- Armenian Literature, History, Religion in in Russian

Luigi Villari


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THE line from Batum to Kutais follows the sea-coast for a few miles, and then turns inland into the rich alluvial plains of Mingrelia—a soil bursting with fertility but cursed by the everlasting malaria. Transcaucasian railways leave much to be desired as regards comfort, speed, and cleanliness, but the curious sights along the line more than make up for other drawbacks. At every station is the usual variegated crowd of picturesque natives, with their many racial types, and the usual confusion of goods and untidy parcels on the platforms. Small boys and girls come to the carriage windows to sell fruit, of which there is a marvellous abundance. For five kopecks (1¼d.) you can get a large basket of figs or a huge bunch of grapes; but alas! the Caucasus deserves its fame as the land of unripe fruit and the luscious-looking products of the soil prove to be hard, sour, and indigestible. Why the peasants do not wait a little longer and pick them only when really ripe, I cannot conceive. At Samtredy, there is a branch line

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to Poti, the original terminus of the Transcaucasian railway before the Russian occupation of Batum. This station is celebrated as being one of the chief resorts of thieves and cut-throats in the Caucasus; you cannot leave your compartment unwatched while having lunch, and it is necessary to summon a nossilshtchik (porter) to look after it. Most Russian railway stations are infested with thieves, and it is always advisable to have your carriage locked by the guard when leaving it for more than a few minutes; but in the Caucasus, as in some large Russian stations, this is not enough, for the thieves are provided with keys, so that personal supervision is necessary. A peculiarity of the Transcaucasian lines is the enormous number of ticketless passengers. As soon as a train starts numbers of well-armed barbarians rush into the carriages, cling on to the platforms—they often jump in when the train Is already moving at its mad career of twelve or thirteen miles an hour. The guard comes round for tickets and difficulties arise ; this sort of Ollendorfian conversation ensues : “ Have you a ticket?” “ No, but: I have a large revolver and a large knife, and my brother has a large revolver and large knife, and so have my cousins and my friends.” The guard takes in the situation at a glance and passes by on the other side. It has been calculated that some 30 per cent, of the passengers on the Caucasian lines were innocent of tickets. I need hardly add that the line does not pay, but as it is guaranteed by the State and gets a subvention, the shareholders receive dividends, so that everybody is happy.

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Kutais. Georgian Types

[caption] Kutais. Georgian Types.

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A four hours' run brought me to Kutais, which is on a short branch line from Rion Junction on the Batum-Baku line to the important coal mines of Tkvibuli. Kutais is a quaint, attractive old town built on both banks of the Rion river and dominated by a steep, wooded hill, on the summit of which are the ruins of a castle and of a large church. The streets are irregular and unpaved, so that in dry weather they are buried in clouds of dust, and when it rains the mud is several inches deep and expands at frequent intervals into large lakes. The houses are of a curious Oriental style, not like those of Turkey, but with marked peculiarities of their own. They have large wooden balconies and projecting eaves, and their dominant feature is the glass-covered veranda, on to which many of the rooms look. It is a most inconvenient arrangement from the point of view of comfort, especially in hot weather, when it effectually excludes fresh air. In the hotel, which is otherwise quite decent, nearly all the rooms have both window and door opening on to the veranda, so that there is no means of ventilation, and the atmosphere is indescribable. From the bridge over the Rion one enjoys a charming view, both up and down stream, of the quaint old houses overhanging the banks of the surging torrent, and the masses of trees and luxuriant vegetation add a charm of freshness.

The population of Kutais numbers some 30,000 souls, nearly all of them of the Georgian race —Khartvels, Mingrelians, Imeretins, Svanets, and other varieties—and there are small settlements of Russians, Armenians, Mohammedans, and Jews. It

