The Russo-Circassian War By Kadir I. Natho
Circassian, Russian, and other historians, wrote volumes about this war, the longest and the cruelest in the annals of history, which raged for over one century and a half between two entirely unequal nations, the gigantic Russian Empire and the little gallant Circassia; one, the aggressor, with a mighty military machine, the other, the defender of her land and freedom, without such a thing even as an organized army. The extraordinary stamina, courage, and love for freedom and country, with which this little nation resisted the relentless onslaught of the formidable aggressor for such a long time had fired the imagination of the greatest men of the age, Alexander Pushkin, Count Lev Tolstoy, Mikhail Lermontov, Taras Shevechenko, Karl Marx, and others, yet, strangely enough, the historians did not only misname this war, but most of the information they have furnished to us about it is quite inaccurate and conflicting. In other words, while the works of the great minds idealized the dignity and heroism of the Cherkes (Circassians), the historians ignored the nation against which the Russian aggression was directed and began calling it under two different terms: The Russo-Caucasian War and The Caucasian War. The first term was designed to conceal that Russia, in her drive towards the warm seas, had waged this war to conquer Circassia. The second term, The Caucasian War, which the Russians love to use in referring to this war, was to convey that all the Caucasians had initiated the war and fought it against Russia. Nothing, of course, can be farther from the truth. Some of the Caucasian nations – for example, Armenia and Georgia – did not fight at all against Russia in this war. Neither did the Caucasians ever declare war on Russia as the latter term implies. The fact is Russia had initiated this war and invaded the land of the Circassians – the land of the people that sought for the protection of the Czarist Russia against the aggressions of the Ottoman Empire and the Crimean Khanate in the XV and XVI centuries.
The reason? Russia had made up her mind to open a window towards the warm seas. Circassia, her good and friendly neighbor, with her vast Black Sea coast, was on her way. Therefore, Russia had unleashed her mighty military machine to conquer Circassia and to build on her Black Sea territory the harbors she needed for the execution of her grand master plan. We will be dealing mainly, in this chapter, with the process of the Russo-Circassian War, in particular and briefly.
When Did The Russo-Circassian War Begin
The existing information about this date is not accurate and contradictory. According to the pre-revolutionary historians this war lasted for a long time, nearly for two hundred years. There are other historians, who are claiming that this war started only in 1817. They are the followers of A. A. Gaspari, who had first stated this point of view, in 1904, about the Caucasian War. They are tying to tie the beginning of this war to the year General Yermolov came to the Caucasus. The overwhelming majority of the historians, however, came to the conclusion that ‘The Russo-Caucasian War’ started in 1763 and lasted until 1864. Nevertheless, the information of these historians is not accurate, since the first Russian invasion in Circassia took place in 985, which was lead by Prince Sviatoslav. He had captured a part of Taman peninsula, laid the foundation of the Tmutarakan town, at the present location of Taman village, and had established there the Princedom of Tamatarkha. This had taken place 1,016 years ago, 778 years before the Russo-Caucasian War is supposed to have begun!
Following that the Russian armed forces, lead by Prince Mstislav of the Princedom of Tamatarkha, invaded Circassian Kasogia, in 1022. The Circassian army, lead by Prince Rededey, had faced him. The Circassian folklore has preserved the details of this famous encounter and they are recorded in Russian chronicles.
In 1561, Ivan the Terrible, the first Russian sovereign to be crowned as czar, married Princess Gosheney, the daughter of Prince Idar Temriuk, in order to place the Kabardians of Eastern Circassia under his control. He hastily built in Kabardia Cossack fortifications: Tumen, Sunja, and Andreevo, by 1579. He was well known for his expansionist policy and cruelty. He was not only trying to lay claim on eastern Circassia, but in order to expand the boundaries of Russia, he also subdued Kazan, Astrakhan, and annexed Siberia. He achieved all that with single-minded perseverance and merciless cruelty, for which he earned the title ‘Terrible’. His cruelty, however, was not limited to the people he conquered. He treated in the same manner the boyars of his kingdom and the dwellers of some towns, as Moscow, Tver, and Novgorod. In Novgorod alone he had 60,000 people killed in six weeks. Not only that “he had slain his eldest son in a fit of rage.” In 1594, the successor of Ivan the Terrible, Czar Feodor Ivanovich vaingloriously gave to himself the title, “The ruler of the Iberian land, Georgian Czars, Kabarda, Circassians, and mountaineer princes.” In other words, the Russian czars had begun claiming in advance by title the plans of expansion they intended to realize.
On May 13, 1711, Czar Peter I Alexandrovich, better known as Peter the Great, ordered Araksin, Governor of Astrakhan, to invade Circassia. Araksin moved with 30,000 strong Russian armed forces and, on August 26, 1711, broke into the lands of the Circassians, 100 km north of the Kuban River, and captured Kopyl town (now Slavianski). From there, heading towards the Black Sea, he seized ports on the Kuban and looted and pillaged them. Then, he marched up along the Kuban River for 86 km, pillaging villages, devastating the land, and killing the inhabitants.
Naturally, this surprise attack had confused the Circassians at first. However, they recovered soon from the shock and sent a 7,000 strong Circassian cavalry, which engaged the enemy forces at the Chalou River but, having no cannons, they were defeated there on September 6.
During this single invasion in Circassia, the Russians killed 43, 247 Circassian men and women, and drove away 39,200 horses, 190,000 cattle, and 227,000 sheep from Circassia. Russia kept waging this type of warfare against Circassia during the period from 1716 to 1763, but her motif for this mad drive was not material gain alone. This was only the prelude of the terrible war she was to unleash against Circassia for the realization of the secret plan she was trying to conceal from other great powers of the world.
The Purpose of the War
Russia had vigorously entered in the international arena, during the Peter the Great. This was the period the Ottoman Empire and Iran were weakening and Russia was gaining strength. At that time, Circassia, due to its strategic importance, had become the contending place for these powers. This situation, on the other hand, had attracted the attention of the major European powers, England and France, that held key position in the European and world politics and began, regardless of the confrontation they had between them, applying their joint efforts to limit the growing international influence of Russia. This situation had placed Circassia in the circle of the important problems of world politics of the XVIII century and her history to a critical stage.
Peter the Great had left a will for his plan: To expand tirelessly the boundaries of Russia north and south, along the Black Sea, and to move nearer to Constantinople and India. Whoever possesses them would own the world. With this aim in mind, to constantly instigate wars sometimes against the Turks, sometimes against the Persians, and to build shipyards on the Black Sea, which should be taken over gradually as well as the Baltic Sea; both are necessary for the success of the plan - to hasten the fall of Persia, to penetrate to the Persian gulf, to revive, if possible, the ancient trade of Levant through Syria, and to reach India. This plan of Peter the Great made Iran the gate to India, and the Caucasus, the key for that gate.
For the realization of her age-old dream – the drive toward the warm seas – Russia was bent to conquer Circassia and to build the necessary harbors on the Black Sea. Having accomplished that, Russia would seize Bosphorus and Dardanelles with the passage to the Mediterranean Sea, weaken the position of the Ottoman Empire, deal a powerful blow on the trade interests of Great Britain, and gain the upper hand over the European powers in the contest for world supremacy.
Pogodin’s report to Czar Alexander II clearly defines the place of Circassia, and of the Caucasus in general, in the foreign policy plans of Russia: The East must belong to us by right. We should not relax our activities in that direction for one moment. Constantinople has no knowledge of our real intentions. Having taken possession of it, we shall acquire the most important point of the world, and these gates to Asia should forever remain in our hands. Britain is the mistress of the seas since time immemorial. Leaning on the might we have achieved on land, we must have the same on the sea. We must take over the Black Sea coast, Bosphorus, and Dardanelles. The Black Sea ought to become the place for our maneuvers.
Muslim ideas and the Muslim faith, which served for the basis of the existence of the peoples of many countries, are gradually collapsing and disintegrating. Old social institutions have become obsolete; their activities are not making any progress any more. If, taking advantage of them, we shall begin interfering in them, no European counter measure will be effective. Our successes will be general and successive. Now we have the opportunity to influence on the events in all the regions up to Constantinople itself.
The compliance we displayed at the last meeting proved to be quite sufficient in order “to disarm” the opponent that is ready to oppose us furiously. Regardless of such a state of affairs, we have considerable work in store – building fortresses on the Black Sea coast, supplying all the strategic points with all kinds of armaments. It is imperative to complete the war with the peoples of the Caucasus, which will still demand substantial expenses and a great perseverance. This war must serve for the acquisition of a fitting experience by our armies and become the screen of all our preparatory operations for the mastery on the Black Sea.
Our pliancy on signing the Adrianople Treaty served the desired result. By it we staved off the possible future interference of England. We stirred popular unrest in Egypt; we managed to weaken the Porte in the same way. Not far is the day, when our guns “will speak.”
The Russian guns began to “speak” first in Circassia, with an unprecedented brutality.
The Eastern Circassia – Kabardia
Since Ivan the Terrible had married Princess Gosheney, Russia was gradually changing Kabardia and Kabardians unrecognizably and against their will. She did that through the policy of divide and rule; by setting the proud Kabardian princes against each other, by showering them with ‘the bounties of the Sovereign’, by taking hostages from them to ensure their loyalty, and by giving to a select few high positions in the Russian military, administration, and even in the royal court.
During that period, the Kabardians, one of the Circassian tribes, constituted the Eastern
Circassia. It occupied approximately the present territory of the Kabardino-Balkaria and was divided into two parts: Greater Kabardia and Minor Kabardia. By the XV century, the Kabardian princes had grown so powerful that they had extended their influence over all the neighboring peoples. In fact that was the main reason Ivan the Terrible had married the daughter of Prince Temriuk Idarov.
Prior to that, however, it was the Kabardians who were seeking the friendship and protection of the czars against the aggressions of the Ottoman Turks and Crimean Khans. Regardless of that Peter the Great had prepared a concrete program for the conquest of this region. He had proposed to launch an offensive on three directions: from Azov to Kuban, from Astrakhan to Iran through Azerbaijan, and from Piatigoria to Tiflis.
In 1711, Peter the Great wrote to the Kabardinians, “We only wish that today you would show to us your friendship and loyalty against the Turkish Sultan and the Crimean Khan, who started war against us… Should you be our citizens, we would not demand any taxes from you.” A. Bekovich-Cherkasski, who had visited the Caucasus, informed Peter I about the readiness the Circassian proprietors had expressed to serve the Russian Czar “with the entire Kabarda.” Nevertheless, the Czarist armed forces appeared in the territory of Circassia during the Russo-Turkish War of 1710-1711 and acted as though they were the real conquerors. General I. M. Apraksin dealt heavy blows not only on the Nekrasov Cossacks, who had fled from the Czarist oppression, but also on the Circassians who had sheltered them. “The Circassians from both sides of Kabarda,” wrote Gerber in 1728, “always displayed a great disposition towards Russia, and many of their princes with their men were considered her subjects, but it was only in words, and their freedom did not suffer at all thanks to it.”
The inhabitants of the settlements around the fortification of Sviatoy Krest have been transferred from Terek in 1724. In 1727, as P. G. Bulkov pointed out, there already lived 300 families, who were under the command of Elmurza Bekovich, on whom Peter the Great had bestowed the rank of lieutenant-colonel and who remained in the Russian service for good. However, in 1735, the Russian armed forces left the Sviatoy Krest fortification and the adjacent territory, as well as Derbent, Baku, and the Kuban Khanate, due to the agreements of the peace treaty with Iran. Just the same, the Russian foreign policy remained to be “to ensure the security of the southern boundaries of Russia and to gain a passage to the warm seas.” In order to achieve that plan, Russia had to establish her presence in the Caucasus and on the Caspian coast. Therefore, to gain her access to the Caucasus Russia had to acquire Kabardia, the eastern part of Circassia, which was occupying the central and strategically important place of the North Caucasus region.
Meanwhile, the controversy between Russia and Turkey on the “Circassian question” led to the Russo-Turkish War of 1736-1739. On April 13, 1736, Empress Anna Ivanovna called the Kabardinians to rise in the struggle against the common enemy. They responded readily and took the field on the side of the Russians that year, owing to the promise she made to recognize the independence of Kabardia. And indeed, both Russia and Turkey recognized Kabardia independent state at the Belgrade Treaty on September 18, 1739 (point 6). Nevertheless, Russia did not respect the conditions of peace for long. At first, she tried to interfere in the internal affairs of Kabardia but having failed to achieve the desired result, she began resorting to the use of her powerful military machine.
The Russian historian, N. Grabovski, wrote that, having once made up her mind firmly to establish her supremacy in the Caucasus, Russia could not act otherwise; all the efforts of the Russian policy in the Caucasus with respect to Kabarda, as the strongest and richest people in the Caucasus of the time, had to be concentrated for the elimination of the Belgrade Treaty.
For this intention Mazdok town, which the Kabardinians had built in 1759, acquired great importance and became under the direct threat of Russia. Four years later, she converted it into a Russian fortress and connected it by a military line with Kizliar in 1763. The Kabardinians protested against this aggressive act and demanded the vacation of the town, but the Russians ignored their demands.
Soon after Gen. De-Medem, the new commander of the Russian armed forces, arrived in the North Caucasus, he sent Jankhot Sidokov, Kabardian proprietor, and uzden Shabaz-Guirey, to the Kuban Circassians – Chemguys and Besleneys – to persuade them to become Russian subjects. However, both tribes answered that they were not prepared to accept the “everlasting citizenship” but that they were ready to pledge not to fight against the Russians. Angered by this answer, Gen. De-Medem informed Catherine II about it on November 13, 1764. On August 21, 1765, the Circassians were given an ultimatum: Either to accept Russian citizenship, or to be subjected under the arms of the Russians and Kalmyks.
The reason for it was clear. Documents exist proving that Russia had definite plans to carry out in Kabardia. Prince Potiomkin-Tavricheski, having studied the situation in south Russia after the Kuchuk-Kainargi Treaty, had proposed to define clearly the boundaries of Russia in the North Caucasus and, in the guise of their protection, to move gradually into the interior of the territory of the mountaineers. According to that plan were built: The Caucasian Line in 1780. The Chernomorski Cordon Line in 1793, and The Sunja Line in 1817.
In 1770, Captain Gastati, in his memorandum to the Russian government, wrote that Kabarda should be placed in such a situation so that it could be compelled in the future “to do everything we please and require.” In his report to the Emperor Alexander I, in 1808, Gen. Delpotso had expressed similar opinion on the same subject matter. He wrote, “… as soon as the first Kabardinians would be subdued, the other peoples of the Mohammedan faith would instantly… be compelled to submit to the power and rule of the Russian government and… to the scepter of the Russian throne.” The Russians stressed repeatedly the importance of subduing Kabardia first, because they were convinced that all the other independent peoples of the region were “following the Greater Kabardia in everything.” In order to realize the task, Russia began constructing the fortifications of the Azov-Mozdok Military Line in 1777.
Moreover, during this period, Russia began settling more Cossacks in Kabardia and building in it more forts: Mozdok, Qash-Tlap, Kizliar. Alarmed by this process, the Kabardinian princes appealed to Catherine II to remove the Mozdok fort. Instead of doing them the favor, she started building more forts between Mozdok and Kizliar, which the Kabardian princes began to oppose strongly.
Catherine II, the truest heir to the policy of Peter the Great, was bent to execute the grand plan. Therefore, since 1779, Russia began sending military expeditions in Kabardia, the military expedition that were always accompanied with the annihilation of the local population and with the seizure of herds of their cattle and horses. For example, that was the case on September 29, 1779, when Gen.Yakobi, leading the Russian armed forces under his command, attacked Kabardia near the Balka River. There he defeated the Kabardian army, occupied the Kuma, Psifaba, Dzeluko pastures, Tambukan and the environs of Psikhuray. He then compelled Kabardia to pay 10,000 rubles to Russia, and drove away 2,000 horses, 5,000 cattle, and 5,000 sheep from Kabardia.
Shortly after that, Russia declared to Kabardia that her state border would hence run along the Balk River! Thus, Russia appropriated one third from the territory of Kabardia. During the same month, Lieutenant Colonel Saveliev devastated the Minor Kabardia.
Soon, Czarist Russia established a severe colonial regime in Kabardia. Resenting the harsh colonial policy carried out by Russia in their land, the Kabardinians formed a large anti-colonial movement. In 1804, it turned into an uprising, in which participated not only Kabardinians and Western Circassians, but also their neighbor Balkars, Karachays, Abazins, Ossetins, Ingushs, and Chechens. The rebels demanded from the Russian authorities the elimination of the Kislovodsk fortification and the liquidation of the Cordon Line. When the Russians refused to comply, the armed rebels threatened the Kislovodsk fortification.
The commander of the Russian armed forces, Gen. Tsitsianov, tried to frighten them with harsh threats. He told the rebels that he is anxious to shed the blood of “the disobedient ones” and to satiate their land with their blood.
Instead of being intimidated, the rebels grew more aggressive. The Kabardinian armed detachments pushed back the armed forces of Gen. Glazenap to Georgievsk and laid siege on them. Six companies of Major Likhachev came to the rescue, and the uprising was suppressed. As a result of severe repressions, about 80 Kabardinian villages, situated in the Piatigorsk region, were destroyed, and the peasants, who were left without a shelter, were compelled to settle beyond the Kuban River.
In the summer of 1809, Jankhot Dokhshukin and Atazhuko Atazhukin, were elected the chief princes in Kabardia. Moreover, the convention of the princes of Kabardia resolved to obey “the command of the Russian rulers.” Regardless of that, in October 1809, a detachment of 1,000 Kabardinians appeared on Malka to attack the Caucasian Line.
As a result of the unrest that was taking place in Kabardia in 1809-1810, Russia lead more armed forces in Kabardia. These Russian forces began preventing the Kabardinian villages to settle in the mountains and arresting and sentencing the Kabardinian princes opposing the Russian colonial rule in their country. Seeing that, some of the most zealous Kabardinian opponents of Russia fled and settled in the lands beyond the Kuban. Most of the Kabardinian princes, however, seeing the hopelessness of their situation, decided to submit themselves to the colonial rule and, finally, pledged allegiance to the dictatorship of the Czaris autocracy. The Russian authorities demanded from them 1,000 horses, 500 cattle, and 10,000 rubles.
Evidently, this punishment had failed to intimidate the Kabardinians as strongly as the Russians wished. Therefore, a large Russian punitive expedition, under the command of Gen. Bulgakov, descended again on Kabardia in 1810, which plundered and burned down 200 Circassian and Balkar villages, killed most of their inhabitants and drove away more than 20,000 cattle from them.
In 1811, Kabardinian deputation, headed by Bezruko Khamurzin, Kuchuk Kasaev, and Temriuk Kazanishev, went to Sanct-Petersburg with the petition to preserve and strengthen the economic and political privileges of the Kabardinian aristocracy. The petition contained points about agriculture, serfs, free trade, salt supply of Kabardia, return of the land occupied by the Russian fortifications and, finally, the political rights of the feudal lords. In January 1812, the deputation received from Alexander I the official document, confirming all the rights and privileges that were granted to the Kabardinian nobility by the official document of 1771. According to it, the Kabardinians were allowed to travel freely to Russian cities for the purposes of trade and for the purchase of salt and cereals from the barter houses of Russia. Nevertheless, the request of the return of the lands, the question was passed on the Caucasian administration for “proper investigation.”
To entice feudal lords to her side, Czarist Russia formed “Leib-Konvoy” of 100 armed cavalry, consisting of princes and noblemen, who had to be replaced every three or five years. A sum of about 20 thousand rubles was transferred to the budget of the Caucasian administration ‘for petting the Kabardinian feudal lords. Many Kabardinian princes and noblemen were given military ranks (of colonel, lieutenant-colonel, major, and so on) with an annual salary from 300 to 500 rubles in silver. In other words, Russia began winning the support of the Kabardinian princes she could buy and punishing severely those of them who refused to be bribed or intimidated and continued to defend their beloved freedom and country.
In 1816, the Russian armed forces in the Caucasus were united into a separate Caucasian corps. It was under the command of Gen. Yermolov, who severely punished the enemies of the Russian colonial rule in Circassia, demanded “unconditional submission” from them and tried to get it from them by every means.
In May 1818, Gen. Yermolov ordered Gen. Delpotso to destroy the village of Tramov, “the nest of robbers and eternal plague.” At night, the troops surrounded the village from four sides and set it on fire. They massacred most of its inhabitants and seized their properties and herds of horses and cattle. “This time, I am limiting myself on this,” wrote Gen. Yermolov to the Kabardinians. “In the future, I will have no mercy for the guilty brigands; their villages will be destroyed, properties taken, wives and children will be slaughtered.”
