Tuva, Republic of

   / Tyva
   An ethnic republic of the Russian Federation. Located at the geographic center of the Asian continent, Tuva shares an international frontier with Mongolia and internal borders with the Altay Republic, Khakasiya, Krasnoyarsk Krai, Irkutsk, and Buryatiya. The republic is part of the Siberian Federal District and the East Siberian Economic Region.
   The Yenisei River (known locally as Ulug-Khem) cuts through the middle of the country; while the Sayan Mountains dominate the topography of the eastern part of the republic, steppe and dry steppe prevail in the western half. More than one-third of the region is forested. Tuva covers an area of 170,500 square kilometers and has a population of 300,000.
   The titular majority, Tuvans, comprise more than three-quarters of the population, while ethnic Russians make up the largest minority at 20 percent. Russians are generally confined to the capital, Kyzyl (pop. 104,000); however, they only account for 17 percent of the city’s population. Due to the demographic superiority of the indigenous population, the Tuvan language is commonly used across the republic, though the Russian language holds equal sway with Tuvan in Kyzyl. Lamaist Buddhism, shamanism, and Russian Orthodoxy are the predominant faiths of the republic; however, a number of Protestant sects have also attracted converts in the region. Tuva is unique among Russia’s federal subjects as it was an independent country as recently as 1944. Formerly part of the Qing Empire, Tuva declared its independence from China in the wake of that country’s 1911 revolution. Tuva quickly became a protectorate of Russia, and ultimately a client state of the Soviet Union. The region had experienced Russian settlement since the 1860s, and a self-governing Russian Bolshevik community resided in the state during the interwar period. In October 1944, the Tuvinian People’s Republic was incorporated into the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics (USSR), becoming an autonomous oblast of the Russian Soviet Federative Socialist Republic.
   Unlike the Baltic States, which were annexed at the same time, there was little international interest in the case of Tuva, and the event remains shrouded in secrecy. On 10 October 1961, Tuva was elevated to the status of an autonomous republic within Russia. During the Soviet era, Tuva was a closed region, and cultural contacts with Mongolia and China were prohibited. Under perestroika, Mikhail Gorbachev allowed for cross-border contacts with the Mongolians to be reinitiated. As in other ethnic republics, a nationalist movement centered on the use of the indigenous language emerged as the principal platform for political dissent. In June 1990, protests exploded in the capital, Kyzyl, over the 1944 annexation, prompting Soviet authorities to use force. Sporadic instances of ethnic violence directed at Russians continued throughout the year, resulting in the deaths of over 80 people. In the wake of the violence, thousands of ethnic Slavs fled the region. Tuva declared its sovereignty on 11 December 1990, renaming itself the Republic of Tuva in 1991 (the name change to non-Russified “Tyva” occurred in 1993 with the adoption of a new republican constitution).
   Sherig-ool Oorzhak governed the republic from 1992 until 2007. He was succeeded by Sholban Kara-ool, a graduate of the Philosophy Department of Urals State University and former parliamentary leader. Fifty years of international isolation and dependence on federal subsidies dampened the desire for full independence upon the dissolution of the Soviet Union in 1991, though some nationalists continued to call for a referendum on secession throughout the early 1990s. In 1993, they gained a provision in the republican constitution providing for the ability to secede from the Russian Federation; this measure was negated in a 2001 referendum. Support for separation from Russia still runs high among ethnic Tuvans, with half supporting complete independence.
   During the 1990s, a territorial dispute with Mongolia flared, resulting in cross-border raids on livestock herds. Russian border guards continue to treat the area as highly sensitive and prevent tourists from visiting much of the frontier. Tuva’s regional economy is primarily dependent on agriculture, particularly animal husbandry, with hunting and forestry also providing local jobs. While the region possesses some light industry and natural resources, including gold, coal, and mercury, production and extraction remain limited due in part to the republic’s poor transportation infrastructure (itself a legacy of the late incorporation into the Soviet Union). Tuva remains one of Russia’s worst-performing regions in terms of wage arrears, and remains comparatively underdeveloped in the areas of education and medical services. Due to its remote location and unspoiled landscape, the region has proved somewhat attractive to the eco-tourism industry.

Historical Dictionary of the Russian Federation. . 2010.

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