Tibet diaspora in Mongolia

This short article deals with field studies of Tibet House in Russia held in Mongolia in the period from March to May 2016. However, the issue of stay of ethnic Tibetans in Mongolia requires a comprehensive study from religious, cultural, social and political points of view. Our journalists managed to meet with majority of the Tibetans living now in Mongolia and talk with them about their fate and aspirations.

In this brief report we would like to touch key aspects, problems and prospective based on such points as friendly relations between Tibet and Mongol peoples and commonality of their civilizational values.


Since the late of the 80s of the twentieth century and opening of the borders of Mongolia for external relations, there appeared an opportunity for Tibetan-Mongolian exchange, primarily in religious sphere. This is due to historical affiliation of Mongolia with traditional schools of Tibetan Buddhism, especially such as the Sakya and Gelug. Kushok Bakula Rinpoche, a member of the Parliament of India and the Indian Ambassador to Mongolia, became an active initiator and envoy for revival of these relations. Thanks to his efforts, a lot of Mongolian students went to Universities in India to study Buddhism and returned to Mongolia to revive religion.

Bakula Rinpoche helped the Indian students not only to obtain long-term visas but practically provided protection to each of them looking out for the students’ fate and well-being. It is important to mention open-mindedness of Bakula Rinpoche’s, his non-sectarian approach and lack of lobbying of any particular associations or someone’s personal interests. Being at his post, Bakula Rinpoche did all his best for good of the peoples and he considered such service as the great honor to him. The most important religious visits made by the representatives of these two countries became possible due to participation of Bakula Rinpoche in diplomatic activity as the Indian Ambassador to Mongolia.

In Rinpoche’s lifetime, the Buddhist monastery Pitung Gompa in Ulaanbaatar was founded. Unfortunately, after Kushog Bakula Rinpoche’s death in 2003, the whole era of successive and successful Tibetan-Mongolian relations came to the end. At present at Pitung monastery there is the school for young monks, the vegetarian café and the charitable foundation; here the Tibetan master permanently resides and religious rituals are regularly carried out. The monastery serves as a temporary residence for high Tibetan guests from India. Kushog Bakula Rinpoche’s ashes, which is revered by all the Buddhists as a shrine, is held in the silver stupa.


The Tibetan diaspora in Mongolia is inconsiderable in number; about 30 Tibetans permanently reside in the territory of Mongolia – in Ulaanbaatar and its surroundings. They are mostly the monks and religious leaders of middle age. Several Tibetans work in the sphere of medicine, journalism and at scientific organizations. There are also the refugees came from China for socio-economic reasons. In general, we can say that the Tibetans feel great enthusiasm being in Mongolia thanks to the Mongols’ respect to the nation which has brought Buddhism to their land some time ago.

Despite religious diversity in modern Mongolia, we can certainly say that the Mongols remember and revere their history; here discrimination of the Tibetans on ethnic grounds is completely excluded as contrasted with India and Nepal where attitude towards the Tibetan migrants is primarily formed from the point of India’s caste system which puts “botiya" on the same level as sudra. India and Nepal are democratic countries which have overcome caste differences but partially only on paper.

When the Indian government accepts Tibetans quite mercifully and India is the only country in the world which generously provides the refugees with everything they need, then the Indian society at the mundane level often treats the Tibetans with hostility. This is because of general negative factors associated with mass migration and the fact that they treat the Tibetans primarily as people not belonging to any caste. As for Mongolia, the situation is just the opposite thanks to historical interrelations between these two peoples. And if they express nationalistic and even chauvinistic feelings towards the Chinese migrants, then they express quite opposite feelings towards the Tibetans. Moreover, majority of the Tibetans living here for a long time does not learn the Mongolian language but feel themselves quite comfortable and some of them have already personal students- translators who have mastered Tibetan language. It should note the increasing popularity of Tibetan language in Mongolia - even some monks in remote monasteries speak Tibetan fluently.


