According to the Kurgan hypothesis, the upland regions of modern-day Kalmykia formed part of the cradle of Indo-European culture. Hundreds of Kurgans can be seen in these areas, known as the Indo-European Urheimat (Samara culture, Sredny Stog culture, Yamna culture).

The territory of Kalmykia is unique in that it has been the home in successive periods to many major world religions and ideologies. Some of the first people to invade this territory were Scythians, Sarmatians. Prehistoric paganism and shamanism gave way to Judaism amongst some of the Khazars (who included Muslims and Christians in equal or greater numbers as well). This was succeeded by Islam with the Alans while the Mongol hordes brought Tengriism, and the later Nogais were Muslims, before their replacement by the present-day Buddhist Oirats/Kalmyks. With the annexation of the territory by the Russian Empire, Christianity arrived with Slavic settlers, before all religion was suppressed after the Russian Revolution. Shamanism has in all probability remained a constant, often hidden, the substrate of folk practice, as it is today.

Kalmyk autonomy

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The ancestors of the Kalmyks, the Oirats, migrated from the steppes of southern Siberia on the banks of the Irtysh River, reaching the Lower Volga region by the early-17th century. Historians have given various explanations for the move, but generally recognise that the Kalmyks sought abundant pastures for their herds. Another motivation may have involved escaping the growing dominance of the neighbouring Dzungar Mongol tribe.[17] They reached the lower Volga region in or about 1630. That land, however, was not uncontested pastures, but rather the homeland of the Nogai Horde, a confederation of Turkic-speaking nomadic tribes. The Kalmyks expelled the Nogais, who fled to the Caucasian plains and to the Crimean Khanate, areas (at least theoretically) under the control of the Ottoman Empire. Some Nogai groups sought the protection of the Russian garrison at Astrakhan. The remaining nomadic Mongol Oirat tribes became vassals of the Kalmyk Khan.

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 had been recently annexed by the Tsardom of Russia, Moscow was in no position to settle the area with Russian colonists. This area under Kalmyk control would eventually be called the Kalmyk Khanate.

Within twenty-five years of settling in the Lower Volga region, the Kalmyks became subjects of the Tsar of Russia. 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 practised 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 (ruled 1672–1724, khan 1690–1724). 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 neighbours. Successful military expeditions were also conducted in the Caucasus. The Khanate experienced economic prosperity from free trade with Russian border towns, with China, with Tibet and with Muslim neighbours. During this era, the Kalmyks also kept close contacts with their Oirat kinsmen in Dzungaria, as well as with the Dalai Lama in Tibet.

Russian Civil War and the flight of the Don Kalmyks

Kalmyk Khurul Tsagan Aman

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 the 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.

Soviet periodEdit

Coat of arms of Kalmyk ASSR

In July 1919, Bolshevik leader Vladimir Lenin issued an appeal[18] to the Kalmyk people, calling for them to revolt and to aid the Red Army. Lenin promised to provide the Kalmyks, among other things, a sufficient quantity of land for their own use. The promise came to fruition on November 4, 1920, when a resolution was passed by the All-Russian Central Executive Committee proclaiming the formation of the Kalmyk Autonomous Oblast. Fifteen years later, on October 22, 1935, the Oblast was elevated to republic status, Kalmyk Autonomous Soviet Socialist Republic.

In line with the policy of Korenizatsiya based on the concept of titular nations, the government of the Soviet Union adopted a strategy of national delimitation, while at the same time enforcing the Leninist principle of democratic centralism. According to Dorzha Arbakov, decentralized 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.[19]

After establishing control, the Soviet authorities did not overtly enforce an anti-religion policy, other than through passive means, because it sought to bring Mongolia[20] and Tibet[21] 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 1921 famine. The passive measures that were taken by Soviet authorities to control the people included the imposition of a harsh tax to close places of worship and religious schools. The Cyrillic script replaced Todo Bichig, the traditional Kalmyk vertical script.

On January 22, 1922, Mongolia proposed to migrate the Kalmyks during the famine in Kalmykia, but Russia refused. 71–72,000 Kalmyks died during the famine.[22][dubious – discuss] Revolts erupted among the Kalmyks in 1926 and 1930 (on 1942–1943, see the next section). In March 1927, Soviet deported 20,000 Kalmyks to the tundras of Siberia and Karelia.

The Kalmyks of the Don Voisko Oblast were subject to the policies of de-cossackization where villages were destroyed, khuruls (temples) and monasteries were burned down and executions were indiscriminate. At the same time, grain, livestock and other foodstuffs were seized.[citation needed] In December 1927 the Fifteenth Party Congress of the Soviet Union passed a resolution calling for the “voluntary” collectivization of agriculture. The change in policy was accompanied by a new campaign of repression, directed initially against the small farming class. The objective of this campaign was to suppress the resistance of farming peasants to the full-scale collectivization of agriculture.

World War IIEdit

On June 22, 1941, the German army 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. 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 between 100[23] and upwards of 700, according to documents held in the Kalmyk State Archives.[24] The campaign was focused primarily on recruiting and organizing Kalmyk men into anti-Soviet militia units.

Kalmüken Verband Dr. Doll (Kalmukian Volunteers)

Abwehrtrupp 103 (Kalmukian Volunteers)

Kalmücken-Legion or Kalmücken-Kavallerie-Korps (Kalmukian Volunteers)

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.

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 had made their way to Austria where the Kalmyk soldiers and their family members became post-war refugees.

Those who did not want to leave formed militia units that chose to stay behind and harass the oncoming Soviet Red Army.

Although a number of Kalmyks chose to fight against the Soviet Union, the majority by and large did not, 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 a Hero of the Soviet Union.

1943 Kalmyk deportationEdit

Memorial to the deportation in Troitskoye

On December 27, 1943, Soviet authorities declared that “many Kalmyks” were guilty of cooperation with the German Army[26] and cited that as a justification to order the deportation of the entire Kalmyk population, including those who had served with the Soviet Army , to various locations in Central Asia and Siberia. In conjunction with the deportation, the Kalmyk ASSR was abolished and its territory was split between adjacent Astrakhan, Rostov and Stalingrad Oblasts and Stavropol Krai. To completely obliterate any traces of the Kalmyk people, the Soviet authorities renamed the former republic’s towns and villages.[27]

Post-war KalmykiaEdit


Elista, the capital of Kalmykia, 9 May 2015.

Due to their widespread dispersal in Siberia, their language and culture suffered a possibly irreversible decline. Khrushchev finally allowed their return in 1957, when they found their homes, jobs, and land occupied by imported Russians and Ukrainians, who remained.[citation needed] On January 9, 1957, Kalmykia again became an autonomous oblast, and on July 29, 1958, an autonomous republic within the Russian SFSR.
In the following years, bad planning of agricultural and irrigation projects resulted in widespread desertification. On orders from Moscow, sheep production increased beyond levels that the fragile steppe could sustain, resulting in 1.4 million acres (5666 km2) of the man-made desert.[28] To ramp up output, economically nonviable industrial plants were constructed.
After the dissolution of the USSR, Kalmykia kept the status of an autonomous republic within the newly formed Russian Federation (effective March 31, 1992)