Georgia: The Last Collective Farm

p>by Olesya Vartanian

Already under pressure from their Armenian and Georgian neighbors, land reform may be the last straw for Georgia’s Doukhobor community as their collective farm – the only one in Georgia left over from Soviet times – is broken up.  The following article by Olesya Vartanian, foreign correspondent in Gorelovka, Georgia, originally appeared in the Caucasus Reporting Service produced by the Institute for War and Peace Reporting, www.iwpr.net. Reproduced by permission.

It is only six in the morning, but there is already a commotion outside the house of tractor driver Oleg. Amid angry shouts and obscenities, local residents are vying to be the first to get his three-strong crew and old machinery to mow the hay on their plots.

“They are all flocking in and all of them want to have their hay mown immediately,” grumbles Oleg. “We are working at night too, but we still have no time to please everyone.”

This harvest-time rush is something new for the Russian village of Gorelovka in Georgia’s southern Samtskhe-Javakheti region, near the border with Armenia.

It is a result of the land reform, which started in Georgia in 1992, but reached Gorelovka only this summer. Previously, the farm organized all the mowing — now farmers have to arrange everything themselves and good tractor drivers have more work than they can cope with.

Only after the haymaking had begun did villagers find out they were entitled to land of their own. However, the news upset many villagers, who don’t want to see their collective farm – the only one in Georgia left over from Soviet times – broken up.

Gorelovka is home to a community of Dukhobors, ethnic Russians practicing a rare form of Orthodox Christianity, who were exiled from Russia to the Caucasus in the middle of the 19th century for their pacifist views and doctrinal beliefs.

Fifteen years ago Dukhobors lived in eight villages in this region, but today their community, once nearly 7,000 strong, has shrunk to only a few hundred. (See Special Report: Last Days of the Georgian Doukhobors by Mark Grigorian).

Their Dukhoborets agricultural cooperative, which the Russians still call by its old Communist name, a collective farm, was founded by the Dukhobor community in 1997 to succeed Gorelovka’s Lenin collective farm. It remained faithful to traditions of Soviet-style collective farming.

Only Dukhobors could use the lands of the farm, even though ethnic Russians account for only half of Gorelovka’s population, with Armenians and Georgians forming the other half. Ethnic Armenians and Georgians, who came to live in the village in the Nineties, when Dukhobors started to leave, were not allowed to work in Dukhoborets but still had to buy hay for their cows from the farm.

As in Communist times, the collective farm provided each Dukhobor family with a small plot of land. The crops were divided up between the family and the cooperative, which was the only employer for the Russians and paid its workforce quite well by Georgian standards at around 150 laris (80 US dollars) a month.

The land distribution commission of the local administration has now started to hand out land around Gorelovka. This summer, they stripped the cooperative of almost 5,000 hectares, which was distributed among all the local Armenians, Russians and Georgians, leaving Dukhoborets with only 600 hectares.

“We gave between six and 15 hectares to each Dukhobor family,” said the head of the local administration Azat Yegoyan. “This is quite a lot for one family.”

The head of the land commission, Askanas Markosian, said no particular criteria had been applied when the plots were being distributed. Precedence was given to local farmers, “as they feed the state and have people working for them.”

Auctions will soon be held to sell off the rest of the land.

Most local officials see the collective farm as an unwanted remnant of Soviet times, which leaders of the Dukhobor community were exploiting skilfully to avoid sharing lands with migrant Armenians and Georgians.

But the Dukhobors have been reluctant to give up their common farm and few of them understand what it will mean to have private property.

Dukhobors say the farm is far more than an agricultural enterprise, but something that preserves their communal traditions.

“Since time immemorial Dukhobors have been living as a commune,” explained Lyubov Demina. “People here don’t want to readjust to a new way of life. All the other collective farms in the area were abolished, but we reorganised ours. We did this because we thought that we would live as long as our communal way of life did.”

Like all other Dukhobor families in Gorelovka, Olga Medvedeva’s family still lives in a small peasant’s hut that resembles a Russian 19th-century home. Whitewashed on the outside, the walls of the house are made of dung bricks. The light coming in through small windows rests on patterned embroideries, tapestries and a Russian stove that smells of smouldering coals.

Having washed her hands in the wash-stand, Olga cuts newly-baked bread and puts the generous slices on an old wooden table.

She said she worked milking cows in Gorelovka’s collective farm for 20 years. This year her family was given 10 hectares of land, around the same amount as they had from the collective farm.

“A lot of people used to work on the collective farm, and if a family had a milkmaid and tractor driver, it was a well-off,” she said with sadness in her voice.

Tatyana Chuchmayeva, head of the Dukhobor community, said that 470 local Dukhobors had sent applications to the Russian government to move to Russia. They are being promised free transport, housing and benefits for six months.

“Gorelovka’s Dukhobors are now waiting for the beginning of next year, when the State Duma will start considering resettlement projects from provinces, and then they will know exactly where they will be moved,” said Chuchmayeva.

Olga Medvedeva’s family is among the applicants for participation in the program.

“If everyone goes, I won’t stay here either,” she said. “But it will be a pity, because I’ve spent my whole life here.”

Spirit Wrestlers of Southern Russia

by Maria Kolesnikova

Not many hints remain of Doukhobor culture in Southern Russia. Persecuted in the past for their pacifist beliefs, modern Doukhobors search for an identity in the modern world. The following article by Dr. Maria Kolesnikova examines the Doukhobors of Tselina region, Rostov province as they struggle to maintain their faith, traditions, history and culture in twenty-first century Russia. Reproduced from “Russian Life” magazine ( Sept/Oct 2005).

Few in Russia remember the Doukhobors, the pacifist Russian Christian sect championed by Leo Tolstoy over a century ago. In fact, even the name Doukhobor evokes little reaction.

“It sounds funny. Perhaps it is an evil house spirit?” guessed Mikhail Grishin, 20, an engineering student in Rostov-on-Don. His grandmother, Maria Grishina, 80, a retired schoolteacher, does no better. “Doukhobor sounds like doushegub [murderer],” she said. Natalia Trifonova, a Rostov University professor, knows of the Doukhobors. “But they are all gone now,” she noted. “To find them you should go to Canada.

“In fact, the Doukhobors are not all gone. An estimated 40,000 still live in Russia and the countries of the former Soviet Union. About the same number live in Western Canada, and a few hundred live in the U.S., according to Koozma Tarasoff, a Canadian historian of the Doukhobors and author of 12 books and hundreds of articles about their culture. Scattered around Russia, Doukhobor populations are centered in the Tselina region in Rostov oblast, Cherns region in Tula oblast, near Blagoveshchensk in Amur oblast and the Mirnoye settlement near Bryansk.

Doukhobors (Doukhobory in Russian), literally means “spirit wrestlers.” It was a name bestowed on the sect — which had previously been known as Ikonobory (“icon fighters”) — by a Russian Orthodox Church priest (originally, the epithet was Doukhobortsy — “wrestlers against the Holy Spirit” — and intended as an insult, but the members of the sect changed it to the more positive Doukhobors, which implies a wrestling with the Holy Spirit). The sect has its roots in the 1650s, when Patriarch Nikon’s reforms of the Russian Orthodox Church led to the Raskol, the Great Schism. Some of the schismatics [raskolniks], called Popovtsi (“Priesters”) sought a return to pre-reform traditions, eventually giving way to the movement known as Old Believers. Others, called Bezpopovtsi (“priestless”), argued for dispensing entirely with priests. Some went further still, rejecting icons, sacraments, the divinity of Christ and even the Bible. They became precursors of the Doukhobors, who developed into a distinct religious group by the early 18th century.

Natalia Trofimenko, a Doukhobor who moved to Khlebodarnoye in 1992.

The notion of God within each individual is the cornerstone of Doukhobor belief “This philosophy has no creeds and does not need any Bible, Church, icons, or priests to fulfill its needs,” Tarasoff explained. “From this notion, we support the moral imperative that we cannot kill another human being — because then we would be killing the spark of God in us. The creation of a non-killing society is the essential quest of the Doukhobors.”

Not surprisingly, Russia’s tsars saw such pacifism as a threat, as something that could undermine social order and lead to rebellion. As a result, the Doukhobors suffered through centuries of persecution and three major resettlements. Under Tsar Alexander I, they were moved to Molochnye Vody, on the border between Ukraine and Russia. Under Nicholas I, they were exiled to Transcaucasia, along the border of Georgia and Turkey. There, in 1895, the Doukhobors refused to fight in Russia’s war with Turkey, burning all their weapons in a symbolic protest against war and militarism.

The furious tsar ordered that the Doukhobors be scattered throughout Transcaucasia, “sending the father to one village, the mother to another and their children to yet a different village,” according to Doukhobor lore [oral history]. The Doukhobors pleaded for help. It came from Quakers in the United States, who shared many beliefs with the Doukhobors, most notably pacifism and anticlericalism. And it came from the Russian writer Leo Tolstoy, whose own personal philosophy had, by this time, gravitated into non-violence. Tolstoy called the Doukhobors a “people of the 25th century.” The Doukhobors, for their part, called Tolstoy “our father,” after he donated $17,000 from the publication of his book Resurrection to help pay for emigration of some 7,500 Doukhobors to Canada in 1898. Despite this mass emigration, the majority of Doukhobors remained; many moved to Southern Russia after the Bolshevik Revolution in 1917.

Tselina region, Rostov Oblast

My qust for the Doukhobors takes me to Petrovka, a village in Tselina region, about 100 miles southeast of Rostov-on-Don. In 1921, some 4,000 Doukhobors were permitted to resettle here, establishing 21 villages (consolidated to 11 in the 1950s). Today, there are just six Doukhobor villages. Petrovka is the largest and it is by no means exclusively Doukhobor. Other inhabitants include Russian Orthodox, Armenians and Meskhetian Turks, who fled from Uzbekistan after the collapse of the Soviet Union.

Farther into the country, the asphalt road turns to dirt and cows mindlessly collaborate in the creation of a traffic jam. By the time I reach Petrovka, the dirt road has turned to mud.

Regional administrator Lyudmila Nikitina — my guide in Petrovka — offers a disapproving glance at my sandals as she dons her rubber boots. As we splash together through the mud, she explains that Doukhobors still comprise about half of the village’s declining population of 300. “It’s not as good as it used to be,” Nikitina says. “Young people cant find jobs here and they have to leave.”

I examine the streets of Petrovka, looking for traces of Doukhobor culture. Most houses appear to have porches bordered with columns, their whitewashed siding shyly hiding behind trees in the yards. On some, sheds and hen houses share a roof with the house itself. These are traditional Doukhobor homes. Newer ones use brick and have no porches, Some of the houses are well kept; some are shabby; some are deserted. The streets seem empty, with only two or three middle-aged women digging in their gardens. There are few children and men.

We approach one of the women. “You are a Doukhobor, aren’t you?” I ask. She seems proud. “Yes, I’m a pureblood,” she replies. She invites us into her house, to see a typical Doukhobor interior of three rooms with papered walls. “It’s more fashionable today than whitewash, as prescribed by tradition,” she explains. The house has painted floors, several wardrobes made in the 1970s, a television and lots of embroidery. It smells of ripe apples.

Sen (left) and Tatyana Safonova at the Petrovka cemetery.

Our hostess is Tatyana Yuritsina, a social worker in Petrovka. “Doukhobors are the nicest, the most hospitable people,” she says. “Now there are many refugees and many people of different religions here. But we have no trouble with them.”

Yet, life carries on and the Doukhobors are changing. “We used to live without fences,” Yuritsina says. “And the young, they don’t want to follow Doukhobor traditions. Take my daughter. She’s 25, and she won’t listen to me, won’t stick to the tradition.” Yuritsina speculates that her generation may be the last of the “true Doukhobors,” because only older members are clinging to their roots.

Many Doukhobors now marry outside the sect. Yuritsina’s husband Vasily is Ukrainian; she says she met him in Rostov and brought him back to Petrovka. “I don’t mind Doukhobors,” he says. “They are people, just like everyone else. And the religion isn’t important in the long run. You have to believe in God and not sin. That’s all.”

Museum of Doukhobor Culture and Worship

The Museum of Doukhobor Culture and Worship is a small home dating to the 1950s which was turned into a museum in 1991, thanks to a donation from the local collective farm, Lenin Kolkhoz. It has a collection of Doukhobor artifacts and serves as a place of worship for a few of Petrovka’s active Doukhobors.

Today, a dozen Doukhobor women have assembled in the living room, the largest room in the house. Its walls are adorned with embroidered towels and traditional costumes. A table in the far right corner holds a bust of Lev Tolstoy and albums with black and white photographs of community members. On the wall are portraits of two Doukhobor leaders, Lukeria Kalmykova and Peter P Verigin.

The Doukhobor women greet us with a traditional hymn. They are wearing long skirts with fancy, embroidered aprons, colorful blouses and white kerchiefs. Some of their attire comes from their grandmothers; some was adapted from the contemporary clothing bought at a local market. it is the sort of clothing no longer worn in everyday life.

“If you dress Doukhobor style and walk along the streets, people will look at you as if you were a savage,” says Yevdokia Bulanova, 75, a Doukhobor who lives in the village of Khlebodarnoye, five miles from Petrovka.

The women in front of me walked to the museum wearing their regular dresses. They carried their traditional Doukhobor costumes in plastic bags, then changed at the museum, like schoolchildren for a class drama performance. But the reality is that they came here to perform, and they like it.

The oldest surviving Doukhobor house in Petrovka.

Their singing seems to erase years of worry and woe from their faces. They have a certain ethereal solemnity. The words of the hymns are hard to make out, enhancing the impression that they are protecting some hidden truths. But the explanation is more banal. Years of persecution made Doukhobors in Russia drawl their syllables when singing, so that outsiders could not understand their meaning, says Lyudmila Borisova, 66, a choir member and Doukhobor activist. “Canadian Doukhobors sing much faster,” she says, “and one can actually make out the words.” Once they have started, the women do not want to stop. Their singing goes on and on. They forget about their hardships, miniscule pensions, cows that need milking, or water that only runs out of the tap a couple of hours each day.

