Inetrnational Centre of the Roerichs

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Alexander Stetsenko
Deputy Director-general of the Museum by name of Nicholas Roerich, Moscow

The Central Asian Expedition of Nicholas Roerich – Reality and Fiction

(The article is included in the publication ‘Materials of the International Scientific Public Conference ‘Let’s Protect Names and Heritage of the Roerichs’ (in Russian), International Centre of the Roerichs, Master-Bank, Moscow. – 2001)

The artistic path of the Roerichs can be symbolically divided into three stages: preparations for the Great Journey, the very Central Asian expedition and finally, the collation and conceptualization of its results. The latter stage was represented through multiple outstanding paintings, as well as through the philosophical, historical, scientific and journalistic works, their main ideas brought to life by the members of this great family as part of their broad cultural and enlightening activities. All the above can be boldly united under one and the same banner: the Heritage of the Roerich family, based upon the Doctrine of the Living Ethics.

We, living today, and those who will come after us, both are in a way participating in the fourth stage of the Central Asian expedition of Nicholas Roerich, whether we want it or not. The content of this stage can be denominated as recognition of the creative heritage of the Roerichs and its significance for the evolutionary development of the mankind. One of the key peculiarities of this stage is the utter impossibility to ignore this great Name and everything connected to it – neither now, nor later. That is why, apparently, a behest was given to view the name of the Roerich as a ‘pons asinorum’, a touchstone. No physical parameters can measure its spiritual weight,way too heavy for many.

Studying the life and art of such personalities as Nicholas Roerich is a hard task, not so much because great phenomena are always a mystery, as because the researcher should constantly strive to reach those heights of consciousness from where such personalities unfold their activities.

If they don’t, they run the risk of losing the living bond with the object of their studies and at best, are doomed to misunderstandings and failures. At worst, they will be occupied with falsification and adjustment of historic facts to their own understanding of the events or implementation of someone’s order, conditioned by the PR-market. Falsification and forgery have become favorite tricks of the libelers, and it was the Central Asian expedition that served as one of the main reasons for the attacks.

The first libelous claims against the expedition and its Master were voiced in the Harbin press in 1934. Sadly enough, 60 years later, i.e. In 1994, the same thing happened in the great artist's homeland.

Literally everything connected to the Central Asian expedition became object for distortion: its aims and mission, its origin and the sources of its funding. Neither were the participants of the expedition forgotten. To adjust them to their schemes, the quasi-researchers had to rewrite the biographies of many of these people. We have had to hear a lot of nonsense about the events that allegedly happened during the expedition. The forgers were especially keen on fabricating stories about the expedition participants' connection to the Soviet Russia's intelligence. Clearly understanding that it would be impossible to prove the Roerichs' participation in the OGPU [an organization for investigating and combating counterrevolutionary activities in the former Soviet Union, existing from 1922 (1922 - 23 as the GPU) to 1934 and replacing the Cheka; it was absorbed into the NKVD in 1934 – tr.] activities that never actually occurred, the organizers of a libelous campaign decided to undertake a step yet unprecedented in the research practice: with the help of fake documents, they include an OGPU agent in the expedition team.

All these concoctions were ingeniously voiced in the works of Oleg Shishkin, first in 1994, in his articles written for the 'Segodnya' newspaper, then in 1999, in the book 'Struggle for the Himalayas – NKVD1: Magic and Espionage'. Shishkin’s 'companion' in the falsification of the events that once took place around Roerich and his expedition was A. Senkevich. This figure provided a 'scientific' basis for the spreading of mendacious claims against the Roerichs. It was very rapidly that all kinds of inventions and fabrications on the Central Asian expedition came in vogue and were voiced by yet more people, such as V. Rosov, A. Topchiev etc. Following the release of Shishkin's 2001 book, I. Minutko issued his opus 'The Master's Temptation: a Version of Life and Death of Nicholas Roerich.'

However all the deceitful fog of yet another 'version' disperses fully upon reading Nicholas Roerich's own road diary. 'Of course, it was the artistic work’, he writes in his 1929' book 'Heart of Asia, ’that was my chief endeavor as an artist. It is hard to imagine when I will be able to put all my artistic notes and impressions into practice – so generous are these gifts of Asia <...> Apart from purely artistic tasks, in our expedition we intended to get to know the condition of the memorials and the antiquities of the Central Asia, to monitor the current state of religion and traditions, and to mark the trails of the great migration of peoples. The latter task has always been dear to me' [1, pp. 5-6].

These were the tasks posed before the expedition by its Leader. Their implementation resulted in hundreds of paintings and multiple scientific, historical and philosophical essays that formed several books.

Apart from practical scientific tasks, the Central Asian expedition performed an enormous evolutionary task, which is thoroughly analyzed in the book by Lyudmila Shaposhnikova 'The Cosmic Behests'.

The expedition was unique in every respect. First, it was the length of the route: the distance covered amounted to over 25 000 km. Secondly, it was the terrain crossed: the expedition left behind 35 passes from 11 000 to 21 000 feet high and covered the territory of as many as 5 countries. The contemporary history of the humankind hasn't yet seen such an expedition, its results astonishing even the most daring imagination. But these results are real and confirmed by the abundant heritage of the Roerichs.

