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In former times an array of names have been used to denote the Khakass: the Tatars of Minusinsk, the Tatars of Abakan, the Turks of Abakan, the Turks of the Yenisey. The Khakass themselves have used their own tribal designation (sagai, khas, peltyr, shor, koybal, hyzyl-kizhi). The origin of the name khakass is in the word hagias -- hjagas, used by the Chinese for an ancient tribe in the Sayan Mountains. The appearance and habits of this "Kirgiz" people were described in Chinese chronicles in the first centuries AD approximately. During the Soviet period, the Russians adopted the name Khakass for several assembled tribal groups. The name stuck and spread and since 1930 the people themselves have started to use it.

Habitat. The Khakass live in Siberia, on the middle reaches of the River Yenisey and on the upper reaches of its tributaries, the Abakan and the Chulym. On an administrative level they belong to the Khakass Autonomous Region in the Kransoyarsk District of the Russian Federation -- an area of some 61,900 square kilometres). The northern and eastern parts of the region are flat steppelands (the Abakan-Minusinsk Basin), while the southern and western regions are mountainous. The climate is continental, with the average temperatures between -15 °C and -21 °C in January, and between 17 °C--19 °C in July.

Population. The data from censuses is as follows:

native speakers
1897ab. 35,000
195956,58486 %
197066,72583.7 %
197970,77682 %
198980,00076.1 %

Although the Khakass have steadily increased in numbers they are nevertheless a minority in their own country. For example, from 1969 to 1986 the population of Khakassia increased by 79,000 (from 468,000 to 547,000), a figure greater than the total Khakass population. In 1959, 48,000 Khakass were living in Khakassia, forming 12 % of the total population. In 1979 the respective numbers were 57,300 and 11.4 %. Every fifth Khakass lives outside the borders of the home region.

Anthropologically the Khakass are of the Mongoloid Central Asian race. They have dark skin and eyes and coarse dark hair, and beards. Their face is wide, the cheekbones are not very prominent. The Khakass tend to be short, with the average male height being 162--164 cm. In some Khakass groups characteristics of the Uralic race are discernible.

The Khakass language belongs to the Uighur-Oguz group in the eastern Hun branch of the Turkic languages. It has its genetic origin in the ancient Uighur language unity. The Khakass language is an aggregation of different tribal languages, and it has achieved its present form only during the 20th century. More colourful dialectal peculiarities have been levelled by the unified language. Former tribal languages constitute the dialects of the Khakass language. The internal Sagai dialect is spoken in the regions of Askyz and Tashtyp (the Beltyr subdialect forming a special group), the Katshin dialect in the regions of Ust-Abakan, Altai and Shirin, the Kyzyl dialect in the Saralin and Shirin regions, the Shor dialect (NB! not the language) in the Tashtyp region. The Sagai and the Kachin dialects have the greatest number of speakers and are the most widespread.

The structure and the basic vocabulary of the Khakass language are of Turkic-Tatar origin. There have been close contacts (as concerns vocabulary) with the Manchu-Tungus, the Paleo-Asiatic, the Chinese and the Russian languages. Loan-words from the Mongol and Russian languages occur most frequently, but unlike the West Turkic peoples, the Khakass language has no loans from the Arabic and Iranian languages.

The Russian influence, which began in the 17th century, was for a long time limited to the everyday sphere of life. During the Soviet period numerous loan-words from the spheres of ideology, administration and culture were added, and through Russian a number of internationalisms were also introduced into the Khakass language. At first there were attempts to fit the loan-words into the Khakass language system but since the 1960s loans from Russian have been incorporated in almost their original forms while a part of the adapted loans or the Khakass words have been fully replaced by Russian words. As a result, the Khakass language lacks a vocabulary for modern technics and many other modern concepts, and Russian has to be used instead.

History. As early as in the Paleolithic period what is the present-day Khakassia was populated by pastoral nomads, hunters and fishermen. The rulers changed (the Huns, the Zhuzhans, the Altai Turks), people wandered and the borders shifted. From the 6th century the influence of the Altaic and Uighur tribes strengthened the Turkish ethnic element. During this period ancient Kirgiz tribes arose, and a little later (the 8th--9th centuries) the Yenisey Kirgiz tribes, the far ancestors of the Khakass were formed.

In 1207 the region was conquered by Genghis Khan, and his successors in their turn increased their domains into China. In 1368 the Mongols were overthrown, and there followed a constant struggle for power (the Oirats, Yesenya Khan, Altyn Khan). At the beginning of the 17th century the Russians arrived and gradually gained control of the region. In 1621 the stronghold (ostrog) of Meletsk was built, and others followed -- Krasnoyarsk in 1628, Kansk in 1629, Atchinsk in 1641. The nomads were unable to put up a unified fight against the Russians and they were each defeated in turn (the Arinis in 1608, the Sagais in 1620 etc.). In 1708 the areas of the Yenisey Kirgiz tribes were incorporated into the Russian Empire, and the local peoples were required to start paying tribute (up to 6 sable furs per person), with the idea that "Tsar Peter would protect them and make them his subjects." Their independence was crushed although at first it seemed that they were able to maintain their autonomy. The Khakass areas were divided into counties, each governed by a local prince. They were helped by Cossacks in collecting taxes and in maintaining order. The Russians did not intervene openly in the local life of the Khakass.