Petrovka’s Doukhobor choir once was quite well known. Ethnographers came from Rostov and Moscow to record them singing their traditional hymns and psalms. The choir even toured Rostovskaya and neighboring provinces during the 1995-1998 centennial celebrations of Doukhobor heritage. But the choir doesn’t travel anymore. “People are scattered,” Borisova says. “We used to have a big choir, but now maybe only a dozen people remain.” Some left the village, some are too old to travel, and some are dead.

“Young people don’t come to our meetings,” Borisova says. “They are busy working and don’t have time.”

Vera Guzheva, 44, is an exception. Guzheva, who lives in the city of Taganrog, about 170 miles northwest of Petrovka, came to the meeting with her mother, Vera Safonova, who is 77. “My mother is a Doukhobor, but I’m not,” says Guzheva. “Our generation doesn’t even know who we are.”

The other women at the meeting hiss in protest.

“I’ve lived in the city for 25 years, I am not a Doukhobor anymore,” Guzheva responds.

“Who are you then? You are not a Ukrainian, you are not a Belorussian, you are a Doukhobor,” Borisova asserts.

“No one in the city knows the Doukhobors. How will I explain to people who I am?”

“You don’t need to tell them, you just have to know in your soul that you are a Doukhobor,” Borisova says.

After moving to Taganrog, Guzheva had changed to Russian Orthodoxy, thinking it was more convenient than living as a Doukhobor. During her baptismal, the priest corrected her, saying that the right name of the religion she was giving up was Doukhobortsy, not Doukhobors, a fact she didn’t know. “But in my soul I’m a Christian and a Doukhobor,” Guzheva says.

Oral History

Doukhobors in Petrovka nourish Doukhobor legends and revere names like Lukeria Kalmykova and Peter P Verigin. They remember the rituals, and, during their meetings on major holidays — Christmas, Whitsunday, Easter and St. Peter’s Day — they each read a psalm and then all perform a low bow, even though some of the women now need help standing up afterwards. But ask them to explain the essence o their belief and daily traditions, and they may give you a puzzled look.

A traditional Doukhobor bow.

There is an awkward silence when I pose this question while visiting the village of Khlebodarnoye. Yevdokia Bulanova finally speaks. “We have our Zhivotnaya Kniga [Book of Life], and you can read something about it there,” she suggests. “Nadezhda, bring it here.”

Nadezhda Trofimenko, whose home we are visiting, disappears behind the curtain separating the bedroom and living room, and returns with an old, leather-bound book, which she sets down carefully. “This is the principal Doukhobor document, here you’ll find everything,” Trofimenko says.

The Doukhobor Book of Life is the primary written artifact of Doukhobor heritage, which had been transmitted orally before 1899. Compiled by the Russian ethnographer Vladimir Bonch Bruevich while spending nearly a year in Canada transcribing Doukhobor psalms and hymns, the Book of Life preserves Doukhobor oral history and serves as a bible of their faith.

Dr. Vladimir Kuchin, 63, a researcher at Rostov-on-Don’s Anti Plague Institute, has lived in Rostov since 1958. He is a Doukhobor, and in his tiny studio apartment on the city outskirts, he archives a complete collection of the back issues of Iskra — the Canadian published Doukhobor magazine. He also stores trunk-loads of Doukhobor recordings and artifacts, which he has been collecting since 1975. He frequently contributes to local papers and to Iskra, and he said he is thinking about writing a book on Doukhobor heritage. But he must wonder whom he would be writing for. His own brother and sister have expressed no interest in their Doukhobor roots. And his parents, when they were alive, worried about his fervor for Doukhoboriana. “Dear son, why do you need all this?” they used to ask.

Kuchin’s grandparents moved to the Tselina region in 1922. They were in their thirties; his father was 10 and his mother was 8 at the time. At first, people lived in sod houses — 30 people in each home. “Their life was hard, but full of wisdom, patience and good spirit,” Kuchin says. When the Soviet state started putting up collective farms (kolkhozy), the first Doukhobor kolkhoz — Obshy Trud [Joint Labor] was set up in Petrovka, headed by Peter P. Verigin. There followed a kolkhoz named after the military commander Vasily Chapayev, and then six Doukhobor villages were united in another kolkhoz named after Vladimir Lenin. In 1928, Doukhobors in the Soviet Union dropped their stricture against army service.

“There was no other way to survive,” Kuchin says. For the most part, the Doukhobors lived an uneasy peace with the atheistic Soviet State. The government was tacitly permissive toward their religion, as long as the Doukhobors did not openly profess it.

Certainly many Doukhobors were imprisoned and exiled under Stalin. Kuchin recalls one story from Petrovka which reflects the insanity of the times. A villager, Fyodor Tomilin, made a chest for his little daughter’s toys and instruments and decorated it with a newspaper clipping that featured, among other things, a picture of Marshal Mikhail Tukhachevsky, a prominent Soviet military leader arrested and executed in 1937 on trumped-up charges of treason. Some time later, another villager, Koozma Pereverzev, stopped by to borrow some tools. On his way out, Pereverzev said, “Such a young guy, and already a marshal.” Tomilin had no idea what Pereverzev was talking about. Ten days later, Tomilin was arrested and accused of treason along with Tukhachevsky and his supporters. He was sentenced to 10 years in prison. Tomilin insisted that he did not have any idea who Tukhachevsky was, and that no one by this name lived in this village. Only after several years in prison, when he saw Tukhachevsky’s photo somewhere else, did he understand what had happened.

Anna Sen (Safonova), center, who helped set up the Museum of Doukhobor Culture and Worship.

In the 1960s, political liberalization allowed the Doukhobors to be open about their beliefs. “I left my home village in 1958, when I entered Rostov State Medical Institute,” Kuchin says. “Even then I didn’t conceal my religion from my friends.”

Unfortunately for the Doukhobors, Kuchin’s example was becoming more typical. The youth left the village for the cities, where they studied, worked, lived, got married and had children. Many married people outside their religion, often assimilating into Russian Orthodoxy. In bigger cities, like Rostov, Doukhobors no longer gather to sing psalms. “Canadian [Doukhobor] visits might stir people up,” Kuchin says. “Some people would meet at Whitsunday, St. Peter’s day, and Christmas.

“Kuchin says he used to go to Petrovka quite frequently, until his father died in 1999. But he does not go any longer. It is too painful. “The things that have been happening since the 1980s and 1990s are incredible and I can hardly find the right words,” he says. “Prosperous Doukhobor villages in Tselinsky and Bogdanovsky regions have become hard to recognize. Suspicious strangers are buying up many homes; other houses are abandoned and falling apart, and yards and gardens are covered in thick weeds.

“The Doukhobor cemetery is also covered with thick grass. There, Doukhobor graves, devoid of tombstones and crosses, are marked only by fences with people’s names. Anna Sen and Tatyana Safonova lead me to the grave of the five settlers who died during the Doukhobors’ first winter in Tselina region. These people are heroes, and a memorial plaque was placed over their grave in the 1960s.

Three years ago, Lyudmila Dorokh, a longtime director of the museum and one of the best singers in the Petrovka choir, told me, “We are losing our identity as a community and the Doukhobor culture here will be gone in several years.” She is gone now, lying in this quiet cemetery. And her prediction is slowly coming to pass.

Certainly there are attempts to preserve Doukhobor culture in Tselina region. Canadian Doukhobors visited the museum several years ago and gave $200 for repairs. Regional authorities provided a tape recorder, so that locals might record Doukhobor psalms. “We are trying to preserve the Doukhobor culture, which is unique,” says Lyudmila Nikitina, the regional administrator. “Once a year, we bring children from the local school to this museum for a history class, to tell them about the Doukhobor faith and traditions. I wish we could do more before it’s too late.”

Goat and sheep herds near Khlebodarnoye. Agriculture is still the main source of income.

On the way back to the village, we meet other women from the Doukhobor museum. They are walking home, carrying plastic bags containing their traditional costumes. They show us a recently built asphalt road, which gives Petrovka a new, better connection with the outside world, for better or for worse.

Last Days of the Georgian Doukhobors?

by Mark Grigorian

Squeezed out by their Armenian and Georgian neighbors in southern Georgia, the remaining members of the Doukhobor religious sect are planning on returning to the land of their forefathers. The following article by Mark Grigorian, foreign correspondent in Gorelovka, Georgia, originally appeared in the Caucasus Reporting Service produced by the Institute for War and Peace Reporting, www.iwpr.net. Reproduced by permission.

A large loaf of white bread, which our hostess had just pulled out of the old Russian stove, was lying on the table surrounded by cheese, tomatoes and sour cream. Suddenly a bottle of ‘samogon’, strong Russian homemade alcoholic brew, appeared from nowhere as if by magic.

"Oh no, don’t pour me any," 75-year-old Aunt Niura protested in embarrassment but took the glass and immediately pronounced a toast. `To your health! If your health is strong, then everything else will follow. But if not…’  She was interrupted by her neighbour Nastya, `I just wish that God keeps at least a handful of people here. Because if everyone leaves, what will become of all of this?’ `Let’s drink to our dear little corner, to our mountains…’

That little corner is the village of Gorelovka in the mountains of southern Georgia, home to some of the last members of the Dukhobor sect to remain in the country. Sadly, they may not last long. Almost all have close relatives in Russia and almost all are planning to emigrate. Only fifteen years ago Dukhobors inhabited eight villages, but today the community, which once boasted some 7,000 people, shrank to less than 700.

Dukhobors (the Russian word means `spirit wrestlers’) are ethnic Russians, representatives of a rare Christian Orthodox sect expelled to the Caucasus in the mid-nineteenth century. They do not recognise the church or priests, but believe that each man’s soul is a temple. Dukhobors do not worship the cross or icons and they reject the church sacraments. They believe that Jesus Christ transmigrated into God’s chosen people – the Dukhobors. The life of every Dukhobor should serve as an example for others because love and joy, peacefulness and patience, faith, humility and abstinence, reign in each believer.

In the late 19th century, having become acquainted with the ideas of the great writer and pacifist Leo Tolstoy, the Dukhobors refused to serve in the Russian Tsar’s army. And in 1895 they famously collected together all their weaponry and set fire to it. `The Dukhobors put all the weapons into one big pile and lit it up,’ said Tatyana Chuchmayeva, leader of the Dukhobor community in Georgia. `When the government called in the Cossacks, they stood around the fire holding each other’s hands and sang psalms and peaceful songs. All the time the Cossacks were flogging them with whips.’

Many of those who burned the weapons were punished and around 500 families were exiled to Siberia. However, Tolstoy managed, with the help of English Quakers, to organise the resettlement of Dukhobors to Canada where they were spared military service. Many others stayed in Georgia and survived all the tribulations of the 20th century.

However, life under independent Georgia has proved the biggest test. Two censuses conducted in 1989 and 2002 show that of 340,000 Russians that lived in Georgia in 1989 less than ten per cent – about 32,500 people – remained there thirteen years later. Other ethnic minorities also left.

Fyodor Goncharov, chairman of the Gorelovka village council, said that the first wave of emigration occurred in 1989-1991 when the extreme nationalist Zviad Gamsakhurdia was leader of Georgia. About half of the Dukhobor population left the region.

In the late 1980s, the Merab Kostava Foundation was set up in Tbilisi with the stated aim of making Georgians the dominant ethnic group. They focussed strong attention on the southern province of Samtskhe-Javakheti, where over 90 per cent were ethnic-Armenians and the rest, with few exceptions, were Russian Dukhobors.

The Merab Kostava Foundation bought about 200 of the Dukhobors’ houses and gave these to Georgians. Clothes and funds were provided to the new arrivals.

However, the experiment failed. `They could not endure our living conditions and ran away from here after one year,’ said Konstantin Vardanian, a journalist from the local town of Ninotsminda. `During the first winter they heated their houses with coal and firewood that the foundation had left for them. Then, after they ran out of coal, they lived in one room of the house and pulled up floors in the other rooms and burnt them in stoves. When spring came they all left.’

Local Armenians were alarmed by the Merab Kostava project and one result was that the Armenian Javakh Committee, founded to fight for Armenian rights in Javakheti, also began to buy houses from Dukhobors – just to keep them out of Georgian hands. `It was some sort of competition, really,’ Vardanian said, with Armenians and Georgians vying for the same houses in Dukhobor villages.

At first, Armenians enjoyed being neighbours to the Dukhobors. `Akhalkalaki people always preferred to buy butter, cheese, curd cheese and other dairy products from Dukhobors,’ remembers Karine Khodikian, a well-known Armenian writer originally from the local town of Akhalkalaki. `It was a sign of respect for them, their cleanliness and tidiness.’ But after the collapse of the Soviet Union, Armenians got envious of the Dukhobors and their apparently orderly, calm lives. `Armenians saw that the Dukhobor community in Gorelovka was self-sustaining, they said that Canadians Dukhobors helped it,’ Vardanian said.

Armenians from mountain villages, where living conditions were much worse than in Gorelovka, began to move into the houses purchased by the Javakhk Committee and to buy land. They were joined by immigrants from Armenia who used to live in the city of Gumri and its neighbouring villages – a region almost entirely demolished by the 1988 earthquake. Relations between the Dukhobors and these newcomers was far worse than with their old neighbours.

Enterprising Armenians opened small shops and started producing sour cream, butter and cheese, traditional Dukhobor products. They purchase milk from the Dukhobors, but the latter are very unhappy with the buying prices. `Armenians buy milk in our village,’ said Goncharov. `Then they make cheese out of it, take it to Tbilisi and sell it. They pay us only 30
tetri for a litre (about 15 cents), while we have to pay 70 or 80 tetri just for one litre of fuel.’

Dukhobor villager Sveta Gonachrova said that her neighbours were frightened by the incoming Armenians, `You step outside and get punched in the face.’

