More Doukhobors Moving from Georgia to Russia

A feature report by Koozma J. Tarasoff, Ottawa, Ontario - April 1, 1999

In 1999 when Canada's 40,000 Doukhobors are celebrating their 100 years in Canada, their brethren who stayed behind in Russia are going through a difficult period of relocation, resettlement, and readjustment to new conditions. The latest move took place January 29th when several dozen families left their ancestral homes in Bogdanovka of the Republic of Georgia, and relocated to the Bryansk area southwest of Moscow and some 150 kilometers west of Cherns, Russia.

The move was spearheaded by community leader Luba Goncherova, sanctioned by officials at the highest government level, and assisted by the prestigious International Organization of Migration (MOM). One observer noted that in recent years "not one Russian migration organization received such a privilege as the Doukhobors."

The whole mobility process occurred with extreme anxiety, gamesmanship, rumors, and difficulties. Following the signing on December 9, 1998 by Evgeny Primakov (Prime Minister of Russia) of a Decree for direct assistance to the Georgian Doukhobors, much effort was spent persuading members of the Duma to make this relocation a reality. The Emergency Ministry was given 35 vehicles to make the move, but suddenly the Republic of Georgia forbid the Russians from crossing the border.

Instead, the Georgians declared they would like to control the move of their own Doukhobors themselves on their territory. At that moment, the Doukhobors were already selling their homes, gathering their luggage, and awaiting their transport which did not come. Georgian officials announced that they would provide them with only 15 vehicles. Leader Goncherova pleaded to double that number, and finally the government was persuaded to provide 26 and the move proceeded. The Doukhobors and their belongings were transported by cars and trucks to Vladikavkaz, from there by train to Bryansk, and again by cars to their village of Mirna [Peace].

March lst was the scheduled date for their entry to their homes which is described by one observer as "an apartment with full conveniences". But the story does not end there.

Many of the families who left their homes in Bogdanovka were not able to sell their homes. Those who did sell received very little(less than $l,000), even though the Georgian president Eduard Shevardnadze allocated 100,000 laras for purchasing homes from Doukhobors who have expressed a desire to move to Russia.

The 1,000 Doukhobors (300 families) who remained in Bogdanovka are today facing a bleak future. Along with local civil wars in other parts of the Republic, there is said to be "discrimination against all national andreligious minorities," according to a spokesman of the Caucasian Triangle, a non-governmental organization dedicated to assist Bogdanovka region in cultural and economic development. Even the name of Bogdanovka was changed in l989 to a Georgian-sound Ninotzminda by its nationalistic authorities.

In this relatively large area there is no electricity or gas supply. Most schools and hospitals are closed. Young people are leaving this place for Russia trying to find a job. Also there are serious tensions between the Doukhobors and the local Armenian population over land issues. Refugees from the area are rushing in to settle in Doukhobor villages, often acquiring homes at giveaway prices. For example, one Doukhobor traded his home for a second-hand car.

Recently a group of Georgian women ethnologists wrote a book on the relations between the Doukhobors of Bogdanovka and the local Armenians. In the book they asked whether any Doukhobors in Canada shared the same belief of the Doukhobors in Gorelovka which is that when the world comes to an end, a place will open up where the burning of arms took place and all the Doukhobors of the world will be reunited there.

Finding work will be a major task of the Doukhobors who moved to Mirna village near Bryansk. No longer will they be able to rely on agriculture for livelihood, but will have to become adept at processing their products and selling them in the city of Bryansk which has a population of half a million. In addition, one local researcher observed that the relocation will only be successful "if the local Doukhobors do not drink." It is known that many of the 1000 Doukhobors in the Cherns region (which was established in 1989) have been plagued with excessive drinking.

Alexei Kinakin, the leader of the Cherns Doukhobors, was "very critical" of the group going to Bryansk. He lobbied unsuccessfully to get the migrating Doukhobors to stop in Cherns. However, under the leadership of Luba Gancherova, the Doukhobors continued on to Bryansk where they were able to find a place more suitable for their own needs. Also they enjoyed their newfound independence. Some hard feelings and splits apparently developed as a result of this newest move, but that is life.

As we approach the 21st Century, we find the Russian Doukhobors scattered in all parts of Russia -- including Rostov-on-the-Don, Cherns region, Bryansk, northern Caucasus, Moscow and other places of the Republic. Also at least 1000 Doukhobors remain in Transcaucasia in a state of uncertainly with a feeling of being disenfranchised peoples.

Transcaucasia was the place where 160 years ago the Doukhobors were exiledfrom the Crimea largely because the Tsarist authorities sought to isolate this "heretical infection" from Orthodox Russians. Instead, the officials promoted the relocation of dissidents to the area -- to the exclusion of other Slavs. Now, after a period of relative quiet, the collapse of the former Soviet Union has released the nationalistic sentiments which are again pushing the Doukhobors from their homeland. They are now being forced to relocate to Russia proper in areas where their ethnicity, their language, and their beliefs are more acceptable to the wider public.


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