“Do not return under the tsar”: two and a half centuries of emigration of Nekrasov Cossacks

Exactly 60 years ago, in the autumn of 1962, unusual settlers appeared in the Levokumsky district of Stavropol. There were about a thousand people, 215 families. They were very different from the local population. Men are serious, non-drinkers. The women are bizarrely old-fashionedly dressed. They seemed to speak Russian, but somehow strange. Moreover, sometimes they switched to Turkish among themselves. The arrivals kept themselves apart. At work, they performed double, and even triple the norm. Contrary to the Soviet ideology, they wore pectoral crosses, prayed in the morning and in the evening. Even the faces of these people were somehow different …

According to Ignat

They called themselves Nekrasovites. Not in honor of the famous Russian poet, but by the name of a historical figure, Ataman Ignat Nekrasov.

In 1707, an uprising broke out on the Don led by Kondraty Bulavin. It was a reaction of a part of the free Cossacks to the reforms of Peter I. The tsar burned out the old Russia along with the old faith with fire and sword. And not everyone was willing to endure.

Nekrasov became one of Bulavin’s associates, and at some point even his right hand. His detachments captured Tsaritsyn (now Volgograd), where the dashing ataman set up his residence.

However, the forces were not equal. The uprising was drowned in the blood of the troops loyal to Peter I, Bulavin was killed. And Nekrasov with his entire community escaped to the Kuban, which at that time belonged to the Crimean Khanate. Here he organized a Cossack republic and issued the so-called “precepts of Ignat” – the rules of life for his people, based on the old faith. One of the covenants is noteworthy: not to return to their homeland under the tsar.

The advance of the Russian Empire to the Kuban, and then to the Crimea, again forced the Nekrasovites to look for a place under the sun. They found it on the territory of the Ottoman Empire. The Turkish Sultan gave the Cossacks significant privileges, as we would now say, exempted them from taxes. In return, the Nekrasovites had to carry out military service. They settled in the Danubian Dobruja, a region on the territory of present-day Bulgaria and Romania. But at the end of the 18th century, the Nekrasovites had to leave these fertile places under pressure from the Cossacks, who at one time took part in the suppression of the Bulavin uprising, and then, after the defeat of the Sich, they themselves were forced to flee abroad.

The Turkish authorities offered the Nekrasov community a new place of residence – near Lake Manyas (the current name is Kush Golu). This is a large, rich in fish, freshwater reservoir in the western part of modern Turkey.

During the wanderings, the community has undergone changes. There was a rather diverse population in Dobruja, including Russian Lipovans living there. They also professed the Old Believers, contacted the Nekrasovites. Sometimes they were even confused. And sometimes Lipovans were deliberately called Nekrasovites in order to have the same benefits from the Turkish Sultan. Some of the Nekrasovites who left for the territory of Asia Minor settled on the island of Mada on Lake Beyshekhir, but they were not lucky: the plague killed most of them.

One way or another, but the backbone of the community that preserved the “precepts of Ignat” lived on Manyas until the middle of the 20th century.

Three return attempts

Several times the tsarist authorities made attempts to return the fugitives to their homeland. First, under Catherine II, but, as they say, the tradition was still “fresh”. The decree of Alexander I of July 25, 1811 allowed the Nekrasovites to settle in Bessarabia, and they were even guaranteed freedom of conscience. And a small part returned to Russia.

A powerful impetus to the idea of ​​return was given by the decree of Nicholas II on religious tolerance. Another motive was the First World War – the great-great-grandchildren of Ignat Nekrasov’s comrades-in-arms were still not eager to fight with Russia. In 1912-1913, 150 families moved to the Russian Empire. At first they settled in Georgia, but after the revolution and the creation of a national republic, living there became uncomfortable. And already under Soviet rule, this part of the community moved to the Novo-Akhtarsky district of the present Krasnodar Territory.

The main part – about 200 families – remained in Turkey.

