Chechnya. The White Book. Part 1

The Old Caucasian War As Seen By General Yermolov, Imam Shamil and Joseph Dzhugashvili


Russians have known the Caucasus and its mountain people since olden times. In 1561, Tsar Ivan the Terrible married a Kabardin princess, Maria Temryukovna. Since then, many mountain princes sought Moscow's support and accepted Russian citizenship. During the Time of Trouble, when Russia was weak, its contacts with the Caucasus were nearly broken, but were soon restored when the first Romanovs came to rule it. Archives store the requests of many mountain rulers and princes for Russian citizenship.

The very first documents on contacts between the Russians and the Chechens date back to the 16th century. At that time, the Russians did not know the word "Chechens", and hence called them differently. One of the names was "Shibuts people." We will cite one of these documents. Contacts were sporadic and did not leave a large trace in history then. Logically, Russians were interested in Orthodox Georgia, while Georgians reciprocated. The North Caucasus, with its numerous mountain people, including Chechens, was located on the road from Moscow to Tiflis (as Tbilisi was called then).

Documents show that somewhat later, when Tsar Aleksei Mikhailovich and his offspring ruled Russia, Chechens persistently asked the Russian Tsar to take them under this protection, promising to faithfully serve the Moscow ruler and help him in the struggle against the enemies of the Russian land. Read these documents and judge for yourself. They include numerous oaths and pledges of loyalty, which, as time showed, were not worth much.

During the reign of Peter the Great, the son of Aleksei Mikhailovich, who fought Persia, the Russian troops did not get the promised assistance from Chechens, but had to fight back their raids. It was at that time that the Russians held – although with questionable success – several punitive operations against the mountain people. On the other hand, that clash was only an episode in Russia's history, as Peter's basic interests were in the West, and not in the Caucasus at all. Besides, the Caspian regions, which he had conquered, were soon ceded back to Persia.

Empress Anna Ioannovna ordered the construction of Russian battlements in the Caucasus, called the Caucasian Line. The main goal of that project was not to suppress the mountain people, whose likes and dislikes vacillated between Russia, Persia and Turkey. NO, the line was designed as a border dividing the zones of influence between Russia and Turkey under the 1739 Treaty. Besides, the Caucasian Line ensured the maintenance of stable contacts with Georgia. Russia helped Georgia more than once, and Georgian units joined Russia in the battle with Turkey.

In 1785, when Georgia was threatened by Avar Khan Omar, the Russians wanted, but could not, help Georgians. The trouble was that the road to Georgia was cut off by a military conflagration in Chechnya, which numerous testimonies says was incited by Turkey. It was at that time that the Russians came face to face with Chechens. The mountain army, which launched "a holy war against the infidels", was led by a poor shepherd. He proclaimed himself to be the chosen man of Mohammad and assumed the name of Sheik Mansour. That illiterate shepherd Ucherman from the village of Aldy laid the foundations of gazavat (holy war) in the North Caucasus.

During his brightest period, Mansour had up to 25,000 troops, as the Russian military said, who presented a serious threat to the whole Caucasian Line. The first attempt of the Russian troops, commanded by conceited Colonel Yuri Pierri, to surge ahead to the "seat of the pseudo-prophet", ended in a catastrophe. The Chechens well nigh liquidated the Russian group, but their success was short-lived. All other attempts by Mansour to storm the Russian entrenchments, in particular Kizlyar, led to major losses among the mountain army and the loss of his prestige. Quite a few of his supporters deserted him. Using the assistance of Turkey, which provided weapons and money to the self-proclaimed imam, Mansour continued to worry the Russian troops for several years, but was finally defeated during the battle with Cossacks in October 1787. Mansour's retreat across the snow-laden mountains was tragic. Many frozen bodies were found along the way of his retreat next spring. The "sheik" took refuge in the Turkish fortress of Sucuk-Kale, where he was taken prisoner in the summer of 1791.

The Russian elite discussed for a long time where Mansour came from. Prince Grigory Potyomkin-Tavrichesky, chief commander during the 1787-91 Russo-Turkish war, did not doubt that the pseudo-prophet "was directed by the enemy". Empress Catherine the Great disagreed with her favorite. She believed that when the sultan's government learned "about the known tramp who incited unrest among the mountain people", decided to "create a party there to damage us [Russia]". Modern historians tend to agree with the empress. Three are the reports of the Turkish agents, who met with Mansour and say quite definitely that that "liar" had "no qualities necessary for becoming known as genuine Mansour", whose appearance was predicted by the Great Prophet Mohammad. Although it learned about the deception, Turkey nevertheless continued to pursue its geopolitical goals in the region and played into the hands of the pseudo-prophet.

It should be said at this point that Turkey, as well as Persia and Britain, would subsequently play a very active part in the developments in the Caucasus. In particular, Britain traditionally regarded Russian presence in the region as a potential threat to its domination in India, and hence consistently (sometimes directly, but most often with the help of Turkey and Iran) tried to influence the Caucasian affairs in its own interests.

Despite the tragic nature of the war between Russia and the self-proclaimed "sheik Mansour" and Chechens, who supported "the holy war against the infidels", that historical episode cannot be regarded as the beginning of Russo-Chechen confrontation. Too much in that conflict depended on the personality of Mansour, his religious fanaticism, and on foreign interference, rather than on the truly fundamental contradictions between Russia and Chechnya. The more so that Russia has always been tolerant of Islam, owing to its long-standing historical contacts with the Moslem world, and was hence not interested in fanning a religious war.

