Oirats of Western Mongolia

Oirat ("Oirads" or "Oyirads") is the common name of several
pastoral nomadic tribes of Mongolian origin whose ancestral home is in
the Dzungaria and Amdo regions of western China and also western Mongolia. Although the Oirats originated in the eastern parts of Central Asia, the most prominent group today is located in the Republic of Kalmykia, a federal subject of the Russian Federation, where they are called Kalmyks. The Kalmyks migrated from Dzungaria to the southeastern European part of the Russian Federation nearly 400 years ago.

Historically, the Oirats were composed of four major tribes: Choros
or Ölöt, Torghut, Dörbet, and Khoshut. The minor tribes include: Khoit,
Bayid, Mangit, Zakhachin, and Darkhat.



Writing System

See main articles: Zaya Pandita and Todo Bichig

In the 17th century, Zaya Pandita,[1] a Lamist monk of the Khoshut-Oirat tribe, devised a new writing system called Todo Bichig
(clear script) for use by the Oirat people. This system is derived from
the old Mongolian vertical script, but phonetically it captures the
spoken language of the Oirat people.

The Todo Bichig writing system remained in use in Russia until the
mid-1920s when it was replaced by the Cyrillic alphabet. It likewise
was replaced by the Cyrillic alphabet in Mongolia in 1941. The Oirats
of China, however, are believed to still use Todo Bichig as their
primary writing system.


History of Mongolia
Before Genghis Khan
Mongol Empire
- Chagatai Khanate
- Golden Horde
- Ilkhanate
- Yuan Dynasty
- Timurid Empire
- Mughal Empire
Crimean Khanate
Khanate of Sibir
Qing Dynasty (Outer Mongolia)
Mongolian People's Republic
Modern Mongolia
Inner Mongolia
Buryat Mongolia
Kalmyk Mongolia
Hazara Mongols
Aimak Mongols
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Oirats share some history, geography, culture and language with the
Eastern Mongols and were at various times united under the same leader
as a larger Mongol entity — whether that ruler was of Oirat or Mongol

The name Oirat may derive from a corruption of the group's original name Dörvn Öörd,
meaning "The Allied Four." Perhaps inspired by the designation Dörvn
Öörd, other Mongols at times used the term "Döchin Mongols" for
themselves ("Döchin" meaning forty), but there was rarely as great a
degree of unity among larger numbers of tribes as among the Oirats.

Comprised of the Khoshut (Хошууд Hošuud), Choros or Ölöt (Өөлд Ööld), Torghut (Торгууд Torguud), and Dörbet (Дөрвөд Dörvöd) tribes, they were dubbed Kalmak or Kalmyk, which means "remnant" or "to remain," by their western Turkic neighbors. Various sources also list the Bargut, Buzav, Kerait, and Naiman
tribes as comprising part of the Dörvn Öörd; some tribes may have
joined the original four only in later years. This name may reflect the
Kalmyks' remaining Buddhist rather than converting to Islam; or the Kalmyks' remaining on Altay region when their Turkic migrated to the West.

Early history

One of the earliest mentions of the Oirat people in a historical text can be found in the Secret History of the Mongols, the 13th century chronicle of Genghis Khan's
rise to power. In the Secret History, the Oirats are counted among the
"forest people" and are said to live under the rule of a shaman-chief
known as bäki. In one famous passage the Oirat chief, Quduqa Bäki, uses a yada
or "thunder stone" to unleash a powerful storm on Genghis' army. The
magical ploy backfires however when an unexpected wind blows the storm
back at Quduqa. Although they initially oppose Genghis' rule, the
Oirats eventually ally themselves with the khan and distinguish
themselves as a loyal and formidable faction of the Mongol war machine.

After the collapse of the Yuan dynasty in Peking, the Oirats
reemerged in history as a loose alliance of the four major West
Mongolian tribes (Dörben Oirat). The alliance grew to power in the
remote region of the Altai Mountains, northwest of the Hami oasis.
Gradually they spread eastward, annexing territories then under control
by the East Mongols and hoping to reestablish a unified nomadic rule
under their banner.