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is the capital of a government with a population of over a million. The town is the centre of the Georgian movement, and may be regarded in a sense as the capital of Georgia, for now that Tiflis is becoming more and more Armenian the Georgians are shifting westward, and Kutais is the largest purely Georgian town. A walk through the bazars offers a sight of many picturesque types ; handsome, dignified men attired in the usual tcherkesska, tall Astrakhan cap, gaily-coloured tunic, trousers tucked into high heel-less boots, and long knives attached to the leather belt. Nominally, no one is supposed to carry arms, but as a matter of fact nearly every Georgian does. The women are less picturesque than the men ; the most striking detail of their costume is the little flat embroidered cap, whence a long, white veil hangs down ; artificial curls are usually attached to it. The members of the aristocracy generally wear the native costume, but of course richer and more splendid than that worn by the peasants. A white tcherkesska, adorned with gold- braid, is particularly becoming. I remember one old Georgian, who had served in the Russian army and had been wounded in the last Turkish war ; his tcherkesska was of a rich reddish brown, his breast was covered with decorations, and he wore a beautifully chased kinjal and an elaborate revolver. Another Georgian prince I met—there are princes by the hundred in Kutais—indulged in a most peculiar head-dress ; when I first saw him I thought he was wearing a particularly large lamb's-wool papakh (native cap), but on closer inspection it proved to be his own very ample and curly hair ! He was a fairly

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Kutais. Houses and Gardens on the Rion

[caption] Kutais. Houses and Gardens on the Rion.


Kutais. Primitive Native Carts with Solid Wheels.

[caption] Kutais. Primitive Native Carts with Solid Wheels.

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well-educated man, and had travelled even as far as London a few years before. That huge head of hair in Piccadilly is a thing imagination boggles at. Kutais has few of the resources of civilization. There is, as I have said, a fair hotel kept by an old Swiss lady and her daughter, the boulevard (a square garden in the middle of the town with large trees and no flowers), a theatre where performances are given in Russian and Georgian, and a few unambitious shops. It has been left out of the march of progress, and is materially far behind most Russian towns, and even many Caucasian towns such as Tiflis, Baku, Batum, or Vladikavkaz. But the scenery of the neighbourhood is very beautiful and mountainous, and there are some interesting old buildings to be visited. On the hill above the town are the ruins of what must have been a really fine church of red sandstone. It is an oblong in form with rounded apse and transepts, and narrow, round-arched windows somewhat suggestive of Norman architecture. In fact the Georgian style, like the Armenian, to which it is closely allied, is an outcome of the Byzantine, and there is little doubt that Greek architects or natives educated at Constantinople built many of the churches. Even Russian architecture is derived from the Byzantine, but it has greatly exaggerated all the features of its models and made them awkward and ridiculous, whereas the Georgian-Armenian churches, if without the wealth and splendour of those of Constantinople, preserved a genuine purity of design which appears even in comparatively modern buildings. Another more interesting church is the monastery of Ghelati, about two hours’ ride from

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Kutais. There is a broad, grass-covered enclosure, surrounded by a stone wall, on the side of a hill over the valley of the Tzkhal-Tzitheli, embracing a splendid panorama of forest-clad heights and rocky peaks, with fresh, green valleys and plains extending in every direction. The cathedral of St. Mary, in the middle of the enclosure, is an imposing structure built of colossal blocks of red sandstone. The exterior is a rectangle, but the roof indicates the cruciform plan. At the crossing of the nave and the transept is a polygonal drum supporting a conical dome. Several projections and additions have been built round it, such as three porches, which somewhat obscure the general shape of the edifice. The interior is impressive, for its unusual proportions, combining great height with a comparatively small area, produce an effect of vast size and dim distances. There are frescoes and mosaics of no great artistic merit on the walls, but decorative and attractive ; some are said to be the work of Genoese artists in the Renaissance, for that nation had intimate connection with the land of Colchis. Besides the cathedral there is a little chapel containing the tomb of David, King of Georgia (1089-1125), and the iron gates of the Persian city of Ghanja (the modern Elizavetpol) captured by him. To-day both the tomb of the conqueror and the city he captured are under the rule of the same alien people. The monks have the reputation of being somewhat inhospitable and disinclined to show strangers the treasures of the church. But my experience was different. After I had been taken round all the sights by a courteous monk and was waiting until the

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heavy storm, which had broken after months of heat and drought, should cease, the igumen, or abbot, sent to fetch me, and received me in a most friendly manner in his own apartment. He was a handsome, grey-bearded old man, and spoke Russian slowly so that I should understand, and once when he thought I had not grasped his meaning he translated his remarks into ancient Greek ! He asked me if in my country there was freedom of speech and of conscience, and on my replying in the affirmative, he sighed and said, “Alas! here we are slaves of a tyrannical Government ; but better times are coming, and we too shall soon have a revolution.”