The first truly fierce clash of Russo-Chechen interests happened later, and was provoked, to a degree, by geopolitical chance, "an unhappy historical accident". The beginning of the sanguinary Caucasian War, traditionally dated 1817-64, reminds one very much of a traffic accident, when the culprit, who made a dangerous manoeuvre, leaves the site of the clash, while two other drivers are left stranded, settling accounts and nursing their wounds. To begin with, the Caucasian War was provoked by the voluntary integration of Georgia into the Russian Empire. Before that, Russians had only sporadic clashes with Chechen tribes, but when Georgia joined Russia, the North Caucasian people, and in particular Chechnya, found themselves surrounded by the Russian Empire, living as they were on the vital road leading from Central Russia to Georgia.


However, we should not forget how this happened and why Georgia asked for Russian assistance. Since the fall of Constantinople in 1453, Georgia had been the only Christian island in the Moslem ocean in Asia and for ages remained the object of aggression on the part of Persia and Georgia. The national archives of Georgia recorded the rivers of blood and tears shed by Georgians from Moslem terror. And Russian archives show how difficult was the decision to accept Georgia under its wing. It was one thing to provide assistance from time to time, and quite another to make Georgia a part of the Russian Empire and hence assume full responsibility for the protection of its borders. The Russian rulers knew that they were shouldering a very heavy burden, and that they would have to carry it for many centuries. No wonder that several Russian emperors had rejected the numerous integration requests of Georgia. The last to turn Georgia down was Paul I, to whom the new king of Georgia, George XII, pleaded for help in 1798. But Paul's son, Emperor Aleksandr I, could not master the courage to reject Georgia again.


The Grand Russian Encyclopaedia, published before the 1917 revolution, writes on this score: "Aware of the burden of sacrifices and cares, which Russia would take on with the integration of a country, ruined by external enemies and internal unrest, Emperor Aleksandr I took his time. During the second discussion of the issue on the integration of Georgia, the Council of State was informed of "the extreme unwillingness of the Tsar to agree to admit the Georgian kingdom into Russia". But the council persisted and reinforced its opinion with such arguments which Aleksandr I could not neglect. He approved the opinion of the council and signed a manifesto on the complete integration of Georgia into Russia on 12 September 1801."


The crucial arguments in that case were not the imperial ambitions, but a duty to co-believers, who had been for ages subjected to ruthless persecution and faced total physical extermination.


Viewed from this historical point, it would be hardly correct to accuse Russia of launching the Caucasian War. But neither can we put the blame on the Chechens, for they did not care for the suffering of Georgians or the noble decision of Russians to help Georgia. They only thing they saw was Cossacks on their native land. We are sorry for Chechnya, which was trodden over by the wheel of history. We are sorry for Russia, which was crushed by the same wheel, although differently. In point of fact, both Russia and Chechnya are trying to settle a problem, which they did not provoke in the first place.


The history of the Russian conquest of the Caucasus can be compared to the British conquest of India, or the Spanish conquest of America. There are many other examples, both in the early and the more recent history of humankind.  It was said above that General Yermolov felt as a Roman in the Caucasus. In all such cases, the methods were roughly the same and usually combined the stick and the carrot. And Russia acted in the same manner. It used force to suppress the mountain groups, or lured the local elite over to its side with presents and posts. Quite a few Caucasian princes were treated kindly and allowed to approach the throne. And lastly, many people, tired of endless internecine wars, did not demand privileges for themselves but sided with Russia voluntarily, in search of a strong patron, hoping to get stability, order and economic prosperity from cooperation with a stronger and more civilised partner.

Importantly, the Russian Tsars were convinced that they were bringing civilization to the Caucasus and were prepared to enforce it, if necessary. But it was not the Great Russian chauvinism, as the Russian authorities acted in the same manner also with regard to the indigenous population of the empire, meaning Russians, since Peter the Great. Peter I and his successors were convinced that the subjects must be forced to study, and did this very persistently. The reforms of Peter I, especially at the initial stages, were accompanied with numerous revolts, which were put down no less ruthlessly than the subsequent unrest in the Caucasus.

Eventually, Russians came to an agreement with everyone but Chechens, although it applied all possible methods in Chechnya, from peaceful diplomacy to military force. The raids of Russian convoys and neighbouring mountain people, kidnapping and slave trade continued despite any form of relations with Chechens and any agreements with them. Regrettably, the international civilised European law did not work in the Caucasus. An oath given to an infidel meant nothing for Moslems. This is why one can see the word "amanat" in the documents of that period. The amanat was a hostage whom Moslems usually "supplemented" to a treaty as a guarantee of fulfilling it. But this did not help either.

Emperor Aleksandr I, for example, many times changed his tactics with regard to Chechens. At first he applied the tactics of deterrence. The 1806 instructions to his chief commander reads: "Carry on the war with the mountain people as before: maintain proper vigilance to repel their outrages, but keep punishment commensurate with their crimes, because war is their way of life. The only method that can be effective and useful with regard to the mountain people is, while accepting the outward sign of their obedience, to try to keep them blockaded".

It did not help. When the raids became intolerable, Russians reciprocated with a persecution campaign. In 1813, after a few punitive expeditions, when the Russian troops ruthlessly torched the "guilty" villages, the Emperor ordered General Rtishchev to change the tactics yet again and "to try to restore order in the Caucasian Line by means of friendliness and indulgence". The Chechens regarded it as weakness and carried on their raids with renewed vigour. Russia again reverted to military force when General Yermolov arrived in the Caucasus in 1816. However, the methods of applying military force changed. It was decided to move on step by step, entrenching in new positions, cutting paths in the woods in order to protect themselves from traps, and building new strongholds. Yermolov's style was to move on slowly but surely, methodically pushing Chechens into the mountains and systematically punishing them for each bandit raid.

