The Buryat Republic is situated in the southern part of East Siberia, along the eastern shore of Lake Baikal and bordering Mongolia to the south. The republic's area is 351,300 km2. There are four main landscape units: East-Sayan upland (height up to 3491 m, Mt Mynky Sarduk); the Baikal mountain area with ridges Khamar-Daban, Ulan-Burgasu, Barguzinskiy; Selenginsky midland with mountain ridges Zagan-Daban, Zagan-Hurtei, Zaganskiy; and the Vitim plateau. Within the limits of these mountain systems are extensive intermountain depressions, such as Gusinozerskiy, Udinskiy, Barguzinskiy, and Verkhneangarskiy. Buryatia has many lakes and rivers. Lake Baikal, most of which is in Buryatia's territory, contains 25% of the world's freshwater stocks. The rivers belong to the Yenisey (with Lake Baikal) and the Lena River catchment areas. The largest rivers are the Selenga, Barguzin, and Upper Angara, which flow into Lake Baikal. In the western part of the republic, the Irkut, Kitoy, and Oka rivers (Yenisey basin) flow. The large river Vitim is a tributary of the great Lena River.
Buryatiya Republic has extensive mineral resources, including marble, coal, wolfram, molybdenum, gold,
lead, zinc, quartz, and asbestos. Most of the coal is extracted from open pit mines (brown coal deposits of Gusinoozersky and Tugnuisky). Of the metallic minerals, the iron ore (Kurbin-Eravninskiy iron ore area) and manganese (Ikatskiy ridge and Eravninskiy valley) deposits are significant. Kholodninskoe lead-zinc and Dzarchikhinskoe molybdenum deposits are of regional importance.
Buryatiya has taiga, forest-steppe, and steppe zones. Forests occupy 65% of the region, mainly a light coniferous, broad-leaved taiga, with some pine forest. Sable, squirrel, fox, stoat, and muskrat are hunted for fur; deer and elk also roam the taiga. The rivers and lakes are rich in fish. There are two national parks (Zabaikalskiy and Tunkinskiy) and three nature reserves (Baikalskiy, Barguzinskiy, and Dzerginskiy). Buryat has an extreme continental climate, with long, cold windless winters, with low snowfall. Summer is short, warm, and dry. The average temperature in January is -24°C, and in July +17°C.
According to the 1989 Soviet census, there were 1,041,000 people, representatives of more than 100 nationalities, living in Buryatia. fifty-seven percent of the population is urban, about 300,000 living in the capital Ulan-Ude (formerly Verkhneudinsk). Russians form the majority (70%) of the population; other ethnic groups are Buryats (24%), Ukrainians (2.2%), Tatars (1%), Byelorussians (0.5%), and Evenki (0.2%). Since 1992, the population of the republic has been decreasing, as the disintegration of the Soviet Union stimulated migration. At the same time, many Buryats came back from regions of the Russian Federation and the former Soviet republics.
The indigenous population of Buryatiya are Buryats who speak the Buryat language (of the Mongolian group of Altaic languages). Until 1930, most Buryat used the classical Mongolian script; however, since 1931 they have used the Russian (Cyrillic)
script. The main traditional economy of the Buryats was cattle breeding. They bred cattle, horses, sheep, and camels. Later, under the influence of the Russian peasants, some of the Buryats began to be interested in agriculture. Despite Christianization, many Buryats remained adherents of shamanism and Buddhism. During Soviet rule, both shamanism and Buddhism underwent persecution. In modern Buryatiya, since the late 1980s and early 1990s, a rough process of Buddhist revival has been observed, old temples have been restored, and more than 20 datsans (Buddhist monasteries) have been built. Shamanism also has been undergoing a revival.
Evenki also are representatives of the indigenous population of Buryatia. They live mainly in the northern regions, in Bowntovskii and Severobaikalskii districts of Buryatia. The Evenki were formed on the basis of mixing of aboriginal tribes of East Siberia, related to ancient Yukagir and Tungus-Manchurian tribes. They had pagan beliefs and shamanism from old times.
Russians are the major ethnic group in Buryatia. In the middle of the 17th century, Russians began expanding into the present territory of modern Buryatia. First they were frontier guards, officials and merchants, and then in the 19th century there were peasant-settlers. The majority of the Russians are members of the Orthodox Church. A specific ethno-cultural group of Old Believers (starovertsy), so-called "semejskie," is distinguished: these are a sect of the Russian Orthodox Church that migrated to parts of Siberia after a split in the 17th century.
