Fieldwork: Kalmykia 2012

The Republic of Kalmykia in Russia sits at the southeastern corner of Europe. Though European in geography, Kalmykia—officially Buddhist and home to the westernmost group of Mongolic peoples—is an anomaly for that continent. In many ways, it is a miracle that the Kalmyk exist in any way as they suffered terribly at the hands of Stalin. Branding them collaborators with the Germans, one night in December, 1943, Stalin had the entire Kalmyk ethnic group (including all active-duty military) rounded up at gun-point, loaded up on cattle cars on trains, with families split apart and sent to extremely harsh conditions to remote and inhospitable parts of Siberia and Kazakhstan. Survivors were allowed to return only 15 years later to Kalmykia, to find their lands occupied by Russian and Ukrainian farmers.

The Enduring Voices team, including Dr. Greg Anderson, Dr. David Harrison, Chris Rainier, and Jeremy Fahringer, visited Kalmykia in May 2012. Our goals included: observing and reporting on language revitalization, meeting and interviewing Kalmyk culture experts, recording Kalmyk stories and songs, and recruiting participants for the 2013 Smithsonian Folklife Festival. Prior to our fieldwork, David Harrison met with the Kalmyk diaspora community in Howell, NJ, and observed their success in maintaining their Buddhist religious practice, language, and culture.

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