HISTORY OF THE COSSACKS - THE STORY OF CONTRADICTIONS Yerokhin Igor Yurievich

Croydon College, London, UK


Номер: 3-1
Год: 2014
Страницы: 82-85
Журнал: Актуальные проблемы гуманитарных и естественных наук

Ключевые слова

the Cossacks, state, territories, Cossack distinctiveness, ethnos, the people, mentality, development specificity

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Аннотация к статье

The history of Cossacks is intricate and contradictory. The Cossacks have been developing in two directions. The first one is a system of traditional Cossack liberties, independence, self-sufficiency. The second concept is an ideology of the state service Cossacks. It is the interaction of those two that had an impact over formation of this unique community, its special role and mission.

Текст научной статьи

For a long time Russian juridical and historical sciences were dominated by an imperial understanding of the Cossacks. Sources depicted them as advocates of rights and interests of the traditional state. At the same time, an aspect about independent concepts of the Cossack statehood that had been emerging and developing deep in this community, was not studied at all. That led to vital errors in developing methodological grounds for studying this ethnic and class group.[8;14] Ideas of the independent Cossack statehood emerge back in ancient times. We find many examples to that in the oldest Cossack states and settlements (the Zaporozhian Sich, early Don[11], Yaik and the Volga). Ideas of independence are based, first of all, on the ideology of the Cossack “volnosti” (liberties) and the Cossack law. The most important development factor of the Cossack statehood was Cossacks’ territories. For a long time Cossacks were considered to be an absolutely uniform ethnic group or community; however, such ideas are too far from the truth. Contemporaries were commenting about a phenomenon of the Cossack structure - the Cossack host - the following: “The Cossacks. Eleven Cossack hosts. They were called gems in the glowing crown of the Russian Empire. The Don Cossacks, Kuban Cossacks, Terek Cossacks, Ural Cossacks, Siberia Cossacks, Astrakhan Cossacks, Orenburg Cossacks, Transbaikal Cossacks, Semirechensk Cossacks, Amur Cossacks, Ussuri Cossacks. Each host had its own history - some as ancient as the Russian state, others short, but glorious and splendid, too. Each host had its traditions united by a single core, pierced by the common purport. Each host had its own legends and heroes. And some of them had common heroes, such as Yermak Timofeyevich - a person famous and renowned all over Russia.” (The History of the Cossacks of Russia”). Life and activities of the system of Cossack hosts, as well as a structure of many of them, are thoroughly described in the historical literature, especially in the one published before the October revolution. The sources deal with various issues - host’s land management, its ideology, military events in host’s life, mobilization component, administrative policies (both military and civil). A summarized information on the operation system of the Cossack hosts is collected and reported in works by O. Agafonova [1;2], Yu. Galushko [5], M. Khoroshkhin [23;24], F. Shishov [25] and others. Many researchers (for instance, V.M. Bezotosniy) are convinced that the Cossacks had divided in the high antiquity, first of all, on the grounds of the ethnography. In his works we find a sentence: “From the ethnographic perspective, the first Cossacks were divided into Russian and Ukrainian by the place of origin. In both groups, free and service Cossacks may be distinguished. In Ukraine, the free Cossacks were represented by the Zaporozhian Sich (existed until 1755), and the service ones - by the ‘registered’ Cossacks that drew salary for their service in the Polish-Lithuanian state. The Russian service Cossacks (the police, army, scouts) were used to protect great abates walls and cities, getting in exchange life wages. Though they had the same status as the service class people ‘by trade’ (shooters, gunners), unlike the latter, they had a stanitsa organization and electoral system of military administration. It had lasted in such form until early 18th century” [3]. The author writes about Russian free Cossacks: “The first community of the Russian free Cossacks emerged at the Don river, and then on the rivers of Yaik, Terek and Volga. Unlike the service Cossacks, centers where the free Cossacks had formed were on the banks of big rivers (the Dnieper, Don, Yaik, Terek) and in steppe wides, which had a noticeable impact on the Cossacks and informed their ways of life.” [3] As we see, Bezotosniy distinguishes at least two factors (both geographic) that conditioned a difference in the Cossacks not only during the period of their development, but already by the nature of their origin. With emergence and development of a system of the Cossack hosts and related character of functions the Cossacks performed, their peculiarities only get stronger. A factor of accumulation of the historical experience and traditions makes itself felt. For instance, until the 18th century, the tillage