When the rain stopped my guide and I remounted our horses and turned homewards. The former was an immensely fat Mingrelian; like all Caucasians he knew how to ride, but his vast proportions made it impossible for him to mount on to the high native saddle without a step or a heap of stones. Once he was mounted he would start off at a gallop down the most impossible tracks and through deep pools of mud. For some reason or other he did not wear the picturesque native dress, but rigged himself out in a very rusty, ill-fitting black suit, pointed yellow boots, a stiff shirt and collar of bright pink, a black tie and a cycling cap ; a more incongruous figure could hardly be conceived. This was my first experience of a Caucasian saddle, and I shall not easily forget it. It consists of a large leather cushion placed on the wooden framework, and attached to it by means of the belt which keeps the whole affair on the horse’s back. The stirrups are so placed that you cannot lean

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back but are obliged to sit perfectly straight, and as they are very short your legs are crumpled up at an angle of thirty degrees. Bridle and saddle are in the most dilapidated condition, and kept together with bits of string ; there are quantities of little straps and buckles and other oddments for which I could find no conceivable use. The horses themselves are wiry little mountain ponies, with a distant touch of the Arab in them, and if you are fortunate you may get one which really has some go ; but as a rule hired animals are most unsatisfactory, and any one intending to ride a great deal should buy his steeds, for they are very cheap.

There are many cultivated and intelligent men among the Georgians, and indeed the government of Kutais has one of the lowest percentages of illiteracy in the Empire. The Georgians are an essentially literary people, and most members of the upper class write in the newspapers and reviews. Georgian papers are published at Tiflis only, and hitherto permission to issue a Georgian paper at Kutais has always been refused by the Russian authorities. There are quite a number of Georgian poets of distinction both ancient and modern, of whom the best known are Rustaveli among the older ones (the author of “ The Man in the Leopard’s Skin”), and Prince Ilya Chavchavadze among the moderns ; there is also a Georgian national drama, and a host of translators from foreign languages, novelists, and journalists. Literary activity has gone hand in hand with the political movement, and the chief writers are also the leaders of Georgian Nationalism. One finds Prince Chavchavadze’s portrait

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Monastery of Ghelati, near Kutais.

[caption] Monastery of Ghelati, near Kutais.


A Georgian Priest

[caption] A Georgian Priest.

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in many a country inn and peasant cottage, as well as in the houses of the better class. The Georgian theatre is quite a flourishing institution, and some of the actors are excellent, although the majority of the plays are translations.

This love of literature is common to many races who, although civilized, have been denied political freedom, and books are the only outlet for exuberant and cultivated intellects. But if literature has kept alive national sentiment, it has in the case of the Georgians militated against a development of a practical spirit like that of the Armenians. Consequently, in spite of their cleverness, the Georgians are a weaker element than their capabilities would lead us to believe, and they are everywhere giving way before the more “pushful ” Armenian.

The Georgian is sympathetic, handsome, very friendly and hospitable, well-mannered, but unpractical, happy-go-lucky and extravagant. Few of the Georgian nobles have remained even moderately wealthy ; there are immense numbers of impoverished “ princes ” all over the Caucasus, although they have not lost their pride with their wealth. At the same time they have given proof of a devoted attachment to ideals and a readiness to undergo great sacrifices for the sake of their nationality and freedom which are wholly admirable.

I had occasion to visit some Georgian interiors at Kutais, and in all I found a warm welcome and friendly hospitality. A Georgian home, even of the better class, is a simple establishment, and the people's way of life primitive and unostentatious. The chief

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furniture consists of broad, hard sofas called takhtas covered with handsome Oriental carpets, other rugs hung up on the walls, and a few chairs and tables of Russian and German make. All the men of the upper class speak Russian as well as Georgian, although it is not always the case with the women. Some speak French and German too, and a few even English.