Let us now turn to some publications about Nicholas Roerich and his Central Asian expedition, written with sometimes obvious, sometimes scientifically clad libelous intentions, and pose them against the background of reality.

Falsification of the Aims and Mission of the Expedition

Shiskin's libelous insinuations voiced in the 'Segodnya' newspaper in 1994 sound highly inadequate. There, he represents the Roerich's expedition as 'a raiding party of OGPU, allegedly aiming to assassinate the 13th Dalai Lama and overthrow the Tibetan government' [2]; and 'to prompt a religious war and establish proletarian dictatorship' [3]. These false claims by Shishkin aren't worth any close analysis, as the absurdity of such charges is undisputed. In 1996, by the verdict of the Moscow Tverskoy inter-municipal court, they were declared untrue. There is only one nuance characterizing the direction of the libelous campaign against the great peace maker of the 20th century that needs to be emphasized here. This campaign, having started in 1994 in the Moscow press with Shishkin's article in the 'Segodnya' newspaper and an article by Deacon Andrey Kuraev 'Newfangled temptations' in the 'Novy Mir' magazine, №10, is still going on. The core of all these insinuations against Roerich can be reduced to the following: he is charged with religious and political extremism. As a proof, I would like to cite the words pronounced by Deacon Andrey Kuraev in an interview for the TV-5 channel's program 'Scandals of the Week': 'The Roerichs' worldview is a racist one.'

The Roerichs were already persecuted during the Harbin period of their Machurian expedition of 1934-1935 in the similar way. This can be proved not only by many facts represented in the published part of the Roerichs' heritage, but also by the evidence from the Harbin press given by M. Dubaev in his book 'Roerich's Harbin Secret.' It takes one only to read the chapter 'Journalist G.N. Lukin agains N.K. Roerich' stating that it was 'a journalist closely connected to the fascist community' who compared Roerich to Antichrist, attributes geopolitical ambitions for world domination to the artist.

Modern falsifiers, too, make such mendacious allegations, trying to distort the tasks and mission of the Central Asian expedition.

Due to V. Rosov, there is now a common misconception of the mission of the Great Journey, which reduces the Central Asian expedition to the 'Mysterious Mission of the Western Buddhists' [4, p.55]. The author of this fabrication cites the diaries of N.V. Kordashevsky, P.K. Portnyagin, and especially the diaries of K.N. Ryabinin, the expedition's doctor (published in 1996 under the title 'Tibet Dethroned'). Ryabinin did repeatedly mention the expedition as a 'Mission,' and even cited some of Nicholas Roerich's letters to Dalai Lama, in which Roerich introduces himself as the Head of the Embassy from the Global Union of Western Buddhists [5, p.349].

In order to understand why Roerich called his expedition a Mission or an Embassy from Western Buddhists during the negotiations with the Tibetan officials, one should consider the ignorance and cruelty of the Tibetan authorities of that time. It was these authorities who basically doomed the expedition participants to a certain death during their 5-month detention on a high-mountain plateau. ‘And two nice days turn into ferocious five months of our standing in summer tents in the bitter frost of over 60°C, with whirlwinds on the altitude of 15 000 feet (about 4600 m)’, writes Nicholas Roerich in his expedition diary, ‘We have a perpetually drunk major and barbarous ragamuffin soldiers. We are prohibited from talking to the passing caravans; we are not allowed to buy food from the local people. The caravan is slowly dying. Every day there are new corpses to be found near the tents, and flocks of stray dogs roar, sharing their new prey. Ninety caravan animals died – out of 104. Five men died: three Mongolian lamas and two Tibetans... Griffons and eagles quarrel with the dogs over the prey' [6, p.304]

Only the government drowning in ignorance, whereas postulating its commitment to the Buddhist Doctrine, could doom a peaceful expedition to death so barbarously. Nicholas Roerich wrote, ‘Let us remember how the Tibetans repeatedly told us that there’s no Buddhism in the West, and that the West doesn’t know Buddhism at all. How many times they spoke contemptuously of the Japanese, Chinese, Mongolians, Sikkimese and of the Burma’s and Ceylon’s Hinayana. Unbelievable self-conceit has separated Tibet from the rest of the world. The best people flea from Tibet and do not want to come back to expose themselves to the tyranny of the barbarous government. Ignorance has closed the eyes of Tibet. The land has been deprived of its spiritual leader – Tashi Lama has left Tibet. The Tibetans simply do not want to learn and discover’ [6, pp.308-309]. Thus, considering the Roerich’s opinion about the Doctrines of the founding fathers of the world’s religions, one should not be surprised that, addressing the initiators of the expedition’s detention, he called it ‘a Mission’, and himself the head of it.

