The second half of the 18th century was marked by the formation of new religious denominations and communities in Tsarist Russia; among them were the Doukhobors or Dukhobors, who were often persecuted by the Russian state for apostasy and heresy. They were several times deported and resettled by the tsars in unfamiliar territory, including Transcaucasia, for their religious beliefs. Part of this sect’s members voluntarily emigrated to Canada in the late 19th century.

The main purpose of this article is to analyze how the Doukhobor community resettled and transformed in Transcaucasia, as well as how they emigrated to Canada. We often find in the sources that Dukhobors were pacifists.[i] In 1895, they supposedly publicly burned their weapons in protest. Is that true? The article will also try to answer this question. Beyond that, we will focus on the identity of a certain Pyotr (Peter) Verigin, who was originally from the village of Slavyanka, Elizavetopol Province (now the Gadabay district of Azerbaijan), and who may have had a significant impact on the community while in exile in the Arkhangelsk Province (now Arkhangelsk Oblast).

The first part of the article will give some brief information about the formation of the Doukhobor community. The second part will discuss the deportation of the Doukhobors to Transcaucasia and their way of life in their new settlement. The last two sections will focus on key issues, such as the transformation of the community under the influence of Verigin and Tolstoy, the Russian anarchist writer who was sympathetic to the Doukhobors, at the end of the 19th century, the rise of Doukhobor protests against the tsarist government, and mass emigration to Canada.

This research is based mostly on governmental archival  materials such as Ministry of State Property of the Russian Empire, Holy Synod of the Russian Orthodox Church, Prosecutor of the Tiflis Judicial Chamber, Correspondence between the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of the Russian Empire and the Holy Synod, and the Ministry of State Property, which are now stored in the Russian State Historical Archive, and the National Archives of Georgia. In addition, manuscripts from the libraries of the above-mentioned institutions, as well as literature and religious magazines, are important sources used in this work.

Doukhobors or Spirit-Wrestlers?

There have always been different opinions about the names of religious sects. The name of the Doukhobors is also one of the controversial issues in academic circles. Dukhobortsy is a combination of two words: dukh (spirit) and bortsy (warriors). What does such a name mean? Is it an endonym or an exonym? At present, there are different interpretations, each of which is fully justified.

The historian S. A. Inikova believes that the name Doukhobor was given to the group in 1785 by the Orthodox Archbishop Nikifor.[ii] However, there are some uncertainties about this date, and some sources indicate 1786 as the year the name was given. I. V. Lopukhin, a contemporary of the 18th-century Doukhobors, attests in his manuscripts that the date of this naming was in fact 1788 and that its founder was the Bishop Ambrose.[iii]

According to the Correspondence between the Ministry of State Property and the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, the Doukhobors rejected all the religious rites (as well as the clergy) of the Orthodox Church[iv] and therefore, took a moral stand against the church. In other words, we can assume that Orthodox  members and the clergy, decided to call the Doukhobors with this name because they were warriors fighting against the church, opposing the church’s religious rites. In short Dukhobortsy.[v] Before the term Dukhobortsy or Dukhobory was formed, the followers of this religious community were also given various names by government and church representatives: for example, they were originally called Ikonobortsy (iconoclasts), Abrahamites, Czech deists or Protestants.[vi] There is a plausible explanation for the latter names: members of the Doukhobor community did not recognize icons and many other church rituals from the beginning of the sect, so they were often confused with Protestants or believed to have formed their beliefs under the influence of foreign missionaries.[vii]

The Doukhobors’ self-awareness recommends a different interpretation of the name; they called themselves Doukhobors to emphasize their struggle for the Holy Spirit—hence the common translation of the name as “spirit wrestlers”—and at the same time, they believed they were sons of God.[viii] The spiritual center of the religious community was established in the village of Nikolskoye of Yekaterinoslav Province only in 1791, after the sect’s leadership submitted a document on their new religious theory to the governor of Kakhovsky.[ix] It should be noted at this stage that the followers of the community were persecuted and even exiled to Siberia and Finland from the very beginning of their existence as a community, from the time of Catherine the Great and Paul I.[x]

There are various opinions in the scholarly literature about the origin of this movement. There is, for instance, no consensus on the names of its creators. After becoming acquainted with the archival materials of the Russian Empire, we had the opportunity to clarify some points in this direction. For example, in certain sources the names of Siluan Kolesnikov or Illarion Pobirokhin are often given as the founders of the Doukhobor religious community. It should be noted that Kolesnikov lived in the region of Yekaterinoslav, and Pobirokhin in the province of Tambov. According to Ministry of State Property, as well as noted by Orest Nowicki, the first professor of philosophy at Kyiv University, as well as a theologian, historian and chairman of the Kiev Censorship Committee, who lived in the 19th century[xi] shown that the community was founded by Kolesnikov. Kolesnikov then met Pobirokhin, a wealthy merchant from Tambov, and encouraged him to create and disseminate new training in Tambov.[xii]

In 1793, when the Kharkiv court interrogated Doukhobor members, many of them made what the interrogators called anti-church and anti-government statements. Those interrogated in these procedures did not recognize the cross, the church, or the central government.[xiii] The Doukhobors believed that the church was just a material structure and was not created by God. Crosses and icons were not sacred to them; they believed that if they worshipped these symbols, their salvation would not be possible. Because, they reasoned, everyone is equal upon birth, the only leader and ruler is God. Therefore, they refused to pay taxes to the church.[xiv]

