According to the 2002 Census, Kalmyks make up 53.3% of the republic's population. Other groups include Russians (33.6%), Dargins (7,295, or 2.5%), Chechens (5,979, or 2.0%), Kazakhs (5,011, or 1.7%), Turks (3,124, or 1.1%), Ukrainians (2,505, or 0.9%), Avars (2,305, or 0.8%), ethnic Germans (1,643, or 0.6%), and a host of smaller groups, each accounting for less than 0.5% of the total population.
|census 1926||census 1939||census 1959||census 1970||census 1979||census 1989||census 2002|
|Kalmyks||107,026 (75.6%)||107,315 (48.6%)||64,882 (35.1%)||110,264 (41.1%)||122,167 (41.5%)||146,316 (45.4%)||155,938 (53.3%)|
|Russians||15,212 (10.7%)||100,814 (45.7%)||103,349 (55.9%)||122,757 (45.8%)||125,510 (42.6%)||121,531 (37.7%)||98,115 (33.6%)|
|Others||19,356 (13.7%)||12,555 (5.7%)||16,626 (9.0%)||34,972 (13.0%)||46,850 (15.9%)||54,732 (17.0%)||38,357 (13.1%)|
Vital Statistics for 2007: Source
Birth Rate: 14.29 per 1000
Death Rate: 11.09 per 1000
Net Immigration: -8.9 per 1000
NGR: +0.32% per Year
PGR: -0.57% per Year
The Kalmyks settled in the wide open steppes from Saratov in the north to Astrakhan on the Volga delta in the south and to the Terek River in the southwest. They also encamped on both sides of the Volga River, from the Don River in the west to the Ural River in the east. Although these territories were recently annexed by Russia, it was in no position to settle the area with Russian colonists. This area under Kalmyk control would eventually be called the Kalmyk Khanate.
Within 25 years of settling in the lower Volga region, the Kalmyks became subjects of the Tsar. In exchange for protecting Russia’s southern border, the Kalmyks were promised an annual allowance and access to the markets of Russian border settlements. The open access to Russian markets was supposed to discourage mutual raiding on the part of the Kalmyks and of the Russians and Bashkirs, a Russian-dominated Turkic people, but this was not often the practice. In addition, Kalmyk allegiance was often nominal, as the Kalmyk Khans practiced self-government, based on a set of laws they called the Great Code of the Nomads (Iki Tsaadzhin Bichig).
The Kalmyk Khanate reached its peak of military and political power under Ayuka Khan (1669–1724). During his era, the Kalmyk Khanate fulfilled its responsibility to protect the southern borders of Russia and conducted many military expeditions against its Turkic-speaking neighbors. Successful military expeditions were also conducted in the Caucasus. The Khanate experienced economic prosperity from free trade with Russian border towns, China, Tibet and with their Muslim neighbors. During this era, the Kalmyks also kept close contacts with their Oirat kinsmen in Dzungaria, as well as the Dalai Lama in Tibet.
After the death of Ayuka Khan, the Tsarist government implemented policies that gradually chipped away at the autonomy of the Kalmyk Khanate. These policies, for instance, encouraged the establishment of Russian and German settlements on pastures the Kalmyks roamed in the lower Volga region. The settlers took over land used by Kalmyks to feed their livestock and, in some cases, forced Kalmyks into servitude. The Russian Orthodox church, by contrast, pressured many Kalmyks to adopt Orthodoxy. The Tsarist government imposed a council on the Kalmyk Khan, diluting his authority, while continuing to expect the Kalmyk Khan to provide cavalry units to fight on behalf of Russia. By the mid-18th century, Kalmyks were increasingly disillusioned with Russian encroachment and interference in its internal affairs.
Ubashi Khan, the great-grandson Ayuka Khan and the last Kalmyk Khan, decided to return his people to their ancestral homeland, Dzungaria. Under his leadership, approximately 200,000 Kalmyks migrated directly across the Central Asian desert. Along the way, many Kalmyks were killed in ambushes or captured and enslaved by their Kazakh and Kyrgyz enemies. Many also died of starvation or thirst. After several grueling months of travel, only 96,000 Kalmyks reached the Manchu Empire's western outposts Xinjiang near the Balkhash Lake.
