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A Russian Alaskan may refer to any permanent resident of the Alaskan Democratic Federative Republic who can trace their ancestry back to, or were born in Russia. Russian Alaskans make up the second largest ethnic group in the country approximately at 16%.
Second only to Ukrainian Alaskans. Because many Ukrainians carry the legacy of Russification and have intermarried with Russians frequently, Russians could possibly be the largest group in Alaska depending on statistical parameters.
Russian Alaskans are the founding population of the modern Alaskan State and were the majority population of the country until the 1890s. Through the 20th century, they have still constituted a large part of the country's population and often set the cultural standard despite not being the largest group. The Russian Language is still the backbone of Alaskan Culture. So much that Alaskans have diverged standard Russian into their Alaskan Russian dialect. The Russian Alaskans historically were the foundations of modern Alaska. There has never been a Russian President of Alaska. Most Alaskan Presidents have self-identified as Ukrainian with some possible Russian ancestry.
An era of adventures
The Russian state was the first European country to explore Northwest North Americas and to reach the continent by proceeding eastward. Russian adventurer Semyon Dezhnev in 1648 set foot on the Diomede islands, being the first Russian to reach modern Alaskan territory. However, he did not reach the North American mainland nor did the later Bering expedition in 1741.
When news of available sea routes to America via the Bering Sea reached the public hordes of Russian, Siberian, and Turkic adventurers arrived upon the rocky shores of the Aleutia. In the beginning, the relationship with the original Aleutian Peoples was based on transactions, similar to that of the French treatment of New France. The Newcomers employed the natives to fur trap on their behalf, however as demand for fur grew in Eastern Europe, coercion and violence replaced initially friendly relations. The last years of the 18th century saw Russian colonizers exercise their brutality on uncooperative peoples, especially in the Kenai and Kodiak governates. Japanese observers in the area documented evidence of Russian brutality.
Initially, Alaska was a wild land, for journeys that lasted up to two and three years, in what was one of the riskiest adventures of the time there was a high death rate for early travelers. Despite the extraordinary cost and distance, Catherine the Great subsidized the state Russian-American Company to create a permanent presence. Spanish sailors at the same time were eagerly staking claims to entire territory which has become modern Alaska. In 1799 New Archangel was christened the center of Russia's American territories. The earliest years were marked by wars with the early Tlingit Confederation which resulted in the early loss of the town, only to be reclaimed five years later in 1804.
For the first nearly quarter of a century the European Population of Alaska did not exceed 1,000 individuals, most of who would have been Russian, or Eurasians mixed with Mongolian and Turkic heritage. The majority of the population of the colony were the Christianized and friendly Aleuts who had made peace with the RAC. Most Russians would have resided on the gulf coast of the colony, only a few farmers and soldiers guarding the Southern outpost of Ross. Day to day oversight of Russian America fell in the hands of Cossack leaders in charge of the war effort against resistant Indians.
Seeing great potential in Sonoma and fearing loss of Russia's New World to Great Britain and Spain, the central government took a direct hand in bolstering the holdings of the RAC in the country. The company was instructed to locate wealthy aristocrats and merchants who would be willing to invest in the company or to permit some of their serfs to migrate to Ross. Investors who permitted their serfs to emigrate were given a share of stock ownership in the RAC company, and the serfs themselves contracted as indentured servants to work on the company's direction for twenty years, after which time the serfs would become freeman with the possibility of land ownership, however the company could also choose (and usually did) to convert the serfs into free renters. In economic terms the Alaskan Indentured Service resembled the Seigneurial System of New France.
Any children or women who the servant may encounter at that time were part of the company until the expiration of the contract. This system proved lucrative for Russian landowners who accumulated great amounts of company stock only by permitting their serfs to emigrate, some of whose decedents are on the company's board of directors.
Initially the program was limited as to not cause disturbances in domestic Russian Society, nonetheless, the total settler population in Russian America doubled within ten years. The rapid growth provoked the Spanish Empire into an engagement on the high seas of the Pacific Northwest with RAC vessels sparking the Great Western War.
The proceeding war brought many Imperial Russian soldiers to North America for the first time, most of which were conscripted serfs or small farmers. The presence of thousands of soldiers in Alaska changed the motherland's perception of Alaska forever. Only after the war with Spain did many Russians become aware that their nation had colonies in the New World at all.