At the borderline of the XVIII and XIX centuries, Russia built the fortifications of Vladikavkaz, Konstantinogorsk, Kislovodsk, and others, in Kabardia for the purposes of consolidating her colonial position in Circassia. In 1818, she added to them new fortifications of Grozni and Nalchik. Other fortifications were also erected along the line of the foothills and on the rivers Cherek, Chegem, Baksan, and on the upper reaches of the Malka River. Russian military garrisons were kept in all of these fortifications.
Russia needed land for the construction of all these fortifications and for the Russian and Cossack settlers that were placed in them. For that reason, Czarist Russia began intensively to expropriate the Kabardinian lands. In 1824, Gen. Yermolov gave to Prince Bekovich Cherkasski the deed of land of about 100 thousand desyatin (tithes).
Gen. Stal became the new commander of the Russian armies of the Caucasian Line. In 1819, he received the directive on the policy, the first victim of which became the Minor Kabardia. In September 1820, Russian armed forces entered her territory and began the forcible resettlement of the villages situated along the river Urup near Terek.
In conformity with the colonial policy “divide and rule”, Gen. Yermolov advised Gen. Stal, on July 1, 1821, to use against the Kabardinians the embittered Ingushs, Taugurs, and the dwellers in the Alagirski ravine, the neighboring peoples who were formerly oppressed by them. Then, several special Russian expeditionary detachments were sent in Kabardia to deprive the Kabardinians of their herds of cattle and horses. The main expeditionary corps, under the command of Colonel Kotsarev, consisted of 1,500 bayonets and 7 canons. Their appearance greatly disturbed the Kabardinians and many of them began to settle in the mountains. The villages of the Bekmurza and of the Kaituko families moved to the upper reaches of the Urukh, Lesken, and Cherek rivers. The villages of the Misosts and Atazhukos moved to the headwaters of Gundelen and Baksan, in order to be nearer to the Circassians living beyond the Kuban, who supported their spirit of resistance.
This situation pleased Gen. Yermolov. He ordered Gen. Stal to demand that these settlers move to the new places before the spring and to give their lands in the plain to the Cossacks of the Line.
Russian armed forces began their punitive operations in Kabardia in the autumn of 1821, burned dozens of Kabardinian and Abazin villages, killed most of their inhabitants, robbed their properties, confiscated flocks of their sheep, herds of their cattle and horses, and destroyed supplies of their grain and hay. As R. U. Tuganov has justly noted this was one of the most disgraceful pages in the history of the colonial policy of the Czarist Russia in the Caucasus. Its devastation almost totally demoralized Kabardia. Thinking that suitable conditions have matured, Gen. Yermolov addressed the Kabardinian people with the routine proclamation, and concluded it with the words, “I do not have vengeance on the simple people and for the last time I promise to them a life comfortable, happy, and free. Afterwards it will be too late to ask for mercy!” Simultaneously the entire land of Kabardia was declared the property of the Russian government.
The proclamation of Gen. Yermolov accelerated the process of the “Exodus” of the Kabardinians from their native places. Only during the month of March in 1822, fourteen Kabardinian villages had fled from their native places. A great part of them settled on the left banks of Terek River, the others, on the rivers of Urukh and Baksan. The Babuks, who had left Kabardia at the end of the XVIII century, were added to the Cossack nobility, served as Cossacks and often participated in the punitive operations against their own fellow-tribesmen. In order to completely sever all the ties between them and the Kabardinians, Gen. Veliaminov gave an interesting order, which was astonishing by its cynicism. According to it, the participating Babukians were to be given some share of the last part of the booty gained from the punitive operations and, in case of their refusal to accept it, to compel them to take it by force.
New uprisings broke out in Kabardia in the first half of the XIX century. The direct causes that prompted them were the construction of the new military line through Kabardia and the creation of the Kabardinian Temporary Court. Repeated expeditions of the Czarist armed forces finally crushed these uprisings. As a measure of punishment, Gen. Yermolov freed the peasants of the Kabardinian feudal lords that participated in them. This was a blow on the most sensitive spot of the rebellious feudal lords. At the same time, to magnify the effect of the blow, he preserved the rights and privileges of the feudal lords who faithfully served the Czarist government.
In 1822, Russia submitted Kabardia under the military rule of the occupying Russian armies and forced the Kabardinian princes to obey to the Russian generals in command. In the same year, a Temporary Kabardinian Court, that had juridical and administrative functions, was established here. Acting under the control of the commanding Czarist officers in Kabardia, the court had virtually become an important executive organ of the internal government. To a certain degree the court restricted the freedom of action of the Kabardinian feudal lords and limited their arbitrary rule. Therefore, they repeatedly turned to the Russian government with the petition to abolish the control over the court and to leave the decision of all the civil suits to their discretion. Trying to restore their rights and privileges, the Kabardinian princes and nobles submitted, in 1827, to Gen. Dibich their petition, which contained several points: to eliminate the Kabardinian Temporary Court and to restore the Shariat, to grant them the same rights enjoyed by the Russian nobility, to observe “national” rights and traditions, to respect the freedom of religion, to separate the civil and spiritual laws, to restore the tribute, which they used to receive from the Ossetins in the past, to return the lands, which were occupied by the fortifications of the Caucasian Line and, finally, to return the hostages that were taken from them during the uprisings of 1822 and 1825.
The new expedition in Kabardia took place in the spring of 1822. Yermolov explained its purpose in his letter, on April 29, as follows. “The Kabardinians are playing dirty tricks on (us in) inciting the beyond the Kubans (Circassians), who are coming in groups to help them and are attacking the Line. I intend to teach them quite well.”
The detachment under the command of Gen. Yermolov, Lieutenant-colonel Kotsarev, Colonel Pobednov, and Gen, Stal, devastated the villages of Tausultan Atazhuko in the Baksan ravine and evicted the Urusbians. In the words of Yermolov, these expeditions had “spread a great horror” among the rebellious Kabardinian feudal lords.
To sum it up, in 1779, Gen. Yakobi occupied Kabardia and cut off one third from her territory. Only during the period from 1779 to 1818, the punitive expeditions of the Czarist armies killed 315 thousand Kabardinians, out of the population of 350 thousand.
In 1822, Russia stripped off the Kabardinian princes of the right to rule in their own land and subjected them, and their country, under the dictatorship of the commanding generals of the Russian armed forces. Thus, early and masterfully, Russia had cut off Kabardia from her western kindred and had greatly reduced the power of the Circassians. Still, Russia was unable to crush the Circassians completely and to reduce them to obedient slaves.
The Russo-Circassian War in Western Circassia
While Russia was reducing the once powerful Kabardia into her obedient vassal, she employed deceptive methods in carrying out her plan of conquest in Western Circassia. In order to receive from the international world a license for the wholesale slaughter of the North Caucasian peoples, she unleashed a powerful worldwide propaganda campaign of portraying these people to them as the “marauding savages” who kept attacking and robbing the Russian villages and who, therefore, should be obliterated from the face of the earth in order to insure peace in the region. She also became engaged, absolutely uninvited and in a foreign territory, in the so-called Russo-Turkish Wars, where she assumed the duty of freeing the Circassian Black Sea coast from the Turks. In fact, in that false guise she practically completed the colonization of the Circassian steppes and established her positions more firmly on the right banks of the Kuban River. At the same time, she continued settling these Circassian steppes by the Cossacks, who later on were to be termed, Chernomortsy (Black Sea dwellers). This Russian aggressive policy completely ignored the interests of the native population of Circassia.
Not only Circassia, but also North Caucasus, and the entire Caucasus, continued to be the arena of acute contest between the Ottoman and Russian Empires for a long time. As a result of this contest, the Circassians and other mountaineers became gradually cut off from the outside world, which has considerably deteriorated their situation. We should remember here that, as a part of this plan, Russia had masterfully cut off Eastern Circassia (Kabardia) from the Western Circassia as early as in 1822. Still earlier, the Shamkhals of Daghestan had accepted Russian suzerainty in 1638. In 1722, when Peter the Great marched on Derbent, his vassal, Shamkhal Adil-Ghirei, served him well with supply and transport. When, however, Russians started building the Holly Cross fortress on his territory, the Shamkhal had turned against them, was captured, and exiled to the White Sea, where he died. In 1776, Shamkhal Murtaz Ali became in turn a Russian vassal. He and his successors maintained their loyalty to the Czars unblemished until recently. They gradually and voluntarily relinquished their sovereign rights until nothing was left them but title and land. Russia had also annexed Georgia in 1801, and Azarbaijan in 1828. In the same year Armenia had welcomed and accepted Russian suzerainty in preference of that of Turkey and Persia, no doubt for religious reasons. Mingrelia voluntarily joined Russia in 1803; Imeretia, in 1804; Abkhazia with Samurzakan, in 1811; Svanethia in 1837, and Tsebelda was subjugated in 1837.
At the end of the first Russo-Turkish War, when his highness Prince Grigory Potiomkin-Tavricheski was appointed the regent and governor-general of Novorossiisk, Azov, and Astrakhan, it was resolved to build a number of new fortresses between the Don and Terek rivers that would check the attacks of the mountaineer peoples in the Russian limits and serve for the beginning of Russian settlements in Circassia and North Caucasus. As a result, the new Mozdok-Azove Line was established from 1777 to 1782, which commenced from Ekaterinodar, where Malka empties into Terek, traversed the Cis-Caucasian steppe in a northwesterly direction through St. Dmitri (Rostov) and ended at Azov. To settle this Line, which consisted of 10 fortresses, here were transferred Volga Cossacks and Khopra Cossacks that formed here the settled Volga and Khopra Cossack Regiments.
The Russian armed forces in North Caucasus were substantially reinforced, in 1782, by the formation of the so-called Kubanski and Kavkazski corpses.
The Azov-Mazdok Line had blocked the Don and south-Russian steppes from the incursions of the mountaineer peoples, but failed to affect the semi savage Noghay hordes that lived roaming from place to place north of the Kuban River and continued raiding the Cossack settlements. In 1783, immediately after the annexation of Crimea to Russia,
Prince Potiomkin ordered to resettle the Noghays to the steppes beyond Volga. This task was entrusted to Alexander Vasilievich Suvorov, who dealt a terrible blow on the Noghays, at the estuary of Laba River. After that a large part of Noghays had submitted and was settled in Crimea. The rest of them were evicted. And this event forever tied the name of Suvorov with the Caucasus.
During the second Russo-Turkish War the main attention of the Russian armed forces was concentrated against the Turkish fortress of Anapa, which was situated on the Black Sea coast in Circassia. The reason for it was due, according to the Russians, to the assistance the strong Turkish garrison in that fortress was rendering to the Circassian hostility against Russia. Sheikh Mansur, who was in that fortress of the time, was also accused of being conducive to the same effort.
The urgency of occupying this fortress had become perennial to Russia, because she was well aware that the success of the execution of her Master Plan was inseparably tied to it. Therefore, Russia had sent there, on October 14, 1788, Gen. Talyzin and his Russian troops to occupy Anapa. However, Batal Pasha, the commander of the Turkish garrison in it, had brilliantly defended this city and her fortress, both from Gen. Talyzin’s troops and the Caucasian Corps of General Tekelli that had rushed to assist them. (It should be noted here that Czarist Russia extensively used armed forces recruited from Georgians and other Caucasians in the war against the Circassians). In 1790, Gen. Bibikov led another abortive Russian campaign on Anapa, shortly after which the Turks reinforced its defense. On June 21, 1791, Gen. Gudovich stormed Anapa with a detachment of 12 thousand men in four columns, and finally captured the fortress. The spoils of the victory were: 83 guns, 12 mortars, 3 staffs, over 130 standards, and a huge quantity of provisions and military supplies.
In this battle, 8 thousand Turks were killed. Among prisoners were Mustafa Pasha and Sheikh Mansur. To win this victory the Russians sacrificed: 18 officers killed and 81 wounded; 812 lower-rank officers killed and 1934 wounded.
By the order of Gen. Gudovich, the Anapa fortress was razed to the ground and the city was committed to flames. Thus was ended the second Russo-Turkish War in Circassia.
The Peace Treaty, which Russia had concluded with Turkey on December 29, 1791, had confirmed the rights of Russia on Kabardia and on the right banks of the Kuban (that is on the Eastern and Western Circassia!). Anapa was returned to Turkey, which pledged itself to take measures for the cessation of the Circassian incursions into the Russian territory. Apparently, these two superpowers were favoring each other at will with the territory, which neither of them ever legally possessed, with a total disregard of the International Law and of the legitimate historical rights of the indigenous population. Accordingly, with a deed of His Imperial Majesty, of June 30, 1792, the Circassian lands on the right side of the Kuban were granted to the Chernomorski (Black Sea) Cossack armed forces, that is to the former Zaporozhians, with which Gudovich had reinforced the Caucasian Line after the war. In the spring of 1793, the Russian armed forces finally erected their kurens (the units of Zaporozhian Cossack troops), stretching from the fortress of Ust-Labinski to the coast of the Azov Sea. Later on, these kurens became to be known as Cossack stanitsas (settlements). The following year, the Russians founded the city of Ekaterinodar, named in honor of the Empress of Russia. Under the pretext of shielding these stanitsa from Circassian raids, Russia built here a whole number of fortresses, posts, and batteries, which formed the Chernomorski Cordon Line.
While a fortified boundary was being built in North Caucasus, in the Transcaucasus Czar Irakli II of Georgia gave his kingdom under the protectorate of Russia in 1783; and his successor, Gregory XII, voluntarily annexed Georgia to the Russian Power in 1801. This annexation of Georgia dramatically changed the aims of the Russian State – it gave to her an opportunity to establish herself all over the Caucasus. Nevertheless, Russia had still to apply great efforts and sacrifices for the complete “pacification” of the Caucasus.
Regardless of the sporadic wars Russia waged against the Lesgin, Chechen, and some other tribes of the Eastern Caucasus, the whole might of the enormous Russian military machine was now directed against the North Western Caucasus, the territory of Circassia.
By this time, Russia had divided this territory into the Chernomorski Cordon Line, the right flank, and the Chernomorski Coastal Line. The purpose of, or pretext for, these Lines was the protection of the Russian limits ‘from the attacks of the warlike tribes that occupied the northern slopes of the Main Range of the Caucasus Mountains.” However, in order to be able to maintain communication with the annexed Transcaucasian region and to preserve tranquility at the Cordon Line, Russia had to keep the hostile tribes in obedience through the force of arms.
Even the Russians sources claim that “the hostile people of the Western Caucasus belonged to two principal tribes: Adighas and Abazins.” To the Adigha (Circassian) tribes belonged: Besleneys, Bjedughs, Egerikhuays, Temirgoys (Chemguys), Khamyshs, Natukhays (Natkhuagias), the upper and lower Abadzekhs, the near and far Shapsughs, and Ubykhs. The Abazin tribes consisted of: Bashilbays, Tamovs, Kazilbeks, Shakh-gireys, Barakays, Baghs, Akhchipsous, and Jigets (Saadzens).
Of these, the more significant Circassian tribes were: Besleneys, Abadzekhs, Ubykhs, Shapsughs, and Natkhuagias.
Circassians did not undertake a single raid without the Besleneys. They displayed their skill in fighting in the thirties in particular, when Prince Aytek-Kanoko was their ruler and leader. Cossack settlements in the Kuban often suffered from his daring raids.
The Abadzekhs, who were the strongest and more warlike people of the Circassian tribes, occupied a mountainous region adjoining the Main Caucasus Range and lived along the rivers of Belaia (Shaguasha) with her tributaries to Kurgips and Pshekh, Pshish, Psekoups and others to the rivulet Soups, which was considered their boundary with the Shapsughs.
The land of the Abadzekhs presented major difficulties for military operations. Deep ravines, covered with dense forests, numerous marshy streams, the huge snowy mountain massive of Mt. Oshten in the Main Range – all these served for a good defense from the Russian incursions. Only along the valleys of the river of Pshish and Psekoups were good horse paths broken through the mountains, over which the Abadzekhs descended to the sea, to the valley of Tuapse. It is through these paths that the Abadzekhs had constant intercourse with the Ubykhs.
The Abadzekhs consisted of seven main clans, who traced their origin from two families: Kachmez and Ozdemir. The elected elders (thamata), from the representatives of these families, ruled the people. Their aouls (villages) were very numerous and rich. They fought fearlessly and bravely against the Russian armed forces in all their encounters.
The Ubykhs lived in a mountainous region, which was covered with dense forests and stretched from the Black Sea to the snowy ridge, along the rivers of Psezuapsa, Asha, Shakha, Vardana, Dogamis, and Sochi. This terrain of the Ubykhs presented more difficulties for military operations than any other part of this region. Here one could ride on horseback only over the paths through its thick forests, intertwined with wild vineyards and climbing plants. The Ubykhs usually passed from one valley to another mainly along the seashore, at the estuary of Sochi or Shakha. Their social structure was the same as that of the Abadzekhs, with whom they always lived in close union. The influential families from the Berzek and Dishan clans, and elected thamatas, ruled the Ubykh people.
The Shapsughs and Natkhuagias lived west of the Abadzekhs and Ubykhs, on both sides of the Caucasus Ridge.
The Shapsughs were the most populous people, warlike in nature, but less enterprising than their neighbors. They occupied a rich region between the Shakha and Pshada rivers on the south side of the Main Range and between the rivers of Soups and Adagoum, on the right side of the ridge. The Shapsughs were not only considered to have been the capable defenders of their own land, but also the dangerous neighbors of the Chernomortsi. The plastuns (the dismounted Cossacks) suffered the frequent devastations inflicted on them by the daring Shapsugh raids into their territories. Sheretluko and Kazbich, both dashing horsemen, were among the distinguished Shapsugh leaders, who served their country with exemplary courage and distinction. However, the Shapsughs were not known for bloodthirstiness, inconstancy, and passion for preying. They were more accustomed to the comforts of life than the Abadzekhs, and had several piers for small Turkish ships (kocherma) in Tuapse and Pshad. They lived in friendship with the Natkhuagias, their neighbors.
The Natkhuagias dwelled beyond the Abin River up to Novorossiisk, Anapa and the confluence of the Kuban River in the Black Sea. Their land consisted of rich valleys and mountains covered with forests. Occupying the Black Sea coast, they became distinguished for more peaceful inclinations and for being less warlike. They based their entire well being on lively and profitable trade.
Jiggets lived between the rivers of Mzymta and Bzyba, among the Abazin tribes. The Pshkhu and Akhchepshkhu tribes dwelled on both sides of the river Pshkhu, above the Jiggets. Finally, the Hakuch tribe inhabited the upper reaches of the Asha and Psezuapsa rivers. In addition to that, the Noghays, and the so-called “the fugitive Kabardinians” lived along the Major and Minor Zelenchuks, and the Bjedughs, along the Kuban River up to Ekaterinodar.
The ancestors of the Circassians were distinguished for their noble nature, intellect as well as for their activity and industry. Nevertheless, with the passage of time, their peaceful life was violated more than once by military alarms. This gradually compelled them to develop in themselves, along with their insuperable love for independence, an exceptional militarism, which made them the terror to their neighbors. Strict traditional upbringing taught them to face boldly any difficulty and danger and to endure any hardship or deprivation with great pride and stamina. In short, the main duty of a Circassian became to master the weapons. Mounted on a dashing horse, clad in steel shirt of mail, excellently armed, dexterous and tireless, he set out for a raid or to defend his land and freedom with a tempestuous spirit of horsemanship and chivalry. “Not of death, but of an infamous life feared a Circassian and confidently faced the enemy.”
A Circassian did not spare anything for the acquisition of a good weapon. He was adroit in raids, able to escape from the pursuit of the enemy in time and then to attack him suddenly. The Circassians were the models for imitation of their warlike neighbors.
In open plains, the Circassian cavalry preferred to attack the enemy with cavalry swords. During defense in a broken terrain, the Circassians excellently used the locality, meeting the attacking enemy with well-aimed fire from behind the trees and rocks.
The Russian Cossacks, who had reached the banks of the Kuban River, met in the Circassians exceptional enemies and the territory of Circassia became the place of their bloody struggle. The extensive Kuban plains provided complete freedom to the mounted Circassians and the Cossacks of the Line. “These and others were noted for their courage and, having met, did not back down and did not ask for mercy.”
