Russian Old Believers in Estonia

11 communities of Russian Old Believers (starovery) remain within the borders of modern Estonia. Nine of these are situated around the lake known in Estonian as Peipsi järv and to the Russians as Chudskoe: Kallaste, Kasepää, Kolkja (two parishes), Kükita, Mustvee, Piirissaar, Raja and Varnja. These are the Prichudie (“by Chudskoe”) parishes (there are, in addition, smaller settlements without a parish church). The other two communities are in the Estonian capital Tallinn and in the university town of Tartu.

Like the Amish in America, the Old Believers are a throwback to an earlier age, maintaining a life of simplicity and religious observance. Those in Estonia arrived in the late C17th, from cities such as Moscow and Novgorod, following persecution in the Russian heartland. An early monastery was established at Räpina but was destroyed in 1719. Persecution sought out the Old Believers again during the reign of the reactionary autocrat Tsar Nicholas I (1825-1855) and there was pressure to conform to the Russian Orthodox Church: Old Believers were forbidden to baptise, marry or bury according to their own rites. They were not officially recognised and tolerated until a religious freedom act of 1905.

The Prichudie communities were largely self-contained but had connections with co-religionists in, for example, Pskov and Moscow, and in Rīga and Vilnius. The inter-War independence of Estonia, and the drawing of an international border north to south bisecting Peipsi, made communication with communities in Soviet Russia difficult. The annexation of Estonia into the militantly atheist USSR created greater problems – for example, many Old Believers were deported to Siberia in March 1949, although some were able to return after the Thaw following the death of Stalin in 1953. Yet the Old Believers and their customs survived the turmoil of C20th and remain largely intact today in their fishing and onion-growing villages on the edge of Lake Peipsi in re-independent Estonia.

There is of course, as well as a population in Russia, an Old Believer diaspora abroad, in Canada, USA and Australia, established in the C19th and C20th. However, because of the various doctrinaire schisms within the starovery themselves, it is not clear how these often discrete communities are inter-related in family history terms and how many, if any, of these have direct kinship with the Estonian population. Records in state archives in Tartu and Tallinn appear to be extensive and there would seem to be good prospects for family history research for anyone knowing or believing themselves to have roots in this small but fascinating community.

The Google Map shows both the parishes and the Old Believer settlements without parish status.

 

The original version of this blog appeared on the bluebirdresearch site in 2010.

Armenian Apostolic churches in Constantinople

This Google Map shows the Armenian Apostolic (or Gregorian) churches in İstanbul, Turkey for which there are known surviving historical parish registers of use for Armenian family history research. 

The churches in İstanbul, or Bolis as it is known in Armenian, are under the jurisdiction of the Armenian Patriarchate of Constantinople.

There are other destroyed and surviving Apostolic churches for which there are no known extant historical parish registers of baptism, marriage and burial. These are not shown on the map. Similarly, Armenian Catholic churches are not mapped.

 

A version of this article and the accompanying map were originally published by bluebirdresearch in 2011.

 

 

 

Armenian communities in Jordan

This simple Google Map shows the location of the Armenian communities and places of worship in Jordan, including the modern Baptism Site church on the River Jordan at Al Maghtas.

The Armenian population in Jordan is today highly concentrated on the Al-Ashrafieh district of the capital, Amman.

 

 

 

Setomaa – Seto communities in Estonia

Setomaa is a land that does not exist on maps, inhabited by the Seto, or Setu, a small nation which is both threatened by assimilation and experiencing something of a cultural renaissance.

It is divided by the border between Estonia and Russia.

On the Estonian side, the Seto live in Mikitimäe and Värska parishes in Põlvamaa, and in Meremäe and Misso parishes in Võrumaa. A traditional Seto settlement differs from an archetypal Estonian settlement in being a compact or linear village rather than a looser cluster of scattered dwellings and farmsteads. Also, the Seto are Russian Orthodox, rather than the typical Lutheran religion of Estonia, and worship in a distinctive wooden chapel known as a tsässon.

