Lykhny Uprising, or translation-difficulties: what happened in 1866

Abkhazians who took part in the 1866 Lykhny rebellion. Photo by Dmitri Yermakov (1846-1916).

Badrak Avidzba (Sputnik) -- On 26 July 1866, a popular gathering in the village of Lykhny grew into an uprising known as the Lykhny Uprising.

On the eve of the 155th anniversary of the beginning of the Lykhny Uprising of 1866, the Abkhazian historian Soslan Salakaya told Sputnik about the preconditions of the popular uprising and its consequences.

The people's gathering, which began on 26 July 1866, at the historical site 'Lykhnashta', where the Abkhazians from ancient times used to discuss the most pressing issues, grew into an uprising, which has been called the Lykhny Uprising in historical scholarship.

"This event was multifaceted, one of the largest uprisings of the second half of the 19th century in the Russian Empire and one of the largest in the history of Abkhazia," said Soslan Salakaya, Candidate of Historical Sciences, Deputy-director of the Abkhazian Institute of Research in the Humanities.

According to the scholar, several factors were the cause of the uprising.

"Several factors that contributed to the uprising were intertwined. In 1864 the Abkhazian principality was abolished; moreover, at that time the Caucasian war had ended, and a significant part of the highlanders of the western Caucasus were forced to leave their homeland. All this could not but leave its stamp on the events of 1866," he noted.

Another factor that contributed to the popular unrest was the attempt to carry out peasant-reform by the tsarist authorities, Salakaya explained.

"When Abkhazia became part of the Russian Empire, the Russian Empire decided to carry out a peasant-reform here, but the members of the reform-commission did not find support either among the peasants or the nobility. The main provisions of the reform were to liberate them from serfdom, but in Abkhazia this was met with misunderstanding in the first instance among the Abkhazian peasantry. As you know, most of the Abkhazian peasants were free peasants who did not understand why they should pay any ransom for freedom,” says the historian.

Even the dependent categories of peasants were not serfs in the classical sense of the word, because a serf-peasant is one who does not have his own land, and therefore he must work for the landlord. In Abkhazia, any peasant, even the lowest category, was the owner of the land, and therefore, unlike a serf in Russia or Georgia, he could not be sold, given away, have his land taken away, and so on, Salakaya noted.

+ Thirty years of "guilt" (1877-1907), by Stanislav Lakoba
+ 1867 and all that: Abkhaz, Circassians and Georgians and Historical Justice, by Thomas de Waal
+ Mr Palgrave in the Dismal Swamp | The Pall Mall Gazette, 1867
+ Essays on eastern questions: The Abkhasian insurrection, by William G. Palgrave

“Colonel Konyar, the head of the Sukhum Military District, learned about the discontent of the peasants. He decided to bring together a popular gathering in the village of Lykhny in order to explain all the advantages of the reform. He made a speech where he tried to explain the reason for the reform, but the well-known orator Osman Shamba made a response in a speech lasting up to six hours, as one of the participants of the gathering wrote — two translators lost their voice and one went hoarse. Osman Shamba expressed the demands of the Abkhazian peasantry. After that Kon’jar spoke again. Then there was a misunderstanding — sometimes a direct translation leads to sad consequences. In his speech, trying to explain what a happy life would come for the Abkhazians after the reform of the peasantry was carried out, Konyar also uttered the following sentence: ‘Your women will take off their trousers and walk in dresses as in the world over.’ The inaccuracy of the translation was taken as an insult. Someone could not bear it and fired a shot," the scholar reconstructed the events of that day.

People, thinking that the time had come to act, killed Konyar and many of those accompanying him, and a massive uprising broke out.

"In the midst of this uprising, on 29 July, the public figure, poet, and son of the last sovereign Prince Mikhail Shervashidze-Chachba, Georgiy was proclaimed the sovereign prince of Abkhazia. Thus, the elimination of statehood too could not but hurt the feelings of the Abkhazians, and they tried to restore the statehood," Salakaya added.

But the forces were not equal. Russian troops arrived in Abkhazia, and the uprising was suppressed, many people ending up in prisons, but the most tragic consequence of those events was the makhadzhirstvo [i.e. the Great Exile — Trans.].

"Moreover, at the beginning, the tsarist government had an idea to send the ‘guilty’ Abkhazian population to the Novorossijsk province — this is the steppe-region of southern Ukraine, which is to say, an environment completely foreign to that in which the Abkhazians lived. However, they then decided that it would be much more profitable to send the Abkhazians to Turkey. A number of measures, including diplomatic ones, were taken. The Russian Empire negotiated with Turkey for a long time and persistently, forcing it to accept a significant number of refugees, and 20 thousand people were officially deported from the country,” the scholar said.

The Lykhny Uprising is one of the most tragic pages in the history of Abkhazia; its consequences being felt to this day, as the scholar concluded.

It was a few months after the tragic death in the depths of Russian political exile, the former sovereign, Prince Mikhail Shervashidze, that the uprising broke out in Abkhazia. It began on 26 July 1866 at the 7,000-strong people's gathering in the village of Lykhny. On this day, the head of the Sukhum Military Department, Colonel Konyar, officials Cherepov and Izmailov, 4 officers and 54 Cossacks were killed by indignant Abkhazians. The uprising spread rapidly from the village of Kaldakhwara to Tsebelda, Dal and Sukhum. Up to 20 thousand people took part.

This article was published by Sputnik on July 26, 2021, and is translated from Russian.

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