General Aleksei Yermolov was clearly an inordinate man. His indisputable successes in the Caucasus can be largely explained by his ability to quickly find his bearings and make independent decisions. More importantly, he was one of the few Russian chief commanders in the Caucasus who knew the psychology of the mountain people and Moslems. By the way, Yermolov often said with pleasure that his family roots went back to Tartar murza (noble) Arslan, and deliberately lived in an Oriental manner, as he knew that he was watched all the time. Few know that Yermolov had three Moslem wives during his stay in the Caucasus, with whose parents he signed an accepted temporary marriage agreement and who he repaid with expensive gifts, as was proper in the Caucasus. The court looked at this as another of the general's whims. The main thing for them was that the general remained unmarried from the viewpoint of Christian morals. When his term in the Caucasus ended, his Moslem wives, who bore him daughters, returned home and were subsequently married to other men. As for his three sons – Viktor (Bakhtiyar), Sever (Allahiyar) and Klavdyi (Omar), Yermolov took them to Russia, where they received a brilliant education and became exemplary Russian officers.

Yermolov wrote ironically about his method of ruling the mountain people: "I acted through my ferocious visage, my giant figure, which produced a terrible impression, and broad throat, so that they saw that no man can shout so loudly without good and substantial reasons". And one more quote: "I lived in accordance with many Asian customs, out of necessity, and see that the proconsul of the Caucasus cannot mend the ruthlessness of local habits with a kind heart". It appears that the general took pride in the fact that the Chechen mothers invoked his name to scare their disobedient children.

It should be said that virtually all Russian officers who earned glory in the Caucasus and incited fear in the enemy were similar in one aspect – their ability to wage a psychological war, using local customs and mentality. Baron Grigory Zass, whose forefathers came to Russia from Westphalia, commanded a Cossack regiment and struck mystical terror in the hearts of mountain fighters by his ruthless raids. There are quite a few jokes about Zass, who showed elementary hocus-pocus to them and was thus regarded a magi. Once he unloaded the guns of his guests, unbeknownst to them, after which he ordered them to shoot at him, and was subsequently hailed as immortal. But his popularity with the locals did not rest on hocus-pocus alone. Once Zass released and gave money to an imprisoned Chechen, whose brother had offered his life for the liberation of his brother. Another time somebody spread the rumour that Zass had poisoned a Chechen during talks, and the baron went to the deceased man's village alone, without an interpreter, and denounced the accuser. After that, every local man and woman knew his name.

Cossack General Yakov Baklanov from the Don was no less respected and feared than Baron Zass. Like the baron, he liked effects and was incredibly courageous. Once he the scared the daylights out of a delegation of Chechen elders when he met them in a fur coat turned the fur side out and with his face blackened by soot. Taking into account the inordinate looks of Baklanov, once can imagine that this frightened even the far from cowardly Chechens. He was wounded many times, but never lied down to nurse his wounds, which is why the Chechens regarded him as invulnerable as Zass. His fame grew many times over after a duel with the best Chechen shooter. The Chechen missed, while Baklanov did not even dismount his horse to kill his rival with a single shot. After that, Chechens said about a hopeless boaster: "Want to kill Baklanov?"

And lastly, Baklanov's personal flag - a skull and bones on a black field - made an immense impression on Chechens. An eye-witness wrote: "Whenever the enemy saw that terrible flag, held high by the giant Don Cossack, who followed his commander as his shadow, they also saw the fierce face of Baklanov, bringing inevitable defeat and death to anyone who came his way."

The ruthlessness of the current conflict, which the West frequently points to, is genetically inherited, just as the problem itself. The Caucasian War was not a game without rules, but these rules, as we have seen, were dictated by the Caucasus, and not Europe. The best witness would be not a Russian or a Chechen, but a neutral observer. One of such observers was the famous French writer, Aleksandr Dumas, who had visited the Caucasus. Daniel Zimmerman wrote in the book, "Aleksandr Dumas the Great", using the recollections of the French writer himself: "What is the cost of human life amidst that wild nature? A handful of coins, at the best. On the way to Chervlennaya, Aleksandr's convoy was attacked by a small group of Chechens. The Cossacks rushed at them. All Chechens retreated, with the exception of one abrek, who had pledged never to run away. The abrek offered a duel. Aleksandr's unconquerable inquisitiveness makes him promise 20 roubles to the one who takes up the challenge. A Cossack sends his horse galloping. He and the abrek exchange shots and take out their sabers, and the abrek holds the Cossack's head aloft, challenging anyone else to continue the duel. Another Cossack, who was smoking a pipe, inhales for the last time, throws his pipe away, and rushes at the abrek. His rifle on his shoulder, he fires but there is only a little smoke, as if the fuse is burning. The abrek approaches, he fires, but the Cossack manoeuvres and shoots again. The abrek falls down. The Cossack cuts off his head. His comrades undress the body. The victor is asked how he managed to shoot twice from a single-barrel rifle. It turns out he exhaled the first smoke."

This episode gives much food for thought over the 19th century morals, but then, the behavior of the great French writer looks strange too, as he offered money to see two gladiators fight for their life.

Although the natural talents and ruthless use of force by Yermolov, Zass, Baklanov and many other talented Russian generals ensured many military triumphs to Russia, these victories did not settle the problem. Aleksandr Griboyedov, who accompanied General Yermolov during several campaigns, noted the uselessness of military force for the solution of that problem. He wrote in a letter of December 7, 1825: "I'm going to Chechnya. Aleksei Petrovich [Yermolov] did not want me, but I forced myself on him. I am so much entranced by all this now, that struggle of the mountain and forest freedom with the drum enlightenment; we will hang them and forgive them, and who cares for the history!" Later, after he had seen his share, Griboyedov wrote: "Fear and rewards are good only to a certain point; but one most horrible justice will reconcile the conquered people with the victors' banners."