The fascinations of the Georgians have attracted many foreigners to visit the land and study the people, and the latest addition to the little band of Georgian scholars is an enterprising English lady whose acquaintance I made while at Kutais. An excellent linguist, she determined to add Georgian to her many other tongues, and indeed proposed to learn Armenian and Tartar as well, so as to be able to study the Caucasus de fond en comble. Undeterred by weak health and the discomforts which life in the Caucasus entails, she made up her mind to settle down in Georgia for many months, giving English, French, and German lessons in exchange for instruction in Georgian. Already in a couple of months she had made one hundred and twenty-five acquaintances, and by this time no doubt she knows half the Georgian people.

The political situation at Kutais, and the aspirations of the Georgians were reaching an acute stage at the time of my visit. I described in a previous Chapter how the Russian Government, in spite of its treaties and formal promises, destroyed every vestige of Georgian autonomy, and treated Georgia as an integral part of Russia; it did everything in its

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power to Russify the inhabitants by means of Russian officials, Russian schools, and Russian bureaucratic methods. But nevertheless the old patriotic feelings were by no means dead, and the greater proportion of Georgians remained attached to their language and nationality. At Tiflis the process of Russification was more successful, and many Georgians of the upper classes took to speaking Russian even among themselves. But at Kutais, and of course in the remote districts, the native tongue continued to hold its own, in spite of the fact that the Russian officials make a point of never learning the vernacular tongues of the provinces they are sent to govern, thus obliging the natives to learn Russian. During the reigns of Alexander III. and Nicholas II., especially while Prince Golytzin was Governor-General of the Caucasus, the policy of the Government was one of extreme reaction and Russification; the Georgians, having no longer an independent Church, were deprived of one focus of national life and activity. Prince Golytzin’s especial bugbear was the Armenians and the Armenian Church, but even the Georgians found little favour in his eyes, and every attempt was made to proscribe the Georgian language. Any movement that savoured of nationalism was sternly repressed, and the Georgian intelligentia, consisting of nobles and literary and professional men, were objects of profound distrust. In spite of this policy the movement continued to progress in an underhand way, and, although there was no possibility of organization, the leaders of Georgian public opinion secretly hoped for

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the time when their old supremacy would be restored. Their aspirations were vague and their discontent latent, but the national sentiment was very real.

When the war in the Far East broke out, and Russian disasters followed one another in quick succession, the Georgians, like all the other subject races of the Empire, as well as the Russian Liberals, began to advance their demands for freedom and autonomy more openly than they had ever dared to do before, several recognized parties came to be formed, and there was a great and unexpected revival of the Georgian idea. Talk of autonomy, freedom, nationality, self-government, was on everybody's lips. But by the side of the national movement, another very active agitation made its appearance—that of the Social Democrats. The conditions of the peasantry in Georgia had long been very unsatisfactory. The nobles, hospitable, extravagant, and unpractical, like Irish landlords, had squandered away their fortunes, and could only exist by squeezing their dependents. The land is held on the métairie plan, which, as in Tuscany, where it is worked equitably, results in better relations between landlord and peasant than any other, but where it is abused leads to the most bitter hatred; the peasant has always the feeling of being part proprietor of the land, so that any act of injustice committed by the landlord has far more the aspect of robbery than where the peasant is merely the hired labourer or the tenant farmer. In many parts of the country there are also peasant proprietors, but as a rule they have not enough land to keep them,

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as the methods of agriculture are extremely primitive. Moreover, within the last few years a certain amount of industry has been developed in the Western Caucasus. The manganese mines of Chiatury, the coal-pits of Tkvibuly, the large case oil works of Batum, the harbours of that town and of Poti, and of course the railways, gave occupation to numbers of Georgians. There was not a permanent industrial working class, but, as was the case in Russia until quite recent times, the peasants of certain districts were in the habit of going periodically to the industrial centres to work for a few months, returning to their fields at harvest-time. All this provided a most fertile soil for the growth of Socialism, and the newly-formed Socialist party in Russia sent emissaries to the Caucasus in considerable numbers. The Georgian peasantry, as well as some of the students and other "intellectuals," were quickly attracted by the propaganda, and, as M. Staroselsky, the Governor of Kutais, told me, they have now no further need of outside agitators, but are quite capable of providing their own leaders. Curiously enough, the Russian authorities did not altogether disapprove of the Socialist agitation, and we find in Georgia the same tendency to encourage Socialism as an antidote to middle-class Constitutionalism and Liberalism as in Russia itself, where the famous Zubatoff movement of the Moscow workmen was actually organized under the auspices of the secret police. Prince Golytzin and the bureaucrats of the Plehve school were far less afraid of Social Democracy than of the Nationalism of the Georgian

