Kalmyks (Genocide and Crimes Against Humanity)
The Kalmyks, traditionally Mahayana Buddhist pastoral nomads, originated as an offshoot of the Mongols. They moved into the southern Volga Steppe region in the 1660s. Strong under Khan Aiuka (1669724), they allied with Peter the Great who used them as a buffer against possible Persian invasion.
Subsequently, the tsarist government "divided and ruled," and a continuing influx of peasants severely hampered the Kalmyk pastoral-nomadic life. Despairing and desperate, in 1771 they attempted a coordinated flight back to their ancestral home, Dzungaria. Weather prevented the Kalmyks on the western bank from leaving, but both groups residing on the eastern bank fled eastward. It was at this point that the first genocide occurred. The harsh winter killed many, but Bashir units sent by the tsarist government massacred many more. Perhaps only a quarter of the fleeing Kalmyks reached Dzungaria. There the Ching government annihilated large numbers and forcibly dispersed the remainder into cultural oblivion among other pastoral nomadic groups.
In the nineteenth-century the poverty and demographic decline of the Kalmyks began to worry the Russian government. These circumstances threatened the Kalmyks' continued ability to provide a significant share of the cavalry mount for the Russian army. Also, low population density would leave the Kalmyk region of the northwest Caspian littoral open to Turkish invasion from the south. In the 1880s and 1890s the tsarist government improved education and health conditions, and the Kalmyk population started to recover.
The eventual Russian revolution impacted the Kalmyks. Some fought with the White Army and then fled to Serbia. The communists established the Kalmyk Autonomous Oblast in 1920; it became the Kalmyk Autonomous Soviet Socialist Republic (ASSR) in 1935, with its capital at Elista. A devastating blow, a de facto second genocide, came with Joseph Stalin's enforced collectivization during the 1920s; violence and starvation killed many.
In World War II numerous Kalmyk soldiers fought in the Red Army; some received the highest military decorations. However, in the summer of 1942, when the Nazis occupied Kalmykia, some local Kalmyks, and others from Nazi-occupied Serbia, sided with the Nazis as a way to throw off the communist yoke. The Soviets reconquered the Kalmyk ASSR in December 1942. Stalin declared all Kalmyks Nazi collaborators and ordered them deported. In December 1943 boxcars carried the total population of the Kalmyk ASSR, including communists and Komsomols, to prison camps in Siberia and Central Asia. This was the third great Kalmyk genocidebout half survived.
In his Secret Speech to the Communist Party in February 1956, Soviet Premier Nikita Khrushchev denounced this forcible exile of the Kalmyks and that of the Karachai, Chechen, Ingush, and Balkhars from elsewhere. However, only after international pressure were some Kalmyks finally allowed to return home in 1957. Although traumatized by their forced exile into Gulag, the returnees started over in their reconstituted homeland.
After the Soviet Union broke up in 1991, the Republic of Kalmykia became federated within Russia. Twenty-first-century Kalmyks realize that, while the genocide perpetrated from 1944 through 1957 failed, much cultural destruction occurred, and economic globalization and other pressures could lead to ethnocide. Therefore, both in Kalmykia and within overseas communities of Kalmyks, including several in New Jersey, leaders seek to preserve and revitalize the Kalmyk language and key parts of the culture.
SEE ALSO Cossacks; Union of Soviet Socialist Republics
Khrushchev, Nikita S. (1956). Crimes of the Stalin Era, Special Report to the 20th Congress of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union. New York: New Leader.
Nekrich, Alexander M. (1978). The Punished Peoples: The Deportation and Fate of Soviet Minorities at the End of the Second World War, tran. George Saunders. New York: Norton.