Baltic, Black Sea, Chechnya, Chukchi, Circassian Genocide, Circassians, Crimea, Eastern Roman Empire, Europe, genocidal Russia, genocide, Hanseatic League, Ivan the Terrible, Khazars, Kyiv, Mongol invasion, Mongols, Moscow, Novgorod, Orthodox Christianity, Peter the Great, plague, Russian Empire, Russian genocide, smallpox, Vikings
“According to the traditional scholarship, the veche was the highest legislative and judicial authority in Veliky Novgorod until 1478, when the Novgorod Republic was brought under the direct control of the Grand Duke of Moscow, Ivan III.“ https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Novgorod_veche
A really well-done and readable piece:
“A brief history of Russian genocide
by sumdumguy https://www.dailykos.com/users/sumdumguy
Daily Kos Community (This content is not subject to review by Daily Kos staff prior to publication.)
Wednesday April 20, 2022 · 2:26 AM GMT
It seems many people have no appreciation of how Russia came about and what drives the Russian state through history. The answer is one word: genocide. Allow me to explain, and do get a seat. This will be eye-opening for some of the readers and not in a good way.
Let’s start with a bit of history. Russian identity started to form around the North-South trade between the Vikings and the Eastern Roman empire. The logistics roughly ran along some rivers like Dnipro and it was a long haul. Not surprisingly a single center of power was not sufficient and the local tribes developed two: Novgorod and Kyiv. The Novgorod was up north and was culturally close to the Baltic states. Kyiv was down south and had a lot culturally borrowed from the Eastern Roman empire, most notably Orthodox Christianity. Due to its religious importance, Kiyv was more important. There was also a Podunk area to the north-east but it was far from the main trade route. Its center was ill-defined but if pressed one would likely point to Vladimir.
So along come the Mongols. They conquered the north-east and the South but did not want to fight in the North because their horses were not well suited to attack in the swamps. So they made a deal with Novgorod that northern lands would remain undisturbed, but would acknowledge Mongols as rulers and pay some tax.
After some time, Novgorod starts to drift away from other Russian lands, it develops its own identity (it was the earliest democracy in Europe). Meanwhile, Kyiv is in shambles. Its trade is disrupted, it is always being invaded by someone (nomadic southern tribes, Lithuanians, and even different parties in Mongol civil wars), and its economy suffers badly. Russia has no center of power. But Mongols want some center of power because Russia is on the outskirts of their empire and they just want someone local to collect taxes for them. They pick Moscow — a small principality with no claim to being special that surely would be too weak to pose a threat.
Moscow quickly does two key things. They start to not only collect taxes but to pocket some of that money and they use this to build up an army. Eventually they stop paying tax at all. And being relatively wealthy and stable, they get the Kyiv Patriarch to move to north-east (first to Vladimir then to Moscow).
Around this time, it becomes clear that Eastern Roman empire is about to fall to the Turks, and all of Orthodox Christian world starts looking for a new center of power. Moscow gets heady ideas of ruling the world and bringing Orthodox Christianity to the heathens. They then start appointing their own Patriarch (1448) without blessing from Constantinople and adopt the idea that Moscow is the third Rome (https://web.archive.org/web/20220420071428/https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Moscow,_third_Rome) Now they have the power base to run the country, the pocket church to bless anything they do and to make them seem special, and a crazy messianic idea to justify any evil they do. Let’s see what they do…
As we may recall Novgorod was drifting towards Europe and away from Mongol rule (which was weak) and away from Russia (which was getting uncomfortably strong). It was a happy member of the Hanseatic league and wanted nothing more than to develop its economy and its democracy. So in 1470, Ivan III marched on Novgorod, defeated them in battle and declared his dominion. Notably, Novgorod was abandoned by European allies who failed to recognize the danger of Russia. Our good-natured Ivan took a lot of land from Novgorod but did not kill too many people. The same cannot be said about Ivan IV, aka Ivan the Terrible. This Ivan was paranoid that Novgorod still had ideas to be European, so to use “modern Russian lingo” he set out to de-nazify Novgorod. To be precise he set out to wipe out its identity, kill its elites, and to devastate the place so thoroughly that it would never again be of any economic note. It helped that plague was going on as well. Needless to say, he earned his nickname. The massacre of Novgorod lasted for five weeks and took about a third of the population by some accounts. Novgorod was done as a power center to such an extent that centuries later, when Peter the Great needed a power center to stand up to Baltic states like Sweden, he had to found a whole new city (you may have heard of Saint Petersburg, which is not far from Novgorod).
The other thing our Terrible Ivan did is to expand to the East. It helped that the state to his immediate East was Kazan which was previously wiped out to the tune of 80% of the population by the conquering Mongols. He did not need to do much killing (except, of course, for the grand massacre after the winning the battle for the capital). But being the good natured Russian that he was, he still did his best to wipe out their cultural identity and famously destroyed their main mosque. Did I say their main mosque? He basically raised most buildings and nearly all mosques. Many muslims were expelled from the land and most of the remaining muslims were forced to convert to Christianity. However the countryside remained largely as is and took another four years of terror and raids to subdue.
After the conquest of Kazan (and a similarly brutal takeover of Astrakhan), he effectively split the Golden Horde space into two parts — the eastern part we can broadly call Siberia (although at the time the name referred to just one state which Ivan the Terrible subjugated himself) and the southern part (today’s Ukraine, Caucusus, and lands in between).
