Anyone in the US bought Alaska

150 years agoWhen Russia sold Alaska to the US

"His Majesty, the Emperor of Russia, hereby declares his readiness to cede to the United States all territories on the American continent and the adjacent islands that were previously in his possession."

With these words begins Article 1 of the treaty between Russia and the United States, which ended Russian rule in Alaska. For the historian Orienne First Denslow, who worked in Alaska for a long time, William Seward, who negotiated the treaty on the American side, is still a hero today.

"Seward must have been an incredible visionary. Although he was never there, he could foresee the importance of this piece of land for the US. As Secretary of State, Seward is the key figure in the signing on March 30, 1867, the Alaskan transfer from Russia to America. "

Alaska was no longer bringing enough profit

A hundred years earlier, Russian traders - Siberia was less than 100 kilometers from Alaska - had appropriated the area in the north-west of America in search of furs and skins. This was partly done in cooperation with the Aleut, Tlingit or Inuit tribes living there, who knew where seals and sea otters could be found in the inhospitable nature, partly in the fight against them. Because while the indigenous population killed the animals for their own needs, the Russian traders were interested in profit. To increase this, a semi-official colonial trading company, the Russian-American Company, was founded. Business flourished at first, but then it collapsed, explains Gertrud Pickhan, Eastern European historian at the Free University of Berlin.

"It then turned out that the cost and benefit are no longer in proportion, because the fur profits were getting smaller and smaller, that certainly has an environmental background, so to speak, that the sea otters became fewer and fewer, and then this region was sold because they no longer brought enough profit and because foreign exchange was needed. "

Aboriginal people classified as uncivilized tribes

Foreign exchange to promote the construction of the railway that was to modernize the huge tsarist empire. In addition: Russia was weakened by the Crimean War, which it had lost ten years earlier to the Ottoman Empire, France and Great Britain.

"I think that there were also considerations that after the lost Crimean War, Alaska would simply no longer be defendable if Great Britain developed greater ambitions or the US developed greater ambitions to appropriate the territory, and that was it the background for making this sale. "

On March 30, 1867, after only a few weeks of negotiations, the time had come. For 7.2 million dollars, Alaska - an area almost five times the size of Germany - changed hands. Residents were given the opportunity to return to Russia or acquire American citizenship within three years. However, this did not apply to the indigenous people. They were referred to in the treaty as uncivilized tribes with special provisions. Today in Alaska there are some organizations campaigning for the rights of the indigenous peoples, but the memory of the disdain for their culture runs deep, explains Ethan Pettycrew. The Aleut works for a cultural center in Anchorage.

"The Russians helped us with our languages"

Overall, the American era did much more damage than the Russian era. "The Russians helped us with our languages, we had printing presses, books, schools. Our people could read and write in Russian and our languages. When the American person in charge took over everything after the purchase and visited our schools, he said, 'Ab now only English and only English-speaking teachers. "The Americans were obsessed with the fact that there should only be one language. They wanted to drive out the indigenous people and the Russians."

The official American point of view, on the other hand, is different: the picture is shaped by the courageous adventurers who defied the forces of nature - be it in the gold rush at the end of the 19th century or in the development of huge oil fields 70 years later. As the largest state, the region is now also of great strategic importance to the USA - to the chagrin of some Russian nationalists, who would like to reverse the sale of 1867.