16 January 2004, 02:42

The Russian Revolution and the Vainakhs

Among the warring nations, Russia underwent the greatest economic and social shock during World War I. Eroding economy, defeat in fronts and extremely strained internal political situation led to a collapse of the tsarist regime in 1917. The bourgeois-centric and moderate-socialist parties came to power in Russia. Though, on the background of the population's low political culture, weakness and uncoordination of liberal-democratic forces prevented the Russian society from stabilizing on the base of democracy. The left-winger Bolsheviks (Communists) under the leadership of Lenin seized power by force in main Russian centers in October-November 1917. Thus, a new era began. The era that has changed the economic, political and cultural basis of Russia for a long time and that has shaken the whole world.

An armed seizure of power by the Bolshevik Party and the terror carried out by its leaders against the wealthy layers of the population resulted in consolidation of "counter-revolutionary"text(1)forces of Russia and a civil war of great scales, unknown in the world history before. It took millions of human lives. However, the Mensheviks ("the white") could offer no ideology against a populist propaganda of the Bolsheviks ("the red"). They did not proclaim in advance their position towards the future forms of political, social and economic structure of Russia, postponing the solution of such key questions to post-war time. Practically, the Government of the Mensheviks carried out a policy convenient for the bourgeois and landlord sections of the population only. Their policy towards national minorities of the former Russian Empire, partially, towards the nations of the North Caucasus, did not differ from the tsarist policy. Therefore, the Mensheviks not only pushed away many potential allies but also furthered their alliance with the Bolsheviks.

As a result of such an internal policy, overwhelming majority of the population appeared in their opposition, active or passive. In addition, the newly come in power forces of some national regions examined their rights of self-determination entitled by the revolution of 1917 and called for a full independence.

Thus, in March 1917 the first highland congress was held in Vladikavkaz and a multinational organization - "The Union of United Mountain Peoples of the Caucasus" was founded. Its central committee was elected by the Temporal Government of Autonomous North Caucasian Independent State or the Soviet Mountain Republic, declared in November of the same year. When civil war burst out in Russia, the Soviet Mountain Republic declared its full independence and secession from Russia (May 11, 1918).

Famous figures of the Soviet Mountain Republic were Chechen Tapa Chermoev(2), Head of the Government for some time; Ingush Vasan Girey Dzhabaggi, Head of Parliament; Kabardinian Pshemakho Kotsev, Minister of Internal Affairs; Heidar Bammat, Minister of External Affairs, etc. The Soviet Mountain Republic declaratively embraced the whole territory of the North Caucasus. Vladikavkaz became its capital. Though, practically, its state structures functioned only in Daghestan and soon fell as a result of the onslaught of the Denikin Volunteers Army who came with slogan: "For united and undivided Russia".

In the beginning of February 1919 the Denikinians crossed the borders of the Terski Region and attacked its center the town of Vladikavkaz that was under the control of Soviet forces. Part of their army (three equestrian divisions, pedestrian (Plastun) brigade and other parts) with General Liahov in the head reached the Ingush villages - Kantishevo and Dolakovo located in the north-east of Vladikavkaz. The Mensheviks in an ultimatum form demanded from the Ingushes to let them enter the town, also, to compensate for losses inflicted to the Cossacks in 1917-1918 when armed skirmishes took place between the Ingushes and Cossacks, to extradite the red being on the territory of Ingushetia and to form 2 equestrian regiments and 2 equestrian batteries for the service in the Denikin army. Otherwise, General Liahov threatened with complete destroy of Kantishevo, Dolakovo and other villages.

The Ingushes refused. The Mensheviks surpassing the Ingushes in military might waged an attack. In the region of large Ingush villages such as Dolakovo, Kantishero, Bazorkino, Keskem, Psedakh and Sagopshi bloody battles expanded. This was the beginning of the Ingushes' fighting against the Denikin army.

