New Book on 1873 Tax Register to be Released Fall 2012

For Revised Release

Doukhobor writer and historian Jonathan J. Kalmakoff is pleased to announce the upcoming release of his new book: 1873 Tax Register of Doukhobors in the Caucasus. The book is compiled from original nineteenth century Imperial Russian tax records housed at the Georgian State Archives in Tbilisi, Georgia and the National Archives of Azerbaijan in Baku, Azerbaijan.

This book contains detailed family information about the Doukhobors living in the Caucasus mountain region of Russia in the year 1873 and includes: the name and age of the males in each household, the family relationship to the head of the household, the number of males and females in each household, resettlement to and from other areas, and more. It also contains full bibliographic references and a comprehensive index.

Sample entry from original 1873 tax register.

The information contained in 1873 Tax Register of Doukhobors in the Caucasus, meticulously translated into English from the original Old Russian handwritten script, is made available to Doukhobor family historians for the first time. The book is a companion to Kalmakoff’s 2004 publication, 1853 Tax Register of Doukhobors in the Caucasus (click here for link).

“This book sheds new light on the demographic and settlement history of Doukhobors in the Caucasus,” says Kalmakoff. “It also contains a wealth of new genealogical information for those tracing their Doukhobor family back to Russia.  It provides a unique and fascinating view of our Doukhobor ancestors – who they were, where they lived and when.”

To the Spirit of God, I Pray and Bow

by Elena Kovshova

Today, relatively few Doukhobors remain in the Republic of Georgia, following mass emigrations to Russia over the past two decades. One of the largest remaining – but least documented – populations of Doukhobors is centered in the town of Dmanisi, formerly known as Bashkichet. In the following article, Russian journalist Elena Kovshova examines the Doukhobors of Dmanisi – the history, philosophy and culture of a disappearing people, rooted in goodness and renowned for their kindess and hospitality. Translated by Jonathan J. Kalmakoff from the Russian journal “Argumenty i Fakty” (No. 4, January 27, 2010).

Dmanisi – the small Georgian town which, in recent times, has become world famous thanks to sensational archeological finds, stores many secrets within itself. Its name is connected not only to the history of early mankind, but also to the destinies of thousands of simple people who, in more recent centuries, appeared in this place.

The history of the Dmanisi Doukhobors is rooted in the depths of the history of the Russian empire, when, in the mid-seventeenth century, Patriarch Nikon, with the support of the reigning [Tsar] Alexei Mikhailovich, introduced church ceremonial reforms intended to correct Russian prayer books to make them consistent with Greek practices, by replacing the two-fingered sign of the cross with the three-fingered sign, and a number of other changes. But the violent methods by which the patriarch implemented the reforms were met by hostile opposition. These actions resulted in the emergence of defenders of the “old belief” who believed that the church had departed from the old rites. Thus arose a religious social movement, whose supporters called themselves Starobryadtsy or “Old-Believers”. Later, they divided into the Popovtsy (“with priests”) and the Bezpopovtsy (the “priestless”) such as the Dukhobory or “spirit wrestlers”.

Elizaveta Bludova proudly displays her handiwork in this rushnik – a traditional Doukhobor handicraft among the Dmanisi Doukhobors.

The movement originated in the second half of the eighteenth century among the peasants of Voronezh, Tambov, Ekaterinoslav and Sloboda-Ukraine provinces. According to the Doukhobors, the world is in eternal struggle, the spirit against the flesh, and desiring brotherhood in the spirit of God’s truth, they renounced the established church dogmas and rites. It was the only way people could protest against the autocratic oppression and hypocrisy of the clergy, who were afraid of losing power, and therefore, followed in the wake of the state.

Naturally, such ideas disturbed the Tsarist government, which saw a direct threat to the state in such opinions. Therefore, an active resettlement policy was undertaken in relation to the Doukhobors. First, they were sent to Tavria province (in the Crimea) on the Molochnaya River (from which the name of the sectarians Molokane is [reputedly] derived), and then they were all expelled to the Caucasus.

Whole families of Doukhobors, with small children in their hands and shackles on their feet, made their way by foot to their places of exile. Some of them thus perished on the road while others arrived in Georgia in the district of Bashkichet, which in Turkish means “the main road”. Indeed, there was no inhabited settlement there, let alone a town; only impenetrable forest through which ran a trade route linking Georgia with Armenia, Turkey and Azerbaijan. Having arrived on this bare ground, the Doukhobors, thanks to astonishing diligence and faith, did not rail at their fate, but began life anew with nothing, hollowing out family dwellings in the ground with stone axes. They spent one year in such dugouts covered with straw, until they built houses in which many of the descendants of those first Doukhobors live to this day.

Each band of the rushnik symbolically represents a particular stage in the life of the Doukhobor woman who makes it.

The house of the Bludovs is more than 150 years old. The rickety stairs, the cracked tree… The seniors cannot afford to repair the house. Nonetheless, the internal furnishing is striking: practically everything, from the wooden furniture and finishing, to all kinds of table-cloths, blankets, mats, bed-covers, is constructed, painted or woven by hand. Every corner of the house exudes exceptional hard work and perfect purity. The [traditional Orthodox] place for icons in the house is [instead] occupied by rushniki – long hand towels which are sacred to each Doukhobor.

Upon marrying, a [Doukhobor] woman should begin to sew such rushniki, although the word “sew” does not accurately reflect the volume of work involved. It is difficult to imagine that it is all done by a single mistress; sewn multi-colored satin ribbons, embroidered satin, cross-stitch, crochet, hand-drawn patterns covered with varnish, combining all the elements in a single composition. And each rushnik, or more accurately, its band, symbolically represents a particular stage in the life of the needlewoman, reflecting her individual perception of the world, the successes and hardships experienced, emotions… Rushniki receive the newborn; they also cover the deceased before burial. Children are not baptized. They themselves perform the funeral service for the deceased, and at the commemoration, borshch (vegetable soup), lapsha (noodles), pastries and vodka are served.

The sunduk (hope chest) is also an indispensable feature for every “marriageable” girl. The father of the bride makes it by hand, and always without nails. On the surface a pattern is burned which is covered with lacquer, and in the corner the initials of the craftsman are put. With such a chest, and its contents, the young wife enters the family of the husband. Incidentally, it is worth noting that the woman begins to sew her “death clothes” as soon as she marries.

Doukhobors do not acknowledge church and traditional religious rites. For example, [the Orthodox custom of] drawing water for a baptism at midnight or taking it from a river, or directly from under a crane. To this day, elements of the Old Russian and Ukrainian languages have survived in the speech of these people, and as a memory of the distant past, the popular legend of the priest who did not actually hold the post, but taught others about the “true path”.

The bands of the rushnik – a Dmanisi Doukhobor handicraft – reflect the individual perceptions, experiences and emotions of its maker.

On Sundays at sunrise, Doukhobors gather in a prayer home. In sequence, one after another, they read psalms, which are transmitted from generation to generation, or else are composed directly during prayer.