In 1822 a code of laws on non-Russian peoples compiled by M. Speransky, was published. In this code their administrative divisions, taxes and tributes, and legal status were established. It was actually an inventory, meant to make the economic and ideological (orthodox) supervision more efficient. The resulting constant debts, large numbers of Russian immigrants, the despotism of Russian bureaucrats, Christianization and russification broke the self-confidence and independence of the Khakass. Russian policies and Russian settlers were inconsiderate to the locals. For instance in 1876 missionaries not knowing the local language, simultaneously baptized 3,000 people in Askyz, naming all the men Vladimir and all the women Maria.

In 1905 there was a stirring among the Khakass. On November 1 and 2 a meeting was held in Askyz, and the problem of restoring local authority was discussed. Needless to say autonomy was never regained.

Soviet power was established in 1923, and the standard changes were inflicted on the Khakass. Co-operatives and collective farms were formed and the "kulaks" were liquidated. The Khakass Autonomous Region was formed in the Krasnoyarsk district. Militant atheism fiercely attacked Khakass shamanism and the existing veneer of orthodoxy. As far as the economy was concerned traditional cattle rearing continued, but at the same time a greater emphasis was placed on areas which had previously been less familiar to the Khakass (agriculture), or which had been completely unknown to them (industry and technology). Because of developing industry it was possible to settle large numbers of immigrants in Khakassia. The settlers established themselves in towns, in industries, in trade and transport etc., with a condescending attitude to the local "blacks". Everyday life came to be dominated by Russian and the importance and the prestige of the Russian language was constantly highlighted. The Khakass language and culture dissolved into Russian popular culture.

Writing. A Chinese chronicle Tan-shu (618--907) mentions a written language of the Yenisey Kirgiz tribes, Turkic script, in comparison with the written language of the Oirots. In the 7--8th centuries at the latest, the ancestors of the Khakass were using an old Turkish script, however by the 14th century this practice had ceased. In the 17th century the Kalmyk written language was used to communicate with the Russians. At the end of the 19th century N. Katanov began translating religious literature into Khakass and works by the Khakass authors M. Kokov, N. Domozhakov, N. Arzhan were published. In 1924 a new alphabet (Cyrillic), and a new written language based on the Katchin dialect were introduced. Textbooks for schools and translations from Russian were published, and, in 1926, the education of children in the Khakass language was begun. In 1929 the written language switched to the Latin alphabet, but in 1939 the Cyrillic alphabet was reintroduced. However, long before the new written language could be consolidated, Khakass was bombarded by the Russian language which resulted in numerous loans, the introduction of Russian orthographic rules and so on.

Today the Khakass written language has been improved on the basis of the Sagai dialect. The literary language has, in its turn, played an important role in the levelling of dialects. Since 1927 a local newspaper Lenin Choly (The Leninist Way) has been published, literature and cultural life have been dealt with in Hyzyl aal and in the Russian language Yenisey, Sibirskie ogni etc. Local radio and TV programmes are partly translated into Khakass.

Research. The first data on the Khakass language and its dialects dates back to the 19th century. In 1857 A. Castrén's study of the grammar of the Koibal and Karagass dialects was published (Versuch einer kobalischen und karagassischen Sprachlehre). Next, in 1884, came a dictionary of the Altai and Aladag dialects by V. Verbitsky. This was followed by ethnological studies by N. Katanov (1907) and V. Radlov (1929). During the Soviet period research into the language continued in connection with the introduction of a new written language. A. Kazanakov worked out the orthography of the literary language and wrote the first text-books. In 1944 an Institute for Research into the Khakass language, literature and history was founded in Abakan, and began organizing the collection of material on dialects, the standardization of the literary language and research into Khakass and its kindred languages. A theoretical treatment of the grammar of the Khakass language was published in 1948 by N. Dyrenkova, and a Khakass-Russian dictionary in 1961 (D. Tshankova). Some monographs on dialects (on the Sagai dialect in 1948, on the Katchin dialect in 1959) have also been published.


  1. O. Kurs, Krimmitatarlased. -- Akadeemia 2, 1991
  2. Н. А. Баскаков, К истории изучения хакасского языка. -- Записки хакасского научно-исследовательского института языка, литературы и истории. Вып. II, Абакан 1951
  3. Н. А. Баскаков, Тюркские языки, Москва 1960
  4. М. И. Боргояков, Источники и история изучения хакасского языка, Абакан 1981
  5. В. Г. Карпов, Хакасский язык. -- Языки народов СССР. Т. II, Москва 1966
  6. Н. Ф. Катанов, Наречия урянхайцев (соитов), абаканских татар и карагасов. -- Образцы народной литературы северных тюркских племен. Т. IХ, С.-Перербург 1907
  7. Очерки истории Хакассии советского периода 1917--1961, Абакан 1963
  8. В. В. Радлов, Этнографический обзор турецких племен Сибири и Монголии, Иркутск 1929
  9. Хакасы. -- Народы Сибири, Москва -- Ленинград 1956


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