Kalmykia – Buddhist land

for Geo France, 2021


Kalmykia, the autonomous Republic of Russia is located in the region of the lower Volga, bathed to the southeast by the Caspian Sea. A land of ocher and deserted steppe in the middle of which rises the capital where a third of the 270,000 inhabitants live. 

Above all, it constitutes a Buddhist enclave between the Muslim Caucasus and Orthodox Russia. Its turbulent history is often unknown to the Russians themselves: it goes back to the installation here, at the beginning of the 17th century, of Oïrats, nomadic horsemen from Western Mongolia, Buddhists, who practiced pastoralism. Some remained there, hence the name given to them, Kalmouk, a word of Turkish origin meaning “those who remained”. Importing their traditional organization, they established a khanate (kingdom) around the Volga delta. They provided security at the gates of the Russian Empire, forming a bulwark against Caucasian incursions. 

During the Soviet period, Stalin forbade them any religious practice and deported kalmyks for several years from their land. 

Today, thirty years after the fall of the USSR, the Kalmyks are looking for a place within the immense Russian Federation. And to do this they rely largely on Buddha.