Appeal launched to return the name of Nicholas II to the Severnaya Zemlya archipelago

PHOTO: The Taimyr and Vaygach near the Land of Emperor Nicholas II (Severnaya Zemlya)
Artist: Evgeny Valerianovich Voishvillo (1907-1993)

The archipelago was discovered on 4th September 1913. In 1914 it was named Emperor Nicholas II Land, one of the islands was named in honour of Tsesarevich Alexei Nikolaevich.

On 1st October, a letter was sent to the authorities of the Krasnoyarsk Territory with a proposal to return the historic name of Nicholas II to the Severnaya Zemlya (Bolshevik name) archipelago situated in the Russian high Arctic. It lies off Siberia’s Taymyr Peninsula, separated from the mainland by the Vilkitsky Strait. This archipelago separates two marginal seas of the Arctic Ocean, the Kara Sea in the west and the Laptev Sea in the east.

Among the signatories are the explorer and traveler Fyodor Konyukhov; Irina Tikhomirova, the granddaughter of Boris Vilkitsky who discovered the islands; State Duma deputy from the Krasnoyarsk Territory Viktor Zubarev, among others.

The archipelago was not put on the map until the 1913–1915 Arctic Ocean Hydrographic Expedition of the icebreakers Taimyr and Vaygach. The chief organizer and first captain of the Vaygach was Aleksandr Vasiliyevich Kolchak (1874-1920) of the Imperial Russian Navy. The expedition was privately financed and launched in 1910, being led by Boris Andreyevich Vilkitsky (1885-1961) on behalf of the Russian Hydrographic Service. This venture accomplished its goal of exploring the uncharted areas of the continental side of the Northern Sea Route in what was seen as the culmination of the Great Northern Expedition, an ambitious enterprise initially conceived by emperor Peter I the Great in order to map the whole of the northern coast of Russia to the east.

On 4th September 1913 (O.S. 22 August 1913), members of Vilkitsky’s expedition landed on what is now known as Cape Berg on October Revolution Island. They raised the Imperial Russian flag on the shore and named the new territory Tayvay Land, after the first syllable of their icebreakers’ names. During the days that followed Vilkitsky’s expedition charted parts of the Laptev Sea coast of what they believed to be a single island. Barely six months later in early 1914, by order of the Secretary of the Imperial Navy, the new discovery was renamed Emperor Nicholas II Land, in honour of the ruling emperor Nicholas II.

In 1926, the Presidium of the Central Executive Committee of the USSR renamed the archipelago renamed Severnaya Zemlya (Northern Land), and the Tsesarevich Alexei Nikolaevich Island was renamed Maly Taimyr.

Severnaya Zemlya comprises four major islands – October Revolution, Bolshevik, Komsomolets, and Pioneer – and around 70 smaller islands, covering a total area of about 37,000 km2 (14,300 sq mi).

With regard to the current appeal, Zubarev noted: “Such a letter has been addressed to the head and parliament of the region. We hope that state authorities the regions will accept our arguments and take measures to restore historical justice”.

© Paul Gilbert. 3 October 2020

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