Where Two Worlds Met: The Russian State and the Kalmyk Nomads, 1600-1771

Where Two Worlds Met: The Russian State and the Kalmyk Nomads, 1600-1771

Where Two Worlds Met: The Russian State and the Kalmyk Nomads, 1600-1771

Where Two Worlds Met: The Russian State and the Kalmyk Nomads, 1600-1771

Synopsis

During the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries the expanding Russian empire was embroiled in a dramatic confrontation with the nomadic people known as the Kalmyks who had moved westward from Inner Asia onto the vast Caspian and Volga steppes. Drawing on an unparalleled body of Russian and Turkish sources-including chronicles, epics, travelogues, and previously unstudied Ottoman archival materials-Michael Khodarkovsky offers a fresh interpretation of this long and destructive conflict, which ended with the unruly frontier becoming another province of the Russian empire. Khodarkovsky first sketches a cultural anthropology of the Kalmyk tribes, focusing on the assumptions they brought to the interactions with one another and with the sedentary cultures they encountered. In light of this portrait of Kalmyk culture and internal politics, Khodarkovsky rereads from the Kalmyk point of view the Russian history of disputes between the two peoples. Whenever possible, he compares Ottoman accounts of these events with the Russian sources on which earlier interpretations have been based. Khodarkovsky's analysis deepens our understanding of the history of Russian expansion and establishes a new paradigm for future study of the interaction between the Russians and the non-Russian peoples of Central Asia and Transcaucasia.

Excerpt

Throughout the centuries the steppes of the North Caspian region, with their lush pastures, plentiful rivers, and mild climate, were a preferred habitat of numerous nomadic peoples. the "nomadic factor" was ever‐ present in the history of Russia from the days of Kievan Rus' to the late eighteenth century, when this western comer of the Inner Asian steppes became South Russia. the appearance of the Kalmyks near the Volga River in the early seventeenth century represented the last wave in the traditional pattern of migration of nomads from their homelands in Inner Asia to the Caspian steppes.

This book tells the history of the Kalmyk people, their relations with Russia, and the impact of this relationship on both societies in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries. Because the Kalmyks' arrival at the Caspian steppes occurred in the seventeenth century, their relations with Russia were far better documented than Russia's contacts with other nomadic peoples had been in the past. We have, therefore, a rare opportunity to study a nomadic people from the moment of their arrival at Russia's southern frontier to their ultimate political and military demise. An examination of the Kalmyks throughout this period confirms previous anthropological findings in regard to other societies on several crucial issues. It clearly demonstrates that the increasing power of the Kalmyk khan and the centralization of authority in Kalmyk society were not indigenous phenomena but rather a function of the Kalmyks' relations with the Russian state. It also demonstrates that sedentarization among the Kalmyks came as a result of major social changes brought about by their contacts with Russia. Some members of the Kalmyk elite chose to seek power outside their own society and turned to the Russian . . .

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