According to the original sources dated from 15th to 17th centuries,
ancient inhabitants of the Upper Kama River were referred to as the Permian,
the Permich, the Permyak. People themselves used the name Komi mort or
Permyak. When the Komi-Permian National District was formed in 1925, native
population of the upper reaches of the Kama River – who made up the main
ethnic body in the region – acquired the official name Permian Komi so
as not to be confused with Zyrian Komis (viz. the Komis) or with the whole
body of population of the Near-Kama (called Permyaks according to the toponym).
Up to the early 18th century, the Upper Kama area was officially named "The Great Perm". Some sources had an explanatory addition "alias Chusovaya". At its height in the fourteenth up to the seven-teenth centuries, the Great Perm extended from the source of Kama River in the west to the Ural Mountains in the east, and from the Upper Pechora River in the north to the Chusovaya River in the south. This territory was much larger than that of the Vychegodskaya Perm, and no wonder it was given the honourable title "the Great".
The first to show interest in this land were citizens of the ancient Novgorod whose river-pirates repeatedly visited the area, hunting furs and taking tribute. Eventually they came to be rivalled by the princes of Rostov and Suzdal, and later of Moscow.
By the end of 15th century, the area of Upper Kama became a part of Russia. Moscow strengthened its hold over the region by vio-lent Christianisation of the natives. The St. John’s Monastery – the first Orthodox priory in the Urals – was established in Cherdyn, the capital city of the Great Perm.
However, the events of 1460’s and 1470’s revealed that neither Christianisation of the natives nor appointment of a vice-regent from Moscow were enough to secure the firm rule of Moscow princes over Perm. Time and again, the land fell a prey to plundering raids of the Siberian and Tatar khans.
In 1558, Ivan IV the Terrible, aiming to secure the eastern boundaries of Russia, granted to the family of Stroganovs, wealthy landowners and manufacturers, a patent for the large area beginning from Solikamsk on the Kama River and extending to the River Chu-sovaya.
Settling and development of the Kama area by Russia was a process of internal colonisation: the territory of the state was ex-panded, administrative institutions were set up in the area, and firm economic bonds established.
Russian colonisation was accompanied by fierce exploitation of the local population. The Stroganovs’ estates made up a vast serf-ownership complex. To settle the estates, the landlords widely applied compulsion and were assisted in this by the local administration. The Permian-Komis strongly opposed the system of serfdom and frequently rebelled against the landlords. The largest action of peasant protest was the so-called Caravan Mutiny of 1861 that spread over the whole Inven District. The authorities instructed the local province newspaper to refrain from any reports about the revolt.
Under the Great Russian rule, the once legendary mighty nation was degraded into a tool of enrichment of its oppressors who spared no effort to eradicate the local culture. However, the rich heritage of the past is so valuable that no wonder Dmitri N. Mamin-Sibiriak, a prominent writer, thus wrote, "In these places the deep olden times with their epic spirit are still alive …" Territories that were inhabited by ancient Ural tribes have now become subject of intense studies by archaeologists, ethnographers and specialists in folklore.
The Permian Komi region is famous for its peculiar plastic art known as the Permian Beast Style. Objects in bronze and copper of this style, found in the Kama area, date back to the 3rd to 9th centu-ries A.D. Characteristic examples of the beast style reflect the social stratification of the ancient Permian-Komi community, as well as the industrial activities, knowledge of nature and syncretic religious ideas of ancient Permians. Representations of animals – be it of a bear, an elk, or a bird – are typical totems, and many could serve as fraternal and tribal signs and symbols.
Belonging to the earliest period of Permian history, these totems provide a vast amount of material for studying the way of life of those tribes. As it changed, plastic art would undergo changes as well. As the ancient tribal cults faded, giving way to inter-tribal worship of anthropomorphic idols, totemic figures changed into abstract decora-tive motifs that finally transformed into the well-known Permian wooden sculpture.
The ancient Permian beast style had influenced greatly the sub-sequent the creative work of Permian Komis for many generations, particularly in wooden arts. A variety of plastic images of animals and birds are found as details of decoration of houses and buildings, as well as utensils, plates and dishes.
The origins of Permian-Komi written language, as well as of Zyrian-Komi, trace back to Stephen the Permian, a missionary who created the Komi alphabet. This ancient language, though, had lim-ited usage and disappeared by the end of the seventeenth century. The reasons were obvious. Since the administrative partition of the Komis in the second decade of that century, two separate languages started to emerge – Permian and Zyrian, according to the two territories. Despite the injustice done to the Komi nation, the two brotherly peo-ples have always continued to reach out for each other. Several young Komi poets and writers made their debut in the 1920’s and 1930’s in newspapers and magazines of Permian-Komi district – e.g., in Komi Mu ("Êîìè ìó") and Ordym ("Îðäûì", later renamed as "Âîéâûâ êîäçóâ"). Today, intellectuals of the two peoples keep tight co-operation in literature, science, culture and education.
