The Date of the Beginning the Russo-Caucasian War and the War's First Stage (1762-1774), by WCB

On May, 21, 1864 in a place situated on the Black Sea shore and called Kbaada in Abkhazian, Art-Kouadje in Circassian and nowadays known as Krasnaya Polyana Russia’s Great Prince Mikhail Aleksandrovich held a military parade and a solemn liturgy to celebrate the ending of the Russo-Caucasian war. During that war Russian Empire commited Genocide of the Adyghe (Circassian) people, and annexed the territory of Circassia (Adyghe Xeku).

In today’s history names like Caucasian War and Russo-Caucasian War are common. However, we believe that Russo-Circassian War is the appropriate name, but for the purposes of this study we’ll use the standard name.

The date of the ending of the Russo-Caucasian War is widely known. The year, left alone the date, of its beginning remains a subject of dispute. One can find 1711, 1735, 1763, 1779, 1816 claimed to be the starting years. We’ll try to bring arguments and our own view point of the chronological framework and the place of the beginning of the Russo-Caucasian War.

Circassia (Adyghe Xeku) is a georgraphical and political definition that included the territory from the Taman Peninsula to the mouth of the Sounja River (a confluent of the Terek River) that marked the territory inhabited by the Adyghe (Circassian) people for the last 3.5 millennia. The Laba River devided Circassia into Eastern (which included the Kabardia and Besleney territory) and Western (Temirgoy, Bzhedough, Hatoukay, Abzakh, the Greater and Lesser Shapsougia, Natoukhay, Oubykhia and some other smaller Adyghe territories) parts. Thus, Circassia occupied the entire Western and Central areas of the Northern Caucasus.

Russia and Circassia had had old amicable ties. In the XVI century some of the Adyghe (Circassian) feudal lords signed a mutual protection pact sometimes called a military-political alliance. The Supreme Prince of Kabardia Idar Temruko’s daughter Maria then married Russian Tsar Ivan the Terrible. There’s a theory that aside from military cooperation with Russia Adyghe (Circassians) sought repeating the Mameluke scenario that they earlier implemented in Egypt and capturing the Russian throne. These plans were cut short by the death of the Adyghe-born heir to the Russian throne (Maria's son died when enfant).

These ties of Circassia and Russia were so firm that they remained even during the so called Times of Distemper in Russia in early 1600’s, when it was nearly conquered by Poland, although in that period communication was less intensive. Natives of Circassia held highest ranks in the Boyar Duma (Council of Supreme Russian nobility) and with different Russian ministries since the enthronement of the Romanovs dynasty. Adyghe (Circassians) sided with the Russians in almost every war that the Russian state was engaged in during the XVII century. After the enthronement of Peter the Great Russian Empire sets itself as the main task to get access to seas, both northern and eastern ones – the Black and Caspian Seas. The eternal enemies of Moscow – the Ottoman Empire and its liegeman the Crimean Khanate – imposed constant threat to Russia and at the same time were historically enemies of Circassia’s freedom and independence. The Crimean threat to Russia was very painful – keep in mind that Russia got rid of the humiliating annual tribute to the Khan of Crimea only by the Constantinople peace treaty on July, 14 (3), 1700. This is an explanation as to why Adyghe (Circassians) took such an active part in the early 1700’s in Russo-Ottoman Wars among the ranks of the Russian army.

After one such war of 1735-1739 the Belgrade peace treaty was signed on September 29 (18 old style), 1739, which officially declared part of Eastern Circassia – the Greater and Lesser Kabardia – to be independent from both Russian and Ottoman Empires. “It must be marked, - says on of the 19-century Russian historians, - that at that time when Russia did not have enough power to enforce its power onto the Caucasus, the Kabardians stood at Russia’s side and helped it absolutely voluntarily and assisted Russians just out of feeling of friendliness and didn’t demand anything in return from Russian troops, even in times of hardships”.

Russia’s policy towards Circassia and the Caucasus in general changed radically after Catherine II the Great came to power in 1762. Priorities that the new Russian Empress set for external politics make a drastic difference with those of her predecessors.

Since the time of Peter the Great Russia actively involved itself in all major European Wars. Catherine completely gave up deployment of Russian troops in Europe, except for the case of final partition of Poland between European powers in 1795. This delicacy that Catherine showed for Europe earned her a reputation of “an enlightened monarch”, although her European policy was dictated by her birth – she didn’t have s ingle drop of Russian blood in her veins, she was German. A remarkable fact is that the majority of Russian officers and generals that fought Circassia during the Russo-Caucasian War were also of Western European descent.

