Ethnic group. The Sakha, formerly known as the Yakuts, are the Turkic ethnic group who comprise the titular nation of the Sakha Republic (Yakutiya); they are the largest ethnic group among the indigenous peoples of the north. Across Russia, there are approximately 470,000 Sakha; 430,000 of these reside in Sakha, thus comprising a plurality (45 percent) of the population of the republic.
   The Sakha language (Sakha tyla), despite borrowing heavily from Mongolic and Tungusic languages, is a member of the Northern Siberian subgroup of the Northeastern branch of Turkic languages; it is most closely related to the Dolgan language of Taymyriya. While only a limited number of ethnic Russians speak Sakha, it is used as a lingua franca among the republic’s non-Russian national minorities (particularly Evenki and Evens); since 1991, Russians have increasingly learned Sakha, even sending their children to kindergartens that use the language.
   Historically, northern Sakha were seminomadic hunters and fishers, while southern Sakha were pastoralists; the Sakha also have a strong tradition of blacksmithing. Sakha religious practices combine Russian Orthodoxy, Turkic paganism, animism, and shamanism. The Association of Folk Medicine and the Kut-Sür (Sakha: “SoulReason”) have served as key organizations for the revival of traditional spiritual practices in Sakha. Reverence for sacred groves is a central aspect of Sakha neo-paganism.
   Beginning in the Gorbachev era, Sakha nationalism asserted itself through language revival and calls for high levels of autonomy and resource control for the ethnic homeland, as well as irredentist claims for territory reaching as far as the Sea of Okhotsk. The principal cultural organizations dedicated to the national revival include Sakha Keskile (Sakha Perspective) and Sakha Omuk (Sakha People). Many Sakha organizations marry ethnic nationalism with environmentalism.

Historical Dictionary of the Russian Federation. . 2010.

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