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Mongolia - History

Nomadic peoples of uncertain origins are recorded as living in what is now the Mongolian People's Republic in the third century B.C., and archaeological evidence takes human habitation in the Gobi back a hundred centuries or more earlier. Warfare was a way of life, against other nomadic peoples in competition for land, and in the south against the Chinese, whose high culture and fertile lands were always attractive to the Mongols. China responded with punitive expeditions, which pushed these pre- and proto-Mongol peoples farther north, west, and east and resulted in periods of Chinese hegemony over parts of Inner Asia.

In 1206 AD, a single Mongolian state was formed based on nomadic tribal groupings under the leadership of Chinggis ("Genghis") Khan. He and his immediate successors conquered nearly all of Asia and European Russia and sent armies as far as central Europe and Southeast Asia. Chinggis Khan's grandson Kublai Khan, who conquered China and established the Yuan dynasty (1279-1368 AD), gained fame in Europe through the writings of Marco Polo.

The earliest evidence of the Mongolian script, called the ‘Chinggis' stone inscription’ by scientists, was created in 1225. The Mongols developed their alphabet many centuries ago but, because of their nomadic way of life and continual wars and campaigns, very few ancient literary monuments have actually survived. Since ancient times, the Mongols have had a reverence for books and have considered them as one of the three holy things. As for books, except for the famous ‘The Secret History of the Mongols’ with its 760 years of history, no earlier examples have been found.

Although Mongol-led confederations sometimes exercised wide political power over their conquered territories, their strength declined rapidly after the Mongol dynasty in China was overthrown in 1368. The Manchus, a tribal group which conquered China in 1644 and formed the Qing dynasty, were able to bring Mongolia under Manchu control in 1691 as Outer Mongolia when the Khalkha Mongol nobles swore an oath of allegiance to the Manchu emperor. The Mongol rulers of Outer Mongolia enjoyed considerable autonomy under the Manchus, and all Chinese claims to Outer Mongolia following the establishment of the republic have rested on this oath. In 1727, Russia and Manchu China concluded the Treaty of Khiakta, delimiting the border between China and Mongolia that exists in large part today.

From the late seventeenth century to the early twentieth century, Mongolia was a major focus of Russian and Manchu-Chinese rivalry for predominant influence in all of Northeast Asia. In the process, Russia absorbed those portions of historical Mongolia to the west and north of the present Mongolian People's Republic. The heart of Mongolia, which became known as Outer Mongolia, was claimed by the Chinese. The area was distinct from Inner Mongolia, along the southern rim of the Gobi, which China absorbed--those regions to the southwest, south, and east that now are included in the People's Republic of China. Continuing Russian interest in Mongolia was discouraged by the Manchus.

Outer Mongolia was a Chinese province (1691-1911), an autonomous state under Russian protection (1912-19), and again a Chinese province (1919-21). As Manchu authority in China waned, and as Russia and Japan confronted each other, Russia gave arms and diplomatic support to nationalists among the Mongol religious leaders and nobles.

As Chinese power waned in the nineteenth and the early twentieth centuries, however, Russian influence in Mongolia grew. Thus Russia supported Outer Mongolian declarations of independence in the period immediately after the Chinese Revolution of 1911. Russian interest in the area did not diminish, even after the Russian Revolution of 1917, and the Russian civil war spilled over into Mongolia in the period 1919 to 1921. Chinese efforts to take advantage of internal Russian disorders by trying to reestablish their claims over Outer Mongolia were thwarted in part by China's instability and in part by the vigor of the Russian reaction once the Bolshevik Revolution had succeeded. Russian predominance in Outer Mongolia was unquestioned after 1921, and when the Mongolian People's Republic was established in 1924, it was as a communistcontrolled satellite of Moscow.

The Mongols accepted Russian aid and proclaimed their independence of Chinese rule in 1911, shortly after a successful Chinese revolt against the Manchus. By agreements signed in 1913 and 1915, the Russian Government forced the new Chinese Republican Government to accept Mongolian autonomy under continued Chinese control, presumably to discourage other foreign powers from approaching a newly independent Mongolian state that might seek support from as many foreign sources as possible.

The Russian revolution and civil war afforded Chinese warlords an opportunity to re-establish their rule in Outer Mongolia, and Chinese troops were dispatched there in 1919. Following Soviet military victories over White Russian forces in the early 1920s and the occupation of the Mongolian capital Urgoo in July 1921, Moscow again became the major outside influence on Mongolia. The Mongolian People's Republic was proclaimed on November 25, 1924.

Between 1925 and 1928, power under the communist regime was consolidated by the Mongolian People's Revolutionary Party (MPRP). The MPRP left gradually undermined rightist elements, seizing control of the party and the government. Several factors characterized the country during this period: The society was basically nomadic and illiterate; there was no industrial proletariat; the aristocracy and the religious establishment shared the country's wealth; there was widespread popular obedience to traditional authorities; the party lacked grassroots support; and the government had little organization or experience.

In an effort at swift socioeconomic reform, the leftist government applied extreme measures that attacked the two most dominant institutions in the country--the aristocracy and the religious establishment. Between 1932 and 1945, their excess zeal, intolerance, and inexperience led to anti-communist uprisings. In the late 1930s, purges directed at the religious institution resulted in the desecration of hundreds of Buddhist institutions and imprisonment of more than 10,000 people.

During World War II, because of a growing Japanese threat over the Mongolian-Manchurian border, the Soviet Union reversed the course of Mongolian socialism in favor of a new policy of economic gradualism and buildup of the national defense. The Soviet-Mongolian army defeated Japanese forces that had invaded eastern Mongolia in the summer of 1939, and a truce was signed setting up a commission to define the Mongolian-Manchurian border in the autumn of that year.

Following the war, the Soviet Union reasserted its influence in Mongolia. Secure in its relations with Moscow, the Mongolian Government shifted to postwar development, focusing on civilian enterprise. International ties were expanded, and Mongolia established relations with North Korea and the new communist governments in Eastern Europe. It also increased its participation in communist-sponsored conferences and international organizations. Mongolia became a member of the United Nations in 1961.

In the early 1960s, Mongolia attempted to maintain a neutral position amidst increasingly contentious Sino-Soviet polemics; this orientation changed in the middle of the decade. Mongolia and the Soviet Union signed an agreement in 1966 that introduced large-scale Soviet ground forces as part of Moscow's general buildup along the Sino-Soviet frontier.

During the period of Sino-Soviet tensions, relations between Mongolia and China deteriorated. In 1983, Mongolia systematically began expelling some of the 7,000 ethnic Chinese in Mongolia to China. Many of them had lived in Mongolia since the 1950s, when they were sent there to assist in construction projects.

During the winter after the fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989, peaceful protests led to the resignation of the politburo in March 1990 and Mongolia’s first multiparty elections in July 1990. In the democratic era that has followed the 1990 elections, Mongolia has sought to maintain good relationships with its two immediate neighbors as well as with democratic countries further afield (referred to as “third neighbors”), including the United States.

Mongolia has also engaged more actively in international organizations including the UN, International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), and Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) Regional Forum and is seeking membership in the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE). Since 2002, the Mongolian Armed Forces have trained and deployed thousands of peacekeepers to support peace operations worldwide, including missions in Iraq, Sierra Leone, Kosovo, South Sudan, Chad, and Afghanistan.

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