|Regions with significant populations|
|Mongolia||205,000 (2010 census)|
|Russia||183,372 (2010 census)|
|China||250,000 (2013 estimate)|
|Tibetan Buddhism, Shamanism|
|Related ethnic groups|
Oirats (Mongolian: Ойрад, Oirad; in the past, also Eleuths) are the westernmost group of the Mongols whose ancestral home is in the Altai region of western Mongolia. Although the Oirats originated in the eastern parts of Central Asia, the most prominent group today is located in the Republic of Kalmykia, a federal subject of the Russian Federation, where they are called Kalmuks—the correct pronunciation and spelling of the name. The Kalmuks migrated from Dzungaria to the southeastern European part of the Russian Federation in the early 17th century.
Historically, the Oirats were composed of four major tribes: Dzungar (Choros or Ööled), Torghut, Dörbet, and Khoshut. The minor tribes include: Khoid, Bayads, Myangad, Zakhchin, Baatud. The name probably means "oi" (forest) and "ard" (person) but it may also derive from Mongolian word "oirt" (or "oirkhon) meaning "close (as in distance)," as in "close/nearer ones." They are counted among the "forest people" in the 13th century.
In the 17th century, Zaya Pandita, a Gelug monk of the Khoshut tribe, devised a new writing system called Todo Bichig (clear script) for use by the Oirat people. This system was developed on the basis of the older Mongolian script, but had a more developed system of diacritics to exclude misreading, and reflected some lexic and grammar differences of the Oirat language from Mongolian.
The Todo Bichig writing system remained in use in Kalmykia (Russia) until the mid-1920s when it was replaced by a Latin-based script, and later the Cyrillic alphabet. It can be seen in some public signs in the Kalmyk capital, Elista, and is superficially taught in schools. In Mongolia it was likewise replaced by the Cyrillic alphabet in 1941. Some Oirats in China still use Todo Bichig as their primary writing system, as well as Mongolian script.
The Oirats or Western Mongols share some history, geography, culture and language with the Eastern Mongols,[disambiguation needed] and were at various times united under the same leader as a larger Mongol entity — whether that ruler was of Oirat or Eastern Mongolian descent.
The name Oirat may derive from a corruption of the group's original name Dörben Öörd, meaning "The Allied Four." Perhaps inspired by the designation Dörben Öörd, other Mongols at times used the term "Döchin Mongols" for themselves ("Döchin" meaning forty), but there was rarely as great a degree of unity among larger numbers of tribes as among the Oirats.
Comprising the Khoshut (Хошууд Hošuud), Choros or Ölöt (Өөлд Ööld), Torghut (Торгууд Torguud), and Dörbet (Дөрвөд Dörvöd) tribes, they were dubbed Kalmyk or Kalmak, which means "remnant" or "to remain", by their western Turkic neighbours. Various sources also list the Bargut, Buzava, Khereid, and Naiman tribes as comprising part of the Dörben Öörd; some tribes may have joined the original four only in later years. This name may however reflect the Kalmyks' remaining Buddhist rather than converting to Islam; or the Kalmyks' remaining in then Altay region when the Turkic peoples migrated to the West.
One of the earliest mentions of the Oirat people in a historical text can be found in The Secret History of the Mongols, the 13th century chronicle of Genghis Khan's rise to power. In the Secret History, the Oirats are counted among the "forest people" and are said to live under the rule of a shaman-chief known as bäki. They lived in Tuva and Mongolian Khövsgöl Province and the Oirats moved to the south in the 14th century.
In one famous passage the Oirat chief, Quduqa Bäki, uses a yada or 'thunder stone' to unleash a powerful storm on Genghis' army. The magical ploy backfires however, when an unexpected wind blows the storm back at Quduqa. During early stages of Temujin Genghis's rise, Oirats under Quduqa bekhi fought against Genghis and were defeated. Oirats were fully submitted to Mongol rule after their ally Jamukha, Temujin's rival/friend was destroyed. Subject to the khan Oirats would form themselves as a loyal and formidable faction of the Mongol war machine. In 1207, Jochi the eldest son of Genghis, subjugated the forest tribes including the Oirats and the Kyrgyzs. The Great Khan gave those people to his son, Jochi, and had one of his daughters, Checheygen, married the Oirat chief Khutug-bekhi or his son. There were notable Oirats in the Mongol Empire such as Arghun Agha and his son Nowruz. In 1256, a body of the Oirats under Bukha-Temür joined Hulagu's expedition to Iran and fought against Hashshashins, Abbasids in Persia. The Ilkhan Hulagu and his successor Abagha resettled them in Turkey. And they took part in the Second Battle of Homs where the Mongols were defeated. The majority of the Oirats, who were left behind, supported Ariq Böke against Kublai in the Toluid Civil War. Kublai defeated his younger brother and they entered the service of the victor. In 1295, more than 10,000 Oirats under Targhai Khurgen (son-in-law of the Borjigin family) fled Syria, then under the Mamluks because they were despised by both Muslim Mongols and local Turks. They were well received by the Egyptian Sultan Al-Adil Kitbugha of Oirat origin. Ali Pasha, who was the governor of Baghdad, head of an Oirat ruling family, killed Ilkhan Arpa Keun, resulting in the disintegration of Mongol Persia. Due to the fact that the Oirats were near both the Chagatai Khanate and the Golden Horde, they had strong ties with them and many Mongol khans had Oirat wives.
