This page was created by Christopher Matthew Jarmas. 

Imperiia: a spatial history of the Russian Empire

Bashkirs in Paris: Ufa's Role in Russia's War of 1812

In 1812, Napoleon Bonaparte turned his massive army towards Russia, seeking a quick and decisive victory against the Russian army, which would force Alexander I to offer up concessions. That, as is well-known, did not happen. Emboldened by Russia's harsh climate, its people's ustoichivost' (sturdiness), and copious lands to retreat to, Russian forces not only pushed the French out from the Russian Empire but drove Bonaparte's men back to Paris itself. Less well-known, however, are the Bashkir soldiers from Ufa and surrounding provinces who also entered Paris. French artists depict the Bashkir encampments in and around Paris and offer a glimpse into the cultural originality Bashkirs had evidently maintained through three centuries of Russian colonization.

In the first image below, an engraving by an unknown French artist, we see a Bashkir encampment outside Paris in 1814. The Bashkir soldiers quartered themselves in yurts - hardly standard issue for the Russian army - and lived a traditional according to traditions that had long been extinguished in European Russia.
Image result for bashkirs paris
Source: reenactor.ru

The second image depicts aBashkir warrior outsideof Paris in 1814. The soldier sits confidently on horseback and appears to be speaking to a fellow Bashkir, adorned in traditional dress. Thus, while Bashkirs were co-opted into the Russian army during the war, they were clearly allowed considerable freedom; the army, thus, cannot be described as uniform, but as a mosaic in which Bashkirs and other ethnic minorities of the empire were afforded their own uniqueness. The image below also contrasts the Bashkir figures in the foreground - traditionally dressed and clutching pre-modern weaponry - with the European figures in the background, riding in carriages and wearing more European forms.

Image result for bashkirs paris
Source: reenactor.ru

Since 1774, the year tsarist forces captured the central Bashkir leader Salavat Iulaev, center-periphery relations in Ufa had demonstratively shifted. It not only remarkable that Bashkir warriors fought alongside the tsar’s troops in the war against the French, but they were also granted state awards upon their return to Russia.

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