More than 40% of the republic lies inside the Arctic Circle. One of the world's coldest inhabited regions, it has extremely severe winters and short summers; temperatures of −89°C (−67°C) have been recorded in some cities. The terrain is largely plain, with tundra in the north and taiga elsewhere. The Lena, Yana, Indigirka, and Kolyma rivers cross the republic, which includes virtually the entire Lena basin. There are many lakes in the lowlands. The rivers are used for navigation (during the summer) and for flotage and have great hydroelectric potential. The Yakutsk-Skovorodino highway is the chief overland route. The republic has the Baykal-Amur Mainline (BAM), and another rail line from the Trans-Siberian RR to Yakutsk. Air transport and winter sledging are widespread.
Agriculture is possible only in the south, along the Lena and its tributaries. Wheat, barley, rye, and leaf and root vegetables are grown. Diamond mining is the republic's main industry; it is centered in Mirny, which has one of the world's largest diamond-processing plants. Other minerals include gold, tin, and uranium. Lumbering, fishing, hunting, fur breeding and trapping, livestock raising (especially horses), and reindeer herding are also important economic activities. Much lumber is exported. The Sakha Republic has printing works, food-processing plants, and factories that produce cement and other building materials, clothing, and leather footwear. Bone carving has long been a noted art among the Yakut, who make up about one third of the population; most of the remainder are Russians (50%), and there are small Evenki, Eveny, and Chukchi minorities. About half the people are urban dwellers. The republic has a university and a branch of the Siberian section of the Russian Academy of Sciences.
The Yakut, who speak a Turkic language with Mongolian influence, settled around the Lena River between the 13th and 15th cent. Russian colonization began after the establishment of a fort at Yakutsk in 1632. Many Yakut were converted to Orthodox Christianity, but shamanism is still practiced. Gold mining started in the middle of the 19th cent. An autonomous republic was organized in 1922 and was a signatory to the Mar. 31, 1992, treaty that created the Russian Federation (see Russia). It has a 205-member parliament.
The Columbia Electronic Encyclopedia, 6th ed. Copyright © 2012, Columbia University Press. All rights reserved.
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