Kalmykiya

   / Khalmg Tangch
   An ethnic republic of the Russian Federation. In 1920, the All-Russian Central Executive Committee formed the Kalmyk Autonomous Oblast within Soviet Russia. Five years later, the region was elevated to republic status, becoming the Kalmyk Autonomous Soviet Socialist Republic (ASSR). In response to the support given to the invading German army in World War II, Joseph Stalin ordered the wholesale deportation of the Kalmyk nation to Siberia in 1943. The ASSR was abolished and its lands were divided between the Astrakhan and Stalingrad oblasts and Stavropol Krai. The regional capital, Elista (along with other city and place names), was changed during the period.
   After Stalin’s death, the Kalmyks were allowed to return to their homeland, which was restored as an autonomous republic within the Russian Soviet Federative Socialist Republic in 1958, though it lost a sliver of productive land to the Astrakhan oblast. The republic declared its sovereignty in 1990, though it did not advocate separation from Russia, and retained its status of an ethnic republic in the new Russian Federation.
   Located on the Caspian Sea, the republic borders Astrakhan, Volgograd, Rostov, Stavropol, and Dagestan. It is part of the Southern Federal District and the Volga Economic Region. The republic covers 76,100 square kilometers of mostly desert and steppe lands, and has a population of slightly less than 300,000. The Kalmyks recently gained majority status in the republic (53 percent); ethnic Russians make up a third of the population, down from 1991 due to a steady exodus from the republic. There are also significant numbers of Kazakhs, Chechens, and other North Caucasian minorities in the republic. The ethnic situation in the region is exceptionally calm, and there is little support for secession from Russia. Kalmykiya is the only predominantly Buddhist region in Europe; Kalmyks are Lamaist and revere the Dalai Lama, who has visited the republic a number of times since 1991.
   Despite the rather unfavorable quality of the land, the regional economy is based on livestock and agriculture, in addition to some oil revenues. The legacy of Soviet agricultural schemes and disregard for environmental preservation has negatively impacted the region’s ecosystem, making much of the landscape unsuitable for grazing or farming. Kalmykiya has the distinction of possessing Europe’s only desert, the result of the Soviet-era importation of sharp-hooved merino sheep, which devastated the fragile steppe soils. As a result, part of the country is classified as an environmental disaster area by the United Nations. Water scarcity remains a major problem in much of the region. Kalmykiya is ranked next-to-last in Russia in terms of per capita monetary income, and unemployment runs high in the republic.
   The presidential election in 1991 was inconclusive, and ultimately the final round of voting was delayed until 1993, when Kirsan Ilyumzhinov won office at the age of 31. He has held office since, expanding the role and power of the presidency at the expense of the region’s unicameral legislature, the People’s Khural. Of all of Russia’s republican governors, Ilyumzhinov’s control over his region is arguably the greatest. While he has avoided Moscow’s wrath by declaring Russian law the dominant legal code of the republic, he ran unopposed for reelection in 1995, thus contravening federal law. In 1998, Ilyumzhinov, playing on Boris Yeltsin’s weakness in the wake of the country’s ruble crisis, threatened to sever ties with Russia and turn Kalmykiya into an independent tax haven (from 1995, Kalmykiya already served as a domestic-offshore zone for Russia, with all local taxes on companies registered in the republic replaced by a single $300 payment).
   Despite Ilyumzhinov’s independence from Moscow, he was recommended by Vladimir Putin to keep his post, a move quickly rubberstamped by the Khural in 2005. Under his reign, the republic has become the global center of the sport of chess; in 1995, Ilyumzhinov was elected as head of the International Chess Federation (FIDE), and he has made chess mandatory in Kalmykiya’s schools. For the 1998 Chess Olympiad, Ilyumzhinov built Chess City, a gleaming Olympic-style village on the outskirts of the capital, at a cost of nearly 50 million dollars.

Historical Dictionary of the Russian Federation. . 2010.

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