- Ethnic group. The Altays, or Altaians, are a Mongol-Turkic people who principally reside in the Altay Republic, Altay Krai, Tuva, and Mongolia. In the Russian Federation, there are approximately 67,000 Altays. They were known by the ethnonym “Oyrat,” until it was declared counterrevolutionary under Joseph Stalin, causing the usage of the term “Altay” to become standard. Until the mid-20th century, Altay national identity as such did not exist; instead, the various indigenous peoples of the region described themselves as Tubalars, Chelkans, Kumandins, Teleuts, Telengits, and Altai Kizhis.Their traditional language, Altay, is a member of the KyrgyzKypchak subgroup of Turkic languages; while native language use continues among the ethnic Altay, the majority are fluent in the Russian language. Altays are predominantly shamanistic, although a minority practice Orthodox Christianity or Buddhism. Burkhanism or Ak Jang (Altay: “White Faith”), a millenarian, anti-Russian faith from the early 20th century, is also seeing a revival as a political vehicle for national unification; other forms of syncretic, ecologically oriented shamanism such as Ak Suus and Ak Sanaa have also been growing in popularity, even in urban areas of the Altay. The discovery of a 2,500-year-old Scythian mummy, later named the Ukok Maiden, in the Altay in the mid-1990s also played an important role in energizing national consciousness among ethnic Altays. A group of Altay shamans blamed the federal government for a series of earthquakes in the wake of the mummy’s removal to Moscow and demanded the remains be returned to the Altay Republic and reburied.
Historical Dictionary of the Russian Federation. Robert A. Saunders and Vlad Strukov. 2010.
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