After the expulsion of the Yuan dynasty from China, the Oirats revived in history as a loose alliance of the four major West Mongolian tribes (Dörben Oirad). The alliance grew, taking power in the remote region of the Altai Mountains, northwest of Hami oasis. Gradually they spread eastward, annexing territories then under the control of the Eastern Mongols, and hoping to reestablish a unified nomadic rule under their banner.
The greatest ruler of the Four Oirats (Mongolian: Дөрвөн Ойрд) was Esen Tayisi who led the Four Oirats from 1438 to 1454, during which time he unified Mongolia (both Inner and Outer) under his rule. In 1449 Esen Tayisi mobilized his cavalry along the Chinese border and invaded Ming China, defeating and destroying the Ming defenses at the Great Wall and the reinforcements sent to intercept his cavalry. In the process, the Zhengtong Emperor was captured at Tumu. The following year, Esen returned the emperor. After claiming the title of khan, to which only lineal descendants of Genghis Khan could claim, Esen was deposed. Shortly afterwards, Oirat power declined.
From the 14th until the middle of the 18th century, the Oirats were often at war with the Eastern Mongols. Illustrative of this history is the Oirat epic song, 'The Rout of Mongolian Sholoi Ubushi Khong Tayiji', about the war between the Oirats and the first Altan Khan of the Khalkha.
The Khoshut Khanate
The Oirats converted to Tibetan Buddhism around 1615, and it was not long before they became involved in the conflict between the Gelug and Karma Kagyu schools. At the request of the Gelug school, in 1637, Güshi Khan, the leader of the Khoshuts in Koko Nor, defeated Choghtu Khong Tayiji, the Khalkha prince who supported the Karma Kagyu school, and conquered Amdo (present-day Qinghai). The unification of Tibet followed in 1641, with Güshi Khan proclaimed Khan of Tibet by the Fifth Dalai Lama. The title "Dalai Lama" itself was bestowed upon the third lama of the Gelug tulku lineage by Altan Khan (not to be confused with the Altan Khans of the Khalkha), and means, in Mongolian, "Ocean of Wisdom."
The Qing Empire conquered Upper Mongolia or the Oirat's Khoshut Khanate in the 1720s. In 1723 Lobzang Danjin, another descendant of Güshi Khan, defended Amdo against Manhchu-Qing Dynasty's attempts to extend its rule into Tibet, but was crushed in the following year and 80,000 people were killed. By that period, Upper Mongolian population reached 200,000. Thus, Amdo fell under Manchu domination.
The Dzungar Khanate
The 17th century saw the rise in power of another Oirat empire in the east, known as the Khanate of Dzungaria, which stretched from the Great Wall of China to present-day eastern Kazakhstan, and from present-day northern Kyrgyzstan to southern Siberia. It was the last empire of the Great Nomads of Asia, which was ruled by Choros noblemen.
The Qing (or Manchu) conquered China in the mid-17th century and sought to protect its northern border by continuing the divide-and-rule policy their Ming predecessors had successfully instituted against the Mongols. The Manchu consolidated their rule over the East Mongols of Manchuria. They then persuaded the East Mongols of Inner Mongolia to submit themselves as vassals. Finally, the East Mongols of Outer Mongolia sought the protection of the Manchu against the Dzungars.
Some scholars estimate that about 80% of the Dzungar population were destroyed by a combination of warfare and disease during the Manchu-Qing conquest of Dzungaria in 1755-1757. The Zunghar population reached 600,000 in 1755.
