Gorno-Altai Autonomous Oblast

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 It might be outdated or ideologically biased.

Gorno-Altai Autonomous Oblast


constituent part of Altai Krai, RSFSR. Established June 1, 1922, as Oirot Autonomous Oblast; renamed Gorno-Altai Autonomous Oblast on Jan. 7, 1948. Bounded in the south by the Mongolian People’s Republic and the People’s Republic of China. Area, 92,600 sq km. Population, 167,000 (1971). The oblast has eight raions, one city, and three urban-type settlements. Its center is the city of Gorno-Altaisk (population, 35,000 in 1971).

Natural features. Gorno-Altai Autonomous Oblast encompasses the southern part of the Altai. The highest peak of the Altai, Mount Belukha (4,506 m), is located within the oblast. The high mountain ranges (Katun’, Kuraiski, Severnyi Chuia, and Iuzhnyi Chuia) are separated by deep valleys or broad basins that are called “steppes” (Abai, Uimon, Chuia, and others). The climate is sharply continental. The January temperatures average between -12° and -31.8° C, and the July temperatures, between 9° and 18° C. The annual precipitation ranges from 100 in the intermontane basins to 1,000 mm in the northwest. The growing season is between 75 and 120 days. The rivers belong to the Katun’ and Biia river basins and have enormous power resources (average annual capacity of 9.6 million KW-hr). The Biia River is used for floating timber. The largest lake is Lake Teletskoe. There are chernozems in the northwestern part of the oblast on the lower slopes of the mountains; the remaining area has mountain-podzolic soils. Forests cover 25 percent of the oblast’s area. Conifers (Siberian larch, cedar, fir, and spruce) and pines abound in the lower mountain belt. Deciduous trees include the birch, aspen, and black poplar. About two-thirds of the forests are concentrated in the Katun’ River basin. The tim-berline is at 2,000–2,500 m; above that are alpine and subalpine meadows. The broad basins have mountain-steppe and semidesert flora. The most typical animals are the mountain goat, leopard, bear, wolf, elk, maral, pika, Altai marmot, long-tail Siberian suslik, squirrel, and sable. Birds include the demoiselle crane, capercaillie, black grouse, hazel hen, willow grouse, ptarmigan, and nutcracker. The Altai Nature Preserve is located in the vicinity of Lake Teletskoe.

Population. In 1970 the bulk of the population consisted of Altais (27.8 percent), Russians (65.6 percent), and Kazakhs (4.3 percent). The indigenous population, the Altais, have completely shifted to a settled way of life during the Soviet period. Russians live primarily in the low-mountain northern and northwestern parts of the oblast, and the Kazakhs in the southwest. The average population density is 1.8 persons per sq km (1971). The urban population constitutes 26 percent.


Historical survey. The territory of the oblast has been inhabited since ancient times. Habitation sites from the Lower and Upper Paleolithic have been discovered here—for example, Ulalinka and U-Kan. The territory has been traversed by the Huns, Turkic tribes, the Uigurs, the Enisei Kirghiz, the Kara Kitais, and the Mongols. In the early 13th century the area became part of Genghis Khan’s Mongol empire, then part of various feudal federations. The region was sparsely populated. With the Russian colonization of Siberia, the Altai herdsmen gradually became Russian subjects (for example, the Kumandins in 1628). This process intensified after the beginning of the devastating war of 1755 between the Manchu rulers of China and Dzungaria, of which Gornyi Altai was part. Attempting to save themselves from extermination, the Altais requested the Russian frontier authorities to accept them as subjects of Russia. Their request was granted in 1756. The population was engaged in nomadic herding, hunting, and nut gathering. Patriarchal-feudal relations predominated. The people lived under the yoke of zaisans (local feudal lords), bais (wealthy landowners, stock raisers, or merchants), shamans (religious leaders), and tsarist officials.

Soviet power was established in Gornyi Altai between January and March 1918. In June 1918 power was seized by the local nationalists and White Guards. In August 1919 a partisan movement developed against A. V. Kolchak’s troops. In October 1919 the rebels united into a single division (more than 18,000 men) with a Bolshevik staff under the command of I. Ia. Tret’iak. By the middle of April 1920, Soviet power was restored in Gornyi Altai. The Oirot Autonomous Oblast was formed as a constituent part of the RSFSR by the June 1, 1922, decree of the All-Russian Central Executive Committee. However, the oblast’s name did not correspond to the people’s historic name or their self-designation. By the Jan. 7, 1948, edict of the Presidium of the Supreme Soviet of the RSFSR, the Oirot Autonomous Oblast of Altai Krai was renamed the Gorno-Altai Autonomous Oblast, and the oblast’s center, the city of Oirot-Tura, was renamed Gorno-Altaisk. As a result of the socialist transformations, the working people of the Gorno-Altai Autonomous Oblast passed directly from patriarchal-feudal relations to socialism, bypassing the stage of capitalist development. Industry was created, highways were built, and kolkhozes and sovkhozes established. A cultural revolution has been carried out, and a national intelligentsia has formed. On Aug. 8, 1967, the Order of Lenin was awarded to the Gorno-Altai Autonomous Oblast.


