Kalmyk (alternatively "Kalmuck," "Kalmuk," "Calmouk," or "Kalmyki") is the name given to western Mongolian people and later adopted by those Oirats who migrated from Central Asia to an area around the Volga River in the seventeenth century. After the fall of the Yuan Dynasty in 1368, the West Mongolian people designated themselves “Dörben Oirat” ("Alliance of Four"), and engaged in nearly 400 years of military conflict with the Eastern Mongols, the Chinese and their successor, the Manchu, over domination and control of both Inner Mongolia and Outer Mongolia. In 1618, several tribes migrated to the grazing pastures of the lower Volga River region, where they eventually became a borderland power, often allying themselves with the Tsarist government against the neighboring Muslim population. They led a nomadic lifestyle, living in round felt tents called yurt (gher) and grazing their herds of cattle, flock of sheep, horses, donkeys and camels. Both the Tsarist government and, later, the Bolsheviks and Communists, implemented policies to eliminate their nomadic lifestyle and their religion, and eventually to eliminate the Kalmyks themselves. Their entire population was deported into exile during World War II. In 1957, Soviet Premier Nikita Khrushchev permitted the Kalmyk people to return to their homes.

The Kalmyks are the only inhabitants of Europe whose national religion is Buddhism, which they embraced in the early part of the seventeenth century. Kalmyks belong to the Tibetan Buddhist sect known as the Gelugpa (Virtuous Way). Today they form a majority in the autonomous Republic of Kalmykia on the western shore of the Caspian Sea. Through emigration, Kalmyk communities have been established in the United States, France, Germany and the Czech Republic.

Origin of the name "Kalmyk"

This map from Sebastian Muenster's Cosmographia is one of the earliest references to Kalmyks in Western European historical sources.

"Kalmyk" is a word of Turkic origin meaning "remnant" or "to remain." Turkish tribes may have used this name as early as the thirteenth century. The Arab geographer Ibn al-Wardi is documented as the first person to refer to the Oirats as “Kalmyks” sometime in the fourteenth century1. The khojas of Khasgaria applied the name to Oirats in the fifteenth century2. Russian written sources mentioned the name "Kolmak Tatars" as early as 1530, and cartographer Sebastian Muenster (1488-1552) circumscribed the territory of the "Kalmuchi" on a map in his Cosmographia, which was published in 1544. The Oirats themselves, however, did not accept the name as their own.

Many scholars, including the Orientalist Peter Simon Pallas have attempted to trace the etymology of the name Kalmyk. Some have speculated that the name was given to the Oirats in an earlier period when they chose to remain in the Altai region while their Turkic neighbors migrated westward. Others believe the name may reflect the fact that the Kalmyks were the only Buddhists living in a predominantly Muslim region. Still others contend the name was given to those groups that did not return to their ancient homeland in 1771.


The Kalmyks live primarily in the Republic of Kalmykia, a federal subject of Russia. 3Kalmykia is located in the southeast European part of Russia, between the Volga and the Don Rivers. It has borders with the Republic of Dagestan in the south; the Stavropol Krai in the southwest; and the Rostov Oblast and the Volgograd Oblast in the west and the northwest, respectively. Its eastern border is the Astrakhan Oblast. The southeast border is the Caspian Sea.

After the collapse of the Soviet Union, a large number of Kalmyks, primarily the young, moved from Kalmykia to larger cities in Russia, such as Moscow and Saint Petersburg, and to the United States, to pursue better educational and economic opportunities. This movement continues today.


According to Robert G. Gordon, Jr., editor of the Ethnologue: Languages of the World, the Kalmyk-Oirat language belongs to the eastern branch of the Mongolian language division. Gordon further classifies Kalmyk-Oirat under the Oirat-Khalkha group, contending that Kalmyk-Oirat is related to Khalkha Mongolian, the national language of Mongolia.4.

