Kuril Islands

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Location of Kuril Islands in the Western Pacific.
Matua Island as seen from Raikoke.

The Kuril Islands or Kurile Islands (/ˈkʊərɪl/, /ˈkjʊərɪl/, or /kjʊˈrl/; Russian: Кури́льские острова́, tr. Kuril'skie ostrova, IPA: [kʊˈrʲilʲskʲɪjə ɐstrɐˈva]; Japanese: クリル列島 Kuriru rettō, (千島列島 Chishima rettō?)), in Russia's Sakhalin Oblast region, form a volcanic archipelago that stretches approximately 1,300 km (810 mi) northeast from Hokkaido, Japan, to Kamchatka, Russia, separating the Sea of Okhotsk from the North Pacific Ocean. There are 56 islands and many more minor rocks. It consists of Greater Kuril Ridge and Lesser Kuril Ridge.[1] The total land area is 10,503.2 square kilometres (4,055.3 sq mi)[2] and total population is 19,434.[3]

All of the islands are under the Russian jurisdiction, but Japan claims the two southernmost large islands (Iturup and Kunashir) as part of its territory, as well as Shikotan and the Habomai islets, which has led to the ongoing Kuril Islands dispute.

Nomenclature[edit]

The Sarychev volcano erupting on June 12, 2009, as seen from the International Space Station.

The name Kuril originates from the autonym of the aboriginal Ainu, the islands' original inhabitants: "kur", meaning man. It may also be related to names for other islands that have traditionally been inhabited by the Ainu people, such as Kuyi or Kuye for Sakhalin and Kai for Hokkaidō. In Japanese, the Kuril Islands are known as the Chishima Islands (Kanji: 千島列島 Chishima Rettō pronounced [tɕiɕima ɽetːoː], literally, Thousand Islands Archipelago), also known as the Kuriru Islands (Katakana: クリル列島 Kuriru Rettō [kɯɽiɽɯ ɽetːoː], literally, Kuril Archipelago). Once the Russians reached the islands in the 18th century they found a pseudo-etymology from Russian kurit ("курить" - "to smoke") due to the continual fumes and steam above the islands from volcanoes.

Geography[edit]

The Kuril Islands, showing the de facto division between Japan and Russia over time.

The Kuril Islands form part of the ring of tectonic instability encircling the Pacific ocean referred to as the Ring of Fire. The islands themselves are summits of stratovolcanoes that are a direct result of the subduction of the Pacific Plate under the Okhotsk Plate, which forms the Kuril Trench some 200 kilometres (120 mi) east of the islands. The chain has around 100 volcanoes, some 40 of which are active, and many hot springs and fumaroles. There is frequent seismic activity, including a magnitude 8.5 earthquake in 1963 and one of magnitude 8.3 recorded on November 15, 2006, which resulted in tsunami waves up to 5 feet (1.5 m) reaching the California coast.[4]

The climate on the islands is generally severe, with long, cold, stormy winters and short and notoriously foggy summers. The average annual precipitation is 30–40 inches (760–1,020 mm), most of which falls as snow.

The chain ranges from temperate to sub-Arctic climate types, and the vegetative cover consequently ranges from tundra in the north to dense spruce and larch forests on the larger southern islands. The highest elevations on the islands are Alaid volcano (highest point: 2,339 m or 7,674 ft) on Atlasov Island at the northern end of the chain and Tyatya volcano (1,819 m or 5,968 ft) on Kunashir Island at the southern end.

One of the Kuril Islands.

Landscape types and habitats on the islands include many kinds of beach and rocky shores, cliffs, wide rivers and fast gravelly streams, forests, grasslands, alpine tundra, crater lakes and peat bogs. The soils are generally productive, owing to the periodic influxes of volcanic ash and, in certain places, owing to significant enrichment by seabird guano. However, many of the steep, unconsolidated slopes are susceptible to landslides and newer volcanic activity can entirely denude a landscape.

Marine ecology[edit]

Owing to their location along the Pacific shelf edge and the confluence of Okhotsk Sea gyre and the southward Oyashio Current, the Kuril islands are surrounded by waters that are among the most productive in the North Pacific, supporting a wide range and high abundance of marine life.

