Chukchi Autonomous Okrug

The following article is from The Great Soviet Encyclopedia (1979). It might be outdated or ideologically biased.

Chukchi Autonomous Okrug


part of Magadan Oblast of the RSFSR. The okrug was formed on Dec. 10, 1930, as the Chukchi National Okrug. Located in the extreme northeastern part of the USSR, the okrug includes the Chukchi Peninsula, the adjacent part of the continent, and a number of islands, among them Vrangel’, Aion, Arakamchechen, and Ratmanov. Its coasts are washed by the East Siberian, Chukchi, and Bering seas. The okrug has an area of 737,700 sq km and a population of 127,000 (Jan. 1, 1977). It is divided into eight administrative raions and has two cities and 18 urban-type settlements. The administrative center is Anadyr’.

Natural features. The coast of the East Siberian and Chukchi seas is only slightly indented with one large inlet, Chaun Bay. The Bering Sea has a number of deep fjords (Provideniia, Glu-bokaia), providing good harbors, and large gulfs, notably Lav-rentii, Mechigmen, Krest, and Anadyr’. The seas around the okrug are covered by ice for most of the year. The topography is dominated by plateaus and mountains. North of the marshy Anadyr’ Lowland, occupying the central part of the okrug, rise the Pekul’nei Mountains (highest point 1,381 m) and the Chukchi Highlands (highest point 1,843 m), consisting of numerous ranges and medium-elevation massifs. Northwest of the Anadyr’ Lowland lies the Anadyr’ Plateau, bounded on the west by the Aniui Range (highest point 1,735 m). The ranges of the Koriak and Kolyma highlands extend into the okrug from the south. The edge of the Yukagir Plateau, with elevations between 500 m and 700 m, occupies the southwest. Along the coast in the north lie the Chaun and Vankarem lowlands. Mineral resources include tin and mercury ore, hard and brown coal, and natural gas.

The okrug has a harsh climate, cold marine along the coast and severely continental in the interior. Winter, a time of strong winds, lasts eight or nine months. The mean January temperature ranges from –15° to –21°C on the coast of the Bering Sea and from –27° to –39°C in the interior. Minimum temperatures vary from –38° to –55°C. Summers are short, cool, and rainy. The mean July temperature, 5°–8°C in the north and 9°–10°C along the coast of the Bering Sea, rises to 13° –14°C at the settlement of Markovo in the Anadyr’ Lowland. The annual precipitation increases from 200 mm in the west to 300–500 mm along the middle course of the Anadyr’ River. The growing season ranges from 75 days at Pevek and 88 at Anadyr’ to 101 at Markovo. Permafrost occurs everywhere.

The okrug’s rivers, of which the largest is the Anadyr’, flow into the Arctic and Pacific oceans. Icebound seven or eight months of the year, the rivers have an uneven flow and high and rapid flooding. Many rivers freeze to the bottom. Also characteristic is the phenomenon known as naledi, whereby bodies of ice are formed on rivers by the layer-by-layer freezing of waters that flood the surface of the ice. Most of the rivers may be classified as mountain rivers. The Anadyr’, whose main tributaries are the Belaia, Main, and Taniurer, drains into the Bering Sea. The Kolyma, which receives the waters of the Omolon, Bol’shoi Aniui, and Malyi Aniui, flows into the East Siberian Sea. The largest lakes are Krasnoe, El’gygytkhyn, and Pekul’nei.

Mountain tundra soils predominate. Gley, gley-swamp, and peat-gley soils are found in the lowlands, and gley-podzolic soils occur along the river valleys and beneath open larch woodlands. The alluvial and peat-podzolic soils of the river valleys and the Anadyr’ basin are the best suited for agriculture.

The vegetation consists chiefly of tundra species. Dry mountain tundra with stunted or low-growing shrubs and saxifrage covers large areas. The lowlands are occupied by lichen tundra of reindeer moss and Cetraria and by moss and hummock tundras with a sparse growth of cotton grass (Eriophorum), sedges, Pedicularis, bog bilberries (Vaccinium uliginosum), and cowberries (Vaccinium vitis-idaea). The lichen and hummock tundras are used as reindeer pasture. In the basins of the Anadyr’ and other rivers grow forests of larch, poplar, Chosenia (a genus of willows), and birch, interspersed with thickets of willows, alders, wild currants and raspberries, and wild roses. The coastal strip along the Arctic Ocean and the islands are classified as arctic desert.

