The Nenets living in the Komi Republic are a small part
of the Nenets of Russia, who are officially re-ferred to as on of the
indigenous minorities of the North. At the same time, the Komi Nenets
appear to be the least understood ethnic group of Nenets, receiv-ing the
least attention. They are a total of 400 people out of the total Nenets
population of 34,000, i.e., a little more than 1% of the entire people,
whereas their proportion in the entire population of the Komi Re-public
is still less.
An interpretation of the present-day legal and so-cial
situation of the Nenets in the Komi Republic re-quires some historical
Over a long time period, the northern groups of the
Komi people (Komi-Izhemtsy) gradually moved northward, where they became
neighbors of the Ne-nets, the latter being partly assimilated. In the
territory of the present-day Komi (except the area annexed in 1959,
which will be discussed below), by the end of the 19th century there
were about 400 Nenets, and in 1926 their number reached 900 and remained
almost unchange until 1939. They all lived in three former regions of
the Republic which at that time were re-garded as the territories of the
Extreme North: there were quite few of them in the Izhemskiy; somewhat
more in Ust-Tsilemskiy; and the majority in Ust-Usinskiy. By that time,
they had all been strongly assimilated - over three fourths of them
referred to Komi as their native language.
The extraction of coal deposits of the Vorkuta Basin,
started in the middle of the 1930s, dealt a heavy blow to reindeer
herding of the Ust-Usinskiy District Nenets. The workers employed were
convicts, and work was done with loss of life and with neglect of the
indigenous people of the Bolshaya Zemlya Tundra, as was practiced at
that time. Coal production particularly increased during World War II
(over 12-fold between 1940 and 1945), the forthcoming victory justifying
all the costs.
By the late 1950s, there remained about 200 Ne-nets in
the Izhemskiy and Ust-Tsilemskiy districts - the former Ust-Usinskiy (in
1959 this was a territory of the Pechora District and the Vorkuta and
Inta city councils) had almost no Nenets. Some died during the war and
the post-war hard period, and some migrated to the Nenets Okrug (in
those times it was referred to as "ethnic").
Subsequently, the number of Nenets unexpectedly
increased. The reason was that in the Nenets Okrug, on its eastern edge,
bordering to the Vorkuta City Council of Komi, coal deposits were also
discovered; and in 1954 a built-up area at the site of mine
con-struction became the Khalmer-Yu construction village (actually,
Khalmer-Yu is the Nenets word for ceme-tery). In 1957 the mine produced
its first coal, and by the end of 1959, the construction villages
Khalmer-Yu and Tsementozavodskiy, with the adjacent area of coal bed
occurrence, were transferred from the Nenets National Okrug to the Komi
ASSR. That was eco-nomically feasible.
The nomad Nenets registered in the Khalmer-Yu village
began to be regarded as part of the Vorkuta population (both villages
were affiliated with the Vorkuta City Council). In fact, in the Komi
Republic, a substantial group of "city resident Nenets" devel-oped; they
were "city residents" only on paper and continued migrating between the
Komi and Nenets okrugs maintaining close and often kindred relations
with Nenets of both the Nenets and Yamalo-Nenets okrugs.
At the same time, there remained a group of "rural"
Nenets - in the Ust-Tsilemskiy and Izhemskiy districts. It has been
assimilated by Komi to a considerably greater extent, and judging by
population data, their number has been declining, which does not apply
to the so-called Vorkuta "city residents".
Number of Nenets in the Komi Republic *
according to census))
|y e a r s|
|% of people who regard Komi as their native language
|% people who regard Komi as their native language
* Since we have no data available on
individual administrative units within the Republic, the table gives
data on the entire Nenets population of Komi, including a small number
of the Nenets living in southern districts and in Syktyvkar. But there
are not more than 50 such people.
When in 1980 the concept of "Regions of Residence of the
Peoples of the North" was developed, only the northwestern territories
of the Komi Republic were attributed to those regions - Izhemskiy and
Ust-Tsilemskiy districts - the area subordinated to the Usinskiy city
administration (the then city council), in addition to the village of
Usinsk and another village subordinated to the Inta city administration.
Thus, the Vorkuta Nenets remained outside of the approved territories of
the peoples of the North.
There was a view that urban groups of indigenous
minorities do not lead a traditional mode of life. Judg-ing by constant
contact and exchange between the urban and rural populations, this view
is questionable, and, in the case of Vorkuta Nenets, erroneous.
The paradox of the Komi Nenets situation lies in the
fact that only a minority of the indigenous popula-tion (those in "the
regions of residence…") enjoy all the rights they are entitled to.
According to the 1989 census, there were only 46 such Nenets; and by the
census of 1990, 60-70 people. The majority of them live on the lands of
their traditional residence - on the Bolshezemelskaya Tundra, becoming
second-rate people and being treated as a confounding factor.
Center for Human Demography and Ecology,
Institute of National
Economic Forecasting, Russian Academy of Sciences