Invertebrates: Extensive kelp beds surrounding almost every island provide crucial habitat for sea urchins, various mollusks and countless other invertebrates and their associated predators. Many species of squid provide a principal component of the diet of many of the smaller marine mammals and birds along the chain.

Fish: Further offshore, walleye pollock, Pacific cod, several species of flatfish are of the greatest commercial importance. During the 1980s, migratory Japanese sardine was one of the most abundant fish in the summer and the main Pinnipeds were a significant object of harvest for the indigenous populations of the Kuril islands, both for food and materials such as skin and bone. The long term fluctuations in the range and distribution of human settlements along the Kuril island presumably tracked the pinniped ranges. In historical times, fur seals were heavily exploited for their fur in the 19th and early 20th centuries and several of the largest reproductive rookeries, as on Raykoke island, were extirpated. In contrast, commercial harvest of the true seals and Steller Sea Lions has been relatively insignificant on the Kuril islands proper. Since the 1960s there has been essentially no additional harvest and the pinniped populations in the Kuril islands appear to be fairly healthy and in some cases expanding. The notable exception is the now extinct Japanese Sea lion which was known to occasionally haul out on the Kuril islands.

Sea otters were exploited very heavily for their pelts in the 19th century. Indeed, as shown by 19th and 20th century whaling catch and sighting records [5]

Seabirds: The Kuril islands are home to many millions of seabirds, including Northern Fulmars, Tufted Puffins, Murres, Kittiwakes, Guillemots, Auklets, Petrels, Gulls, Cormorants. On many of the smaller islands in summer, where terrestrial predators are absent, virtually every possibly hummock, cliff niche or underneath of boulder is occupied by a nesting bird.

Terrestrial ecology[edit]

The composition of terrestrial species on the Kuril islands is dominated by Asian mainland taxa via migration from Hokkaido and Sakhalin Islands and by Kamchatkan taxa from the North. While highly diverse, there is a relatively low level of endemism.

Because of the generally smaller size and isolation of the central islands, few major terrestrial mammals have colonized these, though red and arctic foxes were introduced for the sake of the fur trade in the 1880s. The bulk of the terrestrial mammal biomass is taken up by rodents, many introduced in historical times. The largest southernmost and northernmost islands are inhabited by brown bear, foxes, and martens. Some species of deer are found on the more southerly islands. It is claimed that a wild cat, the Kurilian Bobtail, originates from the Kuril Islands. The bobtail is due to the mutation of a dominant gene. The cat has been domesticated and exported to nearby Russia and bred there, becoming a popular domestic cat.

Among terrestrial birds, ravens, peregrine falcons, some wrens and wagtails are common.

Human settlement history[edit]

Kuril Ainu people next to their traditional dwelling.

The Ainu people were early inhabitants of Kuril Islands, although there are few records that predate the 17th century. The Japanese administration first took nominal control of the islands in the Edo period of Japan, in the form of claims by the Matsumae clan. It is claimed that the Japanese knew of the northern islands 370 years ago.[6] On "Shōhō Onkuko Ezu", a map of Japan made by the Tokugawa shogunate, in 1644, there are 39 large and small islands shown northeast of the Shiretoko peninsula and Cape Nosappu. The Russian Empire began to advance into the Kurils in the early 18th century. Although the Russians often sent expedition parties for research and hunted sea otters, they never went south of Urup island.[citation needed][contradiction]

Russian settlements extended as far as Iturup in the 18th century. Parts of the islands south of Iturup were occupied by guards of the Tokugawa shogunate.

In 1811, Russian Captain Vasily Golovnin and his crew, who stopped at Kunashir during their hydrographic survey, were captured by retainers of the Nambu clan, and sent to the Matsumae authorities. Because a Japanese trader, Takadaya Kahei, was also captured by Petr Rikord, Captain of a Russian vessel near Kunashir in 1812, Japan and Russia entered into negotiations to establish the border between the two countries.[citation needed]

The Treaty of Commerce, Navigation and Delimitation was concluded in 1855, and the border was established between Iturup and Urup. This border confirmed that Japanese territory stretched south from Iturup and Russian territory stretched north of Urup. Sakhalin remained a place where people from both countries could live. The Treaty of Saint Petersburg in 1875 resulted in Japan relinquishing all rights over Sakhalin in exchange for Russia ceding all of the Kuril Islands south of Kamchatka.

