Pioneers and the Watch of the Empire
What is this issue of the magazine dedicated to? The four-century history of Russian penetration of the Asian and African continents? Secular and ecclesiastical diplomacy, intelligence, and espionage? The specifics of the genre of Russian travelogues, which started with pilgrimage «walks» and evolved into travel notes and bureaucratic reports, eventually becoming high literature? Or simply portraits of travelers, diplomats, intelligence officers, scientists, and clergymen, many of whom naturally combined a variety of duties? The expected answer to these questions is — all of these. But not only. In our view, the series of portraits illustrate the development of Russian orientalism during the Modern Era. They depict the history of accumulation and systematization of knowledge on geography, sociopolitical issues, ethnography, and linguistics of the Eastern countries. Russian academic and «applied» orientalism of the 18th–19th centuries initially displayed a lot of naivety but gradually became more experienced, remaining largely original but also largely conforming to European orientalism.
The «Orientalist» view, as defined by Edward Said1, was prevalent among Russian travelers to the East from pre-Petrine times. However, Russian orientalism had its own unique characteristics. The Moscow principality, which transformed into the Moscow tsardom in the 16th century, developed on the border of the historical East and West. In some ways, the Russian experience can only be compared to the fate of the kingdoms of the Iberian Peninsula. Except for the northern regions, the formation of Russian statehood happened in the 13th century under the influence of the East, especially the Golden Horde. Later, in the 15th century, it was marked by the struggle against its parts, namely the Kazan and Crimean Khanates, and the confrontation with the Ottoman state, which became a continuation of this struggle. At the end of the 15th century, Moscow challenged Istanbul’s claim as the heir to the Byzantine Empire. For almost a century, Moscow learned from its southern neighbor and adopted several socio-political institutions, including the local nobility and streltsy2. In the 17th century, there was a new perspective on the East, with ambitious ideas of the «Orthodox Renaissance» and the «Orthodox Reconquista». During this time, pilgrimage «walks» to the Holy Places of Palestine and communication with co-religionists within the Ottoman Empire, who were potential allies, intensified. Peter the Great’s reforms aimed to modernize Russia and rebuild its military along Western lines, with an aim to expand in various directions, including south and east. In the early 18th century, Russia made military incursions into the Ottoman Balkans (1711), Central Asia, and East Turkestan (1713–1714), as well as the Caspian Iran (1722–1723). However, the initial attempts at long-range expansion were mostly unsuccessful. The kingdoms of the East only began to stagger and collapse under the Russian onslaught from the end of the 18th century, and the dynamics of their decline continued to accelerate for the next century and a half, until it was halted by the Russo-Japanese War. During the period of expansion, the Russian elite who had been Europeanized, developed a habit of viewing Eastern realities with a sense of superiority, while also showing a keen interest in studying and describing them. They attempted to figure out how to make practical use of the knowledge gained from these studies and made lengthy inferences as well. The initial sense of superiority was driven by the belief that their Orthodox faith was the only true one, which was the central theme of Russian pilgrims’ «walks» from the 16th to the 19th century. This belief was also upheld by the clerics of the Russian Church who worked abroad until the late Modern Era. In the 18th and early 20th centuries, as the Russian elites became increasingly Westernized, they began to hold an arrogant attitude toward the East. Rather than focusing on religious differences, the emphasis shifted to civilizational differences. The Eastern peoples were viewed as «backward» and «unenlightened», with their rulers seen as exhibiting «inertia» and «despotism». This view was in line with the European intellectual tradition of the time, which saw Eastern societies as outdated and weak. They were either to be left to languish on the margins of historical progress or brought into it by the power and will of the West. In the 19th century, the East became a battleground for the leading European powers, with Russia taking an active role in that. Practical goals and objectives were set for researchers of the Orient based on state interests.
