Lev Nikolayevich Gumilyov (Russian: Лев Никола́евич Гумилёв; 1 October 1912, St. Petersburg–15 June 1992, St. Petersburg) was a Soviet historian, ethnologist, anthropologist and translator from Persian, who is known for his highly non-orthodox theories of ethnogenesis.
His parents were two prominent poets Nikolay Gumilyov and Anna Akhmatova. They were divorced when Lev was 7 years old, and his father was executed when Lev was just 9. Lev spent most of his youth, from 1938 until 1956 in Soviet labor camps. He was arrested by NKVD in 1935 and released, but rearrested again and convicted to five years in 1938. After serving the time, he joined the Red Army and took part in the Battle of Berlin. However, he was arrested again in 1949 and convicted to ten years in prison camps. In order to secure his release, Akhmatova published a dithyramb to Joseph Stalin, which did not help to release Lev, although it possibly prevented her own imprisonment. The order for her arrest had already been prepared by Soviet secret police, but Stalin decided not to sign it. Relations between Lev and his mother were strained, as he blamed her for not helping him enough. She described her feelings about the arrest of Lev and the period of political repressions in Requiem.
After Stalin's death, Gumilyov joined the Hermitage Museum, whose director, Mikhail Artamonov, he would come to appreciate as his mentor. Under Artamonov's guidance, he became interested in Khazar studies and steppe peoples in general. In the 1950s and 1960s he participated in several expeditions to the Volga Delta and North Caucasus. He proposed an archeological site for Samandar as well as the theory of the Caspian transgression in collaboration with geologist Alexander Alyoksin as one of the reasons for Khazar decline. In 1960 he started delivering lectures at Leningrad University. Two years later, he defended his doctoral thesis on ancient Turks. From the 1960s, he worked in the Geography Institute, where he would defend another doctoral thesis, this time in geography.
Although his ideas were rejected by the official Soviet doctrine and most of his monographs banned from publication, Gumilev came to attract much publicity, especially in the Perestroika years. As an indication of his popularity, the Kazakh president Nursultan Nazarbayev ordered the L.N.Gumilyov Eurasian National University (Евразийский Национальный университет имени Л. Н. Гумилёва) to be erected just opposite his own palace on the central square of the new Kazakh capital, Astana.
Gumilev attempted to explain the waves of nomadic migration that rocked the great steppe of Eurasia for centuries by geographical factors such as annual vacillations in solar radiation, which determine the area of grasslands that could be used for grazing livestock. According to this idea, when the steppe areas shrank drastically, the nomads of Central Asia began moving to the fertile pastures of Europe or China.
To describe the genesis and evolution of ethnic groups, Gumilyov introduced the concept of "passionarity", meaning the level of activity to expand typical for an ethnic group, and especially for their leaders, at the given moment of time. Gumilev argued that every ethnic group passes through the same stages of birth, development, climax, inertia, convolution, and memorial. It is during the "acmatic" phases, when the national passionarity reaches its maximum heat, that the great conquests are made. He described the current state of Europe as deep inertia, or "introduction to obscuration", to use his own words. The passionarity of the Arabic world, on the other hand, is still high, according to him.
Drawing inspiration from the works of Konstantin Leontyev and Nikolay Danilevsky, Gumilyov regarded Russians as a "super-ethnos" which is kindred to Turkic-Mongol peoples of the Eurasian steppe. Those periods when Russia has been said to conflict with the steppe peoples, Gumilev reinterpreted as the periods of consolidation of Russian power with that of steppe in order to oppose destructive influences from Catholic Europe, that posed a potential threat to integrity of the Russian ethnic group.
In accordance with his pan-Asiatic theories, he supported the national movements of Tatars, Kazakhs, and other Turkic peoples, in addition to those of the Mongolians and other East Asians. Unsurprisingly, Gumilev's teachings have enjoyed immense popularity in Central Asian countries. In Kazan, for example, a monument to him was opened in August 2005.
