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(September 14, 2023)

From 1st to 4th September Pope Francis went on a pastoral visit to Mongolia: it’s rare for a leader of international level to go to this country, one of the most marginal on the international political scene: before him he did it, as we’ll see, for other purposes, Emmanuel Macron.

It therefore seems that this country, nestled between China and Russia, is returning to play a role above all due to the raw materials contained in its subsoil, but perhaps also due to the geographical position it occupies.

Here then is the right opportunity to focus on this nation, attempting to draw a profile of it.




The Republic of Mongolia is located in Central Asia: it borders the Russian Federation to the north and the People’s Republic of China to the south. It’s landlocked.

It occupies an area of 1,566,500 km2. and is populated by 3.5 million inhabitants.

The capital is Ulan Bator (Ulaanbaatar in Mongolian).

The territory includes the northern part of Mongolia, also known as “Outer Mongolia” (the south, or “Inner Mongolia”, is an autonomous region of China).

The great Gobi desert, in the centre, borders to the north and south with steppe regions where extensive, partly nomadic, breeding of sheep, horses and camels is practiced. To the west lies the mountainous Altay region, rich in mineral resources: copper, tin, phosphates, coal and oil.

Desertification is aggravated by the arid climate and the fragility of the soil. Water is scarce, especially in regions close to the Gobi desert.

The population is mostly made up of elements of Kalka-Mongolian origin (79%), with minorities of Kazakhs (6%); Western Mongolians (3%); Mongolian bayad (2%); Boriat Mongols (2%); Daríganga Mongols (1%); others (7%).

The most widespread religion is Buddhism; there are minorities of Muslims and shamanic faiths. According to the constitution there is no official religion.

Most spoken language: Mongolian. In 2020, when schools reopened in China, many students from Inner Mongolia protested against the bilingualism policy imposed by Beijing.

The new educational guidelines, issued by the Chinese Ministry of Education, aim, under the cover of the so-called “bilingualism” policy, to replace Mongolian with Mandarin in the teaching of almost all subjects, except for language and literature.

The same policy of linguistic assimilation has already established itself in
Tibet and Xinjiang for more than a decade, where Mandarin has supplanted Tibetan and Uyghur in primary and secondary education, despite local resistance.

Tibetans and Uyghurs who took the initiative to create language laboratories or networks of private schools have been persecuted mercilessly.




They constitute one of the main ethnic groups of North and East Asia, made up of a group of peoples who have cultural ties and a common language. The dialects vary from one area of the region to another in which they inhabit, but few of these are incomprehensible to a Mongolian.



Traditionally, the descendants of a male ancestor transmitted the name of the ancestor to the whole family (patriarchal descent), even if there is evidence of the existence of an earlier tradition, in which the hereditary line was female. Marriages between members of the same clan were forbidden and this allowed alliances between different family groups in order to later form tribes.

Even when they engaged in some kind of cultivation, the Mongols were primarily nomads. The relocation of livestock and camps was determined by the change in pastures during the year. The animals were individually owned, while the fields were collectively owned.

The more powerful clans tended to control the activities of the smaller tribes and the weaker families retained authority and ownership of their animals, but had to pay tribute to the dominant clan and moved, camped, grazed livestock and waged war under the orders from him.

The political and military organization was adapted to the composition of the clan: a man able of handling a weapon was leader or soldier, according to the needs of the moment. The capture of cattle, women, and captives from other tribes was a common method of enrichment.
When a tribe was very powerful, like that of Genghis Khan in the 13th century, it organized itself decimally, in groups of 10, 100, 1,000 and 10,000 soldiers. The leaders of large units were assigned a territory within which they collected tribute and recruited warriors for the supreme leader.



The history of the Mongols oscillates between periods of tribal concentration and dispersion. The Hsiung-nu or Huns were the first inhabitants of the Selenga valleys, which connect Siberia to the heart of Asia. It’s hypothesized that they got the region at least four centuries before Christ.

The Huns created a large tribal empire in Mongolia when China was undergoing the unification process promoted by the Ch’in and Han dynasties (221 BC-220 AD). The Hunnic empire waged war for centuries to limit Chinese expansionism and, perhaps due to internal strife, disintegrated in the 4th century AD.

Some of the southern tribes surrendered to China and settled in its territory, where they ended up being absorbed, while others emigrated westwards: among these the militia led in the 5th century by Attila (433 – 453) who first invaded the Byzantine Empire, then at the latter’s instigation the Western Roman.

The Huns entered the Po Valley passing through the Julian Alps, coming from Pannonia (Hungary): they laid waste to Aquileia and then spread across the entire plain.

Their goal was to conquer Rome, but the general Aetius stopped them and shortly afterwards Attila died: this caused the disintegration of the fragile Hunnic empire.



