Where Do the Komi of Russia Stand Now?

  • September 28, 2017      Joy Marie Salgado

Moscow – Minority groups in different countries experience different degrees of acceptance as well as stereotypes. These are two factors affecting a lot of members of indigenous communities. There are those living like the people of the Komi Republic in Russia who remain federal subjects of the country and a minority among their own community.

The Komi people live west of the Ural Mountains. They are known to be related to the Udmurts of the Middle Volga as well as the Komi-Permyaks. They have different names depending on the language as well as the people who refer to them. For instance, they are called Zyrian or Ziryene by outsiders in the region; Zyryan in English, and even Syrjäne in German. However, what exactly is the identification of this ethnic community?

Origin of the Name and the Komi Language

Although there are terms used to identify the Komi outside of their own people, it is still of interest for many as to how the name came to be. Nevertheless, this name is now connected to the people and the languages that they use.

As the ethnonym of Komi is also the term that the people use to identify themselves, it is important to also understand its origin to further distinguish them. It is believed that the original meaning of the term Komi was “human being,” thus it was used to identify the members of the ethnic group. Eventually, as the language of the Komi became part of their diminishing identifying attribute, the specific origin of this term became obscure. However, researchers have looked into the connection of the word to the Finno-Ugric languages, namely, Hungarian, Vogul, and Samoyed Selkup. For each one, there is a variation to the meaning such as him (“male”) in the Hungarian language, um (“man/human being”) for Vogul, and qum (“human being”) in the Samoyed Selkup. It is interesting to look into these because the Komi and the Udmurt are the only living members of the Permic group of the Finno-Ugric languages in the region. This links them to the Uralic language family that has a long history, which can help in the study of the ethnolinguistic features of Komi as it relates to the current lifestyle of its speakers.

Minority in Their Own Republic

Aside from the language that connects the people, many of the local members of the Komi also share a similar concern as they consider themselves a single nationality. However, they are actually divided into Komi-Zyrians (also known as Komi proper), the Komi-Izhems, and the Komi-Permyaks. Apparently, the Komi term is a collective identifier for the Komi Republic’s ethnic residents. Still, the first two mentioned are considered as titular minorities, while the Komi-Permyaks are the titular majority. This is because the Permyaks were members of the former Permyakiya (an autonomous okrug).

Taking a closer look at the history of the republic, there are important events that need more attention from today’s generation of Komi. Throughout the decades, the people, especially those from the minority, have been undoubtedly associated with Russian assimilation. Even though the Komi have a republic, the increasing influence and number of Russians among their communities requires greater attention. Their practices, culture, and even language are slowly yet continuously affected by modern changes while incorporating various traditions as well. With this kind of movement, how will the Komi people preserve their own distinct tradition, language, and culture? This is a question that the younger generation should ponder to further engage their communities in the coming years.

Image from Hor-j, https://fotki.yandex.ru/next/users/hor-j/album/116366/view/352846?page=0