The origin of the Doukhobor movement dates back to the 17th and 18th century Russian Empire. Believing in God's presence in every human being, they considered clergy and rituals unnecessary. Their rejection of secular government, the Russian Orthodox priests, icons, all church ritual, the Bible as the supreme source of divine revelation, and the divinity of Jesus elicited negative response from the government and the established church, attested as early in 1734, when a Russian Government edict was issued against ikonobortsy (Iconoclasts).
The first known Doukhobor leader, in 1755-75, was Siluan (Silvan) Kolesnikov (Russian: ¡»ñ š»ñ), originating from the village of Nikolskoye in Yekaterinoslav Governorate in what is today south-central Ukraine. He was thought to be a well-read person, familiar with the works of Western mystics such as Karl von Eckartshausen and Louis Claude de Saint-Martin.
The early Doukhobors called themselves "God's People" or simply "Christians". Their modern name, first in the form Doukhobortsy (Russian: ñññññ, Dukhobortsy, 'Spirit wrestlers') is thought to have been first used in 1785 or 1786 by Ambrosius, the Archbishop of Yekaterinoslav or his predecessor, Nikifor (Nikephoros Theotokis)
The archbishop's intent was to mock them as heretics fighting against the Holy Ghost (Spirit; Russian: ¡ññ ññ, Svyatoy Dukh); but later on (around the beginning of the 19th century, according to S.A. Inikova) the dissenters picked the name, usually in a shorter form, Doukhobory (Russian: ññññ, Dukhobory), implying that they are fighting not against, but along with the Spirit.
As pacifists, the Doukhobors also ardently rejected the institutions of militarism and wars. For these reasons, the Doukhobors were harshly repressed in Imperial Russia. Both the tsarist state and church authorities were involved in the persecution of these dissidents, as well as taking away their normal freedoms.
The first known use of the spelling Doukhobor is attested in a government edict of 1799, exiling 90 of them to Finland (presumably, the Vyborg area, which was already part of the Russian Empire at the time) for their anti-war propaganda.
In 1802, Tsar Alexander I encouraged resettlement of religious minorities to the so-called 'Milky Waters" (Molochnye Vody): the region of Molochnaya River (around Melitopol in today's southern Ukraine). This was motivated by the desire both to quickly populate the rich steppe lands on the north shore of the Black and Azov Seas, and to prevent the "heretics" from contaminating the population of the heartland with their ideas. Many Doukhobors, as well as Mennonites from Prussia, accepted the Tsar's offer, coming to the Molochnaya from various provinces of the Empire over the next 20 years.
As Nicholas I replaced Alexander, he issued a decree (February 6, 1826), intending to force assimilation of the Doukhobors by means of military conscription, prohibiting their meetings, and encouraging conversions to the established church. On October 20, 1830, another decree followed, specifying that all able-bodied members of dissenting religious groups engaged in propaganda against the established church should be conscripted and sent to the Russian army in the Caucasus, while those not capable of military service, as well as their women and children, should be resettled in Russia's recently acquired Transcaucasian provinces. It is reported that, among other dissenters, some 5,000 Doukhobors were resettled to Georgia between 1841 and 1845. The Akhalkalaki uyezd (district) of the Tiflis (Tbilisi) Governorate (in Georgia's region of Samtskhe-Javakheti) was chosen as the main place of their settlement. Doukhobor villages with Russian names appeared there: Gorelovka, Rodionovka, Yefremovka, Orlovka, Spasskoye (Dubovka), Troitskoye, and Bogdanovka (now renamed Ninotsminda). Later on, other groups of Doukhobors - resettled by the government, or migrating to Transcaucasia by their own accord - settled in other neighboring areas, including the Borchaly uyezd of Tiflis Governorate (in today's Georgia) and the Kedabek uyezd of Elisabethpol (Ganja) Governorate (in the north-west of today's Republic of Azerbaijan).
After Russia's conquest of Kars and the Treaty of San Stefano of 1878, some Dukhobors from Tiflis and Elisabethpol Governorates moved to the Zarushat and Shuragel uyezds of the newly-created Kars Oblast (north-east of Kars in today's Republic of Turkey).
The leader of the main group of Doukhobors that arrived to Transcaucasia from Ukraine in 1841 was one Illarion Kalmykov (Russian: »»ñ š»ñ). He died in the same year, and was succeeded as the community leader by his son, Peter Kalmykov (? - 1864).
After Peter Kalmykov's death in 1864, his widow Lukerya Vasilyevna Gubanova (? - December 15, 1886; (Russian: ññññ ñ»ñ ñ); also known as Kalmykova, by her husband's surname) took his leadership position.
