Calls to Remove Baranov Statue Driven by Incomplete View of Alaska History – Russian NGOs

WASHINGTON (UrduPoint News / Sputnik – 01st July, 2020) Tribes who want Alexander Baranov’s statue removed from the Alaskan city of Sitka are failing to take a complete view of the history of Russian America into account, three non-governmental organizations told Sputnik.

Last week, a group of activists in the city of Sitka, mostly Tlingits, urged local authorities to remove the Baranov statue, citing mistreatment of the indigenous population during the era of colonization. In 1799, Baranov founded Sitka (then called Novo-Archangelsk) as the capital of the Russian colonies in North America.

Reading communications of supporters of statue removal in social networks, I understood that they simply do not know their own history because they got it incorrectly. They heard about Baranov’s brutality, while in real life he was one of the most peaceful governors of the Russian America and tried to live in peace with them,” Russian Cultural Center in Alaska Director Anne Vernaya said.

Vernaya said the Baranov statue was a kind of irritant for the small but powerful group of people of Sitka since the moment of erection in 1989.

Some Tlingits insist that Russians have forced them to accept Orthodoxy, but it is not the truth, Vernaya added, inviting them to visit any Russian church in Alaska now, where most believers are Creoles, Eskimos and Aleuts.

“They could choose their original religion after Alaska became a part of the United States, but continued to baptize in Orthodoxy and have Russian Names,” she said.

Vernaya expressed confidence that the statue’s removal will add tensions to the relations between all nationalities in Alaska.

President of one of the oldest organizations of the Russian diaspora in the United StatesCongress of Russian Americans (CRA) – Natalia Sabelnik said that defacing, damaging or removing monuments is not a solution.

“Regardless of which side of history people take, history needs to be preserved. Often, monuments serve as a reminder of that period which needs to be remembered and not repeated,” Sabelnik said.

CRA joined other Russian community groups in sending a letter to Sitka authorities and initiating a petition against the removal of the Baranov monument, Sabelnik noted.

“Hopefully, we can gather enough signatures to show the city that removal of the statue would cause an adverse effect, not only on US-Russia relations, but mostly on their tourist industry, where many Russians whether from the United States, Russia or worldwide go to Sitka, considering it still the capital of Russian America,” she said.

Sabelnik said colonization was not always negative and brought much progress to the region.

“The main concern are the waves of ethnic discrimination and how we deal with it,” she said. “Mostly important to remember how during these times, the settlers and the indigenous people were able to negotiate, compromise and find peace and unity together.”

Russian America Society in Moscow head Vladimir Kolychev said that “unfortunately, many indigenous people in Alaska have blinders that prevent them from looking beyond deadly affronts.”

Sitka Mayor Gary Paxton told Sputnik on Monday that the city’s assembly would make a decision on the Baranov statue in July or in August with a public process respecting all parties.

On Sunday, the Russian Community Council of the United States issued an online petition against plans to demolish the statue. According to the petition, the removal of the monument proposed by city residents will “erase important pages of Alaska’s rich history and deal a major blow to Russian American heritage and cross-cultural engagement.”

Sitka is situated on Baranof Island, which is named after Baranov, who was the governor of what was then called Russian America.

In many cities across the country, statues depicting former Confederate generals tied to slavery, presidents who owned slaves, and Christopher Columbus, the fifteenth-century Italian explorer who was said to have discovered North America, have been targeted by anti-racism protesters.

Last week, US President Donald Trump signed an executive order to protect the country’s monuments amid nationwide anti-racism protests. According to the order, vandals found guilty could face up to ten years in jail.

On May 25, George Floyd, a 46-year-old black man, died after a white Minneapolis police officer knelt on his neck for almost nine minutes. The incident was captured on video that went viral, sparking nationwide protests, many of which turned violent.

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