Other linguists, such as Nicholas N. Poppe, have classified the Kalmyk-Oirat language group as belonging to the western branch of the Mongolian language division, since the language group developed separately and is distinct. Moreover, Poppe contends that, although there is little phonetic and morphological difference, Kalmyk and Oirat are two distinct languages. The major distinction is in their lexicons. The Kalmyk language, for example, has adopted many words of Russian and Tatar origin and is therefore classified as a distinct language5.

By population, the major dialects of Kalmyk are Torghut, Dörbet and Buzava 6. Minor dialects include Khoshut and Olöt. The Kalmyk dialects vary somewhat, but the differences are insignificant. Generally, the dialects of the pastoral nomadic Kalmyk tribes of the Volga region show less influence from the Russian language.

In contrast, the Dörbets (and later on, Torghuts) who migrated from the Volga region to the Sal'sk District of the Don region and took the name Buzava (or Don Kalmyks), developed the Buzava dialect from their close interaction with Russians. In 1798 the Tsarist government recognized the Buzava as Don Cossacks, both militarily and administratively. As a result of their integration into the Don Host, the Buzava dialect incorporated many words of Russian origin.7

During World War II, all Kalmyks not fighting in the Soviet Army were forcibly exiled to Siberia and Central Asia, where they were dispersed and not permitted to speak the Kalmyk language in public places. As a result, the Kalmyk language was not formally taught to the younger generation of Kalmyks. Upon return from exile in 1957, the Kalmyks spoke and published primarily in Russian. Consequently, the younger generation of Kalmyks speak primarily Russian and not their own native language. Recent attempts have been made by the Kalmyk government to revive the Kalmyk language, such as passage of laws regarding the usage of Kalmyk on signs; for example, on entrance doors, the words 'Entrance' and 'Push-Pull' appear in Kalmyk. The attempt to re-establish the Kalmyk language has suffered setbacks. Recently, to reduce production costs, the Russian Broadcasting Corporation cut broadcast time allocated to Kalmyk language programs on radio and television, choosing instead to purchase pre-produced programs, such as English language productions.

Writing System

In the seventeenth century, Zaya Pandita, a Lamaist monk belonging to the Khoshut tribe, devised a script called Todo Bichig (clear script). The script, based on the classical vertical Mongol script, phonetically captured the Oirat language. In the later part of the nineteenth and early part of the twentieth centuries, todo bichig gradually fell into disuse and was abandoned by the Kalmyks in 1923 when the Russian Cyrillic alphabet was introduced. Soon afterwards, around 1930, Kalmyk language scholars introduced a modified Latin alphabet, which did not last long.



Imperial Prince Cebdenjab (1705-1782). The son a Khalkha Mongol Prince Tseren, Cebdenjab was a Manchu general noted for his military campaigns against the Dzungar Khanate, which resulted in the slaughter of nearly one million Oirats.

The Kalmyks are the European branch of the Oirats whose ancient grazing lands are now located in Kazakhstan, Russia, Mongolia and the People's Republic of China. The ancient forebears of the Oirats include the Keraits, Naimans, Merkits and the original Oirats, all Turko-Mongol tribes that roamed western Inner Asia prior to their conquest by Genghis Khan. According to Paul Pelliot, “Torghut,” the name of one of the four tribes who constituted the Oirats after the fall of the Mongol Yuan Dynasty, translates as garde du jour, suggesting that the Torghuts either served as the guard of Genghis Khan or, were descendants of the old garde du jour which existed among the Keraits, as recorded in the Secret History of the Mongols, before it was taken over by Genghis Khan8.

After the Yuan Dynasty fell in 1368, the West Mongolian people designated themselves “Dörben Oirat” ("Alliance of Four"), an alliance was comprised primarily of four major Western Mongolian tribes: Khoshut, Choros, Torghut and Dörbet. Collectively, the Dörben Oirat sought to position themselves as an alternative to the Mongols who were the patrilineal heirs to the legacy of Genghis Khan. During their military campaigns, the Dörben Oirat frequently recruited neighboring tribes or their splinter groups, so that the composition of the alliance varied, with larger tribes dominating or absorbing the smaller ones. Smaller tribes belonging to the confederation included the Khoits, Zachachin, Bayids and Mangits. Turkic tribes in the region, such as the Urianhai, Telenguet and the Shors, also frequently allied themselves with the Dörben Oirat.

