Nansen

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Nansen and Russia By K.Ya. Kondratyev, V.V. Malentyev, G.A. Ivanian Nansen International and Environmental Center St.Petersburg Russia © K.Ya. Kondratyev, V.V. Malentyev and G.A. Ivanian The famous expedition of Fridtjof Nansen and his crew on the "Fram" ship in the then unknown region of the Arctic Ocean was a kind of a finishing touch to the history of great geographical discoveries of the XIXth century and the starting point of anew era of exploring Central Arctic. Nansens expedition is a special event in the history of science. It seems to be incomparable as to the originality and substantiation of the idea itself, and an ideal expedition with regards to its organisation and results obtained.

There are plenty of publications devoted to the scientific and social activity of Fridtjof Nansen. As is the case with every outstanding personality, he belongs to the whole mankind. His name is and has always been very well known to world-wide public.

The great Norwegian has become part of the history of our civilisation: the most outstanding polar traveller and explorer, the author of original and profound ideas, a gifted scientist, a noble humanitarist, a really prominent figure of his time. A well-know polar explorer and Nansens compatriot Harald Sverdrup was a hundred per cent right when he said that Nansen was a great polar explorer, a still greater scientist, and even still greater personality. Nansens name is widely known in Russia and in all states of the former USSR where both Nansens own writings and numerous publications describing his activity have been published. Nansen is especially respected by people in Russia and Armenia because Nansens scientific and philanthropic activity was directly related to these two nations One of Nansen's ancestors visited Russia as far back as 4 centuries ago. Hans Nansen who started the family (the future first Head of the City Council of Copenhagen, a fighter for the independence of Denmark, as well as a navigator and scientist) performed an extraordinary for his time journey in 1614 to the White Sea, stayed the winter in the ice close to the Kola peninsula, along crossed on the entire Moscovia and finally returned home. In later years, Hans Nansen was in charge of fishing expeditions on the Pechora river and in the White Sea, commissioned by the Russian tsar Mikhail Romanov. Hans Nansen summarised the results of his scientific investigations in a book which was an encyclopaedia of knowledge in astronomy, physics, geography, sea navigation and other sciences. The book was published in 1633 in Copenhagen. In the course of preparations for his famous expedition on the "Fram" ship., Fridtjof Nansen studied thoroughly the materials of numerous Russian Expeditions in the regions of the Siberian Coast of the Arctic Ocean, from the European borders to the Bering Strait. he was of a very high opinion of the achievements of Russian seafarers. During an International Geographical Congress in Vienna in 1890, F. Nansen met a participant of a well-known expedition headed by De Long on the ship "Jeanette", Edvard Toll, and informed him in detail about an expedition to Central Arctic he was planning to undertake. In the St. Petersburg Branch of the Archive of the academy of Sciences, there is a letter from E.Toll to Academician F.Schmidt of 16 September, 1890, concerning this encounter. Toll wrote: "The young Norwegian polar explorer visited me at the hotel and had a long talk about the position of ice in the regions of the Novosibirsk islands, about Siberian sledge dogs, and about other vital issues of mutual interest." Toll advised Nansen to start drifting with the ocean ice from the north-eastern corner of the Laptev Sea, in fact, from a region located to the north from the Kotekny Island. Toll supposed that there and just there a northward current was present. Later, at Nansen's request, Toll acquired and forwarded to the village of Khabarovo on the shore of the Yugorsky Shar over three dozen of excellent sledge dogs, and a steam ship with a good reserve of coal. On his own initiative, Toll organises three food stores on the Novosibirske Islands for the Nansen expedition.

The Main Hydrographic Administration of Russia provided Nansen with a set of sea maps of northern seas and all the neccessary information about the Siberian Coast of Arctic, and Admiral Stepan Makarov-with fresh data on the regime of northern seas. After the completion of the "Fram" expedition, in the spring of 1898, Russia became one of the first foreign countries Nansen visited. At the Warsaw railway station in St. Petersburg, prominent people of the Russian capital were meeting Fridtjof and Eva Nansen, among them the well-known traveller and explorer Piotr Semenov-Tianshhansky, Admiral Stepan Makarov and others. Right there, in a hall specially intended for ceremonial occasions, Nansen was awarded one of the highest orders of Russia-the Order of Stanislav of the 1st degree, and his captain, Otto Sverdrup, the order of St. Anna of the 2nd degree. During two days, the Nansen spent in St.Petersburg sightseeing. They visited the Hermitage, the Russian Museum, the Meriinsky Opera and Ballet Theater, and simply walked in the streets. On April 28, in the Hall of St.Petersburg. Nobility Assembly (now the Great Philharmonic Hall) there was a ceremonial meeting of Nansen and the public of the city.

