Mongolia Cultural Groups

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Mongolia has never had a significantly large population. At the time of Christ there were probably about 300,000 inhabitants in the area now designated as Mongolia. The population was up to 800,000 by the 1200s when Genghis Khan set out to conquer the world. Because of the outflow of soldiers and conquerors, the Mongolian population was down to 600,000 when the Chinese established control over the area in the 1700s. The population grew little until the late 1800s, reaching 700,000 in 1900. In 1945 the country still had only 750,000 people. The first census in 1956 showed 800,000 inhabitants. The second census in 1969 showed a rapid rise in population to 1.5 million. There were 2.1 million in 1989 and the most recent census in 1999 showed 2.6 million.

Despite this growth, Mongolia still has one of the lowest population densities in the world. Until the 1900s, most of the peoples who inhabited Mongolia were nomads. Even today, over half of Mongolia’s inhabitants live a nomadic life, herding cattle and sheep. The only major urban concentration in Mongolia is the capital, Ulaan Baatar, with a population of about 600,000. The second largest city, Darkhon, has a population of 80,000. Many parts of the country tend to be populated only during the winter when the herders return home.

The ethnic composition of Mongolia is fairly homogeneous. Nearly 90 percent of the people are ethnic Mongols. But among the Mongols there are several tribal groups. The Khalkas are the largest group, constituting seventy-five percent of the Mongols. Other Mongol groups are the Oirats (western Mongols) the Buryats and the Kalmyks. The largest non-Mongol ethnic groups are Kazakhs (5 percent), Chinese (2 percent), and Russians (2 percent). The remaining one percent include Uzbeks, Uighurs, and others. Many Kazakhs emigrated to Kazakhstan after it gained independence in 1991.

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