A traditional Kalmyk encampment. The Kalmyk tent (called gher) is a round, portable, self-supporting structure comprised of lattice walls, rafters, roof ring, felt (animal hair) covering and tension bands.

These tribes roamed the grassy plains of western Inner Asia, between Lake Balkhash in present-day eastern Kazakhstan and Lake Baikal in present-day Russia, north of central Mongolia, where they freely pitched their yurt (gher) and kept their herds of cattle, flock of sheep, horses, donkeys and camels. The Oirats emerged as a formidable foe against the Eastern Mongols9, the Ming Chinese and their successor, the Manchu, in a nearly 400-year military struggle for domination and control over both Inner Mongolia and Outer Mongolia.

In 1757 the Oirats, the last of the Mongolian groups to resist vassalage to China, were exterminated in Dzungaria10. The massacre was ordered by the Qianlong Emperor, who felt betrayed by Prince Amursana, a Khoit-Oirat nobleman who submitted to Manchu authority on the condition that he be named Khan. After the death of the last Dzungar ruler, Dawa Achi, in 1759, the Qianlong Emperor declared an end to the Dzungar campaigns.

Period of Open Conflict

The Dörben Oirat, formed by the four major Oirat tribes, was a decentralized, informal and unstable alliance. The Dörben Oirat was not governed from a central location, and it was not governed by a central figure for most of its existence. The four Oirats did not establish a single military or even a unified monastic system, and did not adopt uniform customary laws until 1640.

As pastoral nomads, the Oirats were organized at the tribal level. Each tribe was ruled by a noyon (prince) who also functioned as the Chief Tayishi (Chieftain). The Chief Tayishi governed with the support of lesser noyons who were also called Tayisihi. These minor noyons controlled divisions of the tribe (ulus) and were politically and economically independent of the Chief Tayishi. The Chief Tayishi sought to influence and, in some cases, dominate the Chief Tayishis of the other tribes, causing inter-tribal rivalry, dissension and periodic skirmishes.

Under the leadership of Esen, Chief Tayishi of the Choros tribe, the Dörben Oirat unified Mongolia for a short period. After Esen's death in 1455, the political union of the Dörben Oirat dissolved quickly, resulting in two decades of Oirat-Eastern Mongol conflict. The deadlock ended when Eastern Mongol forces rallied during the reign of Dayan Khan (1464-1543), a direct descendant of Kublai Khan who was placed on the throne at the age of five. Dayan Khan took advantage of Oirat disunity and weakness and expelled them from eastern Mongolia, regaining control of the Mongol homeland and restoring the hegemony of the Eastern Mongols.

After the death of Dayan in 1543, the Oirats and the Eastern Mongols resumed their conflict. The Oirat forces thrust eastward, but Dayan's youngest son, Geresandza, was given command of the Eastern Mongol forces and drove the Oirats to Ubsa Nor in northwest Mongolia. In 1552, after the Oirats once again challenged the Eastern Mongols, Altan Khan swept up from Inner Mongolia with Tümed and Ordos cavalry units, pushing elements of various Oirat tribes from Karakorum to the Kobdo region in northwest Mongolia, reuniting most of Mongolia in the process 11.

The Oirats later regrouped south of the Altai Mountains in Dzungaria, but Geresandza's grandson, Sholui Ubashi Khong Tayiji, pushed them further northwest, along the steppes of the Ob and Irtysh Rivers. Afterwards, he established a Khalkha Khanate under the name, Altan Khan, in the Oirat heartland of Dzungaria. The Oirats continued their campaigns against the Altan Khanate, trying to unseat Sholui Ubashi Khong Tayiji from Dzungaria. The continuous, back-and-forth nature of the struggle, which generally defined this period, is captured in the Oirat epic song "The Rout of Mongolian Sholui Ubashi Khong Tayiji," recounting the Oirat victory over the First Khan of the Altan Khanate in 1587.