had been forbidden to the Don Cossacks on penalty of death. As the Don Cossacks were saying, they lived “from grass and water” (Bezotosniy) [3]. Many Cossack hosts of the later period emerged as a system of measures taken by the Russian power to protect its state borders. This is directly stated in several sources. The Amur Cossack Host (1860-1918) [22], created in the Amur basin and Primorye from the Cossacks of the Transbaikal Cossack Host (Blagoveshchensk-on-Amur) was patrolling the border with China. In 1889, the Ussuri Cossack Host was formed from its ranks. The host played an important role in the Russian-Japanese War (1904-1905) and the World War I. The Astrakhan Cossack Host, according to many sources, was initially created to perform patrol service in the Lower Volga and on the Caspian coasts, on the south-east border of Russia. The Orenburg Cossack Host was established in 1748-1755 to defend the city of Orenburg. [18;20;21;22] The more carefully we look into the real history of the Cossacks, not the romanticized and embellished one, the more we discover substantial differences, peculiarities and specificity. For instance, a structure of the Volga Cossack Host was very different from that of the Don Host. The host land ownership of the host was service-dependent. The lands were not given to the host into perpetual use. Therefore, host’s direct dependence on the state and a temporary character of their existence on the Volga were emphasized, as well as a possibility of immediate relocation at any moment. Strict limits of the host lands were established here only by 1755. [7;26] Another peculiarity of the host was that tillage was not widespread in the Volga Cossacks, and their main agricultural activities included fishing, distillation, watermelon, melon and gourd cultivation, forestry, some crafts, and even search for buried treasures. [26] That way the Volga Cossacks were performing some kind of the state archeological mission. The sources tell us that most Volga Cossacks were Old Ritualists. At least, it is known for certain that the Orthodox representatives of the host accounted for only under 50% of its strength. As compared, for instance, to the Don Host, the Volga Host had only limited rights of the administrative and territorial Cossack autonomy in the 17th century, which included, in fact, only some fragments of the Cossack self-governance (the host krug (the assembly), the host and stanitsa chancellery). Life of the host was directly influenced by activities of the Astrakhan Governor and Tsaritsin Commandant. [7;26] The Cossack hosts with the Muslim population, where there were many Cossacks of Tatar and Bashkir origin, had many special characteristics, too. We can clearly see that some of the Cossack hosts had been already formed as an almost uniform professional group within the Cossack community, for instance, the Don, Kuban and Terek Cossacks and Cossack hosts of those territories. Others were formed in the multiethnic community or, vice versa, based on a certain ethnic group, such as christened Kalmyks, Tatars, Bashkirs. That was reflected not only in the host structure, but also in its smaller structural units. Such tendency and form of the structure can be observed in the organization of the Cossack polks (regiments) [4], as well as Cossack polusotnia and sotnia (squadrons). The Cossacks pay regard to those differences and treat them very carefully by clearly defining them in the system of their traditions. It is on the basis of those ethnic (as well as socio-cultural) differences of the host and territorial organization that many researchers can speak about a potentially possible emergence of new Cossack structures in the system of the modern service (registered) Cossacks. For instance, researcher A. Girin [6] does not rules out an emergence of the Bug (1174, 1787-1800, 1803-1817), Danube (1807-1868), Ukrainian (1812-1818), Dnieper (1536, 1540-1776), Yekaterinoslav (1787-1796, 1801, 1861), Sloboda (1651-1765), Azov (1829, 1835-1865), Semirechensk (1582, 1867) and some other Cossack hosts in the nearest future. Obviously, restoration of old Cossack hosts will not be easy. Indeed, Russia’s territorial and administrative system has changed significantly; moreover, it had been changing many times throughout the centuries-old history of the state.[9;12;13;15] However, such possibility and tendencies should not be ruled out. For instance, a brand new Central Cossack Host has emerged in Moscow and the Moscow Oblast. Many Cossack hosts exist in the system of territorial duality, which means that their territories overlap. For instance, the Iset line of the Orenburg Cossack Registered Host peacefully coexists with divisions of the centuries-old Ural Cossack Host in the territory of the modern Sverdlovsk Oblast. [17;19] Particular Cossack hosts that existed on the borders of the Russian Empire, performed colonization functions in certain territories: the Volga Host - in the interfluve of rivers Ilovlia and Volga. This is their huge specific role in “putting together the Russian land”, establishing the statehood.

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