Russia’s Colonial Legacy in the Sakha Heartland – by Kara K. Hodgson (The Arctic Institute – November 15, 2022)


Russia is often sidelined in discussions of colonialism in the Arctic, most often due to a lack of linguistic and/or physical access. However, Russia also has a colonial legacy, with many parallels to colonialism in other Arctic contexts, for which it deserves to be included in the conversation. Since the sixteenth century, the Russian state has been trying to secure a(n ethnically) Russian presence across the Eurasian landmass.

The first period of expansion occurred during the Russian Empire1) as an imperialist colonialist endeavor.2) The second period occurred during the Soviet era. The central leadership began a new wave of colonialism within the borders of the USSR, in the form of internal colonization.

This wave of colonization had a variety of different names: “collectivization,” the “involuntary resettlement” of prisoners to gulag camps, Stalin’s “population transfer” of non-ethnic Russian groups near borderlands and repopulation of those areas with “loyal” ethnic Russians,3) and the “Northern Benefits” voluntary resettlement programs.4)

This article illustrates how the Russian state’s colonization campaigns manifested toward one specific ethnic group, the Sakha, in one specific place – Yakutia/YASSR.5) Although the Sakha and Yakutian experience of colonialism is not unique compared to others colonized by the Russian state, it has attracted less attention.

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