Resurgence of Oirat Power

An image of an early twentieth century Oirat caravan, taken in either China or Mongolia, traveling on horseback, possibly to trade goods.

At the beginning of the seventeenth century, the First Altan Khan drove the Oirats westward to present-day eastern Kazakhstan. The Torghuts became the westernmost Oirat tribe, encamped in the Tarabagatai region and along the northern stretches of the Irtysh, Ishim and Tobol Rivers. Further west, the Kazakhs, a Turco-Mongol Muslim people, prevented the Torghuts from sending trading caravans to the Muslim towns and villages located along the Syr Darya river. As a result, the Torghuts established a trading relationship with the newly established outposts of the Tsarist government whose expansion into and exploration of Siberia was motivated primarily by the desire to profit from trade with Asia.

The Khoshuts, the easternmost Oirat tribe, encamped near the Lake Zaisan area and the Semipalatinsk region along the lower portions of the Irtysh river where they built several steppe monasteries. The Khoshuts were adjacent to the Eastern Mongol khanates of Altan Khan and Dzasagtu Khan. Both Khanates prevented the Khoshuts and the other Oirat tribes from trading with Chinese border towns. The Khoshuts were ruled by Baibagas Khan and Güshi Khan, the first of the Oirat leaders to convert to the Gelugpa sect.

Locked in between both tribes were the Choros, Dörbets and Khoits (collectively "Dzungars"), who were slowly rebuilding the base of power they had enjoyed under the Dörben Oirat. The Choros were the dominant Oirat tribe of that era. Their chieftain, Khara Khula attempted to follow Esen Khan in unifying the Oirat tribes to challenge the Eastern Mongols and their Manchu patrons for domination of Mongolia.

Under the dynamic leadership of Khara Khula, the Dzungars stopped the expansion of the First Altan Khan and began planning the resurrection of the Dörben Oirat under the Dzungar banner. In furtherance of such plans, Khara Khula designed and built a capital city called "Kubak-sari," on the Imil river near the modern city of Chuguchak. During his attempt to build a nation, Khara Khula encouraged diplomacy, commerce and farming. He also sought to acquire modern weaponry and build small industry, such as metal works, to supply his military.

The attempted unification of the Oirats gave rise to dissension among the tribes and their strongly independent Chief Tayishis. This dissension reputedly caused Kho Orluk to move the Torghut tribe and elements of the Dörbet tribe westward to the Volga region where his descendants formed the Kalmyk Khanate. In the east, Güshi Khan took part of the Khoshut tribe to the Tsaidam and Koko Nor regions in the Tibetan plateau where he formed the Khoshut Khanate to protect Tibet and the Gelugpa sect from both internal and external enemies. Khara Khula and his descendants formed the Dzungar Empire to fight the Eastern Mongols.

The Torghut Migration

In 1618, the Torghuts, led by their Tayishi, Kho Orluk, and a small contingent of Dörbets under Tayishi Dalai Batur migrated from the upper Irtysh river region to the grazing pastures of the lower Volga River region, located south of Saratov and north of the Caspian Sea, on both banks of the Volga River. Together they moved west through southern Siberia and the southern Urals, bypassing a more direct route that would have taken them through the heart of the territory of their enemy, the Kazakhs. Along the way they raided Russian settlements and Kazakh and Bashkir encampments.

Many theories have been advanced to explain the migration. One generally accepted theory is that the attempt by Khara Khula, Tayishi of the Dzungars, to centralize political and military control over the tribes under his leadership may have given rise to discontent among the Oirat tribes. Some scholars, however, believe that the Torghuts simply sought uncontested pastures because their territory was being increasingly encroached upon by the Russians from the north, the Kazakhs from the south and the Dzungars from the east, resulting in overcrowding and a severely diminished food supply. A third theory suggests that the Torghuts grew weary of the militant struggle between the Oirats and the Altan Khanate.