On the Russian side, the Seto live mainly between the towns of Petseri (Pechory in Russian) and Irboska (Izborsk in Russian), which lie on the western edge of Pskov oblast, part of the Northwestern Federal Okrug of Russia. The Seto are a recognised minority in Russia but this does not prevent assimilation. According to the 2002 census, only 197 Russian citizens declared themselves to be of Seto nationality (there were also some 28,113 Estonians). It is of course likely that some Seto stated that they were Estonian, or indeed Russian, or chose not to declare any nationality.

During Estonia’s first period of independence, from 1920 to 1940, however, before the German and then the Soviet occupation, all of Setomaa was in Estonia, in the then county of Petserimaa with its county town at Petseri. Petseri grew up around its monastery (now known as the Pskovo-Pechersky Dormition Monastery) which, as well as being the major landowner in Setomaa, was the spiritual centre of Russian Orthodoxy among the Seto.

Previously, before WW1, all of Setomaa was in the Pskov gubernia of the Russian Empire. For this reason, the population here did not acquire surnames as the Estonians did during the period from the 1810s to the 1830s. I have read that the Seto did not take surnames until 1921, before then using a simple Russian style combination of forename and otchestvo (patronymic). This date seems late but may well be true. After all, looking further west, not all Swedes had a surname as such until the Släktnamnslagen 1901 made fixed family names compulsory.

There must be a Seto diaspora. Possibly, it will be concentrated in Siberia and elsewhere across Russia, rather than in Australia, North America and Scandinavia. Presumably, Seto would have been among the June 1941 and March 1949 Soviet deportations of Estonians to Siberia and the descendants of those who survived and have not returned to Estonia might now live in the Ural and in the regions of Krasnoyarsk, Novosibirsk and Omsk in Siberia.

The Google Map shows the small communities in Estonia where the Seto reside – most of the mapped place names possess a tsässon, often of very modest dimensions. The two red pins indicate places on the Russian side of the border with known Seto residents; it is of course probable that Seto live silently in other places adjacent to Estonia.

 

A version of this blog was first posted on the bluebirdresearch website in 2010.

Yezidis in Kars Oblast

The Armenians, the Assyrians and the Greeks were not the only nationalities to be largely removed from Asia Minor as Turkey aggressively redefined itself as a single-nation state in the post-Ottoman era. The Yezidis (Yazidis) – Kurds with their own distinctive non-Islamic religion – have also disappeared, either being killed or converted to Islam, assimilating into the Kurdish population, or crossing the border into the Republic of Armenia (in more recent times, many have emigrated to continental Europe, particularly to Germany).

The Google Map shows the location of the former Yezidi villages of the Kars oblast or province of the Russian Empire circa 1910 before it was re-taken by the Turks after the end of WW1. During the Russian era (1878-1918), the distinctiveness of the Yezidi was recognised and these villages constituted their own administrative district or okrug. Many had arrived in the region during the 1880s, having been displaced from further west in Anatolia. The Yezidi population of Kars oblast was approximately 2,386 in 1892.

 

A version of this blog post and its accompanying map were first published by bluebirdresearch in 2011.

The Armenian community in Iran

There has been an Armenian community in what is today Iran and what was formerly Persia for many centuries, and some extremely ancient Armenian Apostolic churches are to be found in the north of the country – for example, the so-called “black church” of Surp Tade Vank south of the town of Maku and the Surp Stepanos Maghartavank monastery in a gorge near Julfa which form part of a UNESCO-recognised world heritage ensemble of exceptional interest.

Armenians of the Ottoman Empire sought refuge in Persia at the time of the 1915 Genocide, while other immigrants arrived after the Russian Revolution, and the Armenian population of Iran may have risen to a million or more at its peak. Today, however, the community is dwindling due to emigration, although not due to political or religious factors, as one might assume. While there is some inevitable discrimination given that modern Iran is by definition an Islamic state, a majority of those local Armenians leaving Iran are doing so for economic reasons and emigrating particularly to USA (rather than to the Republic of Armenia or Western Europe). Some of the traditionally strong Armenian communities, such as those in the New Julfa (or Nor Jugha) quarter on the south side of Isfahan and in the city of Tabriz and the vicinity of Urmia, have seen significant drops in population. Although the actual figures seem to be unknown and the process of emigration is continuing, it is thought that the total Armenian population of Iran may have fallen to as low as 75,000 in the years since the 1979 Islamic Revolution overthrew the liberal, westward-leaning Shah.