According to the teachings of the Doukhobors, the human soul is eternal and can pass from one body to another. Representatives of this community claimed that Jesus Christ was also an ordinary man; they considered him neither savior nor prophet, but only a historical figure. Only as a result of his proper struggle did the Holy Spirit appeared in him. After Jesus’ death, however, his spirit chose the Doukhobors and therefore, entered the bodies of the leaders of the community.[xv]

One of the main features of the Doukhobors’ religious teachings is that the community does not recognize the Bible as a holy book; they have their own holy book called Животная книга духоборцев (The Book of Life of the Doukhobors)[xvi] or Живая книга (The Living Book), the psalms of which were collected orally by V.D. Bonch-Bruyevich and then published in 1909. The significance of this book is due to the fact that it contains a collection of psalms and prayers of the Doukhobors (some passages from the psalms of David).

Another interesting aspect of this sect is that the leaders of the community proclaimed themselves Christ and appointed twelve apostles and twelve angels of death from their faithful disciples. The task of the former was to spread the religion, and the latter was to persecute those who, after accepting the doctrine, turned away from it and decided to withdraw from the community.[xvii] For this reason, Illarion Pobirokhin, who wanted to create a new Doukhobor community, converted to this new form of Christianity and appointed apostles for himself. Pobirokhin was later arrested and exiled to Siberia. He was succeeded by his son, Saveliy Kapustin, also known to the Doukhobors as Christ. Between 1801 and 1802, Alexander I issued decrees on the relocation of the Doukhobor community from the provinces of Yekaterinoslav and Kherson to the province of Tavriya and the territory of Molochnye Vody of the province of Melitopol.[xviii] This was followed in 1804 by another decree allowing the Doukhobors from the provinces of Tambov and Voronezh, as well as other parts of Russia, to settle in the area.[xix]

In the new lands, each Doukhobor was allocated 37 dessiatinas/desyatins of land, each family was granted 100 rubles, and they were exempted from taxes for 5 years. In total, 9 colonies with 3,985 people from 800 families were formed in the territory of Molochnye Vody (Milky Waters).[xx] The historian I. Semyonov notes in his book that Alexander I’s decree had three important purposes:

1.To consolidate the Doukhobors there by relocating the Christian population to the territories “reconquered” by Tsarist Russia in the south;

2.To isolate and alienate members of the Doukhobor community from those of the Orthodox Church;

3.To facilitate control over these sectarians.[xxi]

In addition, it should be noted that other religious sects, mainly Molokans and Mennoites, were also settled in the province of Tavriya, which confirms Semyonov’s interpretation. Another important event for the Doukhobors, as well as for the Molokans, took place in 1805 when Alexander I officially proclaimed a decree recognizing the Doukhobor faith as a religious movement.[xxii] In 1818, Alexander I visited the Doukhobor community in Melitopol district, the new settlement of Terpen’ye.[xxiii] These events show that during the reign of Alexander I, a moderate and liberal policy was pursued in relation to sects, including the Doukhobors. The community was given more freedom in the new settlements. They had their own management systems.

Resettlement of the Doukhobor Community to Transcaucasia

When Nicholas I succeeded Alexander I as tsar, the Russian Emipre’s attitude towards religious sects changed. During his rule, Nicholas I issued a decree on the deportation of the Doukhobor community to Transcaucasia. The forced migration of the Doukhobors to Transcaucasia was justified by an investigation into the supposed lawlessness of community leaders, particularly killings and violence against their fellow believers. The commission also claimed that some members of the community had been killed and their bodies had been thrown into the Molochnye Vody (Milky Waters) River.[xxiv] However, if we take into account that at that time the deportation of Molokans and other sects to Transcaucasia had begun, then we can say that these accusations were just a pretext for exile. The tsar’s intention was to consolidate sectarians, again away from the Orthodox population, in the newly conquered territories of Transcaucasia, and the Doukhobors became part of this policy.

However, despite the decree of Nicholas I in 1839 on the deportation of the Doukhobors from Melitopol district to Transcaucasia,[xxv] the resettlement process was postponed for some time due to a lack of land. According to the decree, those who testified in court that they did not want to renounce their religion were to be deported. Those who accepted Orthodoxy were allowed to remain in their homes. According to the Ministry of Internal Affairs, 217 Doukhobors renounced their religion and officially converted to Orthodoxy.[xxvi]

The exodus of the Doukhobors to Transcaucasia was organized in three stages. In the first stage, which began in 1841, Akhalkalaki district of the province of Georgian-Imereti in the territory of today’s Georgia was chosen as the settlement. Up to 4,000 people were expected to be relocated each year. Out of the first group of 795 Doukhobors only 773 were able to reach Tbilisi on September 1, 1841.[xxvii] The whole process of resettlement continued until 1845.

