Site hosted by Build your free website today!


                    PERSPECTIVES ON THE UNREST  

                 IN THE ALTAI REGION 1OF THE USSR 


                      H. B. Paksoy, D. Phil. 



        [Published in Eurasian Studies (Ankara)  

        Vol. 2, No. 2, Summer, 1995.   

             [First distributed electronically by Radio 

        Liberty, from Munich, Germany, via the SOVSET computer 

        network (Report on the USSR), on 10 September 1990] 




        In a recent article on the potential dissolution of the 

   USSR, Russian nationalist Eduard Volodin included 

   historically non-Russian lands (the Volga-Urals, Siberia, 

   the Altai) in his picture of a "new Russia." Concerning the 

   Altai Turks, he wrote, "The peoples of the Altai... 

   preserved for themselves, for us, and for humanity, one of 

   the most ancient cultures of the world."1 The implication 

   of this statement, in the context of authors' arguments, is 

   that Altai is now considered a part of "Russia" and "Russian 

   territory" to be preserved in case of dissolution of the 

   Soviet Union.2  

        The designation "Altai," as Uzbek and Kazakh, are 

   primarily geographical, tribal or confederation names, not 

   ethnonyms.3 Those names were taken from geographic 

   reference points, by early explorers or ethnographers and 

   mistakenly or deliberately turned into "ethnic" or 

   "political" classifications. Early in the 8th century, the 

   Turks themselves provided an account of their identity, 

   political order and history. These were recorded on the 

   scores of stelea, written in their unique alphabet and 

   language, and erected in the region of Orkhon-Yenisey.4 The 

   designation "Turk"5 and its variants are encountered 

   centuries earlier, in the Byzantine and Chinese sources, the 

   Turks' Western and Eastern neighbors, respectively. Most 

   mountains, cities, lakes, deserts, rivers in this region, 

   from early historical times until the Soviet period, carried 

   Turk-origin names.6 They are being restored in the late 

   1980s. Turk language and its many dialect groupings such as 

   Orkhon, Kipchak, Uyghur, Chaghatay, constitute a very large 

   portion of the Altaic family. The dialect currently spoken 

   in the Altai region is related to old Orkhon and Uygur. Only 

   since the Soviet language "reforms," especially of the 

   1930s, have the dialects been asserted to be "individual and 

   unrelated Central Asian languages." They are mutually 

   intelligible. As Denis Sinor points out in his introduction 

   to Radloff's PROBEN,7  in the past 100 years, "new, 

   artificial, names have been created and it is not always 

   easy to establish equivalencies." For example: Altai was 

   known as Kara-Tatar, later changed to Oirot (doubly 

   misleading, since Oirot is a Mongolian dialect), and back to 

   Altai; Tuvinian was originally Soyon and Urinkhai and 

   sometimes Shor; Khakass was called Abakan or Abakan-Tatar; 

   Kachin and Sagay were jointly "converted" into Khakass; 

   Taranchi became "Modern Uyghur"; Kazakh was Kirghiz.  

        Thus, when it was recently reported that political 

   unrest and ethnic conflict broke out in the Tuva ASSR, that 

   news came as a surprise to some Moscow based politicians.8 

   This is primarily because, in the Soviet historiography, the 

   Altai region rates only spotty coverage, mostly recording 

   the past 100 years of Russian settlement and exploitation. 

   It can be stated that after the Turk Empire (East and West) 

   of the 4th-6th c., (in the vicinity of the Orkhon-Yenisei 

   stelea), came various Uyghur and Kirghiz political entities. 

   There was a period of Chinese subjugation, which culminated 

   in large scale uprisings by the Turks prior to the 8th c. 

