Face Music - Colonization of Siberia
  • The Russian colonization of Siberia (Region of Altaiski Kray)

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P & C December 1998
- Face Music / Albi

- last update 03-2016

more information colonization of Siberia - in German

In 1476 the Russian Tsar Ivan III ceased the tribute payments to the Khanat of the Golden Hord. A few years later he walked towards the approaching Mongols by force of arms. The Mongols surrendered, without crossing swords. By this act, the bond with the Khanat of the Golden Hord, the center of power, situated in Sarai, at the lower course of the river Volga, was broken definitely. The supremacy of the Tatars under Khan Batu, since 1239 reaching up to Moscow, was brought to an end. From then on, the Russian Empire replaced the numerous Grand Principalities that had, more or less strictly, been dependent on the Mongolian Khan.

The colonization of the region of Siberia started upon the order of Tsar Ivan IV, "The Terrible" (1533-1584). He authorized the merchant family Stroganov in 1558 to establish settlements in the West Siberian area, root the forests out and extract salt. By assistance of the Don Cossacks who had refuged to the Ural area, under the rule of Hetman (General) Ermak Timofeyev, a thrust was achieved between 1581-1585 up to the tributaries behind the Ural and subjected the Principality of Sibir (Khanat of Sibir).

First they built up protection facilities [settlements] (setch) and backing points (stanitsa), forts for soldiers and their families that were governed by a commander (Ataman). Later on fur hunters, farmers, missionaries, exiles, traders, and craftsmen followed. The fur trade and the production of precious metal lured people into this area, since it was easily accessible by the waterways. When gold was found in Tomsk, a quick upswing began. It went hand in hand with the oppression and partial destruction of the Siberian peoples that were all named 'Tatars' at that period.

The Altaiski Kray in southern Siberia was colonized only a hundred years later. The Russification started at the right-side banks of the Ob, by establishment of the settlement and the construction of the prison of Kusnetsk in 1618. The violent resistance of the settlers living there (1) had to be crushed. The subjected had to pay tribute (Yassak). With the allocation of loans and the introduction of alcohol, the traders stimulated the impoverishment of the original population. The christianization and struggle against the traditional shamanism added to this trend. For the construction of fortresses and prisons manpower was recruited from the settled tribes of natives, as well as from migrants. The extending mineral resources in the Altaiski Kray and the so-called Ore-Altai, mainly iron, hard coal and salt, were of significant importance for the Russian economy. Steelworks with smaller melting furnaces were built up. Already existing metal industry established by residents was industrialized and improved.

While the newly conquered areas were first essentially inhabited by soldiers, Don- or Zaporoshye-Cossacks, later on there followed workmen, adventurers, specialists and also the so-called "Old Believers" (2), who settled there. New settlements were established in the whole Altaiski Kray. Towns and economic centers developed from the ancient villages.

The most important one is Barnaul, founded in 1771. Today it counts 596,000 inhabitants. Former towns are: Biysk, Rubtsovsk, Novoaltaysk and Tsarinsk. In the region of the Altaiski Kray considerable climate conditions take place: long, chilly winters and short, hot summers. In January the temperature decreases to 40 Celsius below zero, whilst in July the thermometer shows 35 Celsius above zero. The Kulundinskaya steppe extends its surface to 60 per cent, mainly consisting of pines, in which there live red deer and rodents. Next to this area, at the left bank of the river Ob, there are situated the Priobskoye highlands (approx. 250-300 meters above sea level). They are covered with larches, white fir trees and cedars. In the south-east, where the region borders on the actual Eastern Kasakhstan, mountains raise up to 2421 meters. Beside, there are the Altai-Mountains, where the river Katun and Biya have their sources. This region offers the lake with the longest extension, the so-called Kulundisnkoye Ozero (Altyn-Köl - Golden Lake). Elks, foxes, wolves, bears as well as Marals (dee world) belong to the fauna of this area.

(1) These were most of all the Torguts and the Kalmuks, whose original homeland was the northern Dsungaria. Peoples, who professed the Buddhistic religion in its Lamaistic form (opposite to the Islamic tribes, e.g. the Kazakhs or Kirgizes), originally settled northwest from Astrakhan.
In the 17th century, a part of them migrated to the steppes between Volga, Ural and the west Siberian lowlands, making their living as nomades by cattle breeding. They were named "Kalmuks", deriving from the Turkish vocabulary 'kalmak' = remain, since they only returned to their original homeland, the Dsungaria, years later, around 1771. Resistance was also offered by the minor Turk-tribes like the Tunguses, Abakan-Tatars (nowadays named Khakases) and others, who inhabited the wooded foot-hills that follow the Siberian lowland, and the predominating plains beside this mountain, at the river Yenisey. They mainly lived from agriculture.
(2) Old Believers: Under the Tsar Alexei I. (1645-1676), the Quiet One, Patriarch Nikon (1605-1681) had tried to cleanse lithurgy from infiltrated discrepancies and to re-integrate rites of the Byzantine Church, which was met by strong resistance on the side of the Old Believers.