To counter the Circassians, the Black Sea Cossacks had to create among themselves a special type of infantry scouts, who would enterprisingly and boldly roam ahead of the Cordon Line over the deserted and inaccessible places of the Kuban flats, and furnish to the posts timely information about the dangerous movements of the Circassians. These scouts, termed plastuns, were the only type of Cossacks reared by the exceptional local conditions of the Cordon Service. They were stationed at the forefront of the Cordon Lines, to watch vigilantly for unexpected Circassian raids. In short, plastuns were the irreplaceable guards of the Kuban Line – the eyes and ears of Cordon posts. One could not be plastun, who did not know how to remove his own trail, how to muffle the noise of his own footsteps in a crackling reed, who could not catch the tracks of the enemy and read in them whether the direction of the attack is leading towards the Line.
The Chernomorski Cordon Line stretched for more than 260 versts along the Kuban, starting from one of the estuaries of its branches to the confluence of Greater Laba in it. The Line consisted of Cossack stanitsa and posts along the Kuban, which had sprang up there at the time of the resettlement of the Zaporozhian Cossacks from the Dnieper in the territory of Circassia. Here were also built the fortresses of Varenikovski, Olginski, and Alexeevski, which shielded the fords across the Kuban from the Natkhuagias, Shapsughs, and Bjedughs. One could drive from the pier of Varenikovski to the coast of the Black Sea, to Anapa; the road from the Olginski led to the Abinski fortress; the communication with the Afipski fortress was kept through the Alexeevski ford. There were also old fortresses: the main point of the military administration and the permanent residence of the Ataman was in the fortress of Ekaterinodar; the Phanagoriiski fortress was located on the Taman. The discharge of the Cordon Service along the Kuban and the maintenance of the garrisons was the direct responsibility of the Chernomorski Cossacks.
All the above-mentioned Russian fortresses were constructed here in order to facilitate the offensive Russian military operations in Circassia.
Together with the Labinski Line, which was built in 1840. the Kuban Line constituted the right flank of the Caucasian Line and stretched from the boundary of Chernomoria up to the fortress of Kamenni Most, which was located in the narrow ravine formed by the Kuban in the mountains. This Line was settled and defended by the following Cossack regiments: Kavkazski (area of Ust-Labinsk), Kubanski (area of Prochno-Okopski), Stavropolski (area of Stavropol), and Khoperski (area of Batalpashinsk). The Kamenni Most fortress constituted the last point of the Kuban Line and of the whole Right Flank. The Karachay tribe inhabited the upper reaches of the Kuban and vigilantly guarded the paths, leading across the Kuban, above the Kamenni Most. Therefore, the obedience of the Karachays to Russia was quite vital for the obstruction of communication of the Transkuban tribes with Kabardia as well as with the peoples of the Center and Left Flanks of the Caucasian Line.
The Labinski Line, along the Laba River, constituted a fairly reliable cover for the whole Cordon, although the forest favored in some places the approach of the parties of the enemy. On the other hand, the entire space between the Kuban, Laba, and the foothills of the Black Mountains was an open extensive steppe plain, for the most part arid, which was irrigated only by two small rivulets of Chemlyk and Uroup. The Labinski Line leaned, with its left flank, against the mountains themselves. The ridge of the Black Mountains is extremely steep between the Kuban and Laba. Uroup, and the Great and Small Zelenchuks dug three large ravines through this ridge. In addition to the Cossacks, in this region lived the fugitive Kabardinians and Bashilbays, who inhabited the valleys of the Great and Small Zelenchuks. Besleneys, Makhoshs, Chemguys, Ekherukhays, Hatikuays, and Bjedughs inhabited the whole plain and the foothills of the Black Mountains beyond the Shaguasha River.
The Belorechenski fortress, which is the headmost of that chain, was built at the lower part of the Shaguasha River in order to subdue the tribes that lived beyond the Laba River. Nevertheless, the main purpose of it was to serve as the support point for the offensive Russian military operations against the refractory Circassian tribes inhabiting beyond the Laba River, primarily against the Abadzekhs.
Hurdled ramparts, covered with thorn fence, were built in all the Cossack stanitsas. A large number of the stanitsas had their cannons. The intervals between stanitsas consisted of posts and pickets. They were placed usually at a distance of six versts and consisted of an adobe cottage, stable, a fence with a ditch, and a watchtower. Part of the Cossacks, stationed on these posts, was always ready to mount on their horses and to gallop. To give warning to the posts about a sudden appearance of the enemy, pickets of 2 or 3 Cossacks were placed on elevated places. On these posts and pickets were fixed beacons from bundles of hay, or from small barrels with tar. Whenever the Cossacks found out a break-through of the Circassians, they set the hay bundles on fire to spread the alarm all over the Line. Thus the exchange of fire, which started at some picket, would summon the Cossacks from the nearest posts for assistance. If necessary, the reserves stationed in the stanitsas, and sometimes even the regular Russian armed forces quartered on the Lines, hurried to the place of alarm.
Circassian hostile undertakings had mainly a single purpose: To fight the enemy and to chase it out from the Circassian lands it occupied. Sometimes they raided Cossack stanitsas and posts in small groups to kill, plunder, and harras their new inhabitants, or to seize a transport. Sometimes, however, the Circassians gathered in considerable numbers in order to attack and capture one or more of the fortresses the Russians established in their lands. Occasionally, the vigilance of the Cossacks on the posts and pickets sufficed to face small Circassian raids. It was impossible, however, to always have enough Russian armed forces on the entire Line, in order to defend each point adequately from daring Circassian undertakings, whose cavalry exceeded at times several thousand horsemen. Therefore, regular Russian armed forces were quartered in the stanitsas in winter seasons, but during the summer seasons they led them out on the Line for action, where the detachments, or mobile columns, were stationed at such advantageous places, from where they had a chance of reaching in time all the units of the area they protected.
The Turks constantly tried to establish their influence over the entire European coast of the Black Sea. As this touched upon the vital interests of Russia, these two powers clashed frequently to solve the problem by the force of arms, but the resulting wars between them were always fought in Circassia.
In the Russo-Turkish War of 1807, the squadron of Contr-Admiral Pustoshkin, with the landing detachment of the 4th marine regiment from the sea, and with the detachment of Gangebelov from Chernomoria, approached the fortress of Anapa. The Turkish Pasha refused to surrender the fortress as demanded. The Russians started bombarding the city and its fortress. The effects of the fire from the squadron turned more than half a thousand buildings into ashes on April 29, 1807. The Turkish garrison and all the inhabitants had partly perished in the fire, and partly, with the Pasha himself, fled to the mountains “under the protection of the Circassian cavalry.” The squadron of Pustoshkin remained on the Anapa raid during the whole week, loading the ships with the spoils of war and repulsing the daily Circassian attacks. Having finally finished its mission, the squadron raised its masts and left.
Taking advantage of this, and of the return of Gangebelov’s detachment, the Turkish Pasha returned to Anapa, and the Circassians resumed attacking the Black Sea Cordon Line.
In 1809, Russia resumed her war against Turkey. Again, the commander-in-chief Marquis de-Traverse sent to Anapa a squadron of five ships, under the command of Captain-Lieutenant Perkhurov, with a landing from the 4th Marine Regiment, the Vladimirski Garrison Battalion and the Temporary Navy Battalion. To assist the landing, 2 infantry battalions and 300 Black Sea Cossacks were sent from Taman to Anapa through Bugaz, under the command of Major-General Panchulidze. The Cossack flotilla of Esaul (Cossack Captain) Borzikov had to assist them simultaneously along the coast of the estuary. In addition to that, Marquis de-Traverse issued orders to Ataman Bursak to invade the Transkuban with all the Chernomorski armed forces.
The squadron of Perkhurov approached Anapa on June 15, and the landed troops pushed the Circassians from Anapa on the same day. General Panchulidze arrived at the fortress on June 18 and joined the Vladimirski Garrison Battalion to the detachment. The rest of the Russian armed forces were boarded on the ships of the squadron on June 19 and returned.
Panchulidze, having remained the commander of the garrison of Anapa, sent out a special detachment of Colonel Zolotinski to punish the Natkhuagias. Zolotinski smashed them and plundered up to 40 villages, but, on his way back, a 12 thousand Circassian force, led by the Pasha of Anapa, attacked him. The battle seethed whole day, and the Circassians displayed exemplary courage in it. Zolotinski was caugh in a grave situation. In order to rescue him, Panchulidze had to hurry to him with all the rest of the Russian armed forces. Their combined forces finally defeated the Circassians in that battle.
Soon, the Shapsughs too were subjected to the same fate. On June 18, 1809, Ataman Bursak, with the detachment of 5 thousand Black Sea Cossacks and the battalion of the 22nd Egerski Regiment, crossed the Kuban River, moved beyond the Psekoups River, and destroyed 18 Shapsugh villages in the course of 5 days.
In 1812, the Bucharest Peace Treaty returned Anapa to the Turks. According to the same treaty the Circassian coast of the Black Sea, from the estuary of the Bziba River to Rion, had become integral part of the Russian Empire. Nevertheless, the Circassian coast still remained in the sphere of influence of the Porte, including Anapa and Sudjuk-Kale (Novorossiisk). In fact Anapa was the center, from where Turkey spread her influence and trade on the Transkuban tribes. Here, the Circassians received all the necessary things, but mainly weapons and live ammunitions. That is why, when the Russo-Turkish War started in 1828, Emperor Nicholas I had ordered to begin the Russian military operations specifically from Anapa.
The Circassian resistance to the colonial policy of Russia intensified in 1818. The construction of new Russian fortresses in Eastern Circassia and the transfer of the military line to the upper reaches of the Kuban River were accompanied with more frequent Circassian raids on the Russian fortresses. Nevertheless, the poorely armed Circassian irregulars could not effectively resist at that time the regular armed forces of the Russian Autocracy.
The Russo-Turkish contradictions on Circassia gradually lead to the war of 1828-1829 and to the capture of the fortress of Anapa by the Russian armed forces. The united forces of the Cossack Ataman Beskrovni, of Colonel V. A. Perovski, and of Ad. Greig had participated in this operation.
According to some sources here are some of the details of this operation. On May 28, 1828, a large-scale battle was fought in Anapa. The Turks were making sorties, which were corroborated with the attacks of the Circassian irregulars. Among the attacking Circassians were the Chemguys, Chechenays, Abadzekhs, Shapsughs, and Natkhuagias. Prince Pshikuy and Dashe Nunuko, the Natkhuagia proprietor, who in Constantinople had received the title of Colonel from the Turkish Sultan, headed their detachment of 5 thousand men. Despite the gun support they had from the fortress, the attackers were partly smashed and more than 7 hundred of them were thrown back from the high cliff to the seacoast and the rest of them retreated to the mountains. Dashe Nunuko was killed in the battle. After this military failure, part of the Circassians left Anapa, the Natkhuagias being the first of them. Chatyr-Osman-Oglu, the commandant of Anapa, was compelled to surrender. About 4 thousand Turks were taken prisoners. And finally the Russians had captured 29 standards and 85 guns. Among the prisoners was the distinguished Sefer Bey, a Shapsugh by origin, whose fate was full of the reverses of fortune.
This Russo-Turkish War ended with the victory of Russia, which, in the end, had untied her hands and gave her in the future to claim a “legal” ground for an open aggression against Circassia.
After the end of the Russo-Turkish War of 1828-1829, the two parties signed the Adrianopole Treaty on September 2, 1829. According to it Russia “received” the Akhaltsikhski Pashalyk, the fortress of Poti and Anapa, and the entire Transkuban region and the Black Sea coast. In spite of that, Russia had a long struggle in prospect for the establishment of her dominion in Circassia. Emperor Nicholas I wrote to Feldmarshal I. F. Paskevich, the commander of the Separate Caucasian Corps: “having thus ended one glorious undertaking, you have in prospect another, in my eyes as glorious, and …by far more important – the absolute suppression of the mountaineer people or the extermination of the recalcitrant.” This is despite the fact that Turkey never possessed this territory legally and, therefore, Russia could not “receive” it from her. Moreover, as S. Esadze had justly noted, “the Circassians of the Transkuban region and of the Black Sea coast in essence never acknowledged themselves the subjects of the Sultan.”
Although, until 1829, Circassia was, according to the Adrianopole Treaty, nominally a part of the Turkish Empire and several fortresses on the Circassian coast continued to remain in the hands of the Porte, the Circassians had actually never submitted to the Sultan and remained sufficiently independent. Gen. Yermolov was obliged to note it in his report to St. Petersburgh: “The peoples of the Transkuban are manifestly disobedient to the Turkish government.”
The Circassian Resistance
The Adrianopole Treaty virtually put an end to the Turkish interference in the Western Caucasus and made Russia the absolute master over it. Circassia, tiny as it was compared to the gigantic intruder into her land, was the only power left now to oppose the mighty incursions of her greedy neighbor. The Circassians themselves did not leave behind them a written history about this heroic struggle. The history Russians wrote about this war is terribly prejudiced and distorted. Therefore, to do justice to the courage and stamina, with which Circassia resisted for decades the unremitting onslaughts of the colossal military machine of Russian Czars, all we have to do is present the facts from the Russian official military records, and let the reader imagine the heroism and endurance this small Circassian nation had to have to offer the protracted resistance that baffled the world.
The next target of Russia was the occupation of Cape Adler. According to the Russians the principal reason for it was to cut off all the intercourse Circassia had with Turkey. Nevertheless, Count Paskevich’s plan reveals the actual purpose for capturing Cape Adler. According to that plan the Caucasus could be conquered in a short period of time. To accomplish that all Russia had to do was to construct a fortified line from the Kuban straight to Gelendjik, to build several fortresses on the Black Sea shore, and then to send ten small detachments from the Gelendjik Line to the west to push the Circassians to the sea and to threaten them there with annihilation, if they refuse to submit to the Russian rule.
In order to execute this plan, Russia had to explore the roads leading to the territories of the refractory tribes and to obtain the necessary information about those tribes, and that presented extreme difficulties. Entering into these lands meant at that time risking being killed or taken prisoner not only for Russians, but also for foreign travelers. Regardless of it, some enterprising Russian officers, namely, Iskritski, Zubov, Barteniev, and Novitski, expressed to Count Paskevich their desire to penetrate among the Circassians and to furnish him with all the necessary information about the mode of life of the Circassians and their land. Of them, only Novitski succeeded in finding influential Circassians, who would receive him as a traveler guest in Shapsughia. His hosts were the two Abbat brothers, Besleney and Ubykh, the renowned horsemen, the terrors of the Kuban Line, who enjoyed an enormous reputation both among the peaceful and refractory Circassians. The friendship Novitski established with the Abbat brothers crowned him with success, but utterly ruined his benefactors.
Although, by the Adrianopole Treaty, Turkey had ceded to Russia the eastern Black Sea coast, from the Kuban to the fortress of St. Nikolay, the Circassians contined to maintain their former intercourse with Turkey for the sake of trade benefits. Even the cruising of the Russian navy could not prevent it, because the large Russian ships could not go near the shore, while the small Turkish ships, armed sometimes with one or two guns, quickly and boldly forced their way to the shore, entered the estuaries of the rivers, where they unloaded and bartered their cargo. Russians resented these dealings, because both the English and Turks supplied the Circassians with firearms, gunpowder and ammunition.
English interference in the affairs of the Circassian tribes began almost immediately after the conclusion of the Adrianopole Treaty. At first they were limited only to advice and suggestions, aiming at making the Circassians doubt the authenticity of the clauses of the treaty. Soon, however, to these suggestions were joined the necessity of a general uprising against Russia, the diffusion of rumors of the forthcoming arrival of the Turkish armed forces, and the return of the entire coast back to the Circassians. During this time, Seferbey Zan, was the chief intermediary between the British Embassy in Constantinople and the coastal Circassians. Moreover, the Turkish mullas were trying to persuade the Circassians to open a holly war, as did the Lezgins and Chechens.
In 1834, Longworth had arrived in Circassia as a traveler and he was received solemnly. In 1836, Russian cruisers had captured an English merchant schooner, which had the intention of supplying live shells and other ammunitions. In 1837, the owner of this schooner, Bell along with Longworth, arrived at the Circassian coast, and went to the Shapsugh and Natkhuagia tribes that were sending some persons to Constantinople empowered to find out whether they should wait for the help promised to them or not? Bell stopped the deputation being sent, assuring them that the help would be rendered without fail. Encouraged by this, the Circassians sent a deputation to Gen. Veliaminov demanding the cessation of military operations, the withdrawal of the armed forces from the Circassian lands and the dismantlement of the Russian fortications from Olginski to Gelendjik.
The Circassians also sent a similar deputation to Gen. Malinovski, who was advancing with a detachment from Olginski to Abin. Gen. Malinovski reminded the Circassians that, by the Adrianople Treaty, the Sultan conceded to Russia all the Circassians “and the entire Black Sea coast from the estuary of the Kuban to the pier of St. Nikolay and to the boundaries of Georgia, Imeretia, and Guria.”
One of the Circassians answered: “You are a good General!” Then, he pointed at a bird, sitting on a tree, and added, “For your kind words, I give you this bird for eternity. Take it!” Then he nodded, leapt on his horse, and trotted away. His friends followed him.
Due to the efforts of the English agents, all the coastal Circassians united against the Right Flank, and decided to resist jointly the Russian establishment on the eastern Black Sea coast. And, as a result, the Circassian raids on the Russian armed forces grew more daring and frequent.
By this time, Russia decided to occupy all the places of the eastern Black Sea coast, where the ships could enter. For this purpose, Emperor Nicholas I ordered to build, with the help of the Black Sea Navy, a whole number of fortifications, which would form the Black Sea Coastal Line.
Cape Adler was to be occupied first, by the Russian armed forces, under the command of the Navy College commander Baron Rozen and General Simborski.
The Black Sea Squadron, consisting of 11 different classes of ships, under the command of Rear-Admiral Esmont, landed in Sukhumi the landing armed forces on June 3, 1837, and then headed to Cape Adler, where it arrived on June 6. The Russian landing armed forces, under the command of General Volkhovski, constituted: 8 Georgian companies, 6 Tiflis companies, 6 Mingrelian regiments, the company of the Caucasian Engineer Battalion, with 16 guns and the militias of the Rugian, Imeretian, and Mingrelian peoples.
Having consulted the admiral, Baron Rozen sent a schooner along the coast, with the Lieutenant-Colonel Nordstrem of the General Staff, to select the place of landing. When the schooner approached, the Circassian opened rifle fire from blockages and trenches.
On June 7, 1837, the squadron approached the coast, and formed up a battle line. The ships opened fire, destroyed the trenches, and forced the Circassians to retreat into the forest. General Volkhovski, disembarking with the first part of the landing, occupied the edge of the forest with the skirmishers of the 4th battalion of the Mingrelian regiment and militia. Taking advantage of the extremely dense forest, which had grown with reeds and thorns, the Circassians approached the Russian chain and opened fire.
Volunteers were called for help. Bestuzhev was one of the first to respond. Captain Albrant, well known to the Caucasians for his bravery, was put in command of the volunteers. Lieutenant Colonel of the Imeretian militia, Prince Tsereteli, was with them. They rushed into the forest. The exchange of fire increased. After a while, the Circassians began to retreat. The volunteers, who were pursuing them, suddenly noticed a wattle fence, and then heard the barking of dogs.
Albrant realized that they have been lured too far. He told Bestuzhev to take two soldiers, go back to the commander of the detachment for further instructions. Bestuzhev carried out his orders and, having received instructions from General Volkhovski, began picking his way through the dense thickets of the forest back to Albrant, but ran against a party of Circassians, and he received two wounds, one on his leg and the other on his head. Then the Circassians rushed on them with the swords and cut down the two soldiers and their beloved officer. Thus died Bestuzhev.
The Circassians had plunged at the Russian army with a hand-to-hand fight, when three Mingrelian companies arrived to assist Albrant. Nevertheless, it was the five companies from the Tiflis Regiment, which had come to reinforce the Russian armed forces, who principally dislodged the Circassians from the forest.
After the debarkation of the latter part of the landing forces, General Simborski, with the battalion of the Georgian Regiment, with mountain artillery and engineering company, was sent along the seacoast to the estuary of the Mzymta River to occupy the camp. The Circassians kept firing at the advancing Georgians, until shots from the mountain guns forced them to seek for a shelter.
All the Russian armed forces came to the place planned for the construction Holy Spirit fortification, and began laying its bricks on June 18, 1837. By the request of Baron Rozen, it was later renamed, Constantinovski, in honor of General Admiral Grand Duke Constantine, the Chief of the Georgian Grenadier Regiment.