Later, part of the Doukhobor community was resettled to the eponymous district of the province of Yelizavetpol, located in today’s Azerbaijan. After the occupation in 1878, the province was delimited and the Doukhobors settled in the area. According to the statistics of 1887, there were 12,500 Doukhobors in Transcaucasia inhabiting a total of 1,400 houses. Of those, 6,600 Doukhobors lived in Akhalkalaki district, 700 in Borchaly district, 2,400 in Yelizavetpol district, and 2,800 Doukhobors lived in the province of Kars. [xxviii]

If we pay attention to the Doukhobor community in Transcaucasia, we can see that this community was led for many years mainly by the Kalmykov family. In Transcaucasia, first Illarion Kalmykov (1803-1841) was appointed head of the community in 1840s, and then until 1854 the community was headed by his wife, Melania; after Pyotr Kalmykov (1838-1864), who led the Doukhobors in Transcaucasia from 1854, starting from the age of 18, died in 1864, his wife Lukerya Kalmykova (1841-1886) took his leadership position.[xxix] Lukerya was the last ruler of the Kalmykov dynasty, a descendant of Illarion Pobirokhin of the 18th century. Therefore, the Doukhobors in Transcaucasia can undoubtedly be characterized as a dynastically ruled society living in the form of a commune.

The Kalmykov dynasty founded an important institution through which it controlled the affairs of the community. After the Doukhobors were relocated to the province of Sloboda in Ukraine, members of this community established a religious center called the Orphanage or Sion. One of these centers was in the village of Terpenye in Molochnye Vody (Milky Waters), and after the Doukhobors were exiled to Transcaucasia, a similar center was built in the village of Gorelovka in Akhalkalaki district.[xxx] Saveliy Kapustin (1743-1820), who lived in the Orphanage in the village of Terpenye and brutally ruled his community there, was the first leader of that house. Kapustin would often go out on Zion’s balcony and address his community from there. In such speeches, he claimed: “I am the Christ, your God. This is as true just as the sky is above my head, just as I step on the ground with my feet. Now bow down before me and love me very much!”[xxxi] The main task of this center was to collect food from the community and distribute it among the poor, especially the elderly, who were fed at the expense of the center. The Orphanage had at its disposal a choir of girls, apostles, judges of village elders, and, of course, a leader whom the community called Christ.

Over the course of the century, we can see how extensive power was concentrated in the hands of one family – first, Pobirokhin and his son Kapustin, and then the Kalmyks. Naturally, the question arises as to why the surnames of Pobirokhin’s successors did not match. Before the move to Transcaucasia, Doukhobor children retained their mother’s surname, but after the move, they began taking their father’s names, hence, the continuation of the Kalmykov surname. The leaders of the Doukhobor community were able to convince their followers that they had been chosen and that holy spirits had entered their bodies.

It is no secret that the Doukhobors were against the Russian state and secular states in general from their foundation as a communityand therefore, did not want to pay taxes and serve in the military. However, the situation changed after the Doukhobors were moved to Transcaucasia, especially under Lukerya Kalmykova’s leadership. During the Russo-Turkish war of 1877-1878, the Doukhobors provided the tsar’s army with about 4,000 chariots to carry weapons, fodder, and foodstuffs for an extra fee. In addition, hospitals were set up in villages to provide medical care to wounded soldiers.[xxxii]

Life of the Doukhobors in Slavyanka village and Vereshchagin‘s observations

During his visit to the Caucasus in 1865, the famous realist painter, whose subject was often imperial conquest, Vasily Vasilyevich Vereshchagin visited the village of Slavyanka in Yelizavetpol Province (now Gadabay district), inhabited by Doukhobors, and observed how community members adapted to their lives after resettlement. The painter presented his observations in the form of notes, many of them quite critical. The adaptation of Doukhobors to the new conditions, as he notes, was not an easy process in either Elizavetopol or Akhalkalaki districts.

At the beginning of Vereshchagin’s notes, he tells readers about the clothing of the Doukhobors, their settlements and reasons for choosing some places for settlement over others, as well as their ancient homeland in Russia, and provided general information about them. Vereshchagin pointed out that there were many errors in the psalms read by the Doukhobors. These psalms had been passed down orally from generation to generation, and that had led to a change in some of the psalms, compared to what Vereshchagin believed to be the authentic psalms of Orthodox liturgy. He does give the Doukhobors their say. According to him, the Doukhobors were convinced that the psalms they read in the assemblies had been preserved in whole and did not differ from those read by their ancestors. According to the author, the church was clean, large, but the ceiling was low, there was a Russian stove, the windows were covered with cloth, and there were many parishioners inside. The men sat apart from the women, the young men stood, and the elders took their places. Everyone recited one prayer after another, and if one of them made a mistake, it was immediately corrected.[xxxiii] Prayers were offered not only on Sundays but also in the evenings throughout the week and even on Saturdays.[xxxiv]

Molokan settlements were located not far from Slavyanka. The Molokans, like the Doukhobors, were resettled there because of their religious beliefs. In his report, Vereshchagin made an interesting comparison between the two groups: “For example, wine and tobacco were forbidden in Molokans, they neither drank nor smoked publicly, however, they did not say ‘no’ to forbidden fruits in secret. Doukhobors did not follow this: they openly used alcohol, tobacco, and even grew mahogany. Molokans sometimes did not shy away from trickery, even theft, but both cases were so rare among the Doukhobors that they could be ignored. Interestingly, the Doukhobors considered that the Molokans had renounced their beliefs, while the Molokans believed that the Doukhobors had renounced theirs, and the latter possibility was closer to the truth.”[xxxv] Vereshchagin also wrote that the Molokans and Doukhobors hated each other at that time. As we can see from Vereshchagin’s notes, the Doukhobors maintained their religious rules after more than 20 years in the new settlement. Although there were a few differences, they largely behaved as they did in Ukraine before.

