Tuesday, December 4, 2007

Yamal Peninsula

The Yamal Peninsula (Russian: полуо́стров Яма́л), located in Yamal-Nenets autonomous district of northwest Siberia, Russia, extends roughly 700 km (435 mi) and is bordered principally by the Kara Sea, Baydaratskaya Bay on the west, and by the Gulf of Ob on the east. In the language of its indigenous inhabitants, the Nenets, "Yamal" means "End of the World".

The peninsula consists mostly of permafrost ground and is geologically a very young place—less than 10,000 years old.

In the Russian Federation, the Yamal peninsula is the place where traditional large-scale nomadic reindeer husbandry is best preserved. On the peninsula, several thousand Nenets and Khanty reindeer herders hold about 500,000 domestic reindeer. At the same time, Yamal is inhabited by a multitude of migratory bird species.

At the same time, Yamal holds Russia's biggest natural gas reserves. The Bovanenkovskoye deposit is planned to be developed by the Russian gas monopolist Gazprom by 2011-2012, a fact which put the future of nomadic reindeer herding at considerable risk.

On the peninsula in the Summer of 2007 the well preserved remains of a 10,000 year old mammoth calf were found by reindeer herder. The animal was female and approximately six months old at the time of death.


Population (2002): 507,006.

Ethnic groups: As oil workers from across Russia far outnumber indigenous people in the region it should come as no surprise that the Nenets only make up 5.2% of the population, preceded by Tatars (5.4%), Ukrainians (13%) and ethnic Russians (58.8%). Other prominent ethnic groups include Belarusians (8,989 or 1.8%), Khants (1.7%), Azerbaijanis (8,353 or 1.65%), Bashkirs (7,932 or 1.56%), Komi (1.22%), Moldovans (5,400 or 1.06%) and so on. (all figures as per the 2002 census)

Nenets (autonym: ненэця" вада) is a language spoken by the Nenets people in northern Russia. It belongs to the Samoyedic languages which form the Uralic language family with the Finno-Ugric languages. There are two major dialects—Tundra Nenets and Forest Nenets—with low mutual intelligibility between the two. Tundra Nenets has the larger group of speakers.

The name Samoyed entered the Russian language as a corruption of the self-reference Saamod, Saamid (the Fennic suffix "-d" denotes plurality: Saami -> "Saamid"). Another version derives the name from the expression "same edne" , i.e., the land of sami. In Russian ethnographic literature of 19th century they were also called "Самоядь", "Самодь", (samoyad', samod', samodijtsy, samodijskie narody) which was often transliterated into English as Samodi.

The literal morphs samo and yed in Russian convey the meaning "self-eater", which appears as derogatory. Therefore the name Samoyed quickly went out of usage in the 20th century, and the people bear the name of Nenets, which means "man".

When reading old Russian documents it is necessary to keep in mind that the term samoyed' was often applied indiscriminately to different peoples of Northern Siberia who speak different Uralic languages: Nenets, Nganasans, Enets, Selkups (speakers of Samoyedic languages). Currently, the term "Samoyedic peoples" applies to the whole group of different peoples. It is the general term which includes Nenets, Enets people, Selkup people and Nganasan people.

Nenets are just a part of the Samoyedic peoples. Sometimes their name is spelled as Nenet, probably because of the erroneous assumption that the terminal 's' is for the plural number.

There are two distinct groups based on their economy: the Tundra Nenets (living far to the north) and the Khandeyar or Forest Nenets. The third group Kominized Nenets (Yaran people) has emerged as a result of intermarriages between Nenets and the Izhma tribe of the Komi peoples.

Some[Who?] believe that they split apart from the Finno-Ugric speaking groups around 3000 BCE and migrated east where they mixed with Turkic and Altaic speaking peoples around 200 BCE. Those who remained in Europe came under Russian control around 1200 CE but those who lived further east did not come in contact until 14th century. In the early 17th century, all Nenets were under Russian control. The Samoyedic languages form a minor branch of the Uralic language family, the major branch being the Finno-Ugric languages. It is of major importance for the basic comparison between the Uralic and Finno-Ugric languages. Another consideration is that they moved (probably from farther south in Siberia) to the northernmost part of what later became Russia before the 12th century.
Nenets family in their tent.
Nenets family in their tent.

They ended up between the Kanin and Taymyr peninsulas, around the Ob and Yenisey rivers, with some of them settling into small communities and taking up farming, while others continued hunting and reindeer herding, travelling great distances over the Kanin peninsula. They bred the Samoyed dog to help herd their reindeer and pull their sleds, and European explorers later used those dogs for polar expeditions, because they have adapted so well to the arctic conditions. Fish was also a major component of their diet.

They had a shamanistic and animistic belief system which stressed respect for the land and its resources. They had a clan-based social structure. The Nenets shaman is called a Tadibya.

After the Russian Revolution, their culture suffered due to Soviet collectivisation policy. The government of the Soviet Union tried to force the nomad Samoyeds to settle down, and most of them became assimilated. They were forced to settle on permanent farms and their children were educated in state boarding schools, which resulted in erosion of their cultural identity. On the other hand, a wide range of new professions and activities were made available to the Nenets; Konstantin Pankov, for instance, became a well-known painter. Environmental damage due to the industrialisation of their land and overgrazing of the tundra migration routes in some regions (Yamal Peninsula) have further endangered their way of life.

The Kara Sea (Russian: Ка́рское мо́ре) is part of the Arctic Ocean north of Siberia. It is separated from the Barents Sea to the west by the Kara Strait and Novaya Zemlya, and the Laptev Sea to the east by the Severnaya Zemlya.

It is roughly 1,450 kilometres long and 970 kilometres wide with an area of around 880,000 km² and a mean depth of 110 m.

Compared to the Barents Sea, which receives relatively warm currents from the Atlantic, the Kara Sea is much colder, remaining frozen for over nine months a year.

The Kara receives a large amount of fresh water from the Ob, Yenisei, Pyasina, and Taimyra rivers, so its salinity is very variable.

Its main ports are Novy Port and Dikson and it is important as a fishing ground although the sea is ice-bound for all but two months of the year. Significant discoveries of petroleum and natural gas, an extension of the West Siberian Oil Basin, have been made but have not yet been developed.

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