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Documentation of Kalmyk Cultural Heritage

The Kalmyk Cultural Heritage Documentation Project aims to video-audio document Kalmyk culture in the broadest sense and to produce a comprehensive database on the endangered cultural heritage of the Kalmyks in Russia and their kinsmen, the Torghuts, in China. The project hopes that this on-line knowledge will not only provide the communities with a resource that they can draw upon to compare, study and popularise their culture but also contribute to cultural preservation and revitalisation both in Kalmykia and beyond. The majority of documentation will be carried out in the Republic of Kalmykia - the focus area of the project - and the adjacent Astrakhan region. In China, we will document the cultural heritage preservation activities in three widely dispersed Oirat/Torghut communities: Chengde /Weichang in Hebei, Ejene in Inner Mongolia, and Bortala/Hoboksar in Xinjiang, respectively. The project is a collaborative endeavor involving international academics from the UK, Mongolia, Russia, China and other countries.

The Kalmyks are a unique people of Mongolian origin, known both for engaging in the last long-distance nomadic migration in world history, and also as 'the only Buddhist nation in Europe'. The Kalmyks are the most western of all the Mongolian peoples in this respect. Having settled in the lower Volga region of Russia in the first half of the seventeenth century after a long migration from Dzungaria (today corresponding to the northern half of China's Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region, the western part of Mongolia and eastern Kazakhstan), half of the Kalmyk population returned to their homeland of Dzungaria in 1771.

By 'Kalmyks' we mean those people who separated from the Oirats of Dzungaria in the seventeenth century, went to Russia, formed the Kalmyk khanate (1633 - 1771), and thereafter scattered. We hold that these people have a common culture, even though as a result of historical migration processes some of them later adopted other identities and now are no longer called Kalmyk (in China and Mongolia they are known as 'Torghut').

Kalmyk culture has been considered to be endangered not only by international scholars but by Kalmyks themselves. The Kalmyk Cultural Heritage Documentation Project focuses on five different locations in Russia and China, which are home to the majority of the world Kalmyk population of about 300,000. In collaboration with local scholars, the project aims to undertake an extensive audiovisual documentation of the endangered elements of Kalmyk cultural heritage, including material, intangible, religious and other aspects of culture.

Project Team

Principal Investigator: Dr Uradyn E. Bulag.

Project Manager: Dr Baasanjav Terbish.

Research Associate: Dr Elvira Churyumova.

Senior Research Advisor: Prof. Caroline Humphrey.

Administrative Assistant: Mrs Anna Clayton.


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