The fauna consists primarily of tundra animals, but some taiga species are also encountered. Commom animals include the arctic fox, fox, wolf, wolverine, burunduk, squirrel, suslik (Citellus undulatus), lemming, blue hare, brown and polar bear, reindeer, bighorn sheep, muskrat, and mink. There are numerous birds, chiefly willow ptarmigans (Lagopus lagopus), ptarmigans (Lagopus mutus), ducks, geese, and swans; on the coast murres, eiders, and gulls nest in colonies. The seas abound in chum salmon (Oncohynchus keta), pink salmon (Oncorhynchus gorbuscha), arctic char (Salvelinus alpinus), and such marine animals as the walrus, ringed seal, and gray whale. The rivers and lakes contain broad whitefish (Coregonus nasus), nelma (Stenodus leu-cichthys), and graylings (Thymallus). Insects are numerous, particularly mosquitoes, black flies, and horseflies.

Population. Northern peoples, notably Chukchi, Eskimo, Evenki, and Yukagirs, constitute 12 percent of the population. The great majority of the inhabitants are Russians (70 percent, 1970 census), and there are small numbers of Ukrainians (10.3 percent), Byelorussians, Tatars, and other nonindigenous peoples. The average population density is 0.2 persons per sq km. Most of the population is located along the coast and in the river valleys. Urban dwellers make up 73 percent of the population. Cities and urban-type settlements were established in connection with the development of mining (Bilibino, Iul’tin, Beringovskii) and maritime transport (Pevek, Provideniia, Egvekinot).


Historical sketch. The okrug’s territory was settled as early as the Paleolithic. At the end of the second millennium and early in the first millennium B.C, maritime hunters and fishermen, the ancestors of the Eskimo, invented the harpoon and hide-covered frame boat, which allowed them to hunt whales, walrus, and ringed seals. Late in the first century A.D. the ancestors of the Chukchi and Koriaks, who were inland reindeer hunters, domesticated these animals and became reindeer herders. In the 17th century the Chukchi region was absorbed into the Russian state, and a Russian settlement was founded at Anadyr’. Inclusion in Russia promoted the development of large-scale reindeer herding.

From the mid-19th century American entrepreneurs and traders began pushing into the area, introducing alcohol and plundering the indigenous population. In the early 20th century the Chukchi and other native peoples of the okrug had a clan social organization and a patriarchal economy, but already there were signs of property and social differentiation, influenced by trade with the Russians and Americans.

The October Revolution of 1917 liberated the indigenous peoples from national oppression and exploitation. After the Chukchi Revolutionary Committee was formed in the settlement of Anadyr’ on Dec. 16, 1919, the fishing rights of the American Swenson Company and local merchants were abolished, and steps were taken to improve trade. On Jan. 31, 1920, however, remnants of Kolchak’s forces staged a counterrevolutionary coup and executed the members of the Revolutionary Committee. In July 1920 a detachment of Red Guards routed the Kolchak forces, and Soviet power was restored. The Anadyr’ district executive committee was elected and subsequently reorganized as a people’s revolutionary committee on Jan. 6,1921.

In October 1921 the Birich-Bochkarev White Guard bands arrived on the Okhotsk coast and Kamchatka from Vladivostok. In April 1923 an expeditionary Red Army detachment led by G. I. Chubarov crushed the main White Guard forces. Representatives of village and volost (small rural district) revolutionary committees attended the First Anadyr’ District Congress on Aug. 2–5, 1923. The formation of the Chukchi Regional Soviet at Uelen in 1923 signaled the final establishment of Soviet power throughout the Chukchi Peninsula. A campaign was launched to overcome the region’s economic and cultural backwardness.

In the course of the prewar five-year plans agriculture, fishing, and hunting were collectivized, and the working people of the okrug made notable progress in reindeer herding and hunting sea animals. Writing systems were introduced for the Chukchi and Eskimo languages, and illiteracy was basically eradicated. A national intelligentsia emerged among the indigenous population. On Dec. 10,1930, the Chukchi National Okrug was formed from Anadyr’ and Chukchi raions of the Far East Krai and part of the Yakut ASSR. (In 1977 it was renamed the Chukchi Autonomous Okrug.)

During the Great Patriotic War the peoples of the okrug took an active part in the struggle against the fascist German aggressors. Since the war they have achieved new successes in building socialism. The mining of gold and nonferrous metals has been expanding rapidly, and the transportation network has been considerably enlarged. The constant, unselfish assistance of the Russian and other peoples of the USSR has facilitated economic and cultural growth. On Dec. 9,1970, the okrug was awarded the Order of the Red Banner of Labor, and on Dec. 29, 1972, it received the Order of Friendship of Peoples.


Economy. The leading branch of the okrug’s economy is mining, represented by enterprises that extract tin (Val’kumei), mercury (Plamennoe), and hard coal (Bering and Anadyr’ deposits). Between 1960 and 1976 the gross industrial output increased by a factor of 3.7. Electricity is supplied by the Bilibino Atomic Power Plant, the Chaun Heat and Electric Power Plant, and the Egvekinot State Regional Power Plant. The okrug’s flourishing fishing industry makes use of the resouces of the Bering and Chukchi seas. Other major industries are the production of building materials (Anadyr’, Pevek, Bilibino) and food processing.