The main population of the Choros, Olot, Khoid, Baatud, Zakhchin Oirats who battled against the Qing were killed by the Manchu soldiers and after the fall of the Dzungar Khanate they became small ethnic groups. There were 600,000 Khalkha Mongols and 1,100,000 Oirats in 1755 and now 2,3 million Khalkha and 638,372 Oirats live in four counties while a few hundred Choros people live in Mongolia
Kho Orlok, tayishi of the Torghuts, and Dalai Tayishi of Dorbets, led their people (200,000-250,000 people, mainly Torghuts) westward (Volga River) in 1607 and they established the Kalmyk Khanate. By some accounts this move was precipitated by internal divisions or by the Khoshut tribe; other historians believe it more likely the migrating clans were seeking pastureland for their herds, scarce in the Central Asian highlands. Part of the Khoshut and Ölöt tribes would join the migration almost a century later. The Kalmyk migration had reached as far as the steppes of southeast Europe by 1630. At the time, that area was inhabited by the Nogai Horde. But under pressure from Kalmyk warriors, the Nogais fled to the Crimea and the Kuban River. Many other nomadic peoples in the Eurasian steppes subsequently became vassals of the Kalmyk Khanate, part of which is in the area of present-day Kalmykia.
The Kalmyks became Russian ally and a treaty to protect Southern Russian border was signed between the Kalmyk Khanate and Russia. Later they became nominal, then full subjects of the Russian Tsar. In 1724 the Kalmyks came under control of Russia. By the early 18th century, there were approximately 300-350,000 Kalmyks and 15,000,000 Russians. The Tsardom of Russia gradually chipped away at the autonomy of the Kalmyk Khanate. These policies, for instance, encouraged the establishment of Russian and German settlements on pastures the Kalmyks used to roam and feed their livestock. The Russian Orthodox church, by contrast, pressured Buddhist Kalmyks to adopt Orthodoxy. In January 1771 the oppression of czarist administration forced the larger part of Kalmyks (33 thousands households or approximately 170 thousands men) to migrate to Mongolia. 200,000 (170,000) Kalmyks began the migration from their pastures on the left bank of the Volga River to Dzungaria (Western Mongolia), through the territories of their Bashkir and Kazakh enemies. The last Kalmyk khan Ubashi led the migration to restore the Zunghar Khanate and Mongolian independence. As C.D Barkman notes "It is quite clear that the Torghuts had not intended to surrender the Chinese, but had hoped to lead an independent existence in Dzungaria". Ubashi Khan sent his 30,000 cavalries to the Russo-Turkish War in 1768-1769 to gain weapon before the migration. The Empress Catherine the Great ordered the Russian army, Bashkirs and Kazakhs to exterminate all migrants and Catherine the Great abolished the Kalmyk Khanate. The Kyrgyzs attacked them near Balkhash Lake. About 100,000-150,000 Kalmyks who settled on the west bank of the Volga River couldn't cross the river because the river didn't freeze in the winter of 1771 and Catherine the Great executed influential nobles of them. After seven months of travel, only one-third (66,073) of the original group reached Dzungaria (Balkhash Lake, western border of the Manchu-Qing Empire). The Manchu-Qing Empire transmigrated the Kalmyks to five different areas to prevent their revolt and influential leaders of the Kalmyks died soon (killed by the Manchus). Following the Russian revolution their settlement was accelerated, Buddhism stamped out and herds collectivised.
On 22 January 1922 Mongolia proposed to migrate the Kalmyks during famine in Kalmykia but Russia refused.71-72,000 (93,000?; around half of the population) Kalmyks died during the famine. The Kalmyks revolted against Russia in 1926, 1930 and 1942-1943. In March 1927, Soviet deported 20,000 Kalmyks to Siberia, tundra and Karelia. The Kalmyks founded sovereign Republic of Oirat-Kalmyk on 22 March 1930. The Oirat's state had a small army and 200 Kalmyk soldiers defeated 1,700 Soviet soldiers in Durvud province of Kalmykia but the Oirat's state destroyed by the Soviet Army in 1930. Kalmykian nationalists and Pan-Mongolists attempted to migrate Kalmyks to Mongolia in the 1920s. Mongolia suggested to migrate the Soviet Union's Mongols to Mongolia in the 1920s but Russia refused the suggest. 
In 1943 all of 120,000 Kalmyks were deported to Siberia by Stalin, accused of supporting invading Axis armies attacking Stalingrad (Volgograd) and a fifth of the population is thought to have perished during and immediately after deportation.  Around half of (97-98,000) Kalmyk people deported to Siberia died before being allowed to return home in 1957. The government of the Soviet Union forbade teaching Kalmyk language during the deportation. The Kalmyks' main purpose was to migrate to Mongolia. Mongolian leader Khorloogiin Choibalsan attempted to migrate the deportees to Mongolia and he met with them in Siberia during his visit to Russia. Under the Law of the Russian Federation of April 26, 1991 "On Rehabilitation of Exiled Peoples" repressions against Kalmyks and other peoples were qualified as an act of genocide. Now they are trying to revive their language and religion. In 2010 Kalmyks are 176,800.