In his notes, Vereshchagin also drew attention to small clashes between the locals and the newly arrived Doukhobors. However, according to S. A. Inikova, after the establishment of economic relations between the Doukhobors and the locals, these quarrels ended.[xxxvi]

Transformation of Peter Verigin and the Doukhobors

After the Doukhobors were exiled to Transcaucasia, the community was transformed. As mentioned above, the center of the community was the Orphanage in Gorelovka village of Akhalkalaki district. The last leader of the Kalmyk family was Lukerya, who had no children, but she had a brother named Mikhail Gubanov. However, it was not immediately clear that her leadership should go to her brother because she had achieved her position only by virtue of her husband’s death.  Although Lukerya Kalmykova saw Peter Verigin as her successor, part of the community, mainly rich Doukhobors and elders who were not used to having their leaders appointed, were against Peter Verigin. Since Lukerya Kalmykova’s death left her brother Gubnov as her sole hereditary heir, the elders decided in his favour. Moreover, after Kalmykova’s death, the question of legal succession was also raised. Mikhail Gubadov and Alexei Zubkov go to the district court of Tiflis and win the case, according to which Gubanov becomes the legal heir of Lukerya Kalmykova.[xxxvii]

In 1882, Lukerya visited the village of Slavyanka, inhabited by the Doukhobors, where he met Peter Verigin, a young man from a wealthy family. Verigin was only 25 at the time, and he was married. However, Lukerya offered him to become her secretary and move to the community center of Gorelovka village.[xxxviii] Peter agreed and soon became Kalmykova’s right-hand man. Lukerya herself had a strong enough authority in the community, was a dominant character, and administered the Orphanage’s small budget.[xxxix]

The Doukhobors became rich while helping the Russian military during the Russo-Turkish war of 1878-1879 when they transported weapons mainly in their chariots and placed the wounded in special infirmaries. The Doukhobors also fought directly in the war.[xl] According to some sources, the Doukhobors were promised lands from the region of Kars in case of victory in exchange for their participation.[xli]After the victory, some of the Transcaucasian Doukhobors moved to the newly formed province of Kars, though it is unclear whether that is because the tsar’s supposed promise of land was realized or whether it was merely a choice on their part.

In 1886, Alexander III issued a decree on compulsory military service, and from February 1887, the decision also applied to the territories inhabited by the Doukhobors in Transcaucasia.[xlii] In the 1880s, there were few cases of refusal of military service among the Doukhobors. Inikova notes that in the early days of the sect, Doukhobor men served in the military and even took part in some military operations in the Russian Empire. However, there were cases when the Doukhobors refused to fight and abandoned their weapons on the battlefield.[xliii] From the early 1890s onwards, however, quiet protests against military service began.

A few years before the protests, important community events took place that directly to increased refusals to perform military service. The sudden death of the 46-year-old Lukerya Kalmykova in 1886 caused a quarrel within the community because her successor was unclear; two hostile parties were formed. The so-called Large group sided with Verigin, and the Small group, supported by village elder Alexei Zubkov, sided with Lukerya’s brother Mikhail Gubanov.[xliv] Verigin and Zubkov had no special love for one another from their first meeting, and certainly a succession crisis pitting the two of them against one another did not help their relationship.

At that time, most of the Transcaucasian Doukhobors appealed to the local governor, as well as to the deputy governor of the Caucasus to appoint Peter Verigin as community leader. In January 1887, Verigin was expected by many to be made leader of the Doukhobors.[xlv] But Verigin did not have a passport, he was not from the village of Gorelovka, and it was illegal for him to stay in the village after Kalmykova’s death because of Russia’s internal passport system that tied people to their place of registry. Exploiting the opportunity, Alexei Zubkov reported to the local police that Verigin was living illegally in the village of Gorelovka. Following this complaint, Verigin was expelled and sent back to his native village of Slavyanka. In late June 1887, the head of the Akhalkalaki district informed the governor of Tbilisi that Verigin had unexpectedly returned to Akhalkalaki without a passport and asked the police for permission to visit the Doukhobors. He was sent back to Slavyanka. Nevertheless, Verigin later contacted the Doukhobors of the village of Gorelovka with the help of other mediators, as well as via telegram, urging them not to obey the local government and to take charge of Kalmykova’s property. As a result, the 27-year-old Verigin was exiled to Shengura in the province of Arkhangelsk in 1889, and then to Siberia until 1895.[xlvi]

Despite Verigin’s absence, the struggle for power between the Large Party and the Small Party continued. A lawsuit was filed in a local court. The trial ended with the defeat of the Large Party in 1893, and thus, the property of both Orphanages, including the budget of the community, would be placed in Gubanov’s hands.[xlvii] After Verigin’s deportation to Arkhangelsk and his defeat in court, the community began to radicalize politically. While in exile, Verigin became acquainted with the work of Leo Tolstoy.[xlviii] He also kept in touch with the Transcaucasian Doukhobor community, sent ambassadors new rules and suggestions, which he had learned from Tolstoy’s teachings.