In the final part of his opening speech, the Vice President of the Russian Geographical Society, Piotr Semenov-Tianshansky addressed Nansen with the following words: "On behalf of everybody present here, I can assure you that at any time and place in Russia you will have not only the heartiest reception, but also the warmest assessment of the great courage you revealed in your service in the most unselfish way for the sake of science and mankind." Then Semenov-Tianshansky handed in to Nansen the highest award of the Russian Geographical Socciety-the Konstantin Gold Medal. Nansen expressed his gratitude fro the high awards he received and then talked about the expedition on "Fram". He emphasised that the first polar voyages on sledges had been made by Russian explores along the Siberian northern coast, and that he used this practice originated in Russia during his own voyages. On April 30, 1898, during a meeting with prominent Russian scientists in the Hall of the Russian Geographical Society, Nansen discussed for several hours the problems of exploration of Arctic, especially the not known to the scientists circumpolar regions, as well as ways of studying this "vicious circle", prospects for discovering new islands and land areas, among them the Sannikov Land. On the following day, the Russian Academy of Sciences elected F. Nansen an Honorary Member. Nansen also visited the Main Physical Observatory and the Academy museums, talked to many Russian scientists. During these years, Nansen had an ample correspondence with Russian scientists, especially with Admiral Stepan Makarov and the polar explorer Edvard Toll. The major part of this correspondence is kept in the St. Petersburg Branch of the Academy of Sciences Archive; only a smaller part of it has been published. It would be reasonable and important to start preparing the publication of complete correspondence between Nansen and Russian scientists and public figures. Nansen visited Russia for a second time fifteen years later, in 1913. A Siberian joint-stock shipping and trading company invited him to take part in the voyage of the steam ship "Correct" from Tromsø to the Yenisei river mount. Nansen also receiving an invitation from the Russain Minister of Transport to join him in his railroad travel from Krasnoyarsk to Vladivostok.

The Minister asked Nansen to consider himself a guest of Russia during the travel. On his way home Nansen stopped in St. Petersburg where he met some Russian scientists. On October 30, Nansen participated in a special meeting of a Committee responsible for the equipment of an expedition to the North Pole. Nansen wrote an excellent book about his journey to Russia, which was promptly translated into Russian and published in Russia under a symbolic title: "To the Country of the Future. The great Northern Way from Europe to Siberia". Nansen was quite right in his judgement about Siberia as a country of the future, saying: "The time will come when it awakens, its latent force will manifest itself, and we shall hear a new word about Siberia; there is no doubt it has a future of her own." Nansen came to Russia again in early 1920. His purpose was to discuss with the new Russian government the details of the repatriation of prisoners of war. On July 6, 1920, at the meeting of the Petrograd City Council where Nansen was present, a well-known Russian writer Maxim Gorky made a speech in honour of the famous polar explorer and scientist, in which he said , in particular: " You are the centre of the world energy which attracts here all that is the best out of all parts of the globe. It is great joy that such wonderful people as Fridtjof Nansen, personalities processing a high energy and a real experience in life, are attracted to us. One can take a lesson from such men as Nansen. Their example and energy are the best and most important things a human being may process. And we must heartily greet Fridtjof Nansen as such a man. Let him tell the Europeans that the names of the greatest personalities of the West are precious and dear to Russian workers who are quite capable of appreciating their energy, their exploits, their thoughts." On leaving Petrograd, Nansen went to Moscow, where he had negotiations with the Soviet government concerning the repatriation of the prisoners of war. Owning to Nansen's reputation and efforts, during 18 months from May 1920 till July 1922, 437 000 prisoners of the war of 29 nationalities were repatriated from different countries. 14 months later, in August of 1921, Nansen visited Russia once more as Chief Commissioner of the League of Nations in charge of the organisation of help to people starving in the Volga region. He visited villages in the Saratov and Samara regions and witnessed the tragedy of starving population. On coming back to Western Europe, he brought the news there and called for solidarity and help to the starving Russians. Nansen was enthusiastically received and supported by many, and, as a result, hundreds of thousands of starving Russians have been saved. In December of 1921 the 9th All-Russia Congress of the Soviets awarded Nansen was awarded a special honorary Diploma where the profound gratitude of millions of working people of Russia was expressed for his invaluable assistance to the starving peasants of the Volga region. Maxim Gorky considered Nansen to be such a distinguished personality not only because his "active love for mankind" saved thousands of human lives, but also because he contributed so much to the establishment of the spirit of humanism in Europe. In 1922 Nansen was elected an Honorary Member of the Moscow Soviet of the deputies of the working people, and became a Doctor Honoris Causa of the Moscow States University. Nansen spent part of money he received as the Nobel Prize for Peace in 1922 as his contribution to the creation of two experimental model agricultural stations in the Volga area and in the Ukraine. In 1925 Nansen made another tour of Russia, this time as a representative of the League of Nations responsible for the arrangement of shelter for homeless Armenian refugees from Turkey. He also visited Armenia to make acquaintance with the living conditions and history of the Armenian people. To the end of his days Nansen tried to do his best to help Armenian refugees. Thus he has become a special friend of the Armenian people whose name is sacred for every Armenian all over the world. The name of Fridtjof Nansen, the good genius of mankind, will be preserved in the history of our civilisation, and, of course, in the hearts and minds of the people of Russia and Armenia.