Siberia is the taiga and tundra of northern-central Asia, the great landmass of eastern Russia, the fear of anti-Soviet criminals, the home of a great number of Siberian native peoples.

The region covers about 7.5 million square miles and is populated by 25 million people. Its borders are undefined, but it is understood to stretch from the Ural mountains in the west (where Europe ends) to the coast of the Pacific, in the south from the Altai and Sayan mountain systems, the Kazakh steppes and the border of Mongolia to the Arctic Ocean.

Siberia was a new hope for the Russian people. The vast mass of land behind the mountains lay unexplored and unexploited until the end of the 16th century. It was rumoured to be full of gold and other treasures, but the cold of the land itself prevented a mass influx of settlers.

The land is indeed filled with an abundance of minerals and fossils, and is now a leading producer of Russia's gold, diamonds, mica, aluminium and nonferrous precious metals, as well as oil, gas and graphite. Timber is another major industry, and growing of wheats and oats is not entirely impossible - especially in the southern parts of the region. Traditional occupations in the North include keeping of reindeer, fishing, sealing, hunting, and collecting furs (they grow on trees, you know).

East Siberia is the harshest and most extreme part of the region. This is where Baykal, the world's deepest lake, is located. It is also home to the coldest permanent settlement on earth, Verkhoyansk, where winter temperatures average -49°C. Other important cities of this part of Siberia are Krasnoyarsk, Irkutsk, Ulan-Ude, Cheremkhovo, Yakutsk, and Chita.

In the west, between the Ural mountains and the river Yenisei, lies the marshy, but mild lowland. This southwestern part of Siberia is the centre of most of the major industry and seat of the largest cities, and about 60% of the people of the region live here. Novosibirsk, Siberia's answer to New York, is the main city of this area and an important stop on the Trans-Siberian railroad. With its 1.5 million inhabitants it is also Russia's third largest city. In addition the euphonic names of Omsk, Tomsk, Tobolsk, Barnaul, and Novokuznetsk can be found here.

In historic times, Siberia served as breeding grounds for hordes of raging barbarians: Huns, Mongols and Manchus all originated here. An inhospitable, barbaric wasteland, indeed.

Siberia was discovered long before America, that is, Russia knew it was there all right. Some Russians had even traded with natives for furs as early as the 13th century. But they knew the land was cold and bleak and not for settlement.

Czar Ivan IV, the Terrible, did not let popular sentiment stop him, and neither did his successors. Ivan started by conquering the Kazan khanate. A Cossack group under Ataman Ermak took Sibir, the capital of the Sibir Khanate, and when the Tatar khanate fell in 1598, Russia had no more competitors in Siberia. The Cossacks went further eastward still until they reached the eastern end of the continent, where they met the Pacific Ocean and the Chinese. The two unexpected neighbours came to an agreement, and in 1689 signed the Treaty of Nerchinsk, where Russia abandoned the region later called the Russian Far East. Treaties don't last forever, you know.

Gradually the settlers arrived. Zemleprokhodtsy, crossers of land, followed the rivers the Cossacks had first explored. Forts turned into towns, and most of them remained towns. Life in Siberia wasn't for everyone.

Mining became an important industry as the fur trade declined in the early 18th century and industrial calls for metals and minerals became louder. Siberia started its carreer as a penal colony for criminals and political prisoners early on, and lo! the leaders of the Decembrist Conspiracy of 1825 were quick enough to start a small, but vocal Siberian intelligentsia.

With the emancipation of Russian serfs in 1861, poor people looking for free land came into the area and bravely faced the hardships of the climate to make their own livelihood. With the construction of the Trans-Siberian Railroad, settlers found the entrance to the region easier, while at the same time trade became much smoother. Needless to say eastward migration rose sharply.