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nobles and intellectuals, whose aims were in the direction of constitutional government, and therefore incompatible with autocracy, of national autonomy which might lead to separation and the break-up of the Empire, and of an autocephalous Church, which naturally aroused the fears of M. Pobiedonostzeff. Consequently, Social Democracy, which was in its beginnings a purely economic movement, and at all times essentially anti-national, was not opposed with the vigour which might have been expected, and if not actually countenanced, neither was it actively repressed. Prince Golytzin hoped to create a breach between the Georgian Nationalist upper classes and the peasantry, and to introduce a mild milk-and-water Socialism, sufficient to weaken the autonomists, but docile and friendly to the authorities.

But when, after Prince Golytzin’s departure and the outburst of the war, the bonds of discipline were loosened, the revolutionary movement spread like wildfire throughout the land, and it soon became evident that the Social Democrats, who had been slowly and efficiently organizing themselves, had become a real power, and were anything but favourably disposed towards the Government. The Nationalists had been unable to organize, and were therefore less formidable, whereas the Socialist movement had penetrated deep into the minds of the people, so that large districts were almost solidly Socialist. The various groups of Nationalists tried to organize themselves, and having more money were able to achieve something, but it was very little

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as compared with what the Social Democrats had done. There was a certain amount of agrarian anti-landlord agitation, and several influential landlords like Prince Eristavi and Prince Guriely were assassinated by their own peasants. The districts of Gory, Dushet, Kutais, and Ozurgety were hotbeds of disturbance, and the peasants began to refuse to pay the landlord his share of the produce of the soil, or at all events to pay only a small part of it. In some cases they quietly gave him notice that his presence was no longer required on his estates, and they provided him with a cart with which to remove himself and his belongings. Over large districts the peasants, on the exhortation of agitators who told them that either God or the Tzar had decreed that the land was theirs, annexed first the property of the Church and the State, and next that of private landlords.

But there was not always great antagonism between landlords and peasants, or between Nationalists and Socialists. The hatred of the Government was so intense that other differences were, if not forgotten, at all events shelved. The nobles had hoped, no doubt, for a return to the old times, when they ruled the land, for the revival of an autonomous Georgia governed by an oligarchy. But seeing that this was impossible, they were ready to ally themselves with the Socialists, or at least to avoid friction with them.

Wishing to learn something of aspirations of the various parties, I applied to Prince M., a pleasant, intelligent old nobleman who had practically given up

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his lands as there was no possibility of cultivating them successfully during the present agitation, and was devoting himself to industrial pursuits. He was employed in the Manganese Institute at Kutais—a sort of Chamber of Mines—where he introduced me to representatives of several Liberal groups, and one revolutionist, a certain M. Z. (of whom more anon), sketched out the various aspirations in a most synthetic and clear way, A common feature to all these programmes, which came as a surprise to me, was the fact that every one of them had as its first article the abolition of the Monarchy and the establishment of a republic. I asked my informer if there were no Constitutionalists among the Georgians. He replied, “ Only a few mouchards (spies) and officials. We have no use for Tzars in the Caucasus.” As a matter of fact, I do not think that this was entirely the case, and although republican feeling, as is natural among such a doctrinaire people, is much more general than in Russia proper, there is a considerable proportion of Georgians—probably the majority—who would be satisfied with a Liberal Monarchical Constitution, accompanied by a wide measure of economic reforms. Another common feature was the desire for agrarian reform on semi-Socialistic lines. A third was the large amount of ill-digested abstract theories imported from Europe, regardless of the conditions of ignorance and backwardness prevailing in Russia, and the easy confidence with which the solution of every problem by means of paper reforms was predicted.

