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Koryo-saram (Cyrillic: Корё сарам, Hangul: 고려사람) is the name which ethnic Koreans in the post-Soviet states use to refer to themselves. Approximately 500,000 ethnic Koreans reside in the former Soviet Unionmarker, primarily in the now-independent states of Central Asia. There are also large Korean communities in southern Russiamarker (around Volgogradmarker), the Caucasus, and southern Ukrainemarker. These communities can be traced back to the Koreans who were living in the Russian Far East during the late 19th century.

There is also a separate ethnic Korean community on the island of Sakhalinmarker, typically referred to as Sakhalin Koreans. Some may identify as Koryo-saram, but many do not. Unlike the communities on the Russian mainland, which consist mostly of immigrants from the late 1800s and early 1900s, the ancestors of the Sakhalin Koreans came as immigrants from Kyongsang and Jeolla provinces in the late 1930s and early 1940s, forced into service by the Japanese government to work in coal mines in Sakhalin (then known as Karafuto Prefecture) in order to fill labour shortages caused by World War II.


The word "Koryo" in "Koryo-saram" originated from the name of the Goryeo Dynastymarker from which "Korea" was derived. The name Soviet Korean was also used, more frequently before the collapse of the Soviet Union. Russians may also lump Koryo-saram under the general label koreytsy ( ); however, this usage makes no distinctions between ethnic Koreans of the local nationality and the Korean nationals (citizens of South and North Koreas).

In Standard Korean, the term "Koryo-saram" is typically used to refer to historical figures from the Goryeo dynasty; to avoid ambiguity, Korean speakers use a word Goryeoin ( ; Hanja: 高麗人, meaning the same as "Koryo-saram") to refer to ethnic Koreans in the post-Soviet states. However, the Sino-Korean morpheme "-in" (인) is not productive in Koryo-mar, the dialect spoken by Koryo-saram, and as a result, only a few (mainly those who have studied Standard Korean) refer to themselves by this name; instead, Koryo-saram has come to be the preferred term.


Immigration to the Russian Far East and Siberia

The 1800s saw the decline of the Joseon Dynastymarker of Korea. A small population of wealthy elite owned the farmlands in the country, and poor peasants found it difficult to survive. Koreans leaving the country in this period were obliged to move toward Russia, as the border with China was sealed by the Qing Dynastymarker. Many peasants considered Siberiamarker to be a land where they could lead better lives and they subsequently migrated there. As early as 1863, migration had already begun, with 13 households recorded near Novukorut Bay. These numbers rose dramatically, and by 1869 Koreans composed 20% of the population of the Maritime Provincemarker. Prior to the completion of the Trans-Siberian Railway, Koreans outnumbered Russians in the Russian Far East, and the local governors encouraged them to naturalize. The 1897 Russian Empire Census found 26,005 Korean speakers (16,225 men and 9,780 women) in the whole of Russia, while a 1902 survey showed 312,541 Koreans living in the Russian Far East alone. Korean neighborhoods could be found in various cities and Korean farms were all over the countryside.

In the early 1900s, both Russia and Korea came into conflict with Japan. Following the end of the Russo-Japanese War in 1907, Russia enacted an anti-Korean law at the behest of Japan, under which the land of Korean farmers was confiscated and Korean laborers were laid off. At the same time, Russia continued to serve as sanctuary for the Korean independence movement. Korean nationalists and communists escaped to Siberia, the Russian Far East, and Manchuria. With the October Revolution and the rise of communism in East Asia, Siberia was home to Soviet Koreans that organised in armies like the Righteous Army to oppose Japanese forces. In 1919, the March First Movement for Korean independence was supported by Korean leaders who gathered in Vladivostokmarker's Sinhanchon (literally, "New Korean Village") neighborhood. This neighborhood became a center for nationalist activities, including arms supply; the Japanese attacked it on April 4, 1920, leaving hundreds dead.

Deportation to Central Asia

Between 1937 and 1939, the Soviet Union under Joseph Stalin violently deported about 200,000 Koreans to Uzbekistanmarker and Kazakhstanmarker and other Central-Asian Soviet Republics, on the official premise that the Koreans might act as spies for Japan. About half or 100,000 Koreans could not make it to the destination and died on the way in cattle trains (frozen to death, starved, or ill). Many community leaders were purged and executed, and it would be over a decade and a half before Koryo-saram would be again permitted to travel outside of Central Asia. Up until the era of glasnost, it was not permitted to speak openly of the deportations. The deportees cooperated to build irrigation works and start rice farms; within three years, they had recovered their original standard of living. The events of this period led to the formation of a cohesive identity among the Korean deportees. However, as the Korean language was prohibited for decades, subsequent generations lost the use of the Korean language.


