Pictures and information on the repressions of the 1930s

Political repression was a constant fact of life under socialist rule in Mongolia, as it was elsewhere, such as the Soviet Union. It reached its peak in an eighteen month span from 1937 to 1939, when at least 22,000 to 25,000 lost their lives. (For various reasons, the exact number will probably never be known.) Many were Buddhist lamas or Buriats, one of the various Mongolian ethnic groups. But many people were also simply 'caught up' in the repressions, and some were apparently simply arrested and shot to make quotas. The total number killed in the 1930s was around 4 per cent of the total population of the time.

Estimates of the total number of people arrested vary between 35,000 and 100,000, although the lower end is more likely for the period in the 1930s. Lamas were forced to leave the Buddhism church, or pay exhorbitant 'taxes.' Most of those killed or arrested in the repressions were the intellectuals and other elites of Mongolia. Entire villages - especially along the northern border, where Buriats lived - were almost completely stripped of their adult male population. Most people were charged with being Japanese spies and/or counter-revolutionaries. The vast majority of the more than 700 monasteries in Mongolia were also destroyed, as were countless historical and religious artifacts.

Repression - mostly arrest and exile - continued throughout the socialist period. The 1960s, and in particular the period from 1962 to 1965, saw several more prominent cases. In these instances, however, people were stripped of party membership, lost jobs, and exiled, but not shot.

Although some prominent figures were rehabilitated in the 1960s and late 1980s during the socialist period, a law on rehabilitating and compensating victims was not passed until 1998. Since then, over 28,000 people have been rehabilitated. Some with criminal records, or for whom sufficient paperwork has not been found, have not been rehabilitated. Despite the original charges of spying for the Japanese, Mongolian officials and researchers have told me on several occasions that no real Japanese spies were unearthed during the rehabilitation process.