God is Spirit / God is a Man, / To the Spirit of God, I pray and bow, / Thus I am a Doukhobor – so Elizaveta Fedorovna Bludova explains the essence of the psalms and teachings.

On a table at Elizaveta Fedorovna’s is an old, but good condition copy of Leo Tolstoy’s book, “Resurrection”. The novel, undoubtedly, has been read and reread many times. Her respect for Leo Tolstoy is particularly vibrant. And no wonder! His sermon on nonviolent resistance to evil, a message of love and forgiveness, liberation from crude ecclesiastical rituals coupled with a call for passive resistance to authority, and the individual spiritual component – is something for which the Doukhobors have suffered! The novel “Resurrection”, with its story of personal spiritual revival, and sharp criticism of the church embodied in the narrative, became one of the reasons for Tolstoy’s excommunication by the Holy Synod of the Orthodox Church. But here they honour and remember the great writer who, in the 1890’s, saved thousands of Doukhobors, assisting in their migration from sweltering Cyprus to Canada, whose climatic conditions were better suited for settlement by Russian people.

[Incidentally] few people know that the famous Russian artist Vasily Vasil’evich Vereshchagin drew his painting “Doukhobors Praying” in Dmanisi.

Today, the Doukhobors in Dmanisi are relatively few. The first Georgian President, Zviad Gamsakhurdia, proposed that the Doukhobors return to their historical homeland [of Russia]. On his orders, in 1993-1994, the [Georgian] state bought up Doukhobor houses for quite a good sum. It was then that the bulk of the [Doukhobor] youth went to Tula, Tambov, Lipetsk and Rostov regions. Others – assimilated and began to enter into mixed marriages.

Doukhobor folk patterns etched on a sunduk (hope chest) etched into the wood using pyrography, the art of decorating wood with burn marks from the controlled application of a heated tool.

Vasilisa Minakova, Chairman of the Center for Russian Culture “ISKRA”, represents the average generation of Doukhobors. She combines working as a teacher of Russian language and literature at the Dmanisi primary school with public service. At the center, English and Russian language courses are offered, and whenever possible, attention is paid to urgent problems of the elderly [Doukhobor] people.

Dmanisi has always been distinguished for its kindness and humanity – shares Vasilisa Minakova. “Three years ago, with the support of the head of regional administration Bakuri Mgeladze and the deputy from our area, the president of the pharmaceutical company “PSP”, Kahi Okreashvili, opened a dining-room in Dmanisi for needy pensioners. From 43 people, who make use of it, most of them comprise of single Doukhobors. What the dining-room means to them is self evident. In the name of all participants, I would like to thank not only the initiators, but also the directors of the dining-room Natalia Kavlelashvili, and also the whole collective for their good heart and skillful hands”. With only limited funds, without time-off on holidays, and in spite of frequent stoppage of gas and electricity, they always come out “on top”, they do not turn anyone away without a bowl of soup. There was a time when a total stranger came to the dining-room who had lost his documents; while he was replacing them, he relied largely on the goodness of the collective of this dining-room.

Surrounded by beautiful mountains, reminiscent of the Egyptian pyramids, the River Mashavera and the land, once the promised land of the Doukhobors, stretches the small town of Dmanisi. And in it live a very hospitable, very sweet, kind and hardworking people, those who consider Georgia as their homeland, who love this land, their old homes, small gardens…

These people do not seek attention to themselves: they are not inclined to stand out in front of cameras and give extensive interviews. But they do not decline to, either. So as not to offend. They do not transgress the law of love to one another. And [they desire] only that which is necessary – which is the peaceful sky above, good health, mutual assistance and care for others. From the point of view of the state or from humanitarian organizations, there is no difference – goodness is goodness.

Doukhobor Place Names Database Renamed ‘The Doukhobor Gazetteer’

For Immediate Release – June 6, 2008

Over the course of their three hundred-year history, the Doukhobors have both influenced, and been influenced by, the culture and geography of the places where they have settled and lived. For the first time ever, a comprehensive record has been compiled of the places of historic, cultural and religious significance to the Doukhobor people, presenting them in detail.

The ‘Doukhobor Place Names Database’ was originally conceived in 1999-2000 by writer and historian Jonathan J. Kalmakoff as a compilation of the origin and meaning of some 200 select Doukhobor village names. In the years that followed, Kalmakoff continued to expand the database, painstakingly gathering facts and details for hundreds of additional entries associated with the Doukhobors, including populated places such as localities, settlements, schools, post offices, railway sidings, subdivisions, streets, farms, bridges, cemeteries and parks, as well as natural geographic features such as lakes, streams, springs, bays, islands, hills, mountains, caves, woods, rocks and valleys.

Today, with over 1,000 entries, the database is the most complete and detailed database of Doukhobor geographic information ever compiled, with entries for place names, features and locations, large and small, well-known and obscure, past and present, throughout Russia, Ukraine, Georgia, Azerbaijan, Turkey, Armenia, Cyprus, Canada and the United States. It has been made available online and is searchable by keyword, feature type, geographically and alphabetically.

Each entry in the database contains a wealth of information relating to: the feature type; cross-references to current, previous and alternate names; the Russian (Cyrillic) spelling of the name; the origin and meaning of the name; current and previous political borders and administrative boundaries; the history of the place or feature, including dates of establishment and abandonment; the legal land description of the place or feature; the geographic coordinates (latitude, longitude) of the place or feature; and other descriptive information.

Recently, a number of researchers have suggested that the database has become much more than a compilation of place name origins; it is an important and authoritative online reference source for Doukhobor geographic information. To reflect this greater scope and purpose, the database has now been officially renamed ‘The Doukhobor Gazetteer’. It is believed that the new name provides a more accurate picture of what the database is about.

The Doukhobor Gazetteer is a tremendous achievement of detail and extraordinary research. Jonathan J. Kalmakoff has put in a prodigious amount of work to provide an accurate and definitive listing of Doukhobor geographic information. Packed with historical detail, interesting facts and entertaining anecdotes, it gives a fascinating panorama of Dukhoboria – the land of the Doukhobors. Ideal for browsing, its simple, easy-to-use format makes it the perfect reference companion for research and general interest purposes.

The Doukhobor Gazetteer will be continually updated with new information and additional features to ensure the user of data reliability and usability. The next phase of development will be to link the text entries to online maps utilizing Google Maps and Google Earths interactive software. It is anticipated that this new phase will be largely completed by fall as project volunteers conduct fieldwork over the summer to gather and compile GPS geographic coordinates of historic Doukhobor sites.

The Doukhobor Gazetteer can be accessed online through the Doukhobor Genealogy Website at https://www.doukhobor.org/gazetteer-intro.html.

A Fading Minority: The Doukhobors’ Continued Struggle For Survival

by Hedvig Lohm & Ilya Chkhutishvili

Following the collapse of the Soviet Union, many of Georgia’s Doukhobors resettled to Russia, driven by regional instability, ethnic tensions and economic hardship.  Those who remained became minorities in their own villages. Now, land reforms are forcing those who are left to apply for Russian citizenship.  Should the Doukhobors leave, it is feared that new ethnic disputes may erupt between their Armenian and Georgian neighbours.by Hedvig Lohm and Ilya Chkhutishvili originally appeared in the e-magazine “Georgia Today” (31.08.2007) www.georgiatoday.ge/.