Russian travelers, intelligence officers and diplomats who worked in the Afro-Asian world between the 17th and 20th centuries can be categorized in different ways. One way is to differentiate those who traveled to the East for secular reasons from those who did so for religious reasons, and to outline their main occupations, which can be a challenging task. Another way is to group them geographically, based on the regions in which they were active. This latter method was used to structure this issue of the journal. The Middle East has always occupied a special place in the history of the Russian state and society, for both geopolitical and religious- spiritual reasons. The first part of this issue is dedicated to Russians (regardless of their ethnicity) who studied the Middle East and defended their country’s interests there. Russia’s transformation into a superpower has expanded the scope of its interests, reaching the borders of the Asian continent and beyond the oceans. The second part of the issue is dedicated to researchers who explored «distant lands and shores».
In this editorial introduction we would like to highlight two groups of Russian individuals whose experiences form the basis of the content of this issue. The first group is known as the «pioneers.» The list of people, who traveled to little known or unknown countries, opens with the story of Hieromonk Arseny Sukhanov, who, between 1649 and 1653, traveled to the Holy Places of Palestine «by order of the Tsar and with the blessing of the Patriarch». The article by S.A. Kirillina reveals that Sukhanov’s mission served both religious and military-strategic purposes. Almost by the same route, in 1799–1800, as part of the Grand Vizier’s army, the Russian diplomat Enrico Franchini traveled from Istanbul to Syria and Egypt to fulfill the tasks assigned to him by Emperor Paul I. The details of this expedition, which ended tragically for Franchini, are discussed in the article by T.Y. Kobishchanov.
A group of Russian pioneers belonged to the Kazan School of Oriental Studies, and their expeditions to the Middle East, Iran, Central Asia and China in the first half of the 19th century are the subject of an article by R.M. Valeev, D.E. Martynov, and R.Z. Valeeva. Another paper, written by R.M. Valeev and D.E. Martynov along with Y. Martynova, analyzes previously unpublished diaries of the N.F. Katanov expedition to Semirechye and Eastern Turkestan (1890–1891). The purpose of the expedition was mainly ethnographic and linguistic, but its results were also important to the Russian authorities who wanted to consolidate themselves on the western end of the Qing Empire.
Russian explorers also ventured into the far reaches of East Asia. The article by A.A. Malenkova is dedicated to N.I. Lyubimov, an orientalist and director of the Asian Department of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, who conducted secret missions to Beijing during the height of the First Opium War (1841–1842) and to Western China in 1845, where he had to use the name of a merchant, Khoroshev, to gain entry. Another renowned Russian orientalist, N.A. Nevsky had an insatiable thirst for knowledge and discoveries, which led him to study the language of the aboriginal Tsou tribe on the island of Taiwan. The journey of N.A. Nevsky is described vividly by A.S. Kaimova, who portrays him not only as a desk scientist but also as an enthusiastic field researcher.
Sailors and long-distance travelers played a crucial role as pioneers. However, it is not just about discovering new territories. The reading public in the 19th century was deeply interested in travelogues, making it the richest period in Russia for works of this genre. Memoirs of voyages by Russian navigators like Y.F. Lisyansky, V.M. Golovnin, and others opened new worlds for readers, including the southern regions of the African continent (the article by V.V. Gribanova). The mysterious lands of South Asia such as India and Lanka influenced the worldview of many people in Russian religious establishments. The research by A.L. Safronova reveals the impact of South Asian culture and Buddhism on the works of a group of Russian philosophers, scientists, prose writers, poets, composers, and painters. As Russia expanded its territories, a new type of people replaced the «pioneers» — those who were tasked with guarding the empire’s distant outposts. These «guards» had other priorities — to represent Russia in their places of residence, to protect its interests, and to defend against obvious or potential threats coming from other governments. They were primarily government officials, sometimes working as part of missions and other times operating alone.
