Russian Imperial/Red/Soviet Army museum









 colonel W.V.CHERESHNEFF, 1952


Who are the Cossacks? Are they a people, a party, a military group? Are they part and parcel of the Russian people, or are they an independent nation, entitled to recognition as such?

Not long ago a traffic officer in Brooklyn gave a ticket to an offending motorist. As usual, the latter was full of indignation and, to express his disdain, called the officer a Cossack. The patrolman hauled the motorist into traffic court, where the judge immediately passed the following, sentence: "Present your apology to the officer for calling him a Cossack and pay a fine of five dollars for the traffic violation; otherwise ? ten days in jail. To this judge and to the many others who have had no opportunity of learning about the Cossacks, the author dedicates this article.

It is doubtful if anyone could be found who doesn't think he knows something about the Cossacks. But it is just as doubtful if one could find two persons, not themselves Cossacks, whose conception about them is the same. The reason for such divergent views is that they are based on different sources of information, on different historical periods and events, on biased approaches and the prejudiced opinions of those who by chance have learned about one narrow phase or a short period of Cossack life.

Some people, such as the French, remember the Cossacks as the superb cavalry of the Russian Emperor, the conquerors of Napoleon, the unique troops who proved to be so unexpectedly kind and chivalrous during their occupation of Paris in 1814.

The Chinese still think of the Cossacks as the vanguard of the Russians, the horsemen who "carried the borders of the Russian Empire on the pommels of their saddles.

Military men throughout the world admire the Cossacks for their high "esprit de corps, for their valor, tenacity and habit of always performing acts beyond the call of duty, of always reaching for the impossible.

Students of the Imperial Period of Russia admire the Cossacks for their part in establishing the House of Romanoff as the rulers of Russia. On the other hand, Cossack leaders such as Razin and Pugachov were the patron saints of the liberals and revolutionists who fought against the Romanoffs,

To geographers the Cossacks are the intrepid explorers and discoverers who opened to civilization the vastness of Northern Asia, who discovered Kamchatka and the Bering Strait, who were the first to cross, that strait in modern times, who made the first permanent settlements in Alaska and along the West Coast of the North American continent, penetrating and establishing forts and settlements as far south as the present city of San Francisco.

Russian schoolboys of pre-revolutionary Russia learned about the Cossacks as the frontiersmen of the Russia State, who conquered and presented Siberia to the Czar of Russia and opened this vast land for subsequent colonization; to that schoolboy the Cossacks were for centuries protectors of the remote and long land frontier of Russia. To his counterpart of today, the schoolboy in the Soviet Union, the Cossacks are presented as class enemies of the true Bolsheviks, as the people who refused to accept the doctrines of Communism and the so-called benefits of the Soviet State and who, because of their "backwardness and stubbornness," had to be liquidated one and all.

Descendants of political refugees from the Czarist regime picture Cossacks as the trusted guardians of the Czars, brutal "gendarmes" too often employed by the Imperial Government in the suppression of popular protests, revolts and manifestations of a liberal character. For them the Cossacks were a military caste, part of the Russian people, and not the very best part either.

Immediate neighbors of the Cossacks, who were in a position to learn about the Cossacks at first hand by personal observation, knew them for their loyalty and patriotism, their eternal struggle for freedom, their heroic stand against Bolshevist aggression and tyranny, their free and easy way of living, and, finally, for their passionate love for their Cossack land. To them the Cossacks were a separate people, and their land the refuge for the oppressed.

To the Cossacks themselves there has never been any question as to their identity. They have their own national history, their own way of life, their traditions and usages, their particular linguistic originality, the proud knowledge of their part in shaping the destiny of humanity, and the inner consciousness that they are a separate ethnic and social group. Yet, at the same time, with a few fringe exceptions, the solid core of the Cossacks do not conceive of existing outside the Commonwealth of Peoples who in pre-revolutionary times composed the Russian Empire. The fringes are, on one hand, a very small group of Cossacks, for the most part former generals and high officials under the Czars, who deny a separate existence to the Cossacks and consider them just an odd and picturesque part of the Russian Army; at the other extreme is also a small, but highly vocal group of Cossacks, primarily of the younger generation, who claim that the Russians have always been the oppressors of the Cossacks, and that in the future all Cossacks shall and will live under the banner of the free and independent nation "Kazakia."

Although the author realizes the utter impossibility of giving in a few words a comprehensive history of the Cossacks., a description of their present social, political and economic situation, and the reasons and motives for their aspirations and claims to recognition, the author, himself a Cossack, presents the Cossacks to the general public as they see themselves, hoping in this brief sktech to correct some of the more common misconceptions about them.

Cossacks history

I. A Brief History of the Cossacks

Centuries ago the forefathers of the present day Cossacks settled in the steppes of the southeastern corner of Europe, bordering on the Black Sea and the Caucasian Mountains on the south, the Caspian Sea and the river Volga on the east, the forests of the Great Russian Plain on the north and the river Dniester on the west. Since the dawn of civilization these steppes had been crossed again and again by the peoples of the Great Migration. The original Cossacks were the product of an intermixture of all these peoples with the previous settlers of the Slavic race. Byzantine writers of the Tenth Century described the Cossacks as a separate people who lived on the river Don, and called them "the brave and strong people." In old Russian chronicles they were similarly described for the first time in 1261. The Don Cossacks fought on the side of the Russian Grand Duke Dimitry against the Tartars in 1380. In all the records of that period the Cossacks were described as a series of independent communities, loosely bound into larger units of a military character, entirely separate from the Russian State. The Russian historian Karamzin wrote: "Where the Cossacks came from cannot be said with certainty, but, in any event, it [their State] existed prior to the Tartar invasion of 1223. These knights lived separately, without pledging allegiance to the Russians, the Poles or the Tartars." Their tribal units, organizations similar to Scottish clans, occupied the whole area between the rivers Dniester on the West and the Volga on the East. At the head of each tribe was an Ataman, or Hetman, elected by the people; the people also elected, for a specifically limited term, the other administrative officers of the tribe: the judge, the scribe, the lesser officials, and even the clergy. Supreme legislative authority rested in the Tribal Assembly (the King, or the Rada). Executive powers were vested in the Ataman; at time of war he was the supreme commander in the field. In the absence of written laws, the Cossacks were governed by the "Cossack Traditions," the Common, unwritten law.

In the Sixteenth Century these numerous Cossack clans consolidated into two large republics: one, known as the Zaporojie, on the lower bends of the river Dnieper, sandwiched between Russia, Poland and the Tartars of the Crimea; the other, the Don Cossack State, on the river Don, separating the then weak Russian State from the Mongol and Tartar tribes, which were at that time vassals of the powerful Sultan of Turkey. Numerous Russian, Polish, Lithuanian, Turkish and other historical documents of that period contain mentions of these two states, always referring to them as sovereign republics. For instance, in 1549 the famous Czar of Russia, Ivan the Terrible, replying to a request of the Turkish Sultan to stop the aggressive actions of the Don Cossacks, stated, "The Cossacks of the Don are not my subjects, and they go to war or live in peace without my knowledge." Ten years before that, in a reverse situation, when Czar Vassily the Third asked the Sultan to curb the Cossacks, the Sultan replied. "The Cossacks do not swear allegiance to me, and they live as they themselves please."

