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электронный журнал "Новые исследования Тувы"

General Information on Tuva: history, economy, resources, art

The Republic of Tuva (Tyva) is situated in the central part of the Asian continent bounded by Eastern Siberia on the north, Mongolia on the south and east, Irkutsk Region on the northeast, the Buryat Republic on the east, and the Altai Republic on the west. The republic is far from both the warm Atlantic and Pacific oceans and the Arctic Ocean. Four time zones separate Tuva from Moscow and five separate it from Petropavlovsk-Kamchatsky on the east coast. A section of the global divide between the basin of the Arctic Ocean and the inland basin regions of Central Asia runs along the edge of the Sengilen Upland and Eastern and Western Tannu-Ola Range. The republic's natural landscapes consist of Siberian taiga and Central Asian desert and steppe; the republic itself is located in a broad belt of mountains and intermontane plains. Natural landscapes range from steppe and dry steppe on the plains to mountain taiga and deciduous forests on the mountain slopes to subalpine, alpine, and mountain tundra on the mountain heights. Nearly half the republic is covered with forests with timber reserves of more than 1 billion m3. The most important rivers are the Verkhny Yenisei (Ulug-Khem) and two tributaries of the Yenisei, the Bii-Khem and Kaa-Khem.

Tuva has a severe continental climate with cold, windless winters and little snow on the plains. Summers are moderately warm in the mountains and hot on the plains.

Tuva's territory stretches more than 700 km from west to east and 450 km from north to south in the eastern part (100 km in the central part) and covers an area of 170 000 km2.

The most important minerals produced in the republic are nonferrous and rare metal ores, coal, asbestos, iron ore, gold, mercury, and building materials.

Agriculture, particularly livestock herding, is the main economic sector in Tuva. The mining, light, food, and building material industries are also developed. These industries annually produce more than 76,000 tons of asbestos, 20 million bricks, 55,000 tons of lumber, about 50,000 tons of food products, and about 1 million tons of coal.

The Republic of Tuva is a subject of the Russian Federation and is divided into 17 rural districts and 5 cities. The city of Kyzyl is under republican authority, while the cities of Ak-Dovurak, Turan, Chadaana, and Shagaan-Aryg are under district authority. There are also 3 urban communities (Kaa-Khem, Kyzyl-Mazhalyk, and Khovu-Aksy), 96 rural councils, and 449 rural communities.

The population of the republic is 309 100 people. The capital of Tuva is Kyzyl, which has a population of 84 600.


The first people appeared in what is now Tuva in the Mousterian period between 100 000 and 40 000 B.C. This happened somewhat later than in Old World areas with a warmer climate. The first ancient human sites dating from the Late Paleolithic have mainly been discovered in the southern and central regions. A large number of crudely worked stone implements have been found here, including whetting tools, spear points, and knife-edge chips.

The ancient Tuvan tribes learned how to make more refined polished and finished stone tools, as well as bows and arrows and clay pottery, during the Neolithic period between 5000 and 4000 B.C. Livestock herding, the production of copper and bronze tools, and the appearance of rock paintings equal in their highly artistic content and expressiveness to the world's best examples of the art date from the Bronze Age.

The introduction of iron led to profound changes in ancient Tuvan society. Population growth forced the tribes to change to seminomadic livestock herding. The culture of the ancient Tuvans reached a high level, as shown by specimens of fine ornamental art found burial sites. Some of them combine local features and elements of the Scytho-Siberian animal style. Excavations of a large burial site in the village of Arzhaan turned up a wealth of material for the study of this period. The finds include the famous golden panther now kept in the Hermitage and other gold articles made by ancient craftsmen. The people of this period were of mixed European-Mongolian stock with predominantly European features.

According to ancient accounts dating from the 2nd century B.C. to the 5th century A.D., the territory of Tuva was invaded by conquerors, including the Huns, Syanbiy, and Zhuzhans. The invasion of the Huns gradually changed the material culture and anthropological type of the local inhabitants. They acquired the Central-Asian type of the great Mongolian race.

