14 January 2004, 19:36

The Outset of the Russian-Vainakh Relations

The penetration of the Russian state into the North-Eastern Caucasus began in the 16th century when the first Cossack settlements and fortresses of tsarist Russia appeared in the Terek belt of the present-day territory of Chechnya and Daghestan. The Cossacks, i.e., "free-thinking people",were the peasants and dwellers of town suburbs who had escaped feudal bondage in Russia. They settled on the banks of the Don, Volga, Terek, Yayka (the Urals) and other rivers which ran on the territories that had not been incorporated into the Russian state by that period. The Cossacks were engaged in hunting, gathering of wild honey, later they set to agriculture, not infrequently they supported themselves by plundering, but more often they established peaceful relations with the native population, separate representatives of which joined the Cossacks for some reason or other and became the members of their community.

The Moscow tsars made the best use of the militarized Cossack communities for their benefit in expending the territories of Russia. Providing them with ammunition, money, bread and granting them certain privileges the Russian rulers attached the Cossacks and gradually turned them into the advance-guard of Russia's military-political expansion. So, the Cossack settlements were the places where the tsar's troops and officials would eventually appear and set up building of strongholds, thereby bringing the new lands under the wardship of Russia's centralized state.

The same fate overtook the Terek region where, apparently in the 16th century, the groups of Cossacks began to settle mainly in the middle reaches of the river near the outfall of the Sunzha. It was here that the first stronghold of tsarist Russia with regular garrison and artillery came into being in the year 1567. On the base of this stronghold was formed the first Cossack military community known under the name the Terek Cossack Troops. Soon the centre of Russia's domains in the North - Eastern Caucasus was transferred to Terky, a town built in 1588 in the outfall of the Terek, and the north bank of the river officially became part of the Russian state.

Soon the tsar's voivodes made a number of drastic efforts to gain ground southward of the Terek, in Daghestan. During the late 16th and early 17th centuries the Russian troops several times broke into this country, but they were utterly defeated in the total and had to retreat. For a long time the Terek remained a southern boundary of Russia.

The Vainakhs at first established quite peaceful relations with the Russians. People were trading, many of the mountaineers served in the town of Terky and took up their residences near it. The elders (headmen) of some Chechen and Ingush villages even swore allegiance to the Russian sovereign, though this dependence was of a pure nominal character.

The Vainakhs were in good neighbourly relations with the Terek Cossacks too. The Cossaks, known as fugitives and "idle" people in recent past, learnt to manage their household in a new natural environment like the native tribes, they began to dress and keep their dwellings the same way as the mountaineers did. The Chechens and Ingushes on their part also learnt much from the Cossacks. Many of the Vainakhs, escaping from blood feud, found shelter in Cossack settlements (since the early 18th century these settlements have been called the "stanitsas"). The Vainakhs settled in stanitsas, got married to the Cossack women and adopted Christianity, thereby marking the beginning of the Cossack families of Vainakh origin.

Quite a number of Russians, on the other hand, deserted to the Vainakhs. The highlanders always gave them refuge and treated them with hospitality.

At the beginning of the 17th century Russia recommenced the offensive upon the Caucasus. The Russian state, having become stronger and changed a great deal by that time as a result of the reformatory activities of Tsar (Emperor since 1721) Peter I, can no more be satisfied merely with the formal recognition of the Russian protectorate by the separate mountaineer tribes and gets ready for a large-scale attack to subjugate the North Caucasus. A well-known Russian historian, expert of the Caucasian people's history, M.Pokrovsky noted that tsarism aimed to seize new lands and, at the same time, conquer the trade routes in the East.

The main obstacle in attaining the strategic objective of Russia in the Caucasus might have been the resistance of the highlanders who were politically disunited but notable for their courage, love of freedom and brilliant military abilities. Owing to these chief traits they had succeded in saving themselves from being enslaved by the Persian Shah and sultanic Turkey having the claims on the lands in the Caucasus.

