Ethnic group. The Tuvans are the titular majority of the Republic of Tuva; numbering over 200,000, most live in Tuva, though small diasporas reside in China and Mongolia. In terms of culture and appearance, Tuvans closely resemble Mongolians; however, they have retained their Turkic tongue, which is part of the South Siberian subgroup of Northeastern Common Turkic languages.
   The Tuvan language makes extensive use of Mongolian loan words, reflecting a long history of political subordination to Mongolia, which itself was under Chinese hegemony prior to 1911. With Soviet support, a Latin-based orthography was developed for Tuvan in the early 1930s; like other Soviet Turkic languages, the Tuvan alphabet was replaced by a Cyrillic script during World War II. Historically, Tuvans were shamanistic, practicing a form of skyworship or Tengrism. The Tos Deer Respubliki Tuvy (Nine Heavens of the Republic of Tuva) was established in the post-Soviet period to provide a national organization for the republic’s shamanists. In the 17th century, Lamaist Buddhism made inroads into the region, though in most cases, it was practiced alongside shamanism. Today, Lamaism is given state support, but shamanism is also a protected form of worship. Recognizing the centrality of Buddhism to the region, the Dalai Lama visited Tuva in 1992. A small number of Tuvans profess Russian Orthodoxy.
   In the 1980s, a resurgence of Tuvan ethnic identity grew under the policy of glasnost. Khostug Tyva (Free Tuva) emerged as the leading voice of Tuvan nationalism, often espousing strident anti-Russian and anti-Christian rhetoric. The organization initially lobbied for elevating Tuva to the status of a union republic, and later supported a referendum on independence. However, the movement weakened with the election of its leader Kadyr-ool Bicheldei to federal office in 1990. Tuvans are world-renowned for their unique variety of throat singing, a tradition that was celebrated in the film Genghis Blues (1999), which chronicled an American blues singer’s journey to the republic to compete in a throat-singing competition.

Historical Dictionary of the Russian Federation. . 2010.

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