This was the period during which the expansion of Russia intensified and the consolidation of Poland took place. Both states were enforcing the feudal system which attached peasants to the land and made them the property of the nobles. This policy, coupled with the territorial expansion of these two states and their conquest of their weaker neighbors, created a condition in which all men who did not relish the idea of becoming somebody's slave, and all who valued personal freedom, fled to the southeast and found refuge in the land of the Cossacks where they could be free. All protests and ultimatums of the Czars and the Kings to return their subjects were of no avail; the Cossacks then coined their famous motto: "There is no extradition from the Don."

Incidentally, this exodus of freedom-loving people from medieval Russia to the land of the Cossacks is the foundation for the official Russian historians' assertion that Cossackdom originated in that period, and that the Cossacks were nothing more than the hordes of Russian peasants who had run away from their masters, the Russian boyars. On this ground some Russian politicians of the later Imperial period refused to recognize the Cossacks as separate and distinct from the Russians proper as an ethnical group. At the present moment, however, this theory is supported only by the most reactionary circles of the Russian emigration, who in this respect are in perfect accord with the Kremlin. All other historians and political leaders recognize that the Cossacks, as an independent ethnic and political entity, existed long before this exodus of the freedom loving element from Muskovite Russia and the Poland of the Nobles. It should be noted, in passing, that the very word "Kazak" (Cossack) means, in Tartar "The Freeman."

The two great Cossack States of that period, the Don and the Zaporojie, constituted unique military orders whose main raison d'etre was to protect the Eastern Catholic Church from Roman Catholicism and Mohammedanism. It can be truly said that but for the fanatical resistance of the Cossacks of Zaporojie, militant Roman Catholicism would have taken over and conquered the whole of Eastern Europe, while at the same time, unless the Don Cossacks had been in its way, Mohammedanism might have become the dominant religion everywhere east of Poland.

In the course of time the Cossacks grew in numbers and became a nation of professional soldiers; they established an endless chain of posts and settlements, protecting Russian towns and villages from the raids and invasions of the militant Mongol and Tartar tribes from the south and the east. The Cossacks knew that passive defense alone could not stop and prevent these raids, and they often carried the war to the enemy. Afoot and on their swift horses, and quite often in their crude boats, they raided the settlements and camps of the neighboring Tartars of Crimea and Astrakhan; they sacked border towns and fortresses of Polcfid; at times they joined with the Poles and Crimean Tartars and waged war against various Russian Principalities; they pillaged and burned the Black Sea ports of Turkey and those of Persia on the Caspian Sea. As an example of their daring and prowess, historians recite the exploits of a band of Zaporojie Cossacks who in the Sixteenth Century penetrated the Straits of the Bosphorus, crossed the Sea of Marmora, squeezed through the Dardanelles, sailed the long Mediterranean Sea, captured the Spanish city of Saragossa, and held it against all comers for a full two years. Again, in 1696, the Don Cossacks, sailing the Sea of Azov in their flimsy rowboats, in the presence of the Russian Czar Peter the Great, met and destroyed the powerful Turkish fleet. Similarly, though much later, in 1828 the Cossacks of Zaporojie, in the war of Russia against Turkey, sailed the Black Sea in their light boats (they called them "chaikes," the seagulls) and took by assault the powerful Turkish fortress Brailov.

As mentioned before, during the Fourteenth, Fifteenth and Sixteenth Centuries the principal role of the Cossacks consisted of the protection of Russia and, occasionally, of Poland from the aggressive Mohammedan peoples. The next, the Seventeenth Century, was for them an era of colonization when the frontiers of Russia were moved southward and eastward. Originally their penetration was at the expense of the Tartars, who lived along the northern shores of the Black Sea; then they crossed the Volga and built their towns and forts in the foothills of the Urals; then the famous Ataman of the Don Cossacks, Ermak, crossed the Urals, conquered the Tartars of Siberia and "presented" that vast land to Ivan the Terrible. At the same time other Cossacks moved southward and established the Terek clan on the northern slopes of the Caucasian mountains. Following Ermak, who was killed in a skirmish with the nomads, roving Cossack bands continued their penetration eastward, until finally they discovered and colonized for Russia the remote provinces of the Far East. This process of penetration and discovery, of scouting and acquisition, is similar to the "Westward Ho" expansion in the Eighteenth and Nineteenth Centuries in America: the same wilderness, hostile natives, hardships, and the urge to get a little further and to see what lies beyond each successive hill. Just as the discovery of the American West was made possible through the toil and sweat and blood of the intrepid bands of frontiersmen, whose names were often unknown to the settlers who followed them, so the discovery and conquest of Siberia and the Far East called for superhuman efforts ? to cross mile-wide rivers, to penetrate virgin taiga forests, always short of food and amunition. It should be noted that for the most part this drive toward the broad Pacific was on the Cossacks own initiative; all they got (and that infrequently) from the Russian power was some lead and powder. Yet every newly discovered land was taken by the Cossacks in the name of the Russian Czar and "presented" to him by the conquerors. Without written commissions these men served the Czar as his diplomats, settlers and border guards.

In this process of moving the borders of the Russia State outward, the to camp on frozen tundra, always facing resistance from the aborigines, Cossacks customarily set military posts and forts, garrisoned by a few wounded and crippled men and some friendly natives; soon they would get themselves wives from among the local belles; then a town would be built around the fort, roads be laid out to the nearest forts (stanitzas) ; and finally, a new clan (voisko) would be established, guarding the new subjects of the Russian Czar and protecting the new border. Eleven such clans existed in Russia before the revolution of 1917, strung from the Black Sea to the shores of the Pacific, "eleven pearls in the crown of the Russian Emperor."

It was in 1646 that the Cossacks came to the shores of the Pacific Ocean; two years later Dejnev, a Cossack ataman, discovered the Bering Strait; within a few years the Cossacks had crossed this ribbon of water and established settlements in Alaska, Kamchatka and all through the Pacific Northwest. Still later the Cossacks, moving southward toward China, took for Russia the rich Amur, Ussuri and Maritime Provinces., establishing contact with China, Korea and Japan. In the Eighteenth and Nineteenth Centuries the Cossack regiments were incorporated in the Russian Army, and as part of it fought against Napoleon and in the Crimea and four Turkish Wars. They bore the brunt of the struggle for conquest and possession of the Caucasus and Turkestan. When the major wars with the neighboring states were over and the borders of the Empire had become stabilized, the Cossacks were given another, not less arduous, task: to keep the new frontiers inviolate and to protect peaceful settlers from hostile actions by Turks, Persians, Afghans, Mongols and Manchus. Other Cossack regiments were strung along the borders separating Russia from her western neighbors, the Austrians and Germans. The exploits of the Cossacks in World War I are too well known to be dwelt upon here. It will suffice to state that the Cossacks were in the vanguard of the Russian Army when it was advancing and the same Cossacks were covering the army at the time of retreats. Notwithstanding such exposure, Cossack prisoners of war were so rare an event, that in 1914 and 1915 the few captured Cossacks were carried in special cages through distant Hungarian towns to show people that even Cossacks could be taken prisoners.

II. The Fight for Freedom and Liberty

Important was the part the Cossacks played in building the Russian Empire. Just as important for them was their resistance and fight for freedom whenever that mighty empire attempted to curb the Cossack liberties.

