By Yann Potin
Since the early surveys of the for the Opening Jerusalem Archives project, the question of the documentation of the Russian presence in Jerusalem from 1840 constitutes a major challenge. The recently increased and strategic presence of Russia in the Middle East, as well as the presence of archives both inside Jerusalem and abroad, undoubtedly requires patient investigation, particularlay as the records are not immediately accessible. Guided by previous research conducted by Elena Astafieva, we decided to identify some relevant fonds in the Russian archives in order to explore the intimate relations between the Russian Orthodox Church, Russian imperial patronage and the city of Jerusalem.
Between espionage and messianism: the Russian presence in Jerusalem
The pilgrimage to Jerusalem has been of decisive importance for Russian Christianity since the 19th century, when the mystical value of the pilgrimage as an element of the messianic tendencies within Russian Orthodoxy attracted considerable interest. The number of Russian pilgrims to Jerusalem each year was then at least five times greater than Catholic or Protestant pilgrims from Western Europe. Historians have noted and underlined this feature, indicating the strategic role it played in the Eastern policy of the Tsarist Empire (see, for example, Lorraine de Meaux’s book La Russie et la tentation de l’Orient [Paris: Fayard, 2010], pp. 278–91). Marking its presence in Jerusalem was for the Russian Empire to penetrate the heart of its biggest rival, the Ottoman Empire, whose borders Russia continuously eroded since the eighteenth century. While the Tsars continued to claim their right to Constantinople until 1917, sending missionaries to Jerusalem constituted also a form of diplomatic espionage. In parallel, a latent conflict or competition between the Greeks and the Russians occurred, following ancient divisions within Orthodox Christianity. For this reason, it is necessary to investigate the Greek archives (in Jerusalem, Athens and Istanbul) in order to have a better understanding of the Russian presence in Jerusalem. This presence was constantly growing, leading to the construction in the 1880s of the “Russian Compound,” a large hospice, outside the walls of the Old City, near the Notre-Dame-de-France hospital. It could simultaneously accommodate more than a thousand patients and pilgrims. It became quickly the core of a real Russian neighborhood, nowadays integrated in the old part of West Jerusalem, making it not only significant 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 lost interest in the Russian presence in the Holy Land and until the post-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 remains to be verified. A major Russian emigration wave to Palestine, after internal schisms within the Russian Orthodox Church, persisted during the interwar period, increased by Russian Jews, who formed a decisive part of the aliyot to Israel, Jerusalem in particular.
The Russian missionaries and their records
An initial investigation on the first Russian missionaries was prepared during a meeting with Elena Astafieva on 17 March 2016 in Paris. Astafieva has already published on the Imperial Orthodox Palestine Society, founded in 1881. Therefore, she assisted in identifying many records and archives. The first prospecting mission in St. Petersburg archives, conducted by Angelos Dalachanis, Vincent Lemire and Yann Potin, took place on 18-21 April 2016. One of the cultural activities of the society until 1917 consisted in publishing sources and archival documents about the early years of the “Russian presence” in Jerusalem, as Derek Hopwood refers to it (The Russian Presence in Syria and Palestine, 1843-1914 [Oxford, 1969]). Historiography records 1843 as a founding date: from December 1843 to August 1844 Archimandrite Porphyry Uspenski conducted a secret mission to Jerusalem, which was followed by a second mission from 1847 to 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, as the head of the mission, opened a long period of activity and sustainable investments, which lasted until his death in 1894 (see the article by Lucien J. Frary). Astafieva indicated several possible access points to the dispersed fonds of Antonin Kapustin: the Academy of Sciences in St. Petersburg, whose archives collect part of the Dimitrievski fonds (fond 214), former secretary of the Imperial Society; the Russian State Historical Archives (RGIA), that hold a relevant part of Kapustin’s diary, including several volumes that are to be edited by Indrik publishers, and finally the Russian National Library.
Archival oasis: the Archive of the Academy of Sciences of St. Petersburg
The archives of the Academy of Sciences was the main place of investigation during this mission. Apart for the fond 214 (Dimitrievski, former secretary of the Imperial Society), we analyzed the richness of the Porphyry Uspenski archives of (fond 118), at the suggestion of the director of the archives, Irini Tunkina, who warmly welcomed us and guided the Open Jerusalem project through the archives. Fond 214 contains some correspondence of Kapustin from 1865–74. Most of the letters are in Russian, but an important part of them are in Greek. Decrypted by Angelos Dalachanis, they show a close and complex relationship with the Greek or Arab Orthodox communities. Several letters in French or Italian testify the extent of Kapustin’s relations with local society. In total, this correspondence amounts to nearly 4,000 pages. It requires a detailed analysis, and an inventory describing each document would not necessarily guide us. Therefore, we need to find another way to give value to the historical wealth of these records. Fond 118 is very complete. It is described by a printed inventory from 1891, six years after Uspenski’s assassination of by Sirku. Numerous papers have been published from this fond, starting with the Uspenski’s extremely rich diary (Knyga Bytia moevo, 8 vols from 1894 to 1910) or several original reports and memoirs (the first dating to 1844), especially one by Bezobrazov in 1910. However, much biographical material, including official documents relating to its mission, the passport or the original firman (inventory 1, Nos. 30-31), remain unpublished. Furthermore, the materials on the two missions of Jerusalem are grouped into five registers (inventory 1, Nos. 32-36), which amount to 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 refer to 1848-1854, corresponding to Uspensky’s second mission, which was funded by up to 10,000 rubles a year by the Russian Foreign Minister Karl Nesselrode. There are glimpses of the many “gifts” made to the Greek Orthodox Patriarchate, the attempts to purchase or rent some buildings in Jerusalem (including a development plan), but also of Uspensky convincing the Greek Patriarchate in 1854 to establish an Arab printing press and establish a seminary. These records require deep analysis in order to distinguish what has already been published. Certainly, this fond will be of considerable interest to the Open Jerusalem research program.
After this first survey in the Russian archives, the team, guided by Lora Gerd, professor at the Historical Institute in St. Petersburg, will continue the work in the archives of Moscow and St. Petersburg. A second Open Jerusalem mission will therefore be organized from 11–16 September 2016.