But despite the similar lifestyle, the same climate and religion, expansion of the Tibetan diaspora in Mongolia is not observed. There are several reasons of this: complexity for Tibetan refugees from China to cross legally the Mongolian-Chinese border, the Chinese Foreign Ministry's special restrictions for Tibetans to obtain passports, restrictions of visa regime in Mongolia for Chinese citizens. As for the Tibetan refugees in India, this is complexity of visa regime, remoteness and lack of information on Mongolia; lack of special programs promoting international exchange. About 350 Mongolian students get education in India but there is no a single Tibetan student in Mongolia.

There are also local problems of the Tibetan community in Mongolia, the first of which is lack of natural and legal entities supporting the Tibetan refugees in a foreign country. But despite the fact that there is the post of the representative of His Holiness the Dalai Lama in Mongolia during several years but real activity of such representative of the Tibetans in Mongolia is not observed. A vivid example of this is lack of a program for issuing "Green Books" to refugees and annual renewal of fees for them as well as complete absence of campaign for election of Sikyong in 2011 and 2016.

Taking into account global problems of the Tibetans in exile, it is important to consider not only the number of votes but show respect to fellow countrymen who were deprived of the right to vote. Such neglect negatively affects credibility of the Central Tibetan Administration which activities deal with support and preservation of the Tibetan world. There is no a single community or association of fellow-countrymen responsible for conducting traditional Tibetan festivals and memorable dates such as anniversary of the Tibetan uprising, Losar, birthday of the Panchen Lama and the Dalai Lama.

Besides, problems of illegitimate refugees and other needs of the Tibetans in exile which primarily should be solved by such organization are left behind attention. There is no any centralized and transparent religious and cultural activity and this leads to competition between Buddhist organizations, segmentation and absence of consensus regarding important issues. In general, we can say that lack of an organization which could legally operate in Mongolia and take care of integration of the Tibetans, their interests and interaction is a great obstacle to adaptation of compatriots abroad and development of the Tibetan-Mongolian relations.


In recent years one can see a lot of short-term religious visits and the Tibetan guests are warmly welcomed. At the same time, due to lack of unifying principle, these visits do not effectively serve the common cause of preserving Tibetan civilization and do not solve today the current problem related to identity: the interests of China which take the form of religious influence on the Mongols through spreading of non-Buddhist cult of Shugden; missionary activities of Christian organizations of "a new wave" and esoteric sects.

According to statistics, 400 of 600 religious organizations in Mongolia are not the Buddhist ones and they do not belong to the traditional Mongolian religions: Buddhism, Islam and Orthodox Christianity (the latter two confessions are represented in minority). There is a clear competition between the Mongolian and Tibetan clergy but given the fact that the Mongolian Buddhism is in the process of development, this competition is a double-edged sword. On the one hand, such competition is a motive force to improve professionalism of the clergy but on the other hand, it leads to segmentation of the Buddhist communities which, while competing, omit their basic statutory activities. It is obvious that there is no unity in Mongol clergy regarding national interests on the background of growing activities of missionary organizations of other faiths. It is not a secret that such activity is also carried out as promotion of "soft power" of third-party states.

Creation of mutually beneficial Tibetan-Mongolian projects could have a positive trend for conservation of civilizations of these two peoples in the face of geopolitical dependence and globalization but only assuming clear understanding of real and equal partnership. We should not forget that Mongolia is quite a self-sufficient state and has enormous potential to preserve its identity; however, interaction with so-called "brotherly nations" could be as the essential mutual support both for the Mongols and Tibetans.

The Tibetan-Mongolian relations play a crucial role in development of civilizational institutions of these peoples which suffered by the "cultural revolution" in the beginning of the 20th century. Despite the geographical remoteness of Mongolia from the Tibetan communities in India, the Tibetans know Mongolia and take an interest in it. The only question is in an independent idea of development and its practical application to create favorable conditions for cooperation.

©Nadya Berkengeym



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