At the same time, Russia fought the Ottoman Empire in two major wars – in 1768-1774 and 1787-1791 and abolished the independence and annexed the territory of Crimean Khanate (1783) during the Catherine’s reign. So it is clear that Catherine paid main attention to the southward-oriented actions and, accordingly, to the Circassian question in her external politics.

Before that the Russian Empire lacked both strength and time to start any serious advance onto the Caucasus. Despite of the Cossack settlement presence on Terek river since the XVI century, and later the construction of Kizlyar fortress in Dagestan 1735, no significant southward actions were undertaken. The few expeditions into the Caucasian territory (such as General Apraksin’s raid across the Kouban River in Western Circassia in 1711, Peter the Great’s landing in Dagestan 1722, an expedition against the Chechens 1757) that actually took place weren’t systematic attempts to impose Russian rule in the region. The Empire kept collecting data about the local peoples and receiving symbolic gestures of loyalty from them. With political priorities rearranged, the needed strength and time appeared. The Seven Years War in Europe which ended for Russia in 1762 showed unsurpassed military dexterity of Russian troops – they beat virtually every European enemy army they faced in that war. It was these troops which later were reassigned to fight against Circassia.

The fist blow was stricken at Eastern Circassia – Kabardia. The fortress of Mozdok was founded in its territory and later Russians pulled chains of dozens of other forts, fortresses and Cossack settlements eastward and westward of Mozdok to the Black and Caspian Sea shores. Eventually, they received a name of the Caucasian Line.

Numerous sources confirm that it was Kabardia who became the first mission of the Tsarist government in the Caucasus and the founding of Mozdok was the first act of aggression.

The 19th century Russian researcher N.F. Grabovsky in his large work “The annexation of Kabardia by Russia and its fight for independence” tells that Russia had to abolish the independence of Kabardia because “Once Russia set itself a task to firmly establish its rule in the Caucasus, it had no other way not to harm its own intentions, because keeping independent Kabardia that influenced the depending surrounding peoples in the neighborhood was unthinkable”, since “the wild and beastly nature of Kabardians, bred by the laws of warlike life for centuries wouldn’t accept delicate treatment”.

Russian general V.V. Potto in his “Two centuries of Terek Cossacks” wrote: “Ever since the beginning of Catherine II’s reign the court showed its serious intentions to take care of the Caucasus and the hurried construction works in Mozdok were merely a beginning of the great program to implement which it took us a century and millions of victims”.

English historian John F. Baddley noted that active steps towards the conquest of the Caucasus were taken by Catherine II: “In 1763, just a year after her enthronement, the Mozdok fortress was founded. This defiant step led to 14 years of war with Kabardians (1765-1779) during which the Caucasian line was extended and a new Cossack army – the Mozdok one – settled in the lands which used to belong to Kabardia”. There were numerous reasons as to why Kabardia was picked as the first target of aggression.

First of all, as it is pointed by different researchers, it was its status of an independent state. Strong, powerful and proud Adyghe (Circassian) aristocracy and her main military force – the warqs (Adyghe nobles) – ensured the supremacy of Kabardia in the region. Despite of the fact that Circassians of Kabardia were less numerous (about 400 000 people by 1760) than some Western Circassian territories (e.g., Shapsugia, Abadzehia), her international and regional authority was unmatched. According to the “Notes” of the fortress Kizlyar’s capitain Gastotti (1769), “the independent mountainous peoples follow Great Kabardia in everything”. Another Russian researcher Simeon Bronevsky noted in early 1800’s that “Kabardian princes consider themselves to be the finest knights by birth not only among Circassians but among all of the Caucasus peoples. Indeed, one cannot deny such supremacy, exaggerated by Kabardian swagger”. Aslanbek Kaytouko (Къетыкъуэ Аслъэнбэч) who was the Supreme prince (ruler) of Kabardia in 1739-1746 used to say – “Between these two seas (Black and Caspian) there’s isn’t enough space even for one prince”.

Besides, Eastern Circassia occupied the best most fertile lands in the Central Caucasus, ideal both for tillage and cattle-breeding. It was these lands that became the base for further colonization of the Caucasus and were annexed in the first place, later being allocated amongst the resettled Don and Volga Cossacks.

Another specific aspect of the Central Caucasus was that Circassians of Kabardia who occupied the flatlands and foothills were least protected by the relief of terrain. When invasions happened, they were the first ones to confront the invaders. These fact made them seem an easy prey for their abundant enemies. The mountainous terrain in Dagestan and parts of Western Circassia facilitated resistance for decades. The flat-landed Kabardia could rely on the sharp blades and chain mails of its warqs throughout the 63 years of its fight for independence.

