To the Spirit of God, I Pray and Bow

by Elena Kovshova

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Doukhobor Place Names Database Renamed ‘The Doukhobor Gazetteer’

For Immediate Release – June 6, 2008

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Doukhobor Gazetteer can be accessed online through the Doukhobor Genealogy Website at

A Fading Minority: The Doukhobors’ Continued Struggle For Survival

by Hedvig Lohm & Ilya Chkhutishvili

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sirotsky Dom building in Gorelovka village, Georgia.  GeorgiaToday.

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

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


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

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

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


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 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 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).