The republic occupies an area of 143,600 square kilometres in the far southeastern corner of European Russia, bounded on the east by the Ural Mountains and within seventy kilometres 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. 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, which is observed by the majority, and Russian Orthodoxy. A major battleground of the Russian Civil War, 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.
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. 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 %), Tatars (28 %), Bashkirs (22 %), Chuvash (3 %), and Mari (3 %).