In Mongolia, once the Huns died out, the Turks appeared and settled throughout the region. In those centuries, the social organization wasn’t made up only of nomadic tribes. The great chiefs settled in headquarters, surrounded by cultivated lands, which allowed them to breed larger and stronger horses, able of carrying an armored warrior on their backs.
Thus the difference between the aristocrat and the traditional archer of the tribe, who rode a smaller horse, increased. Agriculture also came to occupy a more important position in the economy: the Uyghurs, heirs to the power of the Turks of the Orhon valley, were a people whose life took place around an oasis.



The Kidan, (10th-11th century) ruled Mongolia, keeping the tribes divided from each other.

It’s at this time that the expression Mongolia: one nation appears in official records
which included all the Mongols, however it didn’t include all the peoples who spoke that language.

The successors of the Kidan were the Yuchen first and then the Tatars, before the era of Genghis Khan (11th-13th century).


GENGIS KHAN (1162 – 1227)

Born in 1162, within a traditionally powerful clan, nephew of Qabul (Kublai Khan), major leader of the Mongols until that time, Temujin inherited various fiefdoms that had been taken from his family.
In 1206, thanks to his political and military skills, Temujin was recognized as leader of all the Mongols with the title of Genghis Khan. Thereafter, his armies invaded northern China and reached Beijing. By 1215, the Mongol empire extended as far as Tibet and Turkestan.
However, in 1227, when he died, this empire also disintegrated due to disputes between his successors.

However, the Mongol expansionist drive soon resumed: in 1240 the kingdom of the Kiev Russes was extinguished and in 1258 the Abassid caliphate of Baghdad disappeared.

When Marco Polo arrived in China in 1271 he found Kubilay Khan, a Mongol, in power, of whom he became one of the most appreciated advisors for about twenty years.

The Mongols also attempted to land in Japan, but the venture failed: in fact they were a people not accustomed to navigation and the Japanese easily overcame them.

1368: The Ming took power in China and shortly thereafter, the Mongol capital of Karakorum was burned. All attempts made by the Chinese to bring Mongolia under their dominion failed.



The twentieth was a century of great transformations in Central Asia:

• in 1912 the republican revolution of Sun YatSen broke out in China: he puts an end to the centuries-old empire, already weakened by the wars against the Westerners and the Japanese;
• in ’17 Russia was also shocked by two revolutions. For the Mongolian nationalists it was the right opportunity to proclaim the independence of the state:

After a series of upheavals, power was seized by the People’s Revolutionary Party (PPR) and Ulaanbaatar gravitated more and more into the Russian-Soviet orbit.



The PPR, which at the beginning was also composed of nationalist and conservative elements, ended up being controlled by the communists who imposed on the country a regime that applied the theories in vogue in Moscow: abolition of private property, state atheism, (hundreds of Buddhist monasteries were destroyed) persecution of the opponents of the revolution.

The purges didn’t even spare PPR cadres who were executed in 1938.

In ’39, however, Mongolia was once again in the eye of the storm: Japan had already invaded China and Manchuria in ’37 and now explicitly aimed to conquer the Soviet East.

Stalin was forced to send troops just as Nazi Germany invaded Poland.

The fighting continued for years: only in 1945 was re-established peace.

The Yalta agreements between Stalin, Churchill and Roosevelt placed Mongolia in the Soviet sphere of influence.

China didn’t accept it until a deputy foreign minister visited the Mongolian capital in 1986 and subscribed a cooperation and collaboration treaty with the Ulanbataar authorities.



With the introduction of Perestroika by Mikhail Gorbachev, the entire communist power system crashed: even in Mongolia the PPR gradually lost its role as the leading party.

Not only: the government admited that the various economic reforms introduced during the communist regime weren’t anable to develope the country.

For this reason was abandoned and it planned to reach as soon as possible market economy.

Multi-party system was introduced and free elections were soon called.

Rich in oil, minerals, livestock, timber and wool, Mongolia has shortages in the monetary, machinery and skilled labor sectors to exploit these resources. Pastoralism and nomadism are still widespread. In Ulaanbaatar people live in tents equipped with electricity, while water arrives thanks to common pumps that take it from wells.

There has been no shortage of food crises in recent decades: the FAO, for example, estimated that in 1998, during a famine, the country needed 90,000 tons of food.

There has also been no shortage of corruption scandals at the top of the political world.



Mongolia has returned to the news in recent months not only due to the Pope’s visit, but also due to the mission Emmanuel Macron carried out there in May: the French President knows that the country possesses various raw materials, in particular certain rare earths which they are of great interest to the third millennium industry for the production of batteries and microchips.In this context, it’s essential that contracts are signed with Ulaanbaatar that favor Western companies to the detriment of Chinese or Russian ones.

This is why perhaps in the future we will talk about this country more often.


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