Ethnic group. The Kalmyks (or Kalmucks) are the western branch of the Oyrats, a Mongolic people whose origins lie in the Dzungaria region of western China. In the Russian Federation, there are approximately 174,000 ethnic Kalmyks. Arriving in the Caspian basin in the 17th century, the Kalmyks represent the last instance of nomadic Asians permanently migrating to the European continent. After settling in the Volga steppe, they were integrated into the Russian empire and served as buffer between the Orthodox Slavs and the Muslim peoples of the North Caucasus. They are the titular majority of the Republic of Kalmykiya, but also live in small diasporic communities in Western Europe and the United States. The Kalmyk language is the only major member of the western branch of the Mongolian language family. Due to Russification policies and the social disruptions of the mid-20th century, many Kalmyks—including the president of Kalmykiya, Kirsan Ilyumzhinov—have limited mastery of the language; less than 10 percent of Kalmyk youth are fluent.
   The Kalmyks are the only indigenous European ethnic group that professes Buddhism; like other Mongolic peoples of the Russian Federation, they are Lamaist. While the Kalmyk’s religious infrastructure was almost totally destroyed by the 1940s, a revival, which began under glasnost and is now monetarily supported by Ilyumzhinov, is currently under way.
   In 1943, the entire nation, some 92,000 strong, was deported from their homeland to various locales in southern Siberia; the mortality rate during transit or during the immediate aftermath of resettlement is estimated to be between one-third and half of all deportees. Nikita Khrushchev denounced the deportation in the 1950s, opening the way for repatriation to Kalmykiya. In recent years, Kalmyks emerged as a majority in their ethnic republic, partly as a result of ethnic Russian emigration.

Historical Dictionary of the Russian Federation. . 2010.

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