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Photos show what Mongolia looked like before the Soviet Purge

Ian Smith

The Stalinist repression in Mongolia had its climax between 1937 and 1939, under the leadership of Khorloogiin Choibalsan, acting under Russian instructions. The purge sought to destroy Mongolian nationalism and because Russia wanted to stop the Buryats’ migration to the Mongolian People’s Republic in the 1930s. All leaders of Mongolia who did not recognise Russian demands to perform purges against Mongolians were executed by the Russians, including Peljidiin Genden and Anandyn Amar. Choibalsan cooperated because of the Soviet threats. In 1952 he suspiciously died in Russia. Comintern leader Bohumír Šmeral said, “The People of Mongolia are not important, the land is important. Mongolia is larger than England, France and Germany”. The purges affected the whole country, although the main focus was on upper party and government ranks, the army, the Buryat ethnic group, patriots, nobles, nationalists, intellectuals, the wealthy and especially the Buddhist clergy.

The total number of people killed during the repression is estimated to be 22,000 to 33,000 people, which is about 3% to 5% of the population. Around the late 1930s the Mongolian People’s Republic had a population of about 700,000 to 900,000 people.

A caravan of oxen drags supplies through a city street

A caravan of oxen drags supplies through a city street.Source

 

A Chinese governor of a northern Mongolian province holds court near the end of the 19th century

A Chinese governor of a northern Mongolian province holds court near the end of the 19th century.Source

 

A Mongol bride (left) stands in front of a ger. A lama and a Mongolian prince (right) greet each other near a temple in the capital.

A Mongol bride (left) stands in front of a ger. A lama and a Mongolian prince (right) greet each other near a temple in the capital.Source

 

A tiny monk stands near a stupa, which is a holy Buddhist reliquary.

A tiny monk stands near a stupa, which is a holy Buddhist reliquary.Source

 

An orange-robed monk walks past a temple in what was called Khuree and is now Ulaanbaatar, the capital of Mongolia

An orange-robed monk walks past a temple in what was called Khuree and is now Ulaanbaatar, the capital of Mongolia.Source

 

Beatrix Bulstrode, a British woman, snapped this photo of Mongolian traders during her journeys through the country between 1913 and 1919.

Beatrix Bulstrode, a British woman, snapped this photo of Mongolian traders during her journeys through the country between 1913 and 1919.Source

 

Built in 1809, the Gandantegchinlen Monastery still stands in Ulaanbaatar, though it is now surrounded by concrete apartment blocks and office buildings.

Built in 1809, the Gandantegchinlen Monastery still stands in Ulaanbaatar, though it is now surrounded by concrete apartment blocks and office buildings.Source

 

Despite the flourishing Buddhist monastacism, pre-Soviet Mongolia had plenty of cruelty, including this form of 'portable prison.' Prisoners were sometimes left in such boxes to starve.

Despite the flourishing Buddhist monastacism, pre-Soviet Mongolia had plenty of cruelty, including this form of ‘portable prison.’ Prisoners were sometimes left in such boxes to starve.Source

 

Here, as photographed by Beatrix Bulstrode, are Mongolian wrestlers participating in a festival one century ago

Here, as photographed by Beatrix Bulstrode, are Mongolian wrestlers participating in a festival one century ago.Source

 

Mongolian merchants cross into China through a gate in the great wall.

Mongolian merchants cross into China through a gate in the great wall..Source

 

Mongolian parents and children

Mongolian parents and children. Source

 

Mongolian riders near the Russian border in the early 20th century.

Mongolian riders near the Russian border in the early 20th century. Source

 

Older monk stands for a picture in the same location.

Older monk stands for a picture in the same location. Source

 

The woman in this 102-year-old photo wears traditional dress that signifies she is married and part of the Mongolian nobility.

The woman in this 102-year-old photo wears traditional dress that signifies she is married and part of the Mongolian nobility. Source

 

This 1913 photo shows exactly the kind of monastery destroyed by Joseph Stalin and his forces during the purges in the 1930s.

This 1913 photo shows exactly the kind of monastery destroyed by Joseph Stalin and his forces during the purges in the 1930s.Source

 

This photo, showing a street scene from 1885, comes from the scholarly papers of George Kennan, an American diplomat and Soviet scholar

This photo, showing a street scene from 1885, comes from the scholarly papers of George Kennan, an American diplomat and Soviet scholar.Source

 

Three women pose for the camera after making offerings at a Buddhist temple outside the capital city

Three women pose for the camera after making offerings at a Buddhist temple outside the capital city. Source

 

Two boys sit on animal skins outside of a traditional ger

Two boys sit on animal skins outside a Yurt Source

 

Two Mongolian soldiers photographed in 1913

Two Mongolian soldiers photographed in 1913.Source

 

Two monks sit in the open plains outside the capital

Two monks sit in the open plains outside the capital.Source

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