During the Russian Revolution, Siberia became the seat of the friends of the czar. In order to get better control of the region, perhaps, or because of their visions, the Soviet leaders decided to develop this land properly. The first Five-Year Plan saw coal, iron and steel being produced in the region by forced labour, in a system of labour camps invented by Stalin. Great parts of the rural population of Russia, especially the expropriated landowners or kulaks, were forced to resettle in the region. This policy worked. Between 1914 and 1946, the population of Siberia doubled.

Following the second world war, Soviet leaders decided that the current development of Siberia was not enough. To boost expansion they planned new cities, such as Akademgorodok, a town of science filled with academics moved there from Moscow and Leningrad. In a short time, they had made the area urbane as well as settled.

Today, the great majority of Siberia's people is Russian and Ukrainian. The native groups of the region are many, but small. They are Buryat, Tuva, Kharkass, Kemerovo, Khant, Mansi, Nenet, Evenkin and more. Many of these had to give up their nomadic lifestyle under the communist era and settle down to grow the earth instead. Recently, however, they have become more vocal in their fight for their own identity, environment, and political power.

Such an immense topic demands a more thorough investigation, so the following is a collection of several key facts about Siberia:

1. Siberia is a significant portion of Asian Russia.

Though for the scope of this writeup I will include the Russian Far East (and therefore essentially all of Russia east of the Ural Mountains), in the strictest sense Siberia comprises the western sections of Asian Russia. The political divisions are as follows:

Urals Federal District

Siberian Federal District

Far Eastern Federal District

2. Siberia is big.

As anyone looking at a map (or the list above) can tell, the Siberian region is indeed vast, comprising 7,511,000 square km (almost 3,000,000 square miles). The area has mostly remained untouched by human hands, though despite the climate and the extreme isolation, there is a human presence sprinkled across the region's immense bulwark. A significant portion of the land, about 40%, is covered in taiga forest. Other types of terrain include mountains and steppes, with tundra and wetlands in the far north.

Siberia is bound to the west by European Russia, with the Ural Mountains serving as a barrier; and to the north by the various seas of inlets of the Arctic Ocean, namely, the Barents Sea, the Kara Sea, the Laptev Sea, the East Siberian Sea, and the Chukchi Sea. The extreme northeast of the region, Chukotka, is severed from Alaska and the rest of the North American continent by the Bering Straits. In the Ice Age this area served as the avenue through which proto-Native Americans entered the New World. To the east, the coast tapers away to the southwest, bound in by the Bering Sea, with the Sea of Okhotsk isolating the Kamchatka peninsula. The Okhotsk bends inwardly from the western shore of the Kamchatka to the island of Sakhalin, immediately south of which lies the Japanese isle of Hokkaido. On the western shore of Sakhalin, and binding the east shore of the mainland lies the Sea of Japan. At this point Siberia begins its southern boundary, sharing a multiude of international borders, including a tiny sliver of North Korea, then China, Mongolia, China again very breifly, then Kazakhstan, where the region ends in the southern foothills of the Urals.

The Urals Federal District mainly lies along the vast Western Siberian Lowlands. The region contains the mighty Ob' and its tributaries the Tobol, the Irtysh, the Tura, and the Vakh, amongst others, which empty out into the Kara Sea via the Obskaya Guba. Other important rivers in the region include the Pur and the Taz, which also empty northward. This region mainly consists of forests and plains, as well as considerable peatlands in the north.

Moving eastward towards the vast Krasnoyarsk kray, the land begins to rise, evening out at the Central Siberian Plateau, bound to the west by the low-lying Yenisey and cut through the middle by the Tanguska and Degali, as well as the Yengida. Vast taiga forests stretch out across this relatively uninhabited terrain.

South of the plateau, the land flattens a little until rising again in the Altay Mountains (or Altai Mountains), which stretch down into Mongolia. A large majority of the population lies northwest of this area, in the extreme southeastern Western Siberian Plateau.

The terrain remains mountainous along the southern rim, through Tuva and arcing northeastward. North northeastward of Mongolia lies Lake Baikal. As with the rest of Siberia, this lake is huge: in addition to occupying a sizeable surface area, the lake is extremely deep, probably 9 km if the sediment were removed-the deepest land rift on the planet. It remains, by far, the largest freshwater lake in the world, containing 20% of Earth's fresh water.

