Friday, April 18, 2008

Role of Buriad / Buryat Mongols in modern Mongolian history

I am half-Buriad and half-Khalkh. I have to admit though, I didn't know much about the ethnic differences between Buriads and Khalkhs except for the language and sometimes their facial features. And that comes from having a Buriad mother and a Khalkh father. Personal observations mostly. What I recently found out was that Buriads were politically very active in the early days of the Communist Revolution. To their detriment really.

There were many Buriads living in the Russian territory north of the Russo-Mongolian border. When the October revolution came, a lot of Buriads fled down to Mongolia. And Buriad intellientsia were the first group of Mongolians to start the discussion on an all-Mongol state and attempt a "sit-down" with Uvur Mongols (South Mongolians, today's Inner Mongolians) and Ar Mongols (today's Mongolia, but literally means North Mongolia). Obviously their Mongol nationalism and their rejection or rather silent refusal to accept and assimilate into the new communist regime didn't please Stalin one bit. In the late 1930's, Stalin's hatred of the Buriads reached Mongolia. Starting with the "Lhumbe affair", in which 311 people were convicted of being counter-revolutionaries and political dissidents and accused of a conspiring to overthrow the communist government with the help and under the instruction of the imperialist government of Japan. Out of these, more than 250 were influential Buriad intellectuals and politicians. Some were shot, some were sent to a gulag in Siberia and others sentenced to jail. The Stalinist purge of the 1930's targeted Buddhist lamas and Buriad ethnic groups of Mongolia. My grandfather, a Buriad, at that time was a young man, and was exiled far off for a few years. My great-grandfather, my grandmother's father, also a Buriad, was shot.

This systematic genocide of the Buriads was something I wasn't aware of. Many of the Buriads were educated bi-lingual and perhaps Mongolist intellectuals who would've been influential in the Mongolian politics, had they lived.

What followed was a Khalkh-centric national identity under communism. Ethnic minorities were alienated and spied upon.

I still have many relatives in Ulaan-Uud (Ulan-Ude on the map, name means "Red Door" in Mongolian) , Buryatia, Russia, separated from us when the Russo-Mongolian borders were drawn. My great-great-grandfather was spending the summer in what-was-to-become a Mongolian territory, while his brother was "summering" in today's Buryatia. Thus, suddenly they found themselves citizens of different countries.