The Manyasians continued to negotiate, now with the Soviet authorities, about their return. And although there was no longer a tsar in Russia, another problem arose – the new government was “godless.” Nevertheless, by 1927, the Nekrasovites were already looking forward to returning, but new disturbing trends appeared in Soviet Russia: the NEP was over, industrialization and collectivization were grinding the peasantry. Then the repressions began, the war and the theme of return came to naught.

The Nekrasovites were cautious in their main issue. They knew about the state of affairs in the Soviet Union, because they were in contact with fellow tribesmen who had already moved there. Therefore, at the turn of the 1950s and 1960s, having felt a “thaw”, they again thought about resettlement to their homeland.

The Soviet authorities sought to return their former compatriots based, among other things, on the logic of ideological confrontation with the United States. At the same time, Nekrasovites were agitated to move across the ocean by representatives of the Tolstoy Foundation, organized by the writer’s daughter Alexandra Lvovna in America to help emigrants and preserve Russian culture.

The old people said: “Let’s go!”

The circumstances of the move to the Soviet Union were well remembered by the old Nekrasovites, whose stories were recorded in the early 80s by musicologist and cultural historian Vera Nikitina. Literally the other day, her book “Nekrasov Cossacks. On the 60th anniversary of the return to Russia” comes out of print. A large two-volume publication is devoted to the living history and traditions of the community, which has become, in two and a half centuries, in fact, a sub-ethnos of the Russian people. The project was carried out with the grant support of the Russian Geographical Society.

According to Vera Nikitina, only three families remained in Turkey, 10 families left for the United States. The main part – 215 families – went to the Soviet Union.

– The problem was the destination, she says. – The Soviet authorities did not allow the Nekrasovites to settle in the dear Kuban. Instead, they offered Stavropol. This is a drying steppe, where in summer the air temperature is kept at +40 ° C. Unlike these places, the climate in Turkey was much more favorable. In addition, there were no large reservoirs in the new place. And fishing has become the main industry of the Nekrasovites. By the way, they were considered in Turkey almost the best in their business, they fished in lakes, rivers and seas.

Nevertheless, the old Nekrasovites, who went “for reconnaissance” to the Levokumsky district of the Stavropol Territory, brought a decision: “Let’s go!”

Social benefits played a significant role in this decision. Those who returned were promised to be paid salaries and pensions, free healthcare and schools, and finally, electricity – all this was not in the Turkish village of Kocagyol.

– But the fundamental issue remained, of course, freedom of religion, – continues Vera Nikitina. – And this problem, although not immediately, was removed when we managed to build two church parishes a few years later, as was the case in Turkey.

Own and someone else’s

The author of the book considers the real drama of the Nekrasovites to be the fact that any government, whether in the Ottoman Empire, Tsarist Russia or the Soviet Union, used them for their own purposes. When the issue of a new place of residence for the followers of Ignat Nekrasov in the Soviet Union was being decided, the logic was rudely pragmatic: there is no one to work at the vinsovkhoz – and settle there. Moreover, already on the spot, the community was actually divided: in the neighboring village, workers were needed no less. The distance of 25 km seems small, but later this contributed to the process of further disintegration of the community, weakening family ties. And ultimately assimilation. It must have been inevitable.

In general, this is an interesting phenomenon: having lived for 250 years in a completely alien environment, the Nekrasovites managed to preserve themselves and their culture. But, having returned to Russia, they lost a lot in a few decades. Of course, this is primarily due to the way of life in the USSR, which, to put it mildly, did not contribute to the preservation of originality. The church appeared at the Nekrasovites six years later, and they built it themselves. At school, their children’s crosses were torn off. The very order in which a child either became a pioneer or an outcast was a harsh social crucible.

