised to boost the sagging local economy; oil extraction already was Tatarstan's most important industry. Other major industries include chemical manufacturing, machine building, and the manufacture of vehicles and paper products. The agricultural sector produces grains, potatoes, sugar beets, hemp, tobacco, apples, dairy products, and livestock.

In a region dominated by forests, lakes, and marshes, the Karelian economy is supported mainly by logging, mining, and fishing. The plentiful mineral resources include construction stone, zinc, lead, silver, copper, molybdenum, aluminum, nickel, platinum, tin, barite, and iron ore. Industries include timber and mineral processing, and the manufacturing of furniture, chemicals, and paper. The capital of Karelia is Petrozavodsk.

Formerly the Mordovian (or Mordvinian) ASSR, Mordovia (or Mordvinia) is located at the southwestern extreme of the middle Volga cluster of autonomous republics that also includes Tatarstan, Mari El, Udmurtia, and Chuvashia. Belonging to the Finno-Ugric ethnic group, the Mordovians were traditionally agriculturalists, known especially as beekeepers. The first Russians reached the area in the twelfth century, and Muscovy had taken full control of Mordovia by the seventeenth century. After receiving the status of autonomous oblast in 1930, Mordovia was declared an autonomous republic in 1934. Although the Mordovians nominally accepted Russian Orthodoxy in the seventeenth century, they retain significant remnants of their pre-Christian beliefs, as well as national costumes and social practices.

The Northern Republics

Karelia and Komi, the two northernmost republics of European Russia, occupy a sizable portion of the latitudes north of Moscow. Both are rich in natural resources, exploitation of which has caused considerable environmental damage.

The economy of Gorno-Altay is primarily agricultural, supported mainly by livestock raising in the hillsides and valleys that dominate the republic's landscape. Gold and other precious and nonprecious minerals--especially the rare earth minerals tantalum and cesium--support a small mining industry, and Gorno-Altay possesses rich coniferous forests. The main industries, mostly based on local resources, are the manufacture of clothing, footwear, and foods, and the processing of chemicals and minerals. The capital of the republic is Gorno-Altaysk.

Bashkortostan is the name assumed in 1992 by the former Bashkir ASSR, which also had been called Bashkiria. The republic occupies an area of 143,600 square kilometers in the far southeastern corner of European Russia, bounded on the east by the Ural Mountains and within seventy kilometers of the Kazakstan border at its southernmost point. The region was settled by nomads of the steppe, the Turkic Bashkirs, during the thirteenth-century domination by the Golden Horde (see Glossary; The Mongol Invasion, ch. 1). Russians arrived in the mid-sixteenth century, founding the city of Ufa, now the republic's capital. Numerous local uprisings broke out in opposition to the settlement of larger Russian populations in the centuries that followed. The Bashkirs finally give up nomadic life in the nineteenth century, adopting the agricultural lifestyle that remains their primary means of support. The traditional clan-based social structure has largely disappeared. The predominant religions of the Bashkir population are Islam--observed by the majority--and Russian Orthodoxy. A major battleground of the Russian Civil War (1918-21), in 1919 Bashkiria was the first ethnic region to be designated an autonomous republic of Russia under the new communist regime. The republic declared its sovereignty within the Soviet Union in 1990, and in 1992 it declared full independence. Two years later, Bashkortostan agreed to remain within the legislative framework of the Russian Federation, provided that mutual areas of competence were agreed upon.

Unlike the other autonomous republics, Dagestan does not derive its existence from the presence of one particular group. Besides its Russian population (9.2 percent of the total in 1989), Dagestan is home to an estimated thirty ethnic groups and eighty nationalities, who speak Caucasian, Iranian, and Turkic languages and account for more than 80 percent of the population. The ten non-Slavic groups identified by Soviet censuses within the population of about 2 million are, in order of size, Avars, Dargins, Kumyks, Lezgins, Laks, Tabasarans, Nogay, Rutuls, Tsakhurs, and Aguls. Colonies of Azerbaijanis (4.2 percent in 1989) and Chechens (3.2 percent) also exist. Knowledge of Arabic and the teachings of Islam are more widespread in Dagestan than in any other Russian republic. In the 1990s, tension has existed among the many ethnic groups, accompanied by a debate over whether the republic should be organized on a unitary or federative basis.

Besides the republics, the constitution recognizes ten autonomous regions, whose status, like that of the republics, is based on the presence of one or two ethnic groups. These jurisdictions typically are sparsely populated, rich in natural resources, and inclined to seek independence from the larger units to which they belong. The existence and configuration of Russia's other jurisdictions are determined by geographical or political factors rather than ethnicity. The ten autonomous regions are the Aga Buryat, Chukchi, Evenk, Khanty-Mansi, Koryak, Nenets, Permyak, Taymyr, Ust'-Orda Buryat, and Yamalo-Nenets autonomous regions. A Jewish Autonomous Oblast (Yevreyskaya avtonomnaya oblast', now known as Birobidzhan) was established in 1934. Russians are the majority of the population in all but the Aga Buryat Autonomous Region (whose population is 55 percent Buryats) and the Permyak Autonomous Region (whose population is 60 percent Komi-Permyak, one of the three subgroups of the Komi people). More typical is the Evenk Autonomous Region in Siberia west of the Republic of Sakha, where the Evenks are outnumbered by Russians 17,000 to 3,000. In fact, the Evenks, originally a nomadic and clan-based group whose society was nearly destroyed by Soviet collectivization in the 1930s, are among the indigenous peoples of Russia whose survival experts fear is endangered.