Vardanian believes that antipathy between the Dukhobors and Armenians is not the only reason Dukhobors are leaving, but `it contributed’. This new wave of emigration has found help from the Russian authorities.

In December 1998, Russia’s then-prime minister Yevgeny Primakov signed a decree on assistance to the Georgian Dukhobors and the Russian parliament, the State Duma passed a special resolution on the group. The International Organisation for Migration helped with the resettlement, while Georgia’s emergencies ministry provided buses.

In January 1999, community leader Lyuba Goncharova led a large number of her community on a journey whose final point of destination was the Bryansk region of Russia. Many of those left behind are now seeking help from the Russian embassy in Tbilisi to go and join them.

The remaining Dukhobors say they are worried by Georgia’s new president, Mikheil Saakashvili, whom they see as a Georgian nationalist. There are also rumours in the community – denied by Georgian officials – that all non-Georgian schools will be closed. `Saakashvili’s rise to power scares everyone,’ said Chuchmayeva. `Everyone is panic-stricken. People see what is happening in (South) Ossetia and feel scared,’ she added in a reference to Saakashvili’s attempts to restore central authority to that breakaway region.

‘Now they are talking about making all schools switch to the Georgian language… And that scares people. They are terrified that main subjects in schools will be taught in Georgian from 2006 and our children will not be able to study.’

Georgia’s minister for refugees and migration, Eter Astemirova, told IWPR that `the main reason they are leaving, as far as I know, is due to problems with the local Armenian population. There is no basis to their worries about the Georgian language or schools’. Astemirova said the Georgian state was entirely neutral in the affair. Dukhobors are not helped `to leave or to stay’, she said. `If there is a problem, we will try to address it. … So far, I don’t know, because we have no information about Dukhobors.’

The cultural attache of the Russian embassy in Tbilisi, Vasily Korchmar, said another reason for the Dukhobors’ desire to leave is the difficult economic situation in Georgia and its tense relationship with Russia.

Gonachrova agreed that tradition counted for nothing as this community made up its mind. For young people in particular life is better in Russia than in Gorelovka, `We are sorry to leave, but what can one do? There are [proper] conditions for young people in Russia. Discos and all sorts of amusement. We have nothing.’

Russian Roots, An Odyssey

by Dr. Allan Markin

In July of 2004, Dr. Allan Markin and his wife Evelyn of Penticton, British Columbia embarked on a month-long odyssey in Russia, the land of their Doukhobor ancestors. In the following article, reproduced with permission from the Vancouver Sun (October 9, 2004), Allan recounts their experiences of Russian people and places and their exploration of ancestral roots. Mr. Markin observes that as Doukhobors, “part of our hearts will (always) remain in Russia”.

As the creaking Aeroflot jetliner lands at St. Petersburg’s Pulkovo Airport I am reminded of Alexander Solzhenitsyn’s words: “forgetting the past is like losing the sight of one eye.”  My wife Evelyn and I have convinced ourselves that we are merely tourists in Russia, but the truth is that our ancestors, some 7,500 Doukhobors, left Russia in 1898/99 to escape religious and political persecution.

Approximately 12,000 Doukhobors stayed behind. This historical heritage haunts many Canadian Doukhobors and compels them to search for their roots in Russia.

Starting in St. Petersburg, our month-long odyssey will culminate in a visit to a Doukhobor village south of Moscow, with many stops along the way.

In “St. Pete,” a tour through the Hermitage Museum leaves us breathless. It is said that the Hermitage contains a collection so vast (nearly 3 million exhibits) that if one were to spend just one minute at each exhibit it would take several years to see the entire collection. A private guide is highly recommended.

Near St. Petersburg, in the town of Pushkin, is the Catherine Palace. This stunning “summer place” presents architectural details and decorations ranging from classical elegance to baroque indulgence. Its “amber room” is a world treasure.

Plundered by Nazis during the Second World War, the “amber room” has been restored to its original grandeur. One stands in awe of its inlaid amber panels and designs, with Florentine mosaics and sculptures, and feasts on the fusion of exquisite art, craftsmanship, decadence, opulence, and aristocratic self-indulgence. It is here that I first begin to understand what motivated my ancestors to shun materialism in favor of a simple, agrarian lifestyle.

Later, at the Peterhof Palace, with its dozens of gilded cascades and fountains inspired by Peter the Great’s wish to build a palace that would rival France’s Palace of Versailles, my sense of ancestral roots begins to deepen in an oddly ironic way.

I am starting to understand why my ancestors moved to Canada, but cannot escape the wonders of St. Petersburg. The great Kirov Ballet at the Mariinskiy Theatre, the glorious architecture along St. Petersburg’s canals, the boisterous Nevskiy Prospect, that grand street of international shops, cafes, street markets, and night life that continues long into the “white nights” of St. Petersburg.

Aboard the cruise ship, Allan poses with a tour guide dressed as “Peter the Great”.

We leave all this behind when we board our river cruise ship, the MV Zosima Shashkov. It will be our floating hotel as we sail along the lakes, rivers, and canals that will bring us to Moscow.

There are many stops along the way. In Petrozavodsk we note that statues of Lenin remain standing, and streets named after famous communist leaders (except for Stalin) have kept their names. A public referendum determined that nothing would be gained by trying to re-write history, so these traces of the former Soviet Union endure.

On the island of Kizhi, a UNESCO  site, we experience the great wooden Church of the Transfiguration, with its twenty-two cupolas (domes). This is just one of many examples of the religious orthodoxy that the Doukhobors broke away from in Russia, which earned them the name “spirit wrestlers”, and resulted in the persecution that caused them to seek safe haven in Canada.

The Church of the Transfiguration at Kizhi.

In Russia one sees many churches and cathedrals. Their icons, frescoes, and elaborate decorations suggest religious self-indulgence. But one has to marvel at the great religious art and architecture in Russia, much of it now in the process of recovery and restoration.

Kizhi also boasts two original 17th Century peasant houses. One contains a ceiling-mounted cradle, a “loolkya” in which an infant would sleep within reach of a mother’s toe that would conveniently rock the cradle at night. This is a very special moment for me; I slept in such a cradle in infancy and early childhood. I’m amazed at how quickly an inanimate artifact can vivify pleasant memories of a distant past.

Allan sitting next to a ceiling-mounted cradle (loolkya) in a 17th century peasant house.

We meet more art when our little ship sails in to Mandrogi, a planned community where some of Russia’s top artists and craftspeople live in an environment devoted to the advancement of traditional arts and crafts. In several workshops I am reminded of Canadian Doukhobor women (my mother among them) who have been producing fine weaving, knitting, and embroidery for more than 100 years.

In Goritsy we are brought face-to-face with current problems plaguing many small Russian communities. Several town drunks meet us as we leave the ship after breakfast. We are moderately fluent in Russian so we walk into “town” and converse with the “locals.”

Old woman in Goritsy. Note the simplicity of her modest home.

An old woman invites us into her modest home and we enjoy a wonderful chat. She was hoping that we were doctors who could help her with her ailing throat. She lives alone, tends to her small garden and prays to the icon in the corner of her kitchen. We leave with a sad feeling; life for old people in Russia is pretty tough these days.

This is emphasized in another village along the Volga, where I am confronted by a limping old woman who declares that “Putin has reduced my pension to 1500 rubles a month, so now I have to beg. If I could do it, I’d put a bullet in his temple myself.” I address her in Russian. When she hears this, she starts to cry. I see my hard-working grandmother’s face, lined and creased by worry and the sun when we lived on subsistence farming in the Kootenays. I have to turn and walk away.

A lonely spire sticks out of the water along the Volga Canal.

Later we sail through the Volga Canal built during Stalin’s rule. The canal was constructed by forced labour and dug entirely by hand, with the loss of some 100 workers daily. Many communities were flooded in the bargain. We sail over some of them. There is little evidence of their existence, but we do pass by a spire that sticks out of the water, a silent reminder of the town that lies beneath.

The Russians have an expression that eloquently describes projects that were constructed at the cost of many human lives. “ Built on the bones,” they say. I am starting to feel grateful to my ancestors for having the foresight and wisdom to move out of harm’s way to Canada.

Allan and Evelyn leaving the cruise ship with Rashid.

This becomes poignantly clear after we arrive in Moscow. Our driver, a Tatar named Rashid, takes us to one of Stalin’s “killing fields” on the outskirts of the city. On a quiet evening, after a summer rain deep in a birch wood, we stand in silence at the site where as many as seventy thousand people were put to death and buried in mass graves.

Across the road is a horse stable that was converted into a prison. It is rumored that Beria, head of the NKVD under Stalin, was held here. Nearby stands an abandoned foundation for an office building. The work had to stop when the excavators began unearthing human remains.

Memorial garden at Stalin’s killing field.

Before us is a large rectangular plot edged with small yellow flowers. This is one of the burial ditches. It is difficult to speak. It is difficult to keep from weeping. I recall stories of my ancestors who were beaten in 1895 after they burned all their weapons to take a stand against war and violence. Some died. Others were banished to Siberia. These too are my roots.

Ironically, when we leave our ship in Moscow, we move to the Hotel Rossija (Hotel Russia), a 2900 room monolith across the street from the Kremlin.  I remember meeting with a regional governor from Siberia on a previous consulting assignment to Russia and hearing him proudly tell me that he and his colleagues stay at the Rossija when in town on “government” business. I recall the “killing fields” and Russian history of the past century; the hotel conveys a malevolent feeling, which is mitigated by the spectacular view of Red Square and the Kremlin from our room.

A view of the Kremlin from the hotel room in Moscow. board the cruise ship, Allan poses with a tour guide dressed as “Peter the Great”.

The wonderful city of Moscow provides more relief from grim thoughts of Russian history. With a daytime population of some 14 million people, Moscow’s squares, monuments, markets, theatres (we enjoyed three Russian plays in top national theatres), shopping complexes, restaurants, fast-food kiosks, museums, and massive traffic jams challenge all the senses.

Fortunately, Rashid negotiates the traffic with skill and daring. We conclude that Vancouver traffic would bore him.  Moscow has three times the number of motor vehicles than it had five years ago and traffic problems are worsening daily.

Still we get around quite well. We visit the Kremlin, the fabulous Tretyakov Gallery of Russian art, and the Borodino Panorama Museum with its spectacular depiction of the battle between Russian troops and Napoleon’s army. We dine at the great Boris Gudinov Restaurant.

Western-style consumerism is flourishing in Moscow. Top international fashions and finest automobiles are everywhere. A “stretched” Lincoln limousine seems to be the “wedding car” of choice. New construction is everywhere. Heritage buildings are being restored. Tour buses are packed from morning to night. There are casinos and nightclubs everywhere. Shoppers crowd the streets and markets.

We chat with many Muscovites. Some think that the “new economy” is just what Russia needs. Others have mixed feelings, and some are very skeptical about the future. I see the crumbling Khrushchev-era apartment blocks and conclude that the future for many Russians is still pretty grim.

At Tolstoy’s estate – Yasnaya Polyana.

It’s almost too much for the senses, so our departure for Yasnaya Polyana, Leo Tolstoy’s estate two and a half hours south of Moscow is a very pleasant change. My sense of “roots” becomes more pronounced knowing that Tolstoy played a major role in arranging the Doukhobors’ emigration to Canada and helping to finance the journey.

Yasnaya Polyana Children’s Home

During our visit to Yasnaya Polyana we discovered an orphanage in desperate need of assistance. The Yasnaya Polyana Children’s Home houses and educates 55 children of all ages. We have established a network of reliable contacts through whom we have been able to send money to help the orphanage purchase school supplies and personal items like toothbrushes for the children’s use. Readers who would like more information about how they could help should contact Allan Markin at 250-493-6150, or by email to: amarkin@shaw.ca.

At Yasnaya Polyana the rest of the trip fades in to the background. Dr. Galeena Alexeeva, a top Tolstoy scholar, takes us on a private tour. We view the house where Tolstoy lived and worked; we stroll the tree-lined walks until we reach his grave, a simple grass-covered mound of dirt on the edge of a ravine. There is a powerful serenity in this place.

Tolstoy’s grave at Yasnaya Polyana.

The dignity of the site, without a monument or grave marker at Tolstoy’s own request, is a poignant illustration of the simple, spiritual life that the great writer  found in his later years. Doukhobors owe much to Tolstoy. Standing at his grave I felt that, in a small way, I was repaying some of the debt.

In Yasnaya Polyana we are delighted to meet Elaine and Alfred Podovilnikoff from Grand Forks, BC. They, along with their children and grandchildren, are building a log home in the village.

“My soul is in Russia,” says Elaine with conviction. “This is something that I simply have to do, not just for me but for my children and grandchildren, so that they will be more fully aware of who they are and where their roots lie.”

 We marvel at Elaine’s and Alfred’s excitement, their ability to laugh at the seemingly insurmountable challenges, and their fervent commitment to their roots.

Elaine Podovinnikoff at log home.

Yasnaya Polyana is near Tula, a city of 700,000 that was the industrial heart of the former Soviet Union’s weapons manufacturing industry. Many of the factories are now closed, but Tula still enjoys its reputation as the home of Tula “praniki,” tasty little cakes that remind one of biscotti with filling. We stop at one of the many roadside stands where these delicacies are sold, later washing them down with generous shots of premium Russian vodka.

Also in Tula we stumble into a “state” store that stocks beautiful shiny black caviar, which is not easy to find in Russia these days. The price is great so we stock up for later feasting.

Our final stop on this “roots odyssey” is Archangelskaya Selo ninety minutes south of Tula. This village is home to several hundred Russian Doukhobors who were forced to flee hostilities in Georgia in the last century.

The village sits in the middle of the vast Russian steppe. Cows and goats roam the streets. A horse-drawn wagon rolls past. Life is agrarian, simple. Mostly older people live here now, although there is a new school and community hall.