To begin with, the original settlers, the aborigines of the "Wild Steppes," the region between the rivers Dnieper and Volga, were free men, owing allegiance to no one. With the exception of a short period in the Fourteenth Century when the Cossacks were compelled to recognize the sovereignty of Genghiz Khan and Tamerlane, the Cossacks were left to shift for themselves. They were too troublesome for any potentate to claim them for his own. This situation ended in the Sixteenth Century when the rivalry of the neighboring great states of Russia, Poland and Turkey sucked the Cossacks into the repeated wars between those nations. Each of these giants wanted to get the warlike Cossacks on its side, and each claimed them as subjects. There was another reason for the rulers of Russia and Poland to show interest in the internal affairs of the Cossacks. The end of the Seventeenth Century is known as a period of social upheaval in these states, particularly in Russia. It was a period when the serfs repeatedly revolted against their masters, the boyars and the nobles, the Church and the State. The Cossacks, who themselves never knew slavery, always supported and aided those who fought to remain free, or to throw off the yoke of slavery. By this time the State had become powerful and was strong enough to suppress every such revolt of the masses. Each time this happened the Cossacks had to pay with their lives for taking the side of the oppressed. The Czars on many occasions sent their troops to "bring order into the Cossack lands."

Still, up to the Seventeenth Century the Cossack states remained free, only at times and for short periods acknowledging the sovereignty sometimes of Poland and sometimes of Russia. But at that time the Cossacks of Zaporojie, forced by economic dependency to ally themselves with a strong power, and finding themselves in a squeeze in the higher politics of Russia, Turkey and Poland, had to seek a firmer alliance with one of these powers, and their choice was the people of the same religious faith, Russia. Of their free will, with solemn pomp and circumstance, the Zaporojie Cossacks, together with the people of the Eastern Ukraine, led by their Hetman Bogdan Chmielnitsky, recognized the sovereignty of the Russian Czar Alexis. Ironically, starting with this ruler of Russia, all his successors promulgated and pursued a definite policy of reducing the Cossacks to the status of a military caste. The Cossacks revolted, and Czar Alexis was the first to send a military expedition of major size to crush the rebellion. Stenka Razin, the leader of that rebellion, was captured and executed on the famous Red Square in Moscow, and his men, who wanted to set all Russian serfs free, were dispersed. Czar Alexis' son, Peter the Great of Russia, had to deal with a similar uprising on the Don, when the Cossacks, under their Ataman Boulavin, protested against Peter's sending regiments of the regular army "to keep the Cossacks in check." The rebellion was crushed and Boulavin committed suicide; thousands of Cossacks were hanged; and scores of their towns wiped out. To put an end to the unreliable and freedom loving society of the Don Cossacks, Peter the Great officially annexed the Don to his Empire, and put an end to its existence as a free state. Later, during the very same years that the American colonists were revolting against their British rulers and establishing a new, free nation, the United States, the Russian Empress Catherine the Great took every vestige of freedom from the Cossacks of the Ukraine, destroyed Siech, the principal camp of the Zaporojie Cossacks and disbanded that Order of the Cossack Knights.

This condition continued down to our day: the central Russian government was bent on curbing the Cossack privileges and liberties, and adopted one after another measures forcing the Cossacks to the unenviable level of the Russian peasant (yet expecting at the same time the Cossacks to retain their unique military qualities!) ; while the Cossacks held to the shreds of their former independence and jealously guarded what was left of it.

The fast growing Russian state did not want the Cossacks as a separate people, nor as a series of independent clans. The Cossacks, with their war like characteristics, whose whole historical existence was a chain of wars and raids and penetrations into hostile areas, were needed as fighters only. Incorporated into the Russian army, the Cossacks were put on horses; and thus was created the best light cavalry in the world. These horsemen in many a battle bested the cream of the crop of the heavy cavalry of Frederick the Great; they outfought the famous troops of Marshal Murat and chased the remnants of Napoleon's Grand Army from Russia; they carried the battle flags of the Russian Army from the Seine to the Pacific, and from Finland to the gates of Constantinople.

From times of old the Cossacks were known for their loyalty and their military quality of obeying orders without questioning their merits. Taking advantage of these qualities, Russian rulers quite often employed the Cossacks for the suppression of revolutions and riots engineered by the liberal and revolutionary groups in Russia, and for crushing separatist movements in the recently annexed provinces.

The unenviable reputation of the Cossacks as brutal executioners in the Czar's service originated from this phase of their service in the Russian Army. Three Russian words ? the pogrom, the knut (or nagaika) and the Cossack ? entered hand in hand into the pages of Western dictionaries and school books. The impression was created and universally accepted that the Cossacks conducted the pogroms and terrified the Jewish population of the western provinces of Russia.

Actually the pogroms were expressions of mob rule directed against the Jews and carried out by the lowest, the most ignorant portion of the Russian peasantry and the scum of the big cities. They were usually engineered by the anti-semitic, ultra-conservative patriotic societies, and encouraged, at least in some instances, by the government.

The pogroms often resulted in some loss of life and great destruction of property in the Jewish sections of such big cities as Kishenev, Bielostok, and others. When the mob got out of hand and the instigators lost control over the rioters, the government officials would call the nearest army units to suppress the disorders and the pillage. Usually, the Cossacks would be the first to saddle, and gallop to the scene of the riot. In a short time, using their horse whips on the mob, they would disperse the drunken tramps and farm hands, and the pogrom would be over.

But the radicals and the revolutionary press in Russia and in the countries unfriendly to its government, constantly looking for something to undermine and damage the prestige and good name of the monarchy, would publish the next day a shocking account of the pogrom and the part the government had had in it. They would describe how the Cossacks were called on to protect the mob from the resisting Jews and how they horse-whipped every Jew who happened to be on the street.

The best proof of the actual role played by Cossacks in the pogroms is preserved to the present day in the archives of several Cossack regiments, in the form of beautifully inscribed and even more beautifully worded scrolls, presented to these regiments by organized Jewish communities, societies and synagogues, as tokens of their gratitude for the protection afforded by the Cossacks to the Jews in the suppressionBodyguard of Nicolas II of pogroms.

A strange paradox should be noted in the make-up and employment of the Cossacks: on the one hand, they were constantly fighting for the retention of their liberties and privileges, while, on the other, they were blindly carrying out orders directed toward the suppression of the liberties of other peoples. Due to this situation, some Russian statesmen regarded the Cossacks as the most loyal subjects of the Czars (in fact, to the last days of the Monarchy, the personal bodyguard of the Russian Emperors were composed only of Cossacks), while others considered them the most unreliable, revolutionary element, dissatisfied with the loss of their absolute independence and forever ready to take up arms against the central authorities. For example, a single shot of a Don Cossack on the streets of St. Petersburg decided the outcome of the first phase of the 1917 revolution; it was made against the established authorities.

How to Become a Cossack

To a certain extent Cossackdom was an ideal form of human relations, tested and tried in the course of many turbulent centuries, based on a truly democratic form of voluntary co-existence of different racial groups in one union. Often these groups were of different blood, language, religion and degree of civilization; yet they indestructibly bound themselves together by their way of living, their social structure, economic standards, deep love for their land and homes, and their established order and traditions.

