Khertek Anchimaa-Toka

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Khertek Anchimaa-Toka
Хертек Анчимаа-Тока
File:Khertek Anchimaa-Toka.png.jpg
Chairperson of the Presidium of the Little Khural of Tannu Tuva
In office
6 April 1940 – 11 October 1944
Prime Minister Bair Ondar
Saryg-Dongak Chymba
Preceded by Oyun Polat
Succeeded by Position abolished
Personal details
Born (1912-01-01)1 January 1912
Bay-Tayginsky, Tannu Uriankhai (now Russia)
Died 4 November 2008(2008-11-04) (aged 96)
Political party People's Revolutionary Party
Spouse(s) Salchak Toka
Alma mater Communist University of the Toilers of the East

Khertek Amyrbitovna Anchimaa-Toka (Russian: Хертек Амырбитовна Анчимаа-Тока; 1 January 1912 – 4 November 2008) was a Tuvan/Soviet politician who in 1940–44 was a chairwoman of Little Khural (parliament) of Tuvan People's Republic, and the first elected or appointed (i.e., not hereditary) female head of state in the modern world.[1]


Khertek Anchimaa was born in what is now Bay-Tayginsky District of Tuva, near the present day settlement of Kyzyl-Dag. Months earlier the collapse of the Qing Dynasty had led to the end of the nominal Chinese rule and the establishment of the independent Tannu Uriankhai under Mongolian and Tuvan nobility.[2] Anchimaa was born the third child in a family of peasant hunters. In the spring of 1918 a smallpox epidemic in the region claimed her father and one of her sisters, leaving her mother to care for Anchimaa and her four other siblings alone. To help make ends meet, the six-year-old Anchimaa was fostered out to a more prosperous branch of the family.[3]

A Russian protectorate was established over Tuva in 1914, however the region became a battleground in the Russian Civil War after 1917, where effective control over the territory and capital Belotsarsk changed between the Red Army and counter-revolutionary forces several times. However conservative forces in Tuva were defeated in 1920 and the People's Republic of Tanna Tuva was proclaimed on 17 August 1921.[4] The new Soviet-backed government greatly increased education opportunities, and subsequently in a period where very few Tuvans, particularly women, were literate Anchimaa managed to learn to write and read in Mongolian language. At the age of 18, when the first national Tuvan alphabet was introduced, she was one of the first to learn it, and was subsequently recruited by the state to teach the language to others as a member of the Revolutionary Youth Union (Revsomol), the youth wing of the Tuvan People's Revolutionary Party (TNRP) and the functional equivalent to the CPSU's Komsomol.[5]

A year later, Anchimaa began working as a clerk and technical secretary for the Barun-Khemchiksky kozhuun, helping to oversea local economic production as well as continuing to work to eradicate illiteracy in the district. Her energy and success in these tasks brought her to the attention of the local party leadership. She was admitted to the TNRP and sent, among 70 others, to the Communist University of the Toilers of the East in Moscow, a journey of some 5000 km over three weeks. When asked by the university selection committee in Kyzyl "Where is Moscow" as part of her initial assessment, Anchimaa admitted she didn't know but said "If you send me, I will know where it is." Apart from studying, students attended lectures of famous Soviet politicians; the meeting with Nadezhda Krupskaya is said to have affected Khertek greatly.[6] Their education and living while in Moscow was completely funded by the state, however the education proved very challenging for the Tuvans sent due to their low level of basic education and requirement to becoming quickly fluent in Russian. Anchimaa was one of only 11 Tuvan students who ultimately graduated.[7]

Upon her return in 1935, Anchimaa was one of several recent graduates of the University of the Toilers in the East to be placed in positions of political trust in the TNRP due to their political and administrative education in Moscow and their adherence to Stalinist ideology, beginning in 1935 when Anchimaa was put in charge of the propaganda department of Revsomol. In 1938 she became the director of Tuvan Zhenotdel (the analogue of the Soviet Zhenotdel), and Chair of the Women's Section of the Central Committee of the TNRP. In both these positions Anchimaa took a leading role in coordinating action for improving social and economic conditions for women, in particular the eradication of illiteracy and the promotion of employment and education opportunities for women in Tuvan society.[5]

Anchimaa's education meant she had been absent during the height of the 'cultural revolution' of Tuva in the early 1930s, during which time the local nobility, lamas and Buddhist monasteries had much of their wealth and power stripped. Tuvan herds and agricultural endeavors were aggressively collectivized along the lines of the Soviet model, however the reforms proved deeply unpopular and were gradually reversed. However, Soviet interference in local matters was frequent, and the TNRP was successively purged to ensure its adherence to Stalinist ideology. The purges of 1932 had seen the fervently pro-Stalin Salchak Toka assume the party chairmanship of the TNRP after the execution of his predecessor Donduk Kuular[8] The Great Purge took root as well during the late 1930s, with operations mounted by the NKVD in the Tuvan Republic to expose 'right opportunists'. Leading 'counter-revolutionaries' and 'Japanese spies' exposed included Council of Ministers Chairman Sat-Churmit Dazhy and Chairman of the Presidium of the Little Khural Adyg-Tyulyush Khemchik-ool. As a leading party member Anchimaa sat on the Special Court convened to investigate the charges, which unanimously found all nine defendants guilty and sentenced them to death.[9] Though very small by comparison to the purges happening elsewhere in the Soviet Union, combined with summary arrests and executions by the NKVD, complete domination of the TNRP and the republic by pro-Moscow Stalinists was now assured.