During the Russo-Japanese War of 1904–1905, Gunji, a retired Japanese military man and local settler in Shumshu, led an invading party to the Kamchatka coast. Russia sent reinforcements to the area to capture and intern this group. After the war was over, Japan received fishing rights in Russian waters as part of the Russo-Japanese Fisheries Agreement until 1945.

During their armed intervention in Siberia 1918–1925, Japanese forces from the northern Kurils, along with United States and European forces, occupied southern Kamchatka. Japanese vessels made naval strikes against Petropavlovsk-Kamchatsky.

The Soviet Union seized southern Sakhalin and the Kuril islands at the end of World War II. Japan maintains a claim to the four southernmost islands of Kunashir, Iturup, Shikotan, and the Habomai rocks, together called the Northern Islands Territories (see Kuril Islands dispute).

Japanese administration[edit]

A map of Kuril Islands from Gisuke Sasamori's 1893 book Chishima Tanken

In 1869, the Meiji government established the Colonization Commission in Sapporo to aid in the development of the northern area. Ezo was renamed Hokkaidō and Kita Ezo later received the name of Karafuto. Eleven provinces[which?] and 86 districts were founded by Meiji government and were put under the control of feudal clans. Because the Meiji government could not sufficiently cope with Russians moving to south Sakhalin, Japan negotiated with Russia over control of the Kuril Islands, resulting in the Treaty of Saint Petersburg that ceded the eighteen islands north of Uruppu to Japan and all of Sakhalin to Russia.

Road networks and post offices were established on Kunashiri and Etorofu. Life on the islands became more stable when a regular sea route connecting islands with Hokkaidō was opened and a telegraphic system began. At the end of the Taishō period, towns and villages were organized in the northern territories and village offices were established on each island. The Habomai island towns were all part of Habomai Village for example. In other cases the town and village system was not adopted on islands north of Uruppu, which were under direct control of the Nemuro Subprefectural office of the Hokkaidō government.

Each village had a district forestry system, a marine product examination center, salmon hatchery, post office, police station, elementary school, Shinto temple, and other public facilities. In 1930, 8,300 people lived on Kunashiri island and 6,000 on Etorofu island, and most of them were engaged in coastal and high sea fishing.

There were 17,291 Japanese islanders on the Kurils.[citation needed]

World War II[edit]

  • Admiral Isoroku Yamamoto ordered the meeting of the Imperial Japanese Navy strike force for the Hawaii Operation attack on Pearl Harbor, November 22, 1941 in Tankan or Hitokappu Bay, in Iturup Island, South Kurils. The territory was chosen for its sparse population, lack of foreigners, and constant fog coverage. The Admiral ordered the move to Hawaii on the morning of November 26.
  • Another mission was flown during September 11, 1943, when Eleventh Air Force dispatched eight B-24 Liberators and 12 B-25s. But now the Japanese were alert and reinforced their defenses. 74 crew members in three B-24s and seven B-25 failed to return. Twenty two men were killed in action, one taken prisoner and 51 interned in Kamchatka, Russia.
  • Japanese sources report that the Matsuwa military installations were subject to American air strikes between 1943–44.
  • The Americans' "Operation Wedlock", diverted Japanese attention north and misled them about U.S. strategy in the Pacific. The plan included air strikes by U.S.A.A.F. and U.S. Navy Bombers and U.S. Navy shore bombardment and submarine operations. Japanese increased their garrison in the north Kurils from 8,000 in 1943 to 41,000 in 1944 and maintained more than 400 aircraft in Kurils and Hokkaidō area in anticipation that the Americans might invade from Alaska.
  • American planners had briefly contemplated an invasion of northern Japan from the Aleutian Islands during the fall of 1943 but rejected that idea as too risky and impractical. They considered the use of Boeing B-29 Superfortresses, on Amchitka and Shemya Bases, but rejected that idea, too. The U.S. military maintained interest in these plans when they ordered the expansion of bases in the western Aleutians, and major construction began on Shemya. In 1945, plans were shelved for a possible invasion of Japan via the Northern route.
  • Between August 18 and 31, Soviet forces invaded the North and South Kurils. The entire Japanese civilian population of roughly 17,000 was expelled by 1946.
  • Between August 24 and September 4, 1945, the Eleventh Air Force of the United States Army Air Forces sent two B-24s on reconnaissance missions over the North Kuril Islands with intention to take photos of the Soviet occupation in the area. Soviet fighters intercepted and forced them away, a foretaste of the Cold War that lay ahead.[citation needed]