Now, let us look closer at the documents cited by Ryabinin and try to understand the following things: why, in the letters to the Tibetan authorities, Nicholas Roerich called his expedition ‘an Embassy’, what content the concept ‘Mission’ bears in Ryabinin’s diaries, and finally, what aim Rosov pursued, covering this most dramatic episode of the Central Asian expedition with a veil of mystery. I will examine these issues by example of the first letter written by George Roerich a few days after the arrest of the expedition’s caravan. ‘G.N. [George Nikolaevich] has written a highly persuasive letter, approved by Nicholas Roerich, to the governors of Nagchu. This will probably be the first letter ever written by a European in Tibetan to the Dalai Lama’s administration. The horps [a Tibetan tribe - tr.] kept wondering how a foreigner could write in Tibetan so quickly and skillfully.’ This excerpt shows that this was the very first official address from the expedition. It was George who wrote, and Nicholas only approved it. Thus George, who not only knew Tibetan well, but also possessed profound knowledge of the Tibetan psychology, customs and habits, wrote all the letters in the fashion common among the Tibetan bureaucrats. That is why the horps were amazed at his skills. But let us return to Ryabinin’s narrative:

‘Here, I cite an unabridged translation of the Tibetan letter to the both governors of Nagchu: “The Ambassador from the Council of Western Buddhists arrived at Chorten-Karno on the 10th inst. For already 8 days since that date the Embassy is pointlessly stuck here… If the Embassy doesn’t get a permission to move on to Nagchu in the next few days, the whole idea of the Embassy and the Doctrine of the Blessed itself will be caused irreparable harm. <…> and if the Embassy is forced to stay at the cold plateau for a long period of time, the Government of the United States of America, as well as all the members of the Buddhist Council, will be utterly insulted”.’ Both the form and the content of this excerpt attest that the word ‘Embassy’ is used by the Roerichs in its purely diplomatic sense, bearing no special meaning. Already a few days after the arrest of the expedition’s caravan, Nicholas Roerich realized that this is serious, that this can last for a long time and lead to irreparable consequences. And if the hearts of the initiators of the arrest haven’t yet fully turned into stone, then, according to the common rules, the Tibetan Government was obliged to accept the Embassy. And it would be a chance to escape the deathly trap. This was also confirmed by the next excerpt from the letter, obviously bearing a kind of ultimatum: ‘If one of the nine members of the Embassy dies or falls ill, this will cause many difficulties, of which the border authorities will be fully in charge. The Embassy’s doctor testifies that the health of the expedition members can undergo irreparable damage, considering that the expedition is almost out of certain medicines. If the Ambassador doesn’t get a chance to lead negotiations, the Buddha’s Doctrine will be seriously damaged, too.’ In this resolute excerpt from the letter, I suggest looking closer at the following thing: it mentions nine members of the Embassy. There’s no doubt that George meant the three Roerichs, together with Kordashevsky, Portnyagin, Ryabinin, Golubin, plus Raya and Lyudmila Bogdanov: nine people altogether.

It is very well known that, speaking of Roerich’s expedition or of the Roerichs’ Mission in the initial sense of these concepts, we imply only the very members of this great family. All the other members of the expedition were its mere participants, invited to take part in the expedition only for certain periods, and cannot therefore be called its ‘members’. Thus the word ‘Embassy’ was used by the Roerichs in a strictly diplomatic sense.

Now, to the final part of George Roerich’s letter to the Nagchu governor: ‘The 24th day of the following month will see the meeting of the Buddhist Council in America. If by that date we haven’t received a letter from the Lhasa’s Ambassador, the whole Council will be insulted. The Nagchu governors should therefore render full assistance to the Embassy; otherwise it will undergo irreparable harm. I am asking to urgently send a relevant answer.’ This excerpt attests that the date specified by the Roerichs, November 24, was a conventional deadline for the Tibetan government, giving them a chance to understand that, if by that date America doesn’t get any message from the expedition, this will prompt a search operation with appropriate consequences for Tibet.

We can also state with full confidence that the November 24 deadline was not the date of the Western Buddhists Council meeting in America. If anything of that kind was planned by the Roerichs or even, as some argue, was kept in strict confidence, then today, with diverse archival materials in free access, these plans would have been sooner or later disclosed. But this is not the case. And there’s only one reason for it: there were no plans connected with the Western Buddhists Council at all. Thus the form and the content of the letters addressed by the Roerichs to the Tibetan government pursued the sole purpose – to escape the dangerous trap.

It should be noted that the manner chosen for addressing the Tibetan administration did at last have a positive effect. As we know, after 5 months of captivity, the expedition caravan went on.

Now, I suggest we turn our attention to Ryabinin’s understanding of the concept ‘Mission’, as he wrote of Roerich’s expedition as of ‘a Mission’.

