First thing is, there are two types of categories for Koreans who’ve made Russia their home.
And when I say Russia, I actually mean the Commonwealth of Independent States (CIS).
Anyway, one type of Koreans refers to themselves as Sakhalin Koreans;they live on an island called Sakhalin just off the coast of Russia.
They DO NOT LIKED to be called Koryo-saram, someone who resides in the post-Soviet states, aka the independent states of Central Asia, or as I mentioned before, CIS.
I would imagine that it would be like how Americans don’t like to be called Canadian and vice-versa.
When I was asked if I was Canadian for the first time while in South Korea,
I kind of died a little inside.
Well, not really, but it’s like when someone guesses something about you,
and it’s totally wrong. O.O
Anyway, the Sakhalin Koreans are originally from Gyeongsang and Jeolla. (map on right)
But why even move in the first place ?
Well, they didn’t move by choice. During World War II, the Japanese government forced them to work in the coal mines in Sakhalin.
*Sigh* Ah Japan, I love you, but why so cruel to our people ?
Moving on. In the 19th century, many Koreans had to leave the country because they were poor peasants and could not survive in their current environment.
Only a small handful were of the wealthy elite and owned the farmlands. This was during the Joseon Dynasty of Korea.
Willard Dickerman Straight and Early U.S.-Korea Diplomatic Relations, Cornell University Library
Many moved for a better life, and did they move ! The first Koreans to migrate to the Russian Empire included 761 families, equating to 5,310 people. Then, many sought for an even better life in Siberia.
Good Ol’ Siberia. Everything was going so well. Until the Russo-Japanese War in 1907. Under the authority of Japan, Russia set an anti-Korean law. A lot of lands were taken away and Korean laborers were laid off.
So what now ? Well, Koreans just said f*ck this sh*t, and the migration into Russia kept growing.
Badass Koreans with sunnies. Willard Dickerman Straight and Early U.S.-Korea Diplomatic Relations, Cornell University Library
The Bolshevik Revolution? “F*ck that too,” they said (at least, this what I would’ve said), and more people kept coming.
Eventually, the population grew to about 106,817 by 1923. The government tried to slow down the movement but it didn’t really stop the Koreans. They just kept on coming. The only thing that occurred was that Koreans had to naturalise as Soviet citizens. Otherwise, the Soviets didn’t really do much.
The other minor setback was when the Japanese used Korean spies to infiltrate Russia.
So a new Resolution was signed which meant Koreans could either cross the border into the Japanese-ruled Korea or exile to Central Asia. Considering how much history the Koreans had with the Japanese, they chose Central Asia.
When they got there, there was a problem, this area was a difficult place for Koryo-saram. Most of these families were not acclimatised in this dry region, and financial promises never occurred. So about 40,000 deported Koreans died between 1937 and 1938.
But things started to look up, though; the government finally provided assistance to them and in just a mere three years, they were on their feet again.
All the facts I used were from wikipedia, so if you want a thorough history about Koryo-saram it’s all there; the culture, cuisine, language, and loads more were never mentioned in this post.
The point of this post today was to tip my hat to these guys. Any person who packs their bags and leaves their country has to have guts, real guts. It’s been a long road, and the road will still continue but now in a much lighter view.
If anyone is a Koryo-saram or a Sakhalin Korean, I’d love to hear your personal story.