Heretics and Colonizers

Heretics and Colonizers: Forging Russia's Empire in the South Caucasus

Copyright Date: 2005
Edition: 1
Published by: Cornell University Press
Pages: 372
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  • Book Info
    Heretics and Colonizers
    Book Description:

    In Heretics and Colonizers, Nicholas B. Breyfogle explores the dynamic intersection of Russian borderland colonization and popular religious culture. He reconstructs the story of the religious sectarians (Dukhobors, Molokans, and Subbotniks) who settled, either voluntarily or by force, in the newly conquered lands of Transcaucasia in the nineteenth century. By ordering this migration in 1830, Nicholas I attempted at once to cleanse Russian Orthodoxy of heresies and to populate the newly annexed lands with ethnic Slavs who would shoulder the burden of imperial construction.

    Breyfogle focuses throughout on the lives of the peasant settlers, their interactions with the peoples and environment of the South Caucasus, and their evolving relations with Russian state power. He draws on a wide variety of archival sources, including a large collection of previously unexamined letters, memoirs, and other documents produced by the sectarians that allow him unprecedented insight into the experiences of colonization and religious life. Although the settlers suffered greatly in their early years in hostile surroundings, they in time proved to be not only model Russian colonists but also among the most prosperous of the Empire's peasants. Banished to the empire's periphery, the sectarians ironically came to play indispensable roles in the tsarist imperial agenda.

    The book culminates with the dramatic events of the Dukhobor pacifist rebellion, a movement that shocked the tsarist government and received international attention. In the early twentieth century, as the Russian state sought to replace the sectarians with Orthodox settlers, thousands of Molokans and Dukhobors immigrated to North America, where their descendants remain to this day.

    eISBN: 978-0-8014-6356-3
    Subjects: History

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
    (pp. ix-xii)
    (pp. xiii-xiv)
    (pp. xv-xvii)
  6. Maps
    (pp. xviii-xxiv)
    (pp. 1-14)

    On October 20, 1830, Tsar Nicholas I issued a decree that fundamentally altered two previously unconnected aspects of Russian history.¹ It redirected the trajectory of Russian colonization in the Empire’s southernmost region—the newly incorporated provinces of the South Caucasus—while simultaneously recasting the fate of Christian religious dissenters throughout the Empire.² The 1830 edict ordered that all religious sectarians (sektanty) who were classified as “especially pernicious” (including Dukhobors, Molokans, and Subbotniks, but not Old Believers) were to be relocated to Transcaucasia by either forcible exile or voluntary resettlement. The legislation was a conscious state effort to utilize the Empire’s...


    • 1 TOLERATION THROUGH ISOLATION The Edict of 1830 and the Origins of Russian Colonization in Transcaucasia
      (pp. 17-48)

      The statute of 1830 laid the foundation for the systematic settlement of ethnic Russians in the South Caucasus. With a single stroke of the legislative pen, the act opened a striking new chapter in Russia’s long history of borderland settlement, transformed the process of Russian imperialism in Transcaucasia, and altered the fate of religious sectarians throughout the Empire. The legislators attempted to combine three goals in the decree. First, and by far the most important, was the desire to weaken religious dissent in the heartland by isolating sectarians on the Empire’s Transcaucasian periphery. Such segregation took two forms. Those sectarians...

    • 2 TO A LAND OF PROMISE Sectarians and the Resettlement Experience
      (pp. 49-84)

      State officials regarded sectarian relocation as a means to regulate their multiconfessional empire and to harness population movement for state benefit; for the settlers themselves, migration meant something very different. For them, resettlement was understood in the personal terms of material well-being and religious self-expression—a process saturated with aspirations, social ramifications, cultural meanings, and life-altering consequences. Migration was inevitably a momentous event. It required leaving behind everything and everyone that these Russians had ever known and traveling—often on foot—to a part of the world that was very different from their homelands. Whereas state officials saw sectarian relocation...