Of course, Yermolov used more than just fear and rewards. We know of quite a few of the proconsul's attempts, although clumsy, to civilise the region. He imported women from Russia in order to marry them to his bored Cossacks and populate the Caucasus with Russians. Acting at his request, the centre dispatched several thousands widows with children and young girls to him. The Cossacks shot in the air and shouted "Hurray!" They also drew lots to choose their future wives. Or Yermolov also thought of using the formula of Peter the Great and civilizing the region with the help of foreigners. He even imported 37 families from Germany, but later complained that he was sent "shoddy goods": "Immoral, spendthrift, and lazy." Yermolov claimed that "many of them were of that contingent which the Rhine Union provided to Napoleon."

As we see, the Russian authorities were convinced that the best way to civilise the region would be not to work with the local population, but to settle it with Russians. And they did not ask the permission of the locals or the new settlers. We know that Russian settlers in the region suffered major hardships and troubles during the implementation of that imperial plan. A total of 1,631 Russian families were settled along the Caucasian Line in 1811. Ten years later, there were 16,790 Russian men there, mostly from the Chernigov and Poltava provinces. They had few means of subsistence there, as they had been forced to sell their property at home for kopecks and to move over to the Caucasus by autumn, which was the worst time of the year for resettlement. They lost their cattle on the way to the Caucasus and reached their new homes in dire poverty. Yermolov tried to launch a private subscription to help them, but the results were pitiful: less than a rouble per new settler and 16 horses for all of them. It was impossible to civilise the Caucasus in that way and at that rate.

Most importantly, Chechnya did not want to be civilised and preferred to live by its own rules, which differed considerably from the rules of other Caucasian nations. Unlike other mountain people, which had their nobility by that time (with whom the Russian authorities could better come to an agreement), Chechens thought they were all equal. The Chechens' prestige rested not on riches or knowledge, and not even their belonging to a certain clan, but above all on personal military valiance and successful raids. Unlike other mountain people, Tsarism could not find an object of talks in Chechnya, or the leaders and social structures, which would guarantee the fulfilment of agreements. As soon as such leaders appeared in the Caucasus, the Russian authorities did their best to win them over to their side. A classical example is the legendary Shamyl.

Officially, Russian history of the 19th century respectfully describes Shamyl as "the famous leader and unifier of the mountain people of Daghestan and Chechnya in their struggle with Russians for independence." Born in Daghestan in 1797 (other sources cite the year 1799), Shamyl became an ardent follower of a new teaching, which provided for saving the soul and cleansing one's sins by waging a holy war against the Russians. He came to power as the third imam of Daghestan, rallied both Chechens and Daghestanis under his banners, and ruled them for 25 years. His war against Russians had its ups and downs, but by late 1843 Shamyl became (for a time) the undivided ruler of Daghestan and Chechnya. The latter was divided into eight regions (naibates), ruled by his governors (naibs). At the best of times, Shamyl had as many as 60,000 troops. The naibs' closest assistants were the murides, the most loyal servants of Shamyl. They were also his personal guards. The supreme authority rested with the clergy. Shamyl tried to make the territory he controlled live by the Shariah laws, which fiercely clashed with the old mountain customs and traditions.

Shamyl's power rested on religion and violence, and the executioner, who always accompanied Shamyl, had much work to do. Like Russians, the third imam of Daghestan was outraged by the Chechens' obstinacy. The archives keep quite a few derogatory expressions, which the imam used with regard to Chechens. When talking with Russians, Shamyl constantly hinted that it would be in their interests to allow him to "hobble" the unruly Caucasus, and in particular the Chechens.

The simplified and primitive picture of Shamyl, created by some modern Caucasian, and in particular Chechen, nationalists – "he decided to devote his life to the struggle for the freedom of the people against Russian colonizers" – has little in common with the real man. Shamyl wrote to General Klucki von Klugenau, commander of the Russian troops in Daghestan, in 1836: "As long as I live, you will find in me a diligent servant of the Russian government, who cannot betray." His only condition was the following: "I ask You for only one thing: Don't stop us from fighting each other. The bravest of us will be the winner, the unbridled will reconcile themselves, law and order will triumph, and, God willing, there will be general tranquillity." Of course, there was a measure of diplomatic slyness in Shamble's promises to be "the loyal servant of the Russian government" at the height of "the holy war against the infidels," but the very idea of "hobbling" the mountain people met the desire of the emperor.

Their methods were similar, too. Shamyl admitted much later: "I used ruthless methods against the mountain people: many of them were killed on my orders. I fought the people of Shatoi, Andi, Talbutin and Ichkeria; but I fought them bot because they were loyal to Russians – you know that three was no such thing, but because of their bad character, their robberies and raids. And you will fight them for the same traits, which they find very difficult to mend. This is why I am not ashamed for what I did and I have no fear of answering for my deeds to God.» With time, Shamyl became even more convinced of that stand. He thought that he was ruling "a bad people, bandits, who will do good things only when they see a saber, from which several heads have rolled, over their heads." "If I acted differently," Shamyl concludes, "I would have had to answer to God, and He would have punished me for not punishing my people." Such words were the healing balm for the ears of many Russian generals who had fought in the Caucasian War.

Eventually, Shamyl was defeated and taken prisoner. His last hiding place was the village of Gunib, where he took refuge in 1859. Chronicles show that Imam Shamyl went to Gunib with a rich convoy, but arrived there without anything "other than weapons in his hand, and a horse on which he sat." On his way to Gunib, the imam was robbed by the dwellers of neighbouring villages. They feared Shamyl while he was strong, but robbed him when he became weak. It was not by chance that Shamyl told his subordinates a few years before that, invoking the name of the famous Russian general: "If you feared the Allah as you fear Baklanov, you would have long become saints."