Ryabinin’s diaries, called ‘Tibet Dethroned’, provide such an explanation on the page 118: ‘This journey is unforgettable, one of a kind, as much in the respect of spiritual height and purity of the Mission entrusted to N.K. [Nicholas Roerich – tr.], as in the respect of those instructions and impressions, which I will withhold here, but which showed us the path, making us forget about the very existence of newspapers and telegraph agencies, so vitally important for the West.’ There’s no doubt that Ryabinin, speaking of ‘the Mission entrusted to N.K.’, meant not so much the Tibetan period of Roerich’s expedition, as his whole life and creative activity. Even a reader unfamiliar with the richest palette of Roerich’s art, reading Ryabinin’s diaries without any preconceptions, will easily understand what he put into the concept of the spiritual height and purity of ‘the Mission entrusted to N.K.’ In his notes, Ryabinin paid much attention to the content of his conversations with Nicholas Roerich that vividly outline the image of this great 20th century’s Peacemaker.

As per those ‘instructions and impressions’ which Ryabinin preferred to withhold, but which ‘showed the path’ to the expedition, it would suffice to say the following. Today, we know that the books of the Living Ethics Doctrine were composed by Helena Roerich in cooperation with the Great Masters of the humankind, frequently called ‘the Mahatmas’ by the Roerichs. This cooperation didn’t cease during the Central Asian expedition: open the book ‘The Signs of Agni Yoga’, and you’ll see the years of its creation – 1927-1928. Knowing that all the pages of the Living Ethics Doctrine are infiltrated with Love for the humankind, with the endeavor to bring people Beauty and Knowledge, you will easily understand what kind of instructions the Roerichs followed.

There’s one more important thing in Ryabinin’s diaries that can help us understand why the author so frequently calls the expedition ‘a Mission’ in his notes. On page 322, Ryabinin describes the Roerichs’ meeting with the Tibetan ‘command of the East’: ‘The conversation with the general has taken up such intimate and friendly character, and was so diverse, that they even touched upon the deepest spiritual interests of the East, mentioning Shambalah and the Letter from the Mahatmas that N.K. had with him and that he immediately showed to the floor for their respectful examination.’

We know of the Letters from the Mahatmas that Nicholas Roerich gave to the Soviet Government. But we know nothing of the Letter mentioned by Ryabinin. What kind of Letter was that? As far as I know, there is not a single word about such a letter either in the diaries of Nicholas or in those of George. We do however know that both Nicholas and Helena had documents written by their Masters. Our Museum also disposes of such evidence. Presumably, it was one of these testimonies presented to the general. If it had a great effect on a Tibetan general, there is no surprise that it made a yet greater effect on Ryabinin, so that he wrote about the ‘spiritual height and purity’ of the Mission.

Thus we have two interpretations of Nicholas Roerich’s Central Asian expedition represented in Ryabinin’s diaries – as a Mission and as an Embassy.

The testimonies from the expedition diaries examined, we have the right to claim that, speaking of Roerich’s expedition as of a Mission, Ryabinin read a spiritual understanding of Roerich’s creative activity into this concept. He must have perceived it as something far greater than a simple stay of the expedition in Tibet. As per the representation of the expedition as an Embassy, this concept, as we have seen, was used by the Roerichs only as a sheer diplomatic formality.

That is why, possessing, among other honorary titles, a title of the President of the International Buddhist Institute in the USA, Nicholas introduced himself as the head of the Western Buddhists Mission, in order to save the other expedition members. He could have also been trying to call the ignorant Tibetan bureaucrats for the least adherence to the ethical norms stated in the Buddhist Doctrine. If a researcher, basing solely on some of Roerich’s letters to Dalai Lama, demanding the release of the expedition (which would demonstrate Lama’s minimal understanding of the Buddhist Doctrine), makes a conclusion that Roerich’s expedition performed a secret task, it cannot help but disclose this researcher’s folly – akin to that of a Tibetan doner [an official with the functions similar to those of a consul-governor – tr.], a meeting with whom is described by George Roerich:

‘At about 2 o’clock we, again, heard the bells announcing the arrival of a big delegation of officials. This time, a doner, or maybe a representative of the Nagchu governors, came… His first question was, “What is the purpose of your visit to Tibet?” We answered, “We are an American expedition outfitted by several American institutions.” The doner repeated “Ameri, Ameri, Ameri-khan” for a few times, then grasped his pen and quickly wrote something on a long scroll of paper. I was able to decipher the first lines of the message from behind his back and, to my great surprise, read the following statement: “At such-and-such an hour of the eighth Tibetan month of the year of the fiery hare, King Ameri arrived to Chengdu…” We objected, trying to explain that ‘American’ can’t be interpreted as ‘Ameri-khan’, but the doner rejected our protest, claiming that he spoke some Mongolian, and everyone knows that in Mongolian, ‘khan’ means ‘king’ and that he therefore was quite sure in the truth of his fortunate explanation. Moreover, our protest only confirmed the truth of his assumption, as he was confident that we were trying to conceal the actual status of our leader, whose name was ‘Ameri’, and whose rank was indicated with a Mongolian word ‘khan’ [7, p.273].

But Rosov, in his fantasizing, managed to outdo even the Tibetan doner. Judge for yourself: ‘Nicholas Roerich was heading to the meeting with Dalai Lama as a representative of the Global Western Buddhists Council. His mission was supposed to end with the negotiations on reforming the Buddhist doctrine and with the official recognition of the parallel branch formed by the Western Buddhists. This ambitious Plan was aimed at forming a new powerful centre of Buddhism in Siberia with an independent capital in Altai region. In fact, the intention was to elect a Russian Dalai Lama. But the Tibetan government found a way to disclose the ‘secret’ intentions of the expedition’ [4, pp.54-55].

