Altai Gas Pipeline Threatens UNESCO World Heritage Site, Telengit Sacred Lands

Altai Gas Pipeline Threatens UNESCO World Heritage Site, Telengit Sacred Lands

Altai map, courtesy of Cultural Survival
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August 5, 2011

The Indigenous Telengit Peoples in the Altai Republic are turning to the international community to help stop a new gas pipeline that would cut through their sacred lands and a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Please visit Cultural Survival to take part in this campaign.

Located in the Altai Republic of southwestern Siberia, the Ukok Plateau is said to be the place where the spirits come to listen to the songs of the Altai, Shor, Telengit and other Indigenous Peoples in the Altai region who practice a traditional form of throat singing known as “Kai”.

The Ukok Plateau is especially important to the Telengit. For atleast 8,000 years, the Telengit have travelled to Ukok to bury their dead; and among the burial mounds, stone stellae, and petroglyphs of their ancestors, the Telengit pray for their people and make offerings to the spirits of the heavens, the mountains and the waters.

“Ukok is a sacred territory for us. Over many centuries, our ancestors have conducted rituals and buried our dead there. The San Salary takes place on Ukok, a ritual to honor the spirits of the heavens and our ancestors,” say the Telengit, in a recent appeal to the international commnuity. “Each visitor to Ukok leaves a rock in offering at each obo (cairns located at mountain passes), ties a dyalama ribbon, and leaves ‘white food,’ while those who travel on horseback leave a hair from the horse’s mane.”

The Telengit say they also learned their way of life in the remote and pristine permafrost landscape.

But now, that living memory and the cultural legacy of the Plateau is under threat. Cultural Survival warns that “Russia and China are planning to build a pipeline to carry natural gas from Siberia to China. The pipeline would bisect the sacred Ukok Plateau and the Golden Mountains of Altai UNESCO World Heritage Site in Russia, and the Kanas National Park in China, one of China’s last undeveloped wilderness areas.”

In 2006, Russian President Vladimir Putin announced that the 2,700-kilometer Altai gas pipeline would be constructed by the end of 2011. Forunately, a disagreement on the cost of the pipeline is stopping the project from moving ahead; but with China eager for a trade and transportation corridor through the region, an agreement may be reached any time.

In their public appeal, the Telengit express their greatest concerns about the project:

“A pipeline across the Ukok Plateau will destroy numerous monuments of scientific and historical importance, and, more importantly, vital to our people’s sacred traditions. The planned pipeline will inflict serious environmental damage in a UNESCO World Heritage Site and the Ukok Nature Park where we have many animals and birds that are listed in the Red Book: snow leopard, argali mountain sheep, manul (Pallas) cat, black stork, bar-headed goose, steppe eagle, and others.

“Damage to permafrost on Ukok is particularly dangerous, as it will hasten the melting of glaciers in the Tabyn-Bogdo-Ola and Southern Altai ranges. This region is also prone to earthquakes that could cause devastating pipeline leaks and spills. Construction of the pipeline also threatens our local economy. In our Territory of Traditional Natural Resource Use we practice free-range animal husbandry, fishing, and hunting, and we are developing cultural and ecological tourism. Construction of a pipeline, contamination, and the melting of permafrost will affect all our economic activities, we will lose our sources of food and livelihood.”

According to the The Altai Project, the pipeline would also provide even more access to poachers; increase threats to the Katun River watershed (also considered sacred); and destroy or damage cultural and historical landmarks like the Kalbak Tash petroglyphs in Chui-Oozy.

In light of these risks, the Telengit are turning to the international community for help. They explain in the appeal, “We have appealed to Russian and Chinese government agencies and Gazprom, but our rights and demands are being ignored. Our only hope is for broad-based international support, and we turn to you with a request to send letters of protest in our names to the companies and governments of Russia and China.”

Cultural Survivial has responded to the Telengit’s call by starting a letter-writing campaign on their behalf. You can find details on the campaign at

For more information, visit:,,,

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