East of Baikal, the land remains mountainous along the border with China and North Korea. Northwards, in western Sakha (also known as Yakutia), the land levels out east of the Central Siberian Plateau, as the Lena and its tributaries, including the Vilyny, the Indigirka, and the Tas-Yuryakh, flow northward.

The extreme far east is mountainous, including the maritime region around Vladivostok, as well as the Kamchatka peninsula and Sakhalin. The Kolyma is an important river flowing through Chukotka. The Amur flows along the region's southern rim.

3. Siberia has, believe it or not, people in it.

Siberia had a population of roughly 32,452,000 in 1992. Of these, a majority are ethnic Russians or Ukranians, though there are significant indigenous populations, most of which inhabit the region's republics. These groups include the Turkic-speaking Hakass, Tuvans, and the inhabitants of the Altay republic, as wells as the Buryat Mongols, the Finno-Ugric-speaking Ostyaks (or Khant) and Voguls (Mansi), the Nenets (Semoyedes), and the Evenki.

Most of the population lives in southwestern Siberia, with Novosibirsk serving as the economic center of the region. At 1,500,000, it remains the largest city in Siberia, and the third largest in all of Russia behind Moscow and St. Petersburg. Other cities in the southwest include Omsk, Tomsk, Tobolsk, Barnaul, and Novokuznetsk. This region is heavily industrialized; additionally, portions of western Siberia have beem given over to agriculture, focusing on the production of wheat, rye, oats, potatoes, and dairy. Various mineral deposits have been exploited, particularly in the Kuznetsk Basin, which is a primary coal deposit. Oil is also commonly found, with significant deposits across western Siberia. The world's largest natural gas deposit is found in Yamalo-Nenetskaia, with cities like Nadym expanding rapidly under Soviet dominion upon the deposit's discovery.

In eastern Siberia the population thins out, mainly due to the harsh weather, with Irkutsk, Yakutsk, Chita, Ulan Ude, and Krasnoyarsk serving as the major population centers. The primary industry and raison d'etre for the eastern population is raw materials, with large mineral and petroleum products sprinkled throughout the area. Cities such as Noril'sk housing enormous metallurgy and ore processing facilities. Fur trapping and reindeer hunting are, aside from mining and excavation, the main pursuits in the far north. Of these activities, the former is mainly the province of northern indigenous groups.

In the maritime area around Vladivostok shipping is an important industry, the city being a port of entry for many imported goods, particularly Japanese products. Japanese cars are often either shipped on the Trans-Siberian Railroad (more on that later) or actually driven across sections of the forbidding terrain (more on that later).

4. Siberia has a varying climate.

Most people think of Siberia as a brutally frigid subarctic wasteland, completely unsuitable for human habitation. This is a broad generalization, and not truly reflective of the region's moderately diverse climate. The region is so large that the climate varies, but generally in southern and western sections are much more temperate than northern and eastern sections. It's still Russia, of course, but nowhere near as intensely cold (or intensely hot) as the northern and eastern regions. Verkhoyansk, which has the dubious distinction of being the coldest permanently-settled location on the planet, has an avreage winter temperature of -49oC and an average summer temperature of 32oC. While this is not representative of the entire region's climate, it illustrates the vast differences between winter and summer temperatures. Winters are long, beginning in mid-October and lasting until April-May; summers flare as hot spots in between.

5. People have been living in Siberia for quite some time.

Humanity has been mucking through Siberia since prehistoric times. Beginning with 300,000 years ago to the beginning of recorded history, the area housed many migrant and nomadic tribes of people. During the Ice Age the frozen Bering Strait joined the Eurasian landmass and North America, functioning as the bridge over which the first Native Americans entered the New World. Southern Siberia spawned many nomadic tribes that later graduated into marauding hordes, terrifying Europeans from the Romans on. These tribes included the Huns, the Mongols, and the Manchus. Of these, the Mongols, under Genghis Khan's Golden Horde, carved out the first political elements in Siberia, as the mid-15th century dissolution of the Mongol empire led to the Tatar khanate of Sibir.