The largest Russian diplomatic mission in the East was the embassy in Constantinople. M.M. Yakushev’s work covers the establishment of permanent Russian representation on the Bosporus and the formation of Russian military intelligence in Istanbul during the era of Peter the Great. Five generations later, in the 1930s, Russia was much more confident in the Middle East. Having captured the Northern and Eastern Black Sea coasts, St. Petersburg sought to penetrate deeper into Ottoman dominion. Emperor Nicholas I and the Russian government viewed themselves as allies and patrons of Sultan Mehmed II. D.R. Zhantiev’s work shows that they paid special attention to the Syrian provinces, sending a group of experienced intelligence officers and diplomats there. A few decades later, in the second half of the 19th century, Russia already had a «significant interest» in Syria. K.D. Petkovich served as Consul General in Beirut from 1869–1896 and E.M. Kopotya’s article covers his controversial diplomatic successes and failures during this period. On the opposite end of the Mediterranean, in Moroccan Tangier, at the turn of the 19–20th centuries, V.R. Baheracht, the first Minister Resident and Consul of the Russian Empire, referred to himself as the «Russian guard of the Strait of Gibraltar». He had to defend the prestige and interests of his country in the Far Maghreb, a challenging task given the intense struggle of the leading European powers for Morocco, as described by V.V. Orlov.
Additionally, Russia had a religious foreign policy that involved penetrating into the East. Several articles in this issue focus on Russian officials who protected both state and church interests in the Middle East. A.T. Urushadze’s article sheds light on the Russian Foreign Ministry’s emphasis on the Armenian Catholicos elections in 1866, aligning with the policy of integrating the Armenian Church into the empire’s political and legal framework. The article includes an extract from the travel journal of the Russian emissary, M.E. Chilyaev, who witnessed the election. A.G. Yakovlev, a famous diplomat and orientalist, was the Russian Consul General in Jerusalem from 1897 to 1907, and his work was primarily associated with the struggle for the Holy Places of Palestine. F.V. Georgi, the author of the article about A.G. Yakovlev, accompanies his biographical study with the publication of another valuable source — a photo album of the employees of the Consulate of the Russian Empire in Jerusalem. The Soviet regime, which publicly renounced Tsarist Russia’s legacy, continued several previous political traditions. E.M. Kopot’s work highlights the Soviet government and the Moscow Patriarchate’s attempted interference in the 1958 election of the Primate of the Antiochian Church.
Russian oriental studies, which developed in the Russian Empire, then the USSR, and finally modern-day Russia, have significantly distanced themselves from Western oriental studies. However, they have remained in constant dialogue throughout its evolution. By the end of the twentieth century, both schools had mastered the necessary scientific tools of humanitarian knowledge and moved away from the legacy of Eurocentric «Orientalism». The isolation and limited resources of Russian Oriental studies, the uneven development of its various directions3, in our opinion, makes the role of its individual representatives, both cabinet scientists and «practitioners» working in the East, even more significant.
Alexey E. Titkov, Editor-in-Chief of the Historical Reporter
Taras Y. Kobishchanov, Editor of the Issue, Editorial Board Member
BRINGING CLOSER THE MIDDLE EAST
Svetlana S. Kirillina. By Order of the Tsar and with the Blessing
Taras Y. Kobishchanov. Enrico Franchini’s War. Russian Agent in the Ottoman Campaign Against Egypt (1799–1800)
IN DISTANT LANDS, ON DISTANT ISLANDS
Valentina V. Gribanova. South Africa in the Descriptions
Ramil M. Valeev, Roza Z. Valeeva, Dmitry E. Martynov. Scientific travels of Kazan Orientalists to Asian Russia and the Foreign East (the first half of the 19th C.)
Anastasia A. Malenkova. Secret Missions of Nikolai Ivanovich Lyubimov to the Qing Empire in the 1840s
Dmitry E. Martynov, Yulia A. Martynova, Ramil M. Valeev. Nikolai Fedorovich Katanov in Semirechye and Xinjiang (1890–1891)
Anna S. Kaimova. Nikolai А. Nevsky in Taiwan (1892–1937)
1 Said E. Orientalism. Western conceptions of the Orient. SPb.: Russky Mir, 2006.
2 See: Nefedov S.A. Reforms of Ivan III and Ivan IV: Ottoman influence // Voprosy Historii. 2002. № 11. P. 30-53.
3 See: Kuznetsov V.A. Russian Oriental Studies: Challenges and Prospects of Development in the New Reality. Moscow: MGIMO-University Publishing House, 2023.