The Republic of Sakha (YakutiaYakutia), previously known as YakutiaYakutia, is situated in the north-east of the Russian Federation. It is the biggest region and occupies one fifth of the total territory of Russia (cf factsheet). It stretches 2,000 km north south and 2,500 km east west.
Apart from the mainland, the territory of the Republic includes several islands in the Arctic Ocean, such as the Novosibirskiye Islands. The whole area of the republic is located in the high latitudes. Over 40% of the territory lies within the Arctic Circle. Sakha borders the Laptev Sea and the East-Siberian Sea of the Arctic Ocean to the north. From the east through the south to the west, the republic neighbours are: Chukotskiy avtonomnyy okrug, Magadanskaya oblast', Khabarovskiy krai, Amurskaya oblast', Chitinskaya oblast', Irkutskaya oblast', Evenkiyskiy avtonomnyy okrug and Taimyr avtonomnyy okrug. Local time is 6 hours ahead of Moscow. The capital, Yakutsk is 8,468 km from Moscow, 6,280 km away from St.Petersburg. The republic has three time zones.
The main of Sakha are: the Lena river (4,400 km) and its major tributaries, the Vilyuy river (2,650 km) and the Aldan river (2,273 km).
The climate in the republic is severe continental. Sakha is known for being the coldest region of the northern hemisphere: seasonal temperature variations exceed 100 °C (from +40 during the summer to -60 during the winter). The town of Verkhoyansk is at the negative temperature pole of the northern hemisphere (the temperature here drops as low as -71.2 °C).
The Republic of Sakha is a land of mountains and plateaus, which occupy over 70 % of the territory. The territory has a complex geology, correspondingly rich in raw materials, the full extent of which is still unknown. The republic is located in the permafrost area. During the summer season the top layer of soil may thaw to the depth of 0.4 - 3.5 meteres, while the ground below remains permanently frozen.
The Republic of Sakha (YakutiaYakutia) has 33 ulusy (districts) and 2 municipal territories (those of Neryungri and Yakutsk), 11 cities, 69 towns and 352 villages.
The first Russian adventurers met the Sakha people on the banks of the Lena river in the 17th century. In 1632 Russian Cossacks built a fort on the right bank of the Lena, which then developed into the city of Yakutsk. This date is considered to mark the incorporation of YakutiaYakutia into the Russian state.
The origin the name of Sakha is not clear, therefore much debated. The name "Yakut" is thought to be a Russian corruption, through Evenk (yako - a stranger), of their self name "Sakha". The Sakha language belongs to the family of Turkic languages (cf section on culture and language) but has also a strong Mongolian influence. The Sakha are thought to have migrated northwards from around Lake Baykal to the middle reaches of the Lena river and the lower Vilyuy and Aldan Rivers in the thirteenth and fourteenth centuries. Yakuts were driven out, according to their own legends, by the Buryat (Vitebsky 1990: 304). They gradually moved towards the Arctic Ocean shores, assimilating indigenous ethnic groups. The Yakuts spread beyond the Lena area, in northeastern and western directions.
The Yakuts brought with them a southern economy which is based on horse and cattle breeding. They settled along the middle Lena and the lower Vilyuy and Aldan rivers, which provided grazing. This contrasted with the hunting and reindeer herding economies of the original, much smaller populations, mainly Even, Evenk, and Yukagir, who were assimilated or moved into the uplands. The Yakut were influenced by these peoples and adopted local customs. The Yakuts then became gradually marginalised by the Russians.
From the oral epics, which Sakha are known for, we learn about the ancient leaders (toyons). The greatest among them was Dygyn, who in the early seventeenth century conquered numerous other clans to form a chiefdom. Dygyn was known for his power and military spirit. The Russian Cossacks were sent here by the Tsar in the quest for fur. The population was to pay the yasak (fur tax). Thus Yakutsk became the main staging post for further Russian conquest towards the Pacific. Russians brought knowledge of land-cultivation and other agricultural techniques (Vitebsky 1990: 304-305).
The major ethnic groups are Russians and Sakha; the indigenous minority groups are Evenks, Evens, Yukagirs, and Chukchis (cf factsheet).
Starting from the 1960's the development of the mining industry in the republic has changed the demographic situation: the influx of new migrants from European Russia and other Slavic republics increased. It resulted in the drop of the proportion of Yakuts in the overall population of the republic from 90 % in 1920 to 43 % in 1970, to 36.6 % in 1979, and to 33.4 % in 1989 (Khazanov 1995: 177).
However, after the Soviet disintegration the republic has been experiencing strong outward migration. The number of Russians has decreased from 50.3 % in 1989 to 46.8 % in 1996, Ukrainians from 7.1 % to 5.8 % and Belorussians from 0.9 % to 0.7 %.
Sakha (YakutiaYakutia) is a presidential republic and has a constitution. On 27 April 1922 YakutiaYakutia was granted the status of an autonomous republic. Since then its name had changed several times. Its present name the republic received in 1990 when the Declaration of Sovereignty of the Republic of Sakha (YakutiaYakutia) was signed on 27 September 1990. The republic's first president, Mikhail Nikolayev, was elected on 20 December 1991. On 24 December 1996 he was re-elected for another term of five years.
The republic plays an important role in the Russian economy because of its tremendous mineral resources. The main industry in the republic is mining. Sakha produces 100% of Russia's antimony, 99% of its diamonds, 24% of the gold, 33% of the silver. It is also a major producer of coal, natural gas, tin, timber, fish and other natural resources. The diamond mining industry is the main source of Russia's foreign currency income. Before the major economic reforms, the central government purchased and exported all uncut diamonds. However, under new economic circumstances 11.5% of precious metals and 20% of diamonds stayed in the republic. This arrangement was set forth in the Agreement on Economic Relations signed between the governments of the Russian Federation and that of the Republic of Sakha (YakutiaYakutia) on 31 March 1992. A joint stock company called Almazy Rossii-Sakha (Diamonds of Russia and Sakha) was established in 1992. This company is to run diamond negotiations with De Beers. In the last few years the percentage of diamonds and gold to remain in the republic increased and became 20% and 15 % correspondingly.
Sakha has large potential for energy production, there are more than 30 known oil and gas fields in the republic. The republican government signed an agreement with the South Korean government for the construction of a natural gas pipeline from Sakha to the Pacific.
The republic enjoys wide international contacts. It was not until 1989 that Sakha was allowed to trade directly with foreign countries. In 1993 direct trade greatly increased. The Ministry of Foreign Relations was established in 1992 and arranges international economic, cultural, and scientific contacts.
The Yakut language belongs to the Turkic group of languages, which belongs in the Altaic family of languages. Turkic languages are characterised by vowel harmony, general lack of consonant groups, the specific lack of initial l and r in native words, the use of possessive suffixes, lack of gender and a general agglutination of suffixes in word formation (Krueger 1962: 29).
The Yakut language became a lingua franca over a vast area of East Siberia. In the past, the Yakut language was more widespread among the Russians living in the country than it is today.