The Dukhobors are an ethnic Russian religious community who today reside in Russia, the Caucasus and Canada. While the word ‘Dukhobor’ means ‘Spirit Wrestler’ in Russian, today the Dukhobors living in Georgia are facing a more earthly struggle. Since the Dukhobors’ legal documents for the lease of land have been disputed by the Ninotsminda rayon’s municipal administration, this community may lose all legal rights to its land – the Dukhobors’ only source of income. If the issue of land ownership is not resolved, most Dukhobors are likely to give up the struggle to continue living in Gorelovka, Georgia, and leave for Russia. Such a development would contribute not only to the loss of a colorful and unique population group, but is also a cause for concern among local Armenians who worry that if the Dukhobors leave, the Georgian government will settle ecological migrants from Adjara and Svaneti in Gorelovka, a move which could become a source of new disputes between the Georgian newcomers and the local Armenian community.

The Dukhobors represent one of the oldest ethnic minorities in Georgia. In late 18th century Tsarist Russia, sects of religious dissenters such as the Dukhobors, Molokans, Staroveri (“Old Believers”) and Subbotniks were treated as pariahs. The Russian rulers were concerned that they would spread their heresies and seduce ‘true’ Orthodox believers. Consequently, in 1839 an ultimatum was given to the sectarians: convert to Orthodoxy, or leave for the newly conquered Caucasus region. Most of them decided to go into exile. In 1839-1845 the Dukhobors settled in the two Georgian regions of Javakheti and Dmanisi, Kedabek in today’s Azerbaijan, and Kars in today’s Turkey. Of these early exiles, the Dukhobors in Ninotsminda rayon are the only ones that remain.

Group of Doukhobor women in Gorelovka village, Georgia.  GeorgiaToday.

The Dukhobors lived through very hard times during the 19th century, weathering both conflicts with Tsarist Russian authorities and disputes within the community. At the end of the 19th century there were a total of 10,000 Dukhobors in the Javakheti region spread through eight villages. During the Soviet collectivization process in the 1930s, the Dukhobor’s communal system of redistributing agricultural lands was destroyed. However, the Dukhobors were used to working on collective lands and most of them were able to easily adapt to the new Communist system. Consequently, their kolkhozes turned into some of the most efficient and profitable in the entire Soviet Union. Ethnically, their villages remained predominantly Dukhobor, though in some villages a few Armenian families resided as well.

The end of the Soviet era, however, saw many Dukhobors leaving Georgia and by the late 1980s a wave of resettlement to the Russian Federation was already in full swing. There were several reasons why the Dukhobors left for Russia. During the last part of the Perestroika years and the collapse of the Soviet Union Georgia was in turmoil. In addition, Georgian ethno-nationalist politics were on the rise while at the same time “Javakh” the Armenian, then paramilitary, organization took de facto control over the Javakheti region.

One of the main initiators of this resettlement process was Maria Uglova, who was a chairperson of the Spasovka kolkhoz. The Dukhobors who left with Uglova resettled in Russia’s Tulskiy oblast. The migrant Dukhobors moved primarily to Tulskiy and Rostovskiy oblasts, as well as to Stavropol krai. From 1979 to 1989 the number of Dukhobors in Ninotsminda decreased from 3,830 to 3,165. By the mid-1990s about 1,400 Dukhobors remained in Georgia, about 50 of them in Dmanisi.

Already by the early 1990s the Dukhobors had become minorities in seven of their eight original villages. In 1997 there was another wave of migration from Javakheti. Lyuba Goncharova, the new chairperson of the Gorelovka kolkhoz, arranged a resettlement of around 300 people to Bryanskiy oblast. By the end of the decade, the Russians were now a minority in seven of the eight Dukhobor villages. Gradually the ratio of Dukhobors in Gorelovka also changed from an absolute majority to a situation where the Armenian population is now larger. Today there are about 504 Dukhobors, 551 Armenians and 31 Georgians in Gorelovka.

The agricultural cooperative “Dukhoborets” which was established after the fall of communism in Gorelovka village on the remains of an old kolkhoz, provides the Gorelovka Dukhobors with a sense of collective security. The cooperative is weak and not very profitable, but still provides a small income to most of the remaining Dukhobor families in Gorelovka. It also functions as a social security institution for the entire community of Dukhobors. As one of the leading Dukhobors explains, the credo of the cooperative is “to help the Dukhobor community”.

In 1997 the cooperative was one of the biggest agricultural unions in the region. At present the cooperative has one major challenge: the “Dukhoborets” land lease contract is being disputed by the local authorities. In 2002, then gamgebeli Rafik Arzumanyan signed a lease contract with the Dukhoborets cooperative in Gorelovka. According to the contract the cooperative leases 4,290 ha of the original 7,700 ha that made up the Soviet kolkhoz. However, this contract is now disputed by the current gamgebeli, who claims that the Dukhoborets contract falls short of both the initial lease decision made by the gamgeoba (Georgian for “village council”) and a proper map delineating exactly which lands are being leased. The contract also lacks the proper signature of the Public Registrar and a registration number from the Public Registry. Dukhoborets representatives claim, however, that none of these mistakes can be blamed on the cooperative – rather, they fall under the concept of ‘administrative trust’, meaning that the responsibility for creating a legal lease document lies with the authorities and not with a private person or entity.

Sirotsky Dom building in Gorelovka village, Georgia.  GeorgiaToday.

If the cooperative closes or the land lease contract is not acknowledged by the local gamgeoba, most Dukhobors in Gorelovka are likely to give up the fight to continue living in Gorelovka and leave for Russia. Already many of them are applying for Russian citizenship. If the cooperative continues to function, however, it could be a better choice for the Dukhobors to stay, since they are provided with income and still have a collective point of security.

The European Center for Minority Issues (ECMI) is assisting the Dukhobor community in their relations with the local government and helping them to maintain their cultural heritage and present living place. As the total number of Dukhobors in Georgia has decreased to 700, another wave of emigration will lead to the loss of this minority from Georgia. To help resolve the legal problems of the Dukhobor community, ECMI in cooperation with other organizations is trying to convince local and state authorities of the importance of the Dukhobors issue. For now, with no specific actions taken either at the state or local level, the fate of the Dukhobors in Georgia remains an unknown.

Notes

For a thorough and comprehensive examination of the issue of land ownership and inter-ethnic relations among the Doukhobors, Armenians and Georgians of Ninotsminda rayon (district), in the Samtskhe-Javakheti region of Georgia, see Hedvig Lohm’s study, Doukhobors in Georgia.

Since the writing of this article, the remaining Doukhobors in Georgia have chosen to resettle to Russia as part of President Putin’s highly-publicized repatriation scheme. Arrangements are being made for their resettlement to the village of Maly Snezhetok in Tambov province, Russia. For more about the resettlement, see the articles Georgian Doukhobors Relocate to Tambov, Russia and More Georgian Doukhobors Move to Tambov by Jonathan J. Kalmakoff and also The Doukhobors in Malyi Snezhetok by Evgeny Pisarev.

