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 page, 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.
by Kadir I. Natho
by Kadir I. Natho