Because of his new acquaintance with Tolstoy’s late anarchist work, Verigin’s appeals to his community became increasingly radical and therefore, displeased many members of the local government. As the Transcaucasian Doukhobors were in close contact with each other, Verigin’s ideas widely spread among the members of the provinces of Kars and Yelizavetpol. Verigin spread his ideas through Alexei Vorobyov among the Transcaucasian Doukhobors. Vorobyov visited Verigin several times, and when he returned to the Caucasus, he shared Verigin’s instructions. However, during one of his visits, Vorobyov suspected that Verigin had joined the teachings of Tolstoyism, and therefore, thought that he had betrayed his religion.[xlix] These accuations eventually led to a second split in the community. Starting from 1893, it was possible to distinguish Vorobyov’s followers from Verigin’s followers (they are also called fasting people).[l]

The Influence of Tolstoyism on Verigin and the Doukhobors

The influence of Tolstoyism on the Doukhobors, especially the influence of Leo Tolstoy on the Doukhobor community, was first discussed in an 1886 report by Konstantin Pobedonostsev, the Ober-Procurator of the Holy Synod. The report also assesses the views of other scholars on Tolstoy’s teachings, noting that those teachings not only undermined the ideas underlying the Orthodox Church and other permissible faiths in the empire, but also obstructed the state order.[li] After that, government and Orthodox Church bodies began to persecute Tolstoy; they observed him closely and regularly provided information about him to the superior officers.

According to late post-conversion Tolstoy, the coexistence of the state and Christianity could not be successful, as the former is in itself a destructive force.[lii] Only one of them would be able to exist. Tolstoy believed that the state and the church were corrupt because of the violence they committed by various means. Thus, he was against all forms of violence (what he called “non-resistance to evil”); hence, against the state or government in itself. He also believed that private property should be avoided or abolished, and instead, a new society should be created in which everything is shared. Tolstoy’s ideas about the new society were anarchic. Basic values and feelings, such as love, friendship, and generosity, that is, all the positive challenges existing in religion, had to form the grounds of a new society.[liii] However, Tolstoy was against organized, institutional religion because he at that time thought it was a fraudulent human invention.[liv]

Proponents of the new doctrine, called Tolstoyism, urged the Doukhobors to not recognize the emperor, to not obey the government, to not pay taxes, and to not serve in the army.[lv] In the 1890s data of the Holy Synod, it is claimed that Tolstoy’s new teachings were already widespread in the provinces of Kharkiv, Voronezh, Kursk, Poltava, Yekaterinoslav and Kyiv, as well as among the Transcaucasian Doukhobors.[lvi] According to the first procurator of the Holy Synod, the period when this doctrine spread among the Transcaucasian Doukhobors covered the years 1894-1895.[lvii]

Prince Dmitry Khilkov, a staunch disciple of Tolstoyism and a former soldier in the Caucasus, became acquainted with the Doukhobors and their teachings in the early 90s of the 19th century. After he left his service in the Caucasus, he and Alexandr Bodyansky began to correct the catechism of the community by writing a religious book, Исповедная песнь христианина (The Faithful Song of Christianity). At that time, certain points related to Tolstoy’s teachings were included in their corrected version of the catechism.[lviii]

According to Major General Vladimir Dmitrievich Surovchev, one of the leaders of the Transcaucasian military district in 1894, the Doukhobors received the new teaching through Verigin. By adopting the new teaching, the following rules for creating a new society were established:

Complete denial of the supreme power of the Russian Empire; in general, denial of any state power by refusing to comply with the requirements of law; refusal to pay natural and monetary duties; refusal of military service; denial of marriage, cohabitation and family; prohibition of eating meat, consumption of alcohol and tobacco, drinking tea; civil equality, provision for the needs of the poor by the rich; formation of a general treasury at the expense of half of all community members’ assets/income; joint cultivation of land; organization of trade unions; abolition of the use of animals for bearing loads; non-employment of women and girls; selling of all horses and cattle; abandonment of other communities and Doukhobor parties.[lix]

The new set of rules and the new doctrine, which became ever more widespread among the majority of the Transcaucasian community, were painted in the political shades of anarchism. This new Doukhobor community, influenced by Tolstoy’s teachings, has been often compared to a communist society/communism.[lx]


In the 1890s, the Doukhobors sold all their cattle in the Caucasus, and members’ money began to flow into the Orphanage’s general budget. Then the capital was distributed equally among all the members of the community. In addition, members of the new doctrine became vegetarians, so in some sources, they are called “fasting,” a reference to the required vegetarian diet Orthodox believers observe during fasts, or Veriginists.[lxi]

In 1894, conflicts broke out between Doukhobors and dozens of government officials because the Transcaucasian Doukhobors did not recognize the local government in their settlement. In a message sent with his weapon, Verigin asked all members of the community to destroy the weapons they owned and his, promise not to kill, and to refuse military service.[lxii] Doukhobor elders also urged the community to burn their weapons and then declare that they would no longer serve in the army, for they too wanted to show their adherence to non-violence. Meanwhile, the Large Party Doukhobors also refused to recognize the tsar.[lxiii]