On receiving the report, Emperor Nicholas I gave orders to express gratitude to all the Russian troops. Attaching great importance to these event, Count Chernishev, the Minister of War, wrote to Baron Rozen: “The capture on the one hand of Cape Adler by Your Excellency, on the other, of the river Pshad by General Veliaminov, has furnished the beginning of the execution of the predestined plan of His Imperial Majesty for the mastery of the whole expanse of the eastern coast of the Black Sea, and for the interruption of the means of communication of foreign agents with the mountaineers.”
Emperor Nicholas I visited the Caucasus in 1837, to personally witness the situation in it. After Peter the Great this was the first Emperor who had visited Caucasus. This time, however, he did not head from the Caspian, but from the northeastern coast of the Black Sea, where the Russian war against the Circassians was in the full swing.
On September 20, 1837, the Emperor arrived from Sebastopolis to the Gelendjik Bay on
the ship “Poliarnaia Zvezda”. Heir Tsesarevich was accompanying him. The weather was bad, and the forested mountains were covered with a thick cloud. The sea raged. The Emperor landed on the shore, greeted the honor guard. After a short rest in the house of the commander and the reception of General A. A. Veliaminov, the commander of the Russian armed forces of the Caucasian Line, and of some other persons, the Emperor visited Mr. Shteiben, who was mortally wounded in the expedition of the day before, and rewarded him with 3 thousand chervontses. Later he visited the battalion field hospital and personally gave Georgievski crosses to some wounded lower rank soldiers.
On the following day the Emperor went to the camp, which was situated two versts from the fortification. Having approached the armed forces, he dismounted and moved along the line of the front, the Heir on his right side. A gusty wind blew at that time with such a force, that the soldiers could hardly remain on their feet. One could not even think of any kind of a parade. On September 22, the Emperor bid farewell to the armed forces of General Veliaminov and, on the boat of the Azov Cossacks, headed towards the ship that was waiting for him.
On September 23, the “Poliarnaia Zvezda” approached the Anapa Bay. Next morning the Emperor arrived on schooner to the pier, where he was welcomed by Count Tsukato, the commandant, who received him in his house. There, the Emperor accepted the report of the commandant and questioned him in detail about the military operations against the Circassians. Later, he went to inspect the fortress, visited the hospital and the fortress walls, and then he entered a large square, where the armed forces of the Anapa garrison were prepared for inspection. They brilliantly passed with a ceremonial march and were favored with the gratitude of His Highness. Having awarded 5 rubles of assignation to each staff and orderly, the Emperor went to Crimea by ship, where having parted with the Heir, he headed, on September 25, back to the Redut-kale in the Caucasus on the “Poliarnaia Zvezda”.
Since long they spoke in Georgia about the intended travels of the Emperor, but on March 18, Count Chernyshev, the Minister of War, informed Baron Rozen that His Majesty will be visiting the Caucasus in September. Immediately, a commission was established in Tiflis, under the Chairmanship of Frolov, with the responsibility of finding the means of a non-stop passage of His Majesty. A hot and hasty work had unfolded; a feverish bustle enveloped all departments. Baron Rozen left early in September to inspect the points of the supposed route and arrived at Redut-kale.
On September 27, “Poliarnaia Zvezda” dropped anchor in view of the city. Baron Rozen was standing on the shore.
“I have the honor of arriving,” exclaimed His Majesty, having landed on the shore. Saluting, he extended his arm to the baron.
The retinue of His Majesty consisted of: Adjutant General Count Orlov, Count Adelberg, physician in ordinary Arend, aid-de-camp Lieutenant Colonel Lvov, Colonel Raukh of the Prussian service, and three courier officers.
From Redut-kale the Emperor went to Zugdidi, the residence of Prince Levan Dadiani, the proprietor of Mingrelia, and then proceeded through Kutais, Suram, and Borzhomski ravine to the Transcaucasus region.
On April 13, 1838, the squadron of Rear Admiral Artiukov with the landing detachment approached the estuary of river Sochi and the first part of the landing troops, which was boarded on rowing vessels, landed on the coast and seized the adjacent heights. The mountaineers, who were hiding in the gorge, began to appear on the opposite height. The 3rd Carabineer Company of the Mingrelian Regiment managed to carry one mountain artillery on the mountain; the 7th and 8th companies, which constituted the advance chain, joined with the 3rd company and, being reinforced by the Imeretian and Georgian militia, under the command of Captain Plats-bek-Kokum, of the Nizhegorodski Dragoon Regiment, were carrying on a heated exchange of fire with the Circassians.
Seeing the dangerous situation of the infantry, Gen. Simborski reinforced it more with two companies of Mingrelians and artillery. The Mingrelians gained a strong foothold on the mountain and occupied the village Sochi. The two companies of the Erivanski Regiment that had arrived later, and two light guns of the 3rd light battery, finally secured for them the mountain, and the enemy was repelled.
On the following day, the adjacent mountain summits were covered with crowds of the Circassians on foot and mounted. It turned out to be that only one half of the Ubykhs was at Sochi, the other half was waiting for a landing near Mamai. The exchanges of fire continued during the following days too. On April 17, Prince Kerenduk Berzek, the nephew of the celebrated Hadji Berzek, arrived at the camp. He confirmed that the Ubykhs are gathering from all parts and that the date of the meeting is fixed to resolve the question whether to struggle against the Russians with united effort. Gen. Simborski proposed to Berzek to take and read the appeal, in which were pointed the conditions under which the Ubykhs could submit to the Russian rule, and Berzek agreed.
In the meantime, however, the Russian armed forces were preparing the material for the construction of a fortification, called Alexandria. They began laying the bricks of the fortress, on April 21, but the Kavkazski Engineering Battalion, under the command of Captain Gernet, completed its construction.
On may 9, when the work was nearing its end, a cannon fire resounded over the camp from the adjacent elevation and a six-pound shot almost reached the lunette that was being fixed. The Russian artillerists opened fire from six guns. Circassians did not answer for two hours, and then from the mountain, which was one half verst away, they began to shoot with shells of different sizes.
At dawn of the following day, the Russians decided to capture the gun from the enemy. Radkevich, Lieutenant Colonel of the Tifliski Egerski Regiment, carried it out brilliantly. With the Egerski Company of the Tiflisians, two companies of the Erivanski Regiment, two mountain unicorns and one squadron of militia, he ascended the mountain from which the Circassians were firing with the gun on the previous day. He soon found out, however, that the Circassians had already moved the gun to another nearby location.
When Radkevich seized the mountain, Gen. Simborski sent there Major Egadze with two companies of Erivanski Regiment, two mountain unicorns and a squadron of militia for reinforcement. He also sent on the adjacent hill two companies of Mingrelians, with two mountain guns and a squadron of Militia, to watch the movement of the Circassians and to assist the Egers and Carabineers if need be.
Strengthened by that reinforcement, Lieutenant Colonel Radkevich rushed over the tracks to the place where the gun was taken and seized it by force, regardless of the murderous fire of the Circassians, who had gathered there in multitudes and had occupied the broken terrain. The Circassians, whom he defeated, disappeared in wooded ravines. Radkevich returned to the camp with the captured gun, having carried out the heroic deed placed on him and having burned two large Ubykh aouls.
In order to back up the returning armed forces, two companies of the Erivanski Regiment, with two light guns, took position in front of the camp. The company of the Mingrelians and 50 militiamen destroyed two aouls by fire and watched the enemy movement until all the units that had participated in the battle finished returning to the camp.
The inverse movement of Lieutenant Colonel Radkevich’s column was accomplished in full order and kept repulsing with great losses the Circassians, who were repeatedly attacking the rearguard. The bitterness and courage of the Ubykhs were surpassing all the expectations. Even in small numbers, they plunged swords in hand into the middle of the Russian infantry and died from its bayonets.
Reporting it, Gen. Simborski wrote: “The success of this day I do attribute fully to the prudent commands and personal courage of Lieutenant Colonel Radkevich…” According to the others who fought with distinction in that battle were: Captain Glinko, member of the General staff; Lieutenants Varapaev and Ivanov; Second Lieutenant Lagoda, artillerist: cavalry Cornet Kundukhov, and Staff Captain Savitski of the Erivan Carabineer Regiment, and Chetverikov of the Tiflis Egerski Regiment.
Gen. Raevski landed on the coasts of Tuapse, on May 12.
At 10 A.M., the squadron of the Chernomorski Navy, under the command of Adjutant General Lazarev, arrived at the estuary of the river. The infantry commanders were convened on the ship “Severnaia Zvezda”, and they resolved the point to occupy.
Since the arrival of the squadron, numerous parties of the Circassians were gathering on the coast.
By the signal given from the flagship, the rowing vessels in two sections headed to the shore, under the command of 1st Class Captain Serebriakov and Lieutenant Captain Kornilov. Fire was opened from the ships, and the mountaineers retreated to the forest.
With the maiden voyage were landed three battalions of the Tenginski regiment, two battalions of the Navaginski Regiment, and three companies of the 4th Chernomorski Line Battalion under the command of Major Seredin.
The 2nd Battalion of the Tenginski Regiment, under the command of Colonel von-Brink, which constituted the vanguard, having sent out the Riffle Battalion, moved in column to attack. Following it moved the 1st Battalion of the Tengins, under the command of Colonel Olshevski, the Chief of Staff of the detachment, and the 2nd Battalion of the Navaginski Regiment, under the command of Colonel Poltinin, the commander of the regiment. Both of the latter battalions sent out also the riflemen and covered both wings of the Russian armed forces. The 3rd Battalion of the Tengins and the 1st of the Navagins, under the command of Major General Lingen, which constituted the main column, remained for unloading and covering 6 light guns and 4 mountain unicorns. Having finished that work, they too moved behind the vanguard.
When they began occupying the adjacent heights, the Circassians opened fire. The Navagins and Tengins attacked and seized the obstructions the enemy had built. At the same time, five Azov boats, placed in one line at the estuary of Tuapse, under the command of Lieutenant Colonel Baron Grach, kept shelling the forest situated between the obstruction and the river, preventing the mountaineers from fording it to its right side.
The Circassians fortified themselves on another mountain. Colonel Olshevski, with the Tengins, threw back the Circassians who had charged with swords. This attack was so impetuous that the 1st Navagin Battalion, which was sent as the reinforcement with one light gun, could not arrive to participate in the battle.
In the meantime, the landing continued. The combined battalion of sailors, with two guns, was sent with Lieutenant Captain Putiatin to reinforce the vanguard. The rest of the landed armed forces were moved to the height and constituted the reserve. During all this time, three infantry Chernomorski Cossack regiments felled the forest behind the troops all around the camp place.
Defeated by two attacks, the Circassians began to retreat at five in the afternoon.
On May 13, the Russians began preparing the material for building another fortress. Gen. Raevski explained to the Circassians, who came to request permission for the removal of the corpses of their fallen compatriots, the advantages they would have by submitting to the Russian Emperor, promised to establish bazaars near each fortress, and expressed great respect for their bravery. For all these best wishes, the Circassians answered that they are not authorized to settle such an important problem.
On the following day, large groups of Abadzekhs approached the Russian camp at a distance of a rifle shot, and began firing at it. Colonel Poltinin was charged to move the clearing of the forest almost to the course of the Tuapse River. Having fired the place with case shots, Colonel Poltinin moved there the 1st and the 2nd battalions of his Navaginski Regiment and the Combined Navy Battalion.
After these operations, the Russians solidly occupied all the space to the Tuapse River. From the unceasing exchange of fire was shell-shocked Lieutenant Timchenko, wounded 6 sailors, one Cossack and one artillerist of the Navaginski Regiment.
According to the wish of His Imperial Majesty, in 1839, the detachment consisting of 8 battalions (4 battalions each from the Navaginski and Tenginski Regiments), 2 companies of sappers, 2 regiments of the Chernomorski Cossacks with 24 guns, under the command of Lieutenant General Raevski, had to land from the vessels at Subash and build a fort there. The squadron under the leadership of Admiral Lazarev arrived to the estuary of the Kerch Strait and, sailing from there on April 28 with the favorable wind, reached the estuary of the Subash River on May 2. At this time, Raevski brought Russian arms into the land of the Ubykhs. Next day the ships lowered rowing vessels filled with the Navagins and Tengins. The groups of the Ubykhs on foot kept constantly increasing. About 30 leaders moved about mounted. About 500 men kneeled under the age-old trees in the plain and in front of them a moula in a white turban. It indicated that the Circassians had resolved to defend themselves to the extreme and that the Russians would have to pay dearly to capture that sacred place.
The admiral raised the signal “to commence the battle”, and ships opened the cannonade. The rowing vessels, under the command of the 2nd Rank Captain Kornilov, moved orderly to the shore in two rows and landed troops there.
Regardless the nearness of the squadron, the Ubykhs faced the landed Russian troops in 50 sazhens from the shore. The action of the artillery of the navy forced the Circassians to abandon their coastal trenches, with which they had fortified the entire expanse between the estuaries of Subash and Shakha, and to seek for a safe shelter in the heights and ravines covered with forest.
The Russian armed forces had just reached the coast, unloaded two mountain guns, and sent out the vanguard chain, when a party of over one thousand Circassians rushed into the plain. In front of them hurried several moulas in white turbans and threw themselves on the vanguard chain with a dreadful war whoop. “It seemed to me,” wrote Lorer, in his notes, “that I will never forget the terrifying impression this sudden attack made on me. Two Circassian leaders, riding on white horses, charged courageously ahead of them.” Gen. Kashutin moved forward with the battalion of the Tenginski Regiment, but the Circassians drew out their swords and charged at them. At that instant, the 3rd battalion of the Navaginski Regiment, led by Lieutenant Colonel Tanski, appeared from the thickets of the forest into the plain and attacked the wing of the Circassians with bayonets and loud cry of “ura!” By the order of colonel Poltinin, the commander of the Navaginski Regiment, Major Germans attacked the Circassians with the 3rd Navaginski Musketeer Company, which was the reserve of the right cover. Colonel Tanski too attacked with him. The Circassians came to a halt, began to fire and draw back. But it was too late. The Navagins had already enveloped them from both sides, but the Circassians fought them desperately in a hand-to-hand melee, while retreating step by step.
In the meantime, another large party of Circassians descended from the high mountain that is dividing Shakha and Subash. They wanted to seize the height protruding into the sea, because their main defense system was located on it. Gen. Olshevski had warned about these movements and quickly led Lieutenant Colonel Khliupin’s battalion of the Tengins to the cliff of the mountain covered with forest. A strong exchange of fire began. The advantageous position allowed the Russians to stop the pressure of the Circassians and to shell them with two light guns from there. The Circassians, who were hit from three sides, did not run, but began to retreat slowly in the plain, covering themselves with a double chain. New groups emerging from the wooded gorge carried away or replaced their killed compatriots.
During this time, the combined battalion of the Navagins and Tengins, the artillery, and the combined Navy battalion, that were landed by the second voyage, joined the Russian detachment. The combined battalion of the Navagins and Tengins, under the command of Lieutenant Colonel Danzas was sent to reinforce the vanguard.
Gen. Kashutin began pressing the Circassians stronger, with the 2nd battalion of the Tengins and 3rd battalion of the Navagins. Approaching the foot of the mountain that is dividing Subash and Shakha, he sent Lieutenant Colonel Lebedinski with two companies on the high and steep terrace, on which the Circassians retreated.
Lebedinski climbed on the terrace of the cliff and took position on it, being fired at from three sides. Between Lebedinski and the left cover remained a large empty space on the mountain. Raevski left the seizure of it to Gen. Olshevski, to whom was sent the Combined Navy Battalion under the command of Lieutenant Captain Putiatin. He divided the battalion in two parts: He placed two companies under the command of aid-de-camp Glazenap, and others under the command of Lieutenant Captain Metlin. Both columns were sent on the mountain over the precipices. With bayonets, the sailors dislodged the Circassians from the advantageous position in the forest. The Circassians, while retreating, fought strongly, and their number increased ceaselessly.
Lieutenant Captain was wounded in the arm and leg and was compelled to hand the commanding over to Lieutenant Captain Metlin.
The 2nd battalion of Navagins and one company of sappers, from the armed forces of the second voyage, were sent to reinforce the left cover. General Olshevski placed them too under the command of Metlin. Then, aid-de-camp Glazenap took the Combined Navy Battalion under the command. Navagins and sappers carried two mountain unicorns up the mountain with great difficulty. Metlin, under a strong fire, began felling the trees and covered the entire place with a high abates by two o’clock in the afternoon.
In the plain, Gen. Kashutin and Colonel Poltinin, with the vanguard and the head of the right cover, continued to press on the Circassians, who retreated extremely slowly and calmly. Each case shot was effective in such a near distance. The Circassians hurried to their killed and wounded and fought with great bitterness after that, shedding much Russian blood. Besides the lower ranks, in this battle were killed Second Lieutenant Kolodka and Ensign Braker of the Navaginski Regiment, and Second Lieutenant Pavlov of the Kolyvanski Regiment; wounded were Ensign Lushkovski of Tenginski Regiment, and Second Lieutenant Ovsianikov of the No 5 Battalion of the Orenburgh Line.
Having reached the mountain, Gen. Kashutin and Poltinin seized it with the Navagins and Tengins and thus accomplished the occupation the destined for space.
The Circassians made the last effort, and suddenly attacked the reserve of the Tenginski Regiment, which was covering the guns.
Scherbin, of the 20th Artillery Brigade, having allowed the Circassians approach to a close distance, opened case-shot fire at them. Lieutenants Rykov and Mazharov pushed back the Circassians, but both officers were heavily wounded. During the course of this battle, the Chernomorski infantry of the battalion, under the fire of the Circassians, were making abates, which was ready by 6 o’clock in the evening and the detachment made itself comfortable behind it.
In this battle, Russians suffered 3 officers killed, 6 wounded, and 128 other ranks wounded and killed.
Among the Circassian leaders was Biaraslan Berzek, a distinguished person by birth and for his courage, who enjoyed a great influence among his people. With him was Tulpar, the Ubykh nobleman of respected lineage. They went to the Russians to buy the corpses of their killed compatriots. Going to battle, a Circassian took an oath to die with his comrade in arms or to carry away the corpse of the fallen friend. Failure of fulfilling this vow entailed disgrace, and the perjurer had to support the whole family of the killed. The Circassians had collected 48 corpses from the battlefield of that day.
They defended Shakha so desperately, because from the earliest times this coastal grove was T’hagapk, i. e. sacred forest, where they gathered to perform pagan rites and to have clan meetings. Therefore, on seeing the Russian fleet, they had taken a solemn vow to die to the last in order not allow the infidels to defile their sacred place.
Moreover, Shakha valley was a free and more heavily populated point for the Ubykhs and for their coastal trade.
Russian armed forces settled themselves in this camp on the Black Sea coast and began the construction of the fortress called Golovinski. During the construction work on it, the Circassians kept constantly harassing the Russian troops. On May 27 alone, the Navagins and Tengins had to repel 13 desperate attacks of the Circassians.
On July 5, all the construction works were completed. On the following day the Russian armed forces boarded the ships and headed to the estuary of the Psezuapa River. Here was founded fort Lazarev. Fort Raevski was built between Novorossiisk and Anapa.
The construction of these three fortifications completed the establishment of the Black Sea (Chernomorski) Coastal Line, and General Raevski was appointed its commander.
The Black Sea Coastal Line was established and fortresses were built on all the main points, weak garrisons were stationed in them due to the lack of sufficient Russian forces.
The climatic conditions of that time so ruinously affected the Russian armed forces, that they could not have under arms the necessary number of men for the defense of the entire Line. Moreover, a terrible famine had appeared among the Circassians in the autumn and winter of 1839-1840, that they preferred to die with their arms in their hands, rather than to be doomed to die from starvation. Well aware of the shortcomings of the newly erected Russian fortresses and that the garrisons in them were weak, the Circassians united into one body and began to attack them in order to capture the food and fire-arm supplies in them.
Inspired by the celebrated Ubykh leader Haji Berzek, who had reputation for his wisdom and boundless bravery, the Circassians displayed a desperate heroism.
On February 7, 1840, huge Circassian groups surrounded fort Lazarev. Its garrison consisted only of one company of the Tenginski Regiment. Early in the morning, the Circassians burst into the fortress. First, they dashed to the officer’s wing and massacred all the officers and then slaughtered the soldiers in the barracks.
