[continued from Part One]
Conditions for the Doukhobors in Russia had deteriorated to the point where some observers wondered if they might not all die out. Russian authorities clamped down on any news reports but they could not stop the foreign press from reporting atrocity. And atrocities there were. Elderly Doukhobors interviewed in 1975 could remember terrible things:
The whipping began. A grave-like hole is dug so one can lay down even with the ground. As soon as it was dug they took him and laid him down full length with his back facing up. Fine. And then they started flogging, one, two, three, and so on, one after another. The rods were such, with thorns. [Branches of acacia]. The rods had such big thorns. And then when he strikes he doesn’t lift it right away. He strikes and then he drags it down the whole back, these thorns. He drags it it down and the blood runs out after. Then he is lifted out and they start flogging another. And so they would continue whipping, by so many lashes, fifteen at first, then by twenty and then thirty lashes. And then when they have finished flogging… They lift him up: “Get up and walk,” but he already can’t walk. His legs won’t hold him up. [Marfoonya Pavlovna Osochoff, b. 1882]
That was punishment for refusing to serve in the Army. The whipping would last days. About three hundred men were being treated so or had been sent into prison. Meanwhile, the main group of Doukhobors had been herded into several villages in the mountains of Georgia. They were not allowed to buy land nor to work, though sympathetic locals did pay small amounts for jobs done and even assigned some garden patches to the Doukhobors. People began dying in the mountains, of malnutrition, of cold, of disease. Mass murder may not have been official policy but it was the practical result of czarist practice.
Although the authorities tried to keep outsiders away, Tolstoyan Russians and foreign Quakers managed to witness the terrible conditions in Georgia and publicized them in the foreign press. Meanwhile, other Russians were appalled at the spectacle. One man, a landowning minor noble, came under the spell of the Doukhobors and became a pacifist and gave away his land to his tenants. He was sent into exile in the Caucasus but managed to contact Tolstoy who took up his case. There were other sympathetic Russians sent into penal exile, enough so that the authorities thought the place they were incarcerated was too close to the Doukhobors and removed them to Latvia, at the other end of Russia.
During this time Peter Verigin was still imprisoned in Siberia. He wrote directly to the Czarina, appealing on the basis of Christianity and the suffering of women and children. In his letter, Verigin said that the Doukhobors were willing to pay taxes to the Czar but not to serve in the Army. He asked that they be settled on the Russian frontier, all together, where they would work for Russia. Or, he said, let us emigrate.
Tolstoy had written a letter to the London Times describing the Doukhobor difficulties that attracted a great deal of attention. Articles and pamphlets describing the persecution of Russian Christians were written and distributed by Quakers and other groups. Suddenly, surprisingly, Czar Nicholas II announced that the Doukhobors could not remain in Russia if they would not serve in the Army, but that he would allow them to emigrate.
Now those who had wanted to assist the group had to find a destination and gather financing for this exodus. Funds were raised among the Quakers and the Doukhobors contributed what they could. Tolstoy, who had renounced fiction, wrote his first novel in twenty-five years, Resurrection, and dedicated the proceeds to the Doukhobors. But there was still the question of where to send these people. Manchuria was suggested, and Sinjiang, and Texas, but the place that was immediately available was Cyprus. So, in early 1898, an advance group of about 1100 Doukhobors arrived on that island, which was under British rule.
The place allotted the Doukhobors in Cyprus was hot, dry, and full of thistles except where it was marshy and full of mosquitoes. Initial enthusiasm gave way to despair as the group found farming difficult and malaria decimated the settlers. It was obvious that Cyprus wasn’t working out but where else could they go?
The anarchist Peter Kropotkin had visited Canada in1897 and been favorably impressed by the farm settlements of Mennonites in Saskatchewan. He was familiar with the Doukhobor situation and had visited the Caucasus villages. Now Kropotkin went to the Tolstoyan group that was handling emigration and gave them glowing reports of Canada.
A group of Doukhobors accompanied by Tolstoyan Aylmer Maude set out to investigate. Talks were held with Clifford Sifton, Minister for the Interior, and executives of the Canadian Pacific Railway. Both Sifton and the CPR wished to settle the vast Canadian prairie and were quite open to Doukhobor immigration. Aylmer and the others stressed three conditions on behalf of the Doukhobors: no compulsory military service, land to be granted in large blocs so that the Doukhobors could live as a community, no interference with internal Doukhobor affairs particularly in terms of religious instruction and education. This last condition is particularly worth noting in light of the later difficulties of Doukhobors in Canada. Sifton replied that the Doukhobors would fall under the provisions of the Militia Act that exempted Mennonites and other groups from military service, that land would be granted in blocs, and that there should be no difficulty on the rest since religious instruction was not compulsory in Canada nor was education of children required on the frontier. Marriages had to be registered but, otherwise, there was to be no interference with community custom. Aylmer Maude was enthused: “Canada is as free as any country in the world,” he wrote Tolstoy. The CPR promised free rail travel and everything seemed set. There was only one point that was overlooked: the homestead provisions required that those taking up land had to give an oath of allegiance to Canada. At the time, the Canadians did not understand the importance of this provision and the Russians were unaware of it. Aylmer Maude either ignored or was ignorant of this thorn among the roses. Continue reading