On April 5, 1895, eleven mercenaries from the province of Elizavetpol surrendered their weapons at Easter and refused to take part in a parade organized by the Orthodox Church.[lxiv] Later, many other Doukhobors joined the collective action. These events culminated in 1895 when all Transcaucasian Doukhobors revolted and demonstratively burned the weapons they owned.[lxv]

The Doukhobor protest was ruthlessly suppressed by the Cossacks, and as a result, the Doukhobors were exiled to Kakheti (now in the east of Georgia). Moreover, in the sources of Tiflis District Court Prosecutor’s Office do not rule out that the Cossacks’ violence extended to Doukhobor women, and that the Cossacks killed some community members in the village of Gorelovka.[lxvi]

The protests of 1895 resulted in the deportation of about 4,000 Doukhobors from Akhalkalaki district to other parts of Georgia. The most active supporters were exiled to Siberia, but they were then allowed to return to their former places of residence under certain conditions.[lxvii]

The events in Transcaucasia worried Tolstoy and his followers, so they began to seek new places to relocate Verigin’s supporters. The ruthless actions of the military against the protests and the disobedience of the Doukhobors in Gorelovka accelerated this process.

Tolstoy and his associates initially considered relocating the community to Russian Turkestan and China. Tolstoy was more in favor of relocating them to Canada because of its proximity to Russia and the similarity of the climate compared with their previous settlements. Ultimately though, the main factor in the decision was Canada’s lack of compulsory military service.

The first group of about 1.139 Veriginists was stationed on the then-British island of Cyprus on August 14, 1898. The climate had a negative effect on the newcomers, so they turned to Tolstoy for support. Khilkov and Tolstoy continued to work on the possible relocation of the Doukhobors to America or Canada. Khilkov finally contacted the American Quakers and managed to obtain financial support for further relocation. The cooperation soon bore fruit, as the Canadian government welcomed the relocation of the Doukhobors to Manitoba, Canada.[lxviii]

The American Quakers supported the resettlement financially. Tolstoy himself made a significant contribution in the amount of about 60.000 rubles to the process. He did this by publishing some of his works for an additional fee. For example, for Воскресенье (Sunday), he received 12.000 rubles and contributed it to the support of the community. Further, he kept in touch with friends and placed advertisements in various newspapers and magazines to launch a call for donations.[lxix]

It is worth noting that the tsarist government received a written document stating that the Doukhobors would not return to Russia in the future.

The second group of Doukhobors, a total of 2.070, was sent to Canada from the port of Batumi in December 1898; they were followed by a third group of 1.973 people, accompanied by Sergei Tolstoy, Tolstoy’s eldest son, on January 2, 1899. On April 30, 1899, 2.309 Doukhobors left Kars for Canada. On June 23, 1899, 550 Doukhobors arrived in Batumi, and the following day another 542 Doukhobors arrived to make the trip to Canada.[lxx]

The traditional Doukhobors, those who did not join the Verigin movement, remained in place. About 8.500 Doukhobors in total chose to live according to Verigin’s new teachings in Canada. According to the data of 1899, the resettlement had a serious impact on the population of Doukhobors in the Caucasus: there were already a total of 1.492 Doukhobors in the villages of Yelizavetpol, Novo-Gorelovka, Novo-Spasskoye, Novo-Troitskoye, and Slavyanka. Only 3.213 Doukhobors remained in Akhalkalaki District, in the villages of Bogdanovka, Spasskoye, Orlovka, Yefremovka, Troitskoye, Rodionovka, Tambovka and Gorelovka. The total number of Doukhobors in Borchaly district was 770, and in the province of Kars – 675. The total number of Doukhobors left in Transcaucasia was slightly more than 6.000.[lxxi]


This article analyzed the history of the Dukhobor religious sect, their deportation to Transcaucasia, and consequently the transformation of the community. This analysis allows us to draw the following conclusions:

From the first days of its existence, the Doukhobor community practiced pacifism, and therefore did not recognize the existence of the Russian state, which often waged wars. For the Doukhobors, the real ruler was God. Their community structure was based by religious conviction. In the late 19th century, a renewed pacifist movement among the Transcaucasian Dukhobors resulted in anti-government protests.

The discontent with military conscription among members of the Transcaucasian Doukhobors acquired a renewed pacifist tone as a result of the spread of new Tolstoyan teachings by influential people among the Doukhobors. The principal man who accepted Tolstoy’s ideas and passed them on to the Doukhobors was Peter Verigin, the chosen successor to the last of the Kalmykov spiritual leaders of the Transcaucasian Doukhobors, while in exile in Arkhangelsk. After Verigin’s deportation from Transcaucasia, he exercised enormous influence from afar, ushering in through his missives systematic changes to the dogmas of the Doukhobor community. The religious views of many Doukhobors were adapted to, reinterpreted and/or replaced by Tolstoy’s more anarchist political ideas. Thanks to the Doukhobors personalist system of leadership and the authority invested in the leader, Verigin was able to spread Tolstoyan ideas among his followers with considerable success. The transformation among the Dukhobors was also relatively easy because the vast majority of the Doukhobors were illiterate, and educated people with power in the community had a strong influence on them. Tolstoyism was studied in detail by people from the community’s rich families, who were well-educated.

The transformation of Doukhobors and their voluntary migration to Canada dealt a blow to Tsarist Russia’s resettlement policy in Transcaucasia.

