Kalmak and oirats: toponym in the religious history of the peoples of Central Asia

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The word Kalmak is spread in a number of medieval Muslim sources. In research of the scholars this word is understood as an indicator of development or separatism (“piece”, “backward”), or religious orientation (not Muslims) for Oirats or some kind of nomadic people. To define the origin and development of its meaning, it is important to draw data from a number of important sources; for example, according to “Tarikh-i Rashidi”, Kalmak means the territory of Western and South-Western Mongolia, whose inhabitants were called, respectively, as Kalmaks, and mainly were not Muslims. In the context of the struggle of different Islam traditions during the process of Islamization of the uluses of Juchi and Chaghatay, this word began to denote all those who remained pagan or Buddhist, and since such “refuseniks” had been found in all the Genghisid uluses, the sources recorded the presence of Kalmaks almost everywhere. Besides, the historical tradition relates the Buddhist Oirats to Kalmaks, but initially Oirats had nothing common with that nation, and only with Oirats’ movement in Genghis Khan’s times to the named territories (Kalmak), this word was transferred to them, already, as an ethnonym. Oirats became Buddhists at the end of the fourteenth - beginning of the fifteenth centuries, facilitated by political, economic, ideological and other reasons. A study of the sources leads to conclusion, that the Kalmak’s first meaning was the region’s name, where peoples were known as not Muslims, and therefore this word acquired a religious context and for this reason was finally entrenched to the Oirats.

About the authors

Baatr Uchaevich Kitinov

Peoples’ Friendship University of Russia (RUDN University)

Author for correspondence.
Email: kitinov@mail.ru

PhD in History, Associate Professor of the Department of World History, Faculty of Humanities and Social Sciences

10-2 Miklukho-Maklaya St., Moscow, 117198, Russia


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