The country surroundings remind me of life in rural BC sixty years ago. But the residents don’t seem to mind. They are hospitable to a fault.  Fred Plotnikoff and his Russian wife Paulina treat us to a grand luncheon.  Fred is formerly from the Kootenays and was a school chum of mine at Mt. Sentinel High School in South Slocan. He has taken up permanent residence in Russia and seems very happy with his decision to plant new roots in ancestral soil.

Russian Doukhobors – the Markins – treat their guests to some kvas and song.

I am happy to discover that my namesake lives in the village, but disappointed to learn that he is away. We pay a visit to his home anyway and his parents welcome us. They honor their Canadian guests with a drink of kvas (a fermented concoction whose main ingredient is bread) and a couple of “spirited” Russian folk songs. Singing, it has been said, connects people “heart to heart.” This ancestral Doukhobor link has endured.

All too soon we are back in Moscow and on a Boeing 767 headed for Seattle. We are laden with souvenirs, mementos, memories, and mixed feelings.

One thing is certain, however. Part of our hearts will remain in Russia. On the great Volga; at the Kremlin; on a canal embankment in St. Petersburg eating Russian ice cream. It will be impossible to forget the glorious singing by cantors at the Kostromo Monastery, or being invited to sing Russian folk songs and some old rock and roll with the resident band on the cruise ship.

Cantors singing at the Kostromo Monastery.

Another memory that will linger forever is having dinner with Rashid’s family in their state-issued apartment and feeling his blind teenage daughter’s gentle hands explore my Canadian face. Such experiences, and our exploration of ancestral roots, have added so much value to our Russian odyssey.

This Russian parting expression says it all: “dosvidanya”…until we meet again.

The Maintenance and Revitalization of Doukhobor Russian in British Columbia, Canada: Prospects and Problems

by Gunter Schaarschmidt

Over the past 75 years, the Doukhobor Russian dialect has sustained a slow but steady decline after reaching its peak of usage and functionality in Canada in 1940. This is in large part due to the increasing use of English, on the one hand, and of Standard Russian, on the other hand.  The following article by Gunter Schaarschmidt of the Department of Germanic and Slavic Studies, University of Victoria, examines the root causes of this trend and identifies a strategy for its maintenance and revitalization among the Doukhobors of British Columbia.  The author contends that to save Doukhobor Russian from imminent extinction, a second language program in Doukhobor Russian must be established at the elementary school level, with Doukhobor elders and culture incorporated into the school programs. Reproduced with the author’s permission from “Topical Problems of Communication and Culture, Collection of Research Articles of International Scholars (Moscow-Pyatigorsk, 2013).

1. Introduction

The Doukhobors are a pacifist and anarchist splinter group from the Russian Orthodox Church. Their views led Tsar Nicholas to ban them from their first concentrated settlement in the fertile Crimea to barren Transcaucasia. In 1895, the group created a huge bonfire of weaponry as a gesture to the government that they they opposed conscription. Fearing extermination for the group, the writer Leo Tolstoy with the aid of the Quakers in Great Britain enabled approximately 7,500 Doukhobors to leave Russia in 1899 and settle in Canada. Following a dispute with the Government and after living in the Province of Saskatchewan for 9 years, the colony split into two groups, with the larger group (approximately 4,000) moving to the Province of British Columbia (BC) in the years 1908-1913.

It is estimated that there are currently 25,000 Doukhobors living in Canada, 8,000 in Saskatchewan and 12,300 of them in British Columbia, with smaller groups in Alberta (3,000) and other provinces (between 1,500 and 1,700)[1]. Until the demise of the USSR there were 7,000 Doukhobors living in the Republic of Georgia, with many other members of the group dispersed all over Russia including Siberia.[2]  At the time of the group’s move to Canada, Doukhobor Russian was a language composed of two functional styles: the colloquial language based largely on a South Russian dialect and the ritual language based on Russian Church Slavonic and handed down orally from generation to generation until the early part of the 20th century.[3]  There are no written sources in Doukhobor Russian until the Book of Life (Životnaja kniga; also often translated as “Living Book”) was published in Russia by Bonč-Bruevič (1909 [1954]).[4]  The colloquial language was oral until the Doukhobors’ move to Canada and here well into the 1930s (see Section 3.1. below).

Although Doukhobor Russian (“DR”), with its estimated 15, 000 speakers[5], is as distinct from Standard Russian as Plautdietsch is from Standard German, the former has not been included as a language or as a minority language in any of the current handbooks while the latter has been (see, for example, Lewis 2009 and Moseley 2007). Plautdietsch is included as an endangered language of some 80,000 to 100,000 speakers in Canada (Moseley 2007:265; Lewis 2009: online). To some extent perhaps Russian scholars and possibly Doukhobor writers themselves are to blame for this omission since DR is often referred to as a “variety of Russian” (Makarova 2012: x) or as a “dialect” (Harshenin 1961).[6]  And yet, the Doukhobors clearly form a minority group distinct from other Russian émigré groups in three geographic areas outside of Russia: 1) the Province of British Columbia (Canada); 2) the Province of Saskatchewan (Canada); and 3) the Republic of Georgia. The possibility of revitalization and maintenance is possible in BC if something is done before the current older generation(s) disappear (Schaarschmidt 2012: 255-57); it is becoming very unlikely in Saskatchewan (Makarova 2011); and probably still has a small chance in Georgia (Lom [Lohm] 2006).

In this pilot study we shall first provide a summary of the history of DR from the first homogeneous settlement in the Crimea in 1801 until the move to Canada (Section 2); then describe the development of DR from the group’s arrival in Saskatchewan and the partial move to British Columbia, the onset of both diglossia and bilingualism in the community in BC and the present linguistic situation (Section 3); and, as DR is currently on the brink of extinction in this province, a preliminary outline of an “eleventh-hour” proposal how to go beyond the process of preservation to a systematic maintenance and revitalization process of the language (Section 4).

2.    From Koine to Leveling (1801-1899)

2.1. Some linguistic prerequisites.

According to Trudgill, new-dialect formation proceeds generally in three stages (quoted here from Kerswill 2002, 679; see also Schaarschmidt 2012, 238-9):

Stage Speakers involved Linguistic characteristics
I  Adult migrants Rudimentary leveling
II  First native-born speakers  Extreme variability and further leveling
III Subsequent generations

 Focusing, leveling and reallocation

There is a great deal of variability in the time-depth of koineization, with focusing possible already by Stage II, and the absence of focusing sometimes persisting over several generations of Stage III. In this section, we deal with Stage I, what Siegel calls the “pre-koine.” This is the unstabilized stage at the beginning of koineization. A continuum exists in which various forms of the varieties in contact are used concurrently and inconsistently. Leveling and some mixing has begun to occur, and there may be various degrees of reduction, but few forms have emerged as the accepted compromise (Siegel 1985: 373).

2.2. Rudimentary leveling: Milky Waters.

When Tsar Alexander decided to create a concentrated settlement of the Doukhobors in the area near the Moločna River (whence the English term “Milky Waters”), he also created the foundation for the rise of Doukhobor Russian, originally as a mixture of dialects, a sort of koine [i.e. a standard dialect that has arisen as a result of contact between two or more mutually intelligible varieties of the same language], later as a language with distinct functional styles (see especially Schaarschmidt 2008). The only uniting feature at this point was the ritual functional style (hereafter short: “ritual language”). We have no direct evidence of the Doukhobor colloquial functional style of this period or, for that matter, for a good 100 years before the Canadian period. The details of the koine situation of this period can thus be gleaned only from 1) the evidence provided by interviews with second- and third generation speakers in Canada in the 1950s and 1960s; 2) interference phenomena in the ritual language; and 3) the experience gained in the internal reconstruction of other languages. This evidence allows us to assert that for the Milky Waters period rudimentary leveling of the dialect features was in process and that because of the interruptions in this process caused by the migrations to Transcaucasia and Canada the leveling process took longer than it normally takes for a non-migrant community of speakers. There is no tangible evidence of a diglossic situation [i.e. where two dialects are used by a single language community] Doukhobor Russian – Standard Russian as the large majority of Doukhobors were illiterate, as was the case for four fifths of all Russians in the Empire, (acording to the first census of 1897; see, in this respect Rašin 1951: 49).

This figure is reproduced by permission from the Doukhobor Genealogy Website (www.doukhobor.org). Copyright Jonathan J. Kalmakoff. All rights reserved.

2.3. Further leveling: Transcaucasia.

We may assume that the Transcaucasian period marked the continuation of the rudimentary leveling process mentioned above in Section 2.1. For the first native-born speakers, however, there probably existed a combination of extreme dialect variability and further leveling. By the time adult speakers migrated to Canada in 1899, both the variability and the leveling were part of their dialect and were, to some extent, reflected in the ritual style.

This figure is reproduced by permission from the Doukhobor Genealogy Website (www.doukhobor.org). Copyright Jonathan J. Kalmakoff. All rights reserved.

There is no tangible evidence of a diglossic situation Doukhobor Russian – Standard Russian during the Transcaucasian period. There may, however, have been elements of bilingualism, as trading with the non-Slavic peoples (mainly Turko-Tatars) would have required a vehicle of communication, if only a pigeon [i.e. a simplified language that develops as a means of communication between two groups that do not have a language in common] of the Russenorsk type or that used today in trading on the Russian-Chinese border area in the Far East. Many of the linguistic features collected are based on interviews with speakers in their 60s and 70s, i.e., those who migrated from Transcaucasia to Canada (see, in this respect, Schaarschmidt 2012: 241-3). We shall select here only the category of loans to illustrate the partial leveling process at this stage in language development (see also Tarasoff 1963 and Beženceva 2007:123-6). Due to the later influence of Standard Russian it is not always clear whether such loans are actually genuine loans directly from Turko-Tataric or indirect loans in a later period. This can be exemplified by the apparent Doukhobor loan from Turkic džiranka ‘deer’, for which there exist the Standard Russian variants džejran, dzeren and zeren/zerenka, referring, however, to a kind of antelope (see Fasmer 1964–73, I: 510–11; II: 95). The Doukhobor language in present-day Georgia also contains many loans from the adjacent or co-territorial non-Slavic languages but here again many assumed Doukhobor loans may in fact also be loans in Standard Russian or internationalisms, as exemplified by the loan mazun ‘matzoon/madzoon’ (a type of yoghurt), cf. Standard Russian maconi, borrowed from Armenian.

The Transcaucasian period was marked by a considerable variability in the area of phonology, morphology, lexical structure, and syntax. An apparent Doukhobor Russian innovation in morphology is the replacement of the neuter gender by the feminine gender in the first and second generations (Inikova 1995, 156). The loss of the neuter gender may have been caused by the coalescence of unstressed o, a, e in post-tonic desinences and that coalescence was then extended to stressed endings and modifiers, i.e., эта жабa [èta žaba] ‘this toad’: это сало [èta sála] ‘this lard,’ therefore моя жабa [majá žába] ‘my toad’: моё сало *[majá sála] ‘my lard.’ This coalescence can be seen widely in the Anglicization of place-names, such as Ootischenia, a locality in Castlegar, BC, referred to in a modern spelling Ooteshenie in Tarasoff (2002, 470), cf. Russian утешение ‘consolation.’

The Doukhobor settlements today are found primarily in the Republic of Georgia.

This figure is reproduced by permission from the Doukhobor Genealogy Website (www.doukhobor.org). Copyright Jonathan J. Kalmakoff. All rights reserved.

The question of the revitalization and maintenance of DR in the Republic of Georgia is not within the scope of the present investigation. It seems, however, that in spite of the significant exodus of speakers to Russia, present levels of maintenance appear to be vigorous. To be sure, the chances of a successful revitalization and maintenance process of Doukhobor Russian in Georgia are decreasing rapidly because as the leader of the Georgian Doukhobor community, Tat’jana Tixonova put it: “out of the more than 6-7,000 Doukhobors who lived in Georgia at the end of the 1980s no more than 800 are left, and these are basically between 50 to 70 years old“ (Beženceva 2007, 100; translation mine – GS). A somewhat more optimistic view is expressed in Lom [Lohm]: 2006, 48 (translation mine – GS): “One must note, however, that there are often apocalyptic[7] prophecies concerning the future of the Doukhobors. Already in the 1960s the scholars predicted that the Doukhobor identity would disappear in the near future. When saying goodbye to us, a Doukhobor woman told us: ‘you know, every year we say that we are going to leave for Russia. But in the end we always stay.’”

3.    Focusing and Reallocation: 1899-1938

3.1. Saskatchewan

Focusing, i.e., the selection of one of the competing forms, was considerably impeded by the influence of the language of the “Galicians”, i.e., of Ukrainian.[8]  This influence was still felt for a short while after the move to British Columbia (see 3.2. below). Reallocation took place, for example, in the borrowing of words from English into DR primarily in the workplace (Harshenin 1964, 1967), thus narrowing the linguistic functions of either Ukrainian borrowings or traditional DR lexical items. This period also saw the beginning of diglossia since in a letter of February 1, 1899, to Leo Tolstoy the Doukhobors’ spiritual leader in exile had stated that “teaching literacy to the children, including the girls, must be considered a priority right at the start” (Donskov 1995, 43).

This figure is reproduced by permission from the Doukhobor Genealogy Website (www.doukhobor.org). Copyright Jonathan J. Kalmakoff. All rights reserved.

The time for a revitalization of DR in Saskatchewan may have passed: Makarova (2011) predicts that the language will be extinct within a decade.

3.2. Move to British Columbia

The Doukhobors’ move to British Columbia in a relatively secluded area, free from interference with Ukrainian, allowed the Doukhobor community to conclude the focusing, leveling, and reallocation of linguistic features resulting in the demarcation of three functional styles: the colloquial language, the ritual language, and the written language. English – Russian bilingualism developed fully within one generation (roughly between the 1930s to the 1960s), primarily due to forced schooling in English (Schaarschmidt 2009: 35-36).

