Grigoriy Nikolayevich Potanin (1835-1920) is a traveler, geographer and ethnographer, who needs no special introduction. His name is rightly placed next to the name of the great Przhewalski, Potanin’s contribution to the painting of the Great White Spot in Central Asia is beyond doubt.
The interesting fact is that Gregory Nikolayevich has been a descend from a Cossack family and born in the village Yamishevskaya near Pavlodar, it means that he can be rightfully considered our countryman. Also, at the Siberian Cadet Corps in Omsk he studied and was friends with Valikhanov.
Potanin’s life is still poorly studied and comprehended. Meanwhile, this person is very vivid. It is enough to say that the famous explorer, before becoming such, was imprisoned for... separatism. Specifically, he called for the separation of Siberia from Russia. And before that, he was expelled from St. Petersburg University for rowdiness. And all of this happened because he had read "Contemporary" as a young man and was inspired with "advanced ideas" of Democrats.
Potanin made some great expeditions to Mongolia, western China and Tibet margins in the 70s - 90s of the XIX century. Alexandra, Potanin’s wife, a constant companion in his expeditions, died during the 4th expedition and was buried in Kiakhta.
There is a street in Almaty named after Potanin. And it is not accidently, because unlike Leibniz and Copernicus (such streets exist in the metropolis as well), Potanin has a direct relation to our city. He has been one of the city founders; below, I present excerpts from sources, which provide an idea on how it has been.
"In 1852, I became an officer and wished to enroll into the Cossack regiment, which administration office was located in Semipalatinsk. In the same year I was appointed to the detachment, which had to go to Trans-Ili region under the command of Colonel Peremyshlskiy. Peremyshlskiy was requested to establish Russian authorities in Trans-Ili region. Our unit occupied Almaty river valley; thus, that was the beginning of Verniy city".
From memories of Grigory Potanin.
"Detachment stopped at the river Almaty exit from the mountains, and a bit westerly, Trans-Ili Kazakhs gathered on the national council, which had to make a decision about peace or war with the Russians. Supporters of the peace prevailed. Kazakhs with camels began to come to the detachment camp, camels were loaded with wineskins, leather bags, full of mare's milk for Cossacks."
Academician Obruchev "Potanin’s Travel."
"This is the best area of the West Siberian Governorate General by climate and soil fertility, representing the northern slope of the giant mountain range (Ile Alatau) to Ili plain that has been for a long time a disputed territory between our subjects - Kirghiz of the Great horde and Karakirgiz tribes; Chinese subjects - Bogints,, and Kokand’sones - Sarybagish. Brave and enterprising sultans of the Great Horde willingly volunteered to be our pioneers in the occupation of the foothills disputed with Karakirgiz; they gladly visited alpine meadows since they felt a solid bulwark of Russian colonization of Semirechye region."
From Semenov Tian-Shanskiy’s memories.
"When the Russians came for the first time, they wintered on Issyk in dugouts. …I remember when Colonel Peremyshlskiy came to our village near Kurtu with Cossacks, he began to demand that the Kirghiz brought camels. Kirgiz were frightened and thought that camels would dissapear. But it turned out that camels were needed for transporting flour and oats from Kapal, and they not only brought back all the camels, but paid for transportation and for one drowned in Ili. Then we believed Russians and started helping them. We, the young, often went to the camp on Issyk to meet with the Cossacks."
From Abdan Sarkuteev memories, local resident.
"After I and engineer-lieutenant Alexandrovskiy inspected first and second Almaty and valleys between them, we found them far superior than districts in Issyk and Talgar by the convenience of getting the forest, by lots of lovely agricultural arable land intersected by irrigation ditches, pastures and hayfields and that is why we offered Almaty to be place of the future settlement."
From General Peremyshlskiy letter to the Governor-Gasfort.
"We wintered well and quietly in the dugouts. The only problem was that a lot of horses died from exhaustion. On the next spring of 1854 ... we have been moved forward along Kaskelen and Almatinka where a fortress is now. Major construction works was laid on infantry. We cut wood, made slingshots, dug ditches. First fortification consisted mainly of slingshots. Large trees and ditches, the remains of which are still visible until now, have been erected later."
From the memoirs of the soldier Mikhail Anikin.
Well, and what about Potanin? Alas, if the young cornet read less "Contemporary" and recorded more of his experience, maybe we would have a better picture of the beginning of our city. But, apparently, Potanin had nothing to do with the beginning of the construction, in the summer he was in Kopal, in autumn in Kulja, and then went to Semipalatinsk. And, frankly, it is unknown whether Potanin had come here ever again.