Imprisonment was not trying for Shamyl. When the imam was brought to Aleksandr II, who had distinguished himself as a young officer in the Caucasian War and was decorated with the St. George's Cross for his courage, the Russian emperor said: "I am very glad that you are in Russia at long last, and I am sorry that this has not happened sooner. You will not regret this. I will have you settled and we will be friends!" The imam was comfortably settled in Kaluga and was given a considerable remuneration. When passions ebbed in the Caucasus, he was allowed to leave for Mecca, where he died and was buried. He left many letters to the Russian emperor, filled with words of gratitude and loyalty. He said once: "In his dying days, old Shamyl is sorry that he cannot be born again, so as to devote his whole life to serving the white Tsar, whose generosity he is enjoying now." One might doubt these words of an old man, but on the other hand, nobody forced him to utter them. When he was in Mecca, Shamyl did not voice a desire to resume his struggle against Russians. He was buried in Medina, at the Jannat-al-Bakir cemetery, one of the most respected places for Moslem pilgrims. One of his sons became a Russian general and loyally served Russia, and the other became a Turkish general and fought Russians. His grandson, French officer Said-bek, fiercely fought the Soviet regime in southern Russia in 1920.

The imprisonment of Shamyl engendered hopes for the quick settlement of the Caucasian problem. Prince Baryatinsky, who imprisoned the imam, said: "Now that we have taken all these mountains, gorges and valleys, protected by nature and art; when their militant, fanatic dwellers, who have not laid down weapons for such a long time, have suddenly surrendered to us – now is the time for the numerous concerns and vigorous efforts to build communication routes, establish a correct, in the spirit of the people, administration, and choose and occupy strategic positions. In a word, now is the time to acquire a position, which would protect us in the future from all risks and a repetition of sanguinary struggle. God willing, and using the help of my wonderful assistants and those incomparable troops and resources, which His Imperial Highness provided to me until the end of 1861, I can hope to attain this goal to the glory of my beloved Monarch." Regrettably, it was only a temporary success.

In 1801-64, the Caucasian War claimed 77,000 Russian lives. It is apparent that many more mountain dwellers fell in that war, but nobody counted the dead on their side, or could hope to do it.

The war resulted in the first mass exodus of Chechens, above all to Turkey, which promised to give a warm welcome to refugees. Russia did not object and there is documentary proof showing that it even provided small material assistance to the refugees. Since many of those refugees soon sought the permission of the Russian government for returning, the Turkish welcome was not that warm. Here are the notes of Shamyl's son, Mohammad-Shafi: "I will appeal to Sultan Abdul-Mejid to stop deceiving the mountain people. The Turkish government pursued the same policy with regard to them as the Europeans did with regard to Negroes. The Turkish government was not generous enough to give refuge to the resettled mountain people, who had come to Turkey eagerly, as to a holy place, thinking to find a new homeland for themselves in a country of the same religion, Turkey. The governmental cynicism of Turkey was such that the Turks, who initially well nigh issued statements encouraging the resettlement, in fact probably intended to use the refugees for their own military purposes. But when they saw the landslide of refugees, they were frightened and shamelessly doomed to a hungry death those who died, and were ready to die, any day for the glory of Turkey."

The Chechens founds themselves between Scylla and Charybdis. Russia, which fought Turkey many times, was not eager to take back those who "were ready to die any day for the glory of Turkey." The more so that there were many more of such in the Caucasus still. Aleksandr II wrote on one of such mass appeals: "The return is out of the question." A few were given individual permissions to return, but the bulk of the refugees remained in Turkey.

The Caucasian volcano went to a short sleep after 1864, although small eruptions did happen now and then, especially in Chechnya. It woke up against when central power was weakened in Russia by the 1917 revolution and the ensuing Civil War. The Caucasus rejected both the White Guards of General Denikin and the Red Army. It was with great pains and suffering that Soviet power was established in the region.

On the other hand, it is very difficult to distinguish between political struggle and elementary robbery there. In 1921, the Daghestani Council of People's Commissars (Ministers) judged, possibly correctly, that the main reasons for robbery were nepotism and bribery of the local law-enforcement agencies. Crime also grew because of "the bandit movement in Chechnya and the resettlement of 4,000 Chechens, a people with predominantly predatory traits, to the Khasavyurt Region without official permission," the Council wrote. "In view of such particularly bandit-like neighbor as Chechnya, measures are being taken to restore order and protect the people from attacks. Local self-defense units are to be established for such protection, and resources are to be found for their maintenance." Of course, it would be very tempting to write off all these unpleasant words, which Daghestanis said about their neighbours, to the influence of Bolshevism, but as you read above, imam Shamyl used virtually the same words long before the Soviets came to power in Russia.

The situation did not change three years later. The intelligence department of the regional staff wrote in its annual report for 1923: "Take note of recurring conflicts between the population of Chechnya and Daghestan, engendered by robbery and the kidnapping of women for ransom." The report also cites numerous facts of robberies and theft committed by Chechens. Several operations were launched to disarm Chechen villages. Reports mention hundreds and even thousands of weapons and say that they could be confiscated only with military force. The usual methods used by the Soviet security forces and the army at that time reminds one very much of the pre-revolutionary period. First the talks with the elders and an offer to settle the problem peacefully. The offer is usually rejected. Next come warning shots, replaced by effective fire. The population surrender their weapons only after several houses are destroyed in their village. But they don't give up all their weapons. Subsequent searches considerably increase the piles of confiscated weapons. Documents show that this happened in virtually each village and settlement of Chechnya at that time.