The Armenians in Persia also had strong links with India and especially with the British in India, operating alongside (and often on behalf of) the Honourable East India Company along the overland trade routes to the subcontinent. This is why there are Armenian churches in various cities in India, even though the actual Armenian community is now greatly reduced in number. Armenian cemeteries are also important for those British family historians with East India Company connections, as the burials of the British usually took place in Armenian cemeteries where there was not a Church of England or other Protestant church. In Iran this practice remained prevalent until the end of the 19th century. A very good example of this is at the port of Bushire (Bushehr) in Iran.

The Google Map shows the Armenian communities and places of worship (not all extant today) in Persia / Iran in the late 19th and 20th centuries. Many of these are in the far NW of the country around Lake Urmia, where Armenians have lived among Assyrians, Azerbaijanis, Kurds and other peoples for centuries. Some churches have been damaged by earthquakes and war but generally the Iranian state has been sympathetic to the Armenian heritage (compared to the neglect and destruction it has suffered in Azerbaijan and Turkey). Spellings of place names on the map have not been standardised.

 

This blog and map were first published by bluebirdresearch in 2012.

Catholic communities in Karadag, Kosovo

This Google Map shows a Catholic enclave in an otherwise Muslim area of south-eastern Kosovo known as Skopska Crna Gora in Serbo-Croat, as Mali i Zi i Shkupit in Albanian, and as Karadağ in Turkish. All three names translate to English as “black mountains”.

This small population was known locally as the latini (being of the Roman Catholic faith) and probably was no larger than 5,000 during the second half of the C20th. What is particularly interesting is that there were not just Albanians (as one might have expected in Kosovo) but also Croats among the Karadag Catholics. For example, Stublla was an Albanian Catholic village, while Letnica, Šašare, Vrnavokolo and Vrnez were Croat Catholic villages. Kabaš had a Croat majority with a minority of Albanian inhabitants.

The isolated Croat community, distant from its Croatian congeners, was ethnographically distinct. The older women wore Turkish-style dimije; the inhabitants of Vrnavokolo spoke fluent Albanian. Originally, it was served by a single church dedicated to the Madonna, the Letnička Gospa, in the village of Letnica.

In the context of the growing fragmentation of the former Yugoslavia and the likelihood or at least fear of conflict spreading to their part of Kosovo, it was perhaps predictable that the Croat population should decide to emigrate en masse to independent Croatia. In 1992/93, the majority were resettled as refugees in a cluster of villages recently abandoned by Serbs in Slavonia – Bastaji, Ćeralije, Đulovac, Koreničani and Voćin (shown as green pins on the Google Map). The 2011 census of Kosovo showed only 70 Croats remaining across the municipality of Vitia which covers Letnica and district: presumably mostly the elderly and their carers who refused to emigrate, perhaps supplemented by some returnees from Slavonia.

The Catholic Albanians of Karadag have their own church in Stublla, dedicated to Shën Gjergji (St George) and this community survives, despite some societal pressure for Kosovar Albanians to be Muslim. Additionally, there is a complicated and improperly understood history of crypto-Catholicism in the region, with such outwardly Muslim but inwardly Catholic adherents known locally as laramanë (formally, in Latin, as occulti, or secret).

 

Vlach or Aromanian settlements in South-East Europe 

The Aromanians are one of the most fascinating of the various transnational minority groups in the Balkans. In the context of the region known as Macedonia and now subdivided between the nation states of Bulgaria, the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia and Greece, this people tends to be called the Vlachs or Koutsovlachs but they are known by, and call themselves by, a number of different names, many geographically determined.

One reason for this is the nature of their traditional way of life, which was transhumance. Transhumant shepherds would migrate seasonally between summer and winter grazing lands, often significant distances apart, following the same droving routes between highland and lowland each year. They paid little regard to political boundaries, unless forced, and therefore the geographical space they occupied was greater than their numerical population might suggest (even though it is thought that there could well have been 500,000 Aromanians across the Balkans on the eve of the First World War).