Due to the increasing use of English, on the one hand, and of Standard Russian (“SR”), on the other hand, both the colloquial DR style and the ritual language began their inevitable retreat after reaching their peaks of usage and functionality between 1801 and 1940. This is manifested in 1) a growing SR component in the diglossic DR/SR situation in the form of home-schooling in Standard Russian using old-country bukvari (primers) as well as in the launching of Russian schools maintained by the Union of Spiritual Communities of Christ in the main Doukhobor centres of Grand Forks and the West Kootenays in BC since 1935; 2) an increase in code-switching in the colloquial style; 3) the marginalization of the DR colloquial style or its replacement by the Standard Russian colloquial style; 4) the translation of ritual texts into English or the standardization of DR ritual texts, e.g., by removing Church Slavonicisms or obscure passages; and 5) the launching of Russian-language courses from kindergarten to Grade 12 in schools in the Doukhobor areas in the early 1980s, thus further marginalizing the DR colloquial style.

This figure is reproduced by permission from the Doukhobor Genealogy Website (www.doukhobor.org). Copyright Jonathan J. Kalmakoff. All rights reserved.

4. A Strategy for the Maintenance and Revitalization of DR

4.1. The present situation

There can be no question that DR in British Columbia has sustained some heavy losses in the past 75 years, resulting in a crisis situation in our days. It is good to know, however, that there is currently a kind of revitalization of DR carried out in this province. To be sure, this “revitalization” is more aimed at recording lexical items and texts for the sake of saving as much information as possible for future generations. From efforts such as a series of thus far sixteen two-page articles of DR data in the monthly magazine Iskra (Popoff 2012) it is still a long way to the revival of DR as a vehicle of communication and a school subject. But it is a good testing ground as to how far educators in conjunction with the community are willing to go in this revitalization process.

4.2. What can be done?[9]

As in traditional native cultures, the Doukhobor elders “were the source of all knowledge and the keepers of the value and belief systems. The elders used oral language as a means of passing on their knowledge and cultures and thus education … meant that elders, language and culture were inextricably interwoven.” (Native Language Education 1986: 1; Government of Alberta 2010:2).Thus, in order to develop a Second Language Program in DR from Grades 1-3, the Doukhobor elders and cultures must be brought into the school programs. The subject DR faces stiff competition from a numerically stronger relative, i.e., Standard Russian (SR), historically a compromise language based essentially on the Moscow dialect.

The current need for the maintenance and revitalization of DR is similar to the needs of many other minority languages including autochthonous ones. We will select here one that is within our research experience and competence, viz., Lower Sorbian (a Slavic language) in Germany. About a dozen years ago, Lower Sorbian was spoken only by people older than 60 years, and it was predicted that in about 15 to 20, maximally 30 years, the language would be dead (Jodlbauer, Spieß and Stenwijk 2001: 204). The remedy for this was seen in revitalizing Lower Sorbian as a second language beginning in pre-school years. For this purpose, a special day-care centre, called Mato Rizo, was established in a district in the city of Cottbus. In that day-care centre, part of an anticipated chain of such centres called WITAJ (“welcome”), Lower Sorbian was taught as an immersion course in the hope that a new generation of second-language speakers would compensate for the losses suffered in the last two decades. In addition, as a possible interim supporting measure it was hoped that Lower Sorbian could be increasingly taught as a foreign language with English and possibly French and Russian as powerful competitors (Jodlbauer, Spieß and Stenwijk 2001: 207-208).

Like in the case of Canada’s First Nations languages, such efforts for the revitalization of Lower Sorbian require the active involvement of elders with native or next-to-native (semi-speaker) proficiency in the WITAJ project. But similar to the Doukhobor Russian situation, Lower Sorbian language activists have come out against making two languages, viz., Lower Sorbian and English compulsory subjects even though they do not agree with public opinion that learning two languages in addition to German would present a burden. Admittedly, the possible range of applicability of Lower Sorbian as a second language is very limited in present-day German society; however, the language does have a rich written tradition to look back on. On balance, then, Doukhobor Russian is more in the situation of Canada’s First Nations Languages: for the latter, especially the smaller groups like some Salish languages in British Columbia, it is often suggested that they would be better off learning a major First Nations language, such as Cree (see also Schaarschmidt 1998:463). This is similar, then, to the view expressed in the Doukhobor community that Doukhobor children should learn Standard Russian but that all efforts should be made to document as much as possible of Doukhobor Russian so as to preserve it as a museum language.

At the time of writing, only the oldest generation of Doukhobors in BC is still using the language in one or the other function. Children pick up bits and pieces from grandparents but they don’t speak it for the simple reason that their parents don’t know how to speak it any more. This situation in general implies the impending death of a language/dialect. True, there are many who would like to save the dialect and they can learn a lot from the situation of the First Nations languages in British Columbia where considerable progress has been made even in those cases where there were only 50 adult speakers. There are also opponents who either do not see any value in maintaining and revitalizing the language of the elders or view this process as an extra burden on the children in the light of Standard Russian as a school subject. It is difficult to counter value judgments except perhaps with the argument that there are benefits in maintaining something that could be of good use some day (Harrison 2010:274). The extra-burden argument does not hold water because the human brain between three and six years of age can pick up an indefinite number of languages or dialects (even closely related ones) without any difficulty (for a detailed discussion of the pros and cons of multiple-language acquisition, see Harrison 2010: 221-242). Another hindrance to the revitalization project is the auto- and heterostereotype perception of DR: 1) the Doukhobors themselves consider DR to be outdated and not good Russian (being based on a South Russian, DR is often felt to be like Ukrainian). The notion of DR being outdated is perhaps best expressed in this quote from a Doukhobor: “Personally, the so-called ‘Doukhobor dialect’ is interesting as a minor artifact of life, but the real future is in learning Standard Russian, one of the important international languages of the world” (Koozma Tarasoff, Spirit Wrestlers Blog, May 21, 2011. www.spirit-wrestlers.com). This negative autostereotype perception is enforced by the heterostereotype perception as exemplified by references to DR as being “artificial” and “defective” (Golubeva-Monatkina 1997: 35; translation mine – GS).

As stated in the Introduction, the present study should be viewed as a pilot study to be followed by a detailed proposal how to 1) get DR into the school system at least in Grades 1-3; 2) develop a teacher training programme and curriculum as well as teaching aids in consultation with elders; and 3) secure funding for such a programme perhaps in the form of a foundation grant as well as grants from the Provincial Government.

4.3. Getting DR into the BC school system

4.3.1. Teacher training programs

Selkirk College in Castlegar, BC, would be the most appropriate place to develop a teacher training programme and workshops as well as curriculum and teaching aids perhaps with the assistance of the University of Victoria, a traditional supporter of DR studies and teacher training initiatives since the early 1980s. A Doukhobor foundation grant would help with the financing of these efforts as well as with the preparation of the kinds of materials mentioned in 4.3.3. below.

4.3.2. Writing DR

One of the first things that were done for Sencoten, a language like DR with an oral tradition, was to develop an alphabet for the language. This was carried out by John Elliott, a non-linguist who has managed to incorporate four of his new graphic symbols into UNICODE (see www.languagegeek.com/salishan/sencoten.html and Claxton & Elliott 1994). For DR it will make good sense to use the cyrillic alphabet but perhaps with the addition of the Greek letter γ (gamma) to denote the pronunciation of Cyrillic г as either [γ] or [h] in DR as well as the letter ў to denote bilabial [w].

4.3.3. Texts, dictionaries and a grammar

A second task will be to create an archive of texts in both oral form and cyrillic letters. A grammatical outline of DR as well as dictionaries will also be essential as teaching aids.

5. Conclusion

In concluding this pilot study we wish to emphasize that we take it for granted that saving a language from extinction is just as important as ensuring the survival of an animal or plant species. As the Australian language expert Wurm (1991: 17) put it: “With the death of a language […] an irreplaceable unit in our knowledge and understanding of human thought and world-view has been lost forever.” And to paraphrase Harrison (2010: 274), what the elder generations of the Doukhobors know – “which we’ve forgotten or never knew – may someday save us.” It is imperative that, once a community decision has been reached to embark upon a revitalization program, a school program in DR should be started very soon, certainly while the elders are still around because creating a generation of DR as second-language speakers may make good economic sense the benefits of which might only be felt a couple of generations later.

As Harrison quoted one of his “last speakers”: “trouble is, they say they want to learn it [=the language, G.S.], but when it comes time to do the work, nobody comes around” (Harrison 2010: 249). It is noteworthy that in those cases where somebody did come around (Sencoten, Lower Sorbian), the experience has invariably been a rewarding one.

Footnotes

[1] This statistics are based on the possibly quite outdated information given in Popoff 1983, 117. Later figures put the totals somewhat higher, e.g., in Tarasoff 2002, 12.

[2] Current estimates for the Republic of Georgia vary widely due to a lack of reliable statistics from 800 speakers to a mere 150 (see also Section 2.3. of the present study).

[3] DR has been variously referred to as a “language’, a “dialect”, or a “variant” (of Russian). We are using “language” where many writers have been using “dialect”, and we prefer to use “style” as opposed to “dialect”. This question of nomenclature is not trivial, see also the discussion of the hetero- and autostereotype perception of DR in Section 4. of the present study.

[4] In the transliteration of cyrillic, we follow the “ISO Transliteration System”. In one instance, viz., in the discussion of the loss of the neuter gender in DR in Section 2.3., we decided to use the original cyrillic because it seemed to us to make the opposition stressed : unstressed clearer.

[5] This is on the assumption of a 60% language maintenance estimated in Schaarschmidt 1998, 466. The level of maintenance has probably shrunk to something like 50% during the last 15 years, amounting to a total of 12,500 speakers including a large number of semi-speakers.

[6] We prefer to label the relation DR – SR in BC as a diglossic situation. Due to the fact that Canadian English is rapidly becoming the first language for BC Doukhobors, there is bilingualism in addition to diglossia (Schaarschmidt 2012: 249-50). For a discussion of the various forms of diglossia, as opposed to bilingualism, see Myers-Scotton 2006: 80-89.

[7] The term “apocalyptic” seems to refer to the “Day of Judgment” said to arrive possibly in the year 2000, as quoted in Inikova 1995, 194. For some recent literature on the protection of the Doukhobors in Georgia, see also also Immigration and Refugee Board of Canada, Georgia: Treatment of Doukhobors (Dukhobors) and state protection available to them, 1 January 1999, GGA31028.E, available at: http://www.unhcr.org/refworld/docid/3ae6ab9448.html [last accessed 6 February 2013]. For the reduction in the number of schools with Russian instruction in Georgia and an action plan to remedy this situation, see Council of National Minorities (2012).

[8] Young (1931:185) reports many cases of intermarriage between Doukhobors and Ukrainians.

[9] Most of these steps are outlined in Hinton and Hale 2001. A convenient shortcut guide for indigenous languages can be found in FPCC 2013 http://www.fpcc.ca/language/toolkit/begining_an_Indigenous_Language_Initiative.aspx (last accessed February 20, 2013).

References

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  • Government of Alberta (2010). First Nations, Métis and Inuit (FNMI) Language and Culture Twelve-Year (Kindergarten to Grade 12) Template. Edmonton, Alberta: Ministry of Education.
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  • Harshenin, Alex P. (1961). The phonemes of the Doukhobor Dialect. Canadian Slavonic Papers 5: 62-71.
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  • Harshenin, Alex P. (1967). English Loanwords in the Doukhobor Dialect, 2. Canadian Slavonic Papers 9 (2): 16–30.
  • Hinton, Leanne, and Ken Hale. Eds. (2001). The Green Book of Language Revitalization in Practice. San Diego: Academic Press.
  • Inikova, Svetlana (1995). Doukhobors of the USSR at the end of the 1980s. Canadian Ethnic Studies, 27, 3, 181-95.
  • Jodlbauer, Ralph, Gunter Spieß, and Han Steenwijk (2001). Die aktuelle Situation der niedersorbischen Sprache: Ergebnisse einer soziolinguistischen Untersuchung der Jahre 1993-1995. Bautzen: Domowina-Verlag (Schriften des Sorbischen Instituts, 27).
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  • Makarova, Veronika et al. (2011). Jazyk saskačevanskix duxoborov: vvedenie v analiz. In Izvestija vuzov. Serija “gumanitarnye nauki”, 2.2: 146-151.
  • Makarova, Veronika (2012). Introduction. In Veronika Makarova (ed.), pp. vii-xv. Russian Language Studies in North America. New Perspectives from Theoretical and Applied Linguistics. London: Anthem Press.
  • Moseley, Christopher. Ed. (2007). Encyclopedia of the World’s Endangered Languages. London and New York: Routledge.
  • Myers-Scotton, Carol (2006). Multiple Voices. An Introduction to Bilingualism. Malden, MA/Oxford, UK/Victoria, Australia: Blackwell Publishing Ltd.
  • Native Language Education (1986). Grades 1-9: Generic Curriculum. Edmonton, Alberta: Alberta Education.
  • Popoff, Eli A. (1983). “The Doukhobors” in Charles P. Anderson, Tirthankar Bose, and Joseph. I. Richardson (eds.), pp. 113-19. Circle of Voices: A History of the Religious Communities of British Columbia. Lantzville, BC: Oolichan Books.
  • Popoff, Dmitri Eli (Jim) (2012). Adventures in Russian. With Jimitri’s “Dictionary of Doukhoborese”. Iskra. Voice of the Doukhobors, Nos. 2050-2056, 2058-2061 (January-July, September-December).
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  • Schaarschmidt, Gunter (1998). “Language in British Columbia” in John Edwards (ed.), pp. 461-8. Language in Canada. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press.
  • Schaarschmidt, Gunter (2008). “The Ritual Language of the British Columbia Doukhobors as an Endangered Functional Style: Issues of Interference and Translatability.” Canadian Slavonic Papers 50 (1–2): 102–22.
  • Schaarschmidt, Gunter (2009). “English for Doukhobors: 110 Years of Russian-English Contact in Canada” in Nadezhda Grejdina (ed.), pp. 30-43. Aktual’nye problemy kommunikacii i kul’tury. Vyp. 10. Mezhdunarodnyj sbornik nauchnyx trudov. Moskva – Pjatigorsk: Pjatigorskij gosudarstvennyj lingvisticheskij universitet. (also published as https://www.doukhobor.org/Schaarschmidt-Russian-English.htm).
  • Schaarschmidt, Gunter (2012). “Russian Language History in Canada. Doukhobor Internal and External Migrations: Effects on Language Development and Structure” in Veronika Makarova (ed.), pp. 235-260. Russian Language Studies in North America. New Perspectives from Theoretical and Applied Linguistics. London: Anthem Press.
  • Siegel, J. (1985). “Koines and koineization” in Language in Society 14: 357–78.
  • Tarasoff, Koozma J. (1963). “Cultural interchange between the non-Slavic peoples of the Soviet Union and the people of Russian background in the greater Vancouver area.” Term paper, Slavonic Studies, University of British Columbia, Vancouver.
  • Tarasoff, Koozma (2002). Spirit Wrestlers: Doukhobor Pioneers’ Strategies for Living. Brooklyn, NY: Legas/Ottawa: Spirit Wrestlers Publishing.
  • Trudgill, P. J. (1998). “The Chaos before Order: New Zealand English and the Second Stage of New-dialect Formation” in E. H. Jahr (ed.), pp. 1-11. Advances in Historical Sociolinguistics. Berlin: Mouton de Gruyter.
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  • Wurm, Stephen A. (1991). “Language Death and Disappearance: Causes and Circumstances” in Robert H. Robins and Eugenius M. Uhlenbeck (eds.), pp. 1-17. Endangered Languages. Oxford and New York: Berg.
  • Young, Charles H. (1931). Ukrainian Canadians. Toronto: Nelson.