Russian administration[edit]

Current situation[edit]

Main village in Shikotan

As of 2013, 19,434 people inhabited the Kuril Islands. These include ethnic Russians, Ukrainians, Belarusians, Tatars, Nivkhs, and Oroch. Russian Orthodoxy and Islam are the only religions with significant following among the population.[citation needed]. Some of the villages are permanently manned by Russian Soldiers (Especially in Kunashir following recent tensions). other are manned by civilians, which are employees of the Border Guard Service of the Russian police. These employees are not considered soldiers, so they are counted in the census data. as of 2014, There are only 9 inhabited islands out of a total of 56.

Economy[edit]

Fishing is the primary occupation. The islands have strategic and economic value, in terms of fisheries and also mineral deposits of pyrite, sulfur, and various polymetallic ores. There are hopes that oil exploration will provide an economic boost to the islands.[7]

In recent times the economic rise of the Russian Federation has been seen on the Kurils too. The most visible sign of improvement is the new construction in infrastructure. Construction workers are now working vigorously to build a pier and a breakwater in Kitovy Bay, central Iturup, where barges are still a major means of transport sailing between the cove and ships anchored offshore. A new road has been carved through the woods near Kurilsk, the island's biggest village, going to the site of an airport scheduled to open in 2010 at a cost of 1.26 billion rubles (US$44 million).

Gidrostroy, the Kurils' biggest business group with interests in fishing as well as construction and real estate, built its second fish processing factory on Iturup island in 2006, introducing a state-of-the-art conveyor system.

To deal with a rise in the demand of electricity, the local government is also upgrading a state-run geothermal power plant at Mount Baransky, an active volcano, where steam and hot water can be found.[8]

Military[edit]

The main Russian force stationed on the islands is the 18th Machine Gun Artillery Division, which has its headquarters in Goryachiye Klyuchi on Iturup Island. There are also Border Guard Service troops stationed on the islands. In February 2011, Russian President Dmitry Medvedev called for substantial reinforcements of the Kuril Islands defences following the heating up of the dispute in early 2011.[9]

Atlasov Island[edit]

The northernmost, Atlasov Island (Oyakoba in Japanese), is an almost perfect volcanic cone rising sheer out of the sea; it has been praised by the Japanese in haiku, wood-block prints, and other forms, in much the same way as the better-known Mt. Fuji.

List of the islands[edit]

While in Russian sources the islands are mentioned for the first time in 1646, the earliest detailed information about them was provided by the explorer Vladimir Atlasov in 1697. In the 18th and early 19th centuries, the Kuril Islands were explored by Danila Antsiferov, I. Kozyrevsky, Ivan Yevreinov, Fyodor Luzhin, Martin Shpanberg, Adam Johann von Krusenstern, Vasily Golovnin, and Henry James Snow.

Atlasov Island — northernmost island of the Kurils, viewed from space

The following table lists information on the main islands from north to south:

