The centuries-long history of the Caucasus abounds in dramatic pages.
Ilya Maksakov's article published in Nezavisimaya Gazeta (June 2, 1999) was dedicated to the 135th anniversary of the end of the war in the Caucasus. The author indicates that the last Circassian squad that continued to offer resistance to the tsarist troops surrendered in the Kbaada divide in the upper reaches of the Mzymta River on May 21, 1864. (Actually it is on May 21 that the date was observed over the past few years, although it would have been more accurate, according to the Julian calendar, to observe the end of the war in the Caucasus on June 2).
The current, or post-Soviet, Chechen conflict largely enriched the discussion of the historical significance of the war in the Caucasus, and that largely played a role in the sense that the events, which took place in the Caucasus in the 19th century, do not have a single undisputed assessment.
Thus, the Chechens and Daghestanians saw the end of the 19th century war five years earlier than their northwestern neighbours did, with the surrender of imam Shamil in Daghestan's Gunib. But even among the descendants of the legendary imam, opinions vary as to the assessment of the results of the half-a-century-long confrontation with Russia, which is evidenced among other things by solemn celebrations to mark Shamil's bicentennial held in October 1997. In Makhachkala, it is believed that the main spiritual heritage of the imam was his bequest never to fight against Russia again. In Grozny, where the slogan "the Caucasus with Russia for ever" was ultimately destroyed, the heroic resistance offered to the colonial troops is more readily remembered, and Shamil's name is unobtrusively used for inner political purposes, hinting at the imam's second coming.
The historical experience of the multinational North Caucasus is invoked by D. Ivanchenko, a deputy of the Krasnodar Territory legislature ("North Caucasus: No Alternative to Peace", Nezavisimaya Gazeta, July 28, 1998). He recalls the controversial and time-consuming process of the North Caucasus' integration into the Russian state. According to the author, while forming part of Russia, the mountain peoples saw not only the good of the patronage, development of statehood and restoration of culture, but also the atrocities of the civil war, reprisals and deportations. And yet, despite the difficulties of historical development, the annexation of the Caucasus by Russia had a positive impact on the life of the peoples living in that territory. The emergence of a comprehensive fraternal commonwealth was the main and undisputed factor in relations between Russia and the Caucasus.
The author maintains that the current attempts by the overseas (and not only overseas) enemies of that commonwealth to break the fraternal ties achieved through much suffering by the Russian and Caucasian peoples are detrimental to both the population of that area and for Russia as a whole. The North Caucasus region covers a number of transcontinental land, sea and airlines of communication of vital importance to Russia. Its geopolitical, transportation and cultural-confessional specificities may become powerful factors influencing the attainment of inter-ethnic and religious peace and accord in the region, the stabilization of international relations between the Russian Federation and the countries of the Black Sea and Caspian areas, as well as the potential kindling of conflict situations.
The current importance of the Caucasus has considerably increased not just in connection with the prospect of transit through its territory of Central Asian and Caspian shelf oil to Europe, but also because of the project to build a trans-Eurasian main route to link Europe with China via the Caucasus.
Foreign secret services are clearly implicated in the struggle for the secession of the Northern Caucasus from Russia. The slogan of restoring the Mountainous Republic, or the Caucasus Confederation is being much touted. The so-called Islamic factor is being exploited with the same objective to kindle conflicts between the mountain peoples themselves.
A retrospective review of history provides evidence that the links between the Russians and the Caucasus are of a long-term nature. The Russians did not only wage wars on the mountain peoples, but also tried to adjust themselves to each other. Historical sources suggest that Slavic tribes appeared in the North Caucasus even before the 5th century.
The strengthening of Russian influence in the North Caucasus was connected with the emergence of the old Russian Tmutarakan principality. As lord of Tmutarakan, the Russian prince was at the same time head of the Christian Adyghes, since the Adyghe diocese Centre was located in his jurisdiction (the Adyghes professed Christianity before the 16th century).
