21 April 2023

Steppes Krai: Semipalatinsk, Turgai, Ural Oblasts

1912 Map of part of the northern parts of the Ural and Turgai oblasts. Source: EtoMesto
1912 Map of the Semipalatinsk Oblast. Source: EtoMesto

The splitting of Asiatic Russia into its former imperial provinces continues. The former oblasts of Semipalatinsk, Turgai and Ural are now done. This completes what is labeled “Siberia” on the map now.  Several more colonies were added: Semipalatinsk, 16 colonies; Turgai, 15 colonies; and Ural, 3 colonies. Tomsk also gained 5 colonies because my borders between Semipalatinsk and Tomsk were off a bit. Whenever I finish an area, I look at it next to surrounding areas to make sure nothing is out of whack. 

What was most interesting about these three oblasts is that they reported no Germans in them at all before 1901. The colonies that were formed were a part of the Russian Empire for at most seven years. Also interesting is that most did not show up on period maps by name for decades. All the settlement plots were numbered. By the time names of these places started appearing on maps, many of their names had already been changed.

The origins of those who moved to this area, of course, were all resettlements from elsewhere in the Russian Empire. Most of the sources just said Volga or Black Sea, but some were more specific. Here is a summary of where they came from: 

Provinces mentioned as origins of the resettlers: Akmola, Astrakhan, Bessarabia, Ekaterinoslav, Kharkov, Kherson, Kurland, Moscow, Petrokov, Poltava, Samara, Saratov, Taurida, Volhynia.

Specific colonies mentioned (grouped by enclave or province): 

Is is Ural? Map by Sasha Trubetskoy on Twitter, 26 Jan 2022. 

A note on the Ural Oblast. Ural and Ural region means a lot of things to a lot of people. Although everyone agrees there is a Ural region, nobody seems to know exactly what what geographic area it includes presently...or in the past. The map above shows some ways of defining the region. This map is from last year of current Russia, so it does not take into account any historical regions that were a part of  Russian Empire but are now Kazakhstan.

Map of the Cis-Ural Region and Siberia in From Catherine to Khrushchev.

In From Catherine to Khrushchev, the Cis-Ural region is outlined and mapped on pages 136-137. In the image above, imagine the Ural mountain range running from above Perm down between Ufa and Chelyabinsk continuing south to just above Orenburg. That would be the central and southern ranges of the Ural mountain range. To the west (left) is the Cis-Ural region; to the east (right) is Siberia, according to this map. The book further defines the German colonies in the Cis-Ural region as follows: 

  1. The Neu-Samara Colony [eastern part of the Samara Province then; Orenburg Oblast today]
  2. The colonies around Orenburg [Orenburg Province then; Orenburg Oblast today] 
  3. The colonies around Ufa [Ufa Province then; the republics of Bashkortostan and Tartarsan today]
  4. The colonies around Aktyubinsk [Turgai Oblast then; Aktobe Province, Kazakhstan today]
  5. The Arkadak Colony [Saratov Province then; Saratov Oblast today].

While mostly in the zone of “Is it Ural,” there are some geographical problems with the map in From Catherine to Khrushchev, notably the Arkadak Colony that is situated west of the Volga colonies in Saratov Oblast. No way is that in the Ural region. And Aktyubinsk/Aktobe is south of the mountain range. But if one definition of the Ural region is the Ural mountain range and all the cities and villages in and around it, including those to the north and south of it, then okay, maybe Aktyubinsk falls in that category. Maybe.

Now that you have seen some of the ways the Ural region has been defined, past and present, I'm here to tell you that the Ural Oblast of the Russian Empire that existed from 1868–1920 isn’t ANY of those above. No, this oblast was further south and west of what anyone in their right mind would call the Ural region. But there it was for 52 years. It does not mean that any other definition of Ural region is wrong; this is just another one to add to the list. So, when you see the data posted to the big map, and you see Ural Oblast is not where you thought the Ural region was, then remember this post.

One more map section of the area that gives you a bigger picture. This one is from 1914. I’ve labeled a few provinces to give you some reference points. 

Map of Russia by Governments and Oblasts [1914]. Source: Wikimedia Commons

As mentioned before, all the data from this research exercise will be posted at once. 

Next up on the schedule is Russian Turkestan, or what is labeled Central Asia on the map now. It finishes off the southern part of modern-day Kazakhstan and includes settlements in Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, Uzbekistan and Turkmenistan. After that, it’s off to the Caucuses.

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14 April 2023

Steppes Krai: Akmola Oblast

1914 of the Akmola Region from EtoMesto.

The splitting of Asiatic Russia into its former imperial provinces continues. The former Akmola Oblast of the Russian Empire is now complete. Today, it comprises part of Omsk Oblast in Russia and the North, Akmola, and Karaganda regions of Kazakhstan.

There were German colonies in this area as early as 1890, and before resettlement to Siberia picked up in the early 1900s, the Imperial Census of 1897 was taken. In it, it was reported there were 682,608 inhabitants in Akmola Oblast. Of those, 4,791 (0.7%) reported themselves as native German speakers. 

The map above shows the region as it was in 1914 in the Russian Empire, with resettlement areas still open for a few more years. Note that there are many numbered plots but not not many names of places on the map. By this time, there were already many German resettlers from provinces in South Russia as well as those in the Volga area. Where there is good, fertile land, there are Mennonite settlers. Like in Crimea, the Mennonites settled not in planned colonies that are named (such as Molotschna, Chortitza, Zagradovka, etc.), but rather, they settled in the general area around Omsk and west of Omsk along the railway. It was nice to discover several colonies by Germans from Volhynia, Estonia and Lithuania. Again, these are voluntary resettlements. However, mixed in with these settlements would eventually be the “special settlements” and other deportation sites.

To what is already on the map, I have done the following: added 65 colonies; removed 5 colonies that I could not find enough evidence to confirm the locations and did not feel good about leaving them there; and have pending another 49 new settlements that were formed in the Soviet era and that I need to cross-check against a list of special settlements so that I can categorize them correctly. 

The map below shows part of the region as it was in 1955 after the Russian revolutions, after the rise of the Soviet Union, and after WWII — i.e., what was left (as far as the Americans knew) after 40 years. 

1955 U.S. Army Map Service. Perry-Castañeda Library Map Collection, UT Austin. 

Next up will be the former oblasts of Semipalatinsk to the southeast, and Turgai and Ural to the southwest. Of note, the 1897 Imperial Census did not report even one native German speaker in any of these oblasts. But I have a list of 121 locations in the queue already. Should be interesting. 

The map data will be posted at the end of this research cycle, which is still on target for late June before convention season starts. 

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