A Message to Relatives

by Alexei N. Chernoff

Towards the end of his life, Doukhobor Alexei Nikolayevich Chernoff (1877-1967) set to writing his experiences as a young military reservist during the “Burning of Arms” in Russia 1895. Reproduced by permission from the pages of “The Brothers Chernoff from Azerbaijan to Canada” (Winnipeg: December 1992) this article is a wonderful example of our rich Doukhobor oral tradition, now preserved in writing for future generations. Translated by Fred J. Chernoff.

I, Alexei Nikolayevich Chernoff, had the desire to write to my relatives about our past, that part that is still in my memory. My parents were Nikolai Timofeyevich and Anna Semenovna Chernov. My mother’s family were the Popovs. In our family there were six sons: Aliosha (Alexei), Mikola (Nikolai), Vanya (Ivan), Fedya (Feodor), Misha (Mikhail) and Andrusha (Andrei). The parents were neither poor or rich. Their occupation was with farmland and they owned cattle, horses, sheep, chickens, geese and ducks – all in small numbers. There also lived with us two brothers of my father whose names were Danilushka (Danila) and Mikisha (Mikifor). My father Nikolai was the eldest brother. In total there were 23 people living together and all ate at one table. At first we lived well and were happy. This was in Russia, the Caucasus, the village of Slavyanka in the Elizavetpol province (present-day Republic of Azerbaijan).

Alexei Nikolaevich Chernoff (1877-1967)

As children we grew up and soon started to help our parents with the work. When I reached the age of 17, my parents decided to marry me off. They had arranged for the daughter of a rich family by the name of Verigin, whose name was Paranya (Praskovia) Nikolayevna. Both of our families were happy about this arrangement. Our lives became happy and joyful. This happened shortly after the death of the former leader of the Doukhobors, Lushechka (Lukeria) Kalmykova. Her place was taken by Peter Vasilyevich Verigin. Not all the Doukhobors accepted him as the new leader. In opposition a group emerged and began to pass information to the government. Peter Verigin was arrested, tried and exiled to Siberia.

At this time, the young men from 21 of age were called by the government for service in the army, and because of an error by my parents, I was one of the people called. I was given a (reserve) document indicating that I had to appear to serve when it was my turn. This came at the time the Doukhobors started to refuse service in the army. As I was not yet 21 years of age, by law I should not be called into the service. During the last census, believing that they would save me from the army, my parents had added 3 years to my age. Because of this entry in the census, I was now called into the military service. My father appealed to the military command to nullify the call. The officer in command asked if there were any records of the birth of your son. My father answered no. The officer then replied that, the order to serve cannot be nullified, but he added not be afraid that he would not be called for the time being. This is how the matter ended. They didn’t take me into the army, but my name was left on the list for future call.

In 1895, a call came from Siberia from Peter V. Verigin, that the Doukhobors show by action their opposition to service in the army. He ordered all of his followers to burn their arms and guns. The men who were drafted for service went to the officials and turned in their call papers. They informed the officials that they will no longer serve in the army.

On June 29, 1895 was the celebration of Peters Day. On the night before, the Doukhobors secretly collected all of their guns and burned them. This stirred up the government officials, and they started an investigation as to why this burning occurred. Next morning another event furthur antagonized the government officials against the Doukhobors. The young draftees started to hand in their call papers and advised that they will no longer take part in serving in the army. I too, went to turn in my papers, along with 60 other draftees. We were all arrested and placed in jail cells. Our parents were also arrested for influencing the young men. Without giving us an opportunity for a farewell, we were marched to Elizavetpolski prison. That ended our happy life. My dear relatives, it was difficult to part with our family – my mother, my 5 brothers, and my dear wife and son Nikolai. I was young, and God gave me strength to bear this sorrow. My father and I stayed in jail for 5 months. Then along with others we were sent to Kozakh prison. Our parents, the older people were sent to Siberia. Part of their trip was by water and here my father got sick. The ship doctor was unable to help him. Upon landing he was sent to hospital where he passed away. The date was August 17, 1895. He had nobody with him when he died and the news of his passing did not reach us for 6 months.

In Kozakh prison were 65 draftees who had refused to serve and had turned in their papers. In prison, life was not all that bad. We were allowed to exercise, sing and pray to God. They gave us a kitchen, and we had 2 cooks amongst us to board ourselves. Life went well. One thing that bothered us was fever, as the climate was favorable to this illness. Everyone was sick from this except myself. We stayed in that prison for about a year and one-half. 

In August 1897, the government decided to send us to the Yerevan region to settle among the Tartars. We notified our relatives that we were being exiled. Our relatives came to a meeting in prison, and the government permitted this. We were glad to see them and they were glad to see us. After the first meeting, we were allowed to meet with them the next day. Soon after, we were all counted, put into a convoy and started on our journey. We called to our people for the last time a good-bye and to forgive us. We marched to Yerevan over a 7 day period. In the month of August, the weather was warm and dry and we thanked God that we reached our destination safely. Nobody was sick on the way. Again we were imprisoned, and due to the lack of room inside, we were kept outside of the prison. They allowed us our own kitchen and gave all that we required. They kept us here for 12 days. Here some of our comrades were distributed to the Tartar villages and the rest of us, about 13 people, were sent further to Nakhichevan. 

Again, we were marched through the valleys of the Caucasian mountains for 5 days. On the way, we were given time to rest. The valleys were very hot and the people in this area raised fruit. I was attracted by grapes growing so I picked a bunch and ate them. Shortly after I became sick and became cold and shivering. It appeared that I had the same malaria fever that attacked the other comrades. Every day at the same time I got the shivers. We reached Nakhichevan and were distributed 2 to a village. My partner was Nikolai Fedorovich Salykin. He was much older than myself and had already served in the army. But he was in prison because he turned in his military service papers. Because he was older than myself, he took advantage of me and made me serve him. The village was known a Karabahli. It was a large village and the people were kind and courteous. They provided a well lit room and slowly we got used to our surroundings. We knew their language and soon found a job cutting hay. They paid us a fair wage and did not mistreat us. Their women baked us bread which was very tasty. Here we lived for a year.

One day a Russian doctor visited our village, and I turned to him with my illness. He examined me and told me to appear at the hospital in his village. He ordered that I be released with a guard. We walked 50 verst (kilometers). There he gave me a mixture of quinine and shortly thereafter the fever left me completely. I got well, but the doctor kept me there for 2 weeks. In that time I helped in the house and looked after his little girl. The doctor asked me to stay with him, but I refused and went back to my friends. 