In the ‘Ariavarta’ magazine, Rosov elaborates on his own idea expressed in the ‘Delfis’ magazine, speaking more distinctly of the endeavor attributed to Nicholas Roerich to found a separate state in Siberia: ‘The Great, or Global, Plan of the Roerichs, designed to recarve the Eastern Siberia and the Far East, consisted in founding an independent state under a conventional name ‘The New Land’ [8, p.19]. According to Rosov, it was for this purpose that Roerich wanted to gather an army of Russian White-Guard йmigrйs in Manchuria. Such statements made by Rosov are surprisingly consonant with those libelous utterances by the pro-fascist journalist Lukin made in 1934 in Harbin which Dubaev cites in his book. Using ‘A Brief Tale about Antichrist’ from the genial, profoundly philosophic work by Vladimir Solovyev ‘Three Conversations’, Dubaev tries to make Roerich look like an Antichrist who, using an army, ‘fulfills the great plan’ consisting in the following: first, the army takes over Manchuria, Korea, China; then, it intervenes into Russia and conquers Siberia, which is used as a bridgehead for the further conquest of Eastern and Central Russia and later on, the whole Europe. One should give Rosov credit for not going as far as to compare Roerich to Antichrist. But in other respects, such as his geopolitical views, Rosov supports and corroborates Lukin: ‘It is chiefly the geopolitical character of Roerich’s activities that has to be interpreted in the near future’ [8, p.17].

As we have just had a chance to see, Rosov’s views on the Central Asian expedition of Nicholas Roerich, expressed in the formula ‘the mysterious mission of the Western Buddhists’ and afterwards disclosed via his attempt to portray the Roerichs as political carpet-baggers, have absolutely nothing to do with the actual events.

Nicholas Roerich, who professed the ideas of commonweal, was a stranger to the narrow bounds of religious dogmatism and geopolitical partiality. As he wrote in the 1925’ book ‘Altai – Himalayas’, ‘It is amidst the struggle for and the appearance of the Truth that the law-makers of the common good arise on the chariots of time: Moses the assiduous leader; Amos the austere; Buddha the Lion Winner; the righteousness of life – Confucius; the fiery poet of the Sun – Zoroaster; Plato - transformed, mirrored by the ‘shadows’; Isa the Gracious, grand in his sacrifice of immortality; the lonely Origen, wisdom interpreter; the great ascetic commoner Sergius of Radonezh. All the restless walkers; all those who were persecuted by contemporaries; all those who were confident that the doctrine of commonweal will inevitably come; all those who knew that every sacrifice for the sake of commonweal is only the forthcoming of the paths’ [6, p.88]. Nicholas Roerich also bore his sacrifice to the altar of commonweal.

On the Origin of the Exhibition

It should be noted that some researchers consider the Central Asian expedition to be an American one, on account that it was American-flagged. This delusion is only strengthened by the fact that, communicating with the local authorities, especially in China and Tibet, the leaders of the expedition introduced themselves as an American team.

'Attached to a Mongolian spear, the American flag accompanied us everywhere, writes Nicholas Roerich in his book 'The Heart of Asia'. - It accompanied us in our journey across Xinjiang, across the Mongolian Gobi desert, across Tsaidam and Tibet. It served as a parliamentarian in our confrontations with the wild panangs [a Tibetan tribe – tr.]. It greeted the Tibetan governors, princes, and generals' [1, p.9]. This statement, voiced by the leader of the expedition, attests that the American flag was used solely for the diplomatic purposes. It should not be forgotten that in the beginning of the 20th century the United States of America played one of the leading roles on the international arena. The prestige of the USA in the Central Asian states was growing steadily. That is why the Stars and Stripes could serve as a kind of shield for the expedition. Besides, America was the land where the Roerichs had managed to establish the first cultural and public organizations, and the American flag flying over the expedition caravan could also be a sign of gratitude for this country. However the Central Asian expedition was led exclusively by Nicholas Roerich, implemented according to the plan of the great artist, equipped and financed from the means gained from selling his paintings. Here is what Helena Roerich wrote on this matter: 'Let us not forget that the whole Central Asian expedition the Museum had got a loan for was financed entirely by him [Nicholas Roerich] off what he had gained from selling his paintings' [9, p.499]. Thus it would be a distortion of historical facts to state that Nicholas Roerich's Central Asian expedition was an American one.

Claims that the Central Asian expedition was of Soviet origin and was financed by Soviet Russia would be all the more groundless. Such insinuations, connected with the 'denunciations' by Shishkin, Senkevich, Minutko and other writers who try to link the Roerichs to the Soviet intelligence service, are sheer libel against this family.