The Kalmyk Khanate

Period of Self Rule, 1630-1724

This map fragment shows part of the Kalmyk Khanate, 1706. (Map Collection of the Library of Congress: "Carte de Tartarie" of Guillaume de L'Isle (1675-1726))

When they arrived in the lower Volga region in 1630, the Oirats encamped on land that had once been part of the Astrakhan Khanate, but was now claimed by the Tsarist government. The region was mostly uninhabited, from south of Saratov to the Russian garrison at Astrakhan and on both the east and the west banks of the Volga River. The Tsarist government was not ready to colonize the area and was in no position to prevent the Oirats from encamping in the region, but it had a direct political interest in insuring that the Oirats would not become allies with its Turkic-speaking neighbors.

The Oirats quickly consolidated their position by expelling the majority of the native inhabitants, the Nogai Horde. Large groups of Nogais fled eastward to the northern Caucasian plain and to the Crimean Khanate, territories then under Ottoman Turkish rule. Smaller groups of Nogais sought the protection of the Russian garrison at Astrakhan. The remaining nomadic tribes became vassals of the Oirats.

At first, an uneasy relationship existed between the Russians and the Oirats. Oirats raids on Russian settlements, and raids by Cossacks and Bashkirs (Muslim vassals of the Russians) on Oirat encampments, were commonplace. Numerous oaths and treaties were signed to ensure Oirat loyalty and military assistance. Although the Oirats became subjects of the Tsar, their allegiance was deemed to be nominal.

The Oirats governed themselves according to a document known as the Great Code of the Nomads (Iki Tsaadzhin Bichig), promulgated during a summit in 1640 by the Oirats, their brethren in Dzungaria and some of the Eastern Mongols who all gathered near the Tarbagatai Mountains in Dzungaria to resolve their differences and to unite under the banner of the Gelugpa sect. Although the goal of unification was not met, the summit leaders ratified the Code, which regulated all aspects of nomadic life.

In securing their position, the Oirats became a borderland power, often allying themselves with the Tsarist government against the neighboring Muslim population. During the era of Ayuka Khan, the Oirats rose to political and military prominence as the Tsarist government sought the increased use Oirat cavalry in support of its military campaigns against the Muslim powers in the south, such as Persia, the Ottoman Empire, the Nogays and the Kuban Tatars and Crimean Khanate. Ayuka Khan also waged wars against the Kazakhs, subjugated the Mangyshlak Turkmens, and made multiple expeditions against the highlanders of the North Caucasus. These campaigns highlighted the strategic importance of the Kalmyk Khanate as a buffer zone, separating Russia and the Muslim world, as Russia fought wars in Europe to establish itself as a European power.

The Tsarist government increasingly relied on the provision of monetary payments and dry goods to the Oirat Khan and the Oirat nobility to acquire the support of Oirat cavalrymen for its military campaigns. In that respect, the Tsarist government treated the Oirats as it did the Cossacks. The monetary payments did not stop the mutual raiding, and, in some instances, both sides failed to fulfill its promises12.

Another significant incentive that the Tsarist government provided to the Oirats was tariff-free access to the markets of Russian border towns, where the Oirats were permitted to barter their herds and the items they obtained from Asia and their Muslim neighbors in exchange for Russian goods. Trade also occurred with neighboring Turkic tribes under Russian control, such as the Tatars and the Bashkirs, and intermarriage became common. These trading arrangements provided substantial benefits, monetary and otherwise, to the Oirat tayishis, noyons and zaisangs.

Historian Fred Adelman describes this era as the Frontier Period, lasting from the advent of the Torghut under Kho Orluk in 1630 to the end of the great khanate of Kho Orluk's descendant, Ayuka Khan, in 1724, a phase accompanied by little discernible acculturative change13.

During the era of Ayuka Khan, the Kalmyk Khanate reached the peak of its military and political power. The Khanate experienced economic prosperity from free trade with Russian border towns, China, Tibet and with their Muslim neighbors. During this era, Ayuka Khan also kept close contacts with his Oirat kinsmen in Dzungaria, as well as the Dalai Lama in Tibet.

