Siberia ( ) is a vast region, constituting almost all of Northern Asia. Comprising the central and eastern portion of the Russian Federation, it was part of the Soviet Union (USSR) from its beginning, as the preceding Russian Empire conquered it in the 16th century.
Encompassing much of the Eurasian Steppe, the territory of Siberia extends eastward from the Ural Mountains to the watershed between Pacific and Arctic drainage basins, and southward from the Arctic Ocean to the hills of north-central Kazakhstan and the national borders of both Mongolia and China. It makes up about 77% of Russia's territory (13.1 million square kilometres), but has only 25% of Russia's population (36 million people).
Some sources say that the name is derived from the Tatar for "sleeping land." Another version is that this name was the tribal name of the Sybyrs, ancient people later assimilated to Siberian Tatars. It has also been asserted that the name Siberia is connected to the Sabir people. The modern usage of the name appeared in the Russian language after the conquest of the Siberia Khanate.
The term "Siberia" has a long history. Its meaning has gradually changed during ages. Historically, Siberia was defined as the whole part of Russia to the east of Ural Mountains, including the Russian Far East. According to this definition, Siberia extended eastward from the Ural Mountains to the Pacific coast, and southward from the Arctic Ocean to the border of Russian Central Asia and the national borders of both Mongolia (which included Tuva) and China.
Soviet-era sources (Great Soviet Encyclopedia and others) and modern Russian ones usually define Siberia as a region extending eastward from the Ural Mountains to the watershed between Pacific and Arctic drainage basins, and southward from the Arctic Ocean to the hills of north-central Kazakhstan and the national borders of both Mongolia and China. By this definition, Siberia includes the federal subjects of the Siberian Federal District, and some of the Urals Federal District, as well as Sakha (Yakutia) Republic, which is a part of the Far Eastern Federal District. Geographically, this definition includes subdivisions of several other subjects of Urals and Far Eastern federal districts, but they are not included administratively. This definition excludes Sverdlovsk Oblast and Chelyabinsk Oblast, both of which are included in some wider definitions of Siberia.
Other sources may use either a somewhat wider definition that states the Pacific coast, not the watershed, is the eastern boundary (thus including the whole Russian Far East) or a somewhat narrower one that limits Siberia to the Siberian Federal District (thus excluding all subjects of other districts). In Russian, the word for Siberia is never used as a substitute for the name of the federal district.
|Khanty-Mansi Autonomous Okrug||Khanty-Mansiysk|
|Yamalo-Nenets Autonomous Okrug||Salekhard|
|Republic of Khakassia||Abakan|
|Sakha (Yakutia) Republic||Yakutsk|
|Chukotka Autonomous Okrug||Anadyr|
|Jewish Autonomous Oblast||Birobidzhan|
Major cities include:
The Siberian Traps was formed by one of the largest known volcanic events of the last 500 million years of Earth's geological history. The event continued for a million years and is considered the likely cause of the "Great Dying" about 250 million years ago, which is estimated to have killed 90% of species existing at the time.
Siberia was occupied by differing groups of nomads such as the Yenets, the Nenets, the Huns, the Iranian Scythians, and the Turkic Uyghurs. The Khan of Sibir in the vicinity of modern Tobolsk was known as a prominent figure who endorsed Kubrat as Khagan in Avaria in 630. The area was conquered by the Mongols early in the 13th century. With the breakup of the Golden Horde, the autonomous Siberia Khanate was established in late 14th century. The Yakuts migrated north from their original area of settlement in the vicinity of Lake Baikal under the pressure of the Mongol expansion during the 13th to 15th century.
The growing power of Russia to the west began to undermine the Siberian Khanate in the 16th century. First, groups of traders and Cossacks began to enter the area, and then the Russian army began to set up forts further and further east. Towns like Mangazeya, Tara, Yeniseysk, and Tobolsk sprang up, the latter being declared the capital of Siberia. By the mid-17th century, the Russian-controlled areas had been extended to the Pacific. The total Russian population of Siberia in 1709 was 230,000.
Siberia remained a mostly undocumented and sparsely populated area. During the following few centuries, only a few exploratory missions and traders entered Siberia. The other group that was sent to Siberia consisted of prisoners exiled from western Russia or Russian-held territories like Poland (see katorga). In the 19th century, around 1.2 million prisoners were deported to Siberia.
The first great modern change to Siberia was the Trans-Siberian railway, constructed in 1891–1916. It linked Siberia more closely to the rapidly-industrializing Russia of Nicholas II. From 1801 to 1914, an estimated 7 million settlers moved from European Russia to Siberia, 85% during the quarter-century before World War I. From 1859 to 1917, over half a million people moved to the Russian Far East. Siberia is filled with natural resources and during the 20th century large scale exploitation of these was developed, and industrial towns cropped up throughout the region.
In the times of the Soviet Union, the earlier katorga system of penal labor camps was replaced by the new one, administered by the GULAG state agency. According to official Soviet estimates, more than 14 million people passed through the Gulag from 1929 to 1953, with a further 7 to 8 million being deported and exiled to remote areas of the Soviet Union (including the entire nationalities in several cases). 516,841 prisoners died in camps from 1941 to 1943 due to food shortages caused by World War II. At other periods, mortality was comparatively lower.The size, scope, and scale of the GULAG slave labor camp system remains a subject of much research and debate; for example, Australian professor Stephen Wheatcroft argues that these penal camps were neither as large nor as deadly as is often claimed. Many Gulag camps were positioned in extremely remote areas of north-eastern Siberia. The best known clusters are Sevvostlag (The North-East Camps) along Kolyma river and Norillag near Norilsk, where 69,000 prisoners were kept in 1952. Major industrial cities of the Northern Siberia, such as Norilsk and Magadan, were originally camps built by prisoners and run by ex-prisoners.