To begin with, the Cossacks never claimed any exclusiveness; the best minds among them repeatedly proclaimed that there had never been any special Cossacks' God, and that our Lord God would not have entertained the idea of creating separately such an unruly tribe as the Cossack.s From the time of the establishment of small Cossack camps in the southeast of Europe to the period of the liquidation of the Cossacks under the Communist government of Soviet Russia, it was not difficult to become a Cossack. In the first period of their existence, prior to the formation of the large clans, the Cossack communities were of a strictly military character. The Cossacks, when not in an actual war, lived in their forts and camps in which women were not allowed. It was a warrior's world; the Cossack clans were similar to the various knightly orders of western Europe. Every Cossack, from the eager youngster to the graying veteran of many wars, was a fighter, first and last. Any other occupation was strictly forbidden to the Cossack, under severe penalty; and all trades, shops and stores in Cossack settlements were in the hands of non-Cossacks.

Going from one war to another as they did, there were very few "gray-haired veterans"; at times the Cossack kourens and regiments returned from the wars with just a few able-bodied men in the ranks; new blood would be needed. Newcomers were gladly accepted; all who wanted to join were welcomed. Formalities for admission were few: a candidate had to be a physically sound specimen and had "to believe in God"; he was called on to make the sign of the cross, and, if willing and able to do so, was pronounced a Cosack and was assigned to the kouren (regimental unit) of his own choice, or to that unit which had suffered the greatest losses in the last war or raid.

When the unsettled and dangerous conditions in the lands of the Cossacks gradually stabilized and the troublesome Tartars and Asiatics were pushed back, in the Eighteenth and Nineteenth Centuries it became relatively safe for a man with a plow to make a hut and to start farming close to a Cossack fort. With these adventurous first settlers came their women. These new settlers gradually colonized and peopled the then "No Man's Land"; in this way the present day Eastern Ukraine was formed and its population became known as the Ukrainian Cossacks. Such farmers were required to list themselves with the nearest kouren, and they were subject to being called to arms at a moment's notice.

The Cossacks themselves gradually began to know and to appreciate the comfort and benefits of a settled, civilized life. Their custom was to bring their captives, men, women and children, from their raids. The men would work for their captors for a while, and then would either be set free and able to join the Cossacks, or returned, upon payment of ransom or in exchange for captured Cossacks, to their people. Children would be converted to Christianity and raised as Cossacks. Young women and girls would eventually become some Cossack's wife. Because of this manner of "adopting" former enemies, there are many foreign-sounding sur names among the Cossacks. It is not difficult to trace the origin of some old Cossack clans, like the Poliakovs, the Pospolitakis, the Kalmikovs and the Nogayetzs.

Married Cossacks acquired a taste for the comforts of a home between wars. Soon they learned other occupations; restrictions against farming were lifted. Thus was created a new Cossack, a farmer in peacetime, but every ready to mount his swift horse and go to war, leaving his wife to tend to the farm until his return, often after many, many years. Their women, living in the borderlands, quite frequently had to defend themselves from marauding Tartar bands, and there is many a story of Cossack women who successfully defended their towns against such raiders.

With the passage of years there were many changes in the method of building up the Cossack ranks to the numbers needed for the protection of the less warlike population of the Russian Empire. Relations with formerly hostile neighbors became friendly; trophies of war had no girls among them any more. Although the birth rate was high, still the rate of death, from wounds and epidemics in remote localities, was higher. The government of Russia solved this problem radically and simply ? an Imperial Ukaze would be issued, commanding several long existing and prosperous Cossack towns to assign a certain number of families for transfer to barren and dangerous parts of the borderland "to establish new Cossack towns." With much suffering and the tragic breaking up of family ties, often after an armed resistance, the designated families were moved to the new place. Whenever the number of such emigrants was not sufficient to populate the barren spot, the government would, by another Ukaze, settle in the same place soldiers from the regiments of the Regular Army who happened to be nearby at the time. In such a manner not only were new settlements built, not only were new clans (the Voiskos) created, but Cossacks themselves were made from men who prior to the Ukaze had no connection with the Cossacks. Such "making Cossacks" by decree was taking place as late as the last two decades of the Nineteenth Century. Some Cossacks were, therefore, quite new and young in this world. Yet, invariably, when a crisis came, like heavy losses in wars, or a revolution broke out, these new Cossacks proved to be just as brave, tenacious and just as strong in their conviction that they were a shade better than the next best man as their older Cossack brethren.

There was another, much simpler, though not always easier, way of becoming a Cossack ? any girl who chanced to marry a Cossack would automatically become herself a Cossack. Such a non-Cossack-born female, after the death of her husband, received all the benefits and rights of his widow in the same manner as if her ancestors had been Cossacks for generations.

Finally in the latest pre-Revolutionary period, a person who desired to become a Cossack could do so, by, first proving in some tangible way that he would be an asset to a Cossack community; second, by obtaining a consent resolution from the general assembly (the sobor) of that community; and, third, by securing an approval from the District Ataman? upon overcoming all these obstacles, the applicant's name was entered on the rolls, he became a full-fledged Cossack, and the whole stanitza would "go on a binge" for a couple of days to celebrate the new member of their community.

Military Duties of Cossacks

As was indicated above, a Cossack originally was a warrior and nothing else ? a professional fighter. He was "employed" only when he was in a war., declared or undeclared. Periods in between were few., and the "unemployed" Cossack spent his time in drinking, preparing equipment for future actions, electing and replacing his administration, in hunting and fishing, and in drinking and wasting the trophies and loot which he had brought home from the last war or said. Going to war, a Cossack had to bring with him all his arms, and a horse, if he was with a mounted outfit. A Cossack who, as a result of too much carousing and drinking, lost his weapons was unmercifully flogged by his friends and elders when he showed up in the ranks unarmed. This principle of the Cossack's bringing all the articles of his uniform and other necessities, as well as his own arms and horse, continued to be in force down to our day. This obligation distinguished a Cossack from the conscripts of the regular Army. Cossacks were proud of their arms, often passed from grandfather to father, and from father to son, and of their horses. On the other hand, quite often it was a hardship or even a calamity for a not too well-to-do Cossack family to equip three or four sons for the service in the regiment in a short space of time.Russian painter Shmarin

Originally there was no time limit on the Cossack's military service; he was always in the ranks. In time of war he was in saddle and in formation at the sound of the big drum or the church bell. No one knew when he would be back. Later, when Catherine the Great of Russia destroyed, in 1775, the last order of knights in the world, the Siech of the Zaporojie Cossacks, the Cossacks who remained in Russia (quite many emigrated into Turkey and became respected subjects of the Sultan, preserving their identity down to our day) were moved to new locations ? eventually to the Kuban region in the northern Caucasus ? again to guard the borders of the ever growing empire from its warlike neighbors to the south. They still had to go to war at a moment's notice, but their service in the regiment was not a life-long job any more. The term was reduced; at first to twenty-five years of active service (and to death in the" reserve), and gradually to what it was in the years before the First World War ? four years in a first line regiment, four years in a second line regiment, and four years in a unit of the third line, then in the armed reserve until the age of fifty-six. When listed in the second and third line outfits, the Cossacks lived at home, but were in constant readiness and subject to summer camps and periodical drills. Wars became few and, with the exception of the time served in a first line regiment, the Cossack stayed home in his stanitza (town) with his family, tilling the soil and free to engage in any other occupation.

