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The Komis

The self-destination is komi (in plural komijaz). In the 11-15th centuries their neighbours called them Perms. By the 17th century the Russian ethnonym Sirene (Siriane, Zyryane) was well established.

The Zyryan Komis or simply Zyryans live in the Republic of Komi (415,900 sq. km., capital city Syktyvkar) and in the surrounding regions, on the Kola Peninsula, in the Nenets Autonomous District of the Archangelsk Province and in many different places in Siberia. In the upper reaches of the Kama river live the Kirov Permyaks of Zyuzdin Komis.

The Komi population increased steadily until the 1970s; after that there has been a considerable decrease in their knowledge of the native language.

Turning Points in the History of the Komis

11th c - the Komis come under the influence of the Russians;

15th c - the Komis are converted to Russian Orthodoxy and become serfs;

19th c - several uprisings against Russian rulers;

1921 - formation of the Komi (Zyryan) Autonomous Province;

1930s - mental and physical destruction of the intellectuals, or the Komi 'armed bourgeois nationalists', closing of the 'counter-revolutionary and nationalistic' societies, beginning of the intense Russification of the Komis;

1950-1960 - massive immigration of Russians to the Komi territory, as the copious natural resources of the Komi region are ruthlessly exploited; migrants are encouraged to settle in the northern areas by offers of higher salaries and other benefits.

Danger Signs

The ethnic composition of the Komi Republic has changed more drastically than that of other Finno-Ugric republics. The population of the Komi Republic has tripled since World War II due to immigration, which means that the Zyryans have become a minority in their native territory.

The cities of the Komi Republic have a Russian appearance. Only 1/3 of the population of Syktyvkar are Komis, the mining town of Vorkuta has approximately 1% of Komi population and the gas mining city of Ukhta has less than 1%. In the rural areas the Komis are still in the majority, but the economic importance of the rural areas is constantly decreasing and the mass departure from the villages continues. The reason for massive immigration is the industrial exploitation of the northern Komi territories (coal mining in Vorkuta, the utilisation of oil resources, natural gas and extensive forest resources in Uza and Ukhta). In spite of all that the Komi Republic is a backward area because it serves only as a source of raw materials. The Komis have no right to decide how much coal should be mined, how much oil should be extracted or how much forest should be cut and at what price it is sold. A Komi village is socially even more backward and that is why young people do not want to stay in the country but migrate to the cities, into the Russian cultural and language environment. The oil leakage of 1994 alone resulted in devastation of large areas in the northern part of the Komi Republic, which will definitely increase the number of those who move to the cities. A plague for the Komi region are the great interstate prison camps.

The opportunity to use the Komi language has long been negligible: it has been expurgated from the school system, from governmental offices and management. In 1994 one national newspaper and four regional papers were published in the Komi language (by way of comparison - 11 newspapers in the Komi language were published in the 1930s). There are 1/2 hours of radio broadcasts daily and about 1 hour of television broadcasts weekly in the Komi language. National nihilism is spreading, being especially common among the urban Komi. One third of the urban Komis identify themselves as Russians. The knowledge of the Komi language among local Russians (non-Komis) is almost non-existent: only 1.2% of the Russians living in Komi Republic had any command of the Komi language in 1979. At the same time, almost 80% of the Komi know Russian.





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