The capture of fort Lazarev strongly encouraged the Circassians. After that they seized the Veliaminovski fortification. On March 17, a spy informed the Russians that the group of the Circassians grew into 11 thousand men and decided to attack the Mikhailovski fortress.
The garrison of this fortress consisted of: one company from the Tenginski Regiment under the command of Lieutenant Kraumzgold and Ensign Gaevski; the 6th company of the Navaginski Regiment under the command of Lieutenant Timchenko and his assistant
ensigns Smirnov and Zemborski; two companies of the Chernomorski Line No 5 battalion, under the command of Staff Captain Liko and Second Lieutenant Bessonov; with guns Ensign Ermolaev of the 11 garrison artillery; in all 8 officers, physician Samovich, father Avgustin and 480 other ranks. Staff Captain Liko, the superior in rank, was the commander of the garrison.
Having received the news about the capture of fort Lazarevski and knowing that the garrison is incapable of holding the entire line, Staff Captain Liko divided the fortification into two parts and occupied the part that was most likely to be attacked. Then he summoned the officers and told them about the threatening danger.
Finally came the fateful night. The watchdogs, released from the fortress, barked all night towards the mountain from where the Circassians were expected to come. The garrison stood ready. The night was extremely dark. At early dawn, the Circassians appeared in the distance. Finally they reached the fortress and, regardless of the case shots fired at them from five guns and the fires of volley discharged at them by the garrison, they rushed into the fortress, engaged in a stubborn hand-to hand battle. Staff Captain Liko, who led the defense, was heavily wounded. Almost all the officers were killed, and the soldiers retreated step by step.
According to Cadet Miroslavski, a Circassian shot the Ensign Ermolaev of the artillery in the chest. Lieutenant Timchenko, being wounded, lay in blood and told him, “Cadet Miroslavski take my place… take the place of the military leader, because all the officers are killed.”
He had summoned the survivors and was leading them to the sea battery, hoping to find there some boxes with cartridges. As he was passing by the officer’s wing, he heard the voice of Captain Liko. He was wounded in the head. The batman and barber held him under the arms.
“Cadet Miroslavski,” said Liko. “Take my place, for I have no strength. Defend the place as best as you can.
“Everything was intact on the sea battery, but before the soldiers could take the ammunition from the boxes, about 25 men fell dead in one second from Circassian bullets.
The fortress was already in flames. Red Circassian badges were uncurled everywhere. Arkhip Osipov shouted. “It is time, brothers! Whoever will be left alive, remember my feat.” He ran into the powder cellar with a burning torch and a terrible explosion followed. A column of smoke with a flame, human bodies, and stones shot up in the air. Almost the whole garrison died, but with them died one thousand Circassians also. The sun came up and lit the bloody picture of death and destruction. All the officers were dead, except for the heavily wounded Liko and Second Lieutenant Bessonov, and father Avgustin. Circassians took all of them, and 80 other lower ranks, prisoners.”.
After the capture of Mikhailovski, the Circassians attacked fort Golovinski, but the 2nd company of the Navaginski Regiment repulsed them. Then, the Circassians headed towards the Kuban and approached Abinsk. 12 guns, 3 companies of the Navaginski and 1 company of the Tenginsky Regiments, and 2 companies of the Chernomorski Line No 1 battalion defended this fortress. Lieutenant Colonel Veselovski, who commanded the Chernomorski companies, was the commander of the fortress.
On May 25, 1840, at 2 o’clock at night, the Circassians, under the leadership of Mansur Shupako, from the Natkhuagia tribe, crept almost to the walls of the fortress without the slightest noise and assaulted it. But, the Russian soldiers stood on the ready and met the storming Circassians with a volley of bullets and case shots. The Circassians leapt up on the ramparts with unshielded swords and daggers in their moths, but they were repulsed with the bayonets of the garrison.
The first failure encouraged the Circassians more. Many of them wore steel shirts. With contempt to death, they climbed again on the breastwork, but a wall of Russian bayonets met them again. The clear indication of how desperately the Circassians had fought that night was the fact that they left in the ditches of the fortress 685 dead but only 10 wounded.
On July 4, 1850, Prince M.S. Vorontsov, Governor General, received a letter from Count Chernyshev informing him that His Majesty gave permission to Tsesarevich to visit the Caucasus and that the travel itinerary would be sent later. The expected news was finally received on July 24. The retinue of Tsesarevich included: Colonel Count Adlerberg and Count Lambert, Lieutenant Captain Prince Galitsin and physician in ordinary Enokhin. And clearly was mentioned that 60 horses should be prepared at every station on the route. That meant that over 5,000 horses had to be prepared.
Stocks of fodder were prepared at every station. Horses were trained to the carriage harnessing, shots, music, and to fire, in case if the road had to be lighted with torches during the night travel. The roads were hastily repaired everywhere. The bridges, brushwood, stations, and villages were given a decent appearance. Special officials inspected the quarters for the night rest. Orders were given in the cities and fortresses to welcome Tsesarevich with bells and gunfire. Prince Vorontsov wrote to all the higher representatives of the government that, according to the command he received from His Royal Highness, the deputies offering to him bread and salt should not use any silver or gold plates. Finally, the placement of cavalry convoys with the horse artillery, and the distribution of infantry echelons on the route were left to the commanders of military departments, who knew the degree of danger at different points of the route.
Tsesarevich left Yalta on September 2, on the ship “Vladimir” and was schedualed to dock in Novorossiisk but, owing to the developed strong storm on the sea, the ship had to drop anchor at the Tuzlusski Spit near Taman, at the place absolutely deserted and wild. As there was not any possibility in prospect to enter the Novorossiisk Bay, Tsesarevich stepped out on the shore on September 14, and here, at the border of the land of the Chernomorski armed forces, he was met by General Zavadovski, the Ataman and commander of the Russian armed forces on the Caucasian Line, who had with him one hundred mounted men of the Chernomorski Cavalry. Carriages too hurried here in time.
The Heir, along with Prince A. N. Bariatinski, went to Taman, toured the Fanagoriiski fortress near it, visited the field hospital, and arrived at the Temriukski settlement. Taman and Temriuk, by their names alone, reminded one of the important role they played in extreme antiquity, when the their surrounding deep sands were hidden under the culture of grape vines, fruit orchards, and fields, which were irrigated with huge water-pipes. Now they were poor settlements, to which, nevertheless, befell the high honor of welcoming Tsesarevich first. On the following day, Tsesarevich rode along the Black Sea Cordon Line, the banks of the Kuban, saw the sentry settlements and watch towers, with the Cossacks standing on them in constant vigilance. Although the Circassians were pushed back from the Kuban, frequent breakthroughs took place, and the voyage to Ekaterinodar, at a distance of 228 versts, was dangerous. Therefore, in addition to the accompanying convoy, troops were stationed along the way in all the dangerous places.
At 8 in the evening, Tsesarevich arrived in Ekaterinodar and stopped in the house of the Ataman. The entire main street and the front of the fortress wall were illuminated with lampions. Then, Ekaterinodar was not at all as we know it now: instead of beautiful buildings, paved streets with wide sidewalks, electric light and other comforts, which the city enjoys today, Tsesarevich saw a large village, which did not distinguish itself from other villages or “kurens” (smoking places) in any way. The only two storied stone building was the military workhouse, and all the other houses, the house of the Ataman inclusive, were all one storied. But what in Ekaterinodar was remarkable, it was the six-cupoled cathedral, which was located in the fortress, which was built, as stated in the decree of its establishment “to the steadfast sustenance and assertion of those who are serving in the frontier guard of the cordon.” Although this cathedral was of wood, the complexity and enormousness of its structure made a strong impression, and someone justly called it “the impertinence of architecture.” The interior of the cathedral fully corresponded with the exterior appearance. Here the Chernomorians kept their precious treasures: banners, regalia, and other memorials of their valiant military merits.
On Sept 16, Tsesarevich received all the officials and honorary representatives of the Chernomorski Army in the hall of the Ataman’s house. He went out to them in the full-dress uniform of the Guard Division, in a blue beshmet and red Cherkessk with folding back sleeves – the costume, in which were combined for a Cossack all his past and present – the kuntush of the hetmanian Ukraine and the martial attire of the Circassian. Having expressed his thanks to the brave Chernomorians and conveyed to them the gratitude of the Sovereign, “for their good frontier service,” Tsesarevich entered the square filled with people, and headed to the cathedral, examined the rich vestry, which was preserved since the times of Zaporozhia, ancient Cossack banners, kleinods, and charters of the army. A parade followed, at the end of which he thanked the Cossacks for the brave qualities they inherited from their celebrated ancestors, and then visited all the military departments. During the ceremonial dinner, the Chernomorians sang their Ukrainian songs, praising the bravery of their old Sechians, atamans, and hetmans.
On September 17, Tsesarevich departed from Ekaterinodar and, having left the limits of the Chernomorski Army, stopped at the post of Izriadni, from where commenced the Caucasian Line. Here Major General Krukovski, the Ataman of the Cossack Armed Forces on the Caucasian Line, welcomed him.
At the time when Ekaterinodar was preparing to welcome the distinguished guest, Prince Vorontsov, the Governor General, arrived in the Ust-Labinski settlement on September 15. The Heir was accompanied by: the Chief of Staff, Adjutant General Kotsebu; his assistant Major General Volf; the Director of Office Safonov; adjutants Colonel Prince Orbeliani, Major Morents, Captain Prince Shakhovski, and three officials: Sokolov, Alexandrovski, and Zolotarev.
The Labinski Line, on which Tsesarevich had to travel from Ust-Labinsk, was situated quite near the Belaya River, where the Abadzekhs lived. It underwent raids more frequently than others. Prince Vorontsov wrote, warning Count Adleberg, that Tsesarevich should arrive to Ust-Labinsk earlier, so that he could cross to Temirgoevski fortress before the sunset. The messenger sent with this letter was still on the way, when Tsesarevich simultaneously received very alarming news from two different parts. Gen. Evdokimov wrote, that a huge crowd of mountaineers, under the personal command of Magomet Amin, arrived at the Belaya to attack the Line, when Tsesarevich would be passing through it. Evdokimov insisted on the necessity of changing the route of travel. Gen. Reshpil, the commander of the Chernomorski Cordon Line, informed that Magomet Amin came to the Belaya River with considerable parties of the mountaineers.
Received in Ust-Labinsk by Prince Vorontsov, and having listened to his report, Tsesarevich indicated agreement of changing the route, and on September 18, set out on his way along the Kuban. On that very day, Magomet Amin, with his crowd, moved towards the stanitsa of Voznesenski but having found out about the change of the route, halted across the river Laba, at the long forest, having failed to carry out his plan. In the meantime, Tsesarevich continued his voyage. From Ust-Laba commenced the old, brave Caucasus. Here, in these same stanitsas, strengthened and developed the Line Cossackhood with a whole chronicle of dashing feats. Much in this army astounded one by originality, beginning from the clothing and equipment, which they adopted from the Circassians, and ending with the aspect of the mode of life. Tsesarevich always admired the dexterity and trick riding of the Cossacks.
On his way Tsesarevich passed many places, which are entered in the pages of history, he heard many names of worth representatives of the Cossack epic, he met on his way many stanitsa necropolises and nameless graves in those valleys, almost every one of which kept some bloody legend. Thus he passed through the stanitsas of Ladozhski, Tiflisski, Kazanski, Kavkazski, Temizhbek, Nikolaevski, Belorechenski, Batalpashinsk, and Suvorovski. Here was already unfolding the splendid panorama of the Piatogorski valley. These environs were full of other memories, than the stanitsas left behind. Here breathed the genius and fame of Lermontov’s poetry. From Suvorovski, Tsesarevich rode through Essentuki to Kislovodsk, where then still existed a fortress. The present magnificent gallery of Narzan had only begun to be built and the Heir saw the boiling spring almost in its primitive condition.
As the memorial of Tsesarevich’s sojourn in Kislovodsk remains the remarkable painting, which is depicting the ceremonial dinner given on September 21 in the house of A. F. Rebrov, the Councilor of State. This picture is precious due to the fact that it passes to us the contemporary portraits of Tsesarevich himself and of every person who accompanied him at that time. The photographic picture of this painting is in the Kavkazski Military Historical Museum (Khram Slavy) in Tiflis.
From Kislovodsk Tsesarevich arrived to Piatigorsk for the lodging for the night and on the following day, having toured all the mineral springs, left for Nalchik. The trip was long, 75 versts, with two fordings across rapid rivers that were overflowing. The Volzhski Regiment, which constituted the convoy, surrounded the carriage and, one may say, carried it across the raging Malka with their hands. On the opposite bank, the new brilliant escort of Kabardinian princes met Tsesarevich. Kabardia began beyond Malka. The steppe with the last Cossack settlement was left behind and, in front of the eyes of the travelers unfolded the amazing panorama of mountains with their somber valleys, from which gushed rumbling rivers Baksan, Chegem, Uroukh, and others. Luxurious pastures, greenery, and the remains of forests, all around, and among them were scattered Kabardinian villages here and there. In the memory of Tsesarevich were still alive those feats, with which the Circassian cavalry had distinguished itself in the Hungarian campaign in 1849, and he watched curiously these horsemen that furiously raced in their native fields in the heart of the Kabardinian land. Indeed, clad in light steel shirts of mail, glittering with expensive arms, mounted on fast flying horses, the Kabardinians presented such a sight, the likes of which no single European cavalry could present.
Tsesarevich arrived in Nalchik late in the evening. Next morning, on September 23, he received the princes, elders, and honorable members of Kabardinian, Karachay, and other tribes. In the name of the Sovereign, he conveyed to them gratitude for their loyal and honest service to Russia. Among the deputation was, Tukum Bugov, an inhabitant of aoul Babukov, who was a desperate Abrek four years before that and, in 1843, not far from Piatigorsk, took captive the wife of Colonel Makhin, the commander of the battery, held her in his place for three years, until he received the ransom, but he treated her with such a refined chivalrous courtesy that Prince Vorontsov forgave him all the past and allowed him to settle back in the aoul of Babukovski. Just before the arrival of Tsesarevich, Tukum Bugov went to the mountains, stole two Cossack prisoners from refractory aouls and presented them in Nalchik to the Governor General. From here, through Vladikavkaz, Tsesarevich proceeded on the Military Georgian Road to inspect the Transcaucasian region.
Magomet Amin appeared in the Transkuban region in 1848. Shamil had sent him here as a naib. Magomet Amin, good preacher and clever, quickly took advantage over the mood of the Abadzekhs. The mystery, with which he surrounded himself, his fascinating speech, proud imperious tone towards the elders surrounding him, his affable, gentle treatment of the people, and his promise to them of a better future, had created a strong impression on the Abadzekhs. Soon, the people elected him for their master. The success of his preaching were so rapid that in February 1849, he was already promulgating laws, organized the government of the people, and created a permanent army. Moreover, all the other Circassian tribes of Transkuban began gradually to acknowledge the power of Magomet Amin that they finally became the obedient weapons of this remarkable mountaineer. Taking advantage of such an influence, he undertook quite successful raids on the Line. Not satisfied with the subordination of the Transkuban tribes, Magomet Amin moved to the Ubykhs and Shapsughs. At last, he succeeded in extending his influence over the Circassians on the Black Sea coast, but not without a struggle against the local influential princes. The Ubykhs, Shapsughs, and Natkhuagias, however, were weighted by this influence and they finally broke off intercourse with the naib before the Eastern War of 1853-1856, when the native Circassian Prince Sefer-bey Zan, who was in Turkey until then, appeared among them.
During the Eastern War, the Russian armed forces had left almost the entire Black Sea Coastal Line, as the enormous stretch of it was impossible to defend both from the Circassians and Turks. At the end of that war, Emperor Alexander II had ordered first of all to capture Anapa, where at that time was Sefer-bey Zan, who had assumed the title of “the commander-in-chief of all the mountaineer peoples and the Chief of the Turkish forces in Anapa”.
Sefer-bey Zan, the former Rishelevski student of the Lyceum and cadet of one of the cavalry regiments, who had later fled to the mountains, lived in Constantinople in the thirties. In 1854, he was sent to Abkhazia to incline all the coastal tribes to the side of Turkey. When the Russians left Anapa, Sefer-bey came there and started calling himself the Pasha of Anapa. The French, English, and Turkish officers, who came to Anapa to incite the mountaineers to a general uprising, treated Sefer-bey Zan as the authorized chief. It enhanced his importance among the mountaineers. The Natkhuagis submitted to his influence in order to set him off against Magomet Amin. The European officers went to the latter too, but could not persuade him to take a joint action with Sefer-bey Zan.
Between the two leaders of the mountaineer tribes arose hostile relations. It was quite understandable: Magomet Amin, in the spirit of Muridism, since long preached equality among all Muslims, but Sefer-bey, inborn prince, was giving hope to the princes and the noblemen for the restoration of the ancient rights they lost among the Transkuban tribes. This hostility between Magomet and Sefer-bey turned even to an open clash.
Before the Russians captured Anapa, Sefer-bey fled to Novorossiisk, and later settled among the Shapsughs and Natkhuagias, where as formerly he played the role of a leader in all activities against Russia, in which his famous son, Karabatir, assisted him.
Magomet Amin as well as Sefer-bey with his son desperately fought against the Russians during the last period of the war in the Western Caucasus.
With the fall of Gunib and capture of Shamil, the Eastern Caucasus was conquered. Prince Bariatinski fixed all his attention on the Western Caucasus. The hostile tribes, confined by the Adagumski and Belorechenski Lines, which were built in 1856-1859, gradually began to indicate submission or to move to Turkey. The Bjedughs set the first example after the strong blow dealt on them by Colonel Babich. In May 1859, 39 elders of the Bjedughs, one from each aoul, came to the assistant ataman Gen. Kusakov and declared that the people would submit to the Czar unconditionally. A similar deputation from all the Bjedugh tribes came to Lieutenant General Filipson in Ekaterinodar in the beginning of June. In addition to the unconditional submission, general oath of allegiance and extradition of amanats (hostages), from them was demanded that the people should settle in large aouls at the places appointed. In the first part of July, the oath of allegiance was taken at assembly points beyond the Kuban.
The Chemguy, Makhosh, Egerukhay, Besleney, Shakh-girey tribes that lived between Laba and Shaguasha, and the Kabardinians beyond the Kuban, followed the example of the Bjedughs.
The appearance of the sizeable detachment of Gen. Filipson on the upper reaches of Fars and Psefir rivers and the establishment of a fortress in the woods of Khamket compelled the Abadzekhs too to seriously think about their situation. They began negotiations and, on November 20, the deputies from all classes of Abadzekhs, from about 1,500 to 2,000 persons, took the oath of allegiance in the camp. Magomet Amin was the first to take the oath. As the chief religious person, he helped to promote it by explaining to the people that the law of Islam does not forbid Muslims to be the subjects of a Christian Sovereign. At the request of the Abadzekh elders, Gen. Folipson allowed Magomet Amin to remain among them as a spiritual personage, but without any title of a naib. Nevertheless, within a few months it became clear that the submission of the Abadzekhs was not stable. Parties of them resumed raiding again Russian forts and settlements. Magomet Amin earnestly tried to stop these raids and, seeing that the Abadzekhs are not listening to him and are violating the oath of allegiance they took, he secretly moved to Turkey.
Towards the end of 1859, from all the Circassian tribes that did not acknowledge the Russian rule were the Shapsughs and Natkhuagias. A part of the latter - especially those of them that lived between Anapa, Sudjuk, and Adagum, about 40 thousand persons – also took an oath of allegiance to Russia on January 12, 1860, after the defeat they had suffered from Colonel Babich and the death of their leader, Sefer-bey Zan.
The time had come when Prince Bariatinski could increase military operations in the Western Caucasus. The pacification of Dahgestan and Chechnia allowed him to send battle-hardened Russian regiments to the Transkuban region. Therefore, three Dragoon Regiments (Nizhegorodski, Severski, and Pereiaslavski soon reinforced the Russian armed forces, that were stationed here. Terski was there since 1857), by four Rifle Battalions – the Grenaderski, 19, 20, and 21, and by twelve Combined Riffle Battalions from the rifle companies of Kavakazski Grenaderski, 20 and 21 divisions. These units appeared in Circassia at the beginning of 1860.
The Russian military units that were brought in Circassia were immediately drawn to military operations and to the works on establishing Russian stanitsas and clearing the forests. Let us mention some episodes of the Severski and Nizhegorodski Dragoon Regiments, and of the Kuban Cossack Regiment of the Novotroitski Squadron, which was commanded by Lieutenant Count Vorontsov-Dashkov.
