Conquest and Exile, by Austin Jersild

russian - caucasus war

Austin Jersild. Orientalism and Empire: North Caucasus Mountain Peoples and the Georgian Frontier, 1845-1917. Montreal and Kingston: McGill-Queen's University Press, 2002.

Chapter 2

Conquest and Exile

In this year of 1864 a deed has been accomplished almost without precedent in history: not one of the mountaineer inhabitants remains on their former places of residence, and measures are being taken to cleanse the region in order to prepare it for the new Russian population.

Main Staff of Caucasus Army, 1864

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• In 1828 the Russian playwright Aleksandr Griboedov presented a plan to I.F. Paskevich-Erivanskii, the high commander of the Caucasus, for the creation of a Russian Transcaucasus Trading Company. The plan, composed in Tbilisi with the help of a colleague in the imperial bureaucracy, envisioned a human economy as productive and rich as the famously abundant natural resources of the region. Such growth and activity would bring honour to Russia, the authors emphasized, and were the logical next stage of development in the wake of the recent military victories. Griboedov criticized officials who thought only about military victories and the “raising of rank.”

• General Tsitsianov’s murder was another incident of considerable pedagogic significance for Russians. Pavel D. Tsitsianov (Paata Tsitsishvili), a Russian educated Georgian who was remembered during Vorontsov’s time for his fair treatment of the Georgian nobility, was murdered by the Baku khan, Hussein Kuli, in Baku in 1806. In the retelling of this story, Georgia again appeared as Russia’s ally against the Muslims.

• The Georgievsk Treaty of 1783 granted the Georgian nobility prerogatives similar to those of the Russian nobility. Early officials such as Tsitsianov and Ermolov granted a broad autonomy to Georgian nobles and Muslim (Azerbaijani) khans, and provided positions in the Russian imperial service to Georgian nobles and places in the military for their sons.

• Russia’s plan for the “Cherkes,” formulated sometime in the fall of 1860, was fairly simple. The mountaineers were to leave and might choose as a residence either Ottoman Turkey or a special region on the left side of the Kuban River. 74 The tsar himself informed an Adygei delegation of these intentions of the military during his visit to the Caucasus in 1861.

• Forced exile complemented the Muslim tradition of hijra (makhadzhirstvo), or voluntary migration in times of trouble. Muslims sometimes left by choice. After the Russian military victories in 1828– 29, some 10,000 Abkhaz had left the North Caucasus. This emigration continued in the late 1830s and early 1840s, in particular after the Russian suppression of the rebellion in Guria in 1841 resulted in increased pressure upon Abkhazia as well. The 1850s witnessed further Abkhaz emigration, with the population in decline from 98,000 in 1852 to 89,866 in 1858. After the Crimean War the Turkish government offered Caucasus emigrants freedom from military service and the taxfree use of land for up to six years, or twelve years in Anatolia.

• The most tragic phase of the mountaineer exile took place between 1858 and 1864. Over 30,000 Nogais were expelled from 1858 to 1860, and 10,000 Kabards from 1860 to 1861. Adygei exile included 4,300 Abaza families in 1861–63 (from the Kyzylbekov, Tamov, Bagov, Bashilbai, and Shakhgirei tribes), 4,000 Natukhais, 2,000 Temirgoi families, 600 Beslenei families, and 300 Bzhedugs. In the winter of 1864 there was extensive Ubykh and Abadzeg emigration, and by this time the Natukhais and the Shapsugs had virtually disappeared. In 1865 some 5,000 Chechen families from the northeast Caucasus were sent to Turkey. They became subject to conflict between Russian and Turkish officials, who argued about their eventual destination.

• Military officials were proud of their concern for the mountaineers in the process of exile. The regime formed a special commission to oversee the process, tried to aid the mountaineers in their sale of belongings, and helped the most impoverished mountaineers to pay for the price of the journey. Other witnesses, however, emphasized, a different story. “A striking spectacle greeted our eyes on our route back,” wrote N. Drozdov of a village thirty versts from the Black Sea: “the scattered corpses of children, women, and old people, half torn apart by dogs, emigrants emaciated from hunger, barely supported by their weak legs, falling from exhaustion, but still alive and representing booty for the starving dogs.

• This work amounted to the expulsion of roughly 450,000 west Caucasus mountaineers in the course of just several years. G.A. Dzidzariia, who has devoted an entire book to the problem of emigration from Abkhazia in the nineteenth century, concludes that 470,703 people left the west Caucasus in 1863–64. 96 N.G. Volkova provides figures of 312,000 west Caucasus mountaineers in 1863–64 and 398,000 from Kuban oblast from 1858 to 1864. 97 Nineteenth-century scholars offer comparable numbers. Adol’f Berzhe, chargé d’affaires of the Caucasus Department of the Imperial Russian Geographic Society and editor of numerous volumes dedicated to the history of the region, estimated the emigration at 493,194 from 1858 to 1864, or one-eleventh of the total Russian and non-Russian population of the Caucasus, and Vs. Miller, an ethnographer of the later nineteenth century, put the figure at 470,453. Early-twentieth-century students offered similar figures. In a Caucasus Department publication of 1866, N.I. Voronov put the number at 318,068 for the winter and spring of 1863–64 and at 400,000 in all.

• Central Dagestan witnessed a revolt in 1871 which resulted in the exile of 1,500 people. Eighteen revolts in all took place in Dagestan alone between 1859 and 1877. Kabard witnessed a rebellion in 1867. Neither was the northwestern Caucasus free from rebellion. There were significant disturbances in Zakatal’skii okrug (district) in 1863 and in Abkhazia in July 1866. The commander of Sukhumi otdel (section), Colonel Kon’iar, was killed, along with four officers and several Cossacks. The rebels destroyed the customs station in Lykhny and engaged the Russian garrison in Sukhumi. 117 Over 6,000 firearms were confiscated from the Abkhaz in the suppression of their revolt. Faced with such threats, many Russian officials continued to think of the tradition of exile. Viceroy Grand Duke Mikhail noted in 1870 that the vast exile from Abkhazia made government objectives there easier to accomplish, and he advocated the expulsion of the “most troublesome portion of the Chechen population” as a regular means of dealing with the persisting difficulties in Chechnia. 

• Mountaineers were not in imperial schools. Drawing upon the heritage of the eighteenth-century state, where education, claimed Catherine’s adviser Betskoi, would create a “new type of people” and provide “for the sovereign, zealous and faithful servants; for the empire, useful citizens,” early educational decrees were directed at the nobility in the Caucasus and emphasized the needs of the state. The state granted various “Caucasus stipends” to Georgians in particular throughout the early nineteenth century, “directed toward the creation of a native administrative intelligentsia,” as one historian put it. An 1849 statute on education in the Caucasus emphasized that the purpose of schooling was to “prepare the sons of the Caucasus and Transcaucasus privileged estates to occupy different levels, even the highest levels, of state service in the Caucasus and the Transcaucasus.”

The full chapter in PDF can be downloaded by clicking here (1 MB)




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