Economy. The major branch of the economy is livestock raising. Pastures account for 75 percent of all the agricultural land. The oblast has 19 kolkhozes and 23 sovkhozes. Sheep, Angora goats, and cattle predominate in livestock raising as well as Altai horses and, in the mountain-steppe raions, yaks. A unique branch of the oblast’s stock rearing is the breeding of reindeer for their antlers (maral and sika deer). Beekeeping is developed in some areas. There is hunting for ermine, squirrel, fox, Siberian weasel, sable, and mink. Agriculture is developed primarily in the basins and in the valleys of the major rivers. The principal crops are oats, barley, grasses, corn for silo and green fodder, and sunflowers. Horticulture (fruits) is developing, and the oblast has an experimental center of mountain horticulture.

Industry is becoming increasingly important in the economy of Gorno-Altai Autonomous Oblast. The gross output of all the branches of industry rose 9.3 times between 1940 and 1970. The 1970 output of electrical power totaled 42.1 million KW-hr, compared with 1.2 million KW-hr in 1940. Light industry and the food industry account for more than 70 percent of the oblast’s industrial output. In 1970, 2.3 million m of cotton fabric and 163,000 pairs of leather shoes were manufactured. The products of livestock raising are processed by 11 butter and cheese plants, two meat combines, and meat-packing centers. The food industry produces sausages, edible fats, beer, and fruit and berry wines. Automobile repair, electric appliance, and haydite concrete plants have been built. The forestry and woodworking industry is developing. In 1970, 854,000 cu m of timber were shipped out of the oblast compared with 242,000 cu m in 1940. The building materials and power industries are growing.

The major transportation route is the 621-km Chuia highway, which extends from Biisk to the border of the Mongolian People’s Republic.

INTERNAL DIFFERENCES. The northwestern region is the most developed economically. Stable-and-pasture stock rearing is practiced here, and there are large plantings of fodder crops and wheat (in the Katun’ basin). The city of Gorno-Altaisk is located in this region.

The northeastern region comprises the basin of the Biia and its tributaries. The chief occupations are logging and wood-products industry (the processing of timber, extraction of cedar oleoresin, and production of fir oil), beekeeping, hunting, and cedar-nut gathering.

The central and southwestern region comprises the valley of the Ursul River and the upper courses of the Katun’ and Charysh rivers. It is the highest region of the Altai. Farming is practiced on irrigated lands at elevations of 800–1,200 m, and marble is extracted.

The southeastern region is a high mountain and arid region with distant-pasture stock rearing. The chief stock are sheep, goats, and yaks. The few plantings that exist are mainly on irrigated sectors.


Public health. On Jan. 1, 1971, the oblast had 34 hospitals with 1,900 beds (1.2 beds per 1,000 inhabitants) and 251 doctors (one doctor per 633 inhabitants). The mountain health resort of Chemal is located at the confluence of the Chemal and Katun’ rivers. The oblast has two children’s sanatoriums, tourist centers on Lake Teletskoe and the Katun’ River, and all-Union hiking trails. There is mountain climbing in the vicinity of Mount Belukha.

Public education and cultural affairs. Before the October Revolution there were only 1,900 students in 34 schools. In the 1970–71 academic year the oblast had 224 general education schools with 41,400 students, three vocational and technical schools with 1,031 students, five special secondary schools with 4,400 students, and one pedagogical institute with about 4,000 students. In 1970 there were 125 preschool institutions with more than 5,400 children.

In 1970 the oblast had 117 public libraries with more than 1.2 million books and magazines, 241 clubs, an oblast museum of local lore, 290 permanent and 13 portable film projection units, a philharmonic society, a folk theater, and an interkolkhoz ensemble. Extracurricular institutions include three houses of Pioneers, stations of young naturalists and technicians, an excursion and tourist station (an organizational and educational center for excursions, tours, and regional studies work for students), and three children’s sports schools.

Gorno-Altaisk is the site of the Scientific Research Institute of History and Altaic Language and Literature.

Press and radio. The two oblast newspapers are the Altai-language Altaidyn cholmony (The Star of Altai), published since 1922, and the Russian-language Zvezda Altaia, published since 1922.

The oblast radio station broadcasts two programs in Russian and Altai and also relays programs from Moscow and Barnaul.

