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|Print version. Published on site Rusnet.NL 8 December 2003
Yakutia, or Sakha Republic, is situated in North-Eastern Siberia. It is the largest republic in the Russian Federation. The territory covers an area of approximately 3,103,200 sq km. The capital is Yakutsk.
The population of Sakha is about 1 million, representing over 80 nationalities. Immigrant Russians are the largest group, making up approximately half the population, followed by indigenous Sakha-Yakuts who constitute 33,4% of the population.
Russian is the official language used in the republic. The Yakut language belongs to the Turkic language group. It is the second language in the republic.
The Sakha Republic is rich in raw materials. The soil contains large reserves of oil, gas, coal, diamonds, gold and silver. Industry generates 43% of the gross national product stemming primarily from mineral exploitation. The indigenous peoples are well-known as hunters, fishermen and reindeer herders.
The Yakuts originate from the area of Lake Baikal, and their ethnogenesis includes Turkish tribes from the steppe and Altay mountains, as well as indigenous peoples of Siberia, particularly the Evens and Evenks.
They were organised in roughly 80 feudal-like patriarchal clans, but a broader sense of ethnic identity was already developing when Russia annexed Yakutia in the 1620s, and immediately imposed the fur tax. Soldiers and merchants poured into the area in order for the Russians to take control over Yakutia and the numerous Yakuts.
The Yakuts answered with several uprisings between 1634 and 1642, but the revolts were all crushed. The fighting, together with a variety of European diseases brought by the Russians, led to a decrease in the Yakut population. Many also tried to escape the Russians by migrating further east, but during the 18th centuty, the Russians annexed more and more territories to the east - Kamchatka, the Chukchi peninsula, the Aleut islands, and Alaska. Yakutia became a thoroughfare, and more and more Russians settled in the area.
Other major events that changed life in Yakutia, were the completion of the mail route in 1773, construction of convict camps, discovery of gold in Yakutia in 1846, construction of the Trans-Siberian Railway in the 1880s and 90s, and the development of commercial shipping on the Lena River.
These developments contributed to the commercialisation of the region, and brought in hordes of Russian settlers. Orthodox missionaries were also active in Yakutia, and by the early 1800s, virtually all of the Yakuts were registered as Orthodox Christians, but substantial elements of their folk religion survived.
After the Bolshevik Revolution in 1917, the Soviet government issued the "Declaration of the Rights of the Peoples of Russia", including a wide range of rights of self-determination, that largely remained on paper, as policies of "modernisation" later were put through.
In 1924, a Committee of Assistance of Peoples of the North was established. They first proposed creating large reservations where the indigenous populations could continue their traditional life-styles. But instead, the Soviet government decided to integrate these peoples into the larger social, political and economic body of the country.
In 1922, the Yakut ASSR was established. Inside its territory several smaller national districts were established for the Evens, Evenks and Yukagirs, but, in most cases, Yakuts were placed in all politically important positions. The Yakuts were very numerous, and they were assimilating surrounding ethnic groups - even some ethnic Russians (Yakutyans are Russians who adopted Yakut customs, Kolymchans are Russians who adopted both customs and language from the Yakuts).
Yakut nationalism met with tolerance until 1928, when Stalin launched his ruthless collectivisation campaign. The Soviet regime established numerous forced labour camps (gulags). Tens of thousands of Yakuts disappeared, and not until the late 1960s had the Yakut population recovered to pre-collectivisation levels.
With Gorbachev's glasnost and perestroika policies, Yakut nationalism again found expression. Mounting conflicts between Moscow and the peoples of the far north culminated in the creation of the Association of Peoples of the North (APN) in March 1990.
On August 15, 1991, the Supreme Soviet of Yakutia declared the sovereignty of the Yakut Republic and the name of the republic was changed to Sakha Republic. This was not popular with Moscow, and demography was on the Russian side in the dispute. The Russians outnumber the Yakuts by 2 to 1 in Yakutia, and their loyalty was with Moscow.
So, independent Yakutia did not become reality.
In 1992 Sakha signed the Federation Treaty. It also concluded a property-division agreement with the Russian Federation which provided that 95% of the state-owned property in the territory of the Sakha Republic was to be controlled by the Sakha Government, including the diamond, gold and coal industries, and the generation of power.