As with most of us living in Russia, I first learned of Kalmykia in school, in geography class. Of course it was just general knowledge, including the fact that the Kalmyks, or western Mongols (Oirats), emigrants from Zungaria (or Zün Gar in Mongolian), began to settle lands between the Don and Volga Rivers in the middle of the seventeenth century, which led to the founding of the Kalmyk Khanate.
Today, the modestly-sized Republic of Kalmykia resides in the southeastern part of European Russia, sharing borders with the Republic of Dagestan, Stavropol Krai, and Rostov and Volgograd Oblasts. Ecologically speaking, the region is in the steppe zone, meaning it is partial to full desert, and covers some 76,000 square kilometers.
All of this we had learned. But of the repression of the Kalmyk people, of their exile in Siberia, and of their genocide, I knew nothing. Such things were simply not spoken of in Soviet schools.
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Nazi German forces occupied Elista and Kalmykia from August to December 1942. During that period, the Germans created several Kalmyk brigades that fought alongside German forces, rooting out partisans. They also exterminated some 20,000 Kalmyks. The vast majority of the local population remained loyal to the USSR and thousands of Kalmyks had been decorated for service in the Red Army.
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