The greatest ruler of the Dörben Oirat was Esen Tayisi
who led the Dörben Oirat from 1439 to 1454, during which time he
unified Mongolia (both Inner and Outer) under his rule. In 1449 Esen
Tayisi mobilized his cavalry along the Chinese border and invaded the
Ming Empire, defeating and destroying the Ming defenses at the Great
Wall and the reinforcements sent to intercept his cavalry. In the
process, the Zhengtong Emperor was captured at Tumu. The following year, Esen returned the emperor. After claiming the title of khan, to which only lineal descendants of Genghis Khan could claim, Esen was deposed. Shortly afterwards, Oirat power declined.

From the 14th until the middle of the 18th century, the Oirats were
often at war with the East Mongols. Illustrative of this history is the
Oirat epic song, "The Rout of Mongolian Shulum Ubushi Khong Tayiji," about the war between the Oirats and the first Altan Khan of the Khalkha.

The Kalmyk Khanate

In the early part of 17th century, the Torghuts, a West Mongolian tribe, began to migrate westwards. They reached the lower Volga region and established a small empire called the Kalmyk Khanate, a large part of which is in the area of present-day Kalmykia. In the process, they became nominal subjects of the Russian Tsar.

Kho Orlök, tayishi of the Torghuts, and Dalai Batur, tayishi of a
small group of Derbets, led their people westward at the beginning of
the 17th century. By some accounts this move was precipitated by
internal divisions or by the Khoshot tribe; other historians believe it
more likely the migrating clans were seeking pastureland for their
herds, scarce in the Central Asian highlands. Part of the Khoshot and
Ölöt tribes would join the migration almost a century later.

The Kalmyk migration had reached as far as the steppes of southeast Europe by 1630. At the time, that area was inhabited by the Nogai Horde. But under pressure from Kalmyk warriors, the Nogai fled to the Crimea and the Kuban River. All other nomadic peoples in the European steppes subsequently became vassals of the Kalmyk Khanate.

The Khoshut Khanate

The Oirats converted to Tibetan Buddhism around 1615, and it was not long before they became involved in the conflict between the Gelug and Karma Kagyu schools. At the request of the Gelug school, in 1637, Güshi Khan, the leader of the Khoshuts in Koko Nor, defeated Choghtu Khong Tayiji, the Khalkha prince who supported the Karma Kagyu school, and conquered Amdo (present-day Qinghai). The unification of Tibet followed in 1641, with Güshi Khan proclaimed Khan of Tibet by the Fifth Dalai Lama. The title "Dalai Lama" itself was bestowed upon the third lama of the Gelug tulku lineage by Altan Khan (not to be confused with the Altan Khans of the Khalkha), and means, in Mongolian, "Ocean of Wisdom."

Amdo, meanwhile, became home to the Khoshuts. In 1717, the Dzungars invaded Tibet and killed Lha-bzang Khan (or Khoshut Khan), a great-grandson of Güshi Khan and the fourth Khan of Tibet.

In 1723 Lobzang Danjin,
another descendant of Güshi Khan, defended Amdo against attempts to
extend Qing rule into Tibet, but was crushed in the following year.
Thus, Amdo fell under the domination of Qing.

The Dzungar Empire

The 17th century saw the rise in power of another Oirat empire in the east, known as the Khanate of Dzungaria, which stretched from the Great Wall of China to present-day eastern Kazakhstan, and from the present-dai northern Kyrgyzstan to southern Siberia. It was the last Empire of the Great Nomads of Asia.

The Qing (or Manchu)
conquered China in the mid-17th century and sought to protect its
northern border by continuing the divide-and-rule policy their Ming
predecessors instituted successfully against the Mongols. The Manchu
consolidated their rule over the East Mongols of Manchuria. They then
persuaded the East Mongols of Inner Mongolia to submit themselves as
vassals. Finally, the East Mongols of Outer Mongolia sought the
protection of the Manchu against the Dzungars.

See also


External links

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