When the Komi-Permian National District was formed, it became possible to run a local periodical. In 1926, the newspaper Goris ("Ãöðèñü") in Permian-Komi was established. It attracted young cor-respondents, some of whom – like N. Popov, M. Likhachev and S. Karavayev – later became professional writers.
In 1930, the publishing house was established. This made it pos-sible to start publishing books and anthologies in Permian-Komi: Dzulzyan Kai ("Äçóëüçÿí êàé"), Bichirok ("Áè÷èðîê"), Tom Udarnik ("Òîì óäàðíèê").
Folklore tradition played great part in the first steps Permian Komis made in literature. The well-known writers of their period to be named here were A. Zubov and M. Likhachev.
A. Zubov (Pitiu Unyu – Ïèòþ Öíüö) used folklore motifs widely and, being a tireless collector of popular tales, he managed to find a style of his own in creating original works of literature. One of his favourite themes (as well popular in the Permian folklore) is the destiny of a Komi woman.
Another prominent founder of Permian-Komi literature was M. Likhachev. Picturesqueness of language and great attention to nature are typical of his prosaic works. His books, written in the pe-riod of fierce class struggle, reflect the events of those days.
In that same period, V. Deryabin, S. Karavayev, N. Popov and F. Tarakanov also tried their first steps in literature.
Political repressions of the thirties and the Patriotic War carried away many gifted writers (A. Zubov, M. Likhachev, I. Gagarin, A. Anikin, N. Savelyev, N. Yarkov and others).
Significant for this period was flourishing of poetry only. No works in prose appeared.
In 1946, a group of writers founded a literary association in Kudymkar. The association included poets who returned from the war (N. Popov, S. Karavayev and M. Vavilin) and some young writers who tested their pen (I. Shadrin, P. Zlatin and others).
In 1949, publication of a literary collection Myan Krayin ("Ìèÿí êðàéûí") was started, renamed in 1964 as Inva ("Èíüâà"). Reliance upon the national tradition bore fruit. Collec-tions were issued including long stories and sketches by V. Batalov, V. Klimov, I. Minin and others who became writers after the war.
In the late fifties and sixties, a distinct tendency emerged to comprehend the destiny of nation in its integrity.
V. Klimov pays great attention to the mother tongue, he finds support in the richness of his native language and enriches his short stories with words and expressions typical of Permian Komis.
I. Minin is deeply interested in his people’s history and is par-ticularly keen on describing emotional experience.
T. Fadeyev in his works depicts life in close and often dramatic relation with historical events, though he refrains from judging his characters, seeking rather to understand them and to share their pain.
The seventies and eighties of this century gave a plenty of new names in poetry. They are the talented F. Istomin, G. Bacheva, L. Nikitin, A. Istomina, A. Istomin, L. Kosova, N. Isayeva, L. Gulyaeva. Typical of their poetry is deep and philosophical com-prehension of life, an effort to self-expression, love to their native land and to the native language.
A. Yermakov, V. Kolchurin, V. Kozlov, V. Kanyukov and L. Nilogov are making their first steps in prose. S. Fedoseyev, fasci-nated by his countrymen, portrays the peasants’ life with great pas-sion.
Since 1993 when the Permian-Komi Publishing House was re-organised and started running as an independent company, more attention has been paid to the Zyrian-Komi authors. Every other year bilingual books are published to make sure that Zyrian-Komi litera-ture reaches a broad circle of reading people.
There is still another situation concerning the Permian-Komi Theatre because of lack of plays in the local language. Previously, there was a playwright like S. Mozhayev, and M. Storozheva applied the motifs of Permian-Komi legends for her plays written in Russian.
Each year, one or two performances in Permian-Komi are run-ning at the local theatre, which is extremely few for the local audi-ence. These performances are usually a great success.
In 1991, the Permian-Komi Song and Dance Company was re-established after a long interval (since 1959). It performs Permian-Komi songs, folk-tunes and dances.
The local language is now used more widely in the mass media. In 1991, a separate Komi department was established at the local broadcasting station. In 1988, the Ural Branch of the Russian Acad-emy of Sciences founded its first local branch in the district, namely the Permian-Komi Department of Social Sciences. In 1990, the Insti-tute of Research in Problems of Education in National Languages in Russia founded its Permian-Komi Laboratory; this institution devel-ops programs and publishes text-books in Permian-Komi.
In contrast to other Finno-Ugrians who live in Russia, Permian Komis make up over half (60,12 per cent) of the population within their national district (according to the 1989 census). This is about 95 thousand out of the total 152 thousand of Permian Komis living in the former Soviet Union. The area of the district is 32 900 square kilome-tres.
Lack of social stability in Russia in the meantime is not favour-able for pursuing a policy in culture beneficial for nationalities. Many a positive initiative in this sphere evokes no response among the Permian Komis themselves. Thus, the sprouts coming up may die away in the near future. Does the Permian-Komi nation with its rich history and culture deserve this lot?
The author is grateful to V. Oborin for the historical material in his article "The Settlement and Developing of Ural in Late Eleventh – Early Seventeenth Centuries" published by the Univer-sity of Irkutsk, 1990.