Shortly thereafter, our relatives decided to visit us. My Uncle Danilushka decided to ride horseback to our place and invited a Tartar to accompany him. I was very glad to see my Uncle Danilushka. He passed regards from my family, told me how they lived and how they had safely traveled to see me. Thank God. After supper my friend Salykin decided to invite a town official. The official came and with him were 2 policemen. He asked my Uncle whether he had a permit to travel. At that time, every person had to have permission to travel from one place to another in Russia. Danilushka did not have such a permit. The official did not say anything and went back to his room. Shortly thereafter, the official arrested our guest Danilushka and took him away. Next morning, he and his friend were marched to Nakhichevan prison. The horses were left with us. This is how my Uncle visited me at this time. I wondered what to do with the horses and discussed this with a regional official. He sent me to the prison where my Uncle was held and he requested that they not be sold. He wanted them sent back to his village. This request was sent back to the official who became irrate, and sent me to see someone else with authority. An order was given that the horses be given to the local villagers. Nobody wanted them, so I kept the horses. Feed was obtained for the horses till my Uncle Mikisha came and took them away. Later my Uncle Danilushka and his friend had walked back to their village from which they came. All this we lived through. The people here were good, gave us feed for the horses, and helped us in many ways.

In 1899 we were freed. We hired a Molokan, and he drove us to the station Astafoo. By this time we joined a group who were migrating to Canada and were on their way to Batum. Our relatives were already at Batum, and met us after 3 years of separation. I cannot describe this meeting. My mother especially, thanked God that her son Aliosha came back safe and sound. My relatives kissed me and could not believe that I was their Aliosha.

On February 16, 1899 we started boarding the ship. The passage across the ocean was difficult. The ocean was rough but we reached Canada, at Halifax, on the 9th day of March, 1899. We unloaded on a large (quarantine) island. There they gave us a bath and vaccinated us. We stayed there several days, boarded a ship and reached St. John. Here we were loaded onto a train and sent west to Manitoba – Winnipeg, Selkirk and Brandon – where they had places for us. It was still winter and there was a lot of snow. After a while, we were sent to Yorkton, Saskatchewan and from there we went by sleigh to the village of Verovka where they had built long barns. In these barns we spent the remainder of the winter. Spring came and the warm weather with it. Then they started to sort families, who would want to live in the same villages. Everyone was organized into villages and our village was Sovetnoye. It was north-west of the village of Veregin. Here we started our Canadian life.

Doukhobor Village in Saskatchewan, 1902

At this time we had no farming facilities and just set up tents in the middle of the field. The stronger men were sent out to look for jobs and the older men and women began building. They dug and started building sod houses. They were plastered inside and dried outside so to be livable. This was in 1899. Towards fall the workers started coming home and had a place to winter. We had a lot of wood for fuel and wintered well. In the spring we started to get ready to look for work again. Some stayed home to improve the facilities. By then, the village had one horse and several cows, so we had milk for the children. This was 1900. We started planting gardens and getting ready for the next winter. We started to accumulate the necessary equipment, plowing the land and seeding oats. The crops were very good and the times were getting better. We all lived in a commune and had a happy life. I was elected senior in our village and had control of the money. 

In 1902, near Christmas, Peter “Lordly” Verigin came to Canada. All Doukhobors were glad of his coming. He visited the villages and met everyone. He advised the people to live a communal life and nearly everyone took his advice. He started to buy cattle and horses and allocated them among the villages. After some time in the communities, a misunderstanding arose with the Canadian government regarding the registration of land ownership and taking the oath of allegiance. Then, Peter Verigin decided to move some Doukhobors to British Columbia. Land was purchased for orchards, and nearly all of the people of the community were transplanted to British Columbia. Our family, the Chernoffs, including the 6 brothers and my 2 sons, stayed on the Khutor ranch near the town of Veregin. The ranch had been well stocked with cattle and horses and the animals were worth a lot of money. Peter Verigin delegated the Chernoffs to look after this property. My brother Nikolai was a tabunchik (“horse trainer”) and I was delegated to look after the stallions. The rest of the brothers looked after the land and planted the grain. The grain amounted to over 30,000 bushels. In the winter we looked after the livestock. We lived under the leadership of Peter “Lordly” Verigin for twelve years, up until the time of his death. He always favored us and was kind.

During October 1927, the other Verigin arrived. The Doukhobors were glad of his coming and soon he started to change procedures and practices. We started to live according to his plans and what he wanted. The time passed and then, he too died. After that, the whole community broke apart. Everyone started to live independently and that’s the way it is now. However, there are a group who are organized under the name of the Union of Christian Communities of Christ.

Dear relatives, the time is fleeing and the memory of relatives and friends is disappearing. My mother died in 1934, and my wife Paranya died in 1950. I myself am 87 years old and nearing the end of my life. I have decided to leave my remembrance of our previous life, and how and why we came to Canada. My sincere desire is that you live in a Doukhobor society and carry out all of the teachings for the well being of ourselves and future offspring. Guard all the time our Doukhobor faith.

Your Father, Grandfather, Great Grandfather, Your Brother and Your Uncle,

Alexei Nikolayevich Chernoff
Veregin, Saskatchewan
September 12, 1964

My Doukhobor Ancestors

by Evgenia Kabatova

Evgenia Kabatova is a Doukhobor schoolgirl at the No. 8 Grammar School in Volgograd, Russia. Her excellent article examines the Doukhobor movement in Russia, the history of the Kabatov family and Doukhobor traditions, past and present. Reproduced from Pervoe Sentyabrya magazine (No. 26, August 12, 1999). Translated by Jonathan Kalmakoff.

In our family, the memory of our family history remains carefully preserved. Father and mother’s stories and grandmother’s memoirs have inspired me to commence a study of the history of Kabatov family and to draw up our family tree. Over the course of two years, I attended the “My Family Tree” section of the Volgograd Children’s Youth Centre. Thanks to the knowledge and skills received there, a genealogical book was begun by my elder sister Tatiana and continued by myself. It consists of the story of the Kabatov history, the life of my family, photos and memoirs of loved ones. A genealogical family tree was created and a genealogical dictionary compiled. The subject of the following work is the history of the Dukhobor movement in Russia in connection with the history of my family. 

The Kabatov family belonged to the Dukhobors (Dukhobortsy) as members of one of the largest Russian religious sects which arose in the 18th century. In Soviet times, the literature devoted to the history of this movement, to Dukhobor views and beliefs, was almost absent. Information on this sect was limited to the information in the encyclopaedic dictionary or Atheist Dictionary. The most complete, realistic and revealing histories of the Dukhobors are the books of I.A. Malakhova and N.M. Nikol’skii. In spite of the fact that these books consider the issue of Russian sectarianism from an atheistic perspective, the material collected by the authors promotes the study of the origins of the Doukhobor movement and the history of the sect’s relations with authorities.

The position of believers in modern times is told in newspaper and journal articles, which our family collect and carefully preserve.

The basic source from which it is possible to find out about Dukhobor beliefs is the Living Book (Book of Life). It consists of questions and answers, psalms, verses, incantations and spells which to this day occur among the Dukhobors – it is a source of their belief. 

A copy of this book is kept at my grandmother’s in the distant village Slavyanka in Azerbaijan republic as a family relic. I was able to get acquainted with the text thanks to my father, Vasily Fedorovich Kabatov, who wrote out the basic provisions in a copy-book and exported them to Russia, and who also made a videofilm about Dukhobor life in Transcaucasia. 

The Dukhobor Movement in Russia

The origin of Dukhoborism relates to the last quarter of the 18th century. The first Dukhobors appeared in Ekaterinoslav province among the Cossack population which was ruined and constrained by distributions of Ukrainian Cossack lands to landowners. Soon this movement spread among the state peasants, odnodvortsy and small merchants of Ryazan, Samara, Astrakhan, Voronezh, Penza, Kharkov and other provinces of the Russian Empire. 

The followers of the sect considered themselves “wrestlers for the spirit”. They asserted that “the spirit of God also serves as the spirit of vigilance”. Hence their name. 

The basis of Dukhobor dogma lay in Christian principles relating to notions about the after-life and salvation. According to Dukhobor doctrine, the official Orthodox Church with its ceremonialism and pompous services is detrimental to spiritual belief and is perishable rather than eternal: “priests are an invention of people so that it is easier to live”. The Dukhobors did not recognize communion with bread and wine, comparing this ritual to the reception of ordinary food “giving nothing good to the soul”. They rejected icons, sacraments, ceremonies, priests and monks, reckoning them superfluous. 

Dukhobors typically assert that it is not the Bible – a source of sacred precepts and instructions – but the “words” of Dukhobor leaders, psalms and the records collected by them in the Living Book that constitutes Dukhoborism. 

The Dukhobor dogma defines their attitude towards the most various questions: to politics, war, nationalism and economic systems. Referring to Christ, believers assert that all people are children of one father, God, and are therefore brothers among themselves. Therefore Doukhobors count all people, irrespective of race, nationality and creed as equal, having identical rights to life and earthly blessings. 

From the very beginning, authorities received the new movement with hostility. Dukhobors were banished to settlements in Siberia, sent to penal servitude and to obedience in monasteries 

Dukhobor resistance occured in the form of petitions and complaints to government bodies. The “Dukhobor Confession” serves as an example of this. The Dukhobors sent this justificatory declaration to the governor of Ekaterinoslav. The confession stated Dukhobor belief, demonstrating the absence in their religious views of ideas undermining the foundation of the state. The authors of the petition sought to convince authorities that it was necessary to look upon their deeds as primarily spiritual, concerned only with the salvation of the soul. In reply to this application, the petitioners were banished to Siberia. 

Thus right from the beginning, the Dukhobor movement has underwent persecutions and reprisals. A vast number of communities were broken up and Doukhobors turned into exiles and convicts. 

In 1801, the manifest of Alexander I granted amnesty to those suffering for religious belief. And in 1802 an imperial decree was issued according to which lands on the Molochnaya River in the Melitopol district of Tavria province, the so-called Milky Waters, were allocated for Dukhobor settlement. Here believers from Ekaterinoslav, Kharkov, Ryazan and other provinces and from exile were settled. Dukhobors were given 15 desyatin of land, exempted from taxation for five years and given a hundred roubles travel expenses per family. 

For many years the economy of Milky Waters achieved tremendous successes. Horse breeding and sheep breeding developed, fulling mills and weaver’s linen workshops were constructed and record yields of grains and vegetables were harvested. By 1830, there were 9 large villages at Milky Waters with approximately 4000 inhabitants holding 49,235 desyatin of land. 

Evgenia Kabatova in traditional Dukhobor dress.

In the late 1830’s and early 1840’s a new wave of persecutions began. The Dukhobors were declared an “especially harmful sect”. In 1841 under the decree of Emperor Nikolai I, the Dukhobors were exiled to the uninhabited lands of Transcaucasia. Over 4,000 Dukhobors were deported and resettled on lands in the Akalkhalak and Elizavetpol districts of Tiflis province. There Russian villages were established: Slavyanka, Gorelovka, Orlovka, Kalinino, Spasovka and others. 

It was necessary to be equipped for the hardest conditions: stony mountain ground, spring and early autumn frosts, lack of water and constant attacks by Turkish and mountain tribes. In spite of this, the hardworking Dukhobors were able to quickly acclimatize to the unfamiliar environment and soon their villages were distinguished by their prosperity from the surrounding local villages. The Doukhobors lived more prosperously than the peasants of Central Russia. 

In 1887, universal compulsory military service was introduced in the Caucasus. Many Dukhobors who adhered to the principles of nonviolence were compelled to renounce their beliefs and obey civil laws. Not all obeyed, however. In 1895, as a protest demonstration against military service the Doukhobors publicly burned all the weapons in their possesion.

The reprisals against the Dukhobors were severe. Cossacks were sent to suppress the “revolt”. People were lashed and beaten, whole families were exiled from Dukhobor villages and settled in other districts of Tiflis province – without land and without the right to associate among themselves. 

Lev Nikolaevich Tolstoy rose up in defence of the Dukhobors. Thanks to his articles, the world found out about the fate of the exiles. The great Russian writer dedicated the proceeds of his novel “Resurrection” to assist the Dukhobors and organized a fund to support the movement through which resources from different countries were chanelled. However, the Dukhobors’ position remained difficult and uncertain. 

The act of the Burning of Arms on June 29, 1895 has remained an unforgettable feat in people’s memory. In 1959, the Canadian Dukhobor magazine ISKRA published a list of names of believers who were thrown in prisons for refusal of military service. 

However, after the reprisals which befell them the Dukhobors continued to place their hope in God and on imperial favour which was requested in the most august name in numerous circulations. And only after repeated failures to reply to their request and further persecution by authorities did members of the sect reach the extreme decision to go abroad. The new motherland for the majority of Dukhobors became Canada. With the funds collected by L.N. Tolstoy, four steamships were chartered on which more than seven and a half of thousand Dukhobors sailed to Canada. 

However, not all left. A portion of the believers remained in Transcaucasia. Considerable difficulties fell on their shoulders. 

The Revolution, with its slogans of equality and brotherhood, did not accept sectarians even though the Dukhobors were regarded as the first founders of communistic economy in Russia, long before the origin of Marxism. The new authority did not like the Dukhobors’ independence and their prosperity based on great diligence, technology and emulation of German colonists. 

For refusing to participate in collectivization, the Dukhobors had their cattle and grain taken away and their property requisitioned. Dissatisfied families were exiled to Siberia and Kazakhstan. In the terrible years of repression, a large number of Dukhobors were arrested and dissapeared in the gulags. 

Yet still it could not break the Dukhobors. They continued to live, work and hope for a happy future. Among the Dukhobors were many heroes in the Great Patriotic War who renounced their principles in the name of protecting the motherland. They were awarded on account of their worthy efforts. 

In recent times, the Soviet press practically made no mention of Dukhobor life, even though they invariably achieved unknown economic successes. In the manufacture of milk, butter and cheese, only the Baltic could compete with the Dukhobor economy in the whole USSR. 

Years of persecutions, reprisals and exiles could not destroy the Dukhobors’ belief in kindness, justice, fairness and decency. It was their salvation in difficult times. 

My family, the Kabatov family, underwent all the difficulties that befell the Dukhobors and has passed a long and thorny way. 

A History of My Ancestors

The origins of the Kabatov family are lost in the depths of Russian history. It is known that my ancestors were natives of Central Russia. The Kabatovs appeared among the adherents of the Dukhobor movement exiled from Russia under the decree of Emperor Nikolai I in 1841. My ancestors were one of the founders of the Russian settlement of Slavyanka in the Elizavetpol district of the Transcaucasus. 

Nowadays this large settlement is several kilometers from the regional centre of Kedabek in the Republic of Azerbaijan. A mountain resort area has been created around the village. The vicinity of Slavyanka is presently an empire of botanical gardens, vineyards, market gardens, millet and potato fields and apiaries. In many places in the immediate area, mineral springs with medicinal properties flow from underground.

However, in the middle of the 19th century, this district represented a fruitless desert. The stony ground seemed unsuitable for cultivation. Yet thanks to the colonists’ diligence it was possible to transform a mountain plateau into a blossoming paradise. 

As was already mentioned, following the introduction of universal compulsory military service in the Caucasus, the Dukhobors resolved not to bear arms. In 1895 as a protest demonstration against military service, the inhabitants of Slavyanka performed the act of the Burning of Arms. My great-great-grandfather Petro Semenovich Kabatov and the inhabitants of Slavyanka led by Kuzma Tarasov, one of the leaders of the Dukhobor movement, took part in this event. Firearms and cold steel were carried by horse-drawn cart, dumped in a heap, stacked with firewood, doused with kerosene and set ablaze. The people stood facing the fire, singing psalms. They believed they had achieved a worthy cause. 

This fire was necessary. It swept away death, war and conflict. Faith and conscience made these people the first pacifists in the land. Faith that it is possible to live without killing each other, and a readiness to live according to conscience, doing everything to prevent war and violence. 

After the reprisals, many Dukhobors abandoned their accustomed surroundings and left for Canada in 1899. Those that remained hoped for the favour and indulgence of the new emperor – Nikolai II. However, their hopes did not come true – persecution and reprisals against the strong-spirited, freedom-loving Dukhobors continued. 

At the beginning of the 20th century Russia, not having had time to recover from the 1905 Revolution and war with Japan, began to make preparations for a new war against Germany. The Dukhobors steadfastly objected to these escalating events. And a number of them – basically the inhabitants of Slavyanka village including my great-great-grandfather and family – resolved upon a desperate measure. In the early spring of 1912, they left their accustomed surroundings and journeyed to their fellow countrymen and spiritual brethren in far-off Canada. 

At that time, Petro Semenovich and Tatiana Ivanovna Kabatov (my great-great-grandmother) had four children: Pavel, Grigory, Mikhailo and Nikolai. 

Upon their arrival in the new country, the Kabatovs settled in the area of Prince Albert, Saskatchewan and were established in no time as Petro Semenovich was a hereditary smith, and the work of a smith in the countryside is always necessary. Within a year a fifth son, Vasily, was born to my great-great-grandparents. 

However, the Dukhobors’ quiet life did not last for long because the Government of Canada chose to relocate them on uninhabited western lands (Note: this may be a reference to the closing of Dukhobor village reserves by the Government of Canada). Tired of wandering on the land and yearning for their motherland, in 1914 the Kabatov family returned by its own means to Slavyanka.

How they were met in the motherland? As always, with difficulties. However, they had become used to starting anew – it was not the first time they grew new roots. 

The Kabatovs always adhered to the Dukhobor principle of “Toil and Peaceful Life”. The Dukhobors explain it as so: “to work, to earn one’s livelihood, to not enslave another and to not use one’s work to satisfy avidity and greed. To be content with little and what is necessary for bodily livelihood, sharing with others not only the surplus, but also what is necessary”. The Kabatovs were never afraid to work – that is why the land generously provided for them. 

My great-great-grandfather Petro Semenovich Kabatov died in 1925. My great-great-grandmother Tatiana lived to 98 years and died in 1978 in the village of Slavyanka. There their remains are buried. 

My great-grandfather Pavel Petrovich Kabatov was born in the village of Slavyanka in 1898. Like all Kabatovs, he was distinguished by a strong constitution and cheerful character. He was an exceptional smith. Till now the ramrods made by him are kept in our family. On the handle of each one is his name brand. They say that great-grandfather played the guitar and accordion well. 

In 1920, Pavel Petrovich married Maria Fedorovna Khudyakova. Great-grandmother was literate, she completed four classes at the Tiflis women’s grammar school. Maria Fedorovna was distinguished by her diligence, efficiency and kind nature. 

While Pavel Petrovich refused to directly participate in the Civil War, it placed a heavy burden on the shoulders of the family. The constant change of authorities resulted in the ruin of the peaceful country economy. In these foregone conditions, Pavel Petrovich organized forces for self-defense which courageously protected their native village from Midzhit detachments. Then regular units of the Red army crushed this group. 

In 1940, Pavel Petrovich was subjected to repression. The reason for the arrest is unknown till today. There are only piecemeal accounts of this tragedy. He was a great friend of the German colonists living in neighbouring villages. The Germans frequently asked Pavel Petrovich to assist in repairing agricultural machines and radio equipment. Such friendship seemed suspicious to local observers of the regime. Under Stalin’s order, the German population was removed from Transcaucasia and Pavel Petrovich was arrested. It took place in 1940 and in 1941 state papers arrived with the message of his death. 

The eldest son of Pavel Petrovich and Maria Fedorovna, Feodor Kabatov, was born in 1921 in the village of Slavyanka. He was my grandfather. Almost his entire life he worked as a driver in the collective farm “Il’ich Way”. 

Grandfather was very kind, caring and attentive to all. He placed great value in the education and formal training of his children. Grandfather imparted a love of engineering to each of his three sons – Pavel, Vasily and Ivan. From childhood, he accustomed them to physical and to mental work. 

In his free time, Feodor Pavlovich enjoyed reading military literature. His favourite book was G.K. Zhukov’s autobiography “Memoirs and Reflections”. In the evenings, grandfather would tell the children how he participated in the Great Patrotic War. 

War found Feodor Pavlovich in the army. In 1941, his artillery battalion was stationed in Ukraine where their military unit was encircled. Breaking out of the encirclement, grandfather found himself in occupied territory. For some time he hid among the local population, working as a smith. Then he began to make his way to the front. At the front line he was wounded and hospitalized. After recovering he found his unit and with it reached Berlin. Feodor Pavlovich participated in battles in Poland near Konigsberg. He completed the war in Germany. He was awarded with medals. 

Feodor Pavlovich had many friends of different nationalities. He easily mastered the Azerbaijan, Armenian and Georgian languages. Grandfather died in 1978. Unfortunately, I know him only from the stories of relatives. 

Doukhobor village in the Caucasus.

However, I know and love my grandmother very much – Fedosia Nikiforovna Kabatova. She is an amazing person. Now we see her seldom, as conditions in the Caucasus are very complicated. But earlier, my sister and I spent our summer vacations at grandmother’s in Slavyanka. It was an unforgettable time, the impressions of which remain for life. I remember how we impatiently waited for summer to go to our beloved grandmother. Every day that was spent in Slavyanka was interesting. 

She always had rabbits when I came. 

And what pies at grandmother’s! She baked them from ancient recipes in the Russian oven.

I remember how every evening I fell asleep to grandmother’s fairy tales. She did not read then in books, but heard them a long time ago from her mother and now told them to us, her grandchildren.

My grandmother is a very kind and sympathetic person. Besides this, she is a highly skilled craftsperson – thanks to her I learned to knit. Grandmother has worked her entire life as a teacher of geography at school. And though she has long since reached pension age, she has not retired and works to this day. 

There are presently few who may boast of knowledge of their family tree. That I know much about my relatives, I am grateful to my father. For some time he has been engaged in drafting and studying our family tree, and it is not an simple task. 

He was born in the village of Slavyanka in 1957. After completing high school, he arrived in Volgograd where in 1979 he successfully graduated from the Volgograd Polytechnical Institute, having received a degree in mechanical engineering. 

Daddy – the great conversationalist. It is always interesting to converse with him – he has seen much, was in all areas of our immense motherland as well as foreign countries. Thanks to him I too have travelled alot – I have been to Moscow, Saint Petersburg, the Caucasus, Stavropol, the Black Sea and twice to Turkey on the coast of the Mediterranean Sea. 

My daddy – the inveterate mushroom picker and hunter. Every autumn we go to the woods where we spend unforgettable hours in harmony with nature. My father has achieved much in life but this is a priority. He has managed to open a business, and it requires great strength and persistence. 

Speaking of father, I should talk about my mom – Elena Petrovna Fokinoy. She was born in 1956 in Stalingrad. Mom, as well as daddy, was trained at the Volgograd Polytechnical Institute and has a degree in engineering-economics. My mom is a very kind, beautiful, sympathetic and caring woman. My sister Tanya (she is a second year student at Volgograd State University) and I feel this towards ourselves. 

Dukhobor Traditions: Past and Present

In our family some Dukhobor traditions are still kept. Regarding rites, many Dukhobors today observe only weddings and funerals. 

The atire in which my grandmother invited her girlfriends to the wedding in May 1949 is kept till today. At my request, she has described the wedding ceremony in detail. 

On the day prior to the wedding, the bride must invite her relatives or girlfriends. On the day of the wedding, between the hours of eleven and twelve, matchmakers on behalf of the groom go by horse and cart to the bride’s home carrying a barrel of wine (100 litres) and a keg of vodka (about 20 litres). At this time, attired maidens join hands and together with the bride go down the streets inviting the youth. Another attired messenger rides on horseback and invites other guests. 

The guests gather for dinner, dine and make merry. In the evening, the bride’s dowry is loaded on a cart. The bride, groom and youth sit down and carry the dowry to the home of the groom. The guests of the bride and groom follow on foot. They have supper and then disperse to their homes. The following day, everyone relaxes at home. At dinnertime, a party leaves from the home of the bride with an accordion – for the bride. They arrive at the house of the groom with songs, give greetings, dance and together with the bride and groom return to the home of the bride. There they have dinner together with the guests of the bride, make merry, have supper and carry the bride back to the home of the groom. 

It is a beautiful wedding ceremony which, of course, has substantially changed and altered over time. Dukhobor weddings are distinguished by their beauty, musicality and character. Beautiful songs resound. In some wedding songs the cult of the earth-mother is proclaimed. The Earth gives life and food – on her people are born, grow and have families. The groom thus speaks: 

I am taking a soul-girl as my wife.
I will love you, my sweet dove.
We shall live as one happy family.
Our native land will be able to feed us.
We shall not dare to hurt it.

In my family, all the women were good mistresses and skilled craftspersons. From long ago such verses were preserved: 

Our pies are a beauty.
Who tastes them say they are delicious.
It is impossible to describe, what goes into them at baking.
Particularly if you spread some sour cream over them.

It was (and is till now) a tradition to bake soroki. Thus grandmother liked to sing such verses: 

As soroki bake in the oven,
Little children gather under the window.
They are so beautiful, good-smelling and airy.
Put it in hand, then in the mouth, it’s very tasty.

Soroki are rolls made in the form of a flying bird. In one out of forty a coin is put. The one who receives it is considered lucky. In the future, they can expect good luck in all undertakings. 

All in the family love to sing. The Doukhobors sing in a capella chorus. They have beautiful voices and in songs, words full of feeling. It is not known who wrote the songs, but they were generally known by all – from youngest to eldest. Here is a passage from one: 

The soul of a person aspires towards peace, 
The strong heart castigate war, 
In peace we are devoted forever. 
We see only one purpose in peace. 

By the way, coming back to the wedding ceremony which is considered among the Dukhobors one of the most important, it is necessary to discuss wedding songs. They were not as melancholy as is typical in Russia. The songs little resemble lamentations, rather they resemble vows or wishes:

How my soul, oh my beauty, 
Is glad and exalted at seeing you.
And we won’t be now one without the other.
We shall live together in peace and accord.

My great-grandfather sang this song to my great-grandmother. And to him she replied: 

I have fallen in love with you, brave dear,
And I’m giving you my youth.
I will be your truthful and caring wife,
And our family will always be happy.

I do not know how my great-grandfather and great-grandmother got acquainted. Most likely they knew each other for a long time, as they lived in the same village. 

Doukhobors honour the dead. Actually, in this they differ little from other people.

The funeral ceremony lasts two days. On the first day, borshch and then noodles are served. Everyone eats with wooden spoons. On the second day – chicken soup. Red wine and loaves roasted in vegetable oil are obligatory. All meals are prepared in cast iron vessels in the Russian oven. 

The mournful ceremony is laconic. However, it is accompanied by songs, more truly, psalms – devoted to the hundreds of victims of the persecutions, reprisals and wars at the end of the last century. An unknown poet devoted the following verses to them: 

Your grave is not among those graves, 
That the land here keeps in itself. 
Both keeps and will maintain for centuries, 
But you are terribly far from the motherland. 
Who will plant a tree, begin to sing a song? 
Where are you, uncared for? Where are you, unwarmed? 
Scattered, poor fellow, over the world. 

Today many traditions are forgotten. Our family tries to preserve those few that remain. Ceremonies, songs, stories, fairy tales, even ancient recipes of the Russian kitchen – these also are a memory and tribute to our ancestors. 

Bibliography

  • Bonch-Bruevich V.D. The Living Book of the Doukhobors. (Geneva, 1901).
  • Bonch-Bruevich V.D. Sectarians and Old Believers in the First Half of the 19th Century. (Izbr. soch. T 1 M. 1959).
  • Kireev N. “The Dukhobor Belief and Love Did Not Disappear in Foreign Land” in The Russian Gazette (No. 27, 1994). 
  • Klibanov A.I. A History of Religious Sectarianism in Russia. (Moscow: 1965).
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