Flying Away from the Bolshevik Winter: Soviet Refugees Across the Southern Borders (1917–30)
Russian migrant communities in Europe, as well as the USSR and European states’ policies towards them, were sufficiently studied in English-, French- and Russian-language relevant scholarship. However, West and South Asia received significantly less attention, although the region served the main transit zone in this process, especially the countries such as Turkey, Iran, Afghanistan and even British India. During the interwar period hundreds of thousands of migrants from Soviet Russia either passed through these Southern regions towards Europe and the United States or founded their migrant communities there. These migrants became an integral part of political activism professed by Russian émigré communities all over the world in the 1920s-30s. This quite often resulted in them being manipulated on a massive scale by other governments in their foreign policies toward Soviet Russia, especially by Britain – Russia’s traditional rival in the region. On the other hand, the positions of the Soviet government in political and military terms toward its southern neighbours were significantly stronger than those in Europe. Having an upper hand in its relations with these states, the Soviet government would resort to military invasions, large-scale intelligence operations, the massive bribing of local police and the military, particularly in the border areas, as well as to imposing inter-state border-control treaties, − all this done with the aim to neutralise the anti-Soviet émigré activities and to physically liquidate their active representatives abroad as well as to conduce to the repatriation of larger numbers for subsequent prosecution on the Soviet territory.
Methodologically drawing on the most recent works in Migration Studies, in general, and in Russian Emigré Studies, in particular, the current research studies migration from the USSR into the neighbouring countries of West and South Asia – one of the most strategically important regions in the twentieth century. Within the timeframe 1917-1930, research looks into the phenomena, such as displaced statehood, political activism and cross-cultural interaction in the context of the migration policies of the relevant states (Turkey, Iran, Afghanistan, Britain and the USSR). The primary-source base of this research consists of mostly untapped documents from British, Russian, French, Turkish, Azerbaijani, Iranian archives and the International Institute of Social History, Amsterdam, collections as well as memoirs and private correspondence of migrants themselves. While highlighting some commonalities, the paper argues that the situation of Russian migrant communities in West and South Asia diametrically differed from the one in Western Europe, and puts forward a detailed analysis of the causes, developments and outcomes of this phenomenon.