Charges of Roerichs' Connections to the Soviet Intelligence Service

There is a formal reason for such insinuations, and it is the visit of Nicholas, Helena and George to Soviet Russia, which they partly crossed in a transit mode, and Moscow, where they stayed for a month to meet Soviet officials. There are several more proofs of the ‘Moscow’s hand’ in Roerich’s expedition, considered quite reliable by the libelers. First, it is the will written by Nicholas Roerich in a Chinese town of Urumchi right before entering the Soviet territory. Secondly, it was the permission to participate in the expedition received by Ryabinin, a Soviet citizen. Thirdly, it is the allotting of automobiles to the expedition by the Soviet Trade Mission. And finally, it is the passing of the American cash accounts designated for the expedition through the currency board of the Soviet bank during the expedition’s stay in Soviet Russia and Mongolia.

It was the ‘Nash Putj’ newspaper, controlled by the Russian fascists in Harbin, Rodzaevsky, which in 1934 voiced the first libelous statements, such as the ones about OGPU’s participation in conducting the Central Asian expedition, about a Masonic Congress in Moscow that allegedly had Nicholas Roerich as its participant, and several others. But, conducting this libelous campaign against Roerich back then, the fascists could rely on the absence of reliable information that allowed them to mislead their readers.

What then do the organizers of the modern PR-campaign, resounding that of the 1934, count on?

Here’s one of the examples. On April 10 and 14, 2001 a Moscow TV-channel M1 showed a movie ‘Secret War’ from a documentary cycle ‘Matter of National Importance’ telling about the Soviet intelligence. A doctor of historical sciences, Boris Starkov, shows up on the screen, not only labeling Nicholas Roerich’s expedition the second soviet one, and in addition a reconnaissance, but also speaking of a Masonic-Buddhist congress in Moscow conducted under the patronage of Bokiya, head of the OGPU special department. According to Starkov, ‘in 1926, in strict secrecy, an international congress under his patronage took place in Moscow, with Buddhists, masons and others as its participants. It was something super-secret.’

Let us compare this statement with an excerpt from the ‘Nash Putj’ newspaper issued in Harbin on November 21, 1934: ‘In the person of Roerich the Masonic Society acquired an eminent scientist and artist, whom it decided to make use of to fulfill their devilish plans against Russia; according to the information received by our employee, in 1926, after corresponding with their Moscow agents <…>, the New York theosophical society sent Roerich to Moscow to take part in a joint congress…’[10, p.331].

What can these two libelous statements, one voiced in Harbin in 1934, the other in Moscow in 2001, have in common? To answer this question, I will cite an excerpt from one of Helena Roerich’s letters: ‘As per the persons engaged in N.K.’s newspaper persecution shortly before his departure from Harbin, I can state that, as an investigation proved, they turned out to be paid agents of the atheists. Thus the head of the local fascist newspaper Rodzaevsky, together with his allies, who attacked N.K. more fiercely than the others, turned out to be an employee at the T h r e e L e t t e r s…’[9,p.255]. No comment, as they say, apart from one: the Three Letters stands for GPU, Gosudarstvennoe Politicheskoe Upravlenie [State Political Directorate – tr.].

If in 1934, an under-informed reader could more or less be made believe in the existence of an international Masonic conspiracy with its center in Moscow, nowadays such statements look utterly inadequate. And the claims that ‘it was something super-secret,’ voiced solely to make up for the absence of historical facts, sound merely farcical.

The English intelligence, one of the best in the world, that closely followed the case of the Roerichs in the course of several decades, though suspecting Nicholas Roerich of his cooperation with the Soviet intelligence, was unable to prove this. If there had been at least some connection, the English intelligence would have undoubtedly disclosed it. As per the alleged ‘super-secret International Masonic-Buddhist Congress’ of 1926, in which Roerich allegedly took part, such facts simply couldn’t have been missed by the English intelligence service. Here’s one of the English intelligence reports:

‘From the report by P.K. Bamford by December 5, 1929: “It was confirmed that ‘it has never been positively stated that he (Roerich) is a communist agent.” Of course it had never been stated. If it were, everything would have been revoked long ago. <…> The most suspicious fact serving against Roerich is not his visit to Russia, but the fact that he was received as an honorary guest <…> Roerich’s communist sympathies and his stay at Soumendr Tagor’s in India, who was later greeted with open arms in Russia, is a sufficient ground to deny him (Roerich) access to India’[11,p.461]. Nicholas Roerich lived in India until the end of 1947, what allows us to assume that the suspicions of the English intelligence hadn’t been confirmed.

As per the help allegedly received by Roerich’s expedition from OGPU in Mongolia, I would like to give one example. It is a letter written by Nicholas Roerich to the USSR Trade Mission in Mongolia, which he sent to Ulan-Bator, returning the automobiles:

‘Yum-Beise, April 25, 1927.
To the USSR Trade Mission in Mongolia.

In accordance with the condition agreed upon on March 22 of the present year, the department of transport provided the expedition with automobiles under the condition of minimal mileage amounting to 2500-3000 miles.

