TODAY is the 100th anniversary of the foundation of the Republic of Tannu Tuva, a nation of which most people have probably never heard, but which survived for 23 years before its parliament voted itself out of existence.

Known originally as Tannu Uriankhai, what is now Tuva was a recognised entity within the Chinese Empire as part of Mongolia under the Qing dynasty from 1759 until 1911. Revolution in Mongolia forced the creation of two new independent states, Mongolia itself and the Uryankhay Republic.

Though the leadership of the new Tuvan state was split, they eventually adhered to the Russian Empire and became a protectorate of Russia in 1914, becoming known as Uryankhay Krai.

After the 1917 revolution, the country stayed a protectorate of Russia but was occupied by China and the new anti-communist Russian “Whites”.

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As the Soviet Union developed, and the Chinese and Whites went home, many Tuvan citizens looked to Russia for protection and turned towards Soviet-style socialism, with the Tuvan People’s Revolutionary Party (TPRP) being formed early in 1921. Hugely encouraged by the Soviet leadership and with the Red Army standing by to “help”, the Russian minority within Tuva soon led the whole country towards independence.

On August 12, 1921, the Tannu Tuvan People’s Republic came into being and the TPRP took control, immediately recognising Soviet Russia as its overlord, and only the Soviets and Mongolia recognised its separate existence.


IT’S a wonderfully invigorating thing, independence.

Communist and pro-Soviet at the outset, the new state signed agreements with Soviet Russia that saw the Red Army withdraw and Tannu Tuva allowed to have its own flag, emblem and currency. The name of the capital city Khem-Beldyr was changed to Kyzyl which means “red” in the local language.

The National: The flag of Tannu TuvaThe flag of Tannu Tuva

Then along came Donduk Kuular, a Buddhist lama, who forged ties with the country’s many lamas and initiated the renaming of the country to the Tuvan People’s Republic in 1926.

It was still very much a communist state, one of only three in the world at that point but Kuular had ambitions to make it a Buddhist theocracy and be more nationalist.

In Moscow, Joseph Stalin took a very dim view of Kuular’s activities and in 1929, the Soviets inspired a coup d’etat which overthrew Kuular’s regime with the man himself executed later.

The man who arrested Kuular was Salchak Toka, who became general secretary of the ruling TPRP in 1932.

For the next 12 years, Toka led the Sovietisation of Tuva, bringing in collective farming to a people whose way of life for centuries had been nomadic farming.

He even changed the language, forcing the people to adopt Russian Cyrillic script, and suppressed the main religions of Buddhism and Shamanism.

Like so many dictators, he encouraged a personal cult to grow up around him, and he had such power that he changed the national symbols to Stalin-style flags and emblems.


DISGRACEFULLY, the world looked on as Tuva ceased to exist as an independent sovereign state in 1944.

The growing dependence of Tuva on the Soviet Union had been displayed after Nazi Germany invaded Russia in Operation Barbarossa in June 1941.

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Tuva immediately “gave” its gold reserves to Moscow and sent its paltry air force to help defend Russia. More pertinently, thousands of troops joined the Red Army and fought in many major battles. Stalin “hinted” that as a reward, he would allow the independent nation to become part of the USSR, and Toka had already negotiated with him. So it was that on November 1, 1944, the votes of the parliament and the party’s plenary session took effect and Tuva became an autonomous region of the USSR, with Toka staying in charge.

The Tuva Republic of the Russian Federation is the successor nation. Professor Tomasz Kamusella, reader in modern central and Eastern European history at the University of St Andrews, wrote: “Neither western leaders nor the western public noticed the vanishing of an entire country in the middle of Asia.

“They seemed indifferent, although many actually did protest for interwar Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania, states that similarly ‘disappeared’ into the Soviet Union in 1940.

“In this case, the Soviet leadership treaded carefully and decided to retain the distinctiveness of these three Baltic states by allowing them to become constitutive Soviet socialist republics.

“No such special treatment was reserved for Tuva.”