Several researchers, such as Vadim Rossman, John Klier, Victor Yasmann, Victor Schnirelmann, and Mikhail Tripolsky describe Gumilyov's views as antisemitic. According to these authors, Gumilev did not extend this ethnological ecumenism to the medieval Jews, whom he regarded as a parasitic, international urban class that had dominated the Khazars and subjected the early East Slavs to the "Khazar Yoke". This last phrase he adapted from the traditional term "Tatar Yoke" for the Mongol domination of medieval Russia, a term Gumilev rejected for he did not regard the Mongol conquest as a necessarily negative event. In particular, he asserted that the Radhanites had been instrumental in the exploitation of East Slavic people and had exerted undue influence on the sociopolitical and economic landscape of the early Middle Ages. Gumilyov maintained that the Jewish culture was by nature mercantile and existed outside and in opposition to its environment. According to this view, Jews share a specific way of thinking, and this is associated with the moral norms of Judaism. According to Gumilev, the medieval Jews also did not bear arms themselves, but waged wars by proxies or mercenaries.
Gumilev explains the genesis of new nations by eruptions of biosphere. But how these natural calamities are to be confirmed? It appears, by the same history. We know nothing about the work of biosphere on the production of ethnoses, except that it produces them. A new ethnos appeared somewhere on earth—it means the biosphere erupted. “Fun aside,” the criterion of Gumilev has taken him “beyond the scope of science.” The last eruption of biosphere was in 1381 and generated the Russian ethnos. “Generally, according to Gumilev, the biosphere after the Fourteenth century began behaving in some strange manner. From his table (1978), it is evident that the biosphere had never stood still for so long—six centuries without a single eruption of ethnogenesis! …Either something serious went wrong in the biosphere, if it failed during six centuries to generate any ‘superethnos,’ or Gumilev artificially blocked it—out of patriotic considerations.”
- The Hsiung-nu (1960)
- Ancient Turks (1964)
- Searching for an Imaginary Kingdom : The Legend of the Kingdom of Prester John (1970)
- The Hsiung-nu in China (1974)
- Ethnogenesis and the Biosphere of Earth (1978)
- Ancient Rus and the Great Steppe (1989)
- An End and a New Beginning (1989)
- From Rus to Russia (1992)
- (Russian) Лев Гумилёв. Открытие хазарии. Москва. Айр Пресс, 2006.
- Rossman, Vadim, et al. Russian Intellectual Antisemitism in the Post Communist Era (Studies in Antisemitism Series). Univ. of Nebraska Press, 2005
- Klier, John. "The Myth of the Khazars and Intellectual Antisemitism in Russia, 1970s–1990s". The Slavonic and East European Review, Volume 83, Number 4, 1 October 2005, pp. 779-781(3).
- Yasmann, Victor. "The Rise of the Eurasians". The Eurasian Politician Issue 4 (August 2001) Radio Free Europe, 1992
- Yasmann, Victor. "Red Religion:An Ideology of Neo-Messianic Russian Fundamentalism" Demoktratizat: The Journal of Post-Soviet Democratization. Volume 1, No. 2. p. 26.
- Shnirelman, Victor A. "The Story of a Euphemism: The Khazars in Russian Nationalist Literature." The World of the Khazars: New Perspectives. Brill, 2007. p. 353-372
- Malakhov, Vladimir. "Racism and Migrants". (Trans. Mischa Gabowitsch.) Neprikosnovennij Zapas, 2003
- Выбор веры (Russian)
- Tripolsky, Mihail. ОБ ИЗВРАЩЕНИИ ИСТОРИИ: Хазарский каганат, евреи и судьба России
- Rossman, Vadim. The Ethnic Community and Its Enemies: Russian Intellectual Antisemitism in the Post-Communist Era
- Alexander Yanov, After Eltsin: "Weimar" Russia, Moscow: Kruk, 1995, p .206, 209.
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