A geographical perspective on ethnogenesis: the case of the Sakha Republic (Yakutia)

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Bychkova Jordan, Bella

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Ethnogenesis is the event and process by which new cultural and ethnic groups originate and evolve through time. Previous research on ethnogenesis, whether by geographers or anthropologists, has been mainly focused on discovering universal principles of this process. My dissertation is devoted to the proposition that much can be learned about ethnogenesis by approaching it in a particularistic way, employing such traditional cultural geographic principles and concepts as homeland, diffusion, incremental change, cultural landscape, preadaptation, and, very importantly, field research. These I applied to one particular group, the Turkic-speaking Sakha (Yakut) people of northeast Siberia, who live far from other Turkic peoples. The beginning of this people has been shrouded in myth and mystery, and though some scholarly research on the origin of the Sakha has been conducted by Russian and Soviet scholars, it has been fragmented and inconclusive at best. By using a particularistic approach; by using the tools, techniques, and concepts of cultural geography; and by focusing on a single ethnic group, I was able to resolve the question of how the Sakha (Yakut) nation came to be and survived through time. The discovery of the ancient hearth of the Sakha (Yakuts); their pre-historic migration route to a new homeland; adjustment to a new environment of the boreal taiga, while preserving their ancient Neolithic way of life of cattle and horse herders; their adaptation to Russian and Soviet colonization without losing a distinct ethnic identity; and ethnic revival in the post-Soviet times – all these major stages of the Sakha (Yakut) ethnogenesis -- are presented in my dissertation through the idiographic methodology of cultural geography. These are the major achievements of my work. My overriding conclusion is that accident, chance, and individual decisions – in a word, unpredictability – plays a dominant role in ethnogenesis. Universal principles, while helpful, do not possess complete explanatory power. Each ethnic group is formed under the influence of a unique combination of factors and must be studied separately.