After failing to stop the flight, Catherine the Great abolished the Kalmyk Khanate, transferring all governmental powers to the Governor of Astrakhan. The Kalmyks who remained in Russian territory continued to fight in Russian wars, e.g., the Napoleonic Wars (1812–1815), the Crimean War (1853–1856) and Ottoman wars. They gradually created fixed settlements with houses and temples, instead of their transportable round felt yurts. In 1865, Elista, the future capital of the Kalmykia, was built. This settlement process lasted until well after the Russian Revolution.
After the October Revolution in 1917, many Don Kalmyks joined the White Russian army and fought under the command of Generals Denikin and Wrangel during the Russian Civil War. Before the Red Army broke through to the Crimean Peninsula towards the end of 1920, a large group of Kalmyks fled from Russia with the remnants of defeated White Army to the Black Sea ports of Turkey.
The majority of the refugees chose to resettle in Belgrade, Serbia. Other, much smaller, groups chose Sofia, Bulgaria; Prague, Czechoslovakia; and Paris and Lyon, France. The Kalmyk refugees in Belgrade built a Buddhist temple there in 1929.
Contrary to the proclamations of the All-Russian Central Executive Committee and of the Bolshevik propaganda slogan promising the "right of nations to self determination," the Oblast and its successor government were not autonomous governing bodies. Its nominal leaders, radical Communist intellectuals, failed to promote and protect the interests of the Kalmyk people, because real power was concentrated in the hands of the Soviet authorities in Moscow. Dorzha Arbakov, a Kalmyk school teacher turned anti-Soviet partisan fighter, contended that these governing bodies were a tool the Bolsheviks used to control the Kalmyk people:
... the Soviet authorities were greatly interested in Sovietizing Kalmykia as quickly as possible and with the least amount of bloodshed. Although the Kalmyks alone were not a significant force, the Soviet authorities wished to win popularity in the Asian and Buddhist worlds by demonstrating their evident concern for the Buddhists in Russia.
In spite of the efforts of Soviet authorities to gain popular support, the Kalmyk people remained loyal first and foremost to their traditional leaders, the nobility and the clergy. This loyalty was deeply ingrained over several centuries, even bordering on fanatical. To the Soviet authorities, these traditional leaders were sources of anti-Communism and Kalmyk nationalism. Later on, the authorities would terrorize these leaders through executions, deportations to labor camps in Siberia and the confiscation of property.
After establishing control, the Soviet authorities did not actively enforce an anti-religion policy, other than through passive means, because it sought to bring Mongolia and Tibet into its sphere of influence. The government also was compelled to respond to domestic disturbances resulting from the economic policies of War Communism and the famine its policies induced in 1921.
The passive measures taken by Soviet authorities to control the people included the imposition of a harsh church tax to close churches, monasteries and parish schools. Public education became mandatory to indoctrinate the youth. The Cyrillic script replaced Todo Bichig, the traditional Kalmyk vertical script. In spite of these measures, some of the better known Kalmyk monasteries were able to expand their religious and educational work.
The Kalmyks of the Don Host, however, were not so fortunate. They were subject to the policies of de-cossackization where villages were destroyed, khuruls and monasteries were burned down and executions were indiscriminate. At the same time, grain, livestock and other food stuffs were seized. By 1925 the Don Host did not have any khuruls, monasteries or practicing clergy.
In December 1927 the Fifteenth Party Congress of the Soviet Union passed a resolution calling for the "voluntary" collectivization of agriculture, but a shortage of grain in the following year compelled the Soviet authorities to use force. The change in policy was accompanied by a new campaign of systematic and merciless repression, directed initially against the small farming class. The objective of this campaign was to suppress the resistance of the farming peasants to full-scale collectivization of agriculture.
