''France celebrated 100th anniversary of the appearance of the Russian Expeditionary Forces, paid homage to my grandfather’s memory''

French lady with Tatarstan roots reached Medvedev and Minnikhanov to understand why her ancestor joined the Russian Expeditionary Forces and did not go back

''France celebrated 100th anniversary of the appearance of the Russian Expeditionary Forces, paid homage to my grandfather’s memory'' Photo: Thaddee Tarassoff

This summer Kazan has become one of the most popular destinations for foreign guests due to the 2017 Confederations Cup matches. But people come to Tatarstan not only for football. Granddaughter of a Russian emigrant from Tatarstan Marie-Olga Tarassoff living in France is going to reunite with her Russian relatives. In an interview to Realnoe Vremya, she told the story of her family, attitude of French people to Russian and post-terrorist attack France.

On the fronts of WWI…

Mrs Tarassoff, who were your ancestors?

My grandfather Thaddee Tarassoff (Faddey Tarasov in Russian) was born on 15 August 1894 in Kazan. My great-grandfather Ippolit Merkulov came from Verkhny Uslon settlement (from a family of farmers). My great-grandmother Anna Mokeyeva-Tarasova was from small bourgeois family. She died in 1911.

Baptism notes of Old Believers in Kazan in 1894 (Law No. 43) mention that Ippolit Merkulov and his wife Anna Mokeyeva-Tarasova baptised their son Faddey on 21 August 1894 according to Old Believers' customs of the Belokrinitsky Church, who was born on 15 August in the same year.

When did you grandfather go to France and why?

In 1916, he decided to go to France with expeditionary forces of the 1st Russian brigade. In December 1915, the Russian Imperial Government and Government of France agreed to send about 30,000 men who would arrive in Marseille on 20 April 1916. My grandfather was a young railway engineer then.

''In 1916, he decided to go to France with expeditionary forces of the 1st Russian brigade.'' Photo: rushistory.org

Why did he decide to stay in France?

Because of the revolution. I had little information about the next years until his marriage in 1922… Documents prove he took administrative measures during his first years in France; photos taken during film shootings confirm he tried to play in the films. I know by my father that my grandfather was poisoned by gas during severe fights of WWI. He wrote down his memories of the war in his notebook that I found recently. The text has not been translated yet completely. Unfortunately, I don't speak Russian. I learnt it at school but forgot because I didn't practice.

Dream about Russia

What did his life look like then? What was the attitude of French relatives to this family?

In November 1922, he married Andrea Badoll who was born in Loiret. There are different versions of their first meeting.

They had three children: George (my dad who was born in 1925), Anna (born in 1926) and Marie-Thérèse (1935). My grandfather obtained French nationality. My grandmother recovered her nationality on birth – in October 1928. My great-grandfather Ippolit came to France in 1925 for my grandfather's birthday. He did it alone having given a big pledge.

The family of my grandmother Andrea separated from her when she married Thaddee. More because of his religion than nationality. He taught industrial design at Rachel school for a long time. Earlier he worked in property, not always successfully. My grandmother, a daughter of a merchant, had a dry-cleaning office on Convention Street in Paris — it is in the 15 th district of Paris where a big Russian community lived.

The family of my grandmother Andrea stood clear from her when she married Thaddee. More because of his religion than nationality

The next day after my grandmother's death in December 1945, my grandfather thought of a trip to Russia. His father insistently persuaded him saying that it would not be possible to talk to his brothers directly. It was a farewell letter because he felt the end of his life was approaching.

Do you have relatives in Russia? Do you talk to them?

In March 2010, as it was Russia-France cross-cultural year, I was invited to a reception to the Paris city administration organised by Mayor of Paris Bertrand Delanoë in honour of President Dmitry Medvedev.