Turkish penetration of the Caucasus began in the 16th century. The Turks gradually established their strongholds along the Black Sea coast. Turkish domination whereby all foreign trade was confined to the slave trade put breaks on the development of normal economic ties with the rest of the world and had a very pernicious effect on their social-economic development. The slave trade not only led to the export from Circassia and other areas of the North Caucasus of the physically best part of the local population, but also was one of the main causes of feuds which ravaged Circassia. As for instances of mutual brutalities inherent in any war, it would be appropriate to quote Hovzhoko Shaukat Mufti, an émigré Circassian historian, who can hardly be suspected of being sympathetic to the Russian autocracy: "If we are to do justice both to the Russians and the Caucasians, preserving impartiality, we must say that many of the atrocities perpetrated during the war in the Caucasus as a result of which cities, villages and many people were destroyed cannot be ascribed to the Russian government. Those atrocities were not committed on orders from the government, the commander-in-chief or in accordance with any pre-designed plan. Some actions were committed without the knowledge of the Russian government and are to be blamed on individual persons".
Russian officer Venyukov wrote the following in 1880: "The United States Yankees drive the Indians from the mountains only to exterminate them, the British in Australia and New Zealand exterminate the aborigines in the mountains and in the valleys, sometimes with guns and dogs, as if they were animals. We fought the Circassians as equal rivals for a long time and after we defeated them we honestly ceded them lands, which can be an object of envy for most civilised tribes. The German colonists settled in the very same Kuban depression can testify to that as a third party".
Therefore, the war in the Caucasus in no way amounted to the genocide of the Adyghes, contrary to the interpretation offered by some popular editions, the author of the article writes. Even the tragic resettlement of the mountaineers to Turkey appears in a different light if the developments of those times are viewed in an unbiased fashion.
As a result of the advance of the Russian troops along the Laba, Belaya, Adagum, Urup and Zelenchuk, Temergoyevs, Besleneyevs, fugitive Kabardians and Natukhais swore allegiance to the Russian tsar.
The majority of Abadzekhs, Shapsugs and Ubykhians intimidated by the progress of the hostilities, and being confused and morally depressed, could not bring themselves to resist the pressure from the elders, nobility and mullahs who did not loosen their grip on their subjects and hoped to preserve their influence on them, moved to Turkey. The Adyghes were intimidated by the tyranny of the Russian authorities, conscription, and the alleged need to abjure the Moslem religion with the adoption of the Russian citizenship. Many joined the rush instinctively as if stricken by the panic, which had already seized others.
The Russian administration did not try to prevent emigration. It even allocated sizable funds and ships for the purpose.
"The most needy were issued food and a cash allowance worth from ten roubles per family to two roubles per person, and travel to Turkey was paid for by the state", historian A.P. Berge wrote at the time. "During his stay on the Pshad River, the commander-in-chief of the Caucasus army ordered the troops stationed on the coast of the Novorossiisk bay to provide treatment and food at hospitals to mountaineers belonging to different tribes until they recover at government expense, and 600 of them were allowed to stay there until spring with the neighbouring Cossack settlers where they were accorded a hearty welcome. The Cossacks adopted orphans and did whatever they could to alleviate the sufferings of their accidental guests, therefore many of the poor refused to emigrate to Turkey and settled in the Krymskaya and Anapskaya villages".
Referring to historical studies, Ivanchenko writes that while the pre-requisites for a new Adyghian nationality were created in Russia in the 1860-1880s, in Turkey the process of de-nationalisation of the mountaineers and their assimilation was evident from the outset. The slave trade and a high mortality rate among the muhajirs (settlers from the Caucasus) contributed to a rapid erosion of the gene fund of the Adyghes in Turkey. According to the British consul in Trabzon, from November 1863 to September 1864 alone, out of 220,000 Circassians who disembarked in Anatolia 10,000 were sold as slaves, and 100,000 starved to death or died of diseases in Turkish quarantine camps. "In Bulgaria, half of the resettlers died, while the other half are leading a drab existence," A.N. Moshnin wrote in 1877. "200,000 Circassians emigrated to Turkey, and now there are 60-70,000 of them left. Actually, this tribe is destined to merge with the Turks and share the fate of the latter".
