History of the Islands

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There is still a continuing discussion about the historical belonging of the outer islands of the Gulf of Finland. Someone claims that they were originally Swedish, others are sure that they are Finnish. In fact, until the beginning of the fourteenth century, these islands were not needed by anyone. It was not easy there to be engaged in agriculture: most of islands were covered with stones and had fresh water problems, as the climate in the Baltic is quite harsh. Additionally, islands are far from the mainland (according to medieval standards). The islands were noticed only when the confrontation for dominance in the region between the Novgorodians and the Swedes reached the highest level (by the way, their first clash was dated 1124, when the Swedes decided to annex Ladoga). If we look again at the map and take into account the interests of the Danes and the Teutonic Order, which were active there then, it is easy to understand that the islands became at that time an important strategic bridgehead.

In 1323 the Treaty of Nöteborg, also known as the Treaty of Oreshek was signed between the Novgorod Republic and Sweden, the first settlement of universal and perpetual peace in the history of our state. And thus appear the islands (not in the text itself, but as areas "cut" by the Swedes). So standing on the way to the exit, Hogland, Sommers, Rodsher, Tyuters and Seskar received their first official "master".

And here comes the trace of the Finns. It was them who, being subjects of Sweden since 1104 and traditionally fishing here, were proclaimed as the "indigenous" population of the islands.

There is also one interesting fact in the "report" to the Tallinn magistrate, from which it is seen how merchants went to Retusaari (Kronstadt) in 1395, lost their way and landed on the island of Ceskar, where they "traded with local Russians." Historians believe that it was about our Orthodox Izhora, who occupied part of the land of the modern Leningrad region. The story can be also about the Slavs who started settling to the North-West in the Viking Age (IX-XI centuries), to establish trade with Europe and settle down, creating "sources of Russian statehood" - Veliky Novgorod and Ladoga settlement, and could possibly spread after the territory of Ladoga.


Ancient stone labyrinths on the island of South Virgin
Ancient stone labyrinths on the island of South Virgin

The fact that on the islands people lived before the Swedes-Finns is confirmed by archaeologists. There is a burial ground of the Iron Age on Moshchny Island, which had been used for at least 200 years. There were many valuable findings, for example, on Hogland island - cups for rituals, embankments, seidy, on South Virgin (Länsi-Viiri) - mounds and labyrinths. On Big Tyuters (Bolshoi Tyuters) there are burial grounds of the Bronze Age. And this is only what has already been revealed.

In addition to the Swedes, Finns and "conditionally Russians" also lived Livonyans (now they are Estonians and Lithuanians) on the islands.  At least, on Hogland, without any doubt. There is a record about this made by the famous diplomat-historian-physicist Adam Olearius in 1635, whose ship was wrecked near the Hogland bay of Syurkyul. By the way, the huge Gottorp globe given to Tsar Peter, which now is kept in the St. Petersburg Kunstkammer, was designed by Olearius. It is the first and once the world's largest globe-planetarium with a diameter of 3.1 m.


Engraving on the crash of Adam Olearius' ship
Engraving on the crash of Adam Olearius' ship

As for Russia, some islands became part of this country under Peter I. The Swedish campaign in the Baltic, the Northern War, ended with their defeat and  signing the Treaty of Nystad. In 1721 the islands (together with Estlandia, part of Karelia, Livonia (Estonia and Latvia) and Ingermanlandia (now this is a part of the Leningrad region) came into the possession of the Russian kingdom.

But the Swedes did not stop. The next Russian-Swedish war began and ended in 1743 with signing the Treaty of Åbo in favor of Russia, which then took back the most important island of the archipelago - Hogland. Then the Swedes unsuccessfully tried to take revenge in 1788-1790: the very famous battle of Hogland took place.

Finally, in 1809, the Treaty of Fredrikshamn put an end to the more than six-century Russian-Swedish dispute over "who owns what" in the Baltic. The Swedes were deprived of Finland, it became the part of the Russian Empire.

Inhabitants of the islands, the ethnic Finns, who had been Russian subjects by that time for almost 100 years old, were "attributed" to our new "province": the Grand Duchy of Finland. By the way, all the "worlds" that were mentioned were barely touched: they retained the right to their own religion and traditions. Moreover, thanks to Alexander II, the Finns were given the opportunity to use their native language officially. For the first time since 1104.

And everything was fine, until the Russian Empire collapsed, and the Finns, together with independence, had an opportunity to claim about their right for the islands. The population there, they said, was Finnish so the land should belong to Finland as well. And in 1920 the short-sighted Bolsheviks gave away the islands. They regretted their decision later and began to offer Finland to return, buy, change the islands, but the Finns were adamant.

The Winter War (Soviet-Finnish) began and ended. And the next peace treaty of 1940 (the Moscow Treaty) returned the islands to their former owner, however, only on a lease basis, but with the right to build naval bases on them that the Soviet Union actually did until the summer of 1941.


Anti-aircraft gun on the shore of Bolshoy Tyuters Island
Anti-aircraft gun on the shore of Bolshoy Tyuters Island

With the beginning of the Great Patriotic War, the strategic position of the outer islands was revealed with a new force: they proved to be of fundamental importance to all belligerents. The history of the Siege of Leningrad has left the Road of Life, the Nevsky Pyatachok, the Oranimbaum bridgehead in the memory of people, but the role of the outer islands in the defense of the city, in our Victory as a whole, unfortunately, is known mostly only to military historians. Only they will be able to talk about the incredible courage of our submariners, who tried to break through the large-scale minefields "Ziegel" ("morskoy yezh" (sea urchin)), which the German fleet put on the way to the central Baltic. About the most difficult air battles. About unprecedented landing operations, full of feats on the brink of human capabilities, and monstrous errors of command, of which official history, of course, chose to "forget." About the Moshchny Island, which for three years (!) was the westernmost point of the front line, and about the island of Hogland, where in 1944 the former enemies - the USSR and Finland - together repulsed the attacks of the Germans.

If the fate of the islands would have been different, who knows what the blockade of Leningrad would have been, how quickly the war would have ended, how many lives could have been saved.

Only in the autumn of 1944 the Soviet troops occupied all the islands, and in 1947, according to the terms of the next "peace treaty" (this time The Treaty of Paris), they were again assigned to our country remain like that today.

Probably there are no more such modest territories on the earth, as the outer islands, that would appear in so many peace treaties.