Over the border
OK, it’s a wrap on Krasnoyarsk, at least for now. I was going to highlight the “span” covered by the culture from night-clubs to theatre… but assume for now that there IS a span and I hope to return to relate what I’ve discovered about it some other time…
I did promise some time ago to step over the border, and have a look at Tuva and Khakassia … just because they are interesting, and (on a global scale) a stone’s throw from where we are (virtually) now. So a quick run through then (with apologies to the cultures concerned) and then I’ll be looking east.
Khakassia is a republic appended to the Western edge of Krasnoyarsk Krai’s southerly tip and named after the indigenous Khakass people who originally populated the area. There are around half a million inhabitants, of which 170,000 approximately dwell in the capital city (actually the region’s only true city) of Abakan. Two languages are spoken in the republic: Russian and also by a minority: Khakas, of Turkic classification.
Surprisingly, the largest ethnic group in Khakassia is Russian, some 80%, with the native Khakass people reduced to only 12%. There is also a thin spread of other races each accounting for a percentile or so (or even less) of the population. Notables include: Germans, Tartars and Ukranians.
Historically, the likely reason for this imbalance originated in the 13th century when the Mongols defeated what was then the heartland of the Kyrgyz state, resulting in a mass exile south and the establishment of what is now Kyrgyzstan. However, the real “presence” of Kyrgyz ancestry and ethnicity is still very much alive today in the minds (and genes) of the descendants of those who remained.
Having been absorbed into the expanding Russian state in 1707, the region was quickly utilised as a dumping ground for convicts, housed there in newly constructed Russian prisons. Many of these settled in the area after serving their sentences. The Russian ethnic stamp upon the region was already apparent and could only grow in size.
Of course, with the burgeoning Russian encroachment came the Russian Orthodox Church, gaining converts from the ethnic Khakass too, which in turn eroded their traditionally nomadic lifestyle. Post-revolution, the new Soviet state resettled 250,000 Russians in the area throughout the 1920’s and ’30’s, and another 10,000 deported Volga Germans subsequent to World War II … and so the course of Khakassia’s curious ethnic dissemination was set in stone.
The real treasures of the region lie in the past, a past that is firmly yet quietly stated by the abundance of archaeological sites and artefacts that sketch a history of rich culture falling away 30,000 years into time’s abyss. Everything that was going to happen here seems to have already done so… or is that my Western perspective? Nonetheless, witness: ruined cities and forts, medieval castles, menhirs, petroglyph’s, burial mounds (Kurgans), sacred sites and obelisks, et al… Amazing for those who enjoy picking over the bones of ancient civilisations and speculating on who once walked here.
Particularly worthy of note is The Great Salbyk Kurgan, a colossal burial mound reminiscent of a marriage of Avebury and Silbury Hill here in the UK… does that description help? Possibly not.
It’s worth pointing out that all the photographs of the archaeological sites that I’ve seen are of the huge-slabs-in-a-field variety… positively pre-historic in feel (and often origin)… so don’t expect to be wandering around carefully kept English-Heritage gardens with fencing and attendees hanging around like store detectives… If you like your history titanic and bleak: this could well be the place… Incredible.
Next time: Trips and Tales (Part 57) Over the border … continued