Indigenous People of Russia

<em>Teleuts of the Siberian village of Bekovo.</em>

Teleuts of the Siberian village of Bekovo.

By Slava Tsukerman

In the former Soviet Union, every citizen had an internal passport. Among the entries in this passport, under the number 5, was an entry called “nationality”, which meant, not the citizenship, but the ethnic identity, such as “Russian”, “Ukrainian”, “Georgian”, and “Jewish”. Using the Soviet slang, this information was commonly called “fifth entry”. A Jew, asked why he was fired from his job, could answer: “The fifth entry”. Everybody understood what he meant.

Russians still have internal passports. But these passport have no the “fifth entry”.

It is hard to believe, but today in Russia the need to return the “fifth entry” is discussed on the governmental level. There is a grassroots’ demand to create the legal way of proving ethnic identity for indigenous peoples of the North, Siberia and the Far East. They need the designation not only to obtain some benefits, but also to save their own identity.

Shors and Teleuts are two Turkic peoples speaking dialects and living on the territory of the Kemerovo Region in Siberia. A century ago they lived apart from other ethnic groups, now they are largely assimilated.

Teleuts is one of the most ancient peoples of Siberia. The name of “teleut” was first recorded in 201 BC in the Chinese sources. According to linguists, the “tele” is the name applied to certain people that was recorded more than two thousand years ago. And “ut” is a Mongolian suffix designating the plural.

When the Russian Cossack detachments in the 17th century crossed the Urals, they quickly conquered the Siberian Khanate and defeated Khan Kuchum but, then for a few decades, they made little progress mainly because of the resistance of the Teleuts. Teleuts retained their identity longer than other Siberian peoples.

Now the Teleuts are among the disappearing peoples. According to the latest census, there are only 2,643 Teleut people in Russia. They are the longest of all indigenous Siberian peoples resisted assimilation. And they continue to do so. In on the village of Bekovo, there is a school where Teleut language is taught, and there is a teacher of this subject.

In this school Teleut is an obligatory subject.

The school in the village of Bekovo is the only one in Russia where the Teleut language is taught. It is studied one or two hours a week, from the second to the seventh grade. The only teacher of Teleut, Marina Tarasova, nee Yakuchakova, graduated from the Shor Department in Novokuznetsk Pedagogical Institute. In her group there were 12 people, ten studied the Shor language, two – Teleut. Now this branch of the Institute has been closed.

<em>Marina Tarasova</em>

Marina Tarasova

In the 4A class of Bekovo school only six children are Teleuts. The rest are crossbreeds: Russian with German, Teleuts with Uzbeks, Shors. But they all learn Teleut language, it is compulsory.

4A class of Bekovo school

4A class of Bekovo school

Pavel Majin, a pupil of 4A class, told the correspondent of the website

“We have English in the school program more often than Teleut, twice a week. But I know Teleut better, because I’m talking Teleut with my father, mother and relatives. Parents do not force me and my brother to speak Teleut, we volunteer ourselves.”

For the twins Michael and Pavel Majin Teleut language is still native. And, unlike parents and grandfathers, they even know how to read and write on it. In Soviet times Teleut was not taught in schools. And almost no one knew the written language. Recently, the school conducted a language course for adults. There were five people, who came to the class. But now Marina Tarasova plans to repeat the lessons, the “word of mouth” information has spread across the village, and there are now more people willing.

Marina Tarasova told the correspondent of the website

“We set out to teach adults reading. Now a newspaper is published in Teleut, but many indigenous people cannot read it. They can talk, but they do not know the grammar and don’t know how to write correctly. And they need to replenish the vocabulary.”

Dmitriy Funk – doctor of historical sciences who is head of the department of ethnology of Moscow State University, visited a Teleut village for the first time in 1982. He noted that “little children ran around and no one spoke Russian, Teleut was their mother tongue and was alive 100%.”

Can the disappearing people and their language come back to life?

Updated: February 17, 2018 — 12:16 pm