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Russian possession in Asia, Siberian Catholics belong to the Archdiocese of Mohileff

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Siberia, a Russian possession in Asia forming the northern third of that continent; it extends from the Ural mountains to the Pacific Ocean and from the coast of the Arctic Ocean to about 50° north latitude. It has an area of 4,786,730 square miles and in 1897 had 5,758,822 inhabitants. Classified according to race its population included: 4,659,423 Russians, 29,-177 Poles, 5424 Germans, 61,279 Finno-Ugrians (Mordvinian, Ostiaks, Syryenians, etc.), 476,139 Turko-Tatars (Tatars, Yakuts, Kasakkirghizes), 288,589 Buriats, 11,931 Samoyedes, 66,269 Tunguses, 31,057 Palaeo-Asiatics, or Hyperborean (Yukaghirs, Tchuktchis, Ghilyaks, etc.), 41,112 Chinese, 25,966 Koreans. According to religion the population was estimated later thus: 5,201,250 Orthodox Greeks, 227,720 Raskolniks, 32,530 Catholics, 13,370 Protestants, 30,550 Jews, 1,068,800 Mohammedans, 224,-000 Buddhists, etc. At the beginning of the year 1909 the population was estimated to number about 7,878,500 persons. For purposes of administration Siberia is divided into four governments and six departments.

The Siberian Catholics belong to the Archdiocese of Mohileff; according to the Mohileff yearbook for 1910 they number almost 74,000. They are largely Poles or the descendants of Poles and Ruthenians who were banished to Siberia on account of their religion; this was especially the case when the Emperor Nicholas I sought in 1827-39 to convert the Uniat Ruthenians and Lithuanians by force to the Orthodox Church, and when thousands of Catholics and several hundred priests were deported to Siberia after the Polish revolt of 1863. Great difficulties are connected with the pastoral care of the Catholics on account of the small number or priests and the great extent of territory which the priests must traverse. Very often the priests are obliged to lead a real nomad life in order to be able to visit the members of their flock at least once a year. When a priest leaves his presbytery at Easter he often does not return from his pastoral tour until Easter of the next year. The priests often break down under the burden of their toil, although they receive relatively good support from the Government which grants them 600 roubles, 30 dessiatines (81 acres) of land, and refunds the expenses of their journeys. On account of the great distances a canonical visitation of the churches of Siberia by a Catholic bishop was not possible until in 1909, when Bishop Johannes Cieplak, coadjutor of Mohileff, traversed all Siberia and Saghalian. In addition to this canonical visitation interest in the Church among Catholics has been greatly quickened by the missions held by the Redemptorists in 1908, by permission of the Government, in all towns where there were Catholic communities; Catholics came to these services from great distances. An actual organization of the ecclesiastical administration for the Catholics of Siberia will only be possible when an independent diocese is established for Siberia with its see at Irkutsk or Tomsk. This is what the Holy See desires to do but the plan will probably not be carried out soon on account of the attitude of the Russian Government towards the Catholic Church. During the seventh decade of the last century the Catholics had the use of only five churches while now according to the yearbook for Mohileff of 1910 there are in Siberia, including Omsk that geographically belongs to Siberia but is assigned by the Russian government to Central Asia, 27 Catholic priests, 73,800 Catholics, 7 parishes with as many parish churches, 15 dependent communities, and 21 chapels. The parishes are: Irkutsk, Krassnoyarsk, Omsk, Tchita, Tobolsk, Tomsk, Vladivostok.

History.—Siberia does not appear in the light of history until a late era. When and whence the original inhabitants migrated to their present homes cannot be definitely ascertained. While the peoples near the polar circle from the beginning until now have been tribes barely subsisting by hunting, the nomadic tribes of herdsmen who probably emigrated from Central Asia to Siberia, have gradually risen to a somewhat higher level of civilization. In some tribes, as the Yakuts, the memory of the migration from the south still exists. During the great migrations from Central Asia the tribes living on the plateau of Asia were generally drawn into the movement and became incorporated into the empires of nomads that arose in the course of centuries. The tribes in northwestern Siberia also, that are grouped together as Ugrians, generally shared this fate. When in the thirteenth century the Mongols of Central Asia advanced as conquerors towards the west they overthrew the peoples of western Siberia also. After the fall of the Mongolian empire these tribes belonged to the Mongolian Kingdom of Kiptchak that included besides western Siberia the lowlands of Eastern Russia and the steppes as far as the Sea of Aral and the Caspian. Western Europe came first into connection with the Ugrian tribes by the trade in skins which adventurous merchants of the Russian city of Novgorod carried on as early as the twelfth century with the tribes east of the Ural and on the borders of the Arctic Ocean. These commercial relations led to the establishment of permanent agencies in western Siberia by the merchants of Novgorod. These agencies were maintained during the domination of the Mongols, so that the connection of western Russia with the Ugrians was not interrupted even then.