Individual branches of Aromanians tended to be known by the names of the mountain ranges where they grazed their flocks in summer. For example, on the territory of modern Greece, those Aromanians frequenting the pastures of the Gramos mountain range in summer were known as the Gramostani and those on the Pindus Mountains as the Pindusteani.

By no means all Aromanians in this region practised transhumance. Many in fact were merchants and, indeed, part of the local elite in towns and larger villages, for example in what is now Florina prefecture in northern Greece abutting the border with the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia. The whole geographical region of Macedonia was ethnically mixed and polyglot and therefore the Aromanians, whether shepherds or merchants, were likely to speak one or more of the local Slavic vernaculars and/or Greek and Turkish as well as Aromanian. Certainly, the urban Aromanians were or became Greek-speaking and of the Orthodox religion and increasingly identified themselves with the Greek nation state, although those who did not – and there were not a few of these – emigrated to Romania (particularly to Dobruja) and beyond to Australia and North America.

With the dissolution of the Ottoman Empire and the construction of nation states with enforced international borders, Vlachs have largely had to give up their transhumant lifestyle. Most remain bilingual or trilingual, speaking their own Vlach or Aromanian language plus the official state language and often a minority language – for example, the Vlachs in SE Albania may speak Albanian and Greek or Macedonian as well as their Vlach mother tongue.

Despite the processes of assimilation, there are still 20,000 or more Aromanians in Greece, with typical Vlach villages including Nymfaio (known as Nevesca in Aromanian) and Pisoderi in Florina prefecture, and Perivoli in Grevena prefecture.

Researching Aromanian family history is likely to be challenging, at least back beyond 1913 (when Epirus and Macedonia were incorporated into Greece). Many families were mobile across what are now international frontiers and many adjusted their surnames to suit the prevailing winds of politics (for instance, commonly changing the suffix at the end of their name from -ović  to -ov to –ovski).

Our Google Map shows just a selection of the main Vlach settlements in SE Europe – especially those where Albania, Greece and Macedonia meet. It also shows the settlements in Dobruja, Romania, which mostly date  from 1925 onwards, when the Romanian state offered land there to Albanian Vlachs.

There are many more settlements not shown on this map – the map does not purport to show the potentially hundreds of Vlach communities across Albania and Greece in particular.

 

A version of this blog and accompanying map were originally published on the bluebirdresearch website in 2010 and 2014.

Yezidi villages in Syria

This Google Map was created just after the start of the Syrian civil war in 2011.

It shows some of the surviving Yezidi villages in the Kurd Dagh, or “Kurdish Mountain”, a largely Kurdish region, north of Aleppo, in the far NW of Syria, at that date.

Other Yezidi villages in this area had already been abandoned, although their shrines and mausoleums remained places of pilgrimage.

Yezidis also lived in the main town Afrin (also known as Efrîn) and in other Kurdish settlements in the area.

It is not known what effect the conflict in Syria has had on the Yezidi population.

 

This short blog post and map were originally published on the bluebirdresearch website.

Russian settlements in Kars Oblast

The Google Map shows the location of various Russian settlements established in the former Kars oblast, which was part of the pre-WW1 Russian Empire from 1878-1918.

The main pattern of distribution clearly shows the settlers crossing into Kars from Aleksandrapol (modern Gyumri in Armenia) and choosing appropriate locations for agriculture.

Many of the Russian settlers were dissenters (sectarians) such as the Dukhobor and Molokan, although there were also Orthodox Russians and some Russian-German Lutherans.

The great majority of the Dukhobors emigrated to Canada in 1899. Those Russians still resident in Kars oblastmostly withdrew with the Russian military during the 1918-1921 conflicts with the Turks, who reoccupied the territory after the Russian Revolution in 1917 – some Russian sectarians resettled in the Rostov region of Russia, where there are many villages named after the original colonies in the vicinity of Kars.

Russian settlements created in and after 1878 are shown with dark blue pins. The main urban centres with mixed populations including Russians are shown with pale blue pins.

 

This blog and map were first published on the bluebirdresearch website in 2012.