For More Information

For additional research about the Doukhobor dialect spoken in Canada, see Gunter Schaarschmidt’s articles Four Norms – One Culture: Doukhobor Russian in Canada as well as English for Doukhobors: 110 Years of Russian-English Contact in Canada.  Read also about his Day-trip to Piers Island: Reminiscing About the Penitentiary, 1932-1935.  Finally, for Gunter Schaarschmidt’s exclusive translations of 19th century German articles about the Doukhobors, see The Dukhobortsy, 1822-1828 by Daniel Schlatter; Passage Across the Caucasus, 1843 by Kuzma F. Spassky-Avtonomov; The Dukhobortsy in Transcaucasia, 1854-1856 by Heinrich Johann von Paucker; Notes from the Molochnaya, 1855 by Alexander Petzholdt; Doukhobors in the Caucasus, 1863-1864 by Alexander Petzholdt; Report from the Caucasus, 1875 by Hans Leder; and Travels in the Caucasus and the Armenian Highlands, 1875 by Gustav I. Sievers and Gustav I. Radde. 

English for Doukhobors: 110 Years of Russian-English Contact in Canada

by Gunter Schaarschmidt

Over the last 110 years, the use of the Doukhobor Russian dialect has been gradually displaced by English among Doukhobors living in Canada. The following article by Gunter Schaarschmidt of the Department of Germanic and Slavic Studies, University of Victoria, examines this trend in the context of “special” or “ritual” language used by the Doukhobors in their religious ceremony. This article is reproduced with the editor’s permission from Nadezhda L. Grejdina (ed.), “Aktual’nye problemy kommunikacii i kul’tury”, Vol. 10. “Sbornik nauchnyx trudov rossijskix i zarubezhnyx uchenyx” (Moskva/Pyatigorsk: Pyatigorsk State Linguistic University, 2009), pp. 30-43. The author observes that, to the extent Doukhobor cultural and spiritual traditions will be maintained in Canada, the question is whether these will be carried out using the vehicle of Russian or English. If it is the latter, can these cultural and spiritual traditions still be considered “genuine”?

1. Introduction

The present paper will deal with a small subtopic in the discipline of sociolinguistics, i.e., the disappearance of “special” language, such as the “ritual” language as used by the Doukhobors in Canada, and its replacement by English special language. Much of what will be said about the former, also applies to the disappearance of the dialect, which is a living testimony of the various contacts the Doukhobors had in their migrations (see, for example, the many lexical items that stem from contact with non-Slavic peoples in Transcaucasia as described in Tarasoff 1963). The Doukhobors emigrated to Canada from Russia beginning in 1899 and settled first in an area near the border between Saskatchewan and Manitoba. In the years 1908 to 1913, a little more than half of them moved to the Kootenay district of British Columbia (Tarasoff 2002:8-14). Figure (1) shows the original Doukhobor settlements in the Province of Saskatchewan and the migration path from there to the Province of British Columbia. (Note: Permission to reproduce the map in Figure 1 from Tarasoff (1982: 100) is herewith gratefully acknowledged.). At the present time, the number of Doukhobors is estimated to be 30,000 with 13,000 residing in British Columbia. Their rate of language maintenance is about 60% (Schaarschmidt 1998:466).

Figure (1)  Map of Community Doukhobors’ Move from Saskatchewan to British Columbia, 1908-1913.

2. Ritual Language

In essence, the Doukhobor psalms and prayers contain the main elements of a tradition that is not otherwise fixed in a written form. These oral works are composed in a very ancient, Russian Church Slavonic form of language that is often no longer comprehensible even to educated members of the community. In the last 40 years, since the inception of compulsory schooling, many of the psalms and prayers have been recorded in written form. Until that time, most of them were learnt by heart and enriched with regional elements, e.g., Ukrainianisms (see Schaarschmidt 1995). The psalms embody a large part of the Doukhobor belief system, somewhat like a basic communal “constitution” (Mealing 1975:51), as, e.g., in the set of ten psalms entitled “From the Common Views of the Christian Community of Universal Brotherhood”, one of which (No. 5) is given below with an interlinear and a free translation (some of the words have been corrected; it is not clear whether these words were typing errors in Mealing’s work, or whether they were handed down orally in this way and lost some of their grammar). (Note: The transliteration used in this paper is a hybrid of the Library of Congress (LC) system and of IPA. Thus, sh zh ch are retained from LC but c x j from IPA. This will allow a diacritic-free transliteration of Cyrillic.).

Mir     sostoit   iz    dvizhenija; vsë stremitsja k
World consists from movement;   all  strives        to
sovershenstvu i     cherez ètot  process staraetsja
perfection         and through  this  process it strives
soedinit’sja so   svoim nachalom, kak by
to unite        with its       beginning    as   if
vozvratit’ sozrevshij     plod semeni.
to return   having ripened fruit  to seed

“The world is based upon going forward; all things strive for perfection, and through this process seek to rejoin their source, as ripe fruit yields seeds [probably incorrectly in Mealing 1975:53: “as seeds yield ripe fruit”]”.

3. English For Doukhobors

The following constitutes a kind of mini-history of Russian-English contact since the arrival of the Doukhobors in Canada. The historical outline is not exhaustive and ignores many sociolinguistic variables, such as federal and provincial politics with regard to forced schooling, attitudes to Russian language use, and generational differences.

3.1. Anna Tchertkoff’s “English Grammar”

3.1.1. Anna Tchertkoff

More than 100 years ago, Anna Tchertkoff (1859-1927) received a request from the Doukhobors who had emigrated to Canada to write a textbook that would help them and other Russian immigrants learn the English language. She went to work and published such a textbook in her own publishing house in 1900. Anna Tchertkoff was the wife of Vladimir Tchertkoff (1854-1936), an outspoken defender of Doukhobor rights in the Caucasus who after publicizing their plight was exiled from Russia and settled in England in 1897. Together with his wife Anna, he translated, edited, and published Leo Tolstoy’s works. Anna and Vladimir collaborated in founding and running the Free Age Press in English and the Svobodnoe Slovo (“Free Word”) in Russian.

In her preface, Anna Tchertkoff states that the selection of lexical items and phraseological units is based on the needs that the Doukhobors in Canada will have in communicating with their Anglophone hosts. She cautions, however, that the scope and
length of the work (101 pages plus 17 pages of phonetic, orthographic, and grammatical preliminaries) cannot provide an exhaustive listing of words and sentences that a Russian immigrant might require either in Canada or the US. She is also asking readers to send her comments and suggestions that she would like to include in a planned second edition. To our knowledge, such a second edition was never published.

3.1.2. The Pedagogical Variable

Ignoring for the moment the first 17 pages (see 3.1.3. below), the main body of the text has the form of a dictionary or vocabulary lists as well as lists of phrases with the directionality Russian – English. Interspersed in this set of lists are continuous Russian language text segments with interlinear translation and phonetic transcription. The texts illustrate aspects of Canadian geography and culture. As Tarasoff puts it: “they contained propaganda, designed to assist them [the Doukhobors] against the Canadian authorities” (2002:400).

3.1.3. The Linguistic Variable

In what is possibly one of the first contrastive Russian-English analyses, Tchertkoff presents the main differences in the phonology of the two languages. She warns the reader that with her phonetic transcription using the Cyrillic alphabet, it is not always possible to automatically induce the correct pronunciation. Thus the grapheme th has two pronunciations in English, neither of which can be adequately rendered using Russian graphemes. For voiced [δ] she uses the digraph tz, admonishing the reader, however, that “it must not be pronounced as the two separate Russian letters but as one continuant sound, through the teeth, lisping…” (Tchertkoff 1900:v). For the voiceless counterpart [θ], she recommends the Cyrillic letter θ that was in use before the October Revolution. This letter is of Greek origin and originally had the sound value [θ]. However, when Russian adopted the letter, its pronunciation in Modern Greek had already changed into [f], but Russian continued to use it until 1913 primarily in names of Greek origin, such as Theodore (θedorь), even though it was pronounced as an [f].

In the remarks on the English vowel system, Tchertkoff stresses the fact that there can be both long (diphthongized) and short vowels in stressed syllables, which contrasts with the Russian phonological system where vowels under stress are always lengthened (and diphthongized). One problem in her analysis is that she takes the British English pronunciation as a basis, e.g., in words like consume and duty where in most Canadian dialects the u is pronounced [uw], not [yuw].

Standard (Moscow) Russian does not have phonemically relevant [h], so Tchertkoff renders this high-frequency English phoneme with Russian [x]. She points out, however, that “our Little Russians [i.e., Ukrainians] pronounce the letter g as [h]”
(Tchertkoff 1900:ix), forgetting, apparently, that the Doukhobor dialect does exactly the same, i.e., it has phonemic /h/. The problem here is, of course, that the Cyrillic alphabet never had a grapheme for the sound [h], and that written g is used in Ukrainian and Doukhobor Russian to denote both [h] and [g], the latter occurring mainly in borrowings (Canadian Ukrainian developed a special grapheme for phonetic [g]). In any case, a contrastive analysis of the phonological systems of Doukhobor Russian and English would predict that Doukhobor speakers should have no problem with English /h/.

In the last section of her preliminaries, Anna Tchertkoff tackles the definite/indefinite article in English. Russian does not have an article, using mainly word order to fulfill the function of the and a(n). She explains the use of the definite/indefinite article in English in terms of the known/unknown variables, postponing a more detailed analysis of this grammatical problem, and of many others, to the preparation of a second part of the grammar.

3.1.4. The Sociolinguistic Variable

The selection of the lexical items, phrases, and texts in the book is determined by two factors: 1) unlike many other grammars, Tchertkoff’s grammar is not aimed at the educated Russian reader, the leisure traveller, or the business traveller, but at the needs of the 7,500 Doukhobor immigrants in Canada; thus, the language presented is Canadian English; and 2) apart from terminology used in the Doukhobors’ daily work, the grammar concentrates on certain abstract concepts required for them to communicate their belief system and rituals to their hosts. This second factor seems to be at variance with the Doukhobors’ attitude to English. After all, they had come to Canada “to preserve the cultural identity of which their language is an intimate part” (Harshenin 1964:39). Thus, they borrowed from English what was absolutely essential to their work environment, i.e., terms relating to the railroad, the sawmills, gadgets, units of measure, money (see the list compiled by Harshenin 1967:216-30). Furthermore, until the 1930’s the Doukhobors resisted any pressure by the Canadian authorities to send their children to schools and thus expose them to daily English instruction. Perhaps this is the reason why there was never any need for a second edition, or why the planned second part never appeared: the grammar was simply not used by the Doukhobors. However, another reason may be that the Tchertkoffs returned to Russia and settled there in 1909, a move that would have cut their ties with the Doukhobor immigrants in Canada.

3.2. Interference Phenomena

In the late 1930s, a Canadian writer was able to make fun in her diary of the heavily accented English spoken by the Doukhobors, as illustrated in the following passage from her book (O’Neail 1962:104):

Eh-h-h-h, how moch monya! … And now every mawnt’
Eh,          how  much  money       and  now  every  month
we’re gonna   gyet like dot  moch  monya!
we’re   going to get   like  that  much  money
And today mawder-my weell go Nyelson
and  today  mother-my    we’ll    go to Nelson
and buy la-awtsa t’eengs! E-h-h, how lawtsa
and  buy lots of      things    Eh,     how   lots of
weell buy!
we’ll    buy

“Eh, how much money [we received], and now every month we are going to receive just as much money! And today my mother and I, we will go to Nelson and buy a lot of things! Eh, what a lot of [things] we will buy.”

The above passage shows typical Russian phonetic interference phenomena, such as palatalization before front vowels (monya, gyet, Nyelson); rendering short vowels in a stressed syllable as long vowels (mawnt’, t’eengs, mawder); t’ (aspirated) for voiceless th (teengs), and d for voiced th (dotmawder). Syntactically, we note 1) the postpositioning of the possessive, an archaism in Russian but typical of Doukhobor speech (mawder-my); 2) the frequent use of and at the beginning of utterances; and 3) the absence of a preposition in go Nyelson, possibly as a transference from mute Russian bilabial [w] for v before consonants.