Cossacks Before the Revolution of 1917

Forced to relinquish their sovereignty to the Czars of Russia, the Cossacks managed to retain semi-autonomy; within the borders of their eleven provinces they were independent. It is true that the Ataman, or chief of each clan (Voisko), was appointed by the Emperor; it is equally true that a recently established practice was to appoint only non-Cossacks to be Atamans; it is true that the tendency of the central government was to abridge the ancient rights and privileges of the Cossacks which had been recognized in a special Charter by every Emperor upon his accession to the throne. But in the main, the Cossacks were the masters of their own lives.

Proud as the Cossacks were of their military prowess and glory, they cherished much more their way of living. The main principles of Cossack-dom were full and complete equality in rights and duties ? equality social, political and economic. Each Cossack Voiska was a democracy, pure and simple.

All their administration was elective. All communal matters were discussed and decided by the general assembly (the sbor), composed of all male Cossacks of each stanitza; all local officers, beginning with the stanitza's ataman, were elected, mostly for a term of three years, at these sbors. Every officer could be impeached for inefficiency or malfeasance. The duties of all elected officers were strictly defined, as well as their rights and powers. In general, their rights were broad, but always short of infringement on the personal freedom and dignity of their constituents. The Cossacks were a proud people. Thev had no classes, social or economic, and the few attempts on the part of the central government to create a class of nobles, from among the distinguished Cossack officers and generals, always met with determined opposition from the rank and file, as well as from the intended beneficiaries of the scheme.

Cossackdom is the long established combination of complete individual freedom with the iron discipline of organized society; it is an absolute equality in rights and privileges, and just as absolute an equality in carrying common burdens and duties; it is a sensible and practical unity of individual initiative and private ownership of things personal with communal ownership of the gifts of nature and the means of production.

The last half century, immediately preceding the beginning of the First World War, 1864 to 1914, was a period of economic and cultural achievement in Cossack history. It was a comparatively quiet period in the history of the Russian nation, when the Cossacks had an opportunity of staying home and attending to their peaceful pursuits. It was a period when the Cossacks proved that their way of living, their system of democratic institutions with no dictation from above, paid large dividends.

By this tim tehe two original Cossack clans, the Don and the Zaporojie, branched out and formed eleven Cossack states, extending along the borders of the Empire from the lack Sea to the shores of the Pacific Ocean. The names of these eleven states, starting from the west and going eastward were: Don, Kuban, Terek, Astrakhan, Ural, Orenburg, Semirechjie, Sibir, Zabaikal, Amur, and Ussury. The first six states were in European Russia and the last five in Asia. Some states were large,with populations in the millions (two millions of Don Cossacks), while others were small (just a few thousand in the Ussury Voisko). These Cossacks were different in their appearance, facial characteristics, and even in the uniforms they wore; but in the main they were the same; they cherishrd theier free and easy way of life; they knew that they were born for war; they were proud to be Cossacks. Their institutions were also alike, as well as their military service. Each Cossack went to his own regiment, where his father and forefathers had served; each served along side his schoolmates and next door neighbors; their officers were boys from the same stanitzas, often close relatives, who chose to go to military school when others preferred to stay at home to help their fathers in farming. Their military uniforms were practically the same as their every-day dress, mostly adopted from or influenced by the neighboring mountaineers or nomads. The total population of all the Cossack states amounted to slightly over five million. It should be noted, in passing, that while originally every Cossack state was on the fringe of the Russian state, beganning with the rapid expansion of Russia toward its present southeastern borders, some of these Cossack states found themselves well within these new borders. At the brink of the First World War seven Cossack states, among them the largest and the oldest, like the Don and Ural, were far inside the new borders of the emipre. This situation was fraught with danger for the very existance of these states ? they ceased to be buffer states, intended to absorb the first shock of the advancing enemy or to repel the marauding bands of Bakh-tiari or the Afghans, and when they lost this quality, what was the justification for treating the Cossacks different from the rest of the Russian population?

Another potential danger to the existence of the Cossack states lurked in the ''minorities" problem; the bountiful and free life in the Cossack lands continued to attract adventurers and the dissatisfied long after the Cossacks had lost interest in filling their ranks with newcomers from every side. These new emigrees settled in Cossack towns, mostly as traders and mechanics of all sorts; gradually they acquired land and plots in towns. Their number was always increasing, to the point that in 1914-1917 in some of the richest Cossack states, the non-Cossack population exceeded the Cossacks. The builders of the Empire in St. Petersburg were pondering on this situation and were coming to the conclusion that, for the benefit of the whole nation, the anomaly of having a separate people, with separate customs, laws and privileges should be removed forever.


Living for centuries at the crossroads of Eastern Europe, in close contact with various nations and peoples, the energetic and curious Cossacks easily observed the ways of living of these peoples and willingly adopted from them all that looked worth while copying. Ever ready in war to discard some attractive trophy for something more glittering and valuable, the Cossack retained the same trait in peaceful pursuits; and, as a result, before the Revolution of 1917, the Cossacks had the largest agricultural machines and theory ? the best for their situation of working and dairy cattle, and they had several famous breeds of saddle horses. The Cossacks undoubtedly were the best farmers in Russia; the wheat and corn from the Kuban and Don were the chief items of export through the ports of the Black Sea and the Sea of Azov; in Cossack pastures roamed swift horses, future mounts for the regular cavalry regiments of the Russian Army; the best table wines in Russia were produced from the grapes grown on the Don and the Terek; the best tobacco was cultivated on the Kuban foothills of the Caucasian ridge; the Ural Cossacks were famous as fishermen, and who does not know of Russian caviar and sturgeon steaks. Orenburg woolen shawls were always the most cherished possession of the Moscow belles, while the word "Astrakhan" rings familiarly to all of us. The Cossacks of Siberia and Amur and Ussury were intrepid trappers and hunters, going alone after the ferocious Siberian tigers.

These principal occupations, like farming, cattle, sheep and horse breeding, fishing and hunting, made the Cossacks rich. Their wealth created an envy in the masses of the Russian peasantry, land hungry and often destitute. Goaded by the Bolsheviks, they later so willingly responded to the cry, "On to the Don, on to the Kuban!" sounded by Lenin and Trotzky.

But in addition to the rich black earth, so good for farming and ranching, the land of the Cossacks contained tremendous riches below the ground. Within the territories occupied by the Don, Kuban and Terek Cossacks are the renowned anthracite mines of the Donetz region, the oil fields of Grozny and Maikop, the salt of Ural and the as yet uncounted wealth of minerals, including gold, silver, nickel and marble in the mountain ridges of the Caucasus, Ural, Altai and Trans-Baikal. The best fisheries in Russia were found in the deltas of the Volga, Kuban, Ural, Irtish and Amur; some of the best game preserves were also in the Cossack lands.

