Nenets National Okrug

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 It might be outdated or ideologically biased.

Nenets National Okrug


part of Arkhangel’sk Oblast, RSFSR. Formed on July 15, 1929. Located in the extreme northeast of the East European Plain and borders on the White, Barents, Pechora, and Kara seas. It includes Kolguev and Vaigach islands. Area, 176,700 sq km. Population, 39,000 (1973). The center is the city of Nar’ian-Mar.

Natural features. The relief is mainly flat, with several ancient and strongly eroded mountain ridges—the Kanin Kamen’, the northern spurs of Timan Ridge, and the Pai-Khoi Range with elevations of 300–400 m. The western parts of the okrug—the Kanin and Malozemel’skaia tundras—are flat and very swampy plains; the area east of the lower Pechora (the Bol’shezemel’skata Tundra) rises above sea level, is less swampy, and has many moraine ridges and hills.

The climate is harsh; the average January temperature ranges from —12°C in the southwest to —22°C in the northeast; the average July temperature is 6°C in the north and 13°C in the south. Average annual precipitation is 280–420 mm, about 70 percent of which falls in the warm season. Permafrost is widespread. The growing period ranges from 72 to 110 days. There are many small tundra rivers and shallow lakes, often forming systems by means of short channels called viski (the Vashutkiny Lakes, for example). The Pechora River, the lower course of which is navigable by oceangoing vessels, flows for 220 km through the okrug.

Tundra-gley and peat-gley soils predominate, but sections of gley-podzolic soils are encountered in the southwest. More than three-fourths of the okrug is within the tundra zone. Dwarf birch and moss complexes and herbaceous and moss complexes predominate, and there are dense willow groves in the river valleys. The south and southwest of the okrug are in the foresttundra and northern taiga subzones. There are meadows in the floodplains and in the delta of the Pechora River; the coastal meadows (laidas) are suitable for hay. A large part of the land is used as seasonal reindeer pasture.

The fauna is quite diverse. Game animals include the arctic fox, red fox, and ermine, as well as such birds as ptarmigans, willow ptarmigans, geese, and ducks. The rivers and seas abound in such fish as the Atlantic salmon (Salmo salar), the nelma (Stenodus leucichthys nelma), whitefish, herring, and the navaga (Eleginus navaga).

Population. The Nenets National Okrug is inhabited by Nentsi, Komi, Russians, Ukrainians, and other nationalities. The average population density is 0.2 persons per sq km; 56 percent of the population is urban. The okrug has one city, Nar’ian-Mar, and one urban-type settlement, Amderma.

Historical survey. One of the earliest sources in which the Nentsi are mentioned is the Nestorian Chronicle (late 11 th century). In the late 16th century and early 17th the area inhabited by the Nentsi was under the power of the Muscovite state. The native population was nomadic and engaged in reindeer breeding, fishing, and hunting. The 17th through 19th centuries saw the gradual decline of the clan system. The plunder of the population by tsarist officials and merchants, who corrupted the Nentsi and bought furs from them for trifling sums, their forcible conversion to Christianity, and a high tax paid in goods (iasak) caused several popular uprisings (1719, 1731, and 1749); the most important uprising, led by the Nenets Vavle Neniaga, lasted from 1825 to 1840. As a result of the nomadic way of life, vestiges of clan relations, poverty, and ignorance, the population was rapidly dying out.

The October Revolution put an end to the national oppression of the Nentsi, radically changed the economic and cultural conditions of the people, and brought about the socialist reorganization of the economy. During the Civil War of 1918–20, the Nenets working people joined local partisan detachments, defending the Soviet North against the White Guards and interventionists. Soviet power was finally established in the summer of 1921. In July 1929 a resolution of the Presidium of the All-Russian Central Executive Committee created the Nenets National Okrug with Kanin-Timan and Nenets raions; the village of Tel’visochnoe was made the okrug’s center. In December 1929 part of the former volost’ (small rural district) of Pustozersk (now Pustozersk Raion) was included in the okrug.

Russians and other peoples of the USSR greatly aided the Nentsi in developing the local economy and training local cadres. From 1921 to 1932 production associations and partnerships for joint reindeer grazing were set up, and by late 1934 there were 15 such partnerships in the okrug. Cooperation was originally limited to reindeer breeding, the leading branch of the economy. The first Nenets reindeer-breeding kolkhoz was created in March 1929; in 1930 the first group of the ACP (Bolshevik) in the Nenets tundra was formed in the kolkhoz. New branches of the economy began developing, such as dairy livestock raising and crop farming (mainly in the river valleys), causing a gradual shift to a settled way of life. Fishing and the fish-processing industry developed.

During the Great Patriotic War (1941–45) some of the Nentsi fought against the fascist German invaders. The population of the okrug donated 73,000 reindeer for the needs of the front; despite this, the reindeer herd had increased 46.5 percent by the end of the war. In the postwar decades the working people of the Nenets National Okrug made further strides in all branches of the national economy and in culture. The well-being of the population increases steadily. In 1972 the okrug was awarded the Order of Friendship of Peoples.