The Mongols of Xinjiang form a minority, principally in the northern part of the region and Mongols are 194,500(50,000 about Dongxiangs) in 2010. They are primarily descendants of the surviving Torghuts and Khoshuts who returned from Kalmykia, and of the Chakhar stationed there as garrison soldiers in the 18th century. The emperor had sent messages asking the Kalmyks to return, and erected a smaller copy of the Potala in Jehol (the country residence of the Manchu Emperors) to mark their arrival. A model copy of that "Little Potala" was made in China for the Swedish explorer Sven Hedin, and was erected at the Great Exhibition of Chicago. It is now in storage in Sweden, where there are plans to re-erect it. Some of the returnees did not come that far and still live, now as Muslims, at the South-western end of Lake Issyk-kul in present-day Kirghizia.
Törbaih Güshi Khan's 4th son Ayush was opposed to the Khan's brother Baibagas. Ayush's eldest son is Batur Erkh Jonon Khoroli. After the battle between Galdan Boshigt Khan and Ochirtu Sechen Khan, Batur Erkh Jonon Khoroli moved to Tsaidam with his 10,000 households. The 5th Dalai Lama wanted land for them from the Qing government, thus in 1686, the Emperor permitted them to reside in Alasha.
In 1697, Alasha Mongols were administered in 'khoshuu' and 'sum' units. A khoshuu with eight sums was created, Batur Erkh Jonon Khoroli was appointed to Beil, and Alasha was thus a 'zasag-khoshuu'. Alasha was however like an 'aimag' and never administered under a 'chuulgan'.
In 1707, when Batur Erkh Jonon Khoroli died, his son Abuu succeeded him. He was in Beijing from his youth, served as bodyguard of the Emperor, and a princess (of the Emperor) was given to him, thus making him a 'Khoshoi Tavnan', i.e. Emperor's groom. In 1793, Abuu became Jün Wang. There are several thousand Muslim Alasha Mongols.
Mongols who lived along the Ejine River descended from Ravjir, a grandson of Torghut Ayuka Khan from the Volga River.
In 1678, Ravjir - with his mother, younger sister and 500 people - went to Tibet to pray. While they were returning via Beijing in 1704, the Qing ruler, the Kangxi Emperor, let them stay there for some years and later organized a 'khoshuu' for them in a place called Sertei, and made Ravjir the governor.
In 1716, the Kangxi Emperor sent him with his people to Hami, near the border of Qing China and Zunghar Khanate, for intelligence-gathering purposes against the Oirats. When Ravjir died his eldest son Denzen succeeded him. He was afraid of the Zunghar and wanted the Qing government to allow them to move away from the border. They were settled in Dalan Uul–Altan. When Denzen was died in 1740, his son Lubsan Darjaa succeeded him and became Beil. Now Ejine Torghuts are 5000.
In 1753, they were settled on the banks of the Ejine River and the Ejine River Torghut 'khoshuu' was thus formed.
Ethnic groups of Oirats
Sart Kalmyks and Xinjiang Oirats are not Volga Kalmyks or Kalmyks and the Kalmyks are subgroup of the Oirats.
- Altai Uriankhai
- Sart Kalmyks
- Oirad Mongols auf mandal.ca
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- Owen Lattimore, The Desert Road to Turkestan. (For Lattimore, Euleuths are "the great western group of tribes which marks in all probability a primitive racial cleavage" (p. 101 in the ca. 1929 edition). Lattimore further (p. 139 refers to Samuel Couling of Encyclopaedia Sinica (1917), according to whom the spelling "Eleuth" was due to French missionaries, representing the sound of something like Ölöt. Into Chinese, the same name was transcribed as 厄鲁特 (Pinyin: Elute; Mongolian: Olot).))
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- БУЦАЖ ИРЭЭГҮЙ МОНГОЛ АЙМГУУД (Mongolian)
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- René Grousset The Empire of the Steppes, p.521
- Демографическая ситуация в современной России (Russian)
- Government of the Republic of Kalmykia: Kalm.ru
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- According to UNESCO, the Kalmyk language is endangered, as only a small population of the Kalmyk people can now speak the language eloquently. There are several reasons that led to the decline of the language. The major reason was the deportation of the Kalmyk people in December 1943 from their homeland. The actual number of people who speak the language is unknown.
- Deportation of the Kalmyks (1943–1956): Stigmatized Ethnicity
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