Sunday, December 20, 2015

The Life and Approaching Death of First Russian Settlement in Tyva

Paul Goble

            Staunton, December 20 – The first Russian settlement in Tyva was established 130 years ago, but now, according to one Russian journalist who is a native of the town, Turan is not only overwhelmingly non-Russian but gradually decaying, losing both its Russian face and many of the features of a modern place of residence.

            In a long article in “Tuvinskaya Pravda,” Tatyana Vereshchagina describes how Turan came to be founded by a Russian merchant and gold prospector in 1885, how it grew and flourished at the end of Russian imperial times, how it developed further in Soviet times but also how it is dying now (

            By the beginning of the 20th century, Turan had more than 300 residents, a school, an Orthodox church, a doctor’s office and apothecary shop, a library, a theater, a telegraph office, and even a hotel.  By the 1930s, it had expanded still further. And in 1944, when Tyva was absorbed by the USSR, it added a machine tractor station but lost the church.

            By the end of Soviet times, Turan had 44 streets and a large school; but “the 1990s became fatal ones for Turan.” Almost all the institutions that had existed were destroyed, with only one new one added: a restored Orthodox church. The economy was left in tatters and people began to flee, and republic officials took over ever more functions district one had filled.

            Now, almost everything requires going to Kyzyl, Vereshchagina says, including processing dead bodies as there is no longer a morgue in Turan. There is a hospital still but “for patients, the situation has not become better but much worse,” as there are no few doctors and no specialists. 

            “Of course,” she adds, “there is also much new and interesting.” Turan is linked to the Internet, there are now more cars, although the streets are so bad that it is hard for them to navigate. And “there are many stories but the goods in them are everywhere one and the same, extremely primitive and expensive.”

            Houses are being rebuilt and there is even another new Orthodox church, but many things are much worse.  And not surprisingly, people are leaving.  The number of residents has been dropping each year and now stands at only 4874, most of whom are old and have nowhere to go or non-Russian. Indeed, in this Russian settlement, only about 30 percent are ethnic Russians.

            Vereshchagina ends by asking plaintively what will be the future of her native Russian town. Clearly, its prospects are anything but bright.

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