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Kamchatka

History

The man credited with the discovery of Kamchatka, in 1696, was the half-Cossack, half-Yakut adventurer Vladimir Atlasov who, like most explorers of the time, was out to find new lands to plunder. He established two forts on the Kamchatka River that became bases for the Russian traders who followed.

The native Koryaks, Chukchi and Itelmeni warred with their new self-appointed overlords, but fared badly and their numbers were greatly diminished. Today, the remnants of the Chukchi nation inhabit the isolated northeast of Kamchatka, while the Koryaks live on the west coast of the peninsula with their territorial capital at Palana. There's also a community of Even, related to the Evenki of the Sakha Republic, based around Esso, where they migrated to some 150 years ago. Some of these peoples still maintain a traditional existence as reindeer-herders and hunters of various sea creatures, the animals being a source of food and raw materials for clothing. While much of their culture and language have been lost, the tradition of storytelling through mime, dance and song has survived.

Kamchatka was long regarded as the least hospitable place in the Russian Empire - half a year's journey away and with nothing to offer beyond a dwindling supply of furs. When Alaska was sold off in 1867, Kamchatka might also have been up for grabs if the Americans had shown enough interest.

During the Cold War, Kamchatka took on new strategic importance and foreign interest was definitely no longer welcome. It became a base for military airfields and early-warning radar systems, while the coastline sheltered parts of the Soviet Pacific Fleet. Isolated regions of Kamchatka also served as target areas for missile testings. No foreigners, nor even nonresident Russians, were allowed anywhere near the peninsula.

In August 2005 Kamchatka made newspapers worldwide when a training submar- ine which had become entangled in fishing line had to be rescued by a US and British team, just a few hours before the sub's air supply was up.