The rise of feudalism in Tuva dates to the 6th and mid-7th centuries when it was part of the Turkic Kaganat. The main occupation was nomadic livestock herding combined with farming, with the simultaneous development of mining, metallurgy, crafts, and decorative art. The ancient Turkis and local Tuvan tribes had their own written language. Archeological finds in the region include stone tablets and 85 stone monuments with ancient Turkic inscriptions.

In the early 7th century, the Turkic Kaganat split into the East Turkic and West Turkic kaganats as a result of internal wars. In its turn, the Eastern Kaganat to which Tuva belonged collapsed under assaults by warlike Uighur tribes. Tuva's time as part of the kaganat had important consequences that affected the economic activity, way of life, and material culture of the Tuvan people.

Between 750 and 840 Tuva was ruled by the Uighurs, who tried to fortify it by creating an entire system connected by stone walls and ramparts. These structures were joined into a single defense complex of 15 Uighur fortresses. A total of 17 Uighur settlements have been discovered in the region, along with the remains of defensive dikes on the Uyuk, Turan, Demir-Sur, and other rivers. Feudalism continued to strengthen during the period of Uighur rule in Tuva.

In 840, the Kyrgyz, with the support of the Tuvan and Altaic tribes, inflicted a crushing defeat on the Uighurs, driving them out and destroying their fortresses. Tuva became part of the ancient Kyrgyz state. The Kyrgyz played an important role in the subsequent formation of the Tuvan people. The ancient Tuvan Kyrgyz stock derives from them.

At the same time, close ethnic ties formed between the Sayano-Altai tribal groups. The most important achievement of these related tribes was their own written language, the Yenisei variant of ancient Turkic writing.

In the early 13th century, Tuva was under the authority of Genghis Khan's forces, which exacted tributes from the local population. This lasted up to the collapse of the Mongol Empire in 14th century. The mingling of local tribes with the Mongols contributed to the development of the Central-Asian physical type characteristic of modern-day Tuvans.

Tuva had been part of Chinese Empire since the 17th century till its fall following the revolution in 1911-1912. Tuvan princes addressed the Russian Tsar for protection which was granted in 1914 when Tuva came under Russian protectorate.

In 1921 Tuva declared its sovereignity and adopted its first-ever People's Constitution. In 1944 Tuva joined in the Soviet Union as a part of the Russian Federation.


The Tuvan lands are unique and distinctive. Boundless steppes with a majestic eagle soaring over them and blue lakes with white-winged gulls symbolize nature in the republic.

Tuva has a wealth of natural springs, lakes, forests, and minerals. The most important minerals are nonferrous and rare metal ores, coal, asbestos, iron ore, gold, mercury, and building materials.

Tuva's natural springs have curative qualities and are called arzhaany in the Tuvan language. Arzhaan is an old word from ancient Sanskrit meaning holy or healing water. Tuvan medicinal springs can be divided into two main groups: mineral and fresh. Mineral springs are part of Tuva's mineral resources; they include medicinal springs that in their characteristics and mineral content meet the generally accepted RF norms for medicinal mineral waters. Many springs and saline and mud lakes have unique properties and are found in scenic locations with special natural climatic conditions.

Two Tuvan lakes are especially worth mentioning. The first is fantastically beautiful Sut-Khol. It is located on the spurs of the Western Sayan at an elevation of 1800 m above sea level. Its length from west to east is 7-8 km. Not far from the lake are forest-covered Mt. Bora-Taiga and Mt. Kyzyl-Taiga. Larch, spruce, and cedar grow on the shores of the lake and berries ripen among the moss. The water in the lake is fresh, exceptionally clear, and rich in plankton. The Ulug-Dorgun spring gushes out near the lake. The temperature of the water in the spring is +4°C.

