by Yann Potin
“Jerusalem is now become a central point of interest to France and Russia. It is no doubt the object of Russia to subjugate the primitive church of the countries.”
Letter from William Tanner Young, British Vice Consul in Jerusalem to Stratford Canning, ambassador of the United Kingdom in Constantinople, January 8, 1844.
Since the early surveys, the question of the documentation of the Russian presence in Jerusalem from 1840 constitutes a major challenge for the Opening Jerusalem Archives project. The recently increased and strategic presence of Russia in the Middle East, the presence of the archives both inside Jerusalem and abroad, undoubtedly requires patient investigation, specially because the records are not immediately accessible. Guided by previous research conducted by Elena Astafieva, we decided to identify in the Russian archives some relevant fonds in order to explore the intimate relations between the Russian Orthodox Church, the Russian imperial patronage and the city of Jerusalem.
Between espionage and messianism: the Russian presence in Jerusalem
The pilgrimage to Jerusalem has been indeed of decisive importance for Russian Christianity since the 19th century, when the mystical value of the pilgrimage as an element of messianic tendencies within the Russian Orthodoxy got more interest. The number of Russian pilgrims to Jerusalem each year is then at least five times as numerous as the Catholic or Protestant pilgrims from Western Europe. Historians have noted and underlined this feature, indicating what strategic role it played in the Eastern policy of the Tsarist Empire (see for example the recent book of Lorraine de Meaux, La Russie et la tentation de l’Orient, Paris, Fayard, 2010, pp. 278-291). Marking its presence in Jerusalem, was for the Empire of the Tsars a way to penetrate the heart of its biggest rival, the Ottoman Empire, which he continuously persisted on eroding the boundaries since the eighteenth century. While until 1917 the Tsars continued to claim their right on Constantinople, sending missionaries to Jerusalem constituted also a form of diplomatic espionage. In parallel, a latent conflict or competition between the Greeks and the Russians took place, following ancient divisions within Orthodox Christianity. That is the reason why it is necessary to investigate the Greek archives (in Jerusalem, Athens or Istanbul) in order to have a better understanding of the Russian presence in Jerusalem. This presence was constantly growing and that’s why, in the 1880s, outside the walls of the Old City, near the hospital Notre-Dame-de-France, a wide hospice, known since then as the “Russian Compound“, was built. It could simultaneously accommodate more than 1,000 patients and pilgrims. It became quickly the first core of a real Russian neighborhood, nowadays integrated in the old part of West Jerusalem, making it not only a pavement in the history of diplomacy, but also a matter of urban development. This complexity raises the question of the scattering of archives regarding the relations between Russia, the Russians and the city of Jerusalem. The situation became even more complicated after 1917 when the Soviet Union seemed to lose interest for the Russian presence in the ‘Holy Land’ and until the pots-1948 concession of the Russian compound to the state of Israel. The eventual location, preservation and the very presence of the Archives in the building are still to be verified. A major Russian emigration to Palestine, also after internal schisms within the Russian Orthodox church, has never stopped during the interwar period, increased by the growing issue of Russian Jews, which formed a decisive part of aliyot to Israel and particularly Jerusalem.
The Russian missionaries and their records
An initial investigation about the first Russian missionaries was prepared during a meeting with Elena Astafieva on March 17 in Paris. Elena Astafieva has already published about the Imperial Palestine Society founded in 1881. Therefore she contributed to identify many records and archives. The first prospecting mission in Saint Petersburg archives conducted by Angelos Dalachanis, Vincent Lemire and Yann Potin took place in April 2016 (18-21).
One of the cultural activities of the Company until 1917 consisted in publishing sources and archival documents about the early years of the “Russian presence” in Jerusalem, as Derek Hopwood names it (The Russian Presence in Syria and Palestine, 1843-1914, Oxford, 1969). Historiography retains indeed 1843 as a founding date: this date corresponds to the secret mission held between December 1843 and August 1844 by the Archimandrite Porphyry Uspenski in Jerusalem, followed by a second mission between 1847 and 1854. However, the Russian ecclesiastical Mission in Jerusalem was officially recognized only in 1858, after the Crimean War. In 1865, the arrival of Antonin Kapustin at the head of this Mission opened a long period of activity and sustainable investments, until the death of Kapustin in 1894 (see the article by Lucien J. Frary ). Elena Astafieva indicated several possible accesses to the dispersed fonds of Antonin Kapustin: the Academy of Sciences (see image 0) whose archives collect part of the fonds Dimitrievski (fond 214), former secretary of the Imperial Society; the Historical Archives (RGIA) (see image 1) that gather a relevant part of Kapustin’s diary, including several volumes that are to be edited by the publishing house Indrik (see image 2), and finally the Russian National Library.
Archival oasis: the Archive of the Academy of Sciences of Saint Petersburg
Science Academy archives have been the main place of investigation during this mission (see image 3 and 4). Apart for the fond 214 (Dimitrievski, former secretary of the Imperial Society), we analysed the richness of the archives of Porphyry Uspenski – Fond 118 – following the suggestion of the director of the Academy archives, Irini Tunkina (see image 5), who warmly welcomed us and offered the Open Jerusalem project a guide to these archives (see image 6).
The fond 214 contains some correspondence of Antonin Kapustin (see image 7) in 1865-1874. Most of the letters received were in Russian, but an important part of them are in Greek. Decrypted by Angelos Dalachanis (see image 8), they show a close and complex relationship with the Greek or Arab Orthodox communities. Several letters in French or Italian testify the extension of Kapustin relations with the local society. In total, this correspondence represents nearly 4000 pages. It requires a detailed analysis, and an inventory describing each document would not help us find our way. We should therefore find another way to give value to the historical richness of these records.
The fond 118 is very complete. It is described by a printed inventory from 1891, six years after the assassination of Uspenski in 1885 by Sirku (see image 10). Numerous papers have been published from this fond, starting with the diary, extremely rich, by Archimandrite Porphyry Uspenski (Knyga Bytia moevo, 8 volumes from 1894 to 1910 see image 11 and 12) or several original reports and memoirs (the first in 1844) especially one by Bezobrazov in 1910. However, many biographical material, including official documents relating to its mission, the passport or the original firman (inventory 1, No. 30-31) remained unpublished. Furthermore, the materials on the two missions of Jerusalem are grouped into five registers (inventory 1, No. 32-36), which represent almost one thousand pages.
There are many account (otchets), memories (zapiska), drafts minutes and accounts (tetrad) mostly unpublished, which at least deserve a new investigation. They document mostly the period 1848-1854, corresponding to the second mission of Uspensky funded up to 10,000 rubles a year by the Russian Minister of Foreign Affairs Charles Nesselrode. There are glimpses of the many “gifts” made to the Greek Patriarchate, the attempts to purchase or rent some buildings in Jerusalem (including a development plan), but also the episode of 1854 that shows Uspensky convincing the Greek Patriarchate Orthodox to establish an Arab printing press and the implementation of a seminary. These records require deep analysis, to distinguish what has already been published. Certainly this fond will be of considerable interest from the Open Jerusalem research program.
After this first survey in the Russian archives (see image 13), the team, guided by Lora Gerd, professor at the Historical Institute in Saint Petersburg, will continue the work in the archives of Moscow and Saint Petersburg. A second OJ mission is therefore organised from Sept. 11 to Sept. 16, 2016.