Colonel Prince Bagration, the commander of the Severski Dragoon Regiment, died in 1860, under the following circumstances.
On November 7, escorted by seven dragoons seated in a carriage, the prince headed from the Adagum fortress to the stanitsa of Krymski to inspect the units of the regiment. Lieutenant Leontovich, the quartermaster of the regiment, left together with the prince, but took the shortest road. The prince was riding quite fast, without realizing that the carriage, unable to keep up the pace, was left behind. They had already covered one half of the distance, when they heard a rifle salvo from the forest, and a party of Circassians, up to one hundred men, rushed on the road and surrounded the carriage. The Circassians bitterly fell upon the Prince and his two companions. The struggle began. The coachman and the servant were killed. The Prince himself was heavily wounded. The Circassians began to unharness the horses and to rob the crew. The convoy dragoons, having heard the shots, abandoned their exhausted troika and ran to the rescue of Leontovich, but, having seen what was going on, they rushed to the fortress and reported to the chief of the garrison, Major Maniati, what has happened. The news quickly spread around all the garrison, and Lieutenant, Count Grabbe rushed to the rescue with some Severski men. On hearing the alarm, two companies moved out from the stanitsa of Krymski too, but it was too late. The Circassians took captive the wounded commander.
Count Grabbe with the dragoons set out to the pursuit. On the way, they subsequently found one or another thing that belonged to the commander, which he threw away to leave a trace behind. Later the scouts reported that, indeed, the Circassians took the Prince captive, in order to receive a large ransom for him. Having heard about the alarm, they rushed so fast that it caused to the wounded Prince unbearable suffering, and he begged his tormentors to ride slower. The Circassians, of course, did not pay attention at his pleadings. The Severski men found the body of the commander, took it to the stanitsa of Krymski, and committed it to the earth.
In a dead August night of 1860, the Novotroitski Squadron of Count I. I. Vorontsov-Dashkov, then still a young Lieutenant, left the Gregorievski fortress. Behind this squadron moved two squadrons of the Nizhegorodski Dragoons, under the command of Prince Ivan Givich Amilakhvari, who was still a Captain at that time.
This was a flying vanguard, sent out for a raid on one of the largest Shapsugh villages. Behind the vanguard, in the form of a reserve, held afar three infantry battalions with the artillery. They, the hunters of the Kabardinski Regiment, well known in the chronicles of the Caucasian War, followed immediately with cavalry and did not lag behind it. Astonishing walkers were these men. Not without reason, Emperor Alexander II in jest called them the “Kabardinian Cavalry”. Gorsheldt, the artist, was also with the Cossacks.
“We were given orders,” says Gorsheld in his memoirs, “to preserve the greatest silence, and the men of the Line, accustomed to night marches, moved without a sound, like the ghosts of the night. The night breathed with coolness. The stars burned in the clear cloudless sky, but it was so dark that one could hardly discern the silhouette of our detachment, which followed in the dense bushes. Now and then an old raven would squeak, frightened from night nest or a partridge would noiselessly sweep over our heads. Such a night march always has something mysterious, and is, in the highest degree, full of poetry. The silence of the night, muffled steps, the commands given in undertones, awaken the phantasm, and the imagination draws pictures, far surpassing the actuality itself. Suddenly, from the right side from us flashed a small light, and the whistling bullets cut through the air. It was an enemy picket, which had noticed our movement. Following this shot, signal beacons suddenly lighted all the surrounding hillocks. We were exposed, and absolute silence was becoming unnecessary. “Thank God, now one could blow his nose to the extreme,” loudly said the bearded Cossack, who stood next to me.
It was dawning at that time. Having descended in the valley of Afips, aoul Sukhunoiak appeared, consisting of one thousand houses, immediately behind which commenced a dense forest. The tall maize grew everywhere, and fruit orchards enclosed with wattle fences – the constant obstacle of cavalry action. The command was heard: “Cossacks and dragoons, forward at a trot!”
“Bent forward, and holding rifles high above their heads,” says Gorsheld, “our gang rushed forward. We became mixed with the dragoons and flew at full speed with a single wish, to outdistance the neighbor. In vain the officers tried to moderate this senseless race, fearing that our horses could not endure it. At that time, on the knoll, on which the aoul stood, appeared the Shapsughs, and the bullets began to whistle more and more often past our ears. We could see that confusion was taking place in the aoul and that the inhabitants would soon take shelter in the neighboring forest. This sight excited us more. Even the officers were now shouting, “go, and go.” We dashed into the aoul and, to the general disappointment, we at once ran against the fences. The Cossacks dismounted, swept them away and flew over the streets farther and farther. At that time, the Kabardinian hunters burst in from the other side, and the aoul was set on fire from all the four sides.
“Nevertheless, all the inhabitants had managed to hide into the forest, where they were already safe, under the protection of age-old plane and nut trees, which stood steadily forming an impenetrable wall. Just the same, the Cossacks, who were roving on the streets and lanes, found many unharnessed carriages that were loaded to the top with unthreshed crops. The trumpets sounded. The Cossacks flew headlong to their commanders from all the parts. It turned out that the Shapsughs had hidden a large herd behind the mountain. The small cover, which protected the herd, gave a salvo and dispersed. The Cossacks instantly surrounded the herd, which had started to one side from fear. During this time, a sizeable Shapsugh cavalry appeared, galloping at full speed. In order to cover the captured booty, Prince Amilakhvari hurried the 3rd Squadron of the Nizhegorodians and commanded it to hold on, until the rest of the dragoons and Cossacks moved away to a considerable distance. A heated action was starting.
When the Cossack drove away the cattle at a large distance, Prince Amilakhvary sent Lieutenant Makhatadze with the order that the 3rd Squadron should retreat. Makhatadze had gallop across the depression covered with shrubbery…
In the meantime, the 3rd Squadron was retreating, being pursued by the Shapsughs. The action was becoming more heated. Amilakhvary himself and the Cossacks with Count Vorontsov-Dashkov arrived to assist. The Shapsughs too were receiving reinforcement. The Dragoons and Cossacks were retreating slowly, dismounting turn by turn, but the Circassians were operating with such obstinacy that the Russians had finally to demand, a whole battalion, which replaced the exhausted cavalry. The Cossacks and dragoons headed back to the camp.
The same Line Cossacks and division of the Nizhegorodski dragoons carried out a similar raid on September 2, while marching from the Gregorievski fortress to Ekaterinodar. The Circassians, who since long were used to seeing Russian troops passing bye, pursued the column for several versts and then left it alone, having failed to notice that Prince Amilakhvari secretly forded the Shabsh River and darted to the dense forest, in order to seize the herds pasturing in the glade of the two large nearby aouls. The dragoons and Cossacks dashed in full speed. While the dragoons busied themselves around the herds, the Cossacks burst into the aoul and everything, that did not have time to flee, fell under their blows or was taken captives. Women and children were killed in the midst of this confusion. Prince Amilakhvari sent Lieutenant Makhatadze to stop the bloodshed. As Makhatadze hurried straight, he ran in the forest against 18 Circassian girls, who were terror stricken by the appearance of the Russian horseman. Makhatadze, who spoke Circassian, calmed them down and ordered the trumpeter to escort them to the detachment. The Cossacks, who were returning with a rich booty from the village, met them on the way. The dragoons were covering the retreat. The raid was a full success, and the detachment had left the dangerous forest behind it, before the Circassians had time to gather on alarm.
Gorsheldt depicted, in his excellent painting, the return from this raid. It presents early morning. The figure of a Cossack officer, a cloak (thrown) on his shoulders, is visible in the distance. He is Count Vorontsov-Dashkov, the commander of the squadron. Next to him is Colonel Sheremetev. They already had crossed the Shebsh River and, from the high bank, were watching the fording of the Cossacks, who were driving the captured cattle, carrying the dead, and taking prisoners and captive women.
Such raids had decisive role in the course of the Russian military operations in Circassia. Without them, the Russians could not have settled in the fertile valleys that were the granary for the Circassians. They had no choice but to leave those places and hide into the mountains, where they could not exist for long. It hastened the process of the Russian conquest of Circassia.
North Caucasus was re-divided in 1860: The Left flank of the Kavkazski Line was renamed into Terski Region, and the Right flank, together with Chernomoria, became part of the Kubanski Region. Out of the six brigades of the Kavkazski Line Cossack Forces and Chernomorski Forces was organized one Kubanski Cossack Army. Changes were also made in the staff: Adjutant General Miliutin, the Chief of the Main Headquarters of the Kavkazski Army, was appointed the Assistant Minister of War. Lieutenant General Filipson had replaced him. Ataman and Adjutant General Evdokimov was made the commander of the Russian armed forces in the Kuban Region.
Having toured the vast region, Count Evdokimov submitted in November his proposition about military operations for the final conquest of the Western Caucasus, the main means of which were to be served by the settlement of Cossack stanitsas in the entire expanse between the Shaguasha and Laba rivers and the east coast of the Black Sea, and offering to the mountaineers to emigrate to the valleys or to move away to Turkey. The intentions of Count Evdokimov were approved, and the formed Adagumski, Shapsughski, and Abadzekhski detachments assisted the establishment of firm Russian rule and the organization of new stanitsas. The Bashilbeys, Kazilbeks, Tamovs, and a part of the Shakhgireys left their place at the fixed date and moved to Turkey. Only the Besleneys refused to comply with the orders. On June 20, 1860, they were suddenly surrounded and they, about four thousand families, were forcibly transferred to the Uroup River under the cover of Russian troops and, from there, having received permission, moved away to Turkey.
In this last period of their struggle, the Circassians decided to defend their independence not only with arms, but also with internal re-organizations. Conducive to this were the foreigners, who persuaded them to continue fighting against Russia and convinced them that England, France, and Turkey will take them under their protectorate and declare war against Russia. The Circassians were extremely encouraged by such appeals, and their major tribes, the Abadzekhs, Shapsughs, and Ubykhs, sent their elected elders to Sochi, where on June 13 they reached an understanding to act with united forces.
At this meeting, the Circassians unanimously resolved to institute extraordinary union and to preserve internal order in the country. A Mejlis of 15 ulemas and experienced men was established to govern the union. They called this Mejliss, “The Great Free Conference”. The entire region was divided into 12 okrugs (regions, districts), and in each of them they appointed responsible persons. Unsatisfied with these re-organizations, the Ubykhs sought for help in Turkey and England. They turned to Dixon, the English Consul in Sukhumi, asking him to inform the English government about the Russian encroachment on their independence; they complained to him that General Evdokimov has surrounded their country from all sides for the subjugation of the Circassians.
All these efforts of the Circassians could not, however, change the intended systematic plan of conquest of Russia. To begin with, Gen. Koliubkin decided to deal a moral blow from the side of Abkhazia. Having landed at Sochi, the Russian armed forces destroyed by fire the buildings of the Free Conference”. In vain, the Circassians came running from all sides and tried to save their sacred building.
The most important blow, however, was dealt on the Circassians in the Transkuban region. On July 20, on concluding the work of establishing new stanitsas, the Verkhne-Abadzekhski Detachment was gathered, which was intended for the occupation of the upper reaches of the Fars River and for the consolidation the possession of this river.
The appearance of Russian stanitsas on Fars aroused a general excitement among the Circassian tribes. Abadzekh elders came to Count Evdokimov, in Khamketski camp, and request of him not to march on their land and not to build roads or clear the forests as they had pledged allegiance to the Sovereign and wish to live in peace. Count Evdokimov, having failed to pay attention to their words, moved towards Fars and took position in the isolated Mamriuk-ogoy. Here he declared, to the Abadzekh chiefs who had come to him again, that they themselves breached first the submission by concluding union with Shapsughs and Ubykhs, by robberies, harboring the fugitives, and that if they are really willing to pledge allegiance to the Russian Czar, they must accept the administration and the leadership, which will be appointed. The Abadzekhs requested permission to send deputation from the entire union to Petersburgh, in order to make sure whether the claims are made from them by the will of the Sovereign. When they were refused in this, they requested to send the representatives to the Governor General in Tiflis for the same purpose. Count Evdokimov consented this request, bearing in mind, that this trip would postpone the hostile activities of the Abadzekhs.
Then, Prince Bariatinski was not in Tiflis anymore, and the deputies: Hassan Bedkhov from the Abadzekhs, Haji Kerenduk Berzek from the Ubykhs, and Islam Tkhaushev from the Shapsughs, who were escorted by the regiment of Prince Mamat Loov, presented themselves to Adjutant General Prince Orbeliani, the commander of the army. Orbeliani repeated to the delegates all the demands of Evdokimov and declared that the Sovereign Emperor himself would soon be coming to the Kuban region and, should he so desire, he could condescend to hear their request. At the same time, Prince Orbeliani addressed the Ubykh, Shapsugh, and Abadzekh people in writing. The Sovereign Emperor does not wish to shed your blood, does not wish to violate neither your religion, nor your rights to property. He wants peace and prosperity for all his loyal people. You are violating that peace. To every one of you, who shows submission, the Sovereign ordered to give land for settlement, to allow the practice of the Muslim faith without constraint, and to build Mosques in your villages, not to take anyone of you as soldiers or to enlist as Cossacks, to let every village and okrug (district) to elect from your own midst the judges and elders for all your trial cases. However, chiefs would be appointed to make sure that the verdicts of the judges be fulfilled and that no one of you would offend another one.
While these negotiations were going on, the Russian armed forces managed to open roads and forest clearances throughout the whole space that was inhabited by the Abadzekh tribes along the rivers of Psefir, Fars, and Gupsa, and on the right side of Shaguasha (Belaia) River.
In the autumn of 1861, Emperor Alexander II wanted to be personally convinced of the successes achieved in the Western Caucasus and visited the Kuban region.
On September 11, 1861, the Sovereign disembarked in Taman, on the border of the Caucasus ruled by the Governor General. In his retinue were: Adjutant General Prince Dolgoruki, Count Adlerberg, Count Lambert, Glazenap, and Physician in Ordinary Enokhin. Adjutant General Prince Orbeliani, the commander of the Kavkazski Army, with high persons in command, was waiting in the harbor. More than 500 peaceful and refractory Circassians had also come to Taman, to ask the Sovereign not to evict them from the Caucasus. The Emperor at once noticed the Circassian group and, having asked Prince Orbeliani who are they, quickly headed towards them. When the Monarch approached, all the Circassians, like one, took off their weapons, placed them on the ground, and reverentially bowed their heads. After that the eldest of them, having moved a little forward, articulated the following speech of welcome.
“Great Sovereign! We are fortunate that you paid on us your gracious attention; we are still more fortunate that, regardless of the recent war against your armed forces, you so magnanimously trusted us. We appreciate that very much, our Great Sovereign, and vow henceforth to be your true and loyal subjects. We know that you are the Czar of a great land, that there is no one in the world who is mightier than you; we also know that you have many, very many subjects, that we are among them only like a drop of water during a big rain. Nevertheless, we are asking you not to leave us, but to look at us like at the rest of your subjects. True, until now we were fighting against your armed forces, but we swear that in the future we will be the best and most loyal slaves of yours. Command us, Sovereign, and we are all ready to piously carry out all your commands. We will build roads, forts, barracks for your armed forces and we swear, that we shall live with them in peace and accord. Only do not evict us from those places, where our fathers and forefathers were born and lived. Henceforward, we will, on equal footing with your armed forces, defend these places from enemies to the last drop of our blood… Only do not evict us and look on us like on the rest of your loyal subjects…”
A profound silence reigned in the crowd during this speech and while it was being translated. No one even stirred. The Sovereign listened attentively to the Circassian elder and promised to do everything possible. As soon as these words were translated, joyous exclamations were heard among the Circassians, and the whole crowd moved accompanying the Czar with loud wishes of happiness and prosperity.
The impression the Circassians made on the Sovereign was most favorable, and he later repeatedly asked Prince Orbeliani about them.
The Sovereign spent the night in the newly reopened Temriuk. On September 12, he reached Ekaterinodar, where generals Melikov, Mirski, and Ivanov, welcomed him. Having listened to the public service in the old cathedral, where the first Chernomorians had transferred all the interior furniture of the main cathedral of the Zaporozhian Sech, he accepted bread and salt from the Russian armed forces. The Chernomorians did not stop saluting their important guest throughout the evening.
On September 13 and 14, the Sovereign inspected the Russian armed forces of the Shapsughski and Nizhne-Abadzekhski detachments. He then passed through the fortresses of Grigorievski, and Ust-Labinski in Maikop. On September 15, on his way back from the reconnaissance beyond the river Shaguasha (Belaia), he proceeded through the Nizhne-Farski stanitsa to the Khamketski fortress, where the camp of the Verkhne-Abadzekhski Detachment was located at that time.
A terrible thunderstorm, with a gusty wind and heavy rain broke out half way on their road. Ensued dusk. Heavy dark clouds and the tall forest, through which they had to pass, made the darkness impenetrable. Only the torches, which were given to the Cossacks of the convoy well in advance, illumined the road. Only at 8 o’clock in the evening, the silent and worried camp became instantly lively again and assumed triumphantly military appearance. The sounds of music and drums, the loud “ura” (hurrah) of the troops, and the cannonade, greeted the entrance of the Russian Czar into the camp and filled the surrounding mountains and forests.
By midnight the camp was silent. Vigilant were only the strengthened guards; vigilant was General Olshevski himself, the commander of the detachment. With the sunrise, the Sovereign emerged from his headquarters. Having admired the Caucasus range from the high bank of Fars, going round the camp from the south-western side, along the line of the Erivanski and Georgian reserves, 20 infantry battalions, the division of the Cossack artillery, and Nizhegorodski Dragoons, that escorted him the day before, the Sovereign returned to the headquarters.
At midday, at the time when the Russian armed forces were forming up in columns from the headquarters of the Czar to the Mavriuk-chay, the forested foothills of the upper reaches of Fars were being filled by hundreds of mounted Abadzekhs, Shapsughs, and Ubykhs. While the Russian armed forces were saluting the Monarch with loud “ura” and sounds of music and drums, 50 mounted Circassian deputies left their group and headed towards the cam. The Sovereign agreed to receive them.
Haji Berzek, the representative of the Ubykhs, appealed to the Emperor, in the name of all the Circassians, to accept them as his subjects. The Sovereign said he would be pleased to accept them as his subjects under the following conditions: First of all, they must stop their raids, obey and fulfill all the demands of the Russian authorities and, in order to prove their readiness for it, they must now surrender the prisoners and fugitives. Silence was the answer of the Circassian deputies. It became obvious that the Circassian elders and delegates, who came to the camp, were not the representatives of the whole people, but only of a part of it, who really wanted the cessation of the war.
When the Sovereign asked, why they are silent, Haji Berzek added that they brought with them a written appeal also. The Sovereign ordered to accept the appeal and then declared that he places in the hands of the Russian authorities in the Caucasus the consideration of the appeal of the Circassians and the arrangement of their way of life in general.
The Circassian deputies requested in their appeal the inviolability of their rights to their lands, the cessation of building in it Russian fortresses, stanitsas, and roads. Undoubtedly, such a conditional submission would extend the process of the pacification of the region for many years. Therefore, the Sovereign said, “I give you one month. The Abadzekhs must decide, whether they are willing to settle in the Kuban, where they would receive land for ownership in perpetuity and preserve their national arrangement and court, or move to Turkey.”
This blunt statement of the Russian Emperor must have shocked the Circassian delegates. It was clear that he had given his generals the right to treat the Circassians as they please. The disappointed Circassian delegation returned to their people, and the Emperor toured the camp, the Genaderski Rifle Battalion and the seven Rifle Companies of the Line Battalion that guarded the transport.
On Sptember 19, the Sovereign left the camp, passed Mavriuk-chay, stanitsas Gubski and Perepravni and, having spent the night in stanitsa Temirgoevski, the headquarters of the Terski Dragoon Regiment, and in Ekaterinodar, forded the Kuban at Psebedakha, traveled through the land of the Natkhuagias, and arrived in the fortress of Konstantinovski on the Black Sea coast. Frequently, the Shapsughs and other mountaineers appeared her in large masses as, for example, during the attack on the Georgievski post and on the stanitsa of Novo-Bazhanski. Governor General Koliubkin and Aid de Camp Orbeliani, the leader of the nobility of the Tiflis province, welcomed the Sovereign in the Konstantinovski fortress.