The former Kalmyk Autonomous Soviet Socialist Republic (Kalmyk ASSR) is located in the Caspian Lowland, on the northwestern shore of the Caspian Sea. It has an area of 75,900 square kilometers and a population of about 350,000 (in 1995).

The Republic of Dagestan, formerly the Dagestan (or Daghestan) Autonomous Soviet Socialist Republic (Dagestan ASSR), occupies 50,300 square kilometers along the western shore of the Caspian Sea, from the border with Azerbaijan in the south to a point about 150 kilometers south of the Volga River delta in the north. Arriving along the Volga, Russians first settled the area in the fifteenth century, but Dagestan was not annexed by the Russian Empire until 1813. During 1920-22 most of the Dagestani people joined the Chechens in a widespread revolt against Soviet power; some of the secret Islamic orders that led the revolt continued to practice terrorism through the Soviet period. Designated an autonomous republic in 1921, Dagestan lost some of its territory in 1941 and 1957; most of the original republic was restored in 1957. In the Soviet period, the Muslim majority suffered severe religious repression.

Gorno-Altay was established in 1922 as the Oirot Autonomous Oblast, for the Mongol people of that name. In 1948 the region was renamed the Gorno-Altay Autonomous Oblast. Redesignated a republic in 1992, the region took its present name--the Republic of Gorno-Altay, or simply Altay (the vernacular term omits gorno , which means mountainous in Russian)--in that year. Occupying 92,600 square kilometers on the north slope of the Altay Range on the northeast border of Kazakstan, Gorno-Altay had a population in 1995 of 200,000, of whom 60 percent were Russian and 31 percent Altay. About 83 percent of Russia's total Altay population lives in the Republic of Gorno-Altay. The Altay people comprise several Turkic-speaking tribes living in the Altay and Kuznetsk Alatau mountains. Several collective terms have been applied to the overall group, including "Oirot," which was used in tsarist times. The Altays first came into contact with Russians in the eighteenth century, when colonization of the region began. Some conversion to Christianity occurred in the nineteenth century, but substantial numbers of Altays returned to their previous Mongolian Lamaism in the early twentieth century, as part of a general movement against Russian domination. In the post-Soviet era, most of the republic's population is Orthodox Christian.

Tatarstan has a diversified, well-developed economy that has been the basis of bold claims of independence from the Russian Federation beginning in 1992 (see Movements Toward Sovereignty, this ch.). The first World Congress of Tatars was held in the republic's capital, Kazan', in June 1992. About 1,200 delegates attended from Tatarstan and the Tatar diaspora to discuss the republic's status. In 1994 a bilateral agreement with the Yeltsin administration satisfied some of the republic's claims to sovereignty.

The Republic of Komi extends westward from the northern end of the Ural Mountains across the Pechora River basin; the republic's westernmost extension is about 250 kilometers east of Arkhangel'sk and the White Sea. The region, which as a republic occupies 415,900 square kilometers, was annexed by the principality of Muscovy in the fourteenth century, principally because of its rich fur-trading potential. In the eighteenth century, Russians began exploiting mineral and timber resources. The Komi people, a Finno-Ugric group, traditionally have herded reindeer, hunted, and fished. They nominally accepted Russian Orthodoxy in the fourteenth century. In 1921 the Soviet government designated an autonomous oblast for the Komi, and in 1936 the oblast became an autonomous republic. The Komi include three ethnic subgroups: the Permyaks, who inhabit the Permyak Autonomous Region south of the republic; the Yazua, who live in both the Republic of Komi and the Permyak region; and the Zyryan, who account for the majority of the republic's Komi population. Altogether, in 1994 the Komi constituted 23 percent of the 1.2 million people of their republic, which had a 58 percent Russian majority. Long isolated by the forbidding climate of their region, the Komi of the north have intermixed with other ethnic groups only in recent decades.

Udmurtia, formerly the Udmurt ASSR, occupies 42,100 square kilometers north of Tatarstan on the lower reaches of the Kama River, northeast of the confluence of the Kama and the Volga. The Udmurts are a Finno-Ugric people whose territory was occupied by the Kazan' Khanate in the fourteenth and fifteenth centuries, then passed to Russian control when Ivan IV captured Kazan' in 1552. Originally established as the Votyak Autonomous Oblast in 1920, the territory was renamed for the Udmurts in 1932, then redesignated an autonomous republic in 1934. In 1995 the republic's population was about 1.5 million, of which 59 percent was Russian, 31 percent Udmurt, 7 percent Tatar, 1 percent Ukrainian, and 1 percent Mari.

Most of the rural population raises livestock in the republic's hilly terrain. Dagestan is rich in oil, natural gas, coal, and other minerals; swift rivers offer abundant hydroelectric-power potential. The polyglot nature of Dagestan has made linguistic unity impossible; among the major groups, only the Nogay language is said to be declining in usage. Besides Azerbaijani and Russian, six languages were recognized as official languages in the late Soviet period.

You can read more regarding this subject on the following websites:

Ethnic groups in Russia - Wikipedia
Extractive Industries and Indigenous Minority Peoples
[start kap] Resource Extraction from Territories of
Indigenous people in N-W Russia - Barentsinfo

Russia Country Studies index
Country Studies main page