In 1976 there were 28 sovkhozes in the okrug. The main agricultural sector is reindeer herding. On Jan. 1, 1977, the okrug’s reindeer herd of 547,000 accounted for 24 percent of the reindeer in the RSFSR. The traditional occupations of the indigenous population are fishing and the hunting of fur-bearing and marine animals, chiefly arctic foxes and, in coastal waters, ringed seals, walruses, and whales. Dairy farming, poultry raising, and hog raising have been recently introduced. On Jan. 1, 1977, the livestock included 1,900 cattle (about 1,100 of them dairy cows) and 2,600 hogs. Arctic foxes are raised in cages on fur farms. Greenhouse agriculture is developing.

The chief means of transportation are maritime and air transport. The main ports are Pevek, Provideniia, Anadyr’, Egvekinot, and Beringovskii. The principal highways link Pevek with Krasnoarmeiskii and Komsomol’skii; Egvekinot with Iul’tin; and Zelenyi Mys with Bilibino. The Anadyr’ River is navigable for 572 km, as far as the settlement of Markovo; shipping is also done on the Velikaia River and on the Bol’shoi and Malyi Aniui rivers. The okrug has a well-developed network of local air routes.


Cultural development. Before the October Revolution of 1917 the Chukchi were illiterate. In 1914–15 the territory of the present-day okrug was served by one primary school, attended by 40 students. There were no secondary schools. In the 1977–78 school year the okrug’s 98 general-education schools of all types had an enrollment of about 27,100 students. Specialized training was provided by a vocational-technical school (200 students). In 1976,11,200 children were cared for at 112 preschool institutions.

On Jan. 1, 1977, cultural facilities included 94 public libraries (more than 1 million books and magazines), a museum of local lore in Anadyr’, 114 clubs, 176 motion-picture projection units, and 18 extracurricular institutions.

There are two okrug newspapers: Sovetken Chukotka, published in Chukchi since 1953, and Sovetskaia Chukotka, issued in Russian since 1933. Two programs of All-Union Radio are transmitted 17 hours daily, and local broadcasts, in Chukchi and Russian, are on the air seven hours daily. Programs of the Central Television Studios are relayed by two Orbita stations (13.1 hours daily). Local television broadcasts, in Chukchi and Russian, are on the air 1.4 hours daily.

Literature. Before the October Revolution of 1917 the Chukchi had various kinds of oral lore but no written literature. Several factors contributed to the creation of a Chukchi literature: the cultural policies of the Soviet government, the development of a written Chukchi language in 1931, and the spread of the Russian language. Chukchi literature was influenced by the Russian classics and the work of such Soviet writers as V. G. Tan-Bogoraz, T. Z. Semushkin, and N. E. Shundik. The first Chukchi writer was Tynetegyn (F. Tinetev, 1920–40), whose Chauchu Fairy Tales was published in Chukchi and Russian in 1940.

In the 1950’s and 1960’s a number of gifted writers appeared, notably the prose writers Iu. S. Rytkheu (born 1930) and V. Iatyrgin (born 1919) and the poets V. G. Keul’kut (1929–63), A. A. Kymytval’ (born 1938), V. Tymnetuvge (1935–65), M. V. Val’girgin (born 1939), and V. Tyneskin (born 1945). Rytkheu’s works have become known throughout the USSR and abroad. Among his finest works are the short-story collection Chukchi Saga (1956), the trilogy Time of Melting Snow (1958), and the novels Frost on the Threshold (1970) and White Snows (1975), depicting the historical destiny of the Chukchi people and the social transformation and cultural awakening of the Chukchi region. Iatyrgin shows the development of the new man in his autobiographical novella Fate Does Not Pamper a Man (1967).

Among the best verse collections are My Chukotka (1958) and Rain Doesn’t Hinder (1963) by Keul’kut, Songs of the Heart (1960), To You (1967), and Listening to Music (1972) by Kymytval’, and Hello, Bright Life\ (1968) and The Whale Boats Go Outto Sea (1970) by Val’girgin. Tyneskin is noted for his narrative poem Heart in Hand (1970). Lenin is a recurrent theme in the poems of Val’girgin and Tyneskin, and folklore traditions are strong in all Chukchi literature. The works of Chukchi writers are translated into other languages of the peoples of the USSR, and many works by Soviet writers of other nationalities are available in Chukchi.



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The Great Soviet Encyclopedia, 3rd Edition (1970-1979). © 2010 The Gale Group, Inc. All rights reserved.