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Northern Mongolia


For thousands of years northern Mongolia was the borderland between the Turkic-speaking tribes of Siberia and the great steppe confede­rations of the Huns, Uighurs and Mongols. Some of the Siberian tribes still survive in Mongolia, notably the Tsaatan people of northern Khövsgöl. Evidence of these steppe nomads is also found in Khövsgöl in the form of numerous burial mounds and deer stones.

Settled history really began in the 18th century under Manchu rule when thousands of monks poured into the area from Tibet and China to assist in the construction of monasteries. As the nomads were converted to Buddhism local shamans were purged and harassed into giving up traditional practices. The largest centre of religion, Amarbayasgalant Khiid, had more than 2000 lamas.

During communism, religious persecution boiled over into a 1932 rebellion that left thousands of monks and Mongolian soldiers dead. The fighting was particularly bloody in the north, where monks were reportedly stringing soldiers up in trees and skinning them alive. Later, the Russians improved their standing with the locals by developing a variety of industries. Darkhan and Selenge became important centres of agriculture, Bulgan became home to the Erdenet copper mine, and Khövsgöl developed a thriving industry of timber mills, fisheries and wool processing.