Works Cited

Беженцева, Алла. Страна Духобория. — Тбилиси. Международный культурно-просветительский Союз «Русский клуб», 2007. p. 51. Exact address on the Internet:, last clickthrough: 27.02.2022.

Бонч-Бруевич В. Д. «Разъяснение жизни христиан: и Был у насхристиансиротский дом». Материалы к изучению русского сектанства. Выпуск второй. Нр. 51. Хунтс. 1901.

Бонч-Бруевич В.Д. Изложение миросозерцания духоборцев. Животная книга духоборцев. С-Петербург. 1909.

Бонч-Бруевич В.Д. Избранные сочинения. Т. 1. О религиирелигиозном сектантстве и церкви. Москва. 1959.

Духоборы и Толстовцы. Журнал «Полтавские Епархиальные Ведомости». Нр. 7. 1 Марта 1903 г.

Иникова С.А. История пацифистского движения в секте духоборов (XVIII-XX вв.). В: Павлова Т. А.: Долгий путь российского пацифизма. Российская Академия Наук. 1997.

Иникова С.А. «Духовные истоки и начальный период истории духоборчества». İnternetdə dəqiq ünvanı:, son keçid: 15.04.2020.

Кушнерёв И.Н. Духоборы и Молокане в Закавказье. Рассказы Художника В.В. Верещагина. С рисунками. Москва. 1990. İnternetdə dəqiq ünvanı:Верещагин%20-%20Духоборы%20и%20молокане.pdf, son keçid: 19.02.2022.

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Терлецкий В. Н. Очерки, исследования и статьи по сектантству. Вып. 1. Общие понятия о сектанстве. Духоборы и толстовцы. Павловское “страшное дело”. Секта “иоаннитов” / В.Н. Терлицкий. – Полтава : электр. тип. Г.И. Маркевича, 1911.

Arndt, Augustin. Die Sekten Der Russischen Kirche.” Zeitschrift Für Katholische Theologie, vol. 39, no. 1, [Schriftleitung (General Editor), Echter Verlag, Katholisch-Theologischen Fakultät der Universität Innsbruck], 1915, S. 65–97. İntetnetdə dəqiq ünvanı:, son keçid: 19.02.202

Brenton Breyfogle, Nicholas. Heretics and Colonizers: Forging Russia’s Empire in the South Caucasus. Cornell University Press. New York. 2005.

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Notes and References

[i]See: Иникова С.А: История пацифистского движения в секте духоборцев (XVIII-XX вв.). В: Павлова Т.А.. Долгий путь российского пацифизма: идеал международного и внутреннего мира в религиозно-философской и общественно-политической мысли России. ИВИ РАН. 1997.

[ii]See: Иникова  С.А.  “Духовные  истоки  и  начальный  период  истории  духоборчества”. Exact address on the Internet:, last visited: 01.02.2022.

[iii] Лопухин И. В. Некоторые черты в обществе духоборцев, рукопись. Москва. 1843. S. 1. Exact address on the Internet:, last clickthrough: 18.02.2022.

[iv] Российский Государственный Исторический Архив (sonra РГИА), фонд 1291, опись 50, дело 23, лист 7.

[v] Masimov, Asif. Ein kurzer Überblick über die Geschichte von Duchoborzen und deren Verbannung nach Transkaukasien.Exact address on the Internet: Last clickthrough: 14.02.2022.

[vi]See: Arndt, Augustin. “Die Sekten Der Russischen Kirche.” Zeitschrift Für Katholische Theologie, vol. 39, no. 1, [Schriftleitung (General Editor), Echter Verlag, Katholisch-Theologischen Fakultät der Universität Innsbruck], 1915, S.66. Exact address on the Internet:, last clickthrough: 19.02.2022.

[vii] See: Новицкий О. Духоборы: их история и вероучение. Киев. 1882. S. 5-7.

[viii] Ibid. S. 26.

[ix]Записка поданная духоборцами Екатеринославской губернии в 1791 году губернатору Каховскому. Exact address on the Internet:, last clickthrough: 11.04.2020.

[x] See: Новицкий О. S. 46.

[xi] See: Новицкий О. 22.

[xii] РГИА. Ф. 1291. Оп. 50. Д. 23.Л. 7.

[xiii] See: Лебедев А. Духоборцы в Слободской Украине. Харьков. 1890. S. 6.

[xiv] Ibid. 5-6.

[xv] See: Духоборы и Толстовцы. Журнал «Полтавские Епархиальные Ведомости». Нр. 7. 1 Марта 1903 г. S. 311-342.

[xvi] Бонч-Бруевич В.Д. Изложение миросозерцания духоборцев. Животная книга духоборцев. С-Петербург. 1909.

[xvii] See: Arndt, Augustin. 69.

[xviii] РГИА. Ф. 1291. О. 50. Д. 23. Л. 8.

[xix] Ibid.

[xx] See: Arndt, Augustin. 68.

[xxi] Семенов И. История Закавказских молокан и духоборов. Еревань. 2001. 61.

[xxii] Указ Государя Императора Александра I. Журнал «Слово Веры». 2006. 2.

[xxiii] РГИА. Ф. 1291. О. 50. Д. 23. Л. 10.

