Sarichioi - A 19th Century Enigma

excerpts The village of Sarichioi is situated in southeastern Romania, in the region of Dobruja. In Turkish, Sarichioi means 'yellow' or 'sunny' village (sary – 'yellow, sunny' and köj – 'village'), but in spite of its Turkish name, the village is inhabited by Russian Old Believers. Until the end of the 20th century, we knew almost nothing about the historical past of our village, one of the biggest rural settlements in the area. Usually, as time goes on, a part of the historical information remains in the collective memory of the population; it is transmitted from one generation to another, and gradually it is transformed into legends. But at the end of the19th and the beginning of the 20th century, we were not told anything about our forefathers' previous life. Considering their particular care for traditions and the old orthodox religion, it is difficult to explain the lack of historical information in the collective memory of the villagers of Sarichioi. Another strange fact: the last centuries' documents and travelers' notes, used by many authors in their works, nearly ignored the village of Sarichioi. Except for those written at the request of the authorities and of the official church, with the purpose of slandering the whole Old Believers' movement. There is no doubt that such a strange occurrence can only make people wonder and think that there must be something about it! Probably an enigma! In his Traveler's Book (Sejahatname), Evlya Tchelebi indicates that in 1651 he visited in the region (kazaua) of Babadag about a hundred big villages, inhabited by Tartars. Sarichioi was one of them. In 1740, the ethnic structure of our village changed entirely, and Sarichioi became a Nekrasov Cossacks' stronghold. The Cossacks had come there by boats from the lower Kuban River and the Azov Sea area, under the treaty with the Ottoman Empire authorities. Originally, they were Russian peasants, who did not accept the document reducing them to serfs (Sobornoe Uloženie, 1649), issued by the Czar Alexey Mikhailovich. The Nekrasov Cossacks declined not only the serfdom imposed by Alexey Mikhailovich (1645-1676), but also the religious reform of the Patriarch Nikon (1654), interdicting in Russia the Old Church ritual and the old religious books. The Synod of 1666-1667 removed Nikon from his patriarchal position, but confirmed his reform, anathematized those who refused to accept the new ritual, and laid down drastic punishments against them. The Lipovans and the Nekrasovtsy could be somehow differentiated by the status and their way of life, but from the ethno-folkloric point of view there were no differences between them. We must specify that Lipovans are Russian Old Believers, peasants that fled Russia during the 17-19th centuries individually, with their families or in small groups. With the consent of the authorities, landowners or monasteries, they settled on the territory of the Romanian countries. They were always attended by monks, chaplains (ustavšiki) or fleeing priests. They've been named Lipovans for reasons that are not very well known: some consider that their name comes from Philip of Olonetsk, the founder of the self-immolating (samosožigateli) sect in 1705, others say that the name is related to the Russian word 'lipa' – lime tree. Lipovans are well known for their zeal, cleanliness, and kindness; for their peaceful nature and their old-rite Orthodox religion. They could not name themselves Russians because, according to the treaties concluded with Russia, the neighboring countries were obliged to send back all runaways. Cossacks were free Russian peasants, living on the borders of Russia; they represented a special social category, a kind of peasant aristocracy. Among Cossacks there were often peasants from Central Russia, who initially fled from serfdom and landowners, and later on for religious reasons as well. In the marginal areas of Russia there were eleven Cossack armies, each numbering between ten and twenty five thousand men. Cossacks paid for their freedom defending Russia's borders. The Nekrasov Army was one of the small and little-known Cossack armies. Our village did not look the way we used to think till recently, and it did not resemble a common medieval rural settlement. First of all, as compared to other villages, which consisted of no more than 20-30 houses, Sarichioi was a big settlement. A traveler named Boskovich noted that in 1761 in Sarichioi there were about 150 houses. In 1845 Nadejdin said that Sarichioi was a huge village, of no less than 600 houses. Cossacks permanently picketed the village, and a moat and a big earth mound defended it from possible attacks. The access in and out of Sarichioi was possible only through the guarded gates, or by boat, by lake. The Cossacks and their rowing flotilla also permanently watched the Razin Lake shore. Today a careful observer can notice on the southern and western borders of Sarichioi the traces of defense structures, though the villagers themselves pay no attention to the strange remnants of a more than two-kilometer long ditch. On the lake shore there still can be seen trails of the mooring line built by the Nekrasov Cossacks, about 400 meters long and eight meters wide. Cossacks used the mooring not only for their rowing flotilla, but also for collecting fish. On both sides of the mooring, in the shallow water, there were 15 constructions for collecting fish, built on pillars. Besides the shallow water boats, more solid crafts could also moor there. Apart from the defense structures (the moat, the earth mound and the mooring), there were other elements, giving Sarichioi a fort-like look: rectilinear streets, accurate building location, roughly-equal-in-area gardens and yards. The neat, thatch-roofed houses and their annexes (banja – the Russian sauna, storehouses, barns, penthouses) looked almost identical from the architectural point of view. The thatch wicker fences, the masterly plaited roof-ridges and the differently shaped weathercocks on the houses, gave the settlement the appearance of a military campus, not of a peaceful Lipovan village. A community of Cossacks or peasants was something usual in Russia, but in Dobruja, due to the hostile environment and climatic conditions, it acquired some particularities. Although there was enough land in the area and in the Danube Delta, the villagers did not own any allotments, like they did in Russia. Nearly permanent drought, frequent attacks of different hostile groups, and endless wars did not encourage agriculture, and for this reason the Nekrasov Cossacks did not cultivate the land around Sarichioi. Their usual occupations were fishing, horse breading for war needs and all other crafts. Another peculiarity of the Nekrasovite community was its concern for absolute social equality. Everybody received an equal part of the income obtained by fishing as members of an artel (i.e. Russian workers' association); all were allowed to take part, on equal terms, in the Cossack Krug meetings, they democratically elected their ataman and the clergymen, and judged those who infringed the everyday life rules. The absence of social inequity and the full equality in rights compels the researchers to compare the Nekrasovite community to the 19th century West-European utopist phalansteries. Kriterion, 7512 / 2004

by Sevastian Fenoghen