100 Years of the Great Exodus: The White Russian Emigration and Its Meaning Today
Presented by Anatol Shmelev
The Civil War that started with the October 1917 Russian Revolution essentially ended in European Russia in November 1920, when the Russian Army of General Peter Wrangel evacuated the Crimea and brought about 150,000 Russian civilians and military to Constantinople. Chaos and repressions erupted in Russia whence they left, while the Civil War continued in the Russian Far East for another two years.
Most of Wrangel’s army was interned at Gallipoli, the Island of Lemnos and several other camps for over a year, after which the officers and soldiers dispersed to the Balkans, France, Czechoslovakia, and further abroad, to the United States, Latin America and other locations. The brief time at Gallipoli turned out to be a transformative experience, a purgatory through which the dispirited and demoralized evacuees reimagined their defeat as a moral victory, energizing them and the entire Russian emigration to reengage politically, socially, spiritually as a cohesive force, not a splintered and broken mass of refugees. On leaving Gallipoli, the officers and soldiers erected a monument to their fallen brothers, later destroyed in an earthquake. Four generations of Russians grew up within the world-wide entity of the Russian Emigration that, in 1923, spilled out of this region into the rest of the world, united by language and the self-realization developed during their formative time in and around Constantinople.
A hundred years later, the monument has been built anew with the aid of the government of the Russian Federation, and the White movement as a whole has been the subject of renewed attention and reinterpretation, often bordering on fantasy and misappropriation. Perhaps one of the key events episodes in this reinterpretation was the reburial of Wrangel’s predecessor, General Anton Denikin, in Moscow in 2005, an occasion filled with pomp and highly questionable symbolism.
In our lead presentation, Anatol Shmelev will examine the historical legacy of the Great Exodus through the prism of the Gallipoli internment and evaluate the symbolic and moral use of the White struggle in the Russian Federation today.
Constantinople’s “Russian” Moment
Presented by Valentina Izmirlieva
Constantinople was the first hub in the Russians’ global dispersion after the Revolution. Following the defeat of the White Army in Crimea in 1920, close to 200,000 subjects of the former Russian Empire found refuge in the Ottoman capital and for a brief but consequential moment, the city turned almost “Russian.” This experience proved deeply transformative for both guests and hosts. It was in Constantinople that, for the first time, the former subjects of the Russian tsar had to reinvent themselves – collectively and individually – as citizens of the world and forge a new political identity that would allow them to survive as a coherent group outside of Russia. Meanwhile, the city fed off the talent, creativity, and imagination of the exiles, who introduced their hosts to classical ballet and fine dining, made popular Western-style fashion and beach culture, and revolutionized Constantinople’s leisure life. When most of the Russians left Turkey in 1923, they left behind a transformed metropolis.
In our second presentation, Professor Izmirlieva will outline the significance of Constantinople for the history of the Russian emigration and the role the Russian exiles played in the transformation of the city itself.
Anatol Shmelev is the Robert Conquest Curator for Russia and Eurasia and Research Fellow at the Hoover Institution, Stanford University, and project archivist for the Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty collection. Anatol Shmelev studied history at UCLA and UC Berkeley (M.A., 1989) and received his Ph.D. from the Institute of Russian History of the Russian Academy of Sciences in 1996, with a dissertation on the foreign policy of the Siberian government during the Russian Civil War.
His bibliography of Russian émigré military literature was published in 2007 by Norman Ross, following an edited collection of essays on archiving the lives of Russian and East European emigrants entitled Tracking a Diaspora, published by The Haworth Press in 2006. Vneshniaia politika pravitelstva admirala Kolchaka, 1918–1919 (The Foreign Policy of Admiral Kolchak’s Government, 1918–1919) was published by the European University Press in St. Petersburg in 2017.
His latest book, In the Wake of Empire: Anti-Bolshevik Russia in International Affairs, 1917–1920, is currently in preparation for publication by the Hoover Institution Press.
Valentina B. Izmirlieva is Professor of Russian literature and Balkan and Russian religious cultures at Columbia University, where she has taught since 1999. Much of her work, including the monograph All the Names of the Lord: Lists, Mysticism, and Magic (Chicago UP, 2008), explores Orthodox culture in the context of multi-religious empires. Since 2016, she has led the global initiative “Black Sea Networks” (http://blackseanetworks.org/), the recipient of a President’s Global Innovation Fund grant for 2016-2018, and is currently preparing, with art historian Holger Klein, an exhibition on Constantinople’s Russian Moment for Pera Museum in Istanbul.