Russians had long been interested in the immense territory looming on the far side of the Urals, first trading with native peoples for furs in the 13th century. More serious interaction began in 1552, when Ivan the Terrible, fresh from his conquest of the Kazan khanate, turned his eyes further eastward. Under Yermak Timofeyevich, a small force of Russian Cossacks captured the region's eponymous stronghold, Sibir, in 1581. Further victories and the addition of the Tatar khanate to the Russian Empire in 1598 consolidated Russian power in the region. By the end of the 17th century, Russia had claimed almost all of western Siberia. The Cossacks pressed further eastward, setting up a chain of forts and exacting taxes for the czar from the indigenous tribes in the form of furs. They cut through to the Sea of Okhtosk in 1640, clashing with a Chinese force in the region. Russia and China signed the Treaty of Nerchinsk in 1689, which ceded the (Russian) Far East to China. Eventually over the course of the 19th century, Russia regained most of this land.

The zemleprokhodtsy ("crossers of land") were the first permanent wave of Russian settlers in Siberia, cutting across the Urals in the 18th century. During this time the fates of indigenous tribes varied: larger groups like the Kazakhs and the Yakuts were enriched by the fur trade, which constituted a large part of Russia's exports to the West. Smaller tribes became Russified. Around this time Siberia began to be used as a penal colony, especially for political prisoners. This idea later reached its climax under Stalin as the gulag system.

The 18th and 19th centuries saw a new influx of ethnic Russians eastward. As the fur trade declined, mining and processing of raw materials became the driving force for the local economy. Following the 1861 emancipation of Russian serfs, large numbers of freedmen and -women rode eastward to seek their fortunes. Most were unsuccessful.

The completion of the massive Trans-Siberian Railroad from 1892-1905 truly welded Siberia to the rest of Russia. Under Stolypin, one of Nicholas II's most effective ministers, Russian farmers were encouraged to move to Siberia. In this area, with government help, agriculture was permenantly established, primarily in the south and west of the region, and along the railroad. The railroad vastly increased Siberia's economic output, ferrying gold, iron, coal, and other items to European Russia.

Following the Russian Revolution, Siberia became a place of refuge for many Menshevik White Russians, czarists, and a various assortment of other counterrevolutionaries. As a result, during the Russian civil war of 1918-1920 Siberia was a focal point for many clashes between the Bolsheviks and their enemies. In 1918 several Western powers, including the United States, the United Kingdom, France, and Japan inserted an expeditionary force to Siberia to augment White forces there, nominally to repulse any German seizure of materials. These were extracted, albeit reluctantly, at the end of World War I. In 1918, Nicholas II and his family were executed in Yekaterinburg, and the area was firmly in Red hands by 1920 with the destruction of the anti-Bolshevik provisional government in Omsk, which had been established by Admiral Kolchak several years earlier.

After the consolidation of Bolshevik power and the rise of the Soviet Union, Siberia was forcibly developed, with the first Five Year Plan in 1928-1933 establishing massive metallurgic plants in the Kuznetsk Basin. Russian peasants, many of them kulaks, were forced to resettle in the region, setting up many kolkhoz sites. Under Stalin, the region's industry was developed even further, with cities such as Novosibirsk and Irkutsk developing rapidly. The Siberian population doubled during this time. Stalin also had several ideas for Siberia that went beyond farming or industry. He banished millions of his perceived political enemies to the gulags, where many of them were executed Survivors often spending years in forced mining and public works projects, dangerous work which often cost them their lives. One other curious idea of his was the establishment of the Jewish Autonomous Oblast, which he conceived as an athiestic Zion for the Jewish people. This would help settle the region and establish a permenant presence in the face of Chinese or Japanese aggression. The Jewish population in the area waxed and waned, rising as a potentional home for Eastern bloc refugees after World War II, but in later years, especially after the collapse of the Soviet Union, most Jews emigrated, bound for Israel or the United States. The Jewish population in the oblast is currently around 2%, but is growing slightly.