[xxiv] See: Терлецкий, В.Н. Очерки, исследования и статьи по сектантству. Вып. 1. Общие понятия о сектанстве. Духоборы и толстовцы. Павловское “страшное дело”. Секта “иоаннитов” / В.Н. Терлицкий. – Полтава : электр. тип. Г.И. Маркевича, 1911. 46-47.

[xxv] РГИА. Ф. 384. Оп. 2. Д. 977. Л. 10.

[xxvi]РГИА. Ф. 384. Оп. 2. Д. 977. Л. 2-5.

[xxvii] Ibid. Л. 24.

[xxviii] РГИА. Ф. 1291. О. 50. Д. 23. Л. 10.

[xxix] Ibid. Л. 10.

[xxx] See: Терлецкий, В.Н. S. 48.

[xxxi] Ibid. 44.

[xxxii] Беженцева, Алла. Страна Духобория. — Тбилиси. Международный культурно-просветительский Союз «Русский клуб», 2007. S. 51. Exact address on the Internet:, last clickthrough: 27.02.2022.

[xxxiii] See: Кушнерёв И.Н. Духоборы и Молокане в Закавказье. Рассказы Художника В.В. Верещагина. С рисунками. Москва. 1990. С. 7. Exact address on the Internet:Верещагин%20-%20Духоборы%20и%20молокане.pdf, last clickthrough: 19.02.2022.

[xxxiii]See: Новицкий О. Духоборы: их история и вероучение. Киев. 1882.

[xxxiv]See: Masimov, Asif. Ein kurzer Überblick über die Geschichte von Duchoborzen und deren Verbannung nach Transkaukasien.Exact address on the Internet: Last clickthrough: 14.02.2022.

[xxxv] Ibid. 16.

[xxxvi]See: Inikova С.А. Взаимоотношение и хозяйственно-культурные контакты закавказских духоборцев с местным населением. S. 6. İnternetdə dəqiq ünvan:, last clickthrough: 19.02.2022.

[xxxvii] Национальный Архив Грузии (hereinafter “НАГ”). Ф. 115. Д. 193. Обр. 7, Л. 8.

[xxxviii] РГИА. Ф. 1291. Оп. 50. Д. 23. Л. 12.

[xxxix] НАГ. Ф. 115. Д. 193. Л. 7 обр.

[xl] Иникова С.А. История пацифистского движения в секте духоборов  (XVIII-XX вв.). Российская Академия Наук. 1997. S. 127.

[xli] Ibid. 127.

[xlii] Bax:Ibid. 128.

[xliii] Иникова С.А. История пацифистского движения в секте духоборов  (XVIII-XX вв.). В: Павлова Т. А.: Долгий путь российского пацифизма. Российская Академия Наук. 1997. 122-125.

[xliv] See: Бонч-Бруевич В. Д. «Разъяснение жизни христиан: и Был у насхристиансиротский дом». Материалы к изучению  русского сектанства. Выпуск второй. Нр. 51. Хунтс. 1901. 7.

[xlv] РГИА. Ф. 1291. Оп. 50. Д. 23. Л. 14.

[xlvi] Ibid. Л. 14-16.

[xlvii] Терлецкий В. Н. 54.

[xlviii] See: Palmieri, Aurelio. “The Russian Doukhobors and Their Religious Teachings.” The Harvard Theological Review 8, no. 1 (1915): 62–81. Exact address on the Internet:, last clickthrough: 15.02.2022.

[xlix] Терлецкий В. Н. 61.

[l] Ibid. 58.

[li] Пругавин А.С. О Льве Толстом и о толстовцах: Очерки, воспоминания, материалы. 1911. Москва. S. 179-181.

[lii] See: Herlth, Jens: Staat und Gesellschaft, in: George, Martin/ Herlth, Jens/ Münch, Christian, Schmid, Ulrich (Hg.): Tolstoj als theologischer Denker und Kirchenkritiker, Göttingen, 2015, S. 450.

[liii] Ibid. 447-460.

[liv] РГИА. Ф. 1405. Оп. 542. Д. 851. Л. 5.

[lv]Ibid. 203-204.

[lvi]Ibid. 193.

[lvii]Ibid. 203-204.

[lviii] Терлецкий В. Н. S. 57.

[lix]РГИА. Ф. 1405. Оп. 542. Д. 851. Л. 6.

[lx]Пругавин А.С. О Льве Толстом и о толстовцах: Очерки, воспоминания, материалы. 1911. Москва; Бонч-Бруевич В.Д. Избранные сочинения. Т. 1. О религии, религиозном сектанстве и церkви. Мосвка. 1959.

[lxi] Пругавин А. С. 206.

[lxii] Терлецкий В. Н. 68.

[lxiii] РГИА. Ф. 1291. Оп. 50. Д. 23. Л. 23-24.

[lxiv]Ibid. Л. 24.

[lxv]See: Camfield, Graham. Amoung Russian Sects and Revolutionist, The extraordinary life of Price D. A. Khilkov. Bern. 2015. S.135.

[lxvi] НАГ. Ф. 115. Д. 193. Л. 6.

[lxvii] Ibid. 131.

[lxviii] РГИА. Ф. 1291. Оп. 50. Д. 23. Л. 41-43.

[lxix]Ibid., Л. 44-45.

[lxx] Ibid., Л. 43-44.

[lxxi] РГИА. Ф. 796. Оп. 180. Д. 5029. Л. 1-2.