Scholars estimated that , roughly 470,000 Koryo-saram were living in the Commonwealth of Independent States, including 198,000 in Uzbekistanmarker, 125,000 in Russiamarker, 105,000 in Kazakhstanmarker, 19,000 in Kyrgyzstanmarker, 9,000 in Ukrainemarker, 6,000 in Tajikistanmarker, 3,000 in Turkmenistanmarker, and 5,000 in other constituent republics.


The 2002 census gave a population of 148,556 Koreans in Russia, of which 75,835 were male and 72,721 female. About one-fourth reside in Siberiamarker and the Russian Far East; the Korean population there trace their roots back to a variety of sources. Aside from roughly 33,000 CIS nationals, mostly migrants retracing in reverse the 1937 deportation of their ancestors, between 4,000 and 12,000 North Korean migrant labourers can be found in the region. Smaller numbers of South Koreansmarker and ethnic Koreans from China have also come to the region to settle, invest, and/or engage in cross-border trade.


In the 2001 census in Ukrainemarker 12,711 people defined themselves as ethnic Koreans, up from 8,669 in 1989. Of these only 17.5% gave Korean as their first language. The vast majority (76%) stated their mother tongue was Russian, whilst 5.5% stated Ukrainian. The largest concentrations can be found in Kharkovmarker, Kievmarker, Odessamarker, Nikolaev, Cherkassymarker, Lvovmarker, Luganskmarker, Donetskmarker, Dnepropetrovskmarker, Zaporozhiemarker, and Crimeamarker. The largest ethnic representative body, the Association of Koreans in Ukraine, is located in Kharkov, where roughly 150 Korean families reside; the first Korean language school was opened in 1996 under their direction.

Central Asia

The majority of Koryo-saram in Central Asia reside in Uzbekistanmarker and Kazakhstanmarker. Korean culture in Kazakhstan is centered in Almatymarker, the former capital. For much of the 20th century, this was the only place in Central Asia where a Korean language newspaper (the Koryo Shinmun) and Korean language theater were in operation. The Korean population here was sheltered by the local governor from the restrictions placed on them elsewhere. The censuses of Kazakhstan recorded 96,500 Koryo-saram in 1939, 74,000 in 1959, 81,600 in 1970, 92,000 in 1979, 100,700 in 1989, and 99,700 in 1999.

The population in Uzbekistan is largely scattered in rural areas. This population has suffered in recent years from linguistic handicaps, as the Koryo-saram there spoke Russian but not Uzbek. After the independence of Uzbekistan, many lost their jobs due to being unable to speak the new national language. Some emigrated to the Russian Far East, but found life difficult there as well.

There is also a small Korean community in Tajikistanmarker. Mass settlement of Koreans in the country began during the late 1950s and early 1960s, after the loosening of restrictions on their freedom of movement which had previously kept them confined to Uzbekistan and Kazakhstan. Pull factors for migration included rich natural resources and a relatively mild climate. Their population grew to 2,400 in 1959, 11,000 in 1979, and 13,000 in 1989; most lived in the capital Dushanbemarker, with smaller concentrations in Qurghonteppamarker and Khujandmarker. Like Koreans in other parts of Central Asia, they generally possessed higher incomes compared to members of other ethnic groups. However, with the May 1992 onset of civil war in Tajikistan, many fled the country entirely; by 1996, their population had fallen by over half to 6,300 people. Most are engaged in agriculture and retail business. Violence continued even after the end of the civil war; in 2000, suspected Hizb ut-Tahrir members exploded a bomb in a Korean Christian church in Dushanbe, killing 9 and wounding 30.

Return migration to Korea

As many as 10,000 Uzbekistanis work in South Korea, a sizable portion of them being ethnic Koreans. It is estimated that remittances from South Korea to Uzbekistan exceed $100 million annually.


After their arrival in Central Asia, the Koryo-saram quickly established a way of life different from that of neighboring peoples. They set up irrigation works and became known throughout the region as rice farmers. They interacted little with the nomadic peoples around them, and focused on education. Although they soon ceased to wear traditional Korean clothing, they adapted Western-style dress rather than the clothing worn by the Central Asian peoples.

Koryo-saram have preserved the Korean cuisine particularly well. The cuisine of the Koryo-saram is closest to that of the Hamgyong provinces in North Korea, and is dominated by meat soups and salty side dishes. The Koryo-saram are particularly known among neighboring peoples for their bosintang (dog-meat soup), which is served to honored guests and at restaurants.

