The name "Komi" may come from the Udmurt word "kam" (meaning "large river", particularly the River Kama) or the Udmurt "kum" (meaning "kinfolk"). The scholar Paula Kokkonen favours the derivation "people of the Kama". The name "Zyrian" is disputed, but may be from a personal name Zyran.
The Komi language belongs to the Permian branch of the Uralic family. There is limited mutual intelligibility with Udmurt. There are three main dialects: Pechora, Udor and Verkhne-Vyshegod. Until the 18th century, Komi was written in the Old Permic alphabet introduced by Saint Stephen of Perm in the 14th century. Cyrillic was used from the 19th century and briefly replaced by the Latin alphabet between 1929 and 1933. The Komi language is currently written in Cyrillic, adding two extra letters - Іі and Ӧӧ - to represent vowel sounds which do not exist in Russian. The first book to be printed in Komi (a vaccination manual) appeared in 1815.
Based on linguistic reconstruction, the prehistoric Permians are assumed to have split into two peoples during the first millennium BC: the Komis and the Udmurts. Around 500 AD, the Komis further divided into the Komi-Permyaks (who remained in the Kama River basin) and the Komi-Zyrians (who migrated north).
From the 12th century the Russians began to expand into the Perm region and the Komis came into contact with Novgorod. Novgorodian traders travelled to the region in search of furs and animal hides. The Novgorodians referred to the southern Komi region as "the Great Perm". Komi dukes unified the Great Perm with its centre at the stronghold of Cherdyn. As the Middle Ages progressed, Novgorod gave way to Moscow as the leading Russian power in the region. In 1365, Dmitry Donskoy, Prince of Moscow, gave Stephen of Perm the task of converting the region to Christianity. Stephen's mission led to the creation of the eparchy of Perm in 1383 and, after his death, Stephen became the patron saint of the Komis. He also devised an alphabet for the Komi language. Nevertheless, some Komis resisted Christianisation, notably the shaman Pama. The Duke of Perm only accepted baptism in 1470 (he was given the Christian name Mikhail), possibly in an attempt to stave off Russian military pressure in the region. Mikhail's conversion failed to stop an attack by Moscow which seized Cherdyn in 1472. Mikhail was allowed to keep his title of duke but was now a vassal of Moscow. The duchy only survived until 1505 when Mikhail's son Matvei was replaced by a Russian governor and Komi independence came to an end.
In the 1500s many Russian migrants began to move into the region, beginning a long process of colonisation and attempts at assimilating the Komis. Syktyvkar was founded as the chief Russian city in the region in the 18th century. The Russian government established penal settlements in the north for criminals and political prisoners. There were several Komi rebellions in protest against Russian rule and the influx of Slav settlers, especially after large numbers of freed serfs arrived in the region from the 1860s. A national movement to revive Komi culture also emerged.
Russian rule in the area collapsed after World War I and the revolutions of 1917. In the subsequent Russian Civil War, the Bolsheviks fought the Allies for control of the region. The Allied interventionist forces encouraged the Komis to set up their own independent state with the help of political prisoners freed from the local penal colonies. After the Allies withdrew in 1919, the Bolsheviks took over. They promoted Komi culture but increased industrialisation damaged the Komis' traditional way of life. Stalin's purges of the 1930s devastated the Komi intelligentsia, who were accused of "bourgeois nationalism". The remote and inhospitable region was also regarded as an ideal location for the prison camps of the Gulag. The influx of political prisoners and the rapid industrialisation of the region as a result of World War II left the Komis a minority in their own lands. Stalin carried out further purges of the Komi intellectual class in the 1940s and 1950s, and Komi language and culture was suppressed. Since the end of the Soviet Union in 1991, the Komis have reasserted their claims to a separate identity.
A study on north-eastern populations, published in March 2013, found that Komi peoples form a distinct pole of genetic diversity.
^ Encyclopedia of the Stateless Nations p.1003
"Всероссийская перепись населения 2002 года". Archived from the original on 2011-08-21. Retrieved 2009-12-24.
State statistics committee of Ukraine - National composition of population, 2001 census (Ukrainian)
While the name "Zyrian" is generally considered outdated, some members of the ethnic group prefer it, considering "Komi" to imply greater Russification; see Marjorie Mandelstam Balzer, The Tenacity of Ethnicity: A Siberian Saga in Global Perspective (Princeton University Press, 1999; ISBN 0691006733), p. 238, n. 8.
Vasmer, Etimologicheskii slovar, s.v.
^ Encyclopedia of the Stateless Nations p.1004
Parlons Komi p.113
Parlons Komi pp.113–114
Parlons Komi pp.114–115
Encyclopedia of the Stateless Nations p.1005
Parlons Komi p.115
Encyclopedia of the Stateless Nations p.1005–1008
Khrunin, Andrey V. (March 7, 2013). "A Genome-Wide Analysis of Populations from European Russia Reveals a New Pole of Genetic Diversity in Northern Europe". PLOS One.
James Minahan Encyclopedia of the Stateless Nations D–K (Greenwood, 2002)
Yves Avril Parlons komi (Harmattan, 2006)
Rein Taagepera The Finno-Ugric Republics and the Russian State (C. Hurst & Co., 1999)
Tsypanov, Evgenii (March 2001). "Language and ethnic mobilization among the Komi in the post-Soviet period". Nationalities Papers29 (1): 109–128. doi:10.1080/00905990120036402.