Preparing to wage an attack upon the Caucasus Tsar Peter I yet in 1714 consulted with the Senate, the supreme government body of the Russian Empire "how to make the Caucasus highlanders come over to our side". At the same time the first cordon line was laid in the Caucasus, the Cossacks were finally included into the state military structure of Russia and recruited by the migrants from the reaches of the Don. A line of Cossack stanitsas side by side with the fortresses and strongholds occupied by the garrisons of Russia's regular troops formed a basis of the Terek cordon line. It should be said in all fairness that these arrangements were made not only to defend the locality but also to wage an offensive war.

In 1722 Peter I organized his well-known Persian Campaign to establish the rule of Russia in the Western Caspian Region. The expedition officially aimed to punish the Lezghins who had killed the Russian merchants during a ravage of the town of Shemakhy in Azerbaijan, though virtually the tsar seized the opportunity to set about the subjugation of the Caucasus lands from the Terek, that had already become the border of Russia by that time. Morever, separate detachments were also pushed forward further to the west of the main forces up to the borders of Chechnya. During this campaign took place the first skirmish between the Chechens and the regular army of Russia. The mounted detachment under Brigadier Veterani (2000 dragoons and 400 Cossacks), sent to seize the Kumyik village of Endery, was attacked by the Chechens, who had come to help the Kumyiks. The Russians suffered serious losses. In revenge, the incensed Emperor sent the horde of his vassal - Kalmyk Khan Ayuky to make a plundering raid on Chechnya.

After the death of Peter I the ruling cliques of Russia stopped to be on a large - scale offensive against the mountaineers for several years, though they continued building of new fortresses and strongholds thereby fortifying the Terek cordon line. Separate skirmishes between the Russians and mountaineer peoples, including the Chechens, still took place. According to M.Pokrovsky, the struggle against the Chechens for the Chechen Plain began in 1739 when an entire fortified line(1) was formed of the Lower Terek stanitsas with its center in the fortress - town of Kizlyar(2). In 1758 General Frauendorf, Commandant of Kizlyar, headed the campaign carried on against the Chechens who "totally turned out to be in antagonism with the Russians". Unequality of forces forced the separate communities of Vainakhs to express their submissiveness to the Empire and deliver up the "amanates" (hostages) as a token of loyalty, yet this kind of dependence was of a superficial character and did not lead to practical subordination of the mountaineers.

New activization of Russia's offensive policy in the Caucasus is connected with the accession of Katherine II (1762-1796) to the throne of the Russian Empire. Laying of the Mozdok fortress in 1763 caused a series of skirmishes with the Kabardians, resulting in the victory over the Turks in the war of 1768-1774. The Russian Empire had already taken a stable possession of the area between the Azof and Caspian Seas by that time and launched an all-out attack upon the highlanders living northward of the Caucasus. In 1770 in particular three campaigns were carried on against the Chechens in order "to subject them to obedience". The armed collision which turned into the struggle of many years is known in history as the Caucasian or Russian-Caucasian War. It was a just war on the part of the mountaineers and the struggle against the Russians was waged mainly by the Chechens, peoples of mountain Daghestan and separate groups of Adygei-Abkhazians. As regards the others, including the Ingushes, they on the whole abstained from taking part in this war. Not numerous groups and individuals only, representing other nations of the Caucasus, participated in military operations waged against the Russians. As to the armed resistance on a mass scale, even if such took place, it was of episodic character.


(1) Fortified or Cordon lines arranged by the Russian troops during the war in the Caucasus (18th - 19th centuries) were systems of strongholds consisting of the fortresses and Cossack stanitsas with separate forts or redoubts located at 25 - 30km distances; at regular intervals (3 - 5 km) were placed observation posts (pickets).

(2)  Kizlyar, a town located in the Terek delta was the main military - administrative and economic centre of Russia's domains in the North - Western Caucasus at that time.

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