Blagoveshchensk — History

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Blagoveshchensk (Russian: Благовещенск; IPA: [bləgɐˈvʲɛɕːɪnsk]) is a city and the administrative center of Amur Oblast, Russia, located at the confluence of the Amur and Zeya Rivers, opposite to the Chinese city of Heihe. Population: 214,397 (2010 Census preliminary results);[4] 219,221 (2002 Census);[5] 205,553 (1989 Census).[8]

The Amur has formed Russia’s border with China since the 1858 Aigun Treaty and 1860 Treaty of Peking. The area north of the Amur had previously belonged to Imperial China.

The early residents of both sides of the Amur in the region of today’s Blagoveshchensk were the Daurs and Duchers. An early settlement in the area of today’s Blagoveshchensk was the Ducher town whose name was reported by the Russian explorer Yerofey Khabarov as Aytyun in 1652; it has been identified with what is currently known to the archaeologists as the Grodekovo site, after the nearby village of Grodekovo (which is located on the left bank of the Amur at 50°07′N 127°35′E, some 25–30 km (16–19 mi) south of Blagoveshchensk). The Grodekovo site is thought by archaeologists to have been populated since ca. 1000 CE.[9]

Aaihom ruin’d (i.e., Old Aigun), in the Province of Tcitcica on this 18th-century map corresponds to the Grodekovo site; Saghalien Ula Hoton, across the river, is Aigun. There is nothing much near the site of Blagoveshchensk itself (at the confluence of the Saghalien (Amur) River and the Tchikiri (Zeya) River)
As the Russians tried to assert their control over the region, the Ducher town was probably vacated when the Duchers were evacuated by the Qing to the Sungari or Hurka in the mid-1650s.[9] Since 1673, the Manchus re-used the site for their fort («Old Aigun», in modern literature),[10] which served in 1683-1685 as a base for the Manchus’ campaign against the Russian fort of Albazin further north.[11]

After the capture of Albazin in 1685 or 1686, the Manchus relocated their town, to a new site on the right (southwestern, i.e. presently Chinese) bank of the Amur, about 3 miles (4.8 km) downstream from the original site; it later became known as Aigun.[12][13]

The series of conflicts between Russians and Manchus ended with Russia’s recognition of the Chinese sovereignty over both sides of the Amur by the Nerchinsk Treaty of 1689.

The Russian settlement

As the balance of power in the region has changed by the mid-19th century, the Russian Empire was able to take over the left (generally northern, but around Blagoveshchensk, eastern) shore of the Amur from China. Since the 1858 Aigun Treaty and the 1860 Treaty of Peking, the river has remained the border between the two countries, although the Qing subjects were allowed to continue to live in the so-called Sixty-Four Villages east of the Amur and the Zeya (i.e., within today’s Blagoveshchensk’s eastern suburbs).

The triumphal arch erected in Blagoveshchensk to welcome Crown Prince Nicholas in 1891
Although Russian settlers had lived in the area as early as 1644 as «Hailanpao»,[citation needed] the present-day city began in 1856[7] as the military outpost of Ust-Zeysky; its name meaning settlement at the mouth of the Zeya River in Russian. Tsar Alexander II gave approval for the founding of the city in 1858, with the city to be named Blagoveshchensk, after the parish Church of the Annunciation and declared to be seat of government for the Amur region.

According to the city authorities, by 1877 the city had some 8,000 residents, with merely fifteen foreigners (presumably, Chinese) among them.[10]

The city was an important river port and trade center during the late 19th century, with growth further fueled by a gold rush early in the 20th century and by its position on the Chinese border, just hundreds of meters across from the city of Heihe.