However, this bounty of Mother Nature cannot by itself explain the fact that the Cossacks were among the most advanced peoples of the Russian Empire. They were in the front ranks in the fields of education and culture because they practiced the old Russian proverb, "Education is light and ignorance is darkness." The Cossack lands were covered with hundreds of schools and institutions of learning. In the absence of any compulsory law, in the years preceding the Revolution of 1917, every Cossack boy and girl received an elementary school education; a great many of them went to the high schools or attended the special trade or vocational schools which were established in every good-sized Cossack town; and even from the smallest and most remote towns there were, as a rule, several young men and girls attending colleges and taking special courses in the great universities in central Russia. It should be noted here that this urge of the Cossacks to give to their youth a broad general education was frowned upon by the Czar's government; the Cossacks were repeatedly told that the only education they needed was special military training; that ambitious young men ought to be sent to the military schools and colleges, to become trained officers for the Cossack regiments; as to the girls ? why, they ought to stay home, "particularly because higher education invariably carries within itself the seeds of discontent and revolutionary ideas."

This paternal advice and admonition had its results, and the supreme ambition of a Cossack of the ranks was to see his son with silver eqaulettes on his broad shoulders. But more and more Cossacks were sending their boys and girls to the civil seats of learning; they resented the implication that they were a military cate only; they were conscious of their separate ethnic entity, and they wanted to have their own sons and daughters as the teachers, judges, bankers, traders, mechanics and priests in their schools, courts, offices, factories, shops and in their churches.

How well the Cossacks succeeded in their drive to conquer the fields of the arts and sciences, other than the military trade, shows in the fact that in the last two centuries one could hardly find in Russia cultural, accomplishment, or an advance in science, or a new movement in the arts, where the Cossacks hadn't their men and women in the front ranks. They had their scientists and explorers, educators and writers, artists and composers, executives and industrialists; but whether one of them was a senator, or a world known agriculturist, or a bishop of great fame, he was still a Cossack, first and last.

Land Ownership

"In payment for faithful military service, which had been full of hardships," each Cossack clan (Voisko), by special imperial grant, received acknowledgment of full ownership over the lands originally conquered and settled by the Cossacks. Each clan was the owner of its land, not the individual members of it. Each clan divided its land into three parts. One part, including forests, rivers, mines and part of the arable land, remained in the clan as a whole; the other two parts the clan subdivided among the stanitzas (the towns); each stanitza, in turn, kept part as township property, for communal use, and the other part was distributed among! the individual families, according to the number of male Cossacks who had reached the age of seventeen. As a rule, families were large and the sons remained in the family until long after the end of their active military service; from the stanitza's communal land each young man, upon reaching the age of seventeen, received his parcel of land; and the larger the family, the richer it was in the land it used and in the number of working hands.

Periodically, each stanitza redistributed its land among the growing families, and each time the parcel given to an individual was smaller; when there was no more communal land in a stanitza to distribute among itsfamilies, then the clan would give for the stanitza an additional piece of land from the clan's part. So., there were instances when a stanitza, originally established on the banks of the Kuban, would have a parcel or two of land situated on the Pshish river, quite a distance from the original place. Individual lots became so small that toward the end of the first decade of our century the wealth of families had diminished to such an extent that equipping two or three youngsters for service in a first line regiment, with horses, weapons, uniforms, saddle, etc., was breaking the back of many Cossack fathers. In such cases the whole township came to the aid of the family, and the young man appeared in the ranks just as well equipped as any other.

Rich was the soil in the Cossack lands; highly important and cherished were the grants and privileges enjoyed by the Cossacks. They were excused from payment of many taxes; to a great extent they were their own masters. But it was not "for free"; the Cossacks paid with full value for these rights and privileges. Every Cossack, man and woman, lived under the constant threat of being called for active service. In peace time the object was either to increase the strength of border garrisons on an uneasy stretch of the border; or maybe to augment the police forces in times of unrest in the interior. In time of war, the Cossacks immediately trebled their regiments, and often had to put in the field additional units, many of them composed of men in their forties and fifties. In a prolonged conflict like the First World War, practically the entire able-bodied population of the Cossacks was called to arms. Toward the end of that war, fully ten percent of the whole Cossack population was at the front, and it was a real treat to see a male Cossack on a stanitza street; unusually it was a convalescent warrior, on a short leave before returning to his regiment. All work which had been done by the stronger, such as working in the fields, making new roads and erecting: new community buildings was done by Cossack women and children. The losses on the battlefield were great, and rare was the home that had its men and boys all alive and untouched. The Cossacks paid dearly for their privileges.

The Revolution of 1917

Many a crime and a cruel injustice were committed by the Czar's government in its dealings with the Cossacks. Yet it must be admitted that, on the whole, the cardinal policies of that government, as well as its methods, in making the newly conquered tribes and recently annexed peoples subject to dictates from the center were wise, humane and far-sighted. Instances of revolts and uprisings on the part of the tribes which lived in far away fringe provinces were extremely rare. All annexed lands at first were given a generous degree of autonomy; they were allowed to retain their courts and administrative institutions; they continued to be governed by their beys and princes, according to their tribal common law and customs; they were permitted to use their native language in dealing with the officials of the Crown; there was an absolute religious tolerance, and an absolute equality with the conquerors as to the education of their sons and daughters in government schools. Like no other great nation there was in the Russia of that period a great ratio of non-natives occupying the most important positions and offices in the military and civil life of the Empire. The hand of the Czar was heavy, but it was put down gently and the pressure was gradually applied.

Another picture was created when the government was taken over first by the "professional revolutionists" and later by the Bolsheviks. Communism and Cossackdom do not mix, and from the first days of the triumph of the party of Lenin and Stalin, these two social ideals clashed and entered into mortal combat.

As was indicated above, the Cossacks accepted the Russian Revolution of 1917 as something in which they had very little interest, aside from re-establishing their cherished and centuries-old institutions which had been curbed in the Eighteenth and Nineteenth Centuries by the Czar's government. They declared their neutrality in the internal affairs of the Russian people and asked its new rulers to leave them alone. Following a stirring public declaration to that effect, made by the Ataman of the Don Cossacks, General Kaledin, on the Moscow Conference in the summer of 1917, the Provisional Government of Kerensky declared the Cossacks to be traitors and dissidents and made an ineffective attempt to crush their "rebellion" by sending an armed force to the borders of the land of the Don Cossacks, but on the whole the Cossacks were permitted to re-establish their autonomous tribal structure.

Civil War ? 1917-1920

This atmosphere of cool tolerance and non-interference continued until the overthrow of the Kerensky government by the Bolsheviks of Lenin and Trotsky. The Cossacks were immediately placed high on the list of enemies of the proletariat, and fighting broke out along the borders of each of the eleven Cossack territories. The Cossacks, with their ancient cry "All for one, and one for all" rose to the defense of their land, institutions and their freedom.

Massacre of Cossacks

The massacre of Cossacks and Russian Army officers by Red Army "shooting team". Painter Shmarin

The Civil War in Russia was joined. There were many others besides the Cossacks who did not accept Communism. As distinguished from the "red" radicals, they all were loosely called the "White Russians." A great number of the active opponents of the Bolsheviks fled to the Cossacks and fought against the Reds, using Cossack territories as their base, and the Cossacks as their allies. In addition to filling the ranks of the fighting units of the armies of Admiral Kolchak, Generals Ivanov, Udenich, Denikin, Wrangel and others, the Cossacks put into the field their own armies, commanded by their Atamans.