In 1931, Stalin ordered the collectivization, closed the Buddhist monasteries, and burned the Kalmyks' religious texts. He deported all monks and all herdsmen owning more than 500 sheep to Siberia. The forced collectivization (as well as the dry, treeless landscape) was unsuited to the Kalmyk temperament and was a social, economic, and cultural disaster. About 60,000 Kalmyks died during the great famine of 1932 to 1933.
On June 22, 1941 the German army successfully invaded the Soviet Union. By August 12, 1942 the German Army Group South captured Elista, the capital of the Kalmyk ASSR. After capturing the Kalmyk territory, German army officials established a propaganda campaign with the assistance of anti-communist Kalmyk nationalists, including white emigre, Kalmyk exiles. The campaign was focused primarily on recruiting and organizing Kalmyk men into anti-Soviet, militia units. The sole purpose of this effort was to use the Kalmyk fighters to protect the Army Group South's flank from Soviet partisan fighters, thereby enabling the German army to use its soldiers exclusively on the frontlines against the Soviet Red Army.
Given the degree to which the Kalmyk people suffered under Stalin’s oppressive rule, the German army did not have trouble finding recruits among the Kalmyks as well as other ethnicities (viz., Ukrainians, Cossacks and Muslims) in the southern part of the Soviet Union. In fact, the local population throughout the southern part of the Soviet Union initially treated the German army as liberators from Communism, and the German army officials immediately followed through on their propaganda pledges. In the Kalmyk ASSR, for instance, the German army officials began to dismantle the collectives and to return the land the Kalmyk people. They also allowed the Kalmyks to openly practice their Buddhist faith without fear from persecution from the local governing authority, comprised mostly of Kalmyks handpicked by the Germans.
German benevolence, however, did not extend to all people living in the Kalmyk ASSR. At least 93 Jewish families, for example, were rounded up and killed. The total Jewish dead numbered approximately 300.
Initially, no less than 3,000 Kalmyk men accepted the offer to join the German army, forming the following units:
The Kalmyk units were extremely successful in flushing out and killing Soviet partisans. But by December 1942, the Soviet Red army retook the Kalmyk ASSR, forcing the Kalmyks assigned to those units to flee, in some cases, with their wives and children in hand. It is believed that between 10,000 to 15,000 Kalmyks fled with the German army.
The Kalmyk units retreated westward into unfamiliar territory with the retreating German army and were reorganized into the Kalmuck Legion, although the Kalmyks themselves preferred the name Kalmuck Cavalry Corps. The casualty rate also increased substantially during the retreat, especially among the Kalmyk officers. To replace those killed, the German army imposed forced conscription, taking in teenagers and middle-aged men. As a result, the overall effectiveness of the Kalmyk units declined.
By the end of the war, the remnants of the Kalmuck Cavalry Corps made its way to Austria where the Kalmyk soldiers and their family members became post-war refugees. As part of Operation Keelhaul, the refugees were returned to the Soviet authorities and were killed.
Those who did not want to leave formed militia units that chose to stay behind and harass the oncoming Soviet Red Army. These units were eventually overrun and all of the remaining Kalmyk militiamen were hunted down and killed by the NKVD.
Although a large number of Kalmyks chose to fight against the Soviet Union, the majority by-and-large remained loyal to their country, fighting the German army in regular Soviet Red army units and in partisan resistance units behind the battlelines throughout the Soviet Union. Before their removal from the Soviet Red Army and from partisan resistance units after December 1943, approximately 8,000 Kalmyks were awarded various orders and medals, including 21 Kalmyk men who were recognized as the Hero of the Soviet Union.
In December 1943, Soviet authorities declared the Kalmyk people guilty of cooperation with the German Army and ordered the deportation of the entire Kalmyk population to various locations in Central Asia and Siberia. In conjunction with the deportation, the Kalmyk ASSR was abolished and its territory was divided and transferred to the adjacent regions, viz., the Astrakhan and Stalingrad Oblasts and Stavropol Krai. To completely obliterate any traces of the Kalmyk people, the Soviet authorities renamed the territories' towns and villages.
