Life and destiny of the first head of autonomous Yakutia

Platon Oyunsky, who was compared with Prometey became the very soul of the Yakut national purpose. Now you will read about life and destiny of the first head of Yakut Soviet republic.

The child of shamans

A child born on November 11, 1893 in Delbereybyt alas of Tatta settlement was named after his uncle, Platon.

As a kid Platon Sleptsov (his original last name) showed himself a talented olonkhosut. This is how they call an improvising Olonkho singer.

Platon came from a shaman lineage. Even being a confirmed Bolshevik he always had respect to Yakut’s’ confession. He even became a shaman himself, a shaman that was modern and open-minded.

Helped by parents Platon entered a 4-grade school of Yakutsk and later in 1917 he graduated from a teachers’ training college. It was the time when he had a shot at the literature publishing in “the Youth” (Yunost) magazine. In 1917 he also made acquaintance with a revolutionist Miney Gubelman (Yemelian Yaroslavsky).

The head of the Soviet Yakutia

In 1917-1918 he joined The Bolshevik Party and participated revolutionary events. When the Temporary Siberian Government formed the Siberian republic Sleptsov was banished from it. He could come back only after Kolchak’s defeat and the Soviet authority regain. In 1921-1923 he worked as a chairman of Gubrevkom, Sovnarkom and Central Electoral Commission of Yakut ASSR. In other words, he held a senior position in the republic. At the age of 28 he became the head of the Soviet Yakutia.

It’s them – Oyunsky, Maxim Ammosov and Isidor Barahov who achieved autonomous status for Yakutia. From a letter of Platon Sleptsov, September 21, 1917: “If we do not seek self-determination and autonomy in field of national revival and self-creation now then when will we achieve them?” Letter dated October 13 of the same year: "We need complete territorial-national and cultural autonomy". In 1921 at a meeting of the Siberian Bureau of the Central Committee of the Russian communist party of the Bolsheviks in Omsk Oyunsky advocated for the autonomy of Yakutia, emphasizing: "The cause of the revival of the Yakut nation must be included in the matter of cooperation of different nationalities in one family of a federal system."

On April 27, 1922 the Presidium of the All-Russian Central Executive Committee issued a decree on the formation of the Yakut Autonomous Soviet Socialist Republic. From then Yakutia was able to interact with the authorities of the RSFSR and subsequently the USSR directly, bypassing Irkutsk.

In the early years of autonomy, largely due to the policies of Oyunsky and his colleagues there was no serious religious persecutions. “Through tactics of reconciliation and amnesty, Oyunsky saved his people from many dramatic events,” says Vladimir Pesterev in his book “The History of Yakutia in Faces”.

Since 1923 Oyunsky was a member of the Central Executive Committee of the USSR, and in 1928-1931, the People's Commissar of Education and Health of Yakutia.


Writer and philologist

Platon Oyunsky did as much for Yakutian literature as Homer and Mayakovsky did for the literature in general. Oleg Sidorov, the biographer of Oyunsky, believes that his works are not only not out of date, but need a new understanding: "He laid down some codes and secrets in his works which have yet to be guessed."

Oyunsky wrote lyrical and revolutionary poetry, olonkho songs, stories, novels, dramas. He also translated into the Yakut language  " The International" and works of Gorky, Pushkin and Zhukovsky, Goethe and Petofi. He transferred to the paper the cycles of the olonkho songs “Nyurgun Bootur Stremitelny” and “The Beautiful Tuyaryma Kuo”.

According to ethnographer Boris Shishlo, Oyunsky reconstructed the "mythical realism of the ancestral homeland of the Yakuts." During the first revolutionary years Oyunsky started working on his philosophical dramatic poem The Red Shaman. The prototype of the protagonist was Nikolai Protasov, the famous singer and healer in Yakutia who was the first to publicly renounce shamanism. A separate edition of the poem came out in 1925 and was soon translated into Russian and noticed by Maxim Gorky. As for Protasov, he committed suicide in 1934.

It was during the period of work on the "Red Shaman" that Sleptsov officially became Oyunsky. He formed a new surname from the words "oyuun" (shaman) and "uus" (афьшдн). Perhaps one of the reasons for the change of surname was Oyunsky’s disagreement with the struggle against shamans and shamanism begun by the Soviet government. Accepting official anti-religious politics Oiunsky was not an atheist. He sought to reconcile the old with the new, the ideas of the Yakut national revival with communism. “The descendant of the shamans not only did not renounce his“ old-regime ”origin, but was also proud of him, which made him change the family name“ Sleptsov” to the pseudonym“ Oyunsky ”.

This is also deeply symbolic: according to the folklore of the peoples of the North the shaman's acquisition of secret knowledge is compared with insight. To communicate with the spirits of the Upper World, the shaman rises along the rainbow - the "heaven bridge" and becomes a bridge between the worlds himself. Oyunsky considered this role of a bridge connecting people, countries, and culture to be common as a mission of a shaman and a poet.

"When shamans, like other "worshipers", were all ranked among the enemies of the people, opponents of the Soviet regime, in his famous poem olonkho he argued that the shaman can be "red", a supporter of change and a fighter for national happiness", - writes Vadim Erlikhman.

Having headed the Yakut Writing Council, Oyunsky made a huge contribution to improving the Yakut writing, spelling and punctuation standards. In 1934 he was elected as a head of the Union of Writers of Yakutia and a year later founded created and headed the Institute of Language and Culture. That was the first scientific institution in Yakutia. The staff of the institute collected olonkho songs, studied the Yakut language and compiled textbooks. Oyunsky defended his dissertation in Moscow and compiled the Russian-Yakut Spelling Dictionary.

In the 1960s a canadian writer and scholar Farley Mowet visiting Yakutsk was surprised to find out that there were about 50 original books published  by local authors in the city every year. Most artists, writers and scientists were Yakuts, Evenks and Yukagirs. “I can’t even imagine a remotely comparable picture in America,” admitted Mowett in his book The Siberians. Of course, the contribution of Oyunsky is obvious. But, unfortunately, he did not manage to see many of the results of his work.


An immortal man

At the end of 1937, Oyunsky was elected deputy of the Supreme Soviet of the USSR from Yakutia. Having left for the first session he did not return home. In February 1938 he was arrested in Irkutsk on his way back. He was accused of leading the nationalist counter-revolutionary organization Sakha-Omuk which was preparing the overthrow of Soviet power in Yakutia and the transfer of the republic under the protectorate of Japan.

“In March 1939 his wife Akulina Nikolaevna was allowed to meet with him. Oyunsky, tormented by interrogations and illness said words that were remembered by his wife for many years: “Toyuom, remember this. Oyunsky is an immortal man,” writes Oleg Sidorov in the biography of Oyunsky.

Oyunsky did not live up to the trial. He died on October 31, 1939 from tuberculosis in a prison hospital in Yakutsk. It is still unknown where exactly he was buried.

Oyunsky’s name was banned for a long time. Only after his posthumous rehabilitation, the theatrical season of 1958 was opened with the “Red Shaman” in Yakutsk. Since 1966, the Oyunsky Prize has been awarded for achievements in literature, art, and architecture. “Our aim is to make our literature a universal heritage,” wrote Oyunsky back in 1917. In 2005 UNESCO listed olonkho on the World List of the Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity.