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.
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