Prior to the Russian Cossacks' conquest of Eastern Siberia, the Buryat-Mongol nomad tribes created early feudal states on the basis of military unions of tribes. For more than 300 years, Buryat was a part of Russia. After the revolution in February 1917, the movement for a cultural-national autonomy developed within the framework of the Russian state formed after the October revolution. In January 1922, the Buryat-Mongol Region of the Russian Socialist Federal Soviet Republic was established by the decree of the All Union Central Executive Committee. At the same time, the Buryat-Mongolian Autonomous Region was created in the Far East Republic. In 1923, they were united in the Buryat-Mongolian ASSR in structure of the RSFSR. It included the territory of the Pribaikal Province with Russian population. In 1937, a number of areas were removed from the Buryat-Mongolian ASSR, from which the Buryat independent districts Ust-Ordynsky and Aginsky were formed in the Irkutsk and Chita regions, respectively. Some areas with Buryat populations (Olkhonsky and some part of Ulan-Ononsky aimak) were not included in the Autonomous Regions. The decree of 1937 was an obvious historical injustice and one of the factors for the destabilized modern ethnopolitical situation in the republic. In 1958, the Buryat-Mongol ASSR was renamed as the Buryat ASSR. On October 10, 1990, the Supreme Soviet of Buryatiya proclaimed state sovereignty and changed the former name to the Buryat Soviet Socialist Republic, and in January, 1992 it was named as the Buryatiya Republic.
Buryatiya is a parliamentary republic with a presidential form of government, a subject of the Russian Federation. The powers of the president, parliament (National Khural), and government of the republic are determined by the Constitution of the republic, accepted in February 22, 1994. The first president of the Buryatiya Republic is Potapov Leonid Vasilievich, elected in June 1994. Official languages in the republic are Russian and Buryat. The National Khural is a representative and legislative body of the republic, it is elected for a period of four years, and consists of 65 members, taking into consideration its territorial and national representation.
In the early 1990s, there was an organizational registration of political parties (sets) and movements in Buryatiya. Among them were the Buryat-Mongolian National Party, movement "Negedel," Independent Democratic Party of Buryatiya, a party "Sport Buryatiya," and Buryat branches of federal parties. By autumn 1993, by elections to the Federal Assembly and adoption of the new Constitution of the Russian Federation, five electoral blocks, including about 30 various parties and movements, were generated.
Great cultural changes resulted from the democratic transformations. Since the early 1990s, there has been reorganization of all levels of the educational system. National schools with training in the Buryat language have been opened, and study of the history, culture, and language of the Buryat people was introduced. In the Soviet era the educational level of the Buryat population was one of the highest in the USSR, and the high level of education has been maintained. In 1989, of 1000 people aged 15 or above, 183 had higher education. Today in Buryatiya there are four state higher educational institutions. By the number of its students, the republic surpasses some of the west European countries.
The basic industries of Buryatiya are mechanical engineering and metalworking; wood and pulp and paper industries; production of building materials; and food processing. Extraction of brown coal and graphite, and extraction and processing of tungsten and molybdenum ores and apatite are conducted. Gusinoozersky hydroelectric station is a basic supplier of the electric power in the republic. The main industrial centers are Ulan-Ude, Gusinoozersk, Zakamensk, Selenginsk, and Kamensk settlements.
The republic has old cattle-breeding traditions. They breed cattle for meat and milk, pigs, sheep, and birds. They sow fodder cultures and grains such as wheat.
Lake Baikal and the Selenga and Barguzin rivers are navigable. The Trans-Siberian and Baikal-Amur railways cross the republic, and most freight traffic is carried by train. A health resort economy has been developing in Arshan, Sayany, and Goryachinsk. Lake Baikal, a World Heritage Site, generates considerable tourism.
See also Evenki
Abaeva, L. & S. Tsyrenov, Respublika Buriatiia: Model' etno-logicheskogo monitoringa [The Buryatiya Republic. Mode of ethnological monitoring], Moscow: Institut etnologii i antropologii im. Miklukho-Maklaia RAN, 1999 Hartmuth, M. Buriats, Encyclopedia of the World's Minorities, edited by C. Skutsch, New York and London: Routledge, 2004 Humphrey, Caroline, "Buryatiya and the Buryats." In The Nationalities Question in the Post-Soviet States, edited by Graham Smith, London: Longman, 1996 Narody Rossii. Entsiklopedia [Peoples of Russia: Encyclopedia], edited by V.A. Tishkov, Moscow: Bolshaia Rossiiskaia entsiklopediia, 1994 Regiony Rossii: Statisticheskii Sbornik [Regions of Russia: Statistical Handbook], 2 volumes, Moscow: Goscomstat of Russia, 2000
Republic of Buryatia website: http://www.buryatia.ru/burya-tia/gov/english/
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