In 1867, there were 75,000 Adyghes living in the Kuban area. And according to the tentative data about the population of Adyghes, including Kabardians, early in the 19th century there were about 300,000 of them.
Therefore, foreign allegations that almost the entire population of the North Caucasus was destroyed during the war in the Caucasus, while 90 percent of the survivors were forcibly deported to the Ottoman Empire hold no water. Equally groundless are assertions that there are 3 million Circassians currently living in Turkey, Syria and Jordan.
Unlike Ivanchenko, Yevgeni Krutikov in his article "The Whole World is the Caucasus" (Segodnya, August 8, 1998) speaks more harshly of the Caucasus policy of the tsarist government, which led to the exodus of the mountaineers to Turkey and other countries.
The Western Caucasus was hit the hardest by muhajirism. Defeated by the Russian troops, Adyghe communities left for Turkey in whole villages. Even entire peoples virtually left, including Abadzekhs, Ubykhians, Khatukais, Shapsugs, Besleneyevs and others. There were many Chechens, Lezghians and Karachais among muhajirs. Two thousand families of Ossetian Moslems were taken to Turkey by Musa Kundukhov, a general in the tsar's army.
In the Ottoman Empire, "Circassians" which became a generic name since most of the muhajirs were Adyghe who spoke dialects of the Adyghe-"Circassian" language formed the backbone of the army officers' corp. Abkhazians gave the Magnificent Porta 12 great viziers and dozens of generals. It was the Circassian officers who initiated the Young Turks movement. At the inception of the first Young Turks organisation stood military medics: Albanian Ibrahim Temo, Turk Iskhad Sukuti, Kurd Abdullah Jevdet and Circassian Mekhmed Rashid. One of the ramifications of the Young Turks revolution was headed by Abkhaz prince Sabakhatdin Kuadzba whose father was the Sultan's son-in-law. His closest associate was Ubykhian Hussein Tosun-bei.
During the Kemalist revolution, the first army commander was Shapsug Iatym-bei. Kemal Ataturk's closest associate was Abkhaz Rauf Orbai Ashkharua who became the first prime minister of secular and democratic Turkey in 1922. However, most prominent representatives of the Caucasus diaspora who lived in the Ottoman Empire were placed too high at the Sultan's court and in the military aristocracy to support the revolutionary impulse of the junior officers. They supported the Entente and sided with the Greek army establishing control over a considerable part of the Ottoman Empire, particularly those areas where Circassians lived in tight communities. Today, according to the Constitution of Turkey (Article 54), all nationals of the country are considered to be Turks, although according to some estimates there are from 750 to 850 purely Circassian villages in Turkey. In 1969, Abkhaz youths illegally conducted a census of Abkhazians living in Turkey and speaking their native language. It turned out that there were 250,000 such residents living in rural areas alone. In all probability, there are about one million Circassians living in Turkey. They do not have their own schools, textbooks, and their names as a rule are Turkified.
In Arab countries which emerged from the ruins of the Ottoman Empire with Great Britain's direct assistance, Circassians had better luck. At the initiative of the British military and with personal involvement of Lawrence of Arabia, an Arab Legion was created. 80 percent of its troops were Jordanian Chechens. Later the legion formed the backbone of the personal guards of Hashemite kings, and Chechen guards are still guarding the palace of King Hussein and are his personal bodyguards.
Jordanian Chechens were the first to re-establish contacts with Grozny under General Dudayev. Jordanian Shamsutdin Yusef was Foreign Minister in the Dudayev government, while the spiritual representative of the Circassian diaspora was the sheikh Abdul Baky Jamo, the oldest member of the Jordanian parliament who came to Grozny at the invitation of Movladi Udugov. However, the sheikh Jamo experienced poor relations with Dzhokhar Dudayev and had to leave Chechnya.
To know history, take into account its lessons and deal with problems of today is the task of politicians.
"What is the most important thing to be done today?" asks D.Ivanchenko, a deputy of the Krasnodar Territory legislature. To let bygones be bygones and at the same time to actively oppose the evil that is currently advancing against us. It is the present, not the past, that matters.
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