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Main page / The Kuril islands / History


The honour of discovery, research and initial development of the Kuril islands belongs to Russian expeditions and colonists.

A Dutchman Herritz Freeze was the first who visited the Urupu island in 1643. He called this land "Company’s lant", but didn’t even assume that it was a part of the Kuril range (Peklu, 1885, page 565).

The rest of the islands to the north of the Urupu island as far as Kamchatka were discovered and described by the Russian seamen and researchers. Then at the beginning of the 18th century they discovered the Urupu island for the second time. At this time Japan knew only about the Kunasiri island and the Small Kuril range, but they were not a part of Japanese empire. The extreme northern colony of Japan was the Hokkaido island.

V. Vlasov was the first Russian from a fortress of Anadyr who informed about the northern islands of the Kuril range. In 1697 he went along the western coast to the mouth of the Golygina river and “saw as if there were islands” from here.

Never knowing that any trade with foreigners was banned in Japan, Peter I gave an order to make good trade relationships with Japan in 1702. From now on the Russians made the way to the south from Kamchatka in search of a trade way to Japan. In 1706 a Russian Cossack Nased-kin saw the land from the cape Lopatka. Under the order of Yakut commander "to search the land", the Cossack leader D. Antziferov and esaul (the captain in the Russian army) Ivan Kozyrevskiy went to the Syumusyu (Shumshu) and Paramushir islands in 1711, and after re-turning they made some "drawings" of all these islands. They took down some stories of the Japanese fishermen who were thrown out to the coast of Kamchatka by the storm.

During the expedition of 1713 esaul Ivan Kozyrevskiy visited the islands again and made a new "drawing". The geodesists Evreinov and Luzhin went from Kamchatka to the Sixth island (Simusiru) in 1720 and mapped it. Ten years later the brave leader V. Shestakov with his 25 men visited five northern islands. After him the thorough works "for the purpose of observation and research of a way to Japan" were carried out by the captain Shpanberg — Bering’s assistant during his second expedition.

During 1738 — 1739 Shpanberg mapped and described almost all the islands. According to his documents 40 islands were marked under the Russian names, for example, the Anfinogen, Kras-nogorsk, Stolbovoi (the Post), Krivoi (Crooked), Osypnoi (Knocked down), Kozel (the Goat), Brat (the Brother), Sestra (the Sister), Olkhovy (Alder), Zelyony (Green) etc. According to this work all the islands of the Kuril range was mapped for the first time. The extreme southern islands known earlier (“Company’s land”, the Shtatt island) were defined as components of the Kuril range.

Long before these events there was an idea of some “big land of Gamma” to the east of Asia. But then the legend about this hypothetical land was dispelled forever.

At the same time the Russians met the indigenous population of the islands — Ainy. According to the report of the Russian geographer Krasheninnikov, there were only 44 men on the Sumushu island.

In 1750 the sergeant major of the First island N. Storozhev went to Simushiru. Sixteen years later (1766) the sergeant majors Nikita Chikin, Chuprov and sotnik (lieutenant of Cossack troop) I. Cherny tried to find out the exact number of all the islands and amount of the population on them.

After Chikin’s death I. Cherny had to spend the winter on the island. In 1767 he reached the Otorophu island and then stayed on the Urup. When he came back to Kamchatka in 1769 he re-ported that 83 aborigines adopted the Russian citizenship.

Chikin and Chernyi were obliged to be guided by the instructions of Bolsheretsk office: to discover and describe the islands, to find out the size, width of straits, to know what there is on the islands, to describe animals, rivers, lakes and fish in them, to know about gold and silver, ore and pearls... A bit later, Tyumen merchant Yakov Nikonov together with the seafarers of the trade company of Protodjyakonov delivered more exact information about the islands.

With the purpose of strong and final fastening of islands, the governor of Kamchatka Bem offered to construct a fortification on the Urup island and to create a Russian settlement there. For the realization of this offer, a Yakut merchant Lebedev-Lastochkin went to an expedition under the command of the Siberian nobleman Antipin in 1775. The vessel "Nikolay " wrecked near the Urup island. Two years later a vessel "Natalia" was sent from Okhotsk to the Urup island under the commander of the navigator Petushkov.

After a winter on the Urup island "Natalia" sailed to the Gulf Accesi as far as the Hokkaido island and met a Japanese vessel there. According to the agreement with the Japanese Antipin and the interpreter Shabalin came to Hokkaido with Lebedev – Lastochkin’s goods. He remembered that he had to act politely and with courtesy when he met Japanese. The merchants hoped to get good benefits. But unfortunately they failed. The Japanese forbade them trade both on the Hok-kaido, Etortophu and Kunasiri islands.

From that moment, the Japanese government began to oppose the Russians on the southern islands. In 1786 the government ordered Mogami Tokunai to examine the islands. He found three Russians on the Otorophu island, questioned them and handed an order: "The entrance into the Japanese districts is forbidden for the foreign citizens. Therefore I order you to return to your state". The peaceful trade movement of the Russians was interpreted by the Japanese absolutely differently.

In 1787 — 1788 the Japanese government was engaged in special investigation "of the actual situation of this case". In 1800 the Japanese officials Yamada and Takataya arrived at the Oto-ruphu island, built the office in Oito, destroyed Russian crosses and put a post designating that this island belonged to Japan. Then 50 soldiers were brought to the island to defend it. From that time Russian expeditions continued researches from the North only as far as the Urup island.

Laxsman agreed with Japan to send one Russian trade vessel to Nagasaki. The relations seemed to develop favorably for both countries.

Billing's expedition (1785—1792) once again mapped the islands from the First up to the Sixth. Still hoping to establish trade relationships with Japanese, the Russian-American company de-veloped a trade on the Urup island in 1794. It did not prevent, however, the building of a special Japanese office, which developed the principles of colonization of the Kuril islands and the education of the inhabitants. The officials made long voyages, "being directed by a polar star". The Japanese were brought up with the idea of the national exploit: to sail in small boats alone in the lands of extreme cold, to the lands inhabited by aborigines.

Russian researches had more and more difficulties. The famous seafarer Kruzenshtern who travelled around the earth (1803 — 1805), and the captain Lisyanskiy - a participant of round-the-world navigation managed to make definition of astroitems, shooting and inventory of the Kuril islands, including southern islands, but in 1811 the captain Golovnin was seized by the Japanese on the Kunassiri island.

The Russian-American company distributed trade to all the Kuril islands in the 30s of the 19th century. Not wishing, however, to complicate the relations with Japan, the Russian government agreed to differentiate the possessions, and under the treatise of 1855,the southern islands up to Urup were included in possession of Japan, and all the islands to the North have remained within the limits of Russia. Trying to ensure the safety of Seaside and lower parts of the Amur river, and at the same time taking into account the interest of Japan in the Kuril range, the Russian government agreed to an exchange of the Kuril islands for the Southern Sakhalin, which some time was in a joint possession of Russia and Japan. In the convention of 1867 was mentioned about this possible exchange of the Kuril islands for the Southern Sakhalin.

The agreement for the exchange, favourable to both parties, was held in 1875. Then the islands were solemnly handed to Japan. The act of transfer was held on Syumusyu. Estimating really all the importance of a strategic situation of the Kuril island range, Russia showed a good will to the development of a good-neighbourhood with Japan.

In 1945, according to the Potsdam agreement, all the Kuril islands of the range were returned to the Soviet Union.


The Kuril islands. Ainy.
The Kuril islands. Volcanoes.
The Kuril islands. Volcanoes.

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