When Hazel O’Neail returned to the area in 1962, i.e., 24 years later, she was able to note that “the old accent lingers in some cases, though not nearly as pronounced, and in many I caught not a trace at all. Furthermore, the offensive ‘and’ which used to preface every remark…seems to have disappeared altogether” (O’Neail 1962:141). Today, more than one generation later, only Doukhobors in their eighties and nineties show traces of an accent in English. All others speak a Canadian English of the Western variety, and for most of them English is their first language.

4. Lost Categories

4.1. Language and Culture

The loss of languages is often compared to the decimation and eventual extinction of animal and plant species. For language, changes in environment would mean that, to quote Wurm (1991:3):

the cultural and social settings in which a given language had been functioning,
usually for a very long time, have been replaced by new and quite different ones as
a result of irresistible culture contact and clash, with the traditional language
unsuited for readily functioning as a vehicle of expression of the new culture.

And to continue with Wurm (1991:17): “With the death of a language…, an irreplaceable unit in our knowledge and understanding of human thought and world-view has been lost forever.”

One word of caution that must be heeded by the investigator is whether the loss of linguistic categories follows the loss of the underlying cultural categories, or to put it the other way around, whether linguistic categories are retained in a language long after the underlying cultural categories have been lost. In a language revival process this interrelationship would imply that the revival of linguistic categories entails the revival of the underlying cultural categories.

Thus, in the case of Doukhobor culture, having been removed from Russian society for more than 100 years, many of the set patterns of this society were also removed and supplanted by Anglo-Canadian patterns. The Doukhobors have of course always been a society within a society but through the interaction with the dominant society, have assimilated and/or retained patterns of the latter.

The loss of the dialect reflects the general levelling of dialectal differences in the world’s languages and is therefore as general a process as the loss of lesser used languages. Revival of dialects does occur but in the case of Doukhobor Russian would be made more difficult due to the competition of the dialect with Standard Russian. This entire question must be left to a different investigation (see also below, Section 5).

The loss of a special language, such as Doukhobor ritual language, can only be compared to the loss of other special languages in the world, viz., the loss of Latin in Christian churches, the loss of the scientific functional style in many of the world’s smaller languages (and even some of the major languages), and perhaps the loss of writing systems, such as cuneiform, Egyptian hieroglyphics, and Mayan. An anthropologist like Mark Mealing rhetorically deplores the rendering of Doukhobor psalms in English: “can the psalms convey their true meanings if they are not heard or read in Russian?” (Mealing 1995:41); he concedes, however, that one can expect to “find something deeply present in such potent texts, even through the mask of translation” (Mealing 1995:41). This view is apparently shared by the younger generation of Doukhobors, i.e., 29 years or younger, who do not support the concept of language being a carrier of culture and belief (Friesen and Verigin 1996: 147).

There is also regional variation in this respect; thus, the 2004 festivities connected with Peter’s Day were conducted primarily in English in Saskatchewan (Note: Private communication by Larry Ewashen, Director of the Doukhobor Museum in Castlegar, BC.), while the same festivities in British Columbia were conducted in Russian. (The author of this paper was present during part of the Sunday festivities (June 27, 2004) on the grounds of the Doukhobor Museum in Castlegar, BC, and can thus vouch for this fact. It must be pointed out, however, that the choice of language in both Saskatchewan and British Columbia is apparently also audience-conditioned, i.e., with a predominantly English-speaking audience, English translations will be used at least in part of the ceremonies in the West Kootenay area as well. It may be worth noting here that the Doukhobor community in the Republic of Georgia has apparently been successful in maintaining both the dialect and the ritual style although the number of persons able to recite the psalms is decreasing there as well (for a recent analysis, see Bezhenceva 2007: 123–139).)

On the basis of translations of Doukhobor ritual texts, we can arrive at a tentative list of lost categories or untranslatable (“cultural substance”) features.

4.2. Psalm No. 166

It will be worthwhile here contrasting an excerpt from psalm No. 166 with its English translation to ascertain just what may have been lost in the translation (the annotation DP stands for discourse particle).

Mladye moi junoshi, vy  projdëte  lesy    tëmnye,
Young   my   youth     you will pass  forests dark
vzyjdite na gory         krutye, pristupite k  morju
climb     on  mountains steep    step up     to sea
chërnomu, stan’te zhe vy   na   Noev   korabl’. bujny
black          board   DP   you onto Noah’s ark        boisterous
vetry  sbushevalis’,
winds  raged
chërno more vskolyxalos’. slëzno  vosplakalis’
black    sea    heaved           tearfully cried out
mladye junoshi pered Gospodom: Gospodi, Gospodi! pochto
young    youth    before   Lord            Lord         Lord        why
dopustil  bujnye     vetry  bushevat’, morskie volny  volnovat’
(you) let   boisterous winds rage           ocean    waves  surge
chërno more kolyxat’, chto nel’zja      projti    v    Tvoj
black    sea    heave      that   impossible to-pass into Your
Erusalim-grad, posmotret’ tam  velik  stolb ognennyj, on zhe
Jerusalem-city   to-view        there great  pillar  fiery           it   DP
vozsijaet ot     zemli i    do neba.
shines      from earth  and to  sky

Notes: Vzyjdite: An archaic form, cf. Standard Russian vzojdëte. The suffix –ite is an imperative suffix not expected in this context. Stan’te: This is an imperative form instead of the expected staneteVozsijaet: Standard Russian orthography has vossijaet.

And here is the translation as taken from Mealing (1995:43-44):

“My young men, you will go on through shadowy forests, you will go up into lofty mountains, you will come to the gloomy sea, you will embark in Noah’s ship. The wild winds were uproarious, the dark sea was stirred up. The young men wept bitter tears
before the Lord: Lord, Lord! Why allow the wild winds to rage, the waves of the sea to billow up, the dark sea to heave? It is impossible for us to come to your Jerusalem-town, there to look at the great fiery pillar, it shines from earth to heaven.”

4.3. What Is Lost

The linguistic features examined in this subsection are 1) those which represent Church Slavonic elements that serve as mnemonic devices in the oral transmission of the psalms; and 2) those which due to their phonetic structure have an alliterative-parallel function and thus do not possess any semantic value.

4.3.1. The Postnominal Position of Adjectives

The postnominal position of adjectives is a normal syntactic rule for French, and yet no one would want to claim that all French translations into English are inadequate. The reason is that a normal syntactic phenomenon in French is translated into a normal syntactic phenomenon in English, i.e., the prenominal position of modifiers. In Russian, however, the postnominal position of adjectives is highly marked, whereas in the Doukhobor ritual style this position is a stylistic possibility for incorporating invariant mnemonic aids. In [the above psalm] text the postnominal position of long-form adjectives is almost the norm, while the short forms are always prenominal, cf. the opposition prenominal vs. postnominal in chërno more : k morju chërnomu and, in one and the same noun phrase, velik stolb ognennyj. (Note: The short-form adjectives are no longer used in an attributive position in Standard Russian, except in fixed idioms, such as sred’ bela dnja “in broad daylight.”). This parallelism is not always symmetric due to grammatical restrictions (mladye junoshi) or onomatopoeic preference (Tvoj Erusalim-grad).

4.3.2. Church Slavonicisms

In the [psalm] text passage above, we find this mixture of styles, on the one hand, in the adjective mladye “young” nom pl vs. Russian molodye; and, on the other hand, in the preposition pered “before, in front of” vs. Church Slavonic pred. This functional interplay of Church Slavonic and Russian forms characterizes not only the Doukhobor ritual style but also Russian poetic style. It may be argued that mladye is a phonetic spelling of molodye with the loss of the vowel in the first syllable, a phenomenon that is common in colloquial speech. The only argument against this is the fact that we are dealing here with the recital of a psalm, i.e., a formal style, in which vowel elision would seem to be prohibited. However, this question merits further study with a wider corpus.

4.3.3. Alliteration and Parallelism

The alliterative parallelism of the verb phrases with the perfective reflexives sbushevalis’vskolyxalos’slëzno vosplakalis’ and the verb phrases with the imperfective infinitives bushevat’volnovat’kolyxat’ is less concerned with the cognitive meaning of the passage in question than its contextual meaning, a feature typical of folklore genres in Russian. That the threefold matchup is not quite symmetric semantically (vosplakalis’ vs. volnovat’) is no doubt due to the conventions of oral transmission of these psalms where for the sake of memorization semantics was sacrificed to phonetics.

4.3.4. Short Form Adjectives Used Attributively

The examples in question in [the above psalm text] are bujny vetrychërno more, and velik stolb ognennyj “large, fiery pillar.” This usage of short form adjectives in an attributive function, as opposed to their restriction to a predicative function in Standard Russian, was a regular feature in Old Church Slavonic and was retained as a marked stylistic feature in poetry and Russian Church Slavonic as well as in the Doukhobor ritual style. The noun phrase velik stolb ognennyj above is semantically equivalent to Standard Russian bol’shoj ognennyj stolb but the rhythm and archaic connotation of the given construction are lost in the Standard Russian phrase and of course in the English translation as well.

5. Conclusion

To the extent that Doukhobor cultural and spiritual traditions will be maintained, the question is whether these will be carried out using the vehicle of Russian or of English. If low language maintenance levels in Russian make it necessary to carry out most, if not all culture-related activities in English, there is the question whether what is being practiced is still “genuine” Doukhobor culture, i.e., can one really speak of maintaining one’s cultural heritage while giving up the language in which it was cultivated for centuries? And, concerning the oral literature, if Russian Church Slavonic is replaced by Canadian English, and if all of hymnody is made available in a written form, certainly the style of singing will change, viz., the creative aspect; the correcting in mid-song; and the duration of ritual speech acts. This will certainly amount not only to a loss of cultural substance but also to an assimilation to the dominant Anglo-Canadian culture. There are many additional questions that need to be addressed in future research. Two of them will be mentioned here but cannot be discussed in detail at this point in time. Doukhobor Russian in Canada generally shares many features with other forms of émigré Russian in North America that are due to “incomplete acquisition” (Polinsky 2006). In addition, structural developments in Doukhobor Russian can serve to “redefine” the notion “Standard Russian” (Andrews 2006). However, Doukhobor Russian in Canada also shows important differences that are due to 1) its largely oral tradition; 2) its relative geographic isolation; 3) its deliberate resistance to the influence of Canadian English; and, last but not least, 4) the influence of Ukrainian during the first generation of settlement in Saskatchewan.

At the present time, English among the Doukhobors must still compete with Modern Standard Russian both in the replacement of the dialect and in the maintenance of ritual language. The dialect is clearly losing the battle against Modern Standard Russian but then the levelling of dialect differences in the world’s languages is widespread. Modernizing the psalms, however, may delay the complete switch to English versions. Recent efforts in this respect have resulted in a modern psalm book (USSC 1978) as well as the ongoing efforts in the Doukhobor monthly Iskra to present many psalms in a Standard Russian form. We hope to address the above questions in more detail in a future study.

A final word needs to be said about the threat of language loss. If, as Ter-Minasova put it, languages are the guardians of a people’s identity (Ter-Minasova 2007:121), then language loss should lead to the loss of identity. It is impossible to conduct a crucial experiment in that respect, that is, to subject half of a linguistic community to language loss, leaving the other half as a control group and then compare the degree of the loss of identity. What we do know, however, is that there is a family of languages, i.e., the First Nations communities in Canada, such as Cree in the Province of Alberta or Salish in British Columbia, that are engaged in an active endeavour of reversing language shift partly as a necessary healing process and a desire to regain their lost identity. It seems that their efforts serve at least as partial support for maintaining the Doukhobor ritual style, perhaps in a “reconfigured” form allowing codeswitching between cognitive structures in English and contextual-mnemonic devices in Russian/Church Slavonic (see also Rak 2004; and Schaarschmidt 2008). There is no agreement to what extent globalization is contributing to the loss of languages. On the one hand, the process of globalization is considered to be the “main despoiler of languages and cultures” (Ter-Minasova 2007:254). On the other hand, the globalization of English has directly led to the disappearance of languages only in those countries where “English has itself come to be the dominant language, such as in North America, Australia and the Celtic parts of the British Isles” (Crystal 1998:18). Crystal’s statement certainly seems to apply to the Doukhobor language which is threatened far more by the local and regional economic situation in British Columbia, Canada, than by the status of English as a global language.