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I shall begin with the programme of the Federalists. This party desires a sort of Home Rule for the Caucasus, whereby delegates are to be sent to a federal parliament in St. Petersburg for international and general questions, while the local affairs of the country are to be administered by a local assembly. But there must be also a sort of sub-Home Rule for the various Caucasian races—Georgians, Armenians, Tartars, &c.—each of whom are to have a special council. Thus Russia will come to form a federal republic on the basis of the United States of America, and not a centralized republic like France. The Federalists are also Socialists, and recognize the necessity of class warfare. But at present the national problem is so urgent that it obscures the class struggle, and must be solved before social reform and the abolition of capital can be tackled. Once it is settled it will be possible to set to work to develop the “Socialist conscience” of the working classes. In the economic field the Federalists believe that land nationalization will result from the revolution. The domains of the State, of the Church, and of the nobles must be expropriated and handed over to the rural communes, which are to be so organized that every man shall have just as much land as he can work himself without the help of hired labour. The Federalists do not think that society is sufficiently developed at present for the socialization of capital in the towns (personal and house property and industry). Further demands are for an eight hours’ day, a minimum salary, and the rest of the general Socialist programme. For the present the Federalist party

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is allied with the Social Revolutionists, who believe in the necessity for violent measures to achieve reform. This explains how it is that one finds Georgian nobles and terrorists working more or less hand in hand.

The Georgian Social Democrats are in close touch with that party in Russia, their views being indeed of a more general and universal character than those of any. other group. They aspire to a centralized republic, one and indivisible, with no local government beyond that of town and provincial councils, uniform all over the country. They disregard differences of race, nationality, and religion, believing that there would be no racial antagonism if it were not for the iniquities of the capitalists and the nobles. Their ideas of agrarian reform are based on a policy of land nationalization, but they propose to begin by depriving the peasant proprietors of their land so as to make the struggle more acute—" the proletarization of the peasantry," as they call it. In practice, however, their proposals are much less sweeping, and they would limit themselves to giving back to the peasants the land which has been annexed by the nobles and the State since the emancipation of the serfs in 1861. The Social Democrats also claim a large number of political reforms, such as universal suffrage (including that of women), the suppression of the standing army, the election of judges, and a wide measure of self-government for the inhabitants of each district. In theory they are opposed to all violent measures and desire to effect their reforms by means of passive resistance to the authorities, and it was thus that the

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Ozurgety experiment,* was begun. But latterly they have adopted a more resolute attitude; they have armed themselves and had frequent encounters with the troops in various parts of the country. Their strength lies in the desire for agrarian reform and their practical attempts to put an end to the existing administrative misgovernment. But their weakness in the Caucasus is due to their disregard of the existing and very real racial and religious antagonisms, which cannot be swept away by merely saying that they are not there.

Besides these two parties there are other smaller groups. The Anarchists, merely aim at the destruction of the existing order of the State and society, without troubling about what is to replace it. Then there are the Progressive Democrats and the Party of Independence; both desire the complete independence of the Caucasus, which is to be divided into a number of autonomous federated States. They do not wish to destroy the rights of property, but demand wide social legislation. The idea of rendering the Caucasus, with its hopeless medley of rival peoples, wholly independent is too extravagant to be seriously contemplated. But I have met several Caucasians who hankered after some such solution, and even suggested that England should intervene to bring it about!

What has been the attitude of the Russian Government towards these various movements ? Its natural tendency was to repress them unmercifully, but partly owing to its weakened prestige and partly on account

* See next Chapter.

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of the growth of progressive ideas in European Russia it attempted at first to avoid violent methods. But its weakness was so manifest that the Georgians were encouraged to flout its authority, and things reached such a pitch that the Russian officials were incapable of enforcing their orders. The impossibility of coercing the Georgians and a desire to conciliate them led to the appointment of a very liberal, almost socialistic Governor of Kutais, M. Staroselsky. M. Staroselsky is the son of a Russian father and a Georgian mother ; he has lived nearly all his life in Georgia, where he held the position of agronome, or agricultural specialist—a profession usually associated with liberal ideas. Until about a year ago he was regarded with great suspicion by the authorities, and a perquisition in his house was actually carried out by the police. He was in sympathy and close touch with the local Socialists, who indeed regarded him as one of themselves. But when he was appointed Governor in August, 1905, he found himself in a very difficult position. His Socialist friends abandoned him because he had accepted the appointment ; his own official staff and the Russian colony were opposed to him for his liberalism and his Georgian sympathies; and he had not the resource of military power to back him up, for, apart from the smallness of the garrison in Georgia, it was against his principles to make use of force. He hoped, however, to pacify the country by conciliation. “ The Government,” he said to me, “has given up all idea of coercing the Georgians by violence.” He seemed to me a sympathetic, cultivated man, of high ideals and strong principles, very