Economy. The main branches of the economy are reindeer breeding, fishing, and hunting and trapping of terrestrial and marine animals; industrial production has also developed significantly. The Nenets National Okrug is one of the main reindeer-breeding regions in the USSR, with 178,900 reindeer in early 1973. In 1972 there were two reindeer-breeding sovkhozes and eight kolkhozes, with an average of 1.2 million hectares of seasonal pasture assigned to each farm. Cross-country vehicles and helicopters are increasingly used to transport brigades of herders to remote pastures. Eight fishing kolkhozes have been set up on the lower Pechora and in the western coastal regions of the okrug; these kolkhozes account for more than 90 percent of the okrug’s total catch. Large fishing vessels are used for commercial deep-sea fishing in the Atlantic Ocean. The Nenets National Okrug accounts for about one-fourth of the total fur procurement of Arkhangel’sk Oblast. The main fur-bearing game animal is the arctic fox, accounting for up to four-fifths of the hunting output. Vast hunting grounds are assigned to the kolkhozes. Fur farming accounts for the major part of the fur output (85 percent in 1972). Four fur farms raise the blue fox, silver fox, and mink. Dairy animal husbandry, which in the past was practiced mainly in Russian villages, has become widespread on Nenets farms as well. The publicly owned herds of cattle totaled 6,800 head in 1973. Crop farming is developing. The chief crop cultivated in the open field is the potato.

Industrial production is represented primarily by the food-processing industry, with fish-processing and meat-packing combines in Nar’ian-Mar and several creameries. A sawmill with four saw frames is in operation on the lower Pechora. Large reserves of natural gas and petroleum have been discovered in the postwar years. Preparations for the exploitation of the Vasilkov and Laia-Vozh gas deposits and of the southern Shapkina petroleum deposit are under way. The development of the okrug’s economy was greatly stimulated by the opening of the Northern Sea Route, the construction of seaports in Nar’ian-Mar and Amderma, and the development of navigation on the Pechora. Airlines link Nar’ian-Mar with several cities of the USSR and with the interior regions of the okrug.


Education and cultural affairs. In 1914, 98 percent of the Nentsi were illiterate. In the Soviet period an alphabet for the Nenets language has been created, and illiteracy has been eradicated. In the 1973–74 academic year the okrug had 45 general-educational schools of all types with 9,100 students, a veterinary and livestock-management technicum and a pedagogical school in Nar’ian-Mar with 706 students, and a vocational technical school with 300 students. In 1972 there were 3,700 children in 58 preschool institutions. On Jan. 1, 1973, the okrug had 35 public libraries with 299,000 copies of books and magazines, an okrug museum of local lore, a house of people’s arts, a music school, a people’s amateur theater in Nar’ian-Mar, 52 clubs, 69 motion-picture projectors, and a house of Pioneers. Nar’ian-Mar also has an experimental agricultural station of the Scientific Research Institute on the Agriculture of the Far North.

The okrug Russian-language newspaper Nar’iana vynder (subtitle Krasnyi tundrovik) was founded in 1929. Okrug radio programs are broadcast in Russian and Nenets (one hour), and radio programs are relayed from Moscow and Arkhangel’sk. Inhabitants of Nar’ian-Mar and nearby communities are able to view television programs by means of the “Orbita” ground reception station.

Literature. The Nentsi had no written literature before the October Revolution of 1917; they had only various forms of oral art. The artist and narrator Tyko Vylka (I. K. Vylka, 1883–1960) has become widely known; his fairy tales and epic legends were published in 1936 (transcribed by V. Tonkov) and 1965 (transcribed by A. M. Shcherbakova). Vylka’s traditions were continued by A. P. Pyrerko (1905–41), one of the first students of Nenets linguistics and folklore and author of the collections Nenets Fairy Tales (1935), Your Fairy Tales (1936), and The Old Woman’s Son (1939) and the novella Vedo’s Youngest Son (1940; published 1960). The Russian scholars G. N. Prokofev, G. D. Verbov, and A. A. Savel’ev made a great contribution to the development of Nenets literature. (All three died in the Great Patriotic War of 1941–45.)

The first literary works of the young authors of the late 1920’s and early 1930’s were printed in the magazine Taiga i tundra and the collections Above the Arctic Circle. N. S. Vylka (1911–44) gained popularity before the war with his poems and with the novellas Mar’ia and On the Island (both published in 1938). The poet A. I. Pichkov (born 1934) is the author of the collections Reindeer Trails (1969) and The Rose Pattern (1970). A. F. Kaniukov (1932–72) published the novella collections My lasovei (1964) and Niudiako, Valei’s Son (1966). V. N. Ledkov (born 1933) has become well known through the poetry collection The Snow Power (1972), the novella The Blue in the Lasso (1970), and essays and short stories about life in the Nenets tundra.

Great contributions to the development of the Nenets literary language and folkloristics have been made by the scholars Z. N. Kupriianova, N. M. Tereshchenko, L. V. Khomich, A. M. Shcherbakova, M. Ia. Barmich, and A. I. Rozhin. Books by Nenets writers living in Tiumen’ Oblast (I. G. Istomin, L. V. Laptsui, and I. A. Iuganpelik) are popular among the Nentsi of the Nenets National Okrug. Works in the languages of other peoples of the USSR are translated into Nenets, and books of Nenets writers have been translated into Russian.



Klimaticheskii spravochnik po Nenetskomu natsional’nomu okrugu Arkhangel’skoi oblasti. Arkhangel’sk, 1962.
Krupin, A. N. Preobrazhennyi krai. Arkhangel’sk, 1957.
Rossiiskaia federatsiia: Evropeiskii Sever. Moscow, 1971. (Sovetskii Soiuz series.)
Kupriianova, Z. N. Nenetskii fol’klor. Leningrad, 1960.
Pisateli i poety Arkhangel’skoi oblasti: Biobibliograficheskii spravochnik. Arkhangel’sk, 1962.
The Great Soviet Encyclopedia, 3rd Edition (1970-1979). © 2010 The Gale Group, Inc. All rights reserved.