On September 21, the Emperor’s yacht headed for Sukhumi, where Prince Shervashidze, the sovereign of Abkhazia, welcomed him. From there the Sovereign continued his voyage to Poti and, from the latter, he proceeded to Mingrelia over the Rion River, where the breakfast served to him consisted of a whole baked ox on a spit. Four adult Mingrelians had brought it in. They cut the baked ox and took from it a calf, from the calf a sheep, from it a turkey, and from the turkey c chick – all of which was cooked artfully.
Seeing that the Russians will transfer their military operations to the mountains, the Abadzekhs became quite concerned. Considerable parties of Ubykhs and Akhchepsukhs, who came from the coast, zealously supported the bellicose mood of the Abadzekhs. The Russians had to expect that the Abadzekhs would not confine themselves in defending their ravines, but would be attacking the new Russian settlements in their land.
To take action against the Abadzekhs, Russians formed, in February 1862, one Pshekhski Detachment from two Abadzekhski detachments. It had to begin the work in clearing the forest from the stanitsa Khanski. It would be the beginning of the invasion in the mountain region.
On March 2, the Rifle Battalion of the Apsheronski Regiment and one Kuban Cossack squadron, under the command of Major Schemanski, were sent from Maikop to the newly built post at the estuary of Fiuntfa, to deliver the ration supplies to the garrison. Having handed over the products, the column started heading back. While ascending the so-called the Semikolenni Mountain, Major Schemanski noticed that the surrounding gullies and heights were occupied by thick masses of Circassians, and that they had built blockages on the road. At the same time, other Circassian parties appeared in the rear of the column.
Major Schemanski knew that the only choice he had was to cut his way through with bayonets. In order to deceive the Circassians, he sent one company of the Apsheronians and one half squadron of Cossacks to the Shaguasha River as though to search for a fording. The ruse worked. Most of the Circassians rushed there. Taking advantage of the moment, Schemanski, with three companies and the rest of the Cossacks, headed to the heights. The battle commenced. According to Esa-dze, the Circassians lost two hundred in this battle. The Russians lost Captain Yakovlev and 21 other ranks killed; wounded were 7 officers and 89 other ranks.
This event revealed that in it participated also the Circassians who already had pledged allegiance. Therefore, from all the natives, who lived between the headwaters of the Laba and Shaguasha (Belaia) Rivers, was demanded to clear immediately the places occupied by them and to settle in the Kuban. Otherwise, they were told that they would be moved by force. However, neither the upper Abadzekhs, nor the Makhoshs, nor the Egerukhays, or Barakeys, heeded to the threat. Therefore an expedition was sent to destroy their dwellings, harvest, and supplies. By March 27, the Russian armed forces pushed out the Circassians from their lands and compelled them to move beyond the Shaguasha River, and began building Russian posts and settlements in their lands.
In April 1862, the Verkhne-Abadzekhski Detachment occupied the valley of the Dakha River. It began its operations here and received the name, “Dakhovski Detachment”. Having penetrated to the Shaguasha River, it began establishing the Dakhovski stanitsa and building the road. At times, Circassian parties attacked them. One of such events is particularly memorable in the warlike life of the Kabardinian Regiment.
On June 6, one battalion of the Sevastopolski Regiment was detailed to escort the transport to the Tsarski stanitsa. One battalion of the Kabardinski Regiment, with its hunting command of 70 men, under the command of Captain Schelkhachev, remained behind for the protection of the camp. The transport had moved as planned. Somewhat later, a salvo of fire was heard from that direction and then a whoop of about one hundred voices.
Sergeant Major Bazheniuk hurried to Captain Schelkhachev and reported that the hunters, with two companies of the Combined-Rifle Line No 3 Battalion, are ordered to go to help, under the command of Major Kliuki-fon-Klugenau. The detachment moved at the double towards the shots and went round the Circassians, who were heavily firing at the transport. Schelkhachev, having occupied the north part of the aoul, placed a line ahead. As soon as it took its position, Cossacks appeared suddenly. To find out who sent this unexpected assistance, Captain Schelkhachev sent to them the Non-Commissioned Officer Zaitsev, who reported back that the Cossacks are two hundred, but that they had no commanding officer with them.
At this time, about 1700 Circassians appeared from the Shaguasha River, hurrying to join the first party in the forested gully. The Cossacks as well as the Kabardinian Hunter Command found themselves in an extremely perilous situation. Although by this time, 90 men from the Kabardinski Regiment, under the command of Lieutenant Nicho, had joined the hunters, the reinforcement was still weak. Schelkhachev ordered Lieutenant Nicho to follow to assist the Cossacks with the Kabardinians he brought and to wait for the hunters to join, in order to defend themselves from the enemy with combined forces or, in the last resort, to retreat together. The Kabardinians had ran only a few dozen steps as in that gully, where the Cossacks stood, broke out a heavy skirmish. Schelkhachev hurried to the gully with the hunters. The Circassians had already surrounded the Cossacks from all sides, but the hunters attacked with swords and gave a chance to the Cossacks to retreat in order. Schelkhachev began also to retreat with his command, leading the file from house to house and other covers. Taking this retreat for a loss of courage, about five hundred Circassians charged with a whoop, swords in hand. To the luck of the Kabardinians, they were at that time in one of the yards enclosed with a fence, and this obstacle somewhat held back the Circassians and weakened the blow. Taking advantage of it, the Kabardinians, firing back and defending themselves, fought their way through the aoul in extended order.
The ranks of the hunters were being reduced with every minute. To them Schelkhachev was the example of selflessness as usual. His hunters defended themselves with the same courage from the Circassians that pursued them relentlessly. Thanks only to the fact that these Circassians had gone to capture the transport, Schelkkhachev managed to lead his command to Major Klugenau’s column.
If in this famous encounter of the Kabardinian hunters the men were less courageous and experienced in action no one of them would have left alive from the massacre.
In the end of 1862, Caucasus received a new Commander and Governor General, the Great Prince Michael Nikolaevich. He had to consolidate the newly won conquests and complete the submission of the Western part of the Caucasus, more precisely of Circassia. His Highness came to the Caucasus in the beginning of 1863, and on February 14, he issued the following order to the Russian army in the Caucasus.
“Brave soldiers of the Caucasian army! (What he means is the Russian army in the Caucasus, of course). I am greeting you with the regards from the Sovereign Emperor and Czar’s thank you for your dashing and much difficult service. I am greeting you in the name of your former leader, Feldmarshal General Prince Bariatinski, who is grieving sincerely that severe illness compelled him to part with you and thanks you through me, his comrades in arms, for the exemplary service to the Czar and Fatherland. I consider myself fortunate, that I am placed at the head of the Caucasian army, and am proud of the position, which was glorified by my famous predecessors.
“I am calling on God for help. May He bless our arms and crown with a quick success our efforts in establishing peace and accord in the remaining unconquered part of the Caucasus.”
The Great Prince took a trip from Stavropol over the Kuban region and visited the troops on the battle line. On February 28, 1863, he moved from the Usenubat River to the Psekups River, with the detachment. The 1st and 2nd squadrons of the Severski Dragoon Regiment marched at the head of the detachment. Halfway of the destination, they reached a deep gully, covered with an oak forest. The vanguard had crossed it unimpeded but, suddenly, a volley rang out to the right of the main force, and a party of Abadzekhs rushed on it with their swords. The line gave in, but the reserves opened fire and checked the hand-to-hand battle of the enemy. Then, the Circassians turned to the rearguard. They charged at it three times, but were repulsed again and again. The Severski Dragoons, lead by Colonel Petrov, dashed off to the rear of the enemy ambush. One squadron of the 10th Cavalry Cossack Regiment, the Training Division of Cossack Forces, the rifle companies of the Mingrelian, and the hunter commands of the Erivanski, Gruzinski (Georgian), and Krymski (Crimean) Regiments, were also sent after them.
The Severtsi heard a rifle salvo during their march. The dragoons galloped there and found a party of Circassians in a basin, a large part of who were dismounted. The Severians attacked them with swords.
The second half of the march was unimpeded, and the detachment reached Psekups River at the place where the detachment of Colonel Ofrein stood. He had come there from the direction of the Pshekh River.
On March 1, while the Great Prince was touring the region, the Circassians could be glimpsed fleetingly among the bushes, or prancing in the open plains. The chief of the Bjedugh district, Colonel Krym-Guirey Gusarov, dashed off at full gallop at the enemy with his militia. He failed to notice ahead of him the small ditch, in which several Circassians waited for the chief, who sped with eight horsemen far ahead of his command. A volley rang out and killed Krym-Guirey Gusarov, Lieutenant Kimchereev, and three militiamen.
Two squadrons of the Kubanski Cossacks, one division of the Tvertsi, with two guns of Horse-Cossack No 13 Battery and three rocket mounters, and the Kabardinian militia, rushed to the rescue, but the Circassians had already disappeared into the forest. The Tvertsians and Cossacks continued the attack. When they reached a vast glade, a party of Circassian cavalry encountered them suddenly. The rockets and horse guns opened fire at them. Three companies of the 19th Rifle Battalion (the 2nd Kavkazski Rifle Regiment) and the Shirvanski Rifle Battalion joined the action.
The skirmish between the Circassians and the 19th Riffle Battalion took place on the following day. The platoon of the Kubanski Cossack No 13 Battery opened a case-shot fire on the Circassians, but it did not disturbed them. The Grenaderski and Samurski Rifle Battalions arrived, and the latter seized part of the forest. Colonel Ekelon, with the 19th Rifle Battalion, arrived to assist.
In April 1863, the troops of the Pshekhski Detachment had built the stanitsas: Pshekhski, Kubanski, Bjedukhovski, Babukaevski, and Apsheronski, cleared this entire extensive place from the Circassian population, and surrounded it with Russian posts.
In mid April Count Evdokimov gave orders to the Pshekhski Detachment to begin building roads up along Pshekh to the aoul Aminovski, and to open communication with the Dakhovski Detachment, which was stationed near the Samurski stanitsa.
Pshekhski Detachment, consisting of the Kavkazski Grenadrski No 14th and Shervanski Rifle Battalions, the 3rd and 4th Battalions of the Kubanski Regiment, the artillery platoons of Cavalry-Cossacks No 13, the mountain and light no 4 batteries, marched out from the stanitsa of Apsheronski on April 27, 1863, at six o’clock in the morning. During the march, the Tvertsians, Kubanski Cossacks, Shirvanians, and the Riflers of the 19th Battalion were sent to plunder the Circassian aouls that were seen in the forest. This outrage of the Russian armed forces compelled the embittered Circassians to gather in large numbers. When the Russian detachment reached the mountainous coast of Dyn-Shekadz, at a distance of a rifle shot, the Circassians began firing at them from behind the barrows. Colonel Ekeli shouted “ura” and his 19th Rifle Battalion, which constituted the vanguard with the Shirvanians, ran up the steep slope and began clambering up the height. The Shirvanians, who were on the right of the chain, hit the Circassian flank, which was busy fighting against the riflers. The Circassians drew back and began firing at the rearguard and transport. The platoon of the 4th Battery rushed into action, but neither their grenades nor their case shots seemed to discourage the Cicassians. Finally, however, the two companies closed ranks and began hitting the Circassians from the mounds.
The Grenaderski Rifle Battalion, which was moving forward, noticed that a party of Circassians attacked the 3rd Company of the Kubanski Regiment. The Kubanski Cossacks were courageously defending themselves from the Circassians, who were flinging themselves at them. The soldiers of the Grenaderski Battalion, commanded by Lieutenant Count Mengden, hastened to the rescue of the Kubanski Cossacks. The Count was killed by a rifle shot. By that time, the Kubanski Cossacks had forced the Circassians to retreat. Besides the Count, 29 soldiers of the Kubanski Company were killed, in the detachment of the 6th Brigade of the Kubanski Cossack Forces Esaul Lagoda and Kubanski Lieutenant Korobka was wounded, and in the entire detachment 86 other ranks.
After the reconnaissance, on April 28, to Samurski stanitsa, the Pshekhski Detachment resumed building stanitsas as before.
The Adagumski Detachment, under the command of General Babych, having detailed from itself the Jubgha Detachment, continued her undertakings on the southern slopes in consolidating a solid Russian occupation and establishment on Pshad.
By the end of 1863, the entire Kuban region was submitted to the Russian dominion and the time had dawned when the Russian authorities could transfer the Russiam military operations to the southern slopes of the Main Range of the Coucasus.
On December 2, 1863, the Great Prince wrote to Count Evdokimov, “Your reports about the submission of the Abadzekhs, about the occupation of Pshad and Jubgha, about the defeat of the Ubykhs crowds in the upper reaches of Tuapse, have profoundly pleased me. All of them are the fruits of your ideas, work, and firmness, the fruits of tireless, I may say, of unmatched efforts of courageous forces, operating under your leadership.
They occupied the Northern slope of the Caucasus. The time is near, when the southwestern slope would be cleansed from the wild, hostile people towards us, and, up to now, the inaccessible eastern coast of the Black Sea, having accepted Russian population, shall indeed become the Russian coast. I hope, that the minute will soon come, and we shall lay under the feet of the Sovereign Emperor the entire Western Caucasus, tranquil and submissive.”
The Russians could take out a part of their armed forces from the Kuban region in the beginning of 1864. By the orders of the Great Prince, the Combined-Rifle Battalions of the Erivanski, Gruzinski, and Mingrelski Grenaderski Regiments had to return to their headquarters in the Transcaucasus region.
On February 15, 1864, the hunters of No 26 Cavalry Regiment of the Kubanski Cossack Forces, consisting of 92 infantry and 30 mounted Cossacks, under the command of Lieutenant Dugin, set out from the Samurski stanitsa. Cornet Sadlutski was in command of the mounted Cossacks. Dugin was ordered to inspect the locality at the summits of Kurgips and the right tributaries of Pshekh and to locate the roads leading to the Tubinski community on the Shakha and to the Hakuchinians. The hunters, having crossed the over the peak the next day, reached the Tubinski community. The rocky terrain, inaccessible for cavalry operation, compelled Dugin to send the mounted Cossaks back to stanitsa Samurski. With the remaining Cossack infantry he reached the banks of Pshekh and took a position for the night in one of the aouls plundered by the Dakhovski Detachment.
On February 17, Dugin divided his Cossacks into three groups, ordered them to descend into valley in different directions, to seize and destroy everything they find, and then to retreat to the fixed assembly point. The Circassians all over the Tubinski community sounded the alarm and the Cossacks, being compelled to cancel their intentions, began to pull back to the assembly point. The retreat was extremely difficult.
In the first encounter, the Tubinski Circassians killed both Lieutenant Dugin and Cornet Sadlutski, and the separated Cossack parties could not unite during the day, due to the broken terrain, but they did by the evening. They elected Cossack Evtushenko for their leader and decided to defend themselves to the last. They took a strong position and held on it all night and the following day, surrounded from all sides by the Tubins, who kept attacking them. The situation of the Cossacks, however, was worsening constantly and the number of their wounded was increasing.
By the evening of the next day, the Cossacks noticed a cave in a nearby cliff, and they hastened to take advantage of this fortunate discovery. Using the darkness of the night, they took their wounded to the cave and, having blocked the entrance with stones, held in this shelter for four days without food or drink, constantly repulsing the attacks of the Circassians and refusing their requests to surrender.
In the mean time, Evtushenko kept sending Cossacks to the line, one after the other, to inform them about their hopeless situation. Several of them died in the attempt, but finally Cossack Chesnokov succeeded in reaching stanitsa Samurski and informing Major Pistelkors, the commander of the No 26th Regiment. Two companies of the Elisavetpolski Regiment, the 2nd squadron of the Nizhegorodians of Major Umarov, and one squadron of Cossacks, set out to the rescue. They were all under the general command of Major Pistelkors. Nevertheless, they had to come to a halt, when they reached the narrow entrance into the ravine, which was occupied by the Circassians and which could not be broken through without huge losses.
Lieutenant Colonel Prince Amilakhvari, the commander of the Verkhne-Pshekhski Line, had returned on the same day from Maikop and, having heard about the alarm, at once sent the 1st squadron of Nizhegorodians to Pistelkors and then set out himself from the stanitsa Samurski with the 2nd division of the Nizhegorodians, with the company of the Elisabetpolski Regiment, and two Cossack squadrons. He marched without stops and joined with Pistelkors.
Having left the infantry on the broken terrain, Amilakhvari entered the Tubinski community with the dragoons and Cossacks. He gathered the pipers and ordered them to play “assembly” and fired a volley. A few minutes later, three response shots rang out. The Prince sent there 200 infantry dragoons and Cossacks under the command of Major Umarov. The Circassians prepared themselves to resist. The hunters of the Nizhegorodski Regiment, under the command of Staff Captain Prince Chavchavadze, attacked first, pushed the Circassians from the mountains, and approached the cave.
Out of the 92 hunters, who were under the command of Dugin, besides the officers, 23 Cossacks were killed and 16 wounded.
In April, General Grabe received orders to seize the Tubinski Community with the Pshekhski Detachment and to force out from there and destroy all its population.
In January 1864, Evdokimov presented the plan of the final military operations he had prepared, with the proposition to undertake a campaign on the southern slope of the Caucasus as early as possible. The Great Prince completely approved this plan, and the Dakhovski Detachment of General Geiman set out, on February 8, from the stanitsa Shirvanski and headed to the Pshekhski Pass. On February 19, Count Evdokimov arrived to the fortress of Gaitkh, where at that time had halted the Dakhovski Detachment. Count Evdokimov had with him the Kabardinski Rifle Battalion, the 1st division of the Tverski Dragoonski Regiment, three squadrons of the 6th brigade of the Kubanski Cossack Forces, and two squadrons of the Kabardinski Militia. Together with the 5th battalion of the Kubanski Regiment, the Dakhovski Detachment increased to 13 and half battalions, six guns, two squadron and 5 companies.
On February 20, the Dakhovski Detachment moved to the pass. The higher they climbed, the more obstacles they encountered. A heavy, wet snow fell, which stuck up the eyes. In some places, the gully was so steep that steps had to be cut in the snow on the paths, but some soldiers preferred to sit on the snow and to simply slide down. After the unbelievably difficult crossing over the Gaitkh, the detachment descended into the valley of Tuapse in the evening. The elders of the surrounding Shapsughs came to the camp, expressing complete submission. They requested permission to move unimpeded to the shore and to move to Turkey. On February 21, some Russian columns were sent out for foraging and burning aouls. Two days later the detachment descended the gully, reached the sea, and occupied the former fort Veliaminov.
The Dakhovski Detachment remained in this place until March 2. The deadline given to the Shapsughs for immigration was expiring. They were moving to the shore, and from the northern side of the mountains came a whole throng of Abadzekhs.
On March 4, Count Evdokimov, having given the necessary instructions, left by ship to Novorossiisk, and the to Stavropol. With the departure of the Count, all the Cossacks, militia, and one squadron of the Tverski Dragoons were sent back to the headquarters. On the same day, the Dakhovski Detachment moved in three columns along coastal strip and occupied the former fort Lazarev on March 5. From here lay ahead the Russian military operations against the strong Ubykh tribe.
The most influential Ubykhs were at that time the three representatives of the family of Berzeks: Haji Kerenduk Dogumuko, Haji Alim-Guirey Babuk, Elbuz-bek Hapakkh, and the representative of the family of Zefsh, Ismail Barakay. All of them were wealthy men. Barakay, who had many relatives in Turkey, energetically preached about the assistance of European powers. He was the person who brought European adventurers to the land of the Ubykhs. Dogumuko was at the head of the militant party, and frequently headed the united assemblages of the Abadzekhs, Ubykhs, and Shapsughs.
On March 5, when the detachment came from Psezuapse, General Geiman sent a letter to the Ubykhs saying, “You know very well that the Abadzekhski and Shapsughski people have unconditionally submitted to our arms and are freely moving to Turkey: those who so desire came to us and are receiving land on Laba and Kuban. Now, the Ubykhs, you are left the last. If you wish to know our demands from you, here they are: to surrender the Russian prisoners immediately; at once, without a deadline, those who wish to move to Turkey, must gather in camp on the shore at the estuaries of Shakha, Vardane, and Sochi: Turkish ships and Kochermas, on which you can go to Turkey can stop at these points. To sell the unnecessary things to soldiers, this would be allowed. And those who wish to come to us must at once move to the Kuban, where land would be assigned to them. I know that you have wise men among you, and you would not wish to resist until plundered, because through the force of arms I will free your serfs, close the way to Turkey, and you would be settled on the Azov Sea coast. Remember, that you incited the Abadzekhs against us and compelled the unfortunate to come to destitution.”