However, there is something else to keep in mind. Despite the fact that in Turkey the Nekrasovites were treated with respect, they still lived in a foreign land. The community had a tremendous incentive to preserve itself in a different environment. But in Russia, it would seem, there was no such need – all around are our own! And the muscle that kept the Nekrasovites in a social tone began to weaken. Up to the point that before men who practically did not drink alcohol began to allow themselves this.

Nevertheless, the traditions of the ancestors were still observed in the 60-80s of the twentieth century, when those who remembered well the life according to the “precepts of Ignat” in Turkey were in power. As Vera Nikitina testifies, the Nekrasovites are very hardworking. Where locals (and in fact, also visitors, only from other regions of the country) hardly fulfilled the norm of output in the vineyards, the Nekrasovites exceeded it by two or even three times. In the conditions of the state farm economy, the measure of which was the notorious workdays, this was a double-edged sword: the norm for “drummers” was simply increased. But the Nekrasovites overfulfilled it too. Their farms were prosperous themselves, but not the workers themselves. And let’s not forget: until 1974, collective farmers in the USSR did not have passports.

When the opportunity arose to leave the village, many young people were drawn to the cities. Including the Nekrasovites. Old people remained in the village, traditions left with them.

A fragment of pre-Petrine Russia

Once in this environment in 1982, Vera Nikitina was struck by the real cultural luxury that opened up to her. Still, it was a fragment of pre-Petrine Russia!

– The Nekrasovites are interesting in that they were able to preserve the liturgical practice of the Old Believers, the traditions of the hook znamenny singing, dating back to Ancient Rus’, Vera Nikitina explains. – And the most amazing thing: they sing everything from memory (book literacy has been lost). They have preserved folklore, a huge number of songs of various genres, the origins of which date back to the beginning of the 18th century on the Don. The repertoire of lingering, Karagodny (round dance) songs, rich in peculiar melos, is huge. The wedding tradition is extremely interesting, in which archaic genres, ritual sentences, and many songs from different periods of formation are represented. The dance culture is very unusual, which has absorbed choreographic figures dating back to Greek, Balkan, Turkish traditions.

In addition to the fact that the Nekrasovites preserved the pre-Petrine culture, they, in a sense, created their own. Almost 250 years of living side by side with other peoples inevitably led to cultural interpenetration and synthesis. Keeping the old Russian language, the Nekrasovites knew Turkish, Greek, Romanian. Interestingly, in the appearance of the Nekrasovites, even a cursory glance can see various ethnic motifs borrowed in a foreign language environment. However, it did not even begin in Turkey, if we recall how the Don Cossacks were historically formed.

The speech of the Nekrasovites, church chants, their dances and songs, including Turkish ones, can be heard and seen: CDs and DVDs with unique recordings brought from folklore expeditions in Russia and Turkey are attached to the book. Archival photographs and works by the famous photo artist Yuri Lunkov, who can fully be called a co-author of the book, demonstrate how the Nekrasovites looked before and after their return.

flesh of flesh

Out of the brackets of our story, one uncomfortable question remains. For many years, Nekrasovites in Russia were considered almost traitors – ever since they, being in the service of the Crimean Khan, raided the southern borders of the Russian Empire. Suvorov himself fought with them. And in World War I, most of the Nekrasovites were also on the other side of the front line.

Did they have a choice? To answer this question with the utmost honesty, you probably need to be at least temporarily in the place of the Nekrasovites themselves. In addition, in different years this ambiguity was interpreted differently depending on the discourse that dominated in society: from enemies and renegades to bearers of the true spirit of freemen, without which the history of the Cossacks, and hence Russia, is unthinkable.

Remembering the fate of the Nekrasovites on the Day of National Unity and Accord, it is important for us to realize something. First, no matter what happens in history, Nekrasovites are flesh and blood of our great people. Secondly, their ability to live in peace and friendship with other ethnic groups is not just a skill, but still a property of the national character.

Finally, the most important thing: they were helped to survive and preserve themselves by the overvalued idea that they have a Motherland in this big world, where sooner or later they will return …

Aivar Valeev

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