Alike the Chechens, Ingushes were also well armed for that time. Highlanders always thought that a man should have private arms. They often refused themselves in essentials and bought a prestigious gun or a pistol with ammunition instead. The tsarist administration tried repeatedly to disarm the Vainakhs and all Caucasus highlanders, but in vain. The World War gave highlanders an easier chance to purchase modern firearms illegally. In the beginning of the revolution they also captured certain part of arms, including the artillery belonging to the former Caucasian army, from the tsarist fortresses located on the territories of Chechnya and Ingushetia.

However, the Ingushes and their not numerous supporters, the units of the Bolsheviks, could not resist the Denikin army completed with skillful military staff and obviously having technical and numerous superiority. Despite the fierce resistance, the artillery swept off the Ingush villages and the defenders had to retreat with great casualties.

The Denikinians also suffered heavy losses. General Liahov acknowledged that the Mensheviks lost 2500 soldiers at Kantishevo, Dolakovo and Bazorkino.

One reason of the Ingush defeat in the fight against the Mensheviks was lack of self-discipline. Their failure was also caused for lack of a common authoritative command.

The Denikinians crossed Ingushetia and Osset auls located on the left bank of the river Terek. On February 11, 1919 they attacked Vladikavkaz and took it. The detachments of the Bolsheviks being in the town retreated in great disorder to the Georgian Military Road and appearing in Georgia surrendered to the local authorities.

But the Ingushes kept on fighting against the Mensheviks. Thus, in March 1919 united forces of the Ingush and Kabardian guerrillas defeated 2 battalions of Denikin at the village of Kurp. In July of the same year bloody battles took place in the vicinity of the villages Surkhokhi and Ekazhevo, etc., though, since spring of 1919 the center of Vainakh resistance moved to Chechnya.

Before October coup in Russia, the Chechens, like the Ingushes, had a national council with a center in the village of Old Ataggi. The Ataggi Council did not support the Bolsheviks. Therefore, it was considered as "reactionist" in Soviet historiography. But on the other hand, the Bolsheviks had their stronghold in Chechnya. It was the town of Grozny with its Russian proletariat and Bolshevist military garrison. In the beginning of November 1917 the Grozny Bolsheviks supported by the 111th infantry regiment, practically seized power. The town and industrial workers formed a red army that got arms from military ammunitions and supplies kept in the town garrison.

The Cossack and mountain leaders reacted sharply to the formation of the armed Bolshevist Center in Grozny. At the end of November 1917 the military ataman of the Terek Cossacks M.Karaulov demanded that 111 Infantry Regiment be disbanded. The regiment did not obey his order. The Central Executive Committee of "The Union of Highlanders in North Caucasus" at that time, using the support of the "Wild Division" units that had just come back from the front, as well as the Chechens volunteer corps that was organized by Chermoev, lay ultimatum to the 111 regiment to drop guns and leave the Terek Region. Taking into consideration the fact that in case of non-fulfillment of the ultimatum the city would be shelled and assaulted by the Chechen formations, and the fact that the Cossacks declared neutrality, the 111 regiment and the Red Army left Grozny and moved to Sevastopol. The leaders of Grozny Bolsheviks and several thousands of civilian families followed them, too. The subdivisions of the Chechen regiment of the "Wild Division" occupied the city.

However, the Chechen-Cossack relations were strained again. In December 1917, after the extermination of a group of Chechens by the Cossacks, there began collisions between Cossacks and the lower strata of the Grozny population, on the one hand, and the Chechens, on the other hand. As a result of these clashes, several auls and stanitsas were destroyed. On the I Convention of the Terek Region held in Mozdok in January 1918 to which the Vainakhs were not invited, the Cossack representatives demanded to declare against the Chechens and Ingushes. The Convention did not approve this demand.

Under existing conditions of international crisis in the Terek Region the Bolsheviks declared the establishment of Soviet regime in this territory (March 1918), though they did not control the major part of it. Many of the highlanders took sides with the Bolsheviks. They believed their slogans and promises according to which the peoples of the former Russian Empire would be given the possibility of national self-determination.