Local historian note the preeminence of Blagoveshchensk in the economy of the late 19th century Russian Far East, which was reflected by a «small detail»: when the heir to Russian throne, HRH Nicholas Alexandrovich (future Tsar Nicholas II) visited the city in 1891 during his grand tour of Asia, the locals presented him with bread and salt on a gold tray, rather than on a silver one, as it was done in other cities of the region.[14]

The Boxer Rebellion

In the course of the Boxer Rebellion, the Qing Imperial army (made out of Manchus and Chinese) and Boxer insurgents shelled the city in July 1900. Chinese Honghuzi forces joined the attack against Blagoveshchensk.[15] According to the Orthodox belief, the city was allegedly saved by a miraculous icon of Our Lady of Albazin, which was prayed to continuously during the shelling which lasted almost two weeks.[citation needed]

On July 3 (Old Style), a decision was made by the city’s Police Chief Batarevich and the Military Governor Gribsky to deport the city’s entire ethnic Chinese community (which, according to the official statistics, numbered 4,008 in 1898[10]), viewed as potential «fifth columnists». As the cross-river shipping was interrupted by the rebellion, a question arose how to get them from the Russian side of the Amur to the Chinese side. Batarevich suggested that the deportees could be first taken east of the Zeya, where they could try to obtain boats from the local Chinese villagers. The plan, however, was vetoed by the governor, and the decision was made instead to take the deportees to the stanitsa of Verkhneblagoveshchenskaya—the place where the Amur is at its narrowest—and made them leave the Russian shore. As the local ataman refused to provide the deportees with boats to take them across the river (despite the orders of his superior), few of them made it to the Chinese side. The rest drowned in the Amur, or were shot or axed by the police, Cossacks and local volunteers, when refusing to leave the dry land. According to Chinese sources, about 5,000 people reportedly died during these events of July 4–8, 1900.[16]

The expulsion of local Chinese caused some hardships for Blagoveshchensk consumers. Historians note that during the second half of 1900, it became almost impossible to buy any green vegetables in town; ten eggs would cost 30-50 kopecks (and in winter, as much as a ruble), while before it had been possible to buy ten eggs for 10-15 kopecks.[10]

The massacre angered the Chinese, and had ramifications for the future: the Chinese Honghuzi fought a guerilla war against Russian occupation and assisted the Japanese in the Russo-Japanese war against the Russians in revenge. Louis Livingston Seaman mentioned the massacre as being the reason for the Chinese Honghuzi hatred towards the Russians.: «The Chinaman, be he Hung-hutze or peasant, in his relation to the Russians in this conflict with Japan has not forgotten the terrible treatment accorded him since the Muscovite occupation of Manchuria. He still remembers the massacre at Blagovestchensk when nearly 8,000 unarmed men, women, and children were driven at the point of the bayonet into the raging Amur, until—as one of the Russian officers who participated in that brutal murder told me at Chin-Wang-Tao in 1900—» the execution of my orders made me almost sick, for it seemed as though I could have walked across the river on the bodies of the floating dead.» Not a Chinaman escaped, except forty who were employed by a leading foreign merchant who ransomed their lives at a thousand roubles each. These, and many even worse, atrocities are remembered and now is their moment for revenge. So it was easy for Japan to enlist the sympathy of these men, especially when emphasized by liberal pay, as is now the case. It is believed that more than 10,000 of these bandits, divided into companies of from 200 to 300 each and led by Japanese officers, are now in the pay of Japan.»[17]

Civil war and the Soviet era

A Japanese poster depicting the Japanese occupation of Blagoveshchensk in 1919-1922
The city was also the site of conflict during the Russian Civil War, with Japanese troops occupying the city in support of the White Army. From 1920 until 1922, the city was declared part of the Far Eastern Republic, an area which was nominally independent, but in reality a buffer zone under control of the Russian SFSR.

The city became the administrative center of Amur Oblast in 1932.

During the Cultural revolution the city was subject to Maoist propaganda blasted from loudspeakers across the river 24 hours a day.

Modern era

On August 1, 2011 Blagoveshchensk was hit by an F2 tornado. The tornado claimed one life and injured twenty-eight people. Damage costs are estimated at 80 million rubles.

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