From Oirat to Kalmyk
Map of the Russian Empire created in 1720-1725; this fragment shows the neighboring Kalmyk State (highlighted in green) which is referred to by Western scholars as Dzungarian Khanate.

Sometime after arriving near the Volga River, the Oirats began to identify themselves as "Kalmyk." This named was supposedly given to them by their Muslim neighbors and later used by the Russians to describe them. The Oirats used this name in their dealings with outsiders such as their Russian and Muslim neighbors, but continued to refer to themselves by their tribal, clan, or other internal affiliations.

The name Kalmyk wasn't immediately accepted by all of the Oirat tribes in the lower Volga region. As late as 1761, the Khoshut and Dzungars (refugees from the Manchu Empire) referred to themselves and the Torghuts exclusively as Oirats. The Torghuts, by contrast, used the name Kalmyk for themselves as well as the Khoshut and Dzungars.14 Over time, the descendants of the Oirat migrants in the lower Volga region embraced the name Kalmyk, irrespective of their location in Astrakhan, the Don Cossack region, Orenburg, Stavropol, the Terek and the Urals. Another generally accepted name is Ulan Zalata or the "red buttoned ones."15.

Generally, European scholars have identified all West Mongolians collectively as Kalmyks, regardless of their location. Such scholars (including Sebastian Muenster) relied on Muslim sources that traditionally used the word Kalmyk as a derogatory term for the West Mongolians. The West Mongolians of China and Mongolia have continued to regard the name “Kalmyk” as derogatory16 and instead refer to themselves as Oirat or they go by their respective tribal names, such as Khoshut, Dörbet, Choros, Torghut, Khoit, Bayid, Mingat17.

Reduction in Autonomy, 1724-1771

After the death of Ayuka Khan in 1724, the political situation among the Kalmyks became unstable as various factions sought to be recognized as Khan. The Tsarist government gradually chipped away at the autonomy of the Kalmyk Khanate by encouraging the establishment of Russian and German settlements. The Tsarist government imposed a council on the Kalmyk Khan, weakening his authority, while continuing to expect the Kalmyk Khan to provide cavalry units to fight on behalf of Russia. The Russian Orthodox Church pressured many Kalmyks to adopt Orthodoxy. By the mid-eighteenth century, Kalmyks were increasingly disillusioned with settler encroachment and interference in their internal affairs.

In the winter of 1770-1771, Ubashi Khan, the great-grandson Ayuka Khan and the last Kalmyk Khan, decided to return his people to their ancestral homeland, Dzungaria, then firmly under control of the Manchu Empire. The Dalai Lama was asked to give his blessing and to set the date of departure. After consulting the astrological chart, the Dalai Lama set the date for their return, but at the moment of departure, the thinning of the ice on the Volga River permitted only those Kalmyks who roamed on the left or eastern bank to leave. Those on the right bank were forced to stay behind.

Under Ubashi Khan's leadership, approximately 200,000 Kalmyks, five-sixths of the Torghut tribe, began the journey from their pastures on the left bank of the Volga River to Dzungaria. Most of the Khoshuts, Choros and Khoits also accompanied the Torghuts on their journey to Dzungaria. The Dörbet tribe elected not to go.

Ubashi Khan chose the quickest route, which took them directly across the Central Asian desert, through the territories of their Kazakh and Kyrgyz enemies. Many Kalmyks were killed in ambushes or captured and enslaved along the way. Some groups became lost, and some returned to Russia. Most of the Kalmyk livestock either perished or was seized. Consequently, many people died of starvation or of thirst. After several grueling months of travel, only one-third of the original group reached Dzungaria where the officials and troops of the Manchu Empire awaited them.

After failing to stop their flight, Catherine the Great dissolved the Kalmyk Khanate, transferring all governmental powers to the Governor of Astrakhan. The title of Khan was abolished. The highest native governing office remaining was that of the Vice-Khan, who also was recognized by the government as the highest ranking Kalmyk prince. By claiming the authority to appoint the Vice-Khan, the Tsarist government was now entrenched as the decisive force in Kalmyk government and affairs.