Thousands returned home with tales of 'pure, fair, country', in fact, ethnic Russians mutinied and at first refused to return home. Only when they were promised grants of land that they would receive at the end of their twenty-five year service did they agree to withdraw. Literate military men wrote much romantic literature based on what they had seen as the 'heavenly east'.
During these times, the majority of Alaska remained a wild country, while in theory, the Russian America Company enforced laws on the territory, lands beyond the port cities were in fact free. Cossacks continued to remain the main enforcers of authority but even their grasp was limited as they were often preoccupied with negotiations or warfare with native peoples. Pioneers who reached the interior of the country would earn a self fought autonomy seldom witnessed in the Russian Empire. Russian Siberians on their own accord made treacherous journeys, often crossing the Bering Sea on fishing boats to arrive in newly discovered lands- dozens of fisherman and castaways reached Bering in this manner. In some cases complete travel times could transpire for four years or more with some traveling over the entirety of Siberia before reaching the Bering Sea. Death rates for immigrants continued to be high
The appeal of escaping authority- however dangerous it was encouraged Old Believers sects to resettle in the colonies. At this time Old Believers were experiencing intense persecution under Tsar Nicholas I, their emigration was unauthorized but huge distances made apprehending them often near impossible. Once in the New World many Old Believers reached secluded forests and valleys to avoid detection. The Russian American Company developed a policy of benign neglect, not acknowledging or attacking their presence as long as they avoided public life. By escaping the arms and ears of institutions however minorities and outcasts ran into still existing native Alaskan populations. The result of interactions depended on the personalities of the pioneers themselves, ranging from joining Athabaskan peoples to outright war
Birth of Russian Alaskan Culture
The Gold rushes of 1848 began to transform the landscape attracting the migrations of thousands overnight. In some cases excited small land owners and even some major estate holder sold everything they had to reach the land of gold. There were also cases of landowners sponsoring their serfs, however in order to prevent serfs from attempting to flee with any possible revenues, there was a common practice of branding them with the names of the nobles in question. In theory serfs were contracted out as agents to exact gold to return and split profits but in practice serfs were routinely robbed out of their share. Dozens of serfs did in fact flee with gold often going east towards Idaho or fleeing over the border to (then) British Columbia or the United States.
Cities, grew overnight but were still impeded by the long distance from the nearest European port which had now shifted to Odessa in modern day Ukraine. The outbreak of the Crimean War temporarily slowed emigration as both conscription and war disrupted critical migration routes. The seizure of Vladivostok in Asia made emigration more possible for ordinary citizens.
Few bombs shells hit Russians and Russian Alaskans as the freeing of all serfs in 1867 on a decree by Czar Alexander II. The Russian America Company benefited immensely as it could now recruit freed serfs without any middleman to compensate. Tens of thousands of contracted freed serfs arrived in Ross, and New Archangel originally to work in agriculture, but very quickly industrialize Russian America as shipyard workers, or in manufacturing.
Cultural and Scientific life began to bloom in earnest in the late 19th century. Native Russian Botanists, engineers, artists and writers all began to immigrate from Moscow and St. Petersburg, to relish in a freer world farther away from the Czar. The immigration of cultural elites contributed to the construction of many new Dachas. In addition, some native born Russian Alaskans began to a form into their middle class, but were disdained by elitists from Russia proper.
Turn of the century
By the turn of the twentieth century, the Russian population of the Alaskan Colonies was quite established across all walks of life. While the wild days of the frontier had not yet come to and end, the coastal cities and the countryside of the southern territories had become developed.
As many families had spent three or even four generations in Alaska, separate identity and set of values emerged. Values which corresponded with independent nations of North America at the time. The Russian speaking middle class and successful celebrities became enamored with the examples of the United States, Mexico, Borelia and Quebec. Culturally for Russian Alaskans the heritage of Siberian Colonization and also the 'Wild West' concept from the United States combined to create an ideal macho Slavic frontiersman which was frequently brought up by writers and artists. Concerning of independence, the question was asked
The New World, is made up of many wonderful children, who came from four dutiful parents, but today the children have all grown up. Mother Britian, France and Spain all accept this, but, Mother Russia still sees a child in her little Alaska. When will she recognize that her child is indeed a good child that has grown up?
