The indigenous Telengit people in Russia’s Altai Republic (see map) are turning to the international community to help stop a new gas pipeline to China that would cut through their sacred lands and a UN-recognized World Heritage Site. When first announced in 2006 by Russian President Vladimir Putin, the 2,700-kilometer Altai Pipeline was slated to be complete by the end of 2011, but construction is only about to begin now due to cost disputes. Cultural Survival warns that the pipeline would bisect the Ukok Plateau, sacred to the Telengit, and the Golden Mountains of Altai, a UNESCO World Heritage Site, as well as Kanas National Park in China’s Xinjiang province, one of that country’s last undeveloped wilderness areas.
In their public appeal, the Telengit warn:
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.
Indigenous peoples elsewhere in Siberia have been similarly protesting a network of new gas pipelines slated to grid their territories.