The second lake is Chagytai, one of the largest and deepest lakes of the Tuvan plain. It is located at the foot of the northern slopes of the Tannu-Ola Range at an elevation of 1003 m above sea level. The lake is nearly 20 km long and covers an area of 2860 hectares. The shores of the lake are mainly rocky and sandy, with marshy areas only in the southeastern part. The Mazhalyk River, the only river flowing out of the lake, has its source here. The mountain slopes on the western and southeastern sides of the lake are covered with taiga. Chagytai abounds in fish, including ide, pike, peled, bream, and carp. There is commercial fishing on the lake, with an annual catch amounting to 50-70 tons.

The depths of the Tuvan lands are a natural storehouse of almost every kind of mineral. The best known deposits are Tardanskoe (gold ore), Ulug-Tanzekskoe (tantalum-niobium), Terligkhaiskoe (mercury), Tastygskoe (lithium), Kyzyl-Tashtygskoe (lead-zinc), Ak-Dovurakskoe (chrysotile asbestos), and Khovu-Aksynskoe (nickel-cobalt). In one gold deposit alone there are reserves of about 200 tons.

The coal reserves of the Ulug-Khem (one of the largest in Russia) and Chadan basins amount to more than 20 billion tons; 84% of the reserves consist of coking coal.

An enormous salt deposit is laid down in the strata of Dus-Dag Mountain. An average of 25 000 tons of salt per year are produced by strip-mining. The deposit extends for 900 m in a layer 320 m thick. As an example, if only one of the Dus-Dagskoe deposits were developed, its reserves would be sufficient for the whole country for 20 years. Densely red-speckled bands of sylvinite are sometimes encountered between the salt layers. It is a raw material for obtaining potassium chloride and artificial fertilizer. However, Dus-Dag is not only interesting as a salt mountain; it long ago attracted the attention of inquisitive explorers of Central Asia. The mountain's true altitude is 1809 m.

Tuva is one of the few recreational zones of Russia, moreover it is also a recreational zone of the whole world. Here there are places untouched by civilization with clean air, medicinal springs, therapeutic mud, saline, and freshwater lakes, and wonderful hunting and fishing.


The Republic of Tuva is part of the East Siberian economic district. It is located in an intermontane basin surrounded by the lofty Eastern Altai and Western and Eastern Sayan mountain chains and the Tannu-Ola Range. Only two highways connect it to the outside world: the Kyzyl-Minussinsk-Abakan and the Kyzyl-Ak-Dovurak. Forest-covered mountains occupy approximately half of the republic's territory, while forest steppe, dry steppe, and semidesert occupy the other half in the intermontane basins.

The republic's economy is underdeveloped and is dominated by agriculture, especially breeding of fine-wooled sheep. Yak, reindeer, and camel breeding are also possible in Tuva's varied climate. Tuva is among the top ten Russian regions in total area covered by pasture and hayfields. Farming is less developed due to the dry climate; nevertheless, wheat, millet, barley, and feed crops are cultivated here. Farmland occupies more than a third of the republic's territory, with about 585 000 hectares being suitable for tilling. Through efficient use of land and fodder resources and the availability of rail and shipping communications, Tuva could produce large quantities of meat for delivery to other regions of the country. It could also supply the corresponding enterprises far beyond the republic with other animal products, e.g., sheep's wool, Angora goat down, and dressed hides.

The low level of industrial development is connected with the fact that industry only appeared in Tuva in the postwar years. The leading industries are power, nonferrous metallurgy, engineering and metalworking, fuel, forestry, woodworking, light industry, food, flour and cereals, feed milling, medical, printing, and building materials. The mining industry is a distinguishing feature of the republic's industrial profile, but the development of deposits and the mineral production in the republic form the core. Tuva is a true storehouse of minerals, with rich deposits of rare metals such as niobium, tantalum, lithium, and beryllium, deposits of precious and semiprecious stones, and sizable reserves of nonferrous metals such as lead, zinc, tin, nickel, and cobalt. A cobalt deposit in Khovu-Aksy and an asbestos deposit in Ak-Dovurak are currently being worked. The Ulug-Khem basin with total coal reserves of more than 1 billion tons is located in the republic. Tuva also has nearly all kinds of medicinal mineral waters, including carbonated, thermal, spring, and sulfureous. In addition, Tuva has an abundance of beautiful scenery, especially in the mountains, for example, mountain valleys, waterfalls, lakes, and everything that attracts tourists and vacationers. In short, Tuva not only has everything for normal life, but also for prosperity. With its unique natural conditions, the republic is also attractive for potential investors. Capital can be profitably invested in ore processing based on the latest technologies, in food and furniture production, development of services, and expansion of native industries.