However in the first days of running it turned out that the automobiles set on the route are absolutely unusable, even on such a wonderful road that runs till Uzinvan. First of all, the petrol turned out to be mixed up with water for up to ј of the can, and one of the drivers even had his can filled with water for up to Ѕ.

On the very first day, we found that one of the cars had a defective carburetor. Out of 5 pumps, only two functioned properly. Out of 5 jack-screws, only 2 functioned as well. Semi-axis got broken for three times, a stud-bolt popped out, one of the cars had an ill-functioning manometer, a wheel tread burst, a dinamo’s old bearing box got broken, <…> tires and close-fittings burst for 9 times, and one car needed four tire tubes replaced during tire hauling, due to full impossibility to pump them; - the spare parts provided for repair and replacements turned out to be old and outdated. One of the cars had a bare electric wire, so there was a short circuit and a dangerous combustion.

So, roughly estimated, we have had 27 big accidents (not mentioning the minor ones) in 12 days of driving, what, demanding continuous repair, delayed and burdened the expedition considerably <…> Moreover, not a single driver was familiar with the route. We had to hire a guide starting from Uzinvan <…>

In view of the above and in accordance with the clause 7 of the condition by March 22, we, for reasons beyond our control, <…> are forced drop the idea of using these automobiles.

Taking into account the twelve days’ distance to Yum-Beise and three days of almost free rest for the drivers, as well as 15 days it took to return, it amounts to 30 days of driving back and forth to Urga altogether, and, basing on the rate stated in the clause 7 of the condition – 41 m/d and 50 c. in 24 hours, the expedition owes the Trade Mission one thousand two hundred and forty-five m/d (1245 m/d). As per the difference compounding eleven thousand two hundred and fifty-five m/d (1255 m/d), please kindly transfer it to the current account of the citizen of the North American States Mr. Lichtman at Mongolbank, Ulan-Bator, in accordance with the clause 7 of the condition.

N.Roerich, Academician’ [12].

This letter serves as a denunciation of all those who, in April 1927, tried to hinder the departure of Roerich’s expedition from the Mongolian capital of Ulan-Bator. It also explains the following entry in Nicholas Roerich’s road diary: ‘They keep warning us: “You won’t manage to leave.” And I answer: “We will leave just as we always did – strictly in time”’ [6, p.292]. Moreover, it is also a denunciation of the modern enemies of the Roerichs, who try to defame them by ascribing cooperation with OGPU to them. One definitely doesn’t send your friends, or agents, on a long and dangerous journey. It is only the foes that one can treat like this. But whatever the situation, the great Roerich never lost his grace. He stuck to the conditions of the agreement and paid for using the fully unprepared cars.

This letter also attests that it was America that the expedition received money from, and we have enough documents to prove this. These documents, consisting of Nicholas Roerich’s correspondence with the American employees, telegrams received from America, with the sent sums stated by months, excerpts from the bills, and others. There are therefore absolutely no grounds even to assume that the Central Asian expedition or its certain stages were supported by the Soviet government.

As per some help provided to the expedition, it did take place. And it was provided by individual officials employed by the state. Thus the Soviet consul in Kashgar, M.F. Dumpis, helped the expedition as it was stopped in Khotan for the first time and was virtually taken under arrest. It was also the Soviet consul in Urumchi, A.E. Bystrov, who supported the expedition. Nicholas Roerich appreciated this help very much and mentioned it in his road diaries; Bystrov was even appointed one of the seers to the execution of his will.

It was from Bystrov’s reports that the Soviet government learned that Nicholas Roerich was going to bring the Letters from the Mahatmas to Moscow. It is only natural that this fact prompted certain interest on the part of the heads of the state, which could be the reason why the expedition was granted permission to move on through Moscow.

As we see, there’s nothing surprising in the fact that the Roerichs got the permission to enter the USSR. This fact didn’t prompt any suspicions even on part of the English intelligence, as noted above. As per Nicholas Roerich’s meetings with several representatives of the Soviet government, there’s nothing surprising in them either. First, he had to pass on the Message. Secondly, one should remember that Roerich was a big name in the world, and many officials considered it an honor to meet him – Soviet officials included. It should also be remembered that Russia had changed greatly since Roerich’s departure, and he wanted to familiarize himself with the new Russia and understand it.

Ryabinin’s visit to OGPU just before his departure for Mongolia as a doctor for Roerich’s expedition was also quite explainable. Not a single Soviet citizen who tried to cross the state border could avoid the Special State Political Directorate. This has always been a common procedure in the Soviet Union. We can even find a quite satisfactory answer to the question ‘Why was Ryabinin allowed to participate in Roerich’s expedition?’ As demonstrated by the later events, Ryabinin was OGPU’s single chance to learn about the expedition. This hypothesis is strengthened by Ryabinin’s arrest after his return to USSR. Was he recruited by OGPU? Definitely not. First, that is what the records of the interrogation of Ryabinin, who was repressed twice for his participation in the expedition, confirm. Secondly, one should know the Roerichs to understand: if Ryabinin were an OGPU agent, he would’ve never taken part in the expedition.

