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Kamchatka

Kamchatka is a 1,250-kilometer-long peninsula in the Russian far east, with an area of 270,000 km². It lies between the Pacific Ocean (to the east) and the Sea of Okhotsk (to the west). The climate is cold and humid. To the north, it borders the Magadan Region[?] and the Chukotsky Autonomous Region[?].

The central valley and the Kamchatka River[?] are flanked by large volcanic ranges, containing around 160 volcanoes, 29 of them still active. The highest is Klyuchevskaya Sopka (4575 m or 15,584 ft), while the most striking and recognized are the 3 volcanoes seen from Petropavlovsk-Kamchatskiy: Koryaksky, Avachinsky, and Kozelsky. In the center of Kamchatka is found Eurasia's only Geyser Valley. Kamchatka's natural resources include coal, gold, mica, pyrites, and natural gas.

Most of the inhabitants live in the regional capital, Petropavlovsk. The main employement sectors are fishing, forestry, tourism (a growing industry), and the military. There is still a large military presence on the peninsula; the home base of Russia's Pacific submarine fleet is across Avacha Bay from Petropavlovsk at the Rybachy base. There are also several air force bases and radar sites in Kamchatka.

Kamchatka is part of the Russian Kamchatka region (along with a part of the continent, the Komandorskie Islands[?] and Karaginski Island[?]). The majority of the 411,000 population is Russian, and the largest minority is Koryak. In the northern part of the peninsula is the Koryakski Autonomous Region[?], where around 13,000 Koryaks live.

History

Russia claimed the Kamchatka Peninsula in the 17th century. Ivan Kamchatiy[?], Simon Dezhnev, the Cossack Ivan Rubetz[?] and other Russian explorers made exploratory trips to the area in the mid-1600s, and returned with tales of a land of fire, rich with fish and fur. In 1697 Vladimir Atlasov, founder of the Anadyr settlement, led a group of 65 Cossacks and 60 Yukaghir[?] natives to investigate the peninsula. He built two forts along the Kamchatka River which became trading posts for Russian fur trappers. From 1704-1706 they settled the Cossack colonies of Verkhne (upper) and Nizhne (lower) Kamchatsky. Far away from the eye of their masters, the Cossacks mercilessly ruled the indigenous Kamchadal. Excesses were such that the North West Administration in Yakutsk sent Atlasov with the authority (and the cannons) to restore government order, but it was too late. The local Cossacks had too much power in their own hands and in 1711 Atlasov was killed. From this time on, Kamchatka became a self-regulating region, with minimal interference from Yakutsk. By 1713 there were approximately 500 Cossacks living in the area. The cruelty and excesses of these Cossacks were widely known and first provoked dissent, then open revolt from the local inhabitants. Uprisings were common, the largest being in 1731 when the settlement of Nizhne Kamchatsky was razed and its inhabitants massacred. The remaining Cossacks regrouped and, reinforced with firearms and cannons, were able to put down the rebellion. It is telling that at the beginning of the 18th century the local native population was estimated at 20,000 but by the 1750s only 8,000 were counted.

The founding of Petropavlovsk-Kamchatskiy in 1740 by the Danish explorer Vitus Bering began the "opening" of Kamchatka in earnest, helped by the fact that the government began to use the area as a place of exile. The Russian government encouraged settlement by granting land to newcomers on the peninsula. By 1812 the indigenous population had fallen to fewer than 3,200, while the Russian population had risen to 2,500. In 1854, the French and British, who were battling Russian forces on the Crimean Peninsula, attacked Petropavlovsk-Kamchatskiy. Much to the invaders' surprise, 988 men with a mere 68 guns managed successfully to defend the outpost against 6 ships with 206 guns and 2,540 French and English soldiers. Despite the heroic defense, Petropavlovsk was abandoned as a strategic liability after the Anglo-French forces withdrew. The next year when a second enemy force came to attack the port, they found it deserted. Frustrated, the ships bombarded the city and withdrew.

The next 50 years were lean ones for Kamchatka. The military naval port was moved to Ust-Amur[?] and in 1867 Alaska was sold to the United States, making Petropavlovsk obsolete as a transit point for traders and explorers on their way to the American territories. In 1860 the Primorski (Maritime) Region was established and Kamchatka was placed under its jurisdiction. In 1875 the Kuril Islands were ceded to Japan in return for Russian sovereignty over Sakhalin. The Russian population of Kamchatka stayed around 2500 until the turn of the century, while the native population increased to 5000.

In 1905 during the Russo-Japanese War, two Japanese battleships entered Avachinskaya Bay[?] and shelled Petropavlovsk. The town was once again abandoned as indefensible. In 1927 the Japanese left the peninsula, and Kamchatka was completely Soviet. World War II hardly affected Kamchatka except for its service as a launch site for the liberation of the Kurils in late 1945. After the war, Kamchatka was declared a military zone. Kamchatka remained closed to Russians until 1989 and to foreigners until 1990.



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