Cossacks vs. Red Army

Cossacks vs. Bolchevicks

This war lasted for more than three years, from 1917 to 1920, and it was conducted with great ruthlessness on both sides. The Cossacks fought with desperate courage against an enemy twenty-two times superior in number. The position of the Cossacks was made all the more difficult because they possessed practically no war industry and no arsenals. Particularly in the first phase of this war, the Cossacks knew of only one method of arming themselves ? it was to capture arms from the enemy. Literally the entire population of the Cossack states, including the women, took part in defending their land and freedom from the Bolsheviks. The Cossacks suffered tremendous losses in that war; every Cossack home had its share of dead and maimed. As a rule the Reds burned every Cossack farm and house that offered them resistance. After three years of a desperate and hopeless struggle, the Cossacks and their allies, the "White," their resources exhausted, were defeated. Their land was occupied by their mortal enemies, the Communists.

Cossacks in Exile

Nearly all of the fifty thousand Cossacks who were fortunate enough to escape with their lives into the Balkans, Turkey, Persia, Poland and China, left their homeland as organized army units. Together with them went their atamans, parliaments and a few private persons and families. The Cossacks carried with them their State regalia, battle flags and archives. By far the greatest part of this group eventually settled in the Balkan countries and there, by hard work and perseverance, prospered and became substantial citizens again. Another part went farther, to Czechoslovakia and France; of this group many young men acquired a higher education and became professional men, also achieving considerable prosperity and renown. They retained their "Governments in Exile.," supported their sick and aged, published periodicals and books relating to the Cossack glories of the past, and encouraged their sons to wait for the coming hour of liberation of their country. They even held elections, sending delegates to such great centers of Cossack concentration as Paris or Belgrade, to elect the Atamans. Unfortunately, some of the elected atamans decided to follow the footsteps of Hitler, Mussolini and other dictators, and refused to step down at the termination of their terms of office. Even now one of the Cossack clans, the Kuban, has for its ataman a person who was elected to that four year term of office thirty-one years ago. However, with the passage of the years and through changed circumstances, the power and authority of the atamans became negligible and the directing hand belongs now to elected and recognized councils and committees.

This peaceful life in their second homelands continued until the start of the Second World War, when these Cossacks found themselves between the anvil and the hammer. All their sympathy was with their former allies of the First World War, with the forces of Democracy, but, in their determination to ally themselves with anyone who was starting a war against their oppressors, the Communists, they found themselves fighting, some against the Red Army and others against the partisans of Tito, side by side with the totalitarian legions. When Hitler's forces were beaten, these Cossacks, for the second time in the course of a man's life, had to drop everything, lose all they had created in the over twenty years of exile, and flee again before the advancing Reds. That flight was costly to their enemy; all who could carry a gun joined the retreating armed formations, and fought day and night as the rear guard of the fleeing Germans. They literally "fought unto death"; the Reds took no prisoners from among these units. The main direction of this retreat was from Yugoslavia to Austria, then to Northern Italy, and finally to Germany.

Under the Sickle and Hammer

Those Cossacks who had remained in Russia after their defeat in 1920, the families, the kin of those few who had managed to escape, and all those who had been in the ranks and whose regiments were cut off from the ports of embarkation, had to live under the stiff yoke of their conquerors. Their leaders and the heads of families were the first to be liquidated in the dreaded chambers of the Gheka and the OGPU; their families were split and dispersed; newcomers, faithful followers of Lenin and veterans of the Red Guard, were settled in Cossack homes. All who were allowed to stay in their stanitzas were forced to become virtual slaves in the collective farms and factories; they were forbidden to wear their traditional dress; their regiments were disbanded and their young men had to serve in Red Army units. The pressure on them was terrific, but even then the Cossacks refused to give I'n and continued their usually passive, but at time violently active resistance to the masters of the Russian people. They became experts in sabotage and hiding their identities. From time to time such passive resistance would erupt into a violent revolt, with public executions of the most hated members of the secret police and the special punitive units. As a result of repeated uprisings from 1922 to 1937, the Cossacks were officially decreed by the Kremlin to be enemies of the Soviet State, and as such, subject to an absolute and complete liquidation. Every means were used by the Bolsheviks to exterminate the Cossacks, including a famine, artificially created by trusted lieutenants of Stalin in 1922 and again in 1933. In consequence, close to four million Cossacks perished or disappeared in the years between 1920 and 1940, from famine and privation, in resisting forced collectivization, in rebellions and riots, and in the slave labor camps of Siberia and the Far East.

And yet their spirit could not be crushed, and those Cossacks who managed to survive the terror and escape the clutches of the Soviet secret police, held high the torch of their determination to win back their freedom and their independent way of life. They beliwed that their hour had come when Hitler's armies in 1940 advanced toward the lands of the Cossacks as liberators of Russia from the tyranny of Communism. Town after town and village after village greeted the Germans with flowers and the traditional Russian "bread and salt." The Red Army soldiers surrendered by whole divisions, without offering any resistance to the advancing German patrols. By the thousands the younger Cossacks joined the ranks of Hitler's auxiliaries "to get even with the Communists." Alas, very soon they saw the true face of Hitler's "supermen/ but it was already too late for them to turn back. When the Germans began their frozen exodus from the Cossack steppes, the whole Cossack population left their homes and., with women and children, on foot and in horse carts, went into exile. Nearly 150,000 Cossacks retreated with the Germans from Russia. The price they paid for the paradox of having their sympathy with the Western Allies and actually fighting alongside Hitler's regiments was truly appalling; thousands upon thousands of these unfortunates fell into the hands of the rapidly advancing units of the Red Army; their fate invariably was exile to the concentration camps in the Far North, and systematic, planned extermination by cold and starvation. Others died from huger and from the bullets of red partisans in the forests of White Russia and Poland. The survivors, who fled to sections of Austria and Germany, which fell to the advancing allied divisions, finally found themselves interned in the former camps for Hitler's forced labor. There a great many of these Germans found their fathers and older friends who had escaped from the Reds twenty-two years before, at the end of the civil war against the Bolsheviks.

The Effect of Yalta

For many of these Cossacks the joy of reunion with their kin and the happiness of finding security and refuge was short lived; in accordance with an agreement signed in Tehran and Yalta by President Roosevelt and Prime Minister Churchill, they were forcibly surrendered by the Allies to the Reds and "repatriated" to the Soviet Union.

The most tragic event of this kind occurred near the city of Lienz, in Austria. Toward the end of the war General Krasnoff and some other Cossack leaders persuaded Hitler and his authorities to allow all civilians and non-fighting Cossacks to settle on a permanent basis in the sparsely settled foothills of the Italian Alps. The Cossacks moved there in numbers and established a refugee settlement, with several stanitzas and posts, with their administration, churches, schools and defense units. When the victorious Allies moved from central Italy into the Italian Alps, the German command ordered the Cossacks to leave their new homes and to retreat northward, into Austria. There, on the banks of the river Drave, near Lienz, the British army units caught up with the Cossacks and interned them in a hastily arranged camp. For a few days the British fed these refugees and created the impression that they understood the unique problem of this group, and could see the reason for their fear and uneasiness. The advance units of the Red Army were only a few miles to the east, rapidly surging to establish contact with the Allies. And then, suddenly, just when the Cossacks decided that under the protection of the British flag they had nothing to worry about, the sons of "perfidious Albion" turned over the free men of Cossackdom to their Communist enemies. On May 28, 1945, twenty-one hundred and forty-six Cossack officers and generals, including the world famous cavalry leaders, Generals Krasnoff, Shkuro  and Kiletch-Girey (all NOT SOVIET CITIZENS) , were, through a ruse, disarmed and carried in British cars and trucks to a neighboring town held by the Reds. There they were surrendered to the Red Army general, who immediately ordered them to stand trial for treason. Many of these Cossack leaders had never been nominally citizens and subjects of the Soviet Union, being the men who had left Russia in 1920, at the end of the civil war, and therefore could not be guilty of any treason. Some of these men were executed on the spot; the higher officers were subjected to mock trials at Moscow and were also executed. For example, General Krasnoff was hanged by a hook through the lower jaw, on a public square; this in the Twentieth Century in the capitol of the "most advanced nation of the world!" The bulk of this group was sent to slave labor camps in the Far North and Siberia, to suffer a slow and painful death in the hands of their tormentors.