The conquest of Siberia/Far East by the Russians is a long tale (https://web.archive.org/web/20220420071428/https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Russian_conquest_of_Siberia )which is awfully depressing and it is very similar to what happened to native Americans when European settlers arrived. Except somehow much worse. The Russians brought with them smallpox and in some places up to 80% of the locals got killed from disease alone. When disease did not work, Russians killed the locals themselves. You can read the details in the reference above. I will just highlight that in some places only about 6% of the natives remained when the Russians were done killing. A kind totally not murderous Russian Empress famously gave an explicit order that the Chukchi people be “”totally extirpated” — just in case you were wondering whether scorched Earth genocide was an accident or policy. The name of a particularly genocidal Russian leader (Yakunin) became a curseword among Chukchi people. Ironically, Chukchi people were not all murdered in typical Russian genocidal fashion. They were ferocious fighters. They fought back and forced Russians to play nice, proving that Russian expansionism only understands brute force.
Now let’s look down south. The Russians were not interested in Ukraine much. It was a bit like Afghanistan today — a land where everybody fought everybody. Remnants of Russian southern state were busy fighting Crimean Tatars and Lithuanians and even occasionally Turks. Russians made an alliance with the southern orthodox gangs (aka Hetmanates) and called it a day. I am skipping a bunch of oppression here because it was not too genocidal. Just nasty, treacherous and totally not brotherly. Literally, from the moment we have record of Moscow and to this day, there has never been a sense that north-eastern Russians and southern Russians had a common sovereign identity. By the time of Hetmanates southern Russians were clearly culturally distinct already (very similar to how you would raw a line between e.g. Afghanis and Pakistanis).
But I digress. Instead of focusing on Ukraine too much, Russians went after the access to the Black sea. In 1736 they invaded Crimea and… you guessed it. Yes, they wiped out some locals, destroyed all major cities, and forced many to flee to Turkey. Oh btw, they had major problems with logistics and had to leave Crimea because of starvation. Sounds familiar? In 1774 Russians fought Turkey and got them to abandon Crimea as a protectorate. The treaty with Turkey obligated Russia to respect territorial integrity of Crimea. But of course Crimea was now a weak state abandoned by allies so in 1783 Russia violated the treaty and its obligations and again conquered Crimea. As we can see, Russia remained a benign, trustworthy and sane state. I will just quote Wikipedia here: “In total, from 1783 till the beginning of the 20th century, at least 800 thousand Tatars left Crimea.” To give you an idea of scale, after Crimean war alone, the Russian xenophobia drove 2/3 of the remaining Crimean Tatars into exile. That 800K is most of the Crimean Tatars not some small fraction. And yes, there was an occasional massacre here and there too.
At about the same time Russians started to take over the other coast of the Black sea. In 1763 they started a war with Circassians. The genocide that followed is legendary even by Russian standards (https://web.archive.org/web/20220420071428/https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Circassian_genocide ) Around 90% of the Circassian people were killed or forced to flee. Do you remember that jolly Olympics that Russians recently held in Sochi? That was Circassian capital and the biggest slaughter place. Circassians living in exile were not very fond of that Olympics. Nobody else noticed. Sigh.
Besides fighting with and obliterating Circassians, the Russian empire pushed further and reached as far as Chechnya and Dagestan. You can read about the Russian-Chechen wars yourselves (if you do not know). Many a village was burned down, many a tribe was killed off, many an uprising was put down. The name of a particularly genocidal general (Yermolov) is still a curseword in Chechnya. But Chechens, like Chukchis, fought hard and avoided outright genocide… for a time. They even got an autonomy as a concession.
However during WW2, Stalin decided to get rid of all the pesky little southern people which gave Russian empire so much trouble. Chechens and many other ethnic groups in the Caucusus as well as remaining Crimean Tatars were rounded up, many were killed on the spot and the rest were deported to Central Asia… in cargo railcars… without AC… or toilets… or much food… or medicine. A very significant percentage of people died in the process. Par for course, I suppose.
Chechens were allowed to return after Stalin died only to be subjected to the two wars we all probably remember. Let’s also remember that in the second war about 300K out of 1M people in Chechnya died. About 30%. Totally unremarkable by Russian standards.
This was a long read, so if you got this far then I thank you. Just know that in the interest of brevity I have omitted genocidal events which don’t get to at least 30% mark, such as holodomor in Ukraine (probably just 5 million out of roughly 30 died — just a blip at about 15% of the population). Or the stuff Russian empire did to the Poles especially after they had the audacity to revolt. I may have also just outright forgot something major too, there is just too much and the subject is just too depressing.
My point was not to document every single instance of bad stuff that happened. I mainly wanted people to realize that from the days of Ivan III when modern Russian empire started to the present day, it has an impressive, stellar, uninterrupted record of genocide, treachery, and lust for expansion. At the same time, I feel that the history of Russian places like the Novgorod republic illustrates that there is nothing especially evil about Russians as a people. It is also never about some tzar or President being crazy. It was never one person’s war or genocide. Russian rulers were all like this. It is the idea of the empire and the system that serves this idea that drives all the evil. I now feel like I reached a good place to leave y’all to ponder where we are now with Ukraine in the context of Russia.
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