But despite these measures, the Chechens revolted in 1929 and 1932. The suppression of resistance was followed by a period of respite, which lasted until the Great Patriotic War of 1941-45. The rebels, encouraged by the fact that the frontline was consistently approaching the North Caucasus, resumed their destructive actions in the autumn of 1941. They attacked collective farms and small military units. Documents prove that some rebels established contacts with the German command and even helped the mountain infantry of the group of armies South, which were moving southeast. When Russia pushed back the German troops from the Caucasus, its army and security agencies focused their attention on Chechnya. In late February 1944, hundreds of thousands of Chechens were forces into trucks, brought to the railway stations and deported to Kazakhstan.

The above is the truth. Likewise, it is true that hundreds of thousands of people suffered in cruel persecution campaigns, and that most of them were innocent. Joseph Dzhugashvili, a.k.a. Stalin, ordered those persecutions. Born in the Caucasus, he certainly knew the regional history and the Chechen psychology very well. Moreover, the Communist Party leader was also well versed in the traditional mountain methods of robbery. In 1906-07, he headed "the expropriation expeditions" in the Transcaucasus. In other words, he robbed banks and other establishments in order to finance the revolutionary activity of the Bolshevik party.

The deportation of Chechens and several other ethnic groups of the Soviet Union happened at the height of the Second World War. It is difficult to say if Stalin, "the father of nations", as he was called then, recalled the past history and feared mass betrayal by Chechens, or if he used war as a pretext for their ruthless persecution. Either is possible, in view of Stalin's complicated psyche. And lastly, he could borrow the idea of deporting Chechens not only from Russian history, but also from the modern Western experience. It was at that time that the USA interned all ethnic Japanese. All of them – just in case.

We can imagine the hurt and pain of Russian citizens, the modern reasonable and law-abiding Chechens, with which they remember those distant times or the latest tragic decade of relations with the federal centre. But they must admit that many neighbours of Chechnya, who have suffered so much from Chechens, have the right to be offended too.

It is not pleasant for the Chechens to listen to many evaluations of modern experts, the more so that they are correct and objective. But this painful, and regrettably traumatic, analysis is necessary. It is time to stop putting the blame on Moscow alone. Russians have long been trying to analyze their mistakes, arguing themselves hoarse over Chechnya, but Chechens should likewise try to see what their main problem is. For example, they should try to honestly answer the question: Why do many Chechens still regard as a norm of their life the things which Russia, the civilised Europe and even Imam Shamyl regarded as robbery?

Chechens hardly ever surrender the murderers, robbers and rapists to the law. Most Chechens still choose loyalty to their clan instead of respect for law. Tsarist generals and Soviet law-enforcers many times punished whole settlements not only for their direct involvement in robbery and kidnapping, but also for assistance to the robbers and kidnappers. This did not help in the past, and does not help now. Numerous historical sources say that even the so-called peaceful valley Chechens, who lived in the direct proximity to Russian settlements, usually did not take part in raids but helped the raiders, pointing to the weaknesses in the Russian defences, providing the raiders with information and hiding them, if necessary. This is how it happened in the past, and this is how it still happens, to our regret. Historians frequently cite the answer that a Chechen gave to General Rumyantsev, who demanded that the raids be stopped: "Ours is to raid and rob, while yours is to grow grain and trade."

Chechens did not invent raids and kidnapping, of course. In the past, the Moscow Rus suffered greatly from the Don and Volga Cossacks, who for several centuries complicated her foreign policy contacts with the southern neighbours by raiding foreign merchants, robbing vessels on the Black Sea and selling slaves. Many other nations have similar pages in their history. So, raids as a side trade are a well-known fact in the history of humankind. It is another matter that it seldom remained the basic source of income for such a long time as in Chechnya.

Depending on their political likes and dislikes, scientists offered different explanations for the Chechen raids. Many historians, while deliberating on the ethno-psychological traits of Chechens, still refer to Friedrich Engels, a founding father of Marxism, who wrote about "the striving for plunder" during the transition to a class society. They usually provide his words to the effect that "theft, violence, deceit and treachery" are the obligatory elements of the transition from the tribal/clan relations to a class society. These scientists think that the point at issue is a social underdevelopment of Chechens, caused by the unique mountain conditions of their life.

In Soviet times, Stalin suggested that such raids be explained by the anti-colonial war waged against the Tsarism, while the more recent raids be explained by exclusively anti-Soviet activities and intrigues of the West. Imam Shamyl was even denounced as "the paid agent of the Turkish sultan and the British imperialism," but was soon rehabilitated and hailed as "the hero of the national-liberation struggle against the Russian monarchy." That rehabilitation was carried out in a unique manner of that period. A scientific conference "On the Movement of the Mountain People under the Guidance of Shamyl," organized in 1957, provided arguments to prove that the official view changed because of the need to "expose various concepts of bourgeois apologists and distortions in the sphere of historical science," to combat "opportunism, dogmatism, unnecessary pedantry and doctrinairism with regard to theory." Not a word was uttered throughout that conference about hostages and slave trade. Instead, the speakers quoted from Karl Marx, in particular: "The brave Cherkess seriously defeated the Russians several more times. People, learn from them, see what the people who want to remain free can do." And lastly, the conference concluded that "the war of the mountain people under the guidance of Shamyl should be regarded as progressive," because this is how it was regarded by the greatest leaders of the Communist Party, "the students of Lenin; Stalin, Ordzhonikidze, Kirov and Frunze."

