Kuril Islands

views updated Jun 27 2018


The Kurils form an archipelago of more than thirty mountainous islands situated in a curving line running north from Japanese Hokkaido to Russia's Kamchatka peninsula, enclosing the Sea of Okhotsk and occupying an area of 15,600 square kilometers. The Kurils have numerous lakes and rivers, with a harsh monsoon climate, and are highly seismic, with some thirty-five active volcanoes. Russians in search of furs first moved into the islands from Kamchatka early in the eighteenth century, thus coming into contact with the native Ainu and eventually with the Japanese, who were expanding northward. The 1855 Treaty of Shimoda divided the islands; those north of Iturup were ceded to Russia, while Japan controlled the four southern islands. In the 1875 Treaty of St. Petersburg, Japan ceded Sakhalin to Russia in exchange for the eighteen central and northern islands; the 1905 Treaty of Portsmouth granted Japan sovereignty over southern Sakhalin and all neighboring islands. The USSR reoccupied the Kurils after World War II, and in 1948 expelled 17,000 Japanese inhabitants. Since then the southern four islands (Kunashiri, Shikotan, Iturup, and the Habomais group) have been disputed territory.

The Kuril islands are administered by Russian Sakhalin. Never large, the population declined to about 16,000 following a major earthquake in 1994. Some 3,500 border troops, far fewer than in Soviet times, remain to guard the territory. During the Soviet period the islands were considered a vital garrison outpost. The military valued the island chain's role in protecting the Sea of Okhotsk, where Soviet strategic submarines were located. The major industries are fish processing, fishing, and crabbing, much of which is illegal. Once pampered and highly paid by the Soviet government, the Kuril islanders were neglected by Moscow after the collapse of the Soviet Union. Of necessity, the inhabitants are developing closer ties with northern Japan.

See also: japan, relations with; russo-japanese war


Cobb, Charles E., Jr. (1996). "Storm Watch Over the Kurils." National Geographic 190(4):4867.

Stephan, John J. (1974). The Kuril Islands: Russo-Japanese Frontier in the Pacific. Oxford: Clarendon Press.

Charles E. Ziegler

Kuril Islands

views updated May 18 2018

Kuril Islands (Kurilskiye Ostrova) Chain of 30 large and 26 smaller islands in Sakhalin region, Russia; extending 1200km (750mi) from the s Kamchatka Peninsula to ne Hokkaido, Japan, and separating the Sea of Okhotsk from the Pacific Ocean. The n islands were settled by Russians, the s islands by Japanese. In 1875, Russia gave the islands to Japan in exchange for full control of Sakhalin island. After World War II, the islands were ceded to the Soviet Union. The chief economic activities are sulphur mining and whaling. Area: 15,600sq km (6023sq mi).