   Between the 9th-12th c., Karakhanid, Ghaznavid and the 

   Seljuk empires were contiguous from the Chinese to the 

   Byzantine Empires. In that era, the Altaians constituted a 

   sub-grouping of the then powerful Karluk confederation.9 

   During the Mongol irruption, most Turk entities came under 

   Mongol suzerainty (13th and 14th c.). After the dissolution 

   of the Mongol empire, the Chinese (Manchu) asserted control 

   over portions of the previous eastern Mongolian territories 

   in the 18th c. (approx. 1757-1912), including a part of a 

   larger Altai region, the "Tuva" area Altaian Turks became 

   vassals of the Chinese. Tuva was designated a "country" for 

   the benefit of the tsarist government, and in 1912, like 

   Mongolia, gained independence from China. It became a 

   Russian "protectorate" in 1914.10  During 1921, the Tuva 

   People's Republic was created, much like the Mongolian 

   Republic, theoretically not part of USSR. In 1944, Tuva 

   "asked" to join the Soviet Union. The Altaian Turks 

   eventually were incorporated into the Russian Empire, in the 

   Altai okrug, administered directly by the tsarist Cabinet, 

   though counted as "aliens." This okrug was about the size of 

   France and had a total population of 3.6 million, including 

   many Russian settlers. The number of settlers grew, 

   displacing the native population from their land. During 

   1907-09 alone, 750,000 Russian settlers came to the Altai 

   region, taking land that had been declared "excess." During 

   the 19th c., the railroad had linked Altain towns to Russian 

   markets, thus strengthening the exclusive economic links 

   with Russia. A Bolshevik-dominated soviet took power in the 

   capital, Barnaul in 1920. Thus the greater part of Altai  

   region was incorporated into the expanding USSR. The recent 

   news concerning the economic initiatives by the Altaians, 

   and their desire to establish economic contacts with the 

   outside world independent of Moscow ought to be taken in 

   this context.11 

        It should be noted that the 18th to 20th century 

   Western authors have produced interpretive volumes on the 

   history of the Turks, some of which are speculative 

   narratives, including assertions pertaining to a certain 

   "Pan-Turkism," ostensibly a movement by the Turks to 

   establish hegemony over the world, or at least Eurasia. This 

   "pan" movement has now been documented to be a European 

   creation, to accommodate 19th century European balance-of- 

   power politics, related to the "Great Game in Asia" between 

   the British and the Russian empires. Accusations of 

   "Pan-Turkism" are still employed today, especially, but not 

   exclusively, in the Soviet Union. It will come as no 

   surprise if Moscow institutions invoke that bogey-man notion 

   once again in connection with the recent outbreak of demands 

   for freedom and independence in the Altai.12 





 1. "The New Russia in a changing world," LITERATURNAIA ROSSIYA 

 (26 January 1990). For an analysis of the referenced piece, see 

 John Dunlop, RL Reports, February 20, 1990.  


 2. 50 of the 168  deputies elected in nationalities districts 

 (that entitles them to seats in the RSFSR Council of 

 Nationalities)  are high-placed Russian officials who had almost

 no chance to be elected in Moscow and sought the safe seats in 

 "the country." See Julia Wishnevsky, RFE/RL DAILY REPORT, 7 June



 3. See "Z. V. Togan On the origins of the Kazakhs and the 

 Uzbeks." H. B. Paksoy, Editor, CENTRAL ASIA READER: The 

 Rediscovery of History.  (New York: M. E. sharpe, 1994).   


 4. See T. Tekin A GRAMMAR OF ORKHON TURKIC (Bloomington, 1968). 

 Indiana University Uralic Altaic Series Vol. 69. [Contents

 dating  from the 8th c.]  


 5. There is no distinction between "Turkish" and "Turkic" in the

 language of the Turks. Therefore the present article uses simply




 DIWAN  LUGAT AT-TRK, Robert Dankoff (Tr., Ed.) (Cambridge, MA:

 Harvard  University Printing Office,  V.1 1982, V.2 1984, V.3

 1985)  [Original written in 11th c.]. 


 7. (Bloomington and The Hague, 1967) 




 REPORT August 3, 1990.  



 (London, 1977). 


 10. For "treaty" details, see J. R. V. Prescott, MAP OF MAINLAND

 ASIA BY TREATY (Melbourne, 1975).  



 REPORT August 1, 1990.  



 RUSSIAN RULE (Hartford, CT: Association for the Advancement of 

 Central Asian Research Monograph Series, 1989).

This counter has been placed here on 25 February 1999