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different from the average type of Russian tchinovnik. He was one of the only high Russian functionaries I have ever met who was not in uniform, and he was quite free from all taint of bureaucracy. He believed that in three months the country would be pacified, and if his predictions have not been borne out, it is certain that things would not have reached such a pass had there been more Staroselskys in the Caucasus.*

When I was in Kutais the fullest freedom of meeting and of speech obtained. The very day I arrived I went up to the Arkhiereiskaya Gora to see the ruins of the old church and enjoy the view; there on a grassy plateau I came upon a largely attended political gathering. The scene was almost theatrically picturesque ; the people were collected among grey ruins and broken arches, with a hazy background formed by range upon range of blue mountains. Many varieties of strange costumes were there. I could not appreciate the eloquence of the orators nor tire force of their arguments, for they spoke in Georgian, but the ever-recurring allusions to Sotzial-Demokratzia, revolutzia, biurakratsia, left little doubt as to the subjects under discussion. Later on I was present at a performance given in the theatre to collect funds for the revolutionary propaganda, and many violent speeches and political allusions were made, the proceedings ending with the Marseillaise, sung by the chorus in its Georgian version, of which the air is very tame and emasculated, but the words, I am told, are extremely violent. Even in the streets and in the

* He is now on his trial for high treason. See Chapter XVII.

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public garden daily meetings were held, in which the Government was roundly abused, and at every turn one came upon knots of people discussing politics with great heat.

Instances of more violent forms of lawlessness were not wanting, and a few days before I arrived a Russian colonel was murdered in peculiar circumstances. A student had been killed in an émeute some time before, and at his funeral several soldiers had brought a wreath to the grave. The colonel, who was well known for his brutality, punished the men severely. A few days later he himself was stabbed in the back in the boulevard in the afternoon. He fell mortally wounded, and though numbers of people were present, including several soldiers, the assassin got off scot-free, and no one came to the colonel's assistance. He remained untended for some time, and when at last help arrived he died on the way home. The funeral was held as quietly as possible, as demonstrations were feared, but the soldiers, who alone were present, could hardly restrain their joy. Every one in Kutais knew who the assassin was, but he was never arrested.

The people were living in a state of excitement, as risings and repressions were feared at any moment, and almost every day news came in from the outlying district of encounters between troops and peasants, of Cossacks being quartered in villages, of murders of landlords and officials, of massacres by soldiers. But in spite of the panic people led their usual lives, chatting, laughing, singing, and discussing politics. It is curious to note that hardly ever was the Japanese

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war, then just over, even alluded to, so little was the interest it aroused among the peoples of the Caucasus. The same thing was observable even in Russia, when the great struggle played a far smaller part in the lives of the people than it would have done in any other country. But to the Caucasians the war meant nothing at all.


Table of contents
Cover and pp. 1-4 | Prefatory note | Table of contents (as in the book) | List of illustrations
“Chronological table of recent events in the Caucasus”
1. The Caucasus, its peoples, and its history | 2. Eastward ho! | 3. Batum
4. Kutais and the Georgian movement | 5. The Gurian “republic” | 6. Tiflis
7. Persons and politics in the Caucasian capital
8. Armenians, Tartars, and the Russian government
9. Baku and the Armeno-Tartar feud | 10. Bloodshed and fire in the oil city
11. The land of Ararat | 12. The heart of Armenia | 13. Russia's new route to Persia
14. Nakhitchevan and the May massacres | 15. Alexandropol and Ani
16. Over the frosty Caucasus | 17. Recent events in the Caucasus | Index



Source: Villari, Luigi. Fire and Sword in the Caucasus by Luigi Villari author of “Russia under the Great Shadow”, “Giovanni Segantini,” etc. London, T. F. Unwin, 1906
Provided by: Aram Arkun, Krikor and Clara Zohrab Information Center
Scanned by: Karen Vrtanesyan
OCR: Karen Vrtanesyan

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See also:
The Flame of Old Fires by Pavel Shekhtman (in Russian)
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