Life in Tsarist Russia

After the 1771 exodus, the Kalmyks that remained part of the Russian Empire were firmly under the control of the Tsarist government. They continued their nomadic pastoral lifestyle, ranging the pastures between the Don and the Volga Rivers, and wintering in the lowlands along the shores of the Caspian Sea as far as Lake Sarpa to the northwest and Lake Manych to the west. In the spring, they moved along the Don River and the Sarpa lake system, attaining the higher grounds along the Don in the summer, passing the autumn in the Sarpa and Volga lowlands. In October and November they returned to their winter camps and pastures18.

Despite their greatly reduced numbers, the Torghuts still remained the dominant Kalmyk tribe. The other Kalmyk tribes in Russia included Dörbets and Khoshuts. Elements of the Choros and Khoits tribes also were present in numbers too small to retain their ulus (tribal divisions) as independent administrative units, and were absorbed by the ulus of the larger tribes.

The factors that caused the 1771 exodus continued to trouble the remaining Kalmyks. In the wake of the exodus, the Torghuts joined the Cossack rebellion of Yemelyan Pugachev in hopes that he would restore the independence of the Kalmyks. After the Pugachev rebellion was defeated, Catherine the Great transferred the office of the Vice-Khan from the Torghut tribe to the Dörbet tribe, whose princes had supposedly remained loyal to the government during the rebellion. The Torghuts were thus removed from their role as the hereditary leaders of the Kalmyk people. The Khoshuts could not challenge this political arrangement due to the smaller size of their population.

The disruptions to Kalmyk society caused by the exodus and the Torghut participation in the Pugachev rebellion precipitated a major realignment in Kalmyk tribal structure. The government divided the Kalmyks into three administrative units attached, according to their respective locations, to the district governments of Astrakhan, Stavropol and the Don and appointed a special Russian official bearing the title of "Guardian of the Kalmyk People" for purposes of administration. The government also resettled some small groups of Kalmyks along the Ural, Terek and Kuma rivers and in Siberia.

The redistricting divided the now dominant Dörbet tribe into three separate administrative units. Those in the western Kalmyk steppe were attached to the Astrakhan district government. They were called Baga (Lessor) Dörbet. The Dörbets who moved to the northern part of the Stavropol province were called Ike (Greater) Dörbet even though their population was smaller. The Kalmyks of the Don became known as Buzava. Although they were composed of elements of all the Kalmyk tribes, the Buzava claimed descent primarily from the Dörbet tribe. Their name is derived from two tributaries of the Don River: Busgai and Busuluk. In 1798, Tsar Paul I recognized the Don Kalmyks as Don Cossacks. As such, they received the same rights and benefits as their Russian counterparts in exchange for providing national military services.

Over time, the Kalmyks gradually created fixed settlements with houses and temples, in place of transportable round felt yurts. In 1865, Elista, the future capital of the Kalmyk Autonomous Soviet Socialist Republic was founded. This process lasted until well after the Russian Revolution.

Russian Revolution and Civil War

Like most people in Russia, the Kalmyks greeted the February 1917 revolution with enthusiasm. Kalmyk leaders believed that the Russian Provisional Government, which replaced the Tsarist government, would allow them greater autonomy and religious, cultural and economic freedom. This enthusiasm soon disappeared when the Bolsheviks took control over the national government during the second revolution in November 1917.

After the Bolsheviks took control, various political and ethnic groups opposed to Communism organized a loose political and military coalition called the "White Movement." A volunteer army (called the "White Army") was raised to fight the Red Army, the military arm of the Bolshevik government. Initially, this army was composed primarily of volunteers and Tsarist supporters, but it was later joined by the Cossacks (including Don Kalmyks), many of whom resisted the Bolshevik policy of de-Cossackization.

The second revolution split the Kalmyk people into opposing camps. Many were di