In April 1940 Anchimaa became the Chair of the Presidium of Little Khural, the head of state for the Tuvan People's Republic. In doing so she became the first female head of state in the modern era not to inherit the title. In doing so she surpassed the achievement of fellow Communist Alexandra Kollontai, who had become the world's first female government minister in 1917. However, the Tuvan Republic's lack of diplomatic recognition, the scant information and reporting available outside the Soviet Union concerning the extremely isolated nation, Operation Weserübung and the imminent invasion of France meant that this milestone went unnoticed for some time. She would also hold the record as the longest serving non-royal female head of state until Vigdís Finnbogadóttir broke it in 1985. In 1940 she also married the General Secretary of the TNRP Salchak Toka. She retained her maiden name after marriage(which was very common among the communists and revolutionaries) and only changed it after her husband died in 1973.[7] The marriage was of two of the Tuvan Republic's most powerful political figures, and together Anchimaa and Toka would dominate Tuvan politics for the next three decades.

As Chair of the Presidium she had an extensive correspondence with her equivalent Soviet colleague, Mikhail Kalinin. Her term coincided with the Great Patriotic War in which she took a leading role in mobilizing the resources and manpower of the republic to assist the Soviet Union in defending from the German invasion. Within two years a full-strength Tuvinian infantry regiment and cavalry squadron was serving in the Red Army, and the republic's economy was entirely dedicated to serving the cause of the war.[10] Tuvan orientation towards Moscow intensified during the war, with Cyrillic script replacing the Latin alphabet for the writing of Tuvan, Russification of social and economic practices, and virtually all opposition to Stalinist policy eradicated. These trends culminated in 1944 in the petition, masterminded by Toka and Anchimaa, for the republic's annexation to become a constituent state of the USSR. The Soviets, desiring the mineral resources of the republic and a permanent end to Mongolian-Chinese geopolitical intrigues over the region, acceded to the request and the state formally ceased to exist in November 1944.[11]

After that the TNRP became a local branch of the CPSU, which Salchak Toka continued to lead. Anchimaa became the deputy chair of the executive committee of the Tuvan CPSU branch, maintaining a leading role in social affairs within Tuva and continuing her work on art and literacy. In 1962 she became vice-chairwoman of Tuvan Council of Ministers, the number two position in the Tuvan Soviet government, being responsible for social welfare, health, education, culture, sports and propaganda.[12]

She retired in 1972, acquired the family name "Anchimaa-Toka" after her husband's death in 1973 and led a quiet life until her death. Anchimaa-Toka died November 4, 2008 in Tuva. She was 96.[1]


  1. 1.0 1.1 "Khertek Anchimaa-Toka: The World's First Female Head of State". Times Online. 2 October 2008. Retrieved 22 October 2009.
  2. Vasilev, Dimitri (2005). "The Sayan-Altain Mountain Region and South-Eastern Siberia". In Chahryar Adle, Madhavan Palat and Anara Tabyshalieva (ed.). History of Civilizations of Central Asia. Volume 6: Towards the Contemporary Period. Paris, France: UNESCO Publishing. pp. 335–336. ISBN 92-3-103985-7.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  3. Oyun, Dina. "Исполнилось 100 лет со дня рождения первой в мировой истории женщины-президента (Russian)". TuvaOnline. Retrieved 7 June 2013.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  4. Sanders, Alan (2010). Historical Dictionary of Mongolia. Lanham, MD: Scarecrow Press. p. 718. ISBN 978-0-8108-6191-6.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  5. 5.0 5.1 Jackson, Guida (2009). Women leaders of Africa, Asia, Middle East and Pacific : a biographical reference. Bloomington, IN: Xlibris Publishing. p. 158. ISBN 9781441558435.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  6. Soren, Anatoly. "Хертек Амырбитовна АНЧИМАА-ТОКА (Russian)". Museum of Tuva. Retrieved 7 June 2013.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  7. 7.0 7.1 Oyun, Dina. "Исполнилось 100 лет со дня рождения первой в мировой истории женщины-президента (Russian)". TuvaOnline. Retrieved 8 June 2013.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  8. Forsyth, James (2000). A History of the Peoples of Siberia: Russia's North Asian Colony 1581–1990. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press. p. 356. ISBN 0-521-40311-1.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  9. "В России отмечают День памяти жерт политических репрессий (Russian)". TuvaPlus News. Retrieved 8 June 2013.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  10. Alatalu, Toomas (1992). "Tuva: A State Reawakens". Soviet Studies. 44 (5): 881–895. doi:10.1080/09668139208412051.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  11. Sanders, Alan (2010). Historical Dictionary of Mongolia. Lanham, MD: Scarecrow Press. p. 719. ISBN 978-0-8108-6191-6.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  12. Oyun, Dina. "В Туве проведут вечер Памяти первой в мировой истории женщины-президента (Russian)". Retrieved 8 June 2013.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>

External links

Political offices
Preceded by
Oyun Polat
Chairperson of the Presidium of the Little Khural of Tannu Tuva
Position abolished