Settlement of the Region
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December, 01 #183#

Settlement of the Region

The Russian government was actively expanding its territories through reclamation. And it was not surprising that the process encompassed its vast northern lands.

The conquest of Siberia occurred in an inconsistent manner. By the end of the XVI century, Western Siberia was claimed, and as a result, the boundless expanses of Eastern Siberia became accessible. With the conquest of Yenisei, a flood of fortune seekers rushed to the north-east of Siberia. And soon after, in the first half of the XVII century, pools of Lena and the Kolyma River were utilized. The Russian then began to actively expand into the Amur region. Simultaneously with the development of the north-east Siberia, the territories of Baikal were also being set up and worked.

The Russian first appeared in the Baikal region in 1638. The vast territory of Baikal with its small population was annexed to the Russian State without any violence. In most cases, pioneering groups consisted of only a few dozen people.

After the annexation, the government decided that the harsh climate of Siberia was a good punishment for state criminals. Those who displeased the authorities were sent to Siberia, Trans-Baikal.

Cossacks played an important role in the development of Siberia. In fact, they were the first Russian settlers. They had to conquer and then defend the land and its borders against nomads. They also watched for smugglers and captured escaped convicts, carried out police functions, escorted exiles, as well as served as guards in factories, mines, gold mines and towns. Until the middle of the XVIII century, Cossacks practically ruled the land. Later, those functions were taken over by noblemen and appointed officials.

Initially the Russian population settled in Trans-Baikal together with the Buryats and Evenks. There were cases when the Russians led a nomad’s life with the Buryats, or the other way around – when the latter adopted the Russian customs and settled in one place. The same was true for the Evenks. As they expanded, the Russians went to lengths to preserve the territorial and national possessions and traditions of aboriginal peoples. They retained the land with its stock, fisheries, and pastures. Russian settlements were usually built around the settlements of the Buryats and Evenks, and sometimes the locals even allowed them to settle right in their villages. As a rule, there were no cases of forced eviction or eradication of the aboriginal people. 

In the XVIII century, they began the construction of roads, which was vital to settlement of the Baikal region. That was when the Irkutsk, Barguzin, Selenga, Nerchinsk, and Upper Udinsk districts were formed.

In XIX, the Irkutsk province and the Trans-Baikal region continued to be a place of penal servitude and exile. Political exiles played a huge role in the life of Trans-Baikal and the Irkutsk province, especially the Decembrists. They have affected virtually all aspects of life in the region - the development of agriculture, industry, and handicrafts. Most importantly, they brought the richness of European culture to the region, their morals and spirituality.

In the second half of XIX - early XX century, the tsarist government started to banish the members of “People’s Freedom”, Social Democrats, and other revolutionaries to the Irkutsk province and Trans-Baikal. The moral and cultural influence of political exiles on the local Siberians was immense. Thanks to them, museums and libraries were opened in the area (in Irkutsk, Kyakhta, and Nerchinsk). Under that influence, the local population started to participate in social and political life.

Resettlement was getting particularly intense in the late XIX century, in connection with the construction of the Trans-Siberian railway which was supposed to link Siberia to the central part of Russia. Naturally, that called for settlement and development of areas where the construction was carried out. 

Siberian railway became a nationwide construction that span thousands of kilometers. Most of the construction workers that worked on the railway were from other regions, having moved to Siberia in search of work. At the same time, station towns and facilities that would provide maintenance services started to emerge. When the main line of the Siberian railway was constructed, most of the workers moved to the Trans-Baikal section of the road.

The resettlement of the Russian population in the Baikal region and Trans-Baikal continued until the XX century. The construction of the Trans-Siberian railway contributed to the inclusion of the Baikal and Trans-Baikal into a single economic mechanism of the country.

Before the Russian settlers took over, the region was populated mainly by the Buryats and Evenks with their unique culture and way of life.

The Russians adopted their methods which helped them acclimate to the harsh conditions of life in the area. The locals, in turn, adopted their tools and ways of doing things, learning their more advanced culture. As a result, mutually beneficial trade relations and labor practices were established, as well as cultural exchange and communication.

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