In search of nationality

Trans. by M.OYUNGEREL
“Mongolians, let’s grow together, come back to your country,” said the President of Mongolia, Ts.Elbegdorj, at the 100th anniversary of the Freedom Parade in 2011.
To this day, a video of this invitation is on Youtube, while no real work has been done since the 2013 Let’s Gather Mongolians Project for resolving the citizenship issues of ethnic groups, such as Buryats and Inner Mongolians. The project, rather than staying in focus, talked about demographic issues.
Head of Tsakhim Urtuu Kholboo NGO D.Sainbayar gave three Hazara Mongolians scholarships to study in Mongolia during the shooting of the “Mongolians Searching Mongolians” television show in Afghanistan. One of them was Meqdad Salehi.
Salehi gained little knowledge about Mongolia from his grandparents or from some old history books in Persian. When he landed at the Chinggis Khaan International Airport, he was astonished by the welcome he received from journalists, student unions, and Tsakhim Urtuu Kholboo NGO. It surpassed his expectations and left a deep impression on him.
When asked if he wanted to live in Mongolia in the future, Meqdad replied, “I could work here after I finish my masters, but it’s hard for foreigners to live here. We are treated as foreigners. Visa issues are troublesome due to the absence of a Mongolian embassy in Afghanistan. We have to send our materials to the Indian Embassy, and this takes up lots of time.
“Although the average salary is close to that of Afghanistan, the living cost is at least three to four percent more here.”
Many Hazara Mongolians are coming to study and travel in Mongolia nowadays. There are more than 20 Hazaras studying at Mongolian International University, for instance. Before the three Hazaras landed on Mongolian soil, Mongolians were unaware or had no knowledge about these people who secretly wished to become Mongolian citizens. Meqdad was grateful that the Mongolians he met always asked him if he would continue to live in Mongolia and asked him to stay. “Unfortunately, I have to make a rational decision,” Meqdad said.
The Hazaras haven’t heard any decisions in their favor after contacting the Mongolian government numerous times about citizenship issues and demonstrating with signs saying “I am Hazara” at Chinggis Square.
The co-organizer of the demonstration and human rights activist Ch.Munkhbayar said, “The law states that anyone who has lived in Mongolia for five years, and has adequate knowledge about Mongolia can become a Mongolian citizen. This sounds like a choice, but this ‘freedom’ is not being applied to the Mongolians of the world. The law doesn’t give enough information about gaining citizenship, so it’s easy for them to come up with a reason why you can’t become a citizen.”
The implementation of this law can be seen from a series of articles by N.Alkhaa, an Inner Mongolian citizen who has lived in Mongolia for 22 years, published in Gereg Magazine. D.Narangoo, a Chinese language teacher at Orchlon School, is an Upper Mongolian, or a Khukh Nuur (Blue Lake) Mongolian, who has lived in Mongolia since the 1990s, but became a citizen only two years ago. She spent almost 15 years of her life trying to get Mongolian citizenship.
When a person from her town also got Mongolian citizenship, she said, “When we heard the President’s words, we were head over heels, as if our Mongolia was calling us. But in reality, it was very hard. Even if you get a visa, getting permanent residency is another challenge. I wish Mongolians would help us to come live in Mongolia. This is an issue after you wed a Mongolian too. For me, life is relatively nice. I have a family and a job. The people left in Upper Mongolia ask a lot of questions. My relatives are even proud they have a family member in Mongolia.”
D.Narangoo’s aunt’s eldest son is named Ulaanbaatar. The name was given because of their desire to live in Mongolia. For “foreign” people of Mongolian ethnicity, the question is usually whether to come to Mongolia, where there is almost no chance of citizenship, or whether to live in a satellite state.
D.Khavar, an Inner Mongolian citizen in Ulaanbaatar pursuing a doctoral degree at the National University of Mongolia, is facing the same issue. After seeing the conditions which were far from expectation, he said, “Mongolians are better than Inner Mongolians in the sense that they have globalized. But globalization is not helping them. The average wage is low. Although it’s in the city, the wage is equal to that in a village. If you compare the average income to commodity prices, it’s probably an even lower amount.” D.Khavar said he faced issues when it came to visas. The names they get called because of their Chinese accent is also an issue, he claimed.
Buryats have a different attitude. Since the presidents of Mongolia and Russia signed agreements for travel without a visa, many Buryats have started traveling to Mongolia. “I am happy that I get to visit without a visa, at least for a while. My grandma calls Mongolia the ‘God country’. My friends love coming here and I feel truly Mongolian here,” said Buryat visitor Nadejda Siirenova.
After the Prime Minister married a Buryat woman in 1994, the first Altargana Festival was organized. To this day, the festival has evolved into a giant event where 20,000 Buryats from China, Russia and Mongolia gather. Dialect researcher and lecturer at the National University of Mongolia G.Gantogtokh said at the Altargana Festival’s academic meeting, “The Buryat youth today are proud to sing in Buryat on stage, but they feel ashamed to talk in Buryat in their daily lives. This is the result of shaming history and culture.”
A 2010 report on linguistics by UNESCO listed Buryat as a dying language. Youngsters aren’t participating in the festival, so the age range has become smaller. Things have become different in these two years, Nadejda said.
“We grew up in socialist times, when they called Chinggis a murderer and claimed that Mongolians are barbaric and evil people. But this identity is fading. Young people are coming here, making friends and finding that those stories were not the case. In addition, these projects – like Altargana and Khamag Mongol – are doing good deeds to unite people of Mongolian ethnicity.”
I discovered during my reporting, that the Tuvans of Russia have only a few patriotic people left, while the rest – mainly young people, believe they are not Mongolian. Tuvans who are currently in Mongolia said they don’t consider themselves Mongolian. Dan-Khaya, a Tuvan citizen in Mongolia, said he was worried his Mongolian language skills were poor. “My friends can’t even say a word in Mongolian,” he said.
Human rights activist Ch.Munkhbayar said, “In other countries, ethnic groups with the same origins as the majority group are encouraged to come. They prepare agreeable conditions for them. All of them have a repatriation policy. Even China, with a large population, has a well developed, limited policy about this issue.” Ch.Munkhbayar has proposed his Repatriation Policy for Mongolia since 2006 to the government, but still hasn’t received a response.

During his speech in 2012, the President mentioned that the ratio between Mongolians declining their citizenship to the people gaining Mongolian citizenship is 60 to one. “To change this, we need to modify the laws related to foreign residents’ rights or make special laws dedicated to people of Mongolian origins. The law stipulates that foreigners allowed into the country are to not exceed one percent of the state population. This article should be altered to fit the conditions of Mongolian ethnicity as well,” Ch.Munkhbayar argued.
Although the law allows them to become citizens, people with Mongolian heritage still can’t gain citizenship due to unspecified reasons. It is easy for authorities to shut them off when the law is “flexible”, because any reason can be given since the law is too broad. Some others have claimed that they were under much pressure because government officials abuse their power and oppress them.
We should help people of Mongolian ethnicity safely and peacefully reside in Mongolia. Many people support the Let’s Gather Mongolians Project and are urging the state and President to stay true to their words.
Source: Gereg Magazine
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