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The Kalmyks (Russian Oirats) are a subgroup of Oirat people living mainly on the north-west shore of the Caspian Sea. They migrated to this area in the 16th century and as followers of the Tibetan form of Vajrayana Buddhism they are Europe’s only native Buddhists.

Throughout the whole of the communist era the Kalmyks were subjected to continual efforts to destroy their identity and their religion. In the 1930's all Kalmyk monasteries were closed and all monks were exiled to Siberia. It is only since 1990 that has Buddhism begun to re-establish itself. Several young men have been ordained as monks and been sent to India to study in Tibetan monasteries there.

The most famous Kalmyk of modern times was the monk and scholar Geshe Wangyal (1901 -1983), who lived in exile in the United States and had a profound influence on the development of Buddhism in that country.

Today, most Kalmyks live in the Kalmyk Republic, an autonomous region which forms part of the Russian Federation.


The Kalmyk Mongols, P.G.Rubal, 1967.

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