The Brief History of Siberia



TRAVELLERS often describe a journey in the Trans-Siberian railway as the fulfillment of a dream. Perhaps it is a dream find by the urge to escape, to answer the call of the Orient, to take the longest possible train ride after which everything just has to be greener on the other side.

SO WHY TO GO? Perhaps because travelling to many parts of the globe has now become so fast, soft, clean and undemanding, that some travellers welcome a challenge, whether they choose this route to start a journey between Europe and Asia or conclude it, they will have the advantages of a gradual transition which gently blunts the edges of culture shock.

SIB-IR – “the sleeping land“ from which Siberia takes it name is the backyard and economic El Dorado of the CIS (Commonwealth of Independent States), occupies an area of more than 10 million square kilometers (3.6 million square miles), which stretches over 7.000 km (4,375 miles) from the Ural in the west to the Pacific in the east, and over 3,500 km (2,187 miles) from the Arctic Ocean in the north to the frontiers of Mongolia and the steppes of Kazakhstan to the south. Siberia includes arctic tundra and permafrost, ground perennially frozen as deep as 1000 meters (3.200 ft): taiga (mostly coniferous forest covering almost 35 % of the CIS, the southern steppes through which runs the Trans-Siberian railway, and even deserts on the fringes of Central Asia.

Population is focused around large cities and vast regions are uninhabited. Russians, Ukrainians and Belorussians constitute over 90 % of the population. The remaining 4 % include native Siberian people, such as Buryats (of Mongol stock), Yakuts, Tuvans, Khakass and Evenks, many of whom have left a nomadic life of trapping, fishing and reindeer herding and settled in cities.

Officially, Siberia is administered as part of the Russian Federation and comprise three geographical and economic regions.

1) Western Siberia, 2) Eastern Siberia and 3) the Russian Far East.

1) WESTERN SIBERIA 2.4 million square kilometers or 866 000 square miles, and a population of 12,9 millions extends from the Ural to the Yenisei river. The coalfields in the Kuzbass region, the oilfields in the Tyumen region and the northern gas fields are amongst the largest reserves of mineral resources in the world.

2) EASTERN SIBERIA 4.1 million square kilometers or 1,48 million square miles and a population of 8.1 million stretches from the Yenisei to the mountain ranges of the Pacific Ocean watershed. Major economic resources include rich reserves of lignite, huge timber stands almost half of the CIS total and hydroelectric power produced from the Yenisei and its tributaries on an enormous scale.

3) THE RUSSIAN FAR EAST 6,2 million square kilometers or 2,45 million square miles, and a population of 6,8 million ranges from the Bering Sea in the north to the Amur region in the south. Large reserves of oil, coal and gas are still being discovered and the fishery industry is amongst the largest in the world.

SETTLEMENTS - Settlement of Siberia can be traced back to Paleolithic tribes in 40 000 B.C. Towards the beginning of our era Mongoloid tribes begun moving in from the south and the influence of Chinese culture increased. Several centuries later, Central Asian tribes such as the Turki and Kyrgyz had moved up to dominate southern and central Siberia, but were themselves swept aside by the Mongol-Tatar invasion by the Ghenghis Khan in the thirteenth century. Tatar domination of Siberia lasted over 300 years first under Ghenghis Khan and later under the Golden Horde state which was succeeded by the Siberian Khanate.

In 1555 two years after the Tatar stronghold of Kazan had fallen to Ivan the Terrible’s troops, the Siberian Khan, Yadiger, realized that an invasion vas imminent and offered to place the Khanate under the nominal authority of Russia, in return for protection against enemies (…) Ivan the Terrible granted a merchant clan, headed by Jacob and Gregory Stroganov (reputedly, the originator of Beef Stroganov), the rights to lands east of their already vast estates along the Kama river and encourage them to strike back at Kuchum. The Stoganovs took several years to organize an expedition and enlisted an aid of 840 Cossacks under a man later referred to in Russian history as the “Conqueror of Siberia” – Yermak Timofeyevich a former Volga pirate with a price on his head. Yermak continued his campaigns along the Ob and Irtysh rivers and was rewarded by Ivan the Terrible with the golden suit of armour, reinforcements, and a pardon for the misdeeds of himself and his men. But in 1584, the same year which the Ivan the Terrible died (…)small band of Tatars (…) surprised Yermak, dressed in his suit of armour attempted to swim the Irtysh but was dragged under by the weight. The Russians (…) continued to push into the northern and eastern Siberia, where they were either voluntarily accepted as less ruthless rulers than the Tatars or, by using superior firepower, easily overcome hostile tribes. Ostrogs (forts) were built and settlements uch as Tobolsk, Tomsk, Tyumen, Yakutsk and Irkutsk, founded in the 16th and 17th centuries, have become large industrial cities today.

Successive waves of slave labor, voluntary immigration and exiles colonized Siberia, whilst scientific exploration continued under men such as Bering and Wrangell. The construction of the Trans-Siberian railway provided a long overdue improvements in communications and stimulated settlement of Siberia. Full-scale development of Siberia’s resources is now considered of vital importance to the Russian economy, and projects such as the Baikal-Amur Mainlaine BAM are intended to attract populations from the western part of Russia and create industrial growth.

(Source: Robert Strauss; The Trans-Siberian Rail Guide, ISBN 0 9520900 0 7, The Garret, Worcester, United Kingdom 1993 pp. 11, 20,21, 23