Originally much of the pro-independence sentiment focused on Liberal ideas and reforms within the Russian system rather than complete independence. The Nasha America movement which emerged was originally fascinated with Classical Liberalism, and the American Constitution, but also hoped to retain the Czar as head of state. Gilded Age free markets and labor abuses also contributed to the rise of Socialists in Ross, but leftist politics remained an urban and local occurrence.
The Russo-Japanese War, changed the landscape overnight. As Russian speaking youth were the main target of conscription, dissent arose over high casualties in a Euasian War. Not that support for Moscow did not exist but was more likely to come from recent immigrants. The division between native Russians and recent immigrants would quickly escalate.
Divided Generations in War
Main Article: Alaskan Wars
The teetering situation at home was inflamed by the mother country's provocation of WWI in Europe. Russian American authorities enthusiastically conscripted Russian Americans for they were more educated and better armed by local arms manufactures. Mild dissent during the earlier Russo-Japanese war blossomed into full-blown resistance.
By 1914 many of the Russian Alaskans had resided in the New World for almost three generations, by which time European Russian despite sharing the same language and religion had diverged immensely. In wartime, Alaskans fought their German enemy in specialized brigades and offered more effective resistance against the unstoppable invasion. High casualty rates , however, further severed good will between the Czar and his American subjects.
As victory became apparently unfeasible, but conscription demands grew, the Slavic working classes began to fathom the idea of complete independence. Alaskans saw that other former colonies such as Quebec, the United States and Mexico did not participate in the European War and wished to emulate their example. Nasha America became mainstream overnight. A major turning point came for Ross when major sitdown demonstrations of draftees who refused to leave port for Vladivostok on September 10th, 1917. The local garrison refused to fire upon the crowd as many in the Alaskan garrison had friends and relatives with the conscripts scheduled to be sent away.
Without really understanding what I was doing, while we were instructed to fire, I saw my dear brat in my eye.I tried to fight the tear, emerging, all of those messages about duty and family returned to me. I suddenly lowered my rifle, enraged our officer instructed us to hold our position, and that I the wayward solider would be court martialed as traitor. Then my comrade next to me followed suite, and soon our entire brigade. The officer's face became as blue as the Pacifism Sea that would had been our passage to the land of death. I could at this point, barely hear that we were to be taken away by secret police. Then someone retorted 'Oh dear commander, but your little boys are not prepared to enjoy party with all of the men here'. At that point some gunshots were fired in the other direction and the agents went running. But I... was lost in a haze until my cheering brother kissed me on the cheek. -Annyonmous
The Ross mutiny incident sent shockwaves through the colonies, leaving most local governments unsure on how to handle the dissent. The October Revolution in European Russia, and Lenin's proclamation, made Alaska an independent country.
Independence brought mixed reactions from Russians, many conservatives and recent immigrants felt abandoned while 'Alaskan natives' had euphoria. But short term celebration was not to last, as Alaska had no guiding force and soon split into a multitude of countries, each with their interpretation of what independence meant.
The Russian Civil War proved unforgiving and the Bolsheviks went on a merciless campaign against the Czar's remaining supporters. Tens of thousands of panicked refugees either fled to Alaska, mostly by way of the Russian Far East. Nova Archangel closer to Eurasia than many other ports became the designated safe place for those fleeing the Soviets. White-Emigres often cared little for their new country and only saw Alaska as external 'Russian' territories for where a Czar could be restored and feudal aspects of the old empire preserved
Ethnic Russians at this time were already concentrated in the northern parts of the country and were especially torn by the divide between rival communist and anti-communist forces. Working class Russians close to the Bearing Sea readily took part in the Alaskan Socialist Revolution and were the bedrock behind the Alaskan Socialist Republic through the revolution's rulers were all recent arrivals, most notably Leon Trotsky.
Russians in majority Russian areas that had been in the area for generations often tried to evade the open fighting between the Whites and Blues, as they were collectively seen as foreigners interfering in local affairs. It was long time residents that looked to the United States as an example for how a future government should be run, and they as the majority of Alaskans made reunification under the banner of the 'Blues' possible. Ross, in particular, became the rallying point for hopeful Russian natives looking to reform society to a North American style, to leave conflicts in Europe behind. The fall of the right-wing radical government of New Archangel was key in making the nativist Russian dream a reality.
The typical Alaskans
In 1942, twenty-three years of Alaskan Wars and anarchy came to an end. Diverse factions of Russians, which had imprisoned and fought each other were made to live in peace. The first of the reunified Alaska was to grant amnesty to the majority of native-born fighters of the Alaskan Socialist Republic, bitterly disappointing hardcore reactionaries. However, this decision was justified by the example of the United States in the American Civil War.