We remind you of these changes in historians' views of Chechnya because modern Chechen nationalists and separatists are using that old Stalinist anti-colonial argument. It was not very impressive then, and it is no more impressive now. The trouble is that Chechens started raiding their neighbours long before they even heard about Russia, continued their raids throughout the Tsarist period of Russian history, during the February and October revolutions in 1917, the subsequent Civil War and the interregnum in the Caucasus, the Soviet regime, and lastly, the current democratic period. In the past few years, anyone could become hostage in Chechnya – citizens of Russia, France, Britain, Israel and Poland. How is this related to the so-called anti-colonial war? And lastly, Chechens have always robbed, and continue to rob, each other. Dr. Aslambek Aslakhanov (Law), Chairman of the Union of the People of Chechnya, stated recently: "Chechnya is a thorn, above all in the flesh of the Chechens. 95% of those who stole were Chechens. No other state would have tolerated the crimes that were committed in the republic." Nothing helped, or helps, in Chechnya, not even the clerical cloak, as in the case of Shamyl. Facts show that the questions of religion, ideology or politics, in particular the struggle for independence, had nothing, and have nothing, to do with the situation in Chechnya. The target for a raid was determined by only two factors: possible loot and entailing risks.

Of course, not each Chechen is a robber, like not each Russian is an upright person. But it is a historical fact that a "source of infection," that is not quite clear even to modern analysts, has been smoldering in Chechnya for many centuries now. The republic is ill, and everyone suffers from the effects of this disease -- Chechnya, its closest neighbours, and Russia as a whole.

History shows that the Chechen disease is a kind of recurring fever. It became aggravated each time when Russia was weakened, for different reasons, as during its several clashes with Turkey, the Crimean War of 1853-56, the 1917 revolution and the subsequent Civil War, the first post-revolutionary years, which were extremely difficult for the country, and the Second World War. That fever was rekindled during the disintegration of the Soviet Union, when vital but difficult and painful reforms were launched in Russia. 


October-before November 7, 1657



"In the Name of the Almighty,"

"We of the Shibut Jama'at, in our desire to be subjects of the Great Tsar, sent three envoys to the Tsar of Russia from our mountain land of Chechan [Chechat?] and Tonsa. We shall become His Majesty's subjects if that be his Royal will. Those envoys, Alikhan, Suslah and Algian, were sent by us for a second time. A hostage/2 was sent, likewise. May the Tsar of Russia grant our request. We shall also send an embassy to Temuras our king, who accepted the sovereignty of the Russian Tsar, for we desire to do the same."

"Grant your merciful consent to our supplication, Your Majesty, for we shall bring under your aegis an abundance of villages."

"Meanwhile, we of three or four villages implore the Great Tsar to grant our humble request."


1/ Contemporaneous written records refer to Chechens by a variety of ethnic names, "the people of Shibut" among them.

2/ The institution of amanat, hostageship, principally concerned children of noble lineage. A broken pledge spelt their death or slavery.



From a report by General Kuroyedov, commandant of

Kizlyar, to Prince Grigori Potemkin

January 21, 1781

"<...> Your humble servant received three missives from the elders in the preceding year 1780, in which they continued their requests for Russian citizenship. They were still hesitating, however, as we were to learn later on. <... > That was why your humble servant chose to leave those missives unanswered. In the long last, they repented their hesitation and made one more unanimous request for Chechnya to be permanently incorporated in the Russian Empire, brought an oath of allegiance, and made written pledges for themselves and on behalf of their posterity to be devoted subjects of Her Imperial Majesty.

"They implore all-merciful forgiveness for their past trespasses and address a supplication to Her Imperial Majesty to accept them as her subjects forever.

"With this, I am humbly offering to Your Excellency a translation of written pledges received by me in a Tartar dialect, in the hope of Your Excellency's approval thereof.

"In this, your humble servant makes bold to recommend to Your Excellency Captain Prince Bekovich-Cherkassky and Junior Lieutenant Zorin as officers who proved their worth on numerous occasions, particularly secret missions in the borderland."

"We the undersigned, High Elders of Chechnya and Haji Aul, and our people, swear the following on the Holy Koran, and by the Almighty and the Prophet:

"though we subjects of the Russian throne since olden times had pledged to the crowned predecessors of Her Imperial Majesty allegiance and submission to the Royal will and orders thereof,

"we wilfully and repeatedly perjured our oaths to scorn due obedience, and in our audacity to abuse Her High and Merciful Majesty by secession from the Russian Empire.

"In hearty repentance of our deplorable misdoing, we now bring our supplication to accept our eternal subjection, and entrust ourselves to the motherly concern of Her Majesty the Empress in the hope of pardon and of the honour of joining her eternally loyal subjects. In our hearts, we regard ourselves as eternally loyal subjects of Her Majesty and her successors to the crown. We fall at Her Majesty's feet to beg for mercy and forgiveness of our trespasses.

"We swear by the Almighty and the Prophet Mohammed to serve the Imperial family [names following] eternally, loyally and obediently as we must and are willing to, seeing it as our sacred duty to fulfil their Royal orders unquestioningly and conscientiously, with the utmost ardour and in all meekness. In our lifetime and the lifetime of our posterity, we pledge voluntarily to defend Her Imperial Majesty, Their Imperial Highnesses and Motherland wherever we can. To fight bravely to the last drop of blood we swear by our eternal bliss.

"We shall never offer the slightest resistance to our superiors and to whatever orders thereof.

"If, against all expectations, any of us dare to rise on Motherland and Her Imperial Majesty in defiance of the fear of God, the conscience of the loyal subject, and his duty, we shall avoid communication with such miscreants. At the bidding of our heart, everyone of us shall spare no effort to prevent such evil, and denounce it to high offices in due time. The evil-doers shall be regarded as outcasts of the human race undeserving of the company of their brethren. Whenever it is possible, the miscreants shall be hunted down and brought to the high judgment of Her Imperial Majesty.

"If we transgress this our solemn oath even the slightest, may the Almighty and the Prophet turn Their face away from us for ever and ever, and deprive us as godless of all heavenly mercies in the afterlife. May we be eternally damned and punished by the invincible force of arms of Her Imperial Majesty.

