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Shors singing again in Siberia

WHEN Olga Tannagasheva starts to sing, her gentle voice transforms into a bass growl designed to invoke other worldly spirits.

Tannagasheva, one of Russia's 14,000 remaining Shors, also wants to communicate with modern Russians. Performing under the pseudonym Chyltys ?? meaning "star" in the Shor language ?? in blue, red and gold silks and a three-pointed hat, Tannagasheva's style of throat-singing is popular with epic performers that draw on shamanist traditions. In Shor culture, such epic songs could last for several days.

"Whenever I travel, people ask me who the Shors are," she said. "They think we come from China!"

The Shors are descended from various Turkic tribes that migrated to the mountains of southwest Siberia from Central Asia. They had no unified identity until the mid-19th century, when the tribes, skilled horsemen and hunters, amalgamated.

Nicknamed the Blacksmith Tatars for their talent in fashioning tools from local iron deposits, they were granted their own mountain region - Gornaya Shoria - in 1926. Thirteen years later, Soviet leader Josef Stalin scrubbed it from the map.

"It was the policy of our government, of Stalin. Nobody ever explained this decision or apologized to us," said Nadezhda Pechenina, of Shor Information Center.

The natural resources that once defined the Shors were also responsible for their downfall. Stalin flooded the region with other nationalities to exploit rich iron ore and coal seams for the steel mills that still dominate the city of Novokuznetsk.

"There was an entire period of Russification," said Gennady Kostochakov, a lecturer at the Shor language faculty in Novokuznetsk's teaching academy. "The incoming urban population was all Russian-speaking, even though they were of different nationalities."

About 11,500 Shors, over 80 percent of the group, live today in this part of Kemerovo region, 3,000 kilometers from Moscow. Most live in the mountain town of Tashtagol.

Industrial towns, like coal-mining Mezhdurechensk, have swallowed up many of the original villages, but 90 small settlements remain where over half the residents are Shors. Chuvashka is one such settlement.

"This was once purely a Shor village. My grandmother didn't even speak any Russian," Leonid Aponkin, a retired engineer, said. "They started teaching only in Russian and banned use of the Shor language."

The Aponkin family album includes portraits on Red Square and Sochi's Black Sea coast, revealing how the Aponkins assimilated into Soviet society before retiring to their home village.

"Our living standards are the lowest in the region. Scholars consider our demographic situation to be critical," said Pechenina.


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