“In Gèsèr Khan’s Land”, Albina Tsybikova, 1982.

full article on Berfrois:

In Southern Siberia, where the Sayan Mountains rise over the heavy chest of confluence of Central Asia, the Buryat peoples have told legends about the ancient lake Baikal and his beautiful daughter Angara. There are 300 rivers that stream into the Baikal, and Angara is alone among them as the only river to flow away. Old man Baikal made sure to keep Angara locked up, so that she would never leave his care. Out of the ancient Sayan, the great river Yenisei heard of the beautiful Angara. The Yenisei was known as a great and proud warrior spirited with wildness, his mighty waters rippling over the land’s most ragged stones, the water like sinew, stretching and coiling to gather strength. The two rivers were seduced by each other from afar. Longing for freedom, Angara escaped her father’s confines, the only river to stream out of the great lake, and flew towards Yenisei. When Angara escaped from Baikal, making a dive north through Irkutsk, the old man pursued his runaway daughter. In a fury, Baikal threw a stone to stop his daughter in her path, which became known as the Shaman-Rock. It is said that if the Shaman-Rock were to fall, it would open the way for the Baikal, who would spill over his banks and recapture the runaway Angara. The waters of the Angara still course with tears of wrath and loss, concealing a prayer for liberation. In those times, the gods heard her cries. The beautiful river spills over her banks into a larger basin at Bratsk, and continues north to Ust-Ilimsk, to curl west on her passage towards the Yenisei. Angara finally reaches the Yenisei at the town of Strelka, “arrow”. The great rivers run together through the unyielding tundra, towards the churning grey and black waters of the Arctic Ocean.



Seeing the economic opportunity in Siberian earth, Texas-based oil company Amoco quickly established an office in Nadym, Yamal following the dissolution of the Soviet Union. Portraying the Yamal Region as devastated by decades of pollution by Soviet industries, a 1994 New York Times article titled “In the Defiled Russian Arctic, Hope Is a U.S. Oil Company”, the publication portrayed the Amoco vice-president Garry F. Howe as a kind of saviour descended upon an old world, bringing faith in new industry and economic prosperity to come through ecologically sensitive American drilling of the Yamal. “But Amoco has seen what happened to other companies when the needs of the local people are ignored. Texaco, for example, was stymied with its oil exploration in Ecuador when Indians were outraged about the lack of consultation. And company officials know the public relations value of producing oil in an environmentally safe way.” (The New York Times, Nov. 27, 1994). Attracting American investment in Siberian ‘natural resources’ became a priority for Russian business following the dissolution of the USSR and the conversion towards capitalist market economy, seeing the profitable manipulations of proprietary and land usage regulations, continent-hopping by bloated oil industries, and the ruthlessness of western investors and the World Bank that made it all possible. Even reports that spoke sympathetically about colonial exploitation of lands in Siberian regions – such as Osherenko’s study on the impact of changing property rights on the Nenets of Yamal Peninsula – would orient documentation in a way that would appear to support the preservation of Indigenous cultural and land rights, and self-governance, while somehow still promoting American investment and development of oil and gas fields: “according substantial property and even political rights to indigenous peoples need not constitute a barrier to larger national agendas for development of oil and gas resources” […] “The World Bank aims to enable the Russian oil and gas industry to improve oil recovery, reduce spills, repair broken pipelines, and reduce waste through improved environmental technology.” (Osherenko 1995: 2, 44).

* Osherenko, G. Indigenous political and property rights and economic/environmental reform in Northwestern Siberia. Post-Soviet Geography. 1995.