BETRAYAL OF COSSACKS AT LIENTZ, Austria, June 1945. Painting by S.G.Korolkoff

Three days later, on June 1, 1945, the rank and file of this group of Cossacks, 32,000 men, women and children(!), were similarly bayonetted by the British into cattle cars and camions, and delivered to the Bolsheviks, by them to be taken back to the Soviet Union, there to work and die as slaves of the "Great Father of the Peoples," Joseph Stalin. Similar scenes were enacted in the same year, 1945, in the American Zone of Occupation, in Austria and Germany. Many more thousands of Cossacks were beaten by rifle butts into waiting Soviet trucks and trains. Close to 45,000 Cossacks were in this manner "repatriated" into the land of their executioners. However, a great many Cossacks succeeded in fleeing these extraditions and hid themselves in the forests and mountains; many were saved by the local German population; but the greatest number of the escapees found safety and salvation in changing their identity, disguising themselves as Ukrainians, Latvians, Poles, Yugoslavians, Turks, Armenians and even Ethiopians. Eventually, as such, they were admitted into the camps for Displaced Persons. Under such assumed nationalities and names a considerable number of them came to the United States under the Displaced Persons Act; others left the D.P. camps for any land which would open its doors to them. But still a great number of such "turn coats" are in Germany and Austria, in France and Italy, afraid to disclose their real identity and feeling the uncomfortable proximity of the land beyond the Iron Curtain. They still distrust everybody and live in constant fear of extradition to the Soviets; they still play safe, and prefer to go about under the guise of their assumed nationalities. Their real names and origin they disclose only to their brother' Cossacks, particularly to the Cossack councils and unions.

The Cossacks in the United States

Several thousands of Cossacks who came to the United States are rapidly becoming (some for the fourth time in their lives!) solid, substantial citizens; some work on the farms in every state of the union; others have settled in the large centers of population in the Atlantic States and on the West Coast, and work in shops, factories and plants.

For the present, due to language difficulties, even the men with special training and members of the professions are engaged in manual tasks; but, without exception, they work and study and learn and are anxious to become a part of this great nation. They will become good citizens of the United States; those who remain here will be among the first to answer the call to arms to go again to fight the oppressors of all the peoples beyond the Iron Curtain, and first of all to liberate the great and peace-loving Russian people.

The Cossacks who have come recently to the United States, while waiting for that call to arms, true to their first love have grasped every opportunity of settling on the land and becoming independent, individual farmers, servants to no one. As to their habit, they stick together and settle in groups, acquiring adjoining parcels of land. Already several Cossack settlements have been established, each giving promise that in a few years it will become a show place of the community, and, after a longer period of time, who knows? This nation may be just as proud of the Cossacks in New Jersey, as it is proud now to have the Dutch in Pennsylvania, or the Finns and Norwegians in Minnesota and Wisconsin.

A typical example of such a budding colony is the brand new settlement of Cossacks in the Buena Vista township, near Vineland, New Jersey. There a group of fifty Cossacks is already transforming 1,000 acres of abandoned brushland into a highly diversified agricultural and poultry raising community. Their number constantly increases, and in a few years they expect to have there a new town, with its own ataman and the sbor (town council of elders), with its own church, school and public buildings, including a museum for the preservation of the Cossack regalia, dress and arms. They hope to establish there the foundation of another ethnic group in this nation of ours ? the American Cossacks. It promises to be a sturdy group of people, one used to hardships and hard work, and one absolutely incapable of being swayed by the Communists' sweet songs and rosy pictures.

The clearing house and the guiding hand for this group, a.s well as for others, the most substantial and far-sighted groups of Cossacks in the United States, is the World Cossack Association, a center created by the first Cossack immigrants many years ago. The Executive Council of this organizations is composed of the elected atamans of the component members, stanitzas, and other representatives of the larger groups. Through their medium the Cossacks keep in touch with political developments, wherever they carry a promise of a Crusade of the Democracies against Communism. Particularly they follow and watch the activities of all anti-Communist organizations composed of refugees from Russia, and also such American groups as the one headed by a former Ambassador to the Soviet Union, Admiral Kirk. Quite recently their attention was attracted by an attempt of several Russian groups, mostly of a liberal hue, to unite into one great unit all political and national subdivisions of the organized part of the refugees from behind the Iron Curtain. The Cossacks were not invited to that conference, presumably because they are not a political party on the one hand, and, on the other, because in the eyes of some Russian diehards, the Cossacks are part and parcel of the Russian people, its military class and nothing more.

Commenting on this ridiculous anomaly, when the traditional Russian liberals touchingly united with the extreme reactionaries, the World Cossack Association made public a special declaration, which, in part, is quoted below:

"All Cossacks outside of Russia, subscribing in to to under the cardinal principles of these (Gen. Kaledin's Declaration in August, 1917, at Moscow, and the Declaration of the Southeastern Union of the Don, Kuban, Terek, in 1920) previous pronunciamentos, and remaining true to their historical ways and traditions, do hereby declare:

"1. All Cossacks, considering themselves firmly bound to the Free Russian State, stand on their former positions, to wit:

"a. All Cossacks believe and trust that the new Russian State will take the form of a Federated Republic of the Free Provinces and Peoples of Russia;

"b. All Cossacks believe and stand for granting the widest federative rights to the 'fringe states' and peoples of the Russian State, but they object to the dismemberment of Russia into separate, independent republics;

"c. All Cossacks trust that the final decision, whether the Russian State will be a federated republic, or a monarchy, or whether it will assume some other form of national structure, must depend and hinge on the decision of the All-Russia Council of Peoples Deputies or the Constitutional Assembly, lawfully proclaimed and organized later, upon establishing a firm order and peace in the land;

"d. All Cossacks, considering themselves a part of the family of the Peoples of Russia, cannot visualize establishment of the future Russia without their active participation in the creation of that state;

"e. All Cossacks, possessing a program for their own governmental structure, their own ideal of the human community, an ideal tested and found true in the course of many centuries, and sealed with the blood of their great forefathers?

"declare, openly and freely, that they, the Cossacks, with any form of Russian regime, shall, with a firm hand, defend for themselves their own natural, free, ageless democratic order ? in the same manner as they did in the course of past centuries."

These are the cardinal human principles for which the Cossacks died in their glorious past. For these principles the remnants of a proud people are ready to fight to the death now.