About History – The ‘Spirit Wrestlers’ of Georgia
The Doukhobors (Russian: Духоборы) living in the Ninotsminda District of Samtskhe-Javaheti region of Georgia are a religious community exiled from Russia in the mid-19th century.
The word Doukhobor means ‘spirit wrestler’ in Russian. Considered to be heretics by the Orthodox Church in Russia for their rejection of church ritual many Doukhobors chose exile in the Caucasus region of the Russian empire in the 1840s rather than convert to Orthodoxy. A number settled in the Samtskhe-Javaheti region of Georgia.
By the end of the 19th century there were around 10,000 Doukhobors in Georgia.
Following the collapse of the Soviet Union many Georgian Doukhobors chose to return to Russia and very few remain in Georgia.
The following pictures of the Doukhobor community in the village of Gorelovka in the Ninotsminda District of Samtskhe-Javaheti region of Georgia were taken during a visit in 2006.
Doukhobor houses are decorated in Russian style in a pale blue color and often have an earth roof, commonly called a green or sod roof.
The building pictured below is the Doukhobor meeting place in Gorelovka village. It was originally the house of Peter Kalmykov, son of Illarion Kalmykov (the first leader of the Doukhobors that settled in the area in 1841).
The interiors of Doukhobor houses are Russian in style.
Due to the scarcity of wood in the area the Doukhobors make fuel ‘bricks’ from cow and sheep dung and use them to heat their homes and cook their food.
There is a cemetery of Doukhobor community leaders in Ninotsminda District.
Many of the graves date from the 19th century.
Illarion Kalmykov (Russian: Илларион Калмыков), the leader of the main group of Doukhobors that arrived from Ukraine in 1841, is buried in this cemetery.
In 1898-99 over 7,000 Doukhobors emigrated from the Russian Empire to British Columbia in Canada and around 40,000 descendants still live in Canada today.
At the time of our visit to the village of Gorelovka in 2006 there were no more than 700 Doukhobors living in Ninotsminda District. There are likely to be far fewer today and those that do remain are mostly older people.
There is a belief that the storks that nest on Doukhobor houses in the Ninotsminda District of Samtskhe-Javaheti region fly away when the Doukhobor occupants leave, and never return.
Further reading: Doukhobor Genealogy Website