Literature. The struggle of the Altai tribes against Chinese and Dzungarian invaders and the people’s dreams of happiness were reflected in folk poetry: heroic epics, fairy tales, songs, legends, proverbs, and riddles. Such narrators of folk tales as M. Iutkanakov, Sh. Shunekov, and N. Uglashev were popular in the 19th and 20th centuries. The enlightener and missionary M. V. Chevalkov was active in the 19th century. The folk poetry after the October Revolution reflects the radical transformations in the mountains of the Altai. Conditions were created for the development of a literature written by Altais. Writers of the 1920’s include M. V. Mundus-Edokov, author of the first Altaic plays— The Bride (1927) and Before and Now (1928)—and P. A. Chagat-Stroev, author of the narrative poems The Wise Hero (1926) and Kara-Korum (1929), both dealing with revolutionary events and the Civil War in the Altai. In the 1930’s and 1940’s the work of P. V. Kuchiiak (1897–1943) became a chronicle of the life of the Altai people from the prerevolutionary years to the Great Patriotic War. His works include the plays The Struggle (1932), Cheinesh (1940), and Two Guards (1950); the narrative poem Arbachy (1933); and the novella The Devil’s Valley (published in 1945). Ch. A. Chunizhekov (born 1898), one of the oldest Altai writers, wrote the narrative poem Tuudi (1947); the collection of poems My Word (1953), Selected Works (1959), and Sketches (1960); and the novella Munduzak (1962). In the 1950’s and 1960’s the oblast’s literature was enriched by such writers as A. Sarueva (born 1914), author of the collections of poems Blossom, My Homeland (1953), My Altai (1957), Syrga (1960), and To You, My Native Land (1961); S. Surazakov (born 1925), author of the collection The Lord of the Mountains (1962); A. Adarov (born 1932), author of the collection Songs of the Heart (1958) and Land Raised to the Sun (1964); L. Kokyshev (born 1933), author of the collection Poems (1958) and the novel Arina (1959); and E. Palkin (born 1934), author of the collection Such Is the Custom (1959).

Architecture and art Sites of fortified towns dating from the second millennium B.C. and remains of fortifications have been found in the Gornyi-Altai Autonomous Oblast, as well as rock drawings of animals, birds, and hunting scenes (the Bichitku-Bom “rock of inscriptions” in Ongudai Raion). Research has yielded numerous articles of the decorative art of the early nomads, marvelous examples of the so-called Scythian-Siberian “animal style” dating from the fifth to the third century B.C . These are accidental finds (cast gold brooches, necklaces, and the like) and articles that have been unearthed during excavations of burial grounds (the Pazyryk barrows, the Bashadar barrows, Tuekta, and Katanda); patterned fabrics, felt rugs, the world’s oldest fleece rug, and numerous representations of animals (deer, tigers), birds, and fantastic creatures, which were made of wood, leather, or felt, and decorated horse harnesses, clothing, and utensils (all these items are at the Hermitage in Leningrad). Stone female figurines have been preserved from the period of the Turkic kaganate: objects found during the excavations of burials (for instance, in Kudyrga) include bone articles with engraved animals and hunting scenes, ornaments, remnants of fur clothing, wool and silk fabrics ornamented with appliqués, and gold brooches.

For many centuries the nomads lived in yurta. conic structures made of poles and covered with bark or round structures made of felt. At present, wooden residential homes are being built in rural areas, as well as modern school buildings, rural soviets, post offices, clubs, houses of culture, and motion picture theaters. Yurta serve as summer and auxiliary premises. The House of Soviets and buildings housing the oblast library, the pedagogical school, the bank, the hotel, and other institutions have been built in Gorno-Altaisk.

In decorative art, woven felt and embroidered patterned rugs, embroidered and appliquéd clothing and household articles, stamped leather, and carved wood utensils have been widespread since ancient times. The ornamentation is curvilinear and horn-shaped. with braid elements and animal and sometimes plant motifs. The gifted Altai landscape artist G. I. Gurkin, who studied under I. I. Shishkin, worked in Gornyi Altai in the first third of the 20th century.


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Pod znamenem Okliabria (Gornyi Allai za 50 let Sovelskoi vlasti). Gorno-Altaisk, 1967.
Potapov, L. P. Etnicheskii soslav iproiskhozhdenie altaitsev. Leningrad, 1969.
Gorno-Altaiskaia avtonomnaia oblast’. Gorno-Altaisk, 1963.
Narodnoe khoziaistvo Altaiksogo kraia za 50 let Sovelskoi vlasti. Barnaul, 1967.
Zapadno-Sibirskii ekonomicheskii raion. Moscow, 1967.
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Ocherki po istorii gorno-altaiskoi literatury. Gorno-Altaisk, 1969.
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The Great Soviet Encyclopedia, 3rd Edition (1970-1979). © 2010 The Gale Group, Inc. All rights reserved.