In this episode of 80 Days: An Exploration Podcast, thanks to our backers on Patreon, we’ll be talking about Kalmykia, a republic and country of Russia located directly north of the North Caucasus in Eastern Europe, between Ukraine and Kazakhstan, only around 200 miles or 350km north of Georgia. The Kalmyks, of Mongol origin, migrated to the Caspian region in the 17th century from Central Asia. They were mainly nomadic cattle breeders. Kalmykiya was established in 1920 as an autonomous oblast (region); in 1936 it became a republic, which was abolished in 1944 when the Kalmyks were exiled for alleged collaboration with the Germans during WW2.
The territory of Kalmykia is unique in that it has been the home in successive periods to many major world religions and ideologies. 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. It now stands as the only Buddhist region in Europe.
The republic covers an area of around 76,000 square kilometres (or almost 30,000 square miles), making it a similar size to Panama, Czechia or the US state of South Carolina. With a population of about 275,000 residents Kalmykia ranks among the smallest of Russia’s federal districts in terms of population.
The Kalmyks benefit from their relatively high levels of education and strong international connections. Overseas communities are found today in many parts of Europe and in the United States. The head of the religious establishment in Kalmykia itself was born in Philadelphia before being recognized by the Dalai Lama as a reincarnation of a Buddhist saint.
The capital and largest city of the republic is Elista, which has gained a reputation for, of all things, international chess. And for you Star Wars fans, the Ewok language was based on Kalmyk, because George Lucas thought it sounded so odd.
As we mention in the episode, this finale to season 5 was voted on by our Patreon backers, and thanks as always to all of them for their support. You can sign up to Patreon to get a say in the episodes we cover in the seasons to come.
Some further reading for this episode:
- Surviving in Isolation, Where the Steppe Has Turned to Sand – NY Times
- Stupas and their Consecration in Contemporary Kalmykia – Valeria Gazizova
- Early Herders of the Eurasian Steppe – Penn Museum
- The Kalmyks – E.B. Guchinova
- Kalmyk Cultural Heritage Project – University of Cambridge
- A Brief Military History of the Kalmyk – Arltan Baskhaev
- Kalmyks, Oirat Descendants in Russia : a Historical and Ethnographic Sketch, Bakaeva, Senri Ethnological Studies
- Muammar Gaddafi finds he has a chess mate in Kirsan Ilyumzhinov – The Guardian
- Desertification in Russia: Problems and solutions (an example in the Republic of Kalmykia-Khalmg Tangch) – I S Zonn
Music used in this episode:
- Kalmyk Songs and Dances
- Throat Singing
- National Folk Dances
- Duelling Instruments
- UVSH-khan – lament about the exodus
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See you in Season 6!