Island Russian: Name Japanese: Name Alternative names Island Group Capital / Landing point Other Cities Area (km²) Population
Severo-Kurilsky District North Kurils '''North Kurils (Kita-chishima / 北千島)''' Severo-Kurilsk Shelikovo, Podgorny, Baikovo 3504.00 2560
Shumshu Шумшу 占守島 Shumushu '''North Kurils (Kita-chishima / 北千島)''' Baikovo 388.0 20
Atlasov Атласова Araido / 阿頼度島 Oyakoba '''North Kurils (Kita-chishima / 北千島)''' Alaidskaya Bay 150.0 0
Awos Avos '''North Kurils (Kita-chishima / 北千島)''' 0.1 0
Paramushir Парамушир 幌筵島 Horomushiro '''North Kurils (Kita-chishima / 北千島)''' Severo-Kurilsk Shelikovo, Podgorny 2053.0 2540
Antsiferov Анциферова 志林規島 Shirinki '''North Kurils (Kita-chishima / 北千島)''' Antsiferov beach Cape Terkut 7.0 0
Makanrushi Маканруши 磨勘留島 Makanru '''North Kurils (Kita-chishima / 北千島)''' Zakat 50.0 0
Onekotan Онекотан 温禰古丹島 '''North Kurils (Kita-chishima / 北千島)''' Mussel Kuroisi, Nemo, Shestakov 425.0 0
Kharimkotan Харимкотан 春牟古丹島 Harimukotan, Harumukotan '''North Kurils (Kita-chishima / 北千島)''' Sunazhma Severgin Bay 70.0 0
Ekarma Экарма 越渇磨島 Ekaruma '''North Kurils (Kita-chishima / 北千島)''' Kruglyy 30.0 0
Chirinkotan Чиринкотан 知林古丹島 '''North Kurils (Kita-chishima / 北千島)''' Cape Ptichy 6.0 0
Shiashkotan Шиашкотан 捨子古丹島 Shasukotan '''North Kurils (Kita-chishima / 北千島)''' Makarovka 122.0 0
Raikoke Райкоке 雷公計島 '''North Kurils (Kita-chishima / 北千島)''' Raikoke 4.6 0
Matua Матуа 松輪島 Matsuwa, Matsua '''North Kurils (Kita-chishima / 北千島)''' Sarychevo 52.0 0
Rasshua Расшуа 羅処和島 Rasutsuwa, Rashowa '''North Kurils (Kita-chishima / 北千島)''' Arches Point 67.0 0
Ushishir Ушишир 宇志知島 Ushishiru '''North Kurils (Kita-chishima / 北千島)''' Kraternya Ryponkicha 5.0 0
Ketoy Кетой 計吐夷島 Ketoi '''North Kurils (Kita-chishima / 北千島)''' Storozheva 73.0 0
Other '''North Kurils (Kita-chishima / 北千島)''' Toporkova Ostrov Srednego, Lowuschki Rock 1.3 0
Kurilsky District Middle Kurils split between both japanese groups Kurilsk Reidovo, Kitovyi, Rybaki, Goryachiye Klyuchi, Kasatka, Burevestnik, Shumi-Gorodok, Gornyy 5138.4 6606
Simushir Симушир 新知島 Shimushiru, Shinshiru '''North Kurils (Kita-chishima / 北千島)''' Kraternyy Srednaya bay 360.0 0
Broutona Броутона 武魯頓島 Buroton, Makanruru '''North Kurils (Kita-chishima / 北千島)''' Nedostupnyy 7.0 0
Chirpoy Чирпой 知理保以島 Chirihoi, Chierupoi '''North Kurils (Kita-chishima / 北千島)''' Peschanaya Bay 21.0 0
Brat Chirpoyev Брат Чирпоев 知理保以南島 Chirihoinan '''North Kurils (Kita-chishima / 北千島)''' Garovnikova Semenova 16.0 0
Urup Уруп 得撫島 Uruppu '''North Kurils (Kita-chishima / 北千島)''' Mys Kastrikum Mys Van-der-Lind 1450.0 ~4
Other '''North Kurils (Kita-chishima / 北千島)''' 4.4 0
Iturup Итуруп 択捉島 Etorofu '''South Kurils (Minami-chishima / 南千島)''' Kurilsk Reidovo, Kitovyi, Rybaki, Goryachiye Klyuchi, Kasatka, Burevestnik, Shumi-Gorodok, Gornyy 3280.0 6602
Yuzhno-Kurilsky District South Kurils '''South Kurils (Minami-chishima / 南千島)''' Yuzhno-Kurilsk Malokurilskoye, Rudnaya, Lagunnoye, Otrada, Goryachiy Plyazh, Aliger, Mendeleyevo, Dubovoye, Polino, Golovnino 1860.8 10268
Kunashir Кунашир 国後島 Kunashiri '''South Kurils (Minami-chishima / 南千島)''' Yuzhno-Kurilsk Rudnaya, Lagunnoye, Otrada, Goryachiy Plyazh, Aliger, Mendeleyevo, Dubovoye, Polino, Golovnino 1499.0 7800
Shikotan Group Шикотан 色丹島 '''South Kurils (Minami-chishima / 南千島)''' Malokurilskoye Dumnova, Otradnaya, Krabozavodskoye, Anama, Zvezdnaya, Voloshina,Kray Sveta 264.13 2440
Shikotan Island Шикотан 色丹島 '''South Kurils (Minami-chishima / 南千島)''' Malokurilskoye Dumnova, Otradnaya, Krabozavodskoye, Anama, Zvezdnaya, Voloshina,Kray Sveta 255.00 2440
Other '''South Kurils (Minami-chishima / 南千島)''' Ayvazovskovo 9.1 0
Khabomai Южно-Курильская гряда 歯舞諸島 Habomai '''South Kurils (Minami-chishima / 南千島)''' Zorkiy Zelyonyi,Polonskogo 97.70 28
** Polonskogo Полонского 多楽島 Taraku '''South Kurils (Minami-chishima / 南千島)''' Moriakov Bay station 11.57 2
** Zelyonyi Зелёный 志発島 Shibotsu '''South Kurils (Minami-chishima / 南千島)''' Glushnevskyi station 58.72 3
** Yuri Юрий 勇留島 Iiuri '''South Kurils (Minami-chishima / 南千島)''' Kalernaya 10.32 0
** Anuchina Анучина 秋勇留島 Akiyuri '''South Kurils (Minami-chishima / 南千島)''' Bolshoye Bay 2.35 0
** Kharkar Харкар 春苅島 Harukaru, Dyomina '''South Kurils (Minami-chishima / 南千島)''' Haruka 0.8 0
** Tanfilyeva Танфильева 水晶島 Suishō '''South Kurils (Minami-chishima / 南千島)''' Zorkiy Tanfilyevka Bay, Bolotnoye 12.92 23
** Signalny Сигнальный 貝殻島 Kaigara '''South Kurils (Minami-chishima / 南千島)''' 0.02 0
** Other '''South Kurils (Minami-chishima / 南千島)''' Oskolki, Opasnaga, Udivitelnaya 1.0 0
Total 10503.2 19434
Signalny Rock, viewed from Cape Nosappu, Japan