During World War II, the Ural population grew as Stalin set out to establish a backup industrial nexus far away from the advancing German armies, which had invaded the productive Donets region in the west. Under Khrushchev's Seven Year Plan in 1958-1965, massive public works projects commenced, including the construction of thermal and hydroelectric power plants. The city of Akademgorodok, 20 km north of Novosibirsk, was founded as a haven for scientists and other professionals.

Following the collapse of the Soviet government, Siberia has become more open to foreign travel, and several attempts are being made to clean up some of the extensive environmental damage wrought under Soviet rule, particularly in Lake Baikal. The region still has great opportunity, with massive amounts of relatively untouched resources, particularly oil and natural gas. Much of the area is open to tourism, however, several cities, including the sprawling ore processing city of Noril'sk in the far north, remain off-limits to foreigners.

6. It's hard to get around in Siberia.

Most traveling is done on the Trans-Siberian Railroad, which stretches from Vladivostok to Moscow, passing through several important cities such as Irkutsk and Novosibirsk along the way. A primitive road network exists in the area, with Novosibirsk connected to the west by Magistral' 51. The roads in western Siberia are well-developed, and though there are no superhighways at this time, they are drivable. Further eastward the roads become impassable to normal cars, with most of the citizenry using old UAZ or VAZ jeeps to get around. Russian President Putin is currently overseeing the development of a Trans-Siberian Highway, which is still, all claims of completion aside, in development. Most driving is easier in the winter, since many rivers may be crossed when frozen. Some, including the Lena and Kolyma, serve as roadways in their own right.

Other kinds of travel exist, with Vladivostok, Irkutsk, and Novosibirsk receiving daily flights to and from Moscow and Chinese cities. Many engineers dream of a bridge connecting Alaska and Chukotka, but this seems very far off, especially since there is little human presence on the Russian side.

7. Siberia has lots of strange things going on.

With its vastness and impenetrability, Siberia has become a favorite among conspiracy theorists and urban mythographers. A sampling:

  • The Tunguska Incident: June 30, 1908 began like every other day in Siberia, but in the early morning hours a terrible explosion ripped the air above the Stony Tunguska River near the trading post of Vanavara. Local Tungus and fur traders reported seeing an enormous fireball crashing down from the sky in that general direction. Time passed, and from 1927 on several expeditions canvassed the impact site, finding trees flattened for hundreds of kilometers around-2150 square km in all, with no crater in the center. Researchers concluded that the impact caused a 10-15 megaton blast. Much has been made about the source of the blast, with theories ranging from the commonly-held hypothesis of an asteroid collision, to more colorful theories involving UFOs or an awry experiment by Nikola Tesla. The former theory was popularized by an X-files episode involving human experimentation with a cacophanic alien material near the impact site.
  • The Hell Hole: A favorite urban myth involving geologists discovering Hell after drilling a hole 14 km deep. After drill bit began to spin wildly, the team, under a Mr. Azakov, theorized that there was a vast open space beneath them and lowered a microphone, which carried up the sounds of millions of people screaming in agony. This "sound clip" has been played the world over, but despite the deepest wishes of fundamentalists and occultists, the incident remains pure fantasy. There never was such an expedition.

8. Additional Nodes

Here's a collection of links to further information. Hopefully most of these do not link to nodeshells. I may fill in some in the future.

Major Cities of Siberia (Somewhat redundant with the political subdivisions list, but not quite)

Geographical Features of Siberia

People and Cultures of Siberia

Animals of Siberia

History

Sources

  • www.wikipedia.org
  • Columbia Encyclopedia/Yahoo! Encyclopedia
  • www.snopes.com
  • www.virtualtourist.com

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