Columbia University in the City of New York

Harriman Institute




Photo Exhibit: In Search of a New Kalmykia: “The Dogs are Barking and the Caravan is Moving”

Join the Harriman Institute in celebrating the opening of the exhibit, “In Search of a New Kalmykia: The Dogs are Barking and the Caravan is Moving,” with the artist, Delia Bachankaeva.

Kalmyks trace their triumphal origin to their hero Genghis Khan and to the era of his empire. The caravan of Kalmykia has never stopped moving since 1608, when it took off from the steppes of Western Mongolia and embarked on a journey to the European part of Russia. The nomadic group of 270,000 people settled near the Caspian Sea in the southwest of Russia. This region became known as the Kalmyk Khanate.

On its journey through time, the caravan encountered Tsarism and Communism. In December 1943, Stalin abolished Kalmyk Autonomous Soviet Socialist Republic. Without any advance warning, Stalin ordered the deportation of Kalmyks en masse to Siberia where half of them perished. The Soviet government divided the Kalmyk territory and transferred it to the adjacent regions. Kalmyks did not return until 1957, when Khrushchev came to power. During the next twenty years Kalmykia became an economically thriving region in southern Russia. However, the collapse of the Soviet Union turned Kalmykia into an underdeveloped region with a crumbling infrastructure.

Despite years of forced assimilation, Kalmyks try to revive and maintain their cultural and religious origins to withstand current economic and political hardships. Situated between Orthodox Christians and the Muslim populations of the Caucasus, Kalmykia is the only Buddhist region in Europe. Today the Kalmyk caravan is taking a rest as the nation contemplates its past and waits for the winds of tomorrow. Although the Kalmyk caravan has shrunk in size and resources, babies are still born and the Buddhist prayer wheels turn once more…

About the Photographer

Delia Bachankaeva is in her third year of undergraduate studies at Barnard College. She moved from Kalmykia to the United States seven years ago. She is majoring in economics and her educational work is concerned with socio-economic status of populations from the Caucasus and Central Asian regions. Delia completed a four-year art program in Kalmykia. In her summer project, she employed her interest in visual art to capture images from ordinary lives in the remote regions of Russia.