Election '06: All about Kirsan and Kalmykia

by ChessBase
4/6/2006 – Today we received an email from the Kirsan Election Campaign center, pointing us to an article on the "somewhat controversial figure" of their candidate for President of FIDE. It is (piquant, piquant) by members of the rival ticket. Coincidentally there is a big story on Ilyumzhinov and Kalmykia in today's Times, unveiling Kirsan's latest plan.

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The article on the Kirsan Presidential Campaign 2006 web page originally appeared on our pages in July 2004. Interestingly the material came from Ali Nihat Yazici and Geoffrey D Borg, who today are running the rival bid for presidency. The article tells the story of a Kalmykian boy named Kirsan (Tibetan for prosperity) who was called "Badma" (lotus) by his friends. He learnt chess from his grandfather at the age of four, and one year later became "street champion" amongst much older children. At seven he became the Kalmykian children’s champions, and at the age of 14 the national champion of the entire Republic. He was also a boxing champion at the same age.

Kirsan Ilyumzhinov talking to Geoffrey Borg in 2004. Today Borg is running against Ilyumzhinov in the Right Move ticket of Bessel Kok and Ali Nihiat Yazici.

After finishing school Kirsan worked for two years in a factory, and at 18 he joined the Soviet Army, finishing service as a Senior Sergeant (and of course army chess champion). He joined the Moscow International Relations Institute; after graduating he was appointed General Manager for a Soviet-Japan Trading Company selling cars, and soon became a millionaire.

In 1993, at 30, Ilyumzhinov won the first elections in Kalmykia with 65% of the votes. In 1995 the Constitutional Assembly voted to keep him in office for seven more years. Ilyumzhinov initiated preterm elections and won them with 85% of the votes.

Full story:

Coincidentally today Jeremy Page has a large piece on Kirsan in The Times. In an article entitled "Chess master plans his greatest move" and contains a lot of background information on the Republic of Kalmykia. The following excerpts are taken from the Times article and from the Wikipedia entry, which contains much of the same information. It tells the story of the remarkable back and forth of the Kalmykian people.

History of the Kalmykian people

The Kalmyks are often referred to as "western Mongols", but they are in fact a distinct group of western Mongolian Buddhist nomads that at one time controlled a vast Kalmyk Empire which stretched from the Great Wall of China to the River Don, and from the Himalayas to Siberia. In the 17th century, after half a million people were slaughtered by the Chinese in the ancestral homelands, the present-day Chinese Xinjiang Province (Chinese Turkestan), the Kalmyks moved westward and settled down in the European steppes, where all other nomadic groups became vassals of Kalmyk Khan.

In 1771 Catherine the Great abolished Kalmykian self-government and tried to make the Buddhist population embrace Christianity. The Kalmyk Khan decided to return to their native territories and led 200,000 Kalmyks on a seven-month march to Xinjiang in Central Asia, where they settled. The Kalmyks who remained in Russian territory were accepted by the authorities, especially since they provided excellent soldiers for the Imperial Russian Army.

After the Communist October Revolution in 1917, many Kalmyks joined the White Russian army during the Russian Civil War, for which they were severely punished by the Bolshevik regime, which executed about 10,000 Kalmyks in 1920. In 1931, Stalin ordered the collectivization, closed the Buddhist monasteries, and burned the Kalmyks' religious texts. About 60,000 Kalmyks died during the great famine of 1932 to 1933. On October 22, 1935 the region was elevated to republic status Kalmyk Autonomous Republic within the Russian Soviet Federated Socialist Republic, which has become the modern day Russia after the collapse of the Soviet Union.

In early 1942 the German army took Kalmykia, where they were greeted as liberators from Stalin's oppression. At the end of the year, however, the Red Army retook Kalmykia and put the country directly under control of the central government. Stalin ordered the deportation of the entire Kalmyk nation to Siberia in cattle trucks, without notice and in midwinter. Half the population perished during the journey and in the following years of exile.

In 1957 Nikita Khrushchev allowed the remaining Kalmyks to return to their Caspian Sea homeland, and in 1958 Kalmykia again became an autonomous republic within RSFSR. However, in the following years bad planning of agricultural and irrigation projects resulted in widespead desertification, and economically unviable industrial plants were constructed. With the collapse of the Soviet regime the economy also disintegrated, causing widespread social hardship and increasing depopulation of rural areas lacking in resources and facilities. The language and culture had also suffered possibly irreversible decline.

The Ilyumzhinov plan

Enter Kirsan Nikolayevich Ilyumzhinov, the "the somewhat controversial figure" (see blurb on the Kirsan campaign site), who took power as President of the Republic in 1993. In 1995 he became the head of FIDE, spendings tens of millions on chess – but also on building a Catholic church (at the instigation of the Pope), a mosque, a synagogue, 22 Orthodox churches and 30 Buddhist temples.

In the Times report Ilyumzhinov tells about a plan to initiate a mass migration of ethnic Kalmyks back from the Xinjiang Province to the current Republic of Kalmykia. He wants to bring in 10,000 of his people from China’s northwestern region, 3,000 mile distant, to “help the revival of the language and traditional grassland farming,” as Chinese Kalmyks speak their native tongue and are skilled at animal husbandry. Several hundred families have apparently already taken the step.

Kalmykia today has a population of just 290,000 people, half of whom are Kalmyk (the rest are mostly Russian and Caucasian). According to Ilyumzhinov there are 300,000 to 500,000 ethnic Kalmyks in the relatively impoverished Chinese regions of Xinjiang and Inner Mongolia. Kalmykia is now one of Russia’s poorest republics with an average monthly income of £55 and a desperate shortage of labour.

Critics say that Ilyumzhinov's plan is a white elephant, and the Chinese embassy said it had not heard about the project. Kalmyks are not an officially recognised ethnic group in China. “Chinese authorities don’t think about them as Kalmyks, they think of them as Mongols,” said Aleksei Moskalyov, a China expert at the Russian Academy of Sciences. But Vyacheslav Postavnin, deputy director of the Federal Migration Service, said the plan was feasible. “I know there aren’t enough working people in Kalmykia,” he told The Times.

“I heard Ilyumzhinov was talking to Uzbekistan about bringing in migrant workers. I know he is trying to resolve this problem.”

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