▪ peoplealso spelled Oirat,any of the peoples speaking western dialects of the Mongol language group.In the 13th century the western Mongols were enemies of the eastern Mongols of Genghis Khan's empire. During the following centuries the western Mongols maintained a separate existence under a confederation known as the Dörben Oyrat (Four Allies, from which the name Oyrat is derived); at times they were allies, at times enemies, of the eastern Mongols in the Genghis Khan line. Part of the western Mongols remained in their homeland, northern Sinkiang, or Dzungaria, and western Mongolia. Another part of the Oyrat confederation, including all or some of the Torgut, Khoshut, Dorbet (or Derbet), and other groups, moved across southern Siberia to the southern Urals at the beginning of the 17th century. From there they moved to the lower Volga; and for a century and a half, until 1771, they lived as nomads both to the east and to the west of the lower Volga. During the course of the 18th century they were absorbed by the Russian Empire, which was then expanding to the south and east. In 1771 those on the left bank, to the east of the Volga, returned to China. The right-bank Kalmyk (q.v.), comprising the contemporary Torgut, Dorbet, and Buzawa, remained in Russia.Considerable numbers of Oyrat still live in the Sinkiang and Tsinghai regions of northwest China, where an estimated 100,000 speak Oyrat dialects; another 50,000 speakers live in the western portions of the Mongolian People's Republic, where they have been dominated by the numerically preponderant Khalkha.
* * *