The Kalmykov dynasty resided in the village of Gorelovka, one of the Doukhobor communities in Georgia (shown on one of J. Kalmakoff's maps). Lukerya was respected by the provincial authorities, who had to cooperate with the Doukhobors on various matters. The number of Doukhbors in the Transcaucasia reached 20,000 by the time of her death in 1886. By that time, the Doukhobors of the region had become vegetarian, and become aware of Leo Tolstoy's philosophy, which they found quite similar with their traditional teachings.
The death of "Queen Lukerya", who had no children, was followed by a leadership crisis. Lukerya's own plan was for leadership to pass after her death to her assistant, Peter Vasilevich Verigin. However, only part of the community ("the Large Party"; Russian: »ñññ ñññ Bolshaya Storona) accepted him as the leader; others, known as "the Small Party" (»ñ ñññ Malaya Storona), sided with Lukerya's brother Michael Gubanov and the village elder Aleksei Zubkov.
While the Large Party was a majority, the Small Party had the support of the older members of the community and the local authorities. So on January 26, 1887, at the community service where the new leader was to be acclaimed, the police walked in and arrested Verigin. He was to spend the next 16 years in exile in Russia's Far North; some of his associates were sent to exile as well. Still, the Large Party Doukhobors continued to consider him their spiritual leader and to communicate with him, by mail and via delegates who traveled to see him in Obdorsk, Siberia.
At the same time, the government applied greater pressure to enforce Doukhobors' compliance with the laws and regulations that they found vexatious, such as registering marriages and births, contributing grain to state emergency funds, or swearing oaths of allegiance. Even worse, the universal military conscription that had been introduced in most of the Russian Empire, was now (in 1887) imposed in its Transcaucasian provinces as well. While the Small Party people would cooperate with the state, the Large Party, wounded by the arrest of Verigin and other leaders, and inspired by his letters from exile, only felt strengthened in their desire to abide in the righteousness of their faith. Under instructions from Peter V. Verigin, they stopped using tobacco and alcohol, divided their property equally between the members of the community, and resolved to adhere to the principles of non-violence. They would refuse to swear the oath of allegiance required by the new Czar Nicholas II in 1894.
Under further instructions from Verigin, as a sign of absolute pacifism,the Doukhobors of the three Governorates of Transcaucasia made the decision to destroy their weapons. As the Doukhobors assembled to burn them on the night of June 28/29 (July 10/11, Gregorian Calendar) 1895, with the singing of psalms and spiritual songs, arrests and beatings by government Cossacks followed. Soon, Cossacks were billeted in many of the Large Party Doukhobors' villages, and over 4,000 of their original residents were dispersed through villages in other parts of Georgia. Many of those died of starvation and exposure.
As persecution seemed to be unsuccessful in making the Doukhobors comply with the conscription laws, and the entire affair was an embarrassment in the face of international public opinion, the Russian government agreed in 1897 to let the Doukhobors leave the country, subject to a number of conditions:
Some of the emigrants went first to Cyprus, but the climate there did not suit them. Meanwhile, the rest of the community chose Canada for its isolation, peacefulness, and the fact that the Canadian government welcomed them. Around 6,000 migrated there in the first half of 1899, settling on the land granted to them by the government in what is today Manitoba and Saskatchewan. More people, including the Cyprus colony, joined later that year, bringing the total count to 7,400 - about one-third of the total Doukhobor population in Transcaucasia. Several smaller groups, directly from Transcaucasia or from various places of exile, joined the main body of the migrants in the later years. Among these late-comers were some 110 leaders of the community that were in prisons or in exile in Siberia as of 1899 who would serve out their term of punishment before they could join their people in Canada.
The Doukhobors' passage across the Atlantic Ocean was largely paid for by Quakers and Tolstoyans, who sympathized with their plight, and by the writer Leo Tolstoy, who arranged for the royalties from his novel Resurrection, his story Father Sergei, and some others, to go to the migration fund. He also raised money from wealthy friends. In the end, his efforts provided half of the immigration fund, about 30,000 rubles.
In accordance with the Dominion Lands Act of 1872, Canadian government would grant 160 acres (0.65 km2) of land, for a nominal fee of $10, to any male homesteader able to establish a working farm on that land within three years. Living on single-family homesteads would not fit Doukhobors' communitarian tradition. Fortunately, the Act contained the so-called Hamlet Clause, adopted some 15 years earlier to accommodate other communitarian groups such as Mennonites, which would allow the beneficiaries of the Act to live not on the actual land grant, but in a village ("hamlet") within 3 miles (4.8 km) from their land. This would allow the Doukhobors to establish a communal life style, similar to the Hutterites.