The so called ‘soviet period’ of Roerich’s expedition therefore contains no more ‘blind spots’. There is no ‘Moscow’s hand’ involved. Everything is clear and explainable. Today we have enough documents at our disposal to persuade even the most skeptical and suspicious persons who keep talking of this ‘Moscow’s hand’, that there has never been one and that it simply couldn’t be involved there.

Unfortunately the experienced libelers do not cease their activities. October-December of the present year will mark the 7th anniversary of the first appearance of Shishkin’s articles in the press. He couldn’t be stopped with the two court verdicts, declaring the information that his articles for the ‘Segodnya’ newspaper contain, untrue. He doesn’t care about the multiple documents that he studied in the archives in 1994, providing absolutely no evidence of the Roerichs’ connections to the activities of the Soviet intelligence. In 1999, Shishkin released a book ‘Struggle for the Himalayas – NKVD: Magic and Espionage’, in which he, falsifying the content of the archival documents, doesn’t even disdain from obvious forgery, trying to convince the readers in the same false ideas of the 1994’ fashion that Roerich and his expedition performed a task for OGPU.

It is A. Senkevich who, following Shishkin as a shadow since the very 1994, acts as a kind of ‘scientific patron’ for him. At first, he only supported the libeler in the press, maintaining that Shishkin had proved Nicholas Roerich’s connections to the Soviet intelligence [13]. Now, he claims that he has found some evidence himself [14].

If these persons haven’t been stopped either by the historical reality or by the severe verdict of the Russian Law, it is no wonder that they haven’t been stopped even by the denunciation made by the very Foreign Intelligence Service of Russia. Here’s an excerpt from one of the speeches by the head of the press-office of the Foreign Intelligence Service Y.G. Kobaladze, made on the Moscow TV-channel on September 27, 1993: ‘There are lots of speculations around the name of the Roerichs…that they allegedly received some special tasks from OGPU, that there were some agents. None of these have been confirmed.’

You will find details on the mendacious dossier ‘Struggle for the Himalayas. NKVD – Magic and Espionage’, on the way Shishkin and his allies falsify the archival documents only to defame the Roerichs, and on the reason for Shishkin to have chosen an OGPU agent, Yakov Blyumkin, as his ‘supporter’, in the first volume of the publication ‘Let’s Protect Names and Heritage of the Roerichs.’

If the libelers haven’t been affected by all of these incontrovertible proofs, there can be no doubt that the authors suffer from a cruel form of chronic ignorance. Since the very ancient times on to the present day, it is widely known that ignorance is the harshest of the crimes. As Nicholas Roerich wrote, ‘It is from this dark abyss that all the fratricidal crimes come out, and the world gets filled with ultimate lies and darkness that prompts the ugliest, cruelest and lousiest deeds’ [14,p.214].

As he writes on, ‘…the hydra of ignorance unfolds itself not only in illiteracy, but in the biased perception and in misanthropy’ [14, p.218].


Many years will pass, but the Central Asian expedition will still be moving human hearts. Some people, awed by the greatness of its accomplishments, will strive to study and use the great results of the Great Journey. Others, unable to transcend the restrictions of one-dimensional thinking, agitated by the expedition, will be trying to defame its Leader.

But, however hard the libelers try, they will never manage to depreciate neither the greatness of the deed performed by the Roerichs, nor the significance of the Central Asian expedition for the evolution of the humankind.

  1. Roerich, Nicholas. The Heart of Asia. Moscow, 1991

  2. Shishkin, O. Nicholas Roerich. In the Embrace of an Impertinent Monster. The 'Segodnya' newspaper, October 29, 1994

  3. Shishkin, O. Nicholas Roerich. The Power of the Caves (1). The 'Segodnya' newspaper, December 10, 1994

  4. Rosov, V.A. Colonel Kordashevsky and his Expedition Diary. Delfis, 2000, № 1(2)

  5. Ryabinin, K.N. Tibet Dethroned. Samara, 1996

  6. Roerich, Nicholas. Altai – Himalayas. Riga, Vieda, 1992

  7. Roerich, George. On the Paths of Central Asia. Samara, 1994

  8. Rosov, V.A. Nicholas Roerich's Manchurian Expedition. Ariavarta, 1999, №3

  9. Roerich, Helena. Letters. Moscow, ICR, 2001, v.3

  10. Dubaev, M.L. The Roerich's Harbin Secret. Moscow, 2001

  11. Shaposhnikova, L.V. The Great Journey. The Master. Moscow, ICR, 1998

  12. ICR Manuscript Department, Fund #3, Register #1, Case #31 (temporary
    number - 4776).The 'AiF' newspaper, October 1994

  13. Nigohosyan, Hari. The Flagrant Writer Came from Russia. 'Vesti' (Plovdiv), October 20, 2004

  14. Roerich, Nicholas. The Inviolable. Riga, Vieda, 1991

1Abbreviation of Russian Narodnyĭ komissariat vnutrennikh del ‘People's Commissariat of Internal Affairs. It was a secret police agency in the former USSR which absorbed the functions of the former OGPU in 1934. It merged with the MVD in 1946. - tr.