Negative factors hindering industrial development and production increases include a lack of railways, shipping lines restricted by the Sayano-Shushensk Hydroelectric Power Plant on the lower Yenisei, and the weakness of the existing power base. As a result, the republic loses hundreds of thousands of rubles annually. The region's roads, most of which are dirt roads, are also a problem. As mentioned above, Tuva is connected with Russia, more specifically to Krasnoyarsk Territory, by only two modern highways.


Tuva is a republic within the Russian Federation. Its latest republican Constitution was adopted in 2001. The Governement headed by the Chairman exercises executive authority.

The bicameral Great Khural (Parliament) is the highest legislative body. Tuvan Prime-Minister is the head of the republic.


The distinctive and striking culture of the peoples of Tuva formed over many centuries. Its land and rock still preserve evidence of the life and culture of the people. There are more than ten interesting rock-painting sites with hundreds of pictures. These include Maly Bayan-Kol, Syyn-Churek, Ortaa-Sargol, and Bizhiktig-Khai near Kyzyl and the Chyrgaky petroglyphs in the Khemchik and Saryg-Dash river valleys and on the right bank of the Yenisei River. The people of Tuva can be divided by occupation into two main groups: hunters and reindeer herders of the mountain taiga (Eastern Tuvans) and mountain steppe herders (Western Tuvans), who live in yurts, skin tents, and frame and timber dwellings. Three religions are widespread among the people of Tuva: Orthodox Christianity, shamanism, and Lamaist Buddhism. Buddhism's present-day spiritual leader is His Holiness the 14th Dalai Lama. Seventeen Buddhist prayer houses (dugan) and a Buddhist monastery (khure) have been built with the contributions of the faithful. Forty-four Buddhist lamas and novices serve in them. At a constituent conference of Tuvan Buddhists held in 1997, a decision was made to establish a special coordination center for the development of Tuvan Buddhism called the Kambo-lama Administration of Tuva.

Shamanism is mainly found among the nomadic herders and hunters. It is an integral part of the spiritual and cultural life of the Tuvan people. Not long ago, it was widespread in Tuva and was studied by ethnographers until very recently. Shamanism is based on a belief in the possibility of communicating with the spirits of Earth and Heaven.

One striking feature of the Tuvan people is the art of throat singing (khoomei), popular around the world today. It is interesting for its traditional performance techniques; in one technique, one person sings with two or three voices at the same time. Throat singing methods are the basis of the musical culture and tonal pitch. It is associated with imitating animals and possessing these sound imitations is the key to the art of throat singing. There are five different styles: khoomei, sygyt, kargyraa, borbannadyr, and ezengleer. Throat singing is accompanied by various types of bowed and plucked stringed instruments. Prominent researchers have studied it. The art of throat singing is performed by the Tyva Ensemble founded in Kyzyl in 1988 by musicologist and folklorist Zoya Kyrgys in cooperation with Gennady Tumat.

The ensemble performs all genres of Tuvan folk music that arose in the early periods of the life of Central Asian nomads. The finest performers of this unique Tuvan art are members of the ensemble.

The ensemble's repertoire includes hundreds of songs collected from all districts of the Republic of Tuva. The Tyva Ensemble has performed in Mongolia, Taiwan, Holland, Belgium, Sweden, Germany, Norway, the United States, Japan, and many other cities and countries. In order to preserve and develop the traditional culture of throat singing and to research questions of ethnography, shamanism, and philosophy, the Government of the Republic of Tuva established the Khoomei International Science Center in January 1993. The Center is involved in creating archives of recordings of this singing and its analysis, training and auditioning young performers, taking part in international folk music contests, and organizing international symposia and festivals.
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