Even more importantly, by passing in late 1898, Section 21 of the Dominion Military Act, the Canadian Government exempted the Doukhobors from military service.
The land for the Doukhobor immigrants, in the total amount of 773,400 acres (3,130 km2), was granted in three "block settlement" areas ("reserves"), plus an "annex", within what was to soon become the Province of Saskatchewan:
Geographically, North and South Colonies, as well as Good Spirit Lake Annex (Devil's Lake Annex, to non-believers) were around Yorkton, not far from the border with today's Manitoba; the Saskatchewan (Rosthern) Colony, was located north-west of Saskatoon, quite a distance from the other three "reserves".
At the time of settlement (1899), all four "reserves" were located in the Northwest Territories: Saskathewan (Rosthern) Colony in the territories' provisional District of Saskatchewan, North Reserve, straddling the border of Saskatchewan and Assiniboia districts, and the other two entirely in Assiniboia. After creation of the Province of Saskatchewan in 1905, all reserves found itself within that province.
Peter Verigin, the Doukhobor leader induced followers to free their "brethren" (animals) and pull their wagons and ploughs themselves.
On the lands granted to them in the prairies, the settlers established villages along the same lines as back in the old country. Some of the new villages were given the same Russian names as the settlers home villages in Transcaucasia (Spasovka, Large and Small Gorelovka, Slavianka etc.); others were given more abstract, "spiritual" names, not common in Russia: "Uspeniye" ('Dormition'), "Terpeniye" ('Patience'), "Bogomdannoye" ('Given by God'), "Osvobozhdeniye" ('Liberation').
The settlers found Saskatchewan winters much harsher than those in Transcaucasia, and were particularly disappointed that the climate was not as suitable for growing fruits and vegetables. Many of the men found it necessary to take non-farm jobs, especially in railway construction, while the women stayed behind to till the land.
Due to Doukhobors' leaders aversion to private ownership in land, Petr Verigin (who had served his sentence and was able to come to Canada in 1902) managed to have land registered in the name of the community. Throughout the Canadian Doukhobors' history this failure to register land was a ploy by its leaders to pass any wealth to Verigin and his successors and it was widely accepted by the Doukhobor communities due to the belief that their leaders were reincarnations of Christ. But by 1906, the Dominion Government, in the person of Frank Oliver, the Minister of Interior, started requiring registering the land in the name of individual owners. Many Doukhobors' refusal to do so resulted in 1907 in the reverting of more than a third (258,880 acres) of Doukhobor lands back to the Crown.
Another vexatious issue raised by Oliver was that, in contradiction to the previous minister, Clifford Sifton's assurances given before the Doukhbors arrival to Canada, the Doukhobors would now have to become naturalized citizens (i.e., British subjects) and to swear an Oath of Allegiance to the Crown - something that was always against their principles. A new crisis was to develop just a decade after the conscription crisis in Russia.
The crisis resulted in a three-way split of the Doukhobor community in Canada:
The Independents were a group most easily integrating into Canadian capitalist society. They had no problem with registering their land groups, and largely remained in Saskatchewan. It was they who, much later on (in 1939) finally rejected the authority of Peter Verigin's great-grandson, John J. Verigin.
To take his followers away from the corrupting influence of non-Doukhobors and Edinolichniki ('individual owners') Doukhobors, and to find better conditions for agriculture, Verigin, starting in 1908, bought large tracts of land in south-eastern British Columbia. His first purchase were near the US border around Grand Forks. Later, he acquired large tracts of land further east, in the Slocan Valley around Castlegar. Between 1908 and 1912, some 8,000 people moved to these British Columbia lands from Saskatchewan, to continue their communal way of living. In the milder climate of British Columbia, the settlers were able to plant fruit trees, and within a few years became renowned orchardists and producers of fruit preserves.
As the Community Doukhobors left Saskatchewan, the "reserves" there were closed by 1918.
The Sons of Freedom, meanwhile, responded to the Doukhobors conflict with Canadian policy with mass nudity and arson as a means of protesting against materialism, the land seizure by the government, compulsory education in government schools and, later on, Verigin's supposed assassination. This led to many confrontations with the Canadian government and the Royal Canadian Mounted Police (continuing into the 1970s).
