Following the defeat of the last Mongol Khan, Tsarist expansion into Siberia and the East took the predictably ghastly form of conquest and subjugation. Western Russia arrived as a conqueror and enforcer, determined to stamp its authority upon the indigenous tribes of the many far-reaching regions that lay before them. Fierce and capable Cossack forces were the outriders, leading the way into new territories, establishing outpost forts and ensuring that a set quantity of ‘fur tributes’ or “yasak” from the natives was maintained in the process, all for the honour (and profit) of Siberia’s new, imperial rulers. That was standard practice throughout all conquests, as Irina on Great Russian Gifts points out, “…All of the Russian leaders (from Vladimir the Blessed, or “Saint Vladimir”, to the modern Russian leaders) have demanded tributes paid to the Russian leadership in exchange for economic cooperation and peaceful political alliances.” A strange, brutally enforced peace, then.
The initial tactic was to try and make the locals an offer they couldn’t refuse – something akin to, “We’re in control now, give us everything we want, from the ground upwards: or else”. Why launch into a costly attack if the natives were prepared to simply roll over? Of course, the acceptance of such a proposal would be no guarantee of, frankly, anything and many were not prepared to consider such an outrage in any case, regardless of relative technologies, weapons, or supposed “civilisation.” So refusal and catastrophe would often follow. Slowly, through violence and cruelty committed over decades against some indigenous peoples, the Tsar’s Cossacks carved their way East.
In return for the ‘tributes’ and forced (or refused) compliance, the interlopers bought “gifts” of their own. Murder, torture, rape (a remarkably prolific and often unmentioned weapon of war), slavery, theft, the acquisition of land resources (theft again), unknown and horrific forms of disease – notably the introduction of virulent, lethal, disfiguring smallpox and more – were all visited upon the native Siberians for a range of perceived sleights. Then, with no sense of irony: Christianity.
As previously mentioned, we in Europe have been no better: witness the history of our cancerous intrusions into the Americas, the Africas, and the Antipodes. We’ll invade your land, steal from you, violate and murder you; and then tell you about right and wrong. All with a straight face.
Cossack ‘staging posts’ (initially: forts) were established with the Eastwards push. From here, acquisitive bids could then be launched into ‘new’ tribal territories whilst seized land was simultaneously defended. These ‘posts’ grew from forts into cities/towns and still remain extant today. Tyumen was built in 1586 and Tobolsk in 1587, the latter becoming the ancient Siberian capital and centre of operations for the Russian “expansion” as a whole. To the North: Beryozovo (now several territories) and Mangazeya (1593/1601) allowed conquest of the Nenets. To the East: Surgut and Tara (both in 1594) aided the suppression of the Narym Ostyaks.
So it continued: The Daurs experienced a half-century of murder, the Amur peoples knew the invading Cossacks as “lubochka“ or demons – this being the only title that equated with the sheer depth of barbarity displayed. The Koryak, Kamchadal, Chukchi, Itelmen, Vogules, Aleuts and Yakut peoples experienced prolonged slaughter and abuse; a mere precursor to the rape, slavery and meat-hook impalement inflicted upon the latter when yasak tributes were not upheld.
Many more, not mentioned here, suffered immensely and unimaginably. The combined slaughter was often genocidal in its prolonged ferocity and toll. It could easily result in 40% population losses per nation, and in the worst cases lead to the complete eradication of whole indigenous groups by the mid 19th Century. That’s the human cost alone: the catastrophic toll upon wildlife -principally for furs- is another, parallel horror heading towards extinction-level in itself.
It didn’t go completely as desired for the Cossack-lead Russian expansion though. Amazingly, rather than garnering defeat; the ongoing brutal assault against the Chukchis only strengthened their resolve and ferocity against Cossack/Russian oppression. Despite an explicit order from Empress Elizabeth of Russia to commit absolute and complete genocide against them (and the Koryaks) in 1742; the Chukchis resisted against all the odds. They captured and killed the Russian commander: Major Dimitry Pavlutskiy, forcing the abandonment of the entire imperial campaign. Joining forces with the Koraks, Itelmens, and Yukagirs, the Chukchis were collectively able to drive the Russian presence from their own regions, at least by 1746.
Today there is little evidence of those early, Siberian genocides (and that’s no accident of course) but thankfully enough disseminated, documented knowledge remains, so that along with other “civilised”, sub-animalistic barbarities; they won’t be (and can’t be) forgotten.
After the Imperial excursion into the East; the Communists would follow, but that’s a miserable tale for another occasion.