See also[edit]

References[edit]

  1. ^ GSE
  2. ^ http://www.sakhalin.ru/Engl/Region/geography.htm
  3. ^ "Kuril Islands: factfile". The Daily Telegraph (London). November 1, 2010. 
  4. ^ Central Kuril Island Tsunami in Crescent City, California University of Southern California
  5. ^ Clapham, P. J.; C. Good, S. E. Quinn, R. R. Reeves, J. E. Scarff and R.L. Brownell, Jr. (2004). "Distribution of North Pacific". Journal of Cetacean Research and Management 6 (1): 1–6. 
  6. ^ Stephan, John J (1974). The Kuril Islands. Oxford: Clarendon Press. pp. 50–56. 
  7. ^ "It was hoped that the proceeds from the ongoing projects would help to alleviate the high level of poverty in the region". Eastern Europe, Russia and Central Asia, s.v. Sakhalin Oblast" (Europa Publications) 2003.
  8. ^ Islands disputed with Japan feel Russia's boom - The China Post
  9. ^ "Russia moves to defend Kuril Islands claim." RIA Novosti, 9 February 2011.

Further reading[edit]

  • Gorshkov, G. S. Volcanism and the Upper Mantle Investigations in the Kurile Island Arc. Monographs in geoscience. New York: Plenum Press, 1970. ISBN 0-306-30407-4
  • Krasheninnikov, Stepan Petrovich, and James Greive. The History of Kamtschatka and the Kurilski Islands, with the Countries Adjacent. Chicago: Quadrangle Books, 1963.
  • Rees, David. The Soviet Seizure of the Kuriles. New York: Praeger, 1985. ISBN 0-03-002552-4
  • Takahashi, Hideki, and Masahiro Ōhara. Biodiversity and Biogeography of the Kuril Islands and Sakhalin. Bulletin of the Hokkaido University Museum, no. 2-. Sapporo, Japan: Hokkaido University Museum, 2004.
  • Hasegawa, Tsuyoshi. Racing the Enemy: Stalin, Truman, and the Surrender of Japan. 2006. ISBN 067402241.
  • Alan Catharine and Denis Cleary. Unwelcome Company. A fiction thriller novel set in 1984 Tokyo and the Kuriles featuring a light aircraft crash and escape from Russian-held territory. On Kindle.

External links[edit]

Coordinates: 46°30′N 151°30′E / 46.500°N 151.500°E / 46.500; 151.500