"We pledge to hold sacred this our oath, and keep it eternally. In confirmation of this pledge we kiss the Holy Koran, and give the signatures of our own hand, and impressions of our thumbs and signets."

 Oath of the High Elders and people of Chechnya and Haji Aul

"On January 21 of the year 1781, we the undersigned, High Elders of Chechnya and Haji Aul, and our people, make the following voluntary, sincere and conscientious statement to Brigadier-General Kuroyedov, holder of high Imperial orders and commandant of Kizlyar:

"Aware of the tender mercies shed by Her Imperial Majesty on all her loyal subjects, and of the wisdom of her rule, we come under her Royal patronage, and request for her Royal order to accept the loyalty of all elders and people as her subjects according to the following regulations:


"All elders of the above-listed villages, the entire population thereof, and their posterity shall become forever subjects of Her Imperial Majesty [an exhaustive list of the Royal family follows], loyal and dedicated for our lifetime and those of our offspring. We shall unquestioningly follow all their orders and instructions as our sacred duty, with becoming goodwill and in every diligence.


"We pledge to stand on guard of the interests of Her Imperial Majesty to the last drop of our blood, fight the enemies of Her Imperial Majesty and Motherland, and under no pretext maintain friendly contacts with such.

"In case the elders and tribes should learn about encroachments by the neighbouring nations or subjects of Her Imperial Majesty on Her Majesty's wellbeing, the boon of our Motherland or Royal interests, we pledge to immediately make appropriate reports to military commanders in the nearest Russian settlements and to the commandant of Kizlyar, and to spare no efforts to nip such encroachments in the bud.


"We elders and our entire people shall proceed in our relations with Kumyk tribes, eternal subjects of Her Imperial Majesty, from the present Rules.

"We shall freely elect our village elders for public weal and according to our ancient customs. We shall honour and respect our sovereigns, and obey them in everything.


"We elders and our entire people shall maintain hearty accord with Kumyks, Kabardians and Ossets as loyal subjects of Her Imperial Majesty and our compatriots, and under no pretext tolerate enmity. Quarrels over thefts and robberies shall be settled according to ancient Kumyk customs. In case settlement cannot be reached and required damages are not paid, the commandant of Kizlyar shall be applied to.


"We shall proceed from ancient Kumyk customs and available evidence in case of unpremeditated crime.

"All loyal subjects of Her Imperial Majesty shall be entitled to immediate payments of damages. In case of manslaughter, the bereaved household shall be entitled to a hundred roubles for a killed kinsman or kinswoman, and fifty roubles in case of an injury.


"All men and women captured by us in the Cossack village of Kalinovskaya last year, 1779, shall be delivered without ransoms to commandant Kuroyedov in Kizlyar. In case any village is keeping captive Cossacks, soldiers or other Russians bought several years ago, the villagers shall release them and be entitled to the price thereof, for which they shall apply to the above commandant. Prisoners-of-war shall be released upon payment according to rates accepted with the Kumyks.

"In case our fugitive Muslim serfs appear within Russian borders, they shall be delivered up to us.

"Georgian, Armenian and other Christian slaves shall be paid for according to rates accepted with the Kumyks.

"We pledge not to give shelter to whatever fugitive subjects of Her Imperial Majesty but capture them to be delivered up to commandant Kuroyedov in Kizlyar.


"Whatever complaints may be made by the Russian Party concerning previous pillages, thefts or robberies, with the exception of the capture of Kalinovskaya Cossack men and women, whom we pledge to release, as referred to in Clause 6 of the present Oath; and of a burglary of Sarafannikov's factory church in the Cossack village of Shelkovskaya, which we pledge to investigate and, would the track lead to our people, to restore the aforesaid ecclesiastical property--we apply to Her Imperial Majesty to forgive us, out of motherly mercy, all previous trespasses, aforesaid robberies, livestock thefts, etc., included.

"We, on our part, pledge to relinquish all our reciprocal claims for good and solely appeal for Royal mercy and forgiveness, as befit loyal subjects of Her Imperial Majesty.


"In case, contrary to expectation, we fail to prevent or report violation of Russian frontiers by whatever citizens of the Russian Empire or aliens with our knowledge, resulting in pillage, theft of livestock or capture of people, and we tolerate the culprits to cross our land unimpeded, we pledge to reimburse the cost of destroyed and pillaged property, and shall be liable to criminal responsibility in compliance with the laws of Her Imperial Majesty.


"After Her Imperial Majesty deigns to issue her merciful order to reinstate us in eternal Russian citizenship, we dare to request safe passage to Kizlyar, Mozdok and other Russian settlements on the purpose of trade. We demand to be treated everywhere as eternal loyal subjects of Her Imperial Majesty.

"In case of whatever claims and injuries, we pledge cooperation with high officers, especially the commandant of Kizlyar, who receive appropriate complaints.

"Be our horses or livestock recognised in Russian or Chechen settlements as stolen, we pledge to cede the animals unquestioningly or expose the thieves, as our ancestral customs demand.


"In protestation of our loyalty, we are giving a hostage descended from one of our most noble families, and leave his upkeep to the sovereign will of Her Imperial Majesty, who shall be likewise free to demand him substituted by other hostages of the noblest lineage.


"All the above clauses confirm voluntary resolution of elders and the people for eternal acceptance of Russian citizenship and their oath of allegiance, as guaranteed by Chechen sovereign Arslanbek Aidemirov.

"In the presence of the above and His Honour Junior Lieutenant Zorin, who arrived from Kizlyar for the purpose,

"Signed with own hand, and sealed with signets and thumb prints, with an oath on the Holy Koran."

 (Document of January 21, 1781)

 April 19, 1781


Part 2 - Part 3


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