I managed to give him a letter personally written in a hurry where I asked him for help in finding my family, to unite those whom history separated. In May 2010, I got an e-mail. I wrote a long letter to my father's cousin Viktor Kuznin where I represented the French branch of the Tarassoffs. The translation took some time, and the letter was sent at the end of August. Then I got a letter from his granddaughter where it was said this cousin died in July. In this short chat between this relative and me, it became clear I knew the story of our family better… The language barrier stopped this conversation soon. But I was dissatisfied about the replies to my unanswered questions. This year I decided to open the dossier ''reunion with my Russian family'' again and send a letter to the president of Tatarstan in March. Mr Minnikhanov was very kind and sent my e-mail to competent services. So, new information about the civil state of my cousins replenished my family tree. The answer I received next month also mentioned Family Centre designed to reunite families.

This year I am going to be back to Russia, 100 years later after the revolution.

From left to right: Kirill, Guy, Justine and Elena (Lyon, France) and Marie-Olga (Paris, France)

Acrobats on the rope at the top of Eiffel Tower

Did not your parents dream about going to Tatarstan?

My grandfather always suffered living far from the land of his ancestors, his family. He encouraged his daughter Anna to learn classic dance. She married a circus artist who formed a trio with Rose Gold, which was famous in the 50s thanks to their performance on the rope at the summit of Eiffel Tower. After many tours abroad, she got a seat in Lido, in Paris, with her classic dance performance. A secret dream of my grandfather was to become the manager of his daughter and agent of the artist to be able to return to Russia. So, my granfather wrote a book whose hero wished his body to be cremated after death and the ashes to be scattered on the border with Russia, so that the wind would take him to his land, home where he could rest in peace, next to his family. Thaddee Tarassoff died in Montrouge (I was born in 1957, so I did not have a chance to know my grandfather).

I would like to see the places where they lived, meet with relatives living in Russia. I spent a half of the day in Kazan during my trip in May 2005 through the Volga. I would like to find answers to many questions that are important for me: why did Thaddee Tarassoff decide to join the Russian Expeditionary Force and start a long three-month trip taking a risk of being killed in France? My dad always said us the grandfather wanted to go to America. Was it a start of his Odyssey?

I annually participate in pilgrimage in the memory of expeditionary forces of Russia staged by ASCERF

Every year I participate in kindling the eternal flame in Arc de Triomphe with ASCERF (Association in Memory of Russian Expedition in France). In addition, I annually participate in pilgrimage in the memory of expeditionary forces of Russia staged by ASCERF on Pentecost in Saint-Hilaire-le-Grand in Marne and in the residence of the Russian Federation's ambassador in Paris in September.

This year the 100 th anniversary of the appearance of the Russian Expeditionary Forces was celebrated in France. In May, I took part in celebrations and ceremonies in Marseille and Saint-Hilaire-le-Grand where the also the memory of my grandfather was paid homage. In Marseille, I met the director of the Historical Community who did not know the book given by my grandfather. It was a chronicle of the arrival of the Russian expeditionary forces. I gave it to him via the Internet.

I am going to talk to the Kazan Family Centre because I want to meet my Russian family.

Could you briefly tell about yourself?

I am the oldest sister of three girls (we are all girls, our brother Pierre died when he was 3 days old in January 1956). I am single, and I don't have children. I studied Advertising in the oldest advertising school in Paris. I did a lot of jobs in several firms. I lost my job five times, so I've learned to begin a new professional life each time. I worked for publishers several times and since December 2014, I have been working for firemen's magazine (but I'm not a journalist). I spend a lot of my free time in volunteering: on Thursdays, I distribute hot meals in the Invalides square, in Paris, with a famous association Les Restaurants du Coeur; every year I am a volunteer for Christmas's Eve with the association Secours Catholique and in August, with the Secours Populaire. I accompany children for a day by sea. This part of my life is very important. I am also a member of AREP association whose members were born in families of the first Russian immigrants in France.

In December, the Kazan Mayor came to Paris to sign a tourism pact between the two cities

Are there many Tatars in France? Does the Tatar community have an active life? Does it cooperate with Tatarstan?

I know there are Tatars in Paris. There is a representation office that seems to do a lot to make Tatarstan known in France. In December, the Kazan Mayor came to Paris to sign a tourism pact between the two towns.