Peter V. Verigin was killed in a still-unsolved Canadian Pacific Railway train explosion on October 29, 1924 near Farron, between Castlegar and Grand Forks, British Columbia. The government initially (during investigation) had stated the crime was perpetrated by people within the Doukhobor community although the Doukhobors' customary failure to cooperate with Canadian authorities due to fear of intersect violence culminated in no arrests being made. To date, it is still unknown who was responsible for the bombing. Thus, while the Doukhobors were initially welcomed by the Canadian government, this assassination controversy, as well as Doukhobor beliefs regarding communal living and no child education, amongst other beliefs, created an air of mistrust between government authorities and Doukhobors which would last for decades.
Peter V. Verigin's son, Peter P. Verigin who arrived from the Soviet Union in 1928, succeeded his father as leader of the Community Doukhobors. He became known as Peter the Purger, and worked to smooth the relations between the Community Doukhobors and the larger Canadian society. His policies, seen by the radical Sons of Freedom as ungodly and assimilationist, were answered by increasing protests on the part of the latter. The Sons of Freedom would burn the Community Doukhobors' property, and organize more nude parades. The Canadian Parliament responded in 1932 by criminalizing public nudity. Over the years, over 300 radical Doukhobor men and women were arrested for this offense, which typically carried a three-year prison sentence.
In 1947-48, Sullivan's Royal Commission investigated arsons and bombing attacks in British Columbia, and recommended a number of measures intended to integrate the Doukhobors into the Canadian society, notably through the participation of their children in public education. Around that time, the provincial government entered into direct negotiations with the Freedomite leadership.
But W. A. C. Bennett's Social Credit government, which came to power in 1952, took a harder stance against the "Doukhobor problem". In 1953, 150 children of the Sons of Freedom were forcibly interned by the government agents in a residential school in New Denver, British Columbia. Abuse of the interned children was later alleged.
In less than a half a century Sons of Freedom acts of violence and arson rose to 1112 separate events and over $20 million in damages (bill to taxpayers) that included public school bombings and burnings, bombings of Canadian railroad bridges and tracks, the bombing of the Nelson, B.C. courthouse, and a huge power transmission tower servicing the East Kootenay district resulting in the loss of 1200 jobs.
Many of the independent and community Doukhobors believed that the Freedomites violated the central Doukhobor principle of nonviolence (with arson and bombing) and therefore did not deserve to be called Doukhobors. However, rifts generated during the 20th century between the Sons of Freedom and Community and Independent Doukhobors have largely been laid to rest now.
After the departure of the more zealous and non-compromising Doukhobors and many community leaders to Canada at the close of the 19th century, the Doukhobor groups staying within Russian Empire entered a period of decline. By 1905, hardly any Doukhobors remained in Elisabethpol Governorate (Azerbaijan); the former Doukhobor villages now were mostly populated by Baptists. Elsewhere, many Doukhobors joined other dissenter sects, such as Molokans or Stundists.
Those that remained Doukhobors had to submit to the state. Few protested against military service: for example, out of 837 Russian Court Martial cases against conscientious objectors recorded between the beginning of World War I and April 1, 1917, merely 16 had Doukhobor defendants - and none of those hailed from the Transcaucasian provinces.
In 1921-23, Verigin's son Peter P. Verigin arranged the resettlement of 4,000 Doukhobors from the Ninotsminda (Bogdanovka) district in south Georgia into Rostov Oblast in southern Russia and other 500 into Zaporizhia Oblast in Ukraine.
The Soviet reforms affected greatly the life of the Doukhobors both in their old villages in Georgia and in the new settlement areas in Russian and Ukraine. The state anti-religious campaigns resulted in the suppression of Doukhobor religious tradition, and the loss of books and archival records. A number of religious leaders were arrested or exiled: for example, 18 people were exiled from Gorelovka alone in 1930. On the other hand, Communists' imposition of collective farming did not go against the grain of Doukhobor way of life. The industrious Doukhobors made their collective farms prosperous, specializing e.g. in cheese-making.
Of the Doukhobor communities in the USSR, those in South Georgia were the most sheltered from the outside influence, both because of the sheer geographical isolation in the mountainous terrain, and due to their location in the area near the international border, and concomitant travel restrictions for outsiders.
Today an estimated 20,000–40,000 people of Doukhobor heritage live in Canada, some 4,000 of them claiming "Doukhobor" as their religious affiliation. Perhaps another 30,000 live in Russia and neighboring countries. About 5,000 live in the U.S. along the northernmost parts of the US-Canada border.
