Profile Source: Copyright © Operation China, Paul Hattaway
Although the Chinese officially consider the Khakas to be a part of the Kirgiz nationality, their languages and culture "differ considerably." In Russia the Khakas are a collection of the five nomadic Turkic-speaking tribes of Kacha, Kyzyl, Sagai, Beltir, and Koibal.
During the Ming Dynasty (1368-1644) the Kirgiz fought with the Oirats. When the latter were defeated by the Eastern Mongols, most Kirgiz tribes moved to the Tianshan Range in Xinjiang where they still live today. A few Kirgiz remained in their homeland on the upper Yenisei River in today's Russia. Others lived just south of there, in the Altai Mountain range, as late as the eighteenth century. "When the Qing forces defeated the Jungars in the 1750s, they removed these Kirgiz [Khakas] to China's northeast. The first group moved there in 1758 and a second group followed them in 1761 from the Altai and Kang'ai mountain ranges. These two groups form the core of today's Kirgiz [Khakas] in Heilongjiang."
Most Khakas no longer practise their own customs. They have adapted to Chinese culture and before long will probably cease to be a distinct people.
Unlike the Kirgiz, there are no Muslims among the Khakas. They were converted to Tibetan Buddhism by their Mongol neighbors. "Until the 1950s you could still find shamans, called Gam in the Khakas villages." Today the Khakas are rapidly becoming a secularized group. Few of the present generation of Khakas youth have any interest in religion.
There has never been a single known believer among the Khakas in China. Their relatives in Russia are also an unreached people who follow animistic practices.