The ritual life of the Koryo-saram community has changed in various respects. Marriages have taken on the Russian style. At traditional Korean funerals, the name of the dead is written in hanja, or Chinese characters; however, as hardly anyone is left among the Koryo-saram who can write in hanja, the name is generally written in hangul only. On the other hand, the rituals for the first birthday and sixtieth anniversary have been preserved in their traditional form.

Personal and family names

Many Korean surnames, when Cyrillized, are spelled and pronounced slightly differently from the romanisations used in the U.S. and the resulting common pronunciations, as can be seen in the table at right. Additionally, some surnames of Koryo-saram have a particle "gai" added to them, such as Kogai or Nogai. The origin of this is unclear.

Furthermore, Korean naming practises and Russian naming practises conflict in several important ways; Koryo-saram have resolved each of these conflicts in a different way, in some cases favouring Russian patterns, in others, Korean patterns.


After the first generation of settlers, Koryo-saram tended to abandon traditional Korean naming practices and follow Russian naming patterns, using a Russian given name, Russian-style patronymic (derived from the father's name, regardless of whether his name was Russian or Korean), and Korean surname. For example, Kim Jong-il was registered as Yuri Irsenovich Kim (Юрий Ирсенович Ким) in Soviet records, where the "Irsen" in the patronymic was the Cyrillization of the given name of his father Kim Il-sung. Succeeding generations tended to have both a Russian given name and a Russian patronymic. This differs from the pattern typical in the US, where Korean American parents often register their children with a Korean given name as their legal middle name (e.g. Daniel Dae Kim, Harold Hongju Koh).

Surnames of married women

Another area in which traditional Korean naming practices clashed with Russian custom was in the use of surnames by married couples. In Russia, a wife traditionally takes her husband's surname after marriage, whereas Korean women retain their original surname even after marriage. In this regard, the Koryo-saram appear to have kept to Korean tradition much more closely, rather than adopting the Russian practice; for example, out of 18 ethnic Korean babies born in the Kalinin district of Alma Ata, Kazakhstan in 1980, 10 were to parents with different surnames, possibly indicating the extent of this practice.

Declining for gender

Russian surnames are typically declined to indicate the gender of their bearer, while Korean surnames are not, as the Korean language lacks grammatical gender. In the former Soviet countries, many inhabitants, notably the Turkic peoples, had suffixes ov or ova added to their surnames; examples include presidents Nursultan Nazarbayev and Islom Karimov. However, Koryo-saram names do not follow this practice.

Generation names

In Korea, it is common for siblings and cousins of the same generation to have one hanja syllable in common among all of their names; this is known as dollimja. Russians have no equivalent practise. Koryo-saram often do not have Korean names, because of a poor command of the Korean language among their relatives; however, birth records show that many siblings have been given Russian names starting with the same letters of the alphabet by their parents, indicating that the practise of dollimja has continued in a localised form.


Languages among the Soviet Union's Korean population
1970 1979 1989
Total population 357,507 388,926 438,650
Korean L1 245,076 215,504 216,811
Russian L1 111,949 172,710 219,953
Russian L2 179,776 185,357 189,929
Other L2 6,034 8,938 16,217

Due to deportation and the continuing urbanization of the population after 1952, the command of Korean among the Koryo-saram has continued to fall. This contrasts with other more rural minority groups such as the Dungan, who have maintained a higher level of proficiency in their ethnic language. In 1989, the most recent year for which data are available, the number of Russian mother tongue speakers among the Koryo-saram population overtook that of Korean mother tongue speakers.

The dialect spoken by Koryo-saram is closer to the Hamgyŏng dialect than to the Seoul dialect, though somewhat mutated over the generations. Many of those who retain some command of Korean report difficulties communicating with South Koreans.

Relations with Korean expatriates

Probably as a consequence of ethnic ties, South Koreamarker was the second largest import partner of Uzbekistanmarker, after Russiamarker, and one of its largest foreign investors. The car manufacturer Daewoo set up a joint venture (August 1992) and a factory in Asakamarker, Andizhanmarker province, in Uzbekistan.

The 2005 South Korean film Wedding Campaign, directed by Hwang Byung-kook, portrays two aging bachelor farmers from rural villages who hope to find wives. Having no romantic prospects in South Korea, they opt to go through an international mail-order bride agency, which sends them to Uzbekistan and tries to match them with Korean women there.

See also



  1. See, for instance, the Koryo-saram category on the Korean wikipedia
  2. . He noted that in a Korean cemetery in Uzbekistan, most of the gravestones were enscribed only in Cyrillic, and most of the deceased had a patronymic derived from a Russian given name.


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