Kalmyk soldiers serving in the Red Army were also deported.
The population transfer occurred immediately in the middle of the evening. No one was given advanced notification or time to assemble their belongings, including warm clothing, in preparation for their forced relocation. They were transported in trucks from their homes to the local railway stations where they were loaded in unheated cattle cars. In many cases, the cars were filled beyond capacity and did not contain bathrooms. Food was not provided, and water fell through the holes and cracks in the cattle car in the form of snow. As a result of these harsh conditions, many children and elderly men and woman died en route. It is believed that approximately one-third of the Kalmyk population perished en route and shortly after their arrival to their destination, primarily from a lack of appropriate attire in a severely cold climate and from inadequate food and shelter.
In the following years bad planning of agricultural and irrigation projects resulted in widespread desertification, and economically unviable industrial plants were constructed. With the collapse of the Soviet regime the economy also disintegrated, causing widespread social hardship and increasing depopulation of rural areas lacking in resources and facilities.
As of 2006, the Head of the Republic is Kirsan Nikolayevich Ilyumzhinov, who is also the president of the world chess organization FIDE. He has spent much of his fortune in promoting chess in Kalmykia - where chess is compulsory in all primary schools - and also overseas, with Elista, the capital of Kalmykia, hosting many international tournaments.
In the late 1990s, there were allegations that the Ilyumzhinov government was spending much government money on projects to do with chess. These were published in Sovietskaya Kalmykia, the opposition newspaper in Elista. Larisa Yudina, the journalist who investigated these accusations, was kidnapped and murdered in 1998. Two men, Sergei Vaskin and Tyurbi Boskomdzhiv, who worked in the local civil service, were charged with her murder. After prolonged investigations by the Russian authorities, both men were found guilty and jailed, but there was no evidence that Ilyumzhinov was in any way responsible.
Annual budget: revenues and expenditures: about $100 million. Annual oil production: about 200,000 metric tonnes.
Although Sart Kalmyks are Muslims, Kalmyks elsewhere by and large remain faithful to the Gelugpa Order of Tibetan Buddhism. In Kalmykia, for example, the Gelugpa Order with the assistance of the government has constructed numerous Buddhist temples. In addition, the Kalmyk people recognize Tenzin Gyatso, 14th Dalai Lama as their spiritual leader and Erdne Ombadykow, a Kalmyk American, as the supreme lama of the Kalmyk people. The Dalai Lama has visited Elista on a number of occasions.
The Kalmyks have also established communities in the United States, primarily in Pennsylvania and New Jersey. The majority are descended from those Kalmyks who fled from Russia in late 1920 to France, Yugoslavia, Bulgaria, and, later, Germany. Many of those Kalmyks living in Germany at the end of World War II were eventually granted passage to the United States.
As a consequence of their decades-long migration through Europe, many older Kalmyks are fluent in German, French and Serbo-Croatian, in addition to Russian and their native Kalmyk language. There are several Kalmyk Buddhist temples in Monmouth County, New Jersey, where the vast majority of American Kalmyks reside, as well as a Tibetan Buddhist Learning Center and monastery in Washington Township, New Jersey. At one point, there was a Kalmyk Buddhist Temple in Belgrade, Serbia.
The word Kalmyk means 'those who remained'— origin is unknown but this name was known centuries before a large part of Kalmyks moved back from Volga River to Dzhungaria in the 18th century.
There are three cultural subgroups within the Kalmyk nation: Turguts, Durbets (Durwets), and Buzavs (Oirats, who joined Russian Cossacks, else we can find some villages of Hoshouts and Zungars. The 'Durbets' subgroup includes the Chonos tribe (literally meaning "a tribe of the Wolf", other names - "Shonos", "Chinos", "A-Shino" or "A-Chino"), which is considered to be one of the most ancient tribes in the world, dating back to 6th to 11th century.
Kalmykia staged the 2006 World Chess Championship between Veselin Topalov and Vladimir Kramnik.
Not long ago the largest Buddhist temple in Europe was constructed in the capital of Kalmykia, Elista.