This appeal achieved its aim. On the following day 15 Ubykh elders came to the camp, headed by Elbuz Hapak Berzek. Haji Babuk was also with them. They requested of Gen. Geiman more time to move to Turkey, but he flatly refused them to do the favor.
The camp of the Russian detachment at the former for Lazarevski had spread wide in the glade. The men rested in the spacious plain. In the evening of March 6, the deadline given to the Shapsughs was expiring. The entire expanse between the rivers of Tuapse and Psezuapse was in prospect of being “cleared”. Having left 3 battalions in the garrison of the Lazarevski post, Gen. Geiman moved, on March 7, to the interior of the country with the remaining 5 battalions, 4 mountain guns, and the squadron of the Tverski Dragoon Regiment. These Russian armed forces, divided into three columns, within three days, burned all the villages of the region and pushed out all the population to the Black Sea shore. By the evening on March 9, the detachment gathered at the Veliaminovski post, where the assemblage of the mountaineers, who were moving to Turkey, was large. Here joined also the armed forces of the dismissed Jubghski Detachment.
On March 10, the Russian detachment stretched up along the river of Tuapse. The military campaign on the mountain strip had begun. For six days, the Russian soldiers were now climbing up the steep slopes and then descending them. During these long movements of the columns, the skirmishes that took place were very insignificant. The inhabitants were moving towards the sea. On March 18, in the chestnut grove near the old Christian monastery, five versts from Psezuapse, large parties of Ubykhs and Akhchepskhus opened fire. Gen. Geiman ordered to attack the aoul, which was situated in the gully. The Sevastopolski and Bakinski Infantries, under the command of Captain Kozelkov, darted down with “ura”. Major Shelkhachev with the Kabardinians simultaneously attacked the mountaineers from the right. The aoul was taken. The Circassians gathered up behind the blockages and opened fire. The Sevastopolski Riflemen climbed up to the blockages. The Circassians shouted, fired volley after volley, and charged with swords, but they finally gave in to the pressure of the Sevastopolians and Kabardinians. The majority of the Circassians headed towards the sea, but the rest towards the mountains. The Sevastopolians and Kabardinians pursued them relentlessly.
Thus, the first attempt of the Ubykhs to check the offensive of the Dakhovski Detachment ended quite inauspiciously for them. The detachment moved farther and gathered at the estuary of the coastal rivulet Chukhakkh.
On March 19, the detachment occupied fort Golovinski, built a bridge on Shakha, moved father, and burned all the villages of the Vardane society, including the aoul Barakay.
On March 25, the former fort Navaginski (Sochi) was captured without a shot. Thus, the seizure of Dakho had laid the beginning of the conquest of the most difficult part of the Western Caucasus, but the occupation of Sochi concluded the establishment of the Russian dominion over the entire mountain strip.
On March 30, Count Evdokimov arrived by ship. For this occasion all the chiefs of the tribes were summoned that had expressed submission to the Russian Emperor. Shapsughs, Goys, Ubykhs, Jigets, and several elders of the Akhchepskhus also came. Here were Zaurbek, Dogumuko, Babuk, Elbuz, Gech-Rashid, and with them crowds of horsemen. On March 31, arrived the head of the Natkhuagia region and of the dismissed Adagumski Detachment, Gen. Babych, and the Ataman of the Kubanski Cossack Forces of the escort of His Highness, Major General Semarokov Elston.
On April 2, the Great Prince, having inspected the Russian armed forces, walked to the Circassian elders, who had gathered. They told him, in essence, that they prefer to move to Turkey rather than to the lands assigned to them in the Kuban and requested of him to give them time. The Great Prince replied, that their lands are assigned for Russian settlements, that he gives them the period of one month to prepare themselves to leave for Turkey with the families, and that if, by the end of this time, some people should fail to meet these demands, they would be treated as the prisoner of war, for the purpose of which would still be sent new Russian armed forces.
Practically, this could have been considered the end of the Russo-Circassian War. Only the inhabitants of Akhchepskhu and Pskhu, who lived in the inaccessible ravines of the upper reaches of the Mzimta and Bziba Rivers, remained reluctant to part with their freedom and could offer resistance. In order to clean this region completely and to destroy these weak remnants of the hostile mountaineers, the Great Prince ordered the Russian armed forces to march on them from two directions: from the Kuban region, across the Main Range, to the upper reaches of Mzimta and Bziba and, to meet with them here, from the Kutaisski Governorship from the estuaries of these rivers.
On April 14, Gen. Geiman prepared the Dakhovski Detachment for the march to the Sochi basin. The detachment moved devastating all the aouls on its way.
Generally, it was deemed opportune to apply all efforts in ending the war. Therefore, to execute the final plan of the conquest of the country, Russian armed forces in Caucasus were divided into four columns.
The first column (The Kavkazski Line Battalions No No 32, 33, and 35, and the Combined Infantry Battalions No No 5, 6, 7, and 8; the Platoon of the 1st Kavkazski Engineering Battalion; the Mountain Division of the Sukhumski Fortress Artillery; the Combined Squadron of the Kutaisski Mounted-Irregular Regiment; the Squadron of the Tsebeldinski Mounted Militia; ¼ Squadron of the Sukhumski Permanent Militia.), under the command of Major General Shatilov, proceeded from Gagr to the valley of the Pskhu River; the second column (The 1st and 2nd Battalions of the 13th Grenaderski Erivanski; the 1st and 2nd battalions of the 14th Grenaderski Gruzinski; the 1st Battalion of the 15th Grenaderski Tiflisski; the 2nd and 3rd Battalions of the 16th Grenaderski Mingrelski; the Kavkazski Grenaderski Infantry Battalion; the Platoon of the 1st Kavkazski Engineering Battalion; the Mountain Platoons NoNo 1 and 2 Batteries of the Kavkazski Grenaderski Brigade: half a squadron of the Donski, No 2 of the Cossack Regiment; half a squadron of the Convoy of the commander in Chief of the Army; the Convoy of the Commander of the Detachment and four squadrons of Foot Militia: the Emiretski, Mingrelski, and two Guriiski.), under the command of Lieutenant General Prince Sviatopolk-Mirski, moved from the former fortress of Sv. Dukh up the river of Mzimta; the third column (The 2nd Battalion of the Krimski Regiment; the 5th Battalion and the Hunting Command of the Sevastopolski Regiment; the 3rd Battalion of the Kubanski Regiment; the Samurski Infantry Battalion; the Platoon of the Mountain Battery of the 19th Artilleriiski Brigade; two squadrons of Cossacks, the Command of Engineers, and Militia.), of Major General Geiman, marched from the upper reaches of the Shakha River in parallel of the Main Range through the land of the mountain Ubykhs, and the fourth column (The infantry Battalion of the Apsheronski and Shirvanski Regiments; the Combined Infantry Battalion; a squadron of militia of the Verkhne-Kubanski Pristavstva (District); two Combined Squadrons of Cossacks of the 7th Brigade and the Platoon of Mountain Guns of the No 4 Battery.), under Major General Grabe, marched from the headwaters of the Little Laba across the Main Range of the Caucasus Mountain.
Relying on the inaccessibility of the locality and on the help of the neighboring tribes, this society faced the Russian armed forces, which marched on them over the single existing path they had blocked with blockages. On May 10, the Great Prince sent there, from the second column, a detachment consisting of 1 battalion of the Erivanski, and 2 battalions of the Gruzinski Grenaderski Regiments and two squadrons of militia, under the command of Major General Batezatul. The detachment began climbing up the Dzikhru Mountain. Although it was only three versts away, they had to clamber on it for four hours due to the fog and great steepness, on which winded the single path. The descent from the peak of Dzikhru to the gully of the Pskhu River was as difficult. The scouts informed the commander of the detachment that large number of Aibughians, Akhchepskhus, and Abreks from other tribes had decided to defend themselves. On May 11, General Batezatul, entered the land of the Aibughians with the Gruzinski battalions and militia. The path, on which these Russian troops moved, went through very steep and precipitous slopes. The protruding stones and tree roots made extremely difficult to move on the path. Here, each awkward step could entail a fall into the abyss, the end of which was invisible at the bottom. Only the noise could be heard of the river Pskhu, which ran in a solid waterfall. The chains of the Russian vanguard were encountered by single shots, which quickened with the advance of the whole detachment. Huge stones began to fall down from the cliffs. The militia under the Staff Captain Prince Nakashidze darted through the ravine, along which predominantly flew the stones from the cliff. The companies of the Gruzinski Regiment were sent to assist them. Afraid that the Russian troops would go around them, abandoned the cliff. The vanguard troops instantly crossed the gully and seized three blockages one after the other. The Tsebeldian militia too, which came running from the column of General Shatilov, participated during the seizure of the second blockage. They had darted forward with such animation that Prince Shakhan-Guirey Marshani was among the first killed.
Thus, the campaign of four days decided not only the fate of the Aibgians but also of their neighboring tribes. The Akhchepskhuians and Pskhuians put off all hope for resistance. And the Russian detachment returned to the camp at Akhshtyr.
All the four columns of the Russian armed forces concentrated, from different directions, in the center of the land of the Akhchepskhuians, in the terrain of Kbaada. This isolated aoul was destined to become the place of important historical event, the end of the Russo-Circassian War.
On May 21, 1864, the Russian army had a parade in Kbaada, celebrating the end of the “Caucasian War”.
On May 22, the Dakhovski Detachment moved to the river Sochi, the Akhchepskhuski Detachment, to the estuary of Mzimta River, but the Pskhuski and Malo-Labinski Detachments commenced the final eviction of the Circassians.
By mid June, 418 thousand Circassians were sent to Turkey, from 1858 to 1865.
Emperor Alexander II stated clearly the reason Russia had conquered Circassia in his letter to Count Evdokimov. “The submitted by you in 1860 and approved by Us proposal about the means of operations for the soonest completion of the war in the Western Caucasus is crowned now with splendid success, which has surpassed even Our expectations, with a quick achievement of the aim, which is proving the soundness of the measures taken according to your ideas. In three year’s time the pacified and completely cleaned from the hostile to us native population Western Caucasus is already in its predominant part occupied solidly by settled Russian dwellers, and the protracted bloody war is ended, saving the State from enormous victims, which burdened her during the one hundred fifty years, and delivering to her an extensive and rich region, which with time, undoubtedly, will reward those former sacrifices with surplus…”
Emperor Alexander II had good reason to be concerned about the enormous sacrifices Russia was making in her war against Circassia. The Russian generals originally thought to win this war overnight, which lasted for one hundred fifty years according to Emperor Alexander II. The resistance Russia met in Circassia was so strong and fierce that it made the huge military machine of Russia look awkward and impotent. The Russian monarchs could not understand why their valiant army could not break the resistance of a few Circassian tribes. They evidently were not aware that their despaired and embarrassed generals were capable of misrepresenting the real nature of the situation in their reports, often showing military failure for victory, while year after year and decade after decade the bloodshed went on between these two most unequal nations. Here are some excerpts of its description by Russian participants in it.
“Every village in this country was a Saragosso. We were taking a fortified aoul with a price of several thousand victims, in order to open behind it a whole number of similar aouls, demanding similar victims,” wrote R. Fadeev.
“Aoul Chokh, regardless of the 20 thousand corps that sieged it and the bombardment of the artillery, did not even think of surrendering. And although we rained down on it 2,200 grenades, 12 thousand shells, and about 2 million rifle shots, the Russian army had to retreat,” wrote A. Kunduk.
“The smallest step was taken with great difficulty. From behind each boulder and from behind each tree jumped the enemy. The Russians were falling where they stood. They could not return the fire of their adversaries, who appeared like lightning and instantly disappeared. Only a few forced their way back to the camp alive,” wrote L. Blanch.
In 1845, Gen. Vorontsov, the commander of the Russian army in the Caucasus, marched on Chechnia with two divisions. His 10 thousand army lost in this campaign three generals, two hundred officers, and 3,533 soldiers. After each report of such a military failure in the Caucasus, Russian Emperors kept changing their commanding generals, accusing them of being incapable of conducting effective military operations. In addition to that, Russia kept constantly increasing the size of her armed forces in this region.
For example, in 1819, a 50 thousand Russian army was stationed in North Caucasus, without counting the Cossacks. Later, during the time of Ermolov, the number of the Russian army in this region was increased to 75 thousand. Since 1831, 47 new Russian battalions were formed here; the number of battalions in regiments was increased. In 1840, another 40 thousand soldiers were added to the Russian army in this region.
Prior to the Crimean War (1853-1856), 210 thousand Russian Army and 80 thousand Cossack Cavalry were conducting military operations in Circassia. After the war this army was reinforced with 24 thousand Russian infantry corps, two dragoon regiments, artillery and other armaments. These Russian armed forces were transferred to the Caucasus for the final solution of the Circassian problem.
Here is how Lesley Blanch described one instance of increase of the Russian Army in the Caucasus in 1843. “The Army of the Caucasus was to be immediately reinforced, the General was told: twenty six battalions, four regiments of Cossacks, and forty big guns, as well as filling up the ranks already on the spot by twenty-two thousand time-expired men and freshly trained recruits. ‘As to your plan of action, the War Minister will send you full instructions,’ wrote the Tzar. ‘It will be for you to accept these views wholly, or in part, but remembering always that from such gigantic means I expect corresponding results.’ He ended by saying that in no circumstances did he, the Tzar, intend to leave the reinforcements now entrusted to Niedhardt, in the Caucasus, beyond the month of December 1844. In short, Niedhardt was to win the war within the year.”
She also wrote. “Men were cheap in Russia; reserves were endless; men were levied, and often not even listed, from … prisons and mines; the serfs …from Siberia…
“On paper the numbers were never accurately reckoned. Although half a million Russians are believed to have perished in the Caucasus campaigns of 1834-59.”
Russia suffered colossal losses in the Russo-Circassian war. The 200 thousand Russian
army lost annually about 20 thousand men in the Caucasus. Every 7 years, 120 thousand Russian soldiers died in this territory. Since the time of Catherine II to 1864, 1.5 million Russian soldiers fell in this country. Again, this figure does not reflect the Cossack losses, as they were not considered to be a part of the regular Russian army.
Regretfully the Circassians did not leave behind them a written history about this war. All the data we are presenting here has been taken from the Russian sources at one time or another, and, therefore, is based on a terribly prejudiced, distorted and one sided information. They are portraying the Russians as the civilized nation that came here to put and end to the wild, uncivilized, Circassian raids and to bring peace and order to the region of occupation. Perhaps, they thought that should justify the Russian invasion in the land of the Circassians and give her the right to slaughter them mercilessly. It seems that Russia had succeeded in convincing the civilized nations of the world that she must carry out that mission unopposed. Russian aggression, however, met a fierce resistance from the civilian population of the small Circassian nation, compelling the Czarist Empire to send against it colossal armed forces and constant military reinforcements from year to year and from decade to decade.
According to Spencer the Circassians used to say before each battle: “They have torn from us our wives and our little ones; they have burned our villages, destroyed our flocks and herds, and devastated our lands! The hour of retribution is come!” And then chant the following popular song:
Hark! Hark! The bugle’s sounding!
Away, to the hills away;
O’er peak and crag light bounding,
As deer at break of day.
We’ll forth to slay the foe:
Detested Urus, die!
Let vengeance deal the blow –
Let ball and arrow fly.
Loud booms the cannon’s crash,
The drums and trumpets sound,
Contending sabers clash,
Through rocks and hills around.
We fight for those we love,
For liberty and life;
Tkha-ah!who reigns above,
Protect us in the strife.
The setting sun shall fling
O’er the sea its gory red;
Ere its latest beam takes wing,
‘Twill shine on Urus’ dead.
Avenge, avenge our death!
Sounds from our fathers’ tomb;
Curs’d by their parting breath,
Take, Urus, take thy doom!
Shades of our sires, behold,
The vulture has its prey;
Let Heaven and earth behold –
We’ve won, we’ve won the day!
Urus: The Russians.
Tkha-ah: The Lord of Lords.
After the end of the Russo-Turkish War of 1828-1829, the Ottoman Empire relinquished North Caucasus (which it never owned) to Russia and the Russian Empire began her military operations in order to really submit her new “subjects”. In response to it the Abadzekhs, Shapsughs, Ubykhs and other Circassian tribes convened «Лэпкъ Тхьэры1о Хасэ» (National Allegiance Convention) in 1830 and united their efforts against the Russian aggression. The continuing escalation of the Russian military operations in Circassia compelled the National Allegiance Convention to send an appeal “The Declaration of Independence of Circassia” to all the friendly governments of the world.
Let me quote part of it from Spencer: “Let not,” say the Circassians, “a great nation like England, to whom our eyes are turned and our hands are raised, think of us at all, if it be to do us injustice. Let her not open her ear to the wiles of the Russian, while she closes it to the prayer of the mountaineers of Circassia. Let her judge by facts, between a people called barbarous, and their calumniator!”
Again, say they, in the bold language of men determined to live or die independent, “We are independent; we are at war; we are victors. The representative of the emperor, his generals and commanders, - of that emperor who numbers us in Europe as his vassals, who marks our country as his own on the map, - has lately opened communication with the Circassians, not to offer pardon for rebellion, but to bargain for the retreat of twenty thousand men, who are surrounded by our people, and to make arrangements for the exchange of prisoners of war.”
The Russian armed forces of Prince A. N. Bariatinski, the commander of the Kavkazski Army, crushed the resistance of the Chechens in the east of the region. Sheikh Shamyl surrendered to Feldmarshal Bariatinski on September 6, 1859. By this time, only the territory of the Abadzekhs, Hakuchs, Shapsughs, Ubykhs, and a part of Bjedughia still remained unoccupied by the Russian armed forces. Quite a large number of Circassians, whose lands were occupied by the Russians, had also moved here.
In 1859, the Russian armed forces increased their pressure. To oppose it more effectively, the Abadzekhs, Shapsughs, and Ubykhs convened a Khasa in the summer of 1861 and formed their Government, headed by a Council “The Mejlis of Free Circassia”. They immediately informed about it the Russian Government and all friendly powers. The epistle they sent to the British Consulate in Sukhumi said: “On the 17th day of the month of Zilhaj 1277 (13th of June, 1861), to restore the authority and establish independence, all the Circassians were invited to the council. They unanimously resolved to establish an extraordinary union, …formed a Mejlis of 15 ulemas and wise men, and named it “The Great Free Assembly”. The Mejlis divided the region into 12 districts, and appointed one Mufti, Kadi, and Mukhtar in each district to execute the commands of the Mejlis and act in concert with the Great Free Assembly.
The Circassians appealed England to render them help in their struggle for independence. However, the real help came, not from the European powers, but from the polish patriots. Hundreds of exiled Poles, who served in the Russian Army, went over to the Circassians.
Even the Circassian teenagers resisted the Russian aggression. The history of the world has no anologies to the courage with which the Circassians defended their freedom. Karl Marx repeatedly expressed in “New York Times” and “Herald Tribune” his admiration of the selflessness of the Circassians in their struggle for their land. The brutal methods of military operations and the evil deeds of the Russian Armies in the Caucasus made Jan Carol to declare: “The conquest of North Caucasus by Russia is one of the most tragic pages of the history about the barbarity of the world. In order to crush the resistance of mountaineers, Russia needed 60 years of military expansion and genocide…”
At the end of 1863, Russia has finally succeeded in occupying the lands of the Abadzekhs and Shapsughs. In 1864, Russia crushed the resistance of the remaining Ubykhs. All the Ubykhs, with the exception those of them who lived in other regions of North Caucasus, were forced out to the Ottoman Empire.
On May 21, 1864, Great Prince Michail, the Commander-in-Chief of the Kavkazski Army (Russian Army in the Caucasus), ascertained in the order of the day the final “conquest of the Western Caucasus and the end of the Caucasian War.”
Here is how Edmund Beales had responded in England to this tragic event: “It is indeed a sad and a solemn event, that a race of free men and warriors who had through so many centuries preserved their liberties inviolate, while dynasty after dynasty and nation after nation rose and flourished and withered away around them; whose own national existence dates from a period anterior to historical records; who were before Greece and Rome was; whose land was the home of beauty, chivalry, and romance, immortalized in the strains of the master bards of antiquity, and embalmed in imperishable legends; a race of free men and warriors whom Alexander never subdued; over whose rocky fortresses the eagles of imperial Rome never winged their flight in triumph… It is sad and shocking to think that such a race should be swept away!”
Kadir I. Natho, C.B.A. New Jersey, USA