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140 years from the birth of Choros-Gurkin, famous Altai painter

January 12, 2010 is exactly 140 years from the birth of the famous Siberian painter Choros-Gurkin (1870-1937), a student of Ivan Shishkin.
From 1921 to 1925, the painter lived and worked in Tuva. Today, his works, including the Tuvan ones, are kept in the museums of Siberia, The State Russian Museum (Sankt-Peterburg), in France and Mongolia.

In 1937, as an organizer of uprising activities (to the advantage of Japan) he was sentenced to death by shooting. Grigoriy Choros-Gurkin combined the traditions of realistic painting of the 19th century with symbolistic tendencies. By creating epic paintings of his country, permeated by ancient mythological associations, he became a powerful influence on the local culture. During the years 1917-1919, Choros-Gurkin was the head of the local Duma, which attempted to initiate self-government and to secure the national equality for Altaians.

Escaping from arrest, the artist left Russia. It is known that Choros-Gurkin was taken captive in the well-known fighting of Kochetov’s Partisan army with the White soldiers of Andrei Bakich in Tuva under the Shandyg cliff. As the Red Commander Sergei Kochetov himself remembered: “A tall rough- faced officer without epaulettes who looked like a Khakass came up to me, requesting medical help if such was available. I told him that he will be transported to Ust-Elegest with the other wounded, where our hospital was. The name Georgiy Ivanovich Gurkin simply did not mean anything to me at the time. According to his documents, he was an adviser in national matters with Bakich’s headquarters. He did not present his weapon, it is possible that he did not have one. So I let him go.” The painter settled in Tuva for four years. The republic in the center of Asia remained in his series of paintings “Lakes of Tuva”, “Yenisei”. In 1926 the painter created a series of paintings for the Leningrad Geological Museum, of AN SSSR “Geological composition of Tannu-Tuva mountains”.

Coming back to his native country, Grigoriy Choros-Gurkin took active part in in local cultural life, becoming a member of the society “New Siberia”. He was also an active writer-ethnographer. In 1937 he was shot as an “enemy of the people”.

In 1956 the artist was fully rehabilitated.

In the documents of the shootings of the 1930’s, it was stated: “It is obvious that he has become a Japanese spy already in 1901, when he came to Peterburg to enter the Academy of Arts. He was recruited by G.n.Potapin, who was post-mortem recognized by the brave Chekists as a Japanese intelligence agent. All of Gurkin’s work in the capacity of the chairman of the Gornaya Duma, then of the Karakorum-Altai administration took place under the leadership of the Japanese intelligence to further the Japanese interests. The main reason for his return to Tuva was to continue his counter-revolutionary activities, designed to overeturn the Soviet government. With this goal in mind, he organized the Block of Altai Nationalists, which together with the counter-revolutionary nationalistic organizations of Khakassia, Tuva, Gornaya Shoria, planned to establish a bourgeois state within the borders of the old Dzungarian khanate under the protectorate of Japan.”

Choros-Gurkin became famous as an educator, thinker and enlightener. His experience in national and territorial composition of Gorniy Altai was widely used by the Soviet government in establishing the Oirat (Gorno-Altaisk) Autonomous region (from 1922), which later became Republic Altai.

Dina Oyun, translated by Heda Jindrak
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