At the fall of the Kingdom of Kiptchak, which Timur brought under his control, the leaders of the hordes of Nogaian Tatars began to found small principalities in the country of the Ugrians. The most powerful of these rulers was on living at the beginning of the fifteenth century, who opposed the Novgorodians. His son Taibuga drove the Novgorodians entirely from the country and founded a small kingdom the capital of which was near the present Tyumen. Weakened by wars with the neighboring tribes of Ostiaks, Voguls, Kirghizes, and the Mongolian ruler of Kazen, this kingdom was obliged to pay tribute in 1465 to Russia, which had now made its appearance as a new power in eastern Europe. The Russian grand duke, Ivan III (1462-1505), who had conquered Novgorod in 1478, took up the old claims of this commercial city to the sovereignty of western Siberia and soon began to transform them into reality. In1499 the territory along the lower course of the River Obi was taken. This caused the Tatar khan to transfer his capital from Tyumen to the Tobol River, where he built the city of Isker or Sibir. In the middle of the sixteenth century (about 1563) a Usbeke called Kozum, or Kutchum, seized Sibir, took the title of Emperor of Siberia, and soon entered on a plan of conquest. He advanced across the Ural, devastating and plundering as he went, towards Perm, where the Russian family of Stroganoff had brought the entire Siberian trade under their control in order to play off one enemy against the other. Stroganoff took into his pay the Cossacks of the Volga, who had repeatedly made marauding expeditions towards Perm. A horde of about 7000 Cossacks under the command of the Hetman Yermak and in the pay of the Stroganoff family, undertook an expedition into Siberia. In 1580 Yermak carried Tyumen by storm; in 1581 he advanced to the mouth of the Tobol River, and in October of that year completely defeated Kutchum’s army on the Tchuvachenberg near the present city of Tobolsk. On October 26 Yermak entered the city of Sibir.

As Yermak received no further aid either from the Stroganoff family or from the Cossacks still living on the Volga, he turned to the Russian tsar, Ivan the Terrible, and did homage to him as the ruler of the new Siberian empire. Yet Russia gave him very little help, and after a time Sibir was lost. In 1584 Yermak himself was killed in an ambush that the Tatars had set for him. Soon, however, the knowledge that here in the east there was a wide field for conquest made headway in Russia. The Russians perceived, moreover, that this country gave an opportunity to employ usefully the restless Cossacks, and the conquests in Siberia were resumed. In 1588 Sibir was taken again and in 1589 Kutchuk Khan who had ruled in the south was driven to the northern slope of Asia. In order to give permanence to the conquest of the new territory large numbers of Cossacks and soldiers of the body-guard were constantly dispatched to Siberia; these advanced along the large rivers towards the east and established permanent settlements as props of the Russian supremacy. The Government soon began also to establish Russian peasants in these regions. As early as 1590 nearly thirty peasant families were aided to migrate to Siberia; in 1593 the first exiles were deported from Uglitch to Siberia. Slowly but steadily the Russians pushed towards the east. In 1632 Yakutsk on the Lena was founded; in 1643 the first Cossacks advanced to the upper Amur and descended along it to the Sea of Okhotsk. In 1644 the fortress Nizhne-Kolymsk was built where the Kolyma flows into the Arctic Ocean. In 1652 Irkutsk was founded and the territory around Lake Baikal was brought under Russian supremacy. The aboriginal tribes with which the Russians came into contact frequently fought them courageously, opposing especially the exactment of the tribute in pelts, but their small numbers and the European arms of the Cossacks lead to their defeat. Along with their care for the extension and security of the boundaries the Russians combined care for the economic development of the newly won regions. Whole caravans of country people and women intended for the Cossacks were sent to Siberia at government expense to promote agriculture and to accustom the Cossacks to a settled mode of life; this was accompanied by concessions in the payment of taxes. The migration of peasants to Siberia was encouraged by releasing those who went from the yoke of serfdom. Consequently at the beginning of the eighteenth century, there were already 230,000 Russians in Siberia. In 1621 the Siberian eparchy was established for the religious and moral needs of the settlers and for missionary work among the natives.