References

  • Andrews, David R. (2006). The Role of Émigré Russian in Redefining the “Standard.” Journal of Slavic Linguistics 14: 169–189.
  • Bezhenceva, Alla (2007). Strana Duxoborija. Tbilisi: Russkij klub.
  • Crystal, David (1998). English as a Global Language. Cambridge (UK): Cambridge University Press/Canto.
  • Friesen, John W. and Michael M. Verigin (1996). The Community Doukhobors: A People in Transition. Ottawa: The Borealis Press.
  • Harshenin, Alex P. (1964). English Loanwords in the Doukhobor Dialect, 1. In: Canadian Slavonic Papers 6, 38-43.
  • Harshenin, Alex P. (1967). English Loanwords in the Doukhobor Dialect, 2. In: Canadian Slavonic Papers 9/2, 16-30.
  • Mealing, Mark F. (1975). Doukhobor Life. A Survey of Doukhobor Religion, History, and Folklife. Castlegar, BC.: Cotinneh Books.
  • Mealing, Mark F. (1995). Doukhobor psalms: adornment to the soul. In: K.J. Tarasoff and R.B. Klymasz (eds.), Spirit Wrestlers. Centennial Papers in Honour of Canada’s Doukhobor Heritage (Hull/Québec: Canadian Museum of Civilization),
    pp. 39-50.
  • O’Neail, Hazel (1962). Doukhobor Daze. Sidney, BC: Gray’s Publishing.
  • Polinsky, Maria (2006). Incomplete Acquisition: American Russian. Journal of Slavic Linguistics 14: 191–262.
  • Rak, Julie (2004). Negotiated Memory: Doukhobor Autobiographical Discourse. Vancouver/Toronto: UBC Press.
  • Schaarschmidt, Gunter (1995). Aspects of the History of Doukhobor Russian. In: Canadian Ethnic Studies 27.3: 197-205.
  • Schaarschmidt, Gunter (1998). Language in British Columbia. In: John Edwards (ed.), Language in Canada (Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press), pp. 461-468.
  • Schaarschmidt, Gunter (2008). Code-switching im Sorbischen und im Duchobor-Russischen als eine mögliche Zwischenstufe in der Erhaltung und Revitalisierung von Minderheitensprachen in der EU und in Kanada. Lûtopis 55.2: 109-125.
  • Tarasoff, Koozma J. (1963). Cultural Interchange Between the Non-Slavic Peoples of the Soviet Union and the People of Russian Background in the Greater Vancouver Area. Unpublished term paper (Vancouver: UBC Slavonic Studies).
  • Tarasoff, Koozma J. (1982). Plakun Trava: The Doukhobors. Grand Forks, BC: Mir.
  • Tarasoff, Koozma J. (2002). Spirit Wrestlers: Doukhobor Pioneers’ Strategies for Living. Brooklyn, N.Y.: Legas/Ottawa: Spirit Wrestlers Publishing.
  • Tchertkoff, Anna (1900). Prakticheskij uchebnik anglijskogo jazyka/Russian-English Handbook. London: A. Tchertkoff, “The Free Age Press”.
  • Ter-Minasova, Svetlana Grigor’evna (2007). Vojna i mir jazykov i kul’tur. Moskva: AST/Astrel’/Xranitel’. USCC (1978).
  • Sbornik duxoborcheskix psalmov, stixov i pesen. Grand Forks, BC: Izdanie Sojuza Duxovnyx Obshchin Xrista /Union of Spiritual Communities of Christ (USCC).
  • Wurm, Stephen A. (1991). Language Death and Disappearance: Causes and Circumstances. In Robert H. Robins and Eugenius M. Uhlenbeck (eds.), Endangered Languages (pp. 1–17). Oxford, UK/ New York: Berg.

For More Information

For additional research about the Doukhobor dialect spoken in Canada, see Gunter Schaarschmidt’s articles Four Norms – One Culture: Doukhobor Russian in Canada as well as The Maintenance and Revitalization of Doukhobor Russian in British Columbia: Prospects and Problems.  Read also about his Day-trip to Piers Island: Reminiscing About the Penitentiary, 1932-1935.  Finally, for Gunter Schaarschmidt’s exclusive translations of 19th century German articles about the Doukhobors, see The Dukhobortsy, 1822-1828 by Daniel Schlatter; Passage Across the Caucasus, 1843 by Kuzma F. Spassky-Avtonomov; The Dukhobortsy in Transcaucasia, 1854-1856 by Heinrich Johann von Paucker; Notes from the Molochnaya, 1855 by Alexander Petzholdt; Doukhobors in the Caucasus, 1863-1864 by Alexander Petzholdt; Report from the Caucasus, 1875 by Hans Leder; and Travels in the Caucasus and the Armenian Highlands, 1875 by Gustav I. Sievers and Gustav I. Radde.

Kars: A Journey of Discovery

by Florence (nee Chernoff) Lymburner

Florence (nee Chernoff) Lymburner of Seattle, Washington, USA has a close connection with the Doukhobor culture. She was raised in the Doukhobor community of Grand Forks, British Columbia. After studying at the University of British Columbia, she and her husband John lived and worked professionally in Western Canada, Germany, Thailand and Japan, and traveled extensively in Russia, the Middle East and the Far East.  Over the years, Florence has photographed and painted numerous Doukhobor historic sites she has visited.  A highlight of her travels occurred in October of 2009, when she and her husband traveled to Kars, Turkey. Armed with a historical map and assisted by a local guide and translator, she was able to visit the historic Kars Doukhobor village sites – the first such visit by a person of Doukhobor ancestry in 90 to 110 years!  The following article outlines her remarkable heritage trip and fascinating journey of discovery to the lands of her Doukhobor ancestors. 

Dear Doukhobor brothers and sisters, my husband, John, and I travelled to Kars, Turkey on a journey of discovery in October 2009. My grandmother Fenya (nee Podmoroff) Potapoff-Kholodenin was born in Kars (pronounced Karzz). Like many of your families, she left as a child and didn’t recall anything. Being adventuresome at heart, I wanted to see the place for myself.

To our surprise, today, Kars is an energetic city, home to 80,000 people and her neighboring countries are Georgia and Armenia. The elevation is 1700 meters. There is a medieval castle on a hill and a sleek metal monument across the river on an adjacent hill. At the base, are the remains of Ottoman buildings, a bridge built in the 15th Century, and nearby a vacant “Twelve Apostles” Armenian church with grass and weeds on the roof (10th Century).

The magnificent fortress of Kars, dating back to the 12th century.

The Kars people descended from Karsaks, a Turkic tribe that came from the Caucasus (2nd Century BC), I’m told. The Russians captured Kars in 1878 and held it until 1920 during the Turkish War of Independence, when Russia withdrew. Somewhere during that time, the Doukhobors arrived and settled in small clusters of villages, maybe 50 km from Kars. The reminders of the Russians are evident in the stately stone-granite buildings made in their 40 year occupation. Well designed buildings include an Opera House, a Cossack military Orthodox Church, now a (Fethiye) Mosque, an old embassy and the Tsar’s hunting chalet and other structures. I wondered whether any Doukhobors ever saw these sights, as they lived within 57 km, which was a long distance then.

Florence Lymburner stands in front of the road sign for Kuyucuk, the first of several former Doukhobor villages she visited in Kars province, Turkey.

A major tourist sight nearby is Ani, located 45 km away. It is a spectacular plateau on the Silk Road trading route overlooking the river border to Armenia. Its history goes back to year 961. It was in the hands of the Byzantines in 1045, followed by the Mongols in 1239. It was home to 100,000 people at one time. Earthquakes and wars with neighboring countries crumbled it. Mount Ararat, where according to the Bible, Noah’s ark came to rest after the flood, is located to the southeast. It is a fascinating area. Did any of your familes ever mention these places?

The search for our former Doukhobor villages proved to be a great adventure. Today, not much information is known locally about our people. The majority of Turkish villagers were familiar with the “Molokan” name (who were more numerous, historically in Kars) but were puzzled by who the “Doukhobors” were.

Porsuklu, like the other former Doukhobor villages Florence visited, is laid out in two rows of houses facing each other across a wide central street. A tell-tale sign of former Russian habitation, the village layout is distinctly different from most Turkish villages, which follow a scattered, motley pattern.

The first village we visited was Kuyucuk (formerly Gorelovka). It didn’t have anything familiar of our culture left (except for its distinct street-village pattern). We stopped by their (Moslem) cemetery with a pale blue fence, out of respect. The village had a mosque and a school along a muddy road. It had 75 homes, each with a plot of land of the same size behind the house. The fields were bare, as it was early October, only the sunflower stalks remained. The Doukhobors introduced the Turkish villagers to sunflowers, we were told.

A Turkish village woman stands in front of her house in Kuyucuk.

The adventure continued to a village called Sahnalar (formerly Spasovka). Here was a comfortable modest home with welcoming owners who showed us an old cellar and a possible blacksmith area. The real find was an ancient plow and grabli (“metal rake”).

A horse-drawn single-furrow plough stands in the village of Sahnalar.  Dating back to the turn of the 20th century, it was probably used by the original Doukhobor inhabitants of the village.

There was also a hand carved kitchen cabinet with two antiqued mirrored doors on top. This was exciting (my Grandfather Alex Kholodenin made one for his family in Grand Forks, BC). We had found what appeared to be real, historic Doukhobor artifacts. The adjoining property had fields of autumn sunflowers that the Doukhobors had brought to the area. The trip thus far had been rewarding but we went on further for more.

Florence peers into her past in the mirrored doors of an antique hand-carved cabinet. Its age, manufacture and coloring is typical of Doukhobor craftsmanship.

The third village we visited was called Karahan (formerly Terpeniye). It was located at the base of a distinctive ancient mountain, Mount Karahan, next to a small stream. An old flour mill was still operating there. I wondered what was there and was shown a piece of equipment – a metal round drum-like remnant in a light blue painted wooden structure. The color was very “Doukhobor-blue” (a most popular color among Doukhobors in the Caucasus and Canada), like seen in the old porches of our Grand Forks village homes. We tore away the weeds and rubbish. It felt like I was touching someone’s Doukhobor hands, which had created the wooden and metal mill parts. It was hard to remove my hand and to say “good-bye” to a piece of trash.

Over a century old, the Doukhobor-built mill in Karahan village is still operating today.

This wasn’t the end of our surprises. The working mill had metal troughs for the water flowing from Gora Karahan to the flour mill. It had been made by the Doukhobors and was still functioning perfectly. The comments made were that “whatever the Doukhobors made was well done and lasting” and that “it’s too bad the Doukhobors left”.

Mount Karahan rises in the foreground near Karahan village, an important visual landmark demarcating the former Doukhobor homeland in Kars. A Doukhobor cemetery lies atop it, whose graves are still visible.

Next, the hillside of the mountain Karahan was bare of any trees, just short grasses and flat rocks. Here was the location of the mogilochki (cemetery), which had slight indentations to mark the burial area. A herd of cows with a herder, a horse, and a dog roamed in silence. We stopped, knelt and bowed our heads, said a psalm that my grandfather Ivan (John) Chernoff taught me when I was young. “God is mine, I am His, You created me, I will be with you.” It was an incredible moment of mixed feelings of joy, peace, excitement and blessing. This peaceful area must have been difficult to leave forever by our ancestors, it was beautiful.

Indentations mark Doukhobor graves on the rocky hillside of Mount Karahan.

The next village we travelled to was called Mescitli (formerly Troitskoye). It had a Moslem mosque and a village water trough (like the one in Fructova village where I grew up). I remember the quarrels over the water supply and wondered if the Turks had the same problem now. I saw a family outside with a rug on the ground being washed with a hose.

A Doukhobor-built home still inhabited in Porsuklu village. Its flat ridged roof, parameter porch and ornate woodwork is virtually identical to historic Doukhobor homes built in Georgia, Azerbaijan and Saskatchewan.

The sun was setting and there was the last village which was my grandmother’s, called Porsuklu (formerly Pokrovka). There were several homes that looked much like the Doukhobor houses located in the Georgian villages (Orlovka and others) with faded blue bric-brac trims on the windows and eaves. One house was occupied and we visited inside. On entering it, we noticed the woman was drying lapsha (“egg noodles”) in a round machine, while sitting on the ground and on the window sills there was more lapsha drying! This wasn’t what I’d expected because I’d believed lapsha was ‘our’ food.

The ornate hand-carved window frame in this century-old Porsuklu building is typical of Doukhobor craftsmanship.

Inside, the one main family room had carpets on the floor and walls, one of which covered the sealed-off old oven (pech). In the farm yard they showed us a plow, a wagon and a well. Who had been the original occupants? Your relatives? (They spoke of “Vasya” whom they’d known – clearly a Russian). This home should be kept as a museum; some much needed paint would preserve it. The villages we visited were all renamed; the only one we couldn’t find was Kirilovka – which apparently no longer exists.

Inside a Doukhobor-built house in Porsuklu is a pech (oven) that has been sealed off by the current inhabitants. This would have been a mainstay of every Doukhobor home in the village originally.

As a side-note, in preparation for my trip to Kars, I had packed up “Doukhobor” items to be donated to a Molokan and Doukhobor museum that will be established through the Molokan Friendship Association with the assistance of our excellent guide, Vedat Akcayoz. These items included: a loom rug made by my mother, Mable (Nastya) Potapoff, a small spinning wheel, and a wooden lapsha rolling pin, made by my father, Peter J. Chernoff, some old records with Doukhobor choral singing, copies of ISKRA and Dove magazines, a child’s homespun linen dress, doilies, photographs and a bag of lapsha!  I also had a ball of yarn dyed and spun by grandmother, Fenya (Podmoroff) Potapoff–Kholodenin.

In turn, a Turkish lady in the village of Sahnalar was preparing food in her cellar for the winter. She was drying beans and she gave me a handful, which I would be happy to share with gardeners who are sentimental about their history in Kars villages. If these Kars bean plants could be increased in number and passed on each year, they’d be a reminder of our roots and we would be part of Kars too. Could you see the smiles on our grandmother’s faces?

A search for the ruins of Kirilovka village produced no results. In the foreground, the mountains of Armenia loom distant.

This memorable trip will always be with me, in my heart, recorded in my photographs and preserved in the oil paintings that I plan to leave for future generations. What else could I bring back to you?

In summary, my adventure in Kars was like being the “first Doukhobor woman on the moon”; but others can go there also and expand on our historical knowledge of the area.

View Kars Doukhobor and Molokan Villages, 1879-1921 in a larger map

Acknowledgements

This journey would not have been possible without the help and support of a number of people.  Above all, I would like to thank my husband John Lymburner for his personal support and great friendship at all times, for which my mere expression of gratitude does not suffice.  Locating the Kars Doukhobor villages would not have been possible without the assistance of Doukhobor.org webmaster Jonathan Kalmakoff, who shared his expertise of Doukhobor geography and place names and the historic map he developed. The good advice, support and friendship of Molokane.org webmaster Andrei Conovaloff, has also been invaluable on both a personal and practical level, for which I am very grateful. Finally, I would like to acknowledge Turkish sectarian historian Vedat Akçayöz who generously agreed to act as our guide and translator, and whose knowledge of local history and conditions was extremely helpful. For inquiries regarding my trip to the Kars Doukhobor village sites, please email myself, Florence Lymburner.

An earlier version of this article appeared by permission of the author in ISKRA No. 2028 (U.S.C.C., March 1, 2010).