Staunton, December 28 – Seventy-one years ago today, Stalin deported the Kalmyks, a Buddhist people living in a territory adjoining the North Caucasus, to Siberia and Central Asia, an action that cost half of them – some 98,000 -- their lives and forced many others to give up their national language in favor of Russian.
But today, despite the fact that they were eventually allowed to return home and to re-establish a national republic within the Russian Federation, many Kalmyks are in despair about the situation their nation finds itself in now and about their ability to survive as a people into the future.
As one Kalmyk activist, Mandzhiyev Naran, puts it, “there are no more than 200,000 Kalmyks in the entire world,” a number small enough to fit inside a Brazilian soccer stadium, and in their homeland, the republic’s leadership has destroyed the economy, closing all the factories from Soviet times, and destroying the Kalmyk language (asiarussia.ru/news/5505/).
One measure of just how far things have deteriorated, he continues, is that Kalmyk language instructors are now using textbooks which are 17 years old, textbooks Naran says are anything but accurate guides to the language. He has circulated an online petition for Moscow to intervene and set things right because he has no confidence in the republic leadership.
Aleksey Ochirov, a pensioner who experienced the deportation as a three-year-old, echoed his complaints. He said that when the Soviet security police rounded up the Kalmyks whom Stalin had denounced as Nazi collaborators, he, his family and all the Kalmyks he knew spoke Kalmyk and did not know Russian (nazaccent.ru/content/14280-gubitelnaya-skorogovorka.html).
While in the places for special resettlers, Ochirov continues, he learned Russian because the local people made fun of the Kalmyks for not knowing Russian. Then, when the ranks of the forced resettlers expanded to include Latvians and Finns, the Russian-speaking Kalmyks made fun of members of those two groups until they too stopped speaking their national languages.
He says he is pleased that the republic authorities have sought to restore the use of Kalmyk, but he complains that the local television broadcasts are in such bad Kalmyk that many people either don’t know what is being said or learn a version of Kalmyk that no one else will understand.