The Russians came into contact with the Chinese for the first time in the districts along the Amur River. Although in 1689 the Russians were forced to restore their conquests on the upper Amur to the Chinese, the relations between the two powers were, in general, friendly. In 1728-9 the two countries made the first settlement of their boundaries. To protect the southern border against the incursions of the Kirghizes and Kalmucks the Russians founded many permanent towns, for instance, Petropaulovsk, Omsk, Semipalatinsk, and other places. Thereafter, the disturbances on the border gradually ceased and the order thus established permitted the Russian Government to take up the scientific exploration of the enormous region, the greater part of which was totally unknown. The most important of these scientific expeditions was the journey of the Danish captain Vitus Bering during the years 1733-43, in which distinguished scholars from all parts of Europe took part. Bering himself proved the connection of the Pacific and Arctic Oceans by Bering Strait; as early as 1648 the Cossack Dejneff had discovered this strait and had announced his discovery, but the fact had been forgotten. The economic development of the country was aided by the discovery in 1723 of rich mineral treasures in the Altai mountains. From 1754 the Russian Government began the systematic exiling of convicts and prisoners of war to Siberia, where they were partly settled on the land and partly employed in the mines. The colonizing of free peasants was also taken up again systematically. Consequently by the end of the eighteenth century the Russian population of Siberia was about 1,500,000 persons.

In the second and third decades of the nineteenth century the Russian supremacy over the nomadic Kirghiz tribes living on the southwestern steppes was strengthened, and important settlements were established (1824 Koktchtaff, 1829 Akmolinsk). The discovery in 1849 of the estuary of the Amur River by a Russian ship led to a renewed strengthening of the Russian settlements along the Amur; this impulse was powerfully aided by the desire to have a large stretch of coast along an ocean. In 1849 the Russian flag was hoisted without opposition at the mouth of the Amur; in 1851 a bay near the coast of Korea was occupied, and here later Vladivostok was built, in 1854 a fleet under Count Nikolai Muravieff Amurski was sent from the upper Amur to its mouth and the post of Nikolaievsk was more strongly fortified. The Chinese Government indeed made a complaint, but as it could not venture to go to war it acknowledged, in the Treaty of Pekin, November 2, 1860, Russia‘s right to the Amur and the entire basin of the Ussuri River, together with all the coast down to Korea. As by the founding of Vladivostok a port nearly free from ice was secured, Russian advance ceased for some time. In the interior of Siberia there was a great increase of the colonizing movement in the nineteenth century; from the thirties on especially there was a great number of exiles. Numerous Decembrists, Lithuanians, and Ruthenians, who had opposed the forcible union with the Orthodox Church, and Poles who had joined in the revolt, were banished to Siberia. The importance of exile as a factor in colonizing was lessened by the fact that the exiles were not permitted to settle on independent estates but were obliged to live in small towns already established. Moreover a large part of the exiles were exhausted in mind and body by their previous terrible sufferings in the Russian prisons and by the long and severe transportation to Siberia. Consequently it was of much more importance for the development of the country that a constantly increasing stream of free peasants migrated from the most widely differing parts of Russia to Siberia, especially after the suppression of serfdom in Russia in 1861. This migration has continued in undiminished numbers up to the present time; it has been greatly encouraged by the law of 1889 by which every Russian emigrant who has received the permission of the Government to go is granted 15 dessiatines (4014 acres) of farming land as his own property, besides three years without taxes and nine years release from military duty.

While the European population has rapidly increased, the native population has constantly declined. Among the causes for this decline, outside of the small natural increase of the aborigines, are such diseases as small-pox and typhus that have been introduced by Europeans, the injury done by brandy, the decline of the chase, and the steady advance of the Russian peasant. The construction of the great Siberian railway, which was begun in 1891 and completed in 1904, has opened immense possibilities for the economic development of the country and has enabled Siberia to overcome quickly the injuries caused by the defeat of Russia in the war against Japan during the years 1904-5. The intellectual life of Siberia has also been gradually raised, a result brought about partly by the large number of educated exiles. A further aid has been the establishment of a university at Tomsk in 1888, of a high school for Eastern Siberia at Vladivostok in 1899, of a polytechnic in 1900, and a high school for women in 1907, both the last named institutions being at Tomsk. The very decided limitation of the exile of convicts which will soon be followed by the revocation of the law of exile, will contribute greatly to the elevation of the moral level of the population of Siberia.


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