Altay Republic

Altay Republic
   An ethnic republic of the Russian Federation. Known as the Gorno-Altay Autonomous Oblast (1948–1991) and then as the Gorno-Altay Autonomous Soviet Socialist Republic (1991–1992), the region was given its current name in 1992. It is part of the Siberian Federal District and the West Siberian Economic Region. The republic is situated in the center of the Asian continent between the Siberian taiga, the steppes of Kazakhstan, and Mongolia’s deserts. The republic also shares a short border with the Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region of China. Internally, the republic is bordered by the Altay Krai, Kemerovo, Khakasiya, and Tuva.
   Often referred to as “Russia’s Tibet,” Altay lays claim to Siberia’s highest peak, Mount Belukha (4,506 m). Covering part of the Ob River basin, the republic is also home to the Russian portion of the Altay Mountains, the original homeland of the Turkic peoples. Its geographic area is 92,600 square kilometers. Agriculture, animal husbandry, tourism, and mineral resources form the bulk of the region’s economy. With extensive fast-flowing rivers, the republic also has significant hydroelectric capacity. The capital, Gorno-Altaysk (pop. 53,000), is built on the site of the 19th-century village Ulala.
   Altays are the titular minority, forming 31 percent of the republic’s total population of 203,000 inhabitants; ethnic Russians account for 57 percent and Kazakhs represent 6 percent. The State Assembly (El Kurulrai) is the highest legislative body in the republic. Until 2001, local law stipulated that the chair of the republican government and parliamentary chairperson must be of different ethnic groups, effectively legislating that one of the two must be an ethnic Altay. In the late 1990s, the head of the government was Semyon Zubakin; he received a vote of no confidence in 1999 for his mishandling of the region’s finances. Despite a modest improvement in recent years, approximately 85 percent of the regional budget still comes from federal subsidies. Altay was one of the worst-hit regions by the 1998 ruble crisis; after Chukotka and Koryakiya, it suffered from the highest wage arrears in the federation. The current president is Aleksandr Berdnikov, an ethnic Russian who was appointed by Vladimir Putin according to Russia’s new electoral laws. He replaced Mikhail Lapshin, the former leader of the Agrarian Party of Russia (Lapshin went on to become a member of the Federation Council from Omsk).
   In 2006, the residents of the republic, led by the cultural group Ene Til (Altay: “Mother Tongue”), demonstrated against the possibility of a merger with the Altay Krai; subsequently, Berdnikov has declared that the republic will remain a distinct political unit in the future. A number of major development projects, including gas pipelines, have been proposed for the area but remain controversial due to indigenous opposition to any major alteration to the region’s ecosystem.
   On 1 July 2009, the Altay Republic became one of only four locales in Russia where casinos are legal (the others being the Azov region, Kaliningrad, and Primorsky).

Historical Dictionary of the Russian Federation. . 2010.

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