We sing from the top of Bolshaya Gora that we are a New country of the world, that we are a fresh spring that shot out from the earth, for freedom and vitality. If this is true, we must set the new example of the new world, and leave behind the cruelty of the old. We must be the compassion in the globe which is seemingly lacking of it at this hour..
- Official Statement on the general amnesty for former ASR and other combadents.
Reunification first and foremost established the Russian characteristics of the Alaskan Nation and was a milestone for modernity. Before unification, many Russians lived by the 19th century or even 18th-century conditions. The legacy of the wars left many scars between rival ethnicities and ideologies.
However, the government did its best to mend old wounds by crafting Russian as the main language within the framework of a tolerant liberal-conservative state. Dashing the hopes of the old Whites, Russian was never proclaimed the official language and no Slavic supremacy was proclaimed defacto, but schools, law firms, and corporations were encouraged with incentives, to teach Russian as a second language to minorities. Without national compulsion, the Alaskan variation of Russian became spoken by all Alaskans after 1970.
The lifestyle of ethnic Russian Americans transformed dramatically in the 1960s and 70s as urbanization and environmentalism grew exponentially. Small subsistence agriculture persisted for a longer time in Alaska than other western countries, and extended family households never entirely vanished in rural areas but the growth of Dacha communities resembled the suburbs of the United States. However, pressure from environmentalist groups to repurpose some land for ecological restoration has resulted in more than half of Alaskans living in apartments as of 2010
Russian Alaskans with their colonial era roots remain the backbone of the Alaskan nation, bringing with them a daily life that reconciles their Eurasian ancestors while living in a North American country. Following unification in 1942, many Russians would have had an outlook that combined their Russian Orthodox worldview with the English Old Right. That is, many ordinary Russian Alaskans in the 1940s looked to build strong family units, and live with as little as federal interference as possible, however, patriotism assured that support for the new republic would remain high. At the time there was much antagonism over perceptions of the USSR, despite official clemency supporters of the old Alaskan Socialist Republic remained distinct from the general population for some time.
After the 1960s the culture of the Russian Alaskans began to change, retaining fairly libertarian ideas about themselves and the state but while taking interest in the Counterculture that was taking place in the United States. In contrast to the stark demonstrations and social occurrences that occurred elsewhere, social change in Alaska was gradual but continuous. The people became more self-reliant, and even began to privately turn to atheists or agnostics but the institution of the Alaskan Orthodox Church remained highly respected.
At the turn of the 21st century, the people have one foot in the future, and in the past. Alaska has become a hub for media and scientific development and the creations of Russian Alaskans have been seen by citizens across the world. Cool Alaska or (Russian:Крутая Аляска) has assured that despite having far less hard power, the legacy of Slavic heritage is best known to the world from the perspective of Alaskan Russians, rather than their ancestral mother country.
After an explosive rise of divorces which took place following the liberalization of divorce laws by President Vasily Kardash, Alaskan society slowly reclined to a more conservative outlook on families and family law. As many extended families still existed in the mid 20th century and used their influence to pressure for greater local regulations on divorce and other measures to keep family units intact. A similar pattern emerged on the issue with LGBT rights decades later, that government made institutional changes but that society would respond by slowing down practical changes. As it stands today, Alaska has one of the most liberal governments in the world when it comes to individual rights and expression, but ordinary Alaskans retain a more conservative lifestyle, similar to Japan. At the same time, a vibrant social scene takes place in major southern coastal cities.
A very important impact has been made on the community of Russian Alaskans, by immigration by their Russian speaking counterparts in the former Soviet Union. While modern Soviet immigrants are best known as famous entrepreneurs such as Sergey Brin, but the majority of arrivals were skilled professionals that took a more reactionary look on life, that was, in fact, lacking religious belief.
During the Cold War Alaskan Russians commonly believed that they were the guardians of traditional Slavic and Russian civilization, they were surprised to find that immigrants tended to have higher educations, large families and fewer divorces. This was possibly due to Alaskan immigration regulations that required certain education and income levels, but also the conservative culture that was the USSR prior to Glasnost.
However, many recent immigrants also carried alcoholism, putting a strain on Alaskan non for profit organizations that were already dealing with the social problems of native-born citizens.