What makes my region (oblast) unique?
I thought of many ways to share about my hometown region, even considered digging into some archives to tap into that nostalgia, I will make it informational though. I am originally from the Astrakhan Oblast. The Southern Region of Russia neighboring Kazakhstan, in proximity of the Caucasian states, on the Caspian Sea, the world’s largest inland body of water. I love maps, so enjoy the following ones, the more maps the better the highlight of the region. If you are into map, check out Simon Kuestenmacher, can I can’t help but retweet him.
I am originally from the capital, Astrakhan, known for being on the delta of the Volga River but even more known for Caviar, in particular Beluga Caviar, the black caviar, or as I like to call it “real caviar” that comes from the endangered Beluga Sturgeon. As a kid growing up in Former Soviet Union in the 80’s, it was routine for me to see huge tins of caviar sitting on the dining table at my grand-father’s datcha or other family members’ houses. Now, gone are the days of eating “caviar buterbrod” as midday snacks (бутерброды с икрой)”!
Speaking of thugs, guess who else is from Astrakhan? Lenin’s father: Ilya Ulyanov.
The region has a Steppic climate (see map below) with very high temperatures in summer. Us, Astrakhan kids spent time jumping in “River pools”, it was awesome!
Astrakhan has a beautiful natural reserve and wetland area. The birdlife around the delta of the Volga is abundant, and wildlife is diverse. They are also deserts and semi-deserts nearby, you can run into camels there. Caspian lotuses are flourishing on the delta of the Volga, largest delta in Europe. Caspian flamingos are also to be seen. The best time to visit is when lotus flowers blossom which is between late July and late September. April and October are major fishing seasons. If you love Wildlife photography, I highly recommend you check out the Instagram account of Alena, who’s a local.
Not the typical flower you would think of when you think of Russia as they more emblems of countries such as India or Vietnam as well as China for their common use in traditional Chinese medicine. These Caspian lotuses (Nelumbo caspica) are fascinating, I did some web-search about them, this page is helpful.
“The Astrakhan Region is one of the largest industrial and cultural centers of Russia. A strategic transport hub has historically formed here, where the Caspian Sea and Volga river routes intersect with the state’s railways and highways. Highly developed transport infrastructure, powerful industrial potential, modern base for personnel training multiplied by a developed economic integration with the Caspian-bordering countries.”(Source)
Natural resources of the region include natural gas, oil, salt, gypsum.
Astrakhan is also know for its fortress, the Astrakhan Kremlin. A beauty don’t you agree?
In 1556, during the reign of Ivan the Terrible, the Astrakhan Khanate was annexed to the Russian state and ceased to exist. Astrakhan krai became the southeastern military outpost of Russia. In particular, in 1569, the Turks unsuccessfully besieged the fortress of Astrakhan.
Later, in 1722, during his visit to Astrakhan, Emperor Peter the Great expressed admiration for the exquisitely decorated five-domed Assumption Cathedral and exclaimed: “In the whole of my empire, there is not a single cathedral as beautiful as this one”!
At a very young age, I remember noticing the great variety in terms of ethnicities. I think I asked my mom something like “Why are they so many Chinese at school?”. They probably where Kazakhs, Tatars, Nogais etc. Astrakhan oblast borders on the Volgograd region in the north, the Republic of Kalmykia in the west and Kazakhstan in the east. Note that the majority of the population in the Republic of Kalmykia practices Buddhism and the majority in Kazakstan is Muslim. The region is one of the most diverse parts of Russia in terms of ethnic groups and languages.
Other minority ethnic groups are making up the rest of the population.
One of the things that unite Astrakhan Russian speakers of all ethnic backgrounds is a group of local words that do not exist in standard Russian and other Russian dialects or have different meanings in them. In many cases these words originate from Turkic languages. Here are some examples:
- карга (karga) ‘crow’; this word exists in standard Russian and most Russian dialects, but only as a pejorative way to refer to an elderly woman. Its origin in Astrakhan Russian and other dialects is the same, both words come from Turkic qarğa ‘crow’, but Astrakhan Russian preserved its original meaning, whereas other varieties only use it as a metaphor;
- чушка (čuska) ‘untidy person’; this word originates from Kazakh şoşqa ‘pig’. A similar word exists in other Russian dialects, but stress falls on the other syllable (second in Astrakhan, first elsewhere), and the meanings vary;
- демьянка (demianka) ‘eggplant’; origin unknown;
- кильдим (kildim) ‘gathering (of family or friends)’; unique to Astrakhan Russian, Turkic origin;
- ерик (yerik) ‘small river’; this word exists in standard Russian but originates from the Astrakhan region; Turkic origin;
- ильмень (ilmen) ‘small desert lake’; unique to Astrakhan Russian as a common noun, only exists elsewhere as a toponym.
- чебак (čebak) ‘lotus flower’; unique to Astrakhan Russian, origin unknown;
- сандык (sanyk) ‘puddle’; unique to Astrakhan Russian, possibly Turkic origin.
(Source: Kondrashova, Olga (2014) Dialektizmy Astrahanskoj oblasti)
If you were curious to visit the Astrakhan region or Russia in general, check out Artel Troika, the vobla (dry fish) pictured below was featured on their website, very nice site by the way. Traveling to Russia isn’t a simple process so, I highly recommend using an agency putting itineraries together for foreign travelers, unless you have contacts in Russia.
It was not so easy to find pictures of the best local snack: vobla (dry fish), usually accompanied with beer. Last time I visited, I had to have some, for the sake of nostalgia.
Below, I have also included some of my favorite pictures of Astrakhan, and its region on Instagram.
Instagram Accounts that published the gorgeous photographs from the region of Astrakhan listed below, they deserve a follow:
- Sergei Lukankin as @away81
- Влад Рябинин as @vlad.rt
- Yura Borschev as @borsch
- Алена Рыжова as @h_e_l_e_n_