''I hate racism in racism''

How did France change after the terrorist attacks?

In France, we know that we can be attacked by terrorists at any time. Especially in Paris because when you are on the metro, for example, you can hear a message that there is a suspect parcel somewhere. My office is in Paris, in the area where different attacks were performed: not so far from the building where journalists of Charlie Hebdo newspaper were killed in January 2015, Bataclan Theatre and restaurants around where many people were killed. We don't think about this every minute but we know that everything can happen. When we hear the police alarm or fire engines we try to think that's not because something happened somewhere. But one thing is clear: we don't want terrorists to win us. This why we decided to have the same life we had before the events. Last week I met American tourists and I asked them if they weren't afraid to come to Paris, and their answer was ''it can happen everywhere, and we like Paris so much. This why we are here today''.

What is the attitude towards Muslims?

A lot of people say: ''Muslims, go away!'' (even they are French). For others – and I am one of them – we know there is a difference between Muslims and Islamists. In France, as you know, there were elections, and a lot of people dared to say aloud what they had been thinking for several years. And it's really a shame. For them, everything is going wrong in France today because there are too many immigrants in our country. Immigrants are the trouble in Europe. A lot of Europeans think that they are sorry about what they have to live but they want them to stay abroad. The question is: where? What I really hate is when I explain that my grandfather was an immigrant, the racists say ''It is not the same thing!'' I hate racism in racism.

''I was sad when I noticed for example that when historians speak about the First World War they don't tell anything about all the Russians soldiers who came as my grandfather to help the French (and English, Canadian, Australian, African and so on) soldiers to win the war against Germany.'' Photo: rushistory.org

I don't have any problems with Muslims. As I've learned in my religion (I am Catholic) to love the others as you love you and I practice it every time I can. Another fact, I managed to live in Marrakech (Morocco) when I was a retailer. I felt good when I was there and I had good relationship with people I met there. We can live together. And every Sunday at church, at Marrakech, the priest told the audience how happy we were to live together. A lot of French people should hear this…But I am not sure if they could understand.

Is Europe's attitude towards Russia less friendly?

I believe French people love Russia: the history, the country, the people. For a lot of them, Russia is still the Soviet Union! When I say my grandfather came from Russia (with my name I am always asked about my origins), people are interested in my family's story. But I understand that they don't know a lot about our immigration. I was sad when I noticed, for example, that when historians speak about the First World War they don't tell anything about all the Russians soldiers who came as my grandfather to help the French (and English, Canadian, Australian, African and so on) soldiers to win the war against Germany.

Today, the problem is President Vladimir Putin because we don't really understand what he does and we are afraid of what he thinks… Spy mania is back. Especially it refers to what we are said about the American elections and so on. I think that Vladimir Putin wants Russia to become great again. Today Russia is Vladimir Putin, and that's all. And the media don't give in France (and in other countries) information about life in Russia. The is why the cooperation of the Republic of Tatarstan with France is important, it is important to tell the French population about the country of my ancestors. And the good relationship between Paris and Kazan is the beginning of something important in the future. And if I can help to make it more important, I'll do it.

Thaddee Tarassoff Envelope of the last letter sent by Ippolit Tarasov Andrea and Thaddee Andrea and Thaddee George, Anna and Marie Thérèse Paris, summer 1925. Ippolit Tarasov came to visit his son's family Thaddee with his pupils Thaddee Tarassoff Thaddee Tarassoff Andrea and Thaddee
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  • Thaddee Tarassoff
  • Envelope of the last letter sent by Ippolit Tarasov
  • Andrea and Thaddee
  • Andrea and Thaddee
  • George, Anna and Marie Thérèse
  • Paris, summer 1925. Ippolit Tarasov came to visit his son's family
  • Thaddee with his pupils
  • Thaddee Tarassoff
  • Thaddee Tarassoff
  • Andrea and Thaddee
By Aygul Ziyatdinova. Photo: Marie-Olga Tarassoff