This year Russian settlement Fort Ross in California marks its 200th anniversary. On Monday, the descendants of those who established Fort Ross, presented a cultural program as part of the 2012 National Cherry Blossom festival in Washington.
The performance of popular Russian language rock opera “Juno and Avos” became one of the highlights of the 2012 National Cherry Blossom Festival. The lead arias were sung by Olga Orlovskaya, a soloist of the Baltimore Opera Theater, who earlier worked in Moscow theaters. By tradition, prior to the beginning of the festival young ladies (Princesses) from each US state and US territories were selected for their academic successes and achievements, extraordinary talents, their contribution to public and their interest to world politics. In the end of Festival one of princesses will become the U. S. Cherry Blossom Queen. This year, Russian Princess Maria Belova represents Embassy of Russia at the Cherry Blossom Festival. Maria grew up in Russia and moved to the US with her family when she was 15. She is currently a student at the University of Maryland. The Fort Ross cultural program at the Cherry Blossom festival also includes an exhibition of paintings by the Russian artists and of Russian historical exhibits.
Fort Ross, the southernmost Russian settlement in North America, was founded on September 11th 1812 by Commerce Counsellor Ivan Kuskov of the Russian-American Company, on the Californian coast, 80 kilometers north of San Francisco. It was there where the main character of “Juno and Avos” rock opera Russian explorer Nikolai Rezanov fell in love with Conchita Arguello, a 15 year old daughter of the colonial governor of Spanish California.
Fort Ross remained the Russian-American Company’s trade hub for nearly thirty years. In 1841, following the bankruptcy of the Russian-American Company, Fort Ross was sold to John Sutter, a Mexican citizen of Swiss origin, for a miniscule 42,857 rubles in silver, of which 37,500 was never paid. The land changed hands several times after the departure of the Russians but its wooden fortress with structures typical for Russian architecture remained in their original form for years.
Fort Ross, now a historic landmark and part of the State Historic Park in California, is visited by 150,000 people annually. The settlement’s only surviving original structure – the house of Fort’s last administrator Alexander Rotchev – is a landmark of national importance. Fort Ross was a glaring example of the development of Russian settlements on new lands, its history largely repeating the establishment of Russian settlers in Siberia in the 17th -18th cc.
Fort Ross was the birthplace of California’s first windmills, shipyards, orchard gardens and vineyards. Russians enriched it with benefits of European civilization, including novelties such as window panes. In 1837-1840, Fort Ross’s Russian settler Yegor Chernykh introduced a weather monitoring system.
This autumn Fort Ross will celebrate its 200th anniversary. Historians continue to argue about its significance and Russia’s missed opportunities in California. A project presented by a group of Russian filmmakers at the Russian Cultural Center in Washington offers a different vision of the Fort Ross chapter in the Russian history. Film director and producer Yuri Moroz and actor Dmitry Kharatyan have undertaken to trace the “Aleutian” branch in Kaharatyan’s family tree and shed light on the unknown chapters in the history of first Russian settlements in America.
Kharayan’s Aleutian branch goes back to his great-great-grandfather, who was head of the Russian-American Company in Unga Island in the eastern part of the Aleutian Ridge off Alaska coast and married an Aleutian. The authors of the Fort Ross Project learned about this genealogic spur after they took a decision to make a film on the basis of a book by Dmitry Poletayev, a TV reporter for NTV-America. Yuri Zaitsev, a spokesman for the Russian Cultural Center, says the project is interesting in itself ahead of Fort Ross’s bicentenary.
"In the current political situation, this episode form the history of the Russian-American relations is bound to draw people’s attention in Russia and in the US. As a representative of the Russia’s international cooperation I could not ignore it because my task is to make relations between the people of Russia and the US warmer and help the people of the two countries to know each other better. This project will definitely contribute to the achievement of the goal," Yury Zaitsev says.