The declaration of Soviet regime in the Terek Region brought about a sharp activation of the opposition. In June 1918 the rebellion of Cossacks started. They drove the Bolsheviks away from a number of inhabited localities. But the attempt to occupy the main cities of the region, Vladikavkaz and Grozny, was not successful. The fighting around Grozny that was besieged by the Cossacks was rather proctracted.

However, on this stage, the Soviet regime in the Terek region fell. It was related to the intrusion of the above-mentioned voluntary army.

Denikin's troops took over Grozny on February 4, 1919. They drove Bolsheviks from the city and approached the Chechen auls. As was usual in all the area of the former Russian Empire, the society in Chechnya was politically split. Apart from the nationalists and Islamists there were also the followers of Bolsheviks and adherents of the White party. However, in the face of Denikin's intrusion the major part of the political forces in Chechnya unified. The Russian Bolsheviks temporarily supported them. In March and April 1919 fierce battles between the Chechens and Denikin's army took place in the surroundings of the villages Goiti, Berdikel, Alkhan-Urt, Tsatsan-Urt and others. There were great losses in both sides. More than 200 Chechens, defenders of Goiti, and 20 Red Army men were killed in the battle. More than 400 Chechens and 700 White Army men were killed in the environs of Alkhan-Urt. Denikin's troops were temporarily concentrated in the Chechen Plain. As far as the mountainous regions are concerned, to which their opponents have retreated, the Muslim emirate with the capital in Vedeno was formed there and it was headed by Sheik Usun Khadji. In view of the fact that Usun Khadji, the religious figure in Daghestan, enjoyed the support of the significant part of Chechens (particularly in the eastern part of the country), he was able to organize a small, but battle-worthy army that entered into the battle with Denikin.

The Bolsheviks, who recognized Usan Khadji's government de facto, promised to grant the highlanders self-determination. The separate subdivisions of the Red Army that were driven to the mountains by the White Army were fighting under the banners of the Emirate. This unnatural union between the Bolsheviks and theocratic state formation that was represented by the North-Caucasian Emirate was justified by the tasks of struggle against the common enemy - the Denikin's army.

During 1919 the battles of Usun-Khadji's troops against the White Army took place in the regions of Shali, Serjen-Urta, Gudermes auls, Vozdvijensky sloboda, Petropavlovsk stanitsa and others. The units of the so-called Chechen Red army under the command of Aslanbek Sheripov (1897-1919), who was killed at Vozdvijensky, took part in them. The inhabited localities of plane Chechnya passed from one side to another, 26 auls were burned by the punitive troops. Denikin was compelled to transfer the troops to the Caucasus, weakening his principal forces that advanced in the direction of Moscow.

The turning point in favour of the Soviet regime in the North Caucasus took place in 1920. It was the time when the Northern Caucasian emirate broke up and Usun Khadji died of typhus. The former head of his Government ("the Great Vesir") Inaluk Arsankuev-Dishninsky was killed by the Bolsheviks in one of the streets of Grozny in 1921. The Bolsheviks put the blame on bandits then.


(1)   Among the counter-revolutionarists the Bolsheviks considered even their former allies - representatives of other left-wing socialists who, from a political point of view, had little in common with the Mensheviks - representatives of bourgeois landowners and Cossack circles, greater part of which were staunch monarchists.

(2)  Chermoev Abdul-Medjid (Tapa) Ortsuevich (1882-1936) - North Caucasian politician, oil manufacturer. He graduated from a Cavalry School (1901), serviced in Russian cavalry (also in private convoy of the Emperor Nicolas II). He was an officer of the "Wild Division" during the World War I. He was one of the organizers of "The Union of United Highlanders of the Caucasus", Head of Highland Government. He carried immense authority with the Chechens. Since 1919 he has been in emigration.

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