    • 3 “IN THE BOSOM OF AN ALIEN CLIMATE” Ecology, Economy, and Colonization
      (pp. 87-127)

      Arriving in 1830 in the South Caucasus, the Dukhobors exiled from the Don Cossacks encountered widespread hunger, soaring death rates, and economic destitution. Tsarist officials had prepared for their arrival by selecting lands in Karabakh province, constructing fifty mud huts “with spacious outer entrance halls,” and stockpiling wood, wheat, millet, and barley for each family. Despite their good intentions, however, the authorities made grave errors. Shaba-Kishliak, the first location for the Dukhobors, was in a valley that proved inaccessible to wheeled transport and lacked sufficient pastureland for the settlers’ livestock. Worse yet, weakened and destitute from the journey, the Dukhobors...

    • 4 HERETICS INTO COLONIZERS Changing Roles and Transforming Identities on the Imperial Periphery
      (pp. 128-172)

      In a report to Alexander III in 1890, A. M. Dondukov-Korsakov, then chief administrator of the Caucasus, exhibited an inconsistent attitude toward the sectarians in Transcaucasia, seeing them simultaneously as dangerous nonconformists and laudable Russian colonists.¹ On one hand, he relayed his very positive estimation of the sectarians’ economic, political, and military role in tsarist empire-building: “Despite their isolated situation among nationalities alien to them and the unfavorable climatic and soil conditions, they all attained considerable material well-being, through which they showed their perfect qualities as colonizers and greatly contributed to the economic success of the country.” The combination of...

    • 5 FRONTIER ENCOUNTERS Conflict and Coexistence between Colonists and South Caucasians
      (pp. 173-214)

      In his influential book, The Middle Ground, Richard White notes that the history of the interaction between Europeans and Native Americans in the colonial era has traditionally been limited in its approaches and findings. “Indians are the rock,” he writes, “European peoples are the sea, and history seems a constant storm. There have been but two outcomes: The sea wears down and dissolves the rock; or the sea erodes the rock but cannot finally absorb its battered remnant, which endures. The first outcome produces stories of conquest and assimilation; the second produces stories of cultural persistence.” While not discounting the...


    • 6 FROM COLONIAL SETTLERS TO PACIFIST INSURGENTS The Origins of the Dukhobor Movement, 1887–1895
      (pp. 217-259)

      In mid-1895, Dukhobor settlers in the South Caucasus erupted in a pacifist opposition movement that emphatically challenged the legitimacy of tsarist authority and permanently transformed Russian colonialism in its southern provinces. Beginning in the late 1880s, a majority of Dukhobors embarked on a religious revival that embraced an exacting and radical religiosity and sundered their community into antagonistic factions. In a manifestation of a burgeoning nonviolent ideology, one branch of this dissenter community categorically refused military service. Those Dukhobors already in the army ceased fulfilling these obligations, refused to follow orders, and returned their weapons to their officers, declaring that...

    • 7 PEASANT PACIFISM AND IMPERIAL INSECURITIES The Burning of Weapons, 1895–1899
      (pp. 260-298)

      The centerpiece of the New Dukhoborism—and the most aggravating for tsarist authorities—was the Fasters’ embrace of strict nonviolence, which in 1895 culminated in their refusal of military service and public burning of weapons. With these defiant measures, the conflict between tsarist authority and the Large Party Dukhobors came to a head. For the Dukhobors, it was the zenith of their religious transformation and their rejection of tsarist power—and it remains so to this day. For both doctrinal and utilitarian reasons, the oppositional Dukhobors turned primarily to nonviolent civil disobedience as their “weapon” against state power. Tsarist officials...

    (pp. 299-318)

    The Dukhobor oppositional movement was a clear sign that the episode of sectarian colonialism in the South Caucasus, which had begun in 1830, was undergoing a fundamental transformation. It was not the only harbinger of change, however. Two other linked processes signaled the end of the dissenters’ leading role in tsarist empire-building. First, Molokans in the South Caucasus (and in certain central areas) began to voice their opposition to the demands of the tsarist state in ways that, while less dramatic than the Dukhobors, were equally unsettling to government authority. Eventually, they too called for permission to emigrate, and in...

    (pp. 319-338)
  13. INDEX
    (pp. 339-348)