Tverian Karelia and Tverian Karels is a personal story for me, although me and my family have got nothing to do with Karels.
More than 30 years ago we started coming here in summer to camp on Mologa river. Back then we knew nothing about Karels. Only in 1998, when we bought a house in a village, we found out it was a Karelian village. When our neighbor, Olga, was a small girl, her grandmother was calling her Helga and talked Karelian to her.
Karels first appeared in the Tverian region after the Russian defeat in the Russo-Swedish war (1610-1617). Under Swedish rule, residents of Ingria and Korelian isthmus were forced to convert from the Orthodox religion to Protestantism. This together with famine and disease led to an exodus. By 1670 about 25-30 thousands of orthodox Karels found shelter in Russian lands.
Once I went into a village shop and heard two elderly women talking in Karelian. Then we with my Karelian friend and her farther were driving through villages searching for traces of his relatives, and only then, two years ago, I realized that I want to find out as much as possible about Tverian Karels. I began going from one village to another, studying history of the question, taking pictures of people and places.
I was fascinated that more than 300 years after moving from Karelian isthmus to Tver region, they still preserved their language and culture. But what is sad is that the generation of today's 50-60 year-olds is the last one that can still fluently speak the language. And that means that in 30 years Karelian language might completely disappear in Tver region.
In 1930-s there were about 200.000 Karels in Tver region, more than in Karelia itself. An autonomous district was organized. Until 1939 the language was taught at schools, newspapers and books in Karelian were issued. But as the relationship to Finland became worse, this all stopped, there were no more Karels, all were now Russians, supporting Karels was considered dangerous. And to call oneself a Karel was uncomfortable and shameful. This shame is still there, Karels are ashamed of being Karels. Among today's 30-40 year-olds, born in mixed families, it was common that a Russian farther prohibited his wife to talk Karelian to children. Russian and Karelian villages we in rivalry, Karels were (and sometimes still are) considered as "second sort" people.
My story is an attempt to sort out what is left from the Karelian originality, to understand whether Karels still consider themselves as a nation, and if they do, how is it shown".
Russia, Tver Region, 2014-2016