CCUB, the Orthodox Doukhobors organization or Community Doukhobors, was succeeded by Union of Spiritual Communities of Christ, formed by Peter P. Verigin (Peter V. Verigin's son) in 1938. The largest and most active Doukhobor organization, it is headquartered in Grand Forks, British Columbia.
During Canada 2001 Census, 3,800 persons in Canada (of which, 2,940 in British Columbia, 200 in Alberta, 465 in Saskatchewan, and 155 in Ontario) identified their religious affiliation as "Doukhobor". As the age distribution shows, the proportion of older people among these self-identified Doukhobors is higher than among the general population:
|Age groups||Total||0–14 years||15–24 years||25–44 years||45–64 years||65–84 years||85 years and over|
|All Canadians, 2001||29,639,035||5,737,670||3,988,200||9,047,175||7,241,135||3,337,435||287,415|
|Self-identified Doukhobors, 2001||3,800||415||345||845||1,135||950||110|
|Self-identified Doukhobors, 1991||4,820||510||510||1,125||1,400||1,175||100|
E.g., 28% of the self-identified Doukhobors in 2001 were aged over 65 (i.e., born before 1936), as compared to 12% of the entire population of Canadian respondents. The aging of the denomination is accompanied by the shrinking of its size, starting in the 1960s:
|Census year||Self-identified Doukhobor population|
Of course, the number of Canadians sharing Doukhobor heritage is much higher than the number of those who actually consider oneself a member of this religion. Doukhobor researchers made estimates from "over 20,000" people "from [Doukhobor] stock" in Canada (Postnikoff, 1977) to over 40,000 Doukhobors by "a wider definition of religion, ethnicity, way of life, and social movement" (Tarasoff, 2002).
Canadian Doukhobors no longer live communally. Their prayer meetings and gatherings are dominated by the singing of a cappella psalms, hymns and spiritual songs in Russian. Doukhobors do not practice baptism. They reject several items considered orthodox among Christian churches, including church organization and liturgy, the inspiration of the scriptures, the literal interpretation of resurrection, the literal interpretation of the Trinity, and the literal interpretation of heaven and hell. Some avoid the use of alcohol, tobacco, and animal products for food, and eschew involvement in partisan politics. Doukhobors believe in the goodness of man and reject the idea of original sin.
The religious philosophy of the Doukhobors is based on the ten commandments including "Love God with all thy heart, mind and soul" and "Love thy neighbour as thyself." The Doukhobors have several important slogans. One of the most popular, "Toil and Peaceful Life," was coined by Peter V. Verigin.
Since the late 1980s, many of the Doukhobors of Georgia started emigrating to Russia. Various groups moved to Tula Oblast, Rostov Oblast, Stavropol Krai, and elsewhere. After the independence of Georgia, many villages with Russian names received Georgian names - for example, Bogdanovka became Ninotsminda, Troitskoe became Sameba, etc. According to various estimated, in Ninotsminda District, the Doukhobor population fell from around 4000 in 1979 to 3,000-3,500 in 1989 and not much more than 700 in 2006. In Dmanisi district, from around 700 Doukhobors living there in 1979, no more than 50 seem to remain by the mid-2000s. Those who do remain are mostly older people, since it is the younger generation who found it easier to move to Russia. The Doukhobor community of Gorelovka (in Ninotsminda District), the former "capital" of the Kalmykov family, is thought to be the best preserved in all post-Soviet countries.
A Doukhobor museum, currently known as "Doukhobor Discovery Centre" (formerly, "Doukhobor Village Museum") operates in Castlegar, British Columbia. It contains over a thousand artifacts representing the arts, crafts, and daily life of the Doukhobors of the Kootenays in 1908-1938.
Although most of the early Doukhobor village structures in British Columbia have vanished or been significantly remodeled by later users, a part of Makortoff Village outside of Grand Forks, British Columbia has been preserved as a museum by Peter Gritchen, who purchased the property in 1971 and opened it as the Mountain View Doukhobor Museum on June 16, 1972. The future of the site became uncertain after his death in 2000. But, in cooperation with a coalition of the local organizations and concerned citizens, the historical site, known as Hardy Mountain Doukhobor Village, was purchased The Land Conservancy of British Columbia in March 2004, while the museum collection was acquired by the Boundary Museum Society and loaned to TLC for display.
Canadian Museum of Civilization in Ottawa has a collection of Doukhobor-related items as well. A special exhibition there was run in 1998-99 to mark the centennial anniversary of the Doukhobor arrival to Canada.
The Doukhobors: The Living Book and Toil and Peaceful Life; Two-part 1976 CBC/NFB film narrated by George Woodcock.
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