When did the war for annexation of the Caucasus start. What were its first years?

The Astrakhan and later Kizlyar commandants watched closely the situation in the Caucasus for decades and were exceptionally aware of all the events that took place in the region. They were informed well about the strife between the princes of Greater and Lesser Kabardia, about the discord between the pincely families of the Greater Kabardia itself, between the peasantry and nobility. They also knew that the majority of the surrounding peoples (especially the Ingush and part of Ossetians), who were subdued by Kabardia, were eager to get rid of the Kabardia’s supremacy. The millennia-old Roman principle of “Divide et Impera” – Divide and Conquer – became a powerful weapon against Kabardia.

It was as early as 1750 when a prince of Lesser Kabardia named Kourgoko Konchokin and his relatives asked the Russian Foreign Office to let them settle in the Russian territory at the Chervleny gorodok (a Cossack settlement near Terek river, modern northern Chechnya), to “escape the ravagine feudal lords of Greater Kabardia”. But at that time his request was denied. By 1759 the strife between Konchokin and his enemies in Greater Kabardia grew so intensive that he and his family were forced to convert to Christianity and settle in Kizlyar. He changed his name to Adrey Ivanov after conversion. In the same year Konchokin addressed the Court with another petition to allow him to settle some where in the vicinity of Mozdok and Meken tracts. His petition remained unanswered for three years. By 1762,as we said before, the circumstances changed drastically and Catherine II came to power. For her, the entire centuries-long Circassian-Russian tradition of military cooperation and mutual protection was merely an empty phrase. Shortly after her enthronement Catherine II reanimates Konchokin’s petition. As V.V. Potto noted, “The initial idea, so fortunately and timely supplied by Konchokin, in time grew into a colossal size and when founding Mozdok few could foresee that we are laying a corner stone to the conquest of the Caucasus”.

On October, 22 (9), 1762 the Russian Senate’s report to Empress Catherine II was released. It was called “About allotment of the Mozdok tract to the settlement of the baptized Kabardians headed by K.Konchokin (A.Ivanov), construction of a fortress and turning Mozdok into a center of spreading of commerce and trade”. On the same day this report received Empress’ Highest confirmation. Catherine II wrote just three words on it’s cover – “So be it”.

This day – October, 22, 1762 - the day when the plan of constructing a Russian fortress in Circassian territory, in other words, the plan of initial invasion was confirmed by the Russian Empress we propose to regard as the day of the beginning of the Russo-Caucasian War.

On December, 30 (17), 1762 Konchokin was sworn in, promoted to the lieutenant colonel rank of the Russian Army and officially recognized as a prince of Russian Empire Andrey Ivanovoch Konchokin-Cherkassky. He was granted a yearly pay of 500 rubles. His warqs that showed intention to baptize were given 40 rubles and those he didn’t want to baptize were given 30 rubles each.

Overall, in the spring of 1763 some 40 Circassian families settled in Mozdok. At the same time, Russian troops were sent to guard the “colonists”. With them came Russian lieutenant colonel Gakk, who was to supervise the construction of the fortress. By 1765 Mozdok became a mighty castle with cannons on its walls and earth rampant around it.

In the above mentioned report Konchokin was allowed to “settle in the Mozdok tract since these lands indisputably belong to Russian borders and are comfortable for settlment”. This was an outright lie. First of all, Mozdok (Мэз дэгу) is a Circassian place-name, which means “deaf (deep) forest”. Secondly, in 1744 a Russian officer Semen Chichagov mapped Kabardia. According to this map, the eastern border of Lesser Kabardia is marked at the Meken tract some 40 miles eastward of Mozdok. In other words, the place where the Russian fortress was founded was deep inside the Circassian territory. Thirdly, Russian officials acknowledged themselves that the nearest settlement that belonged to Russia - the Chervlyeny Gorodok – was 100 miles away from Mozdok.

The Mozdok territory and the Kouray plain were thoroughly used by the Adyghes of Kabardia for the purposes of cattle-breeding. There was simple no way for Mozdok to “belong to the Russian borders”.

Same report commanded Russian authorities in Kizlyar to give 10 rubles as an incentive to those nobles who want to get baptized and settle in Mozdok, 5 rubles - to married commoners and 2.5 rubles to single commoners. Soon, large scale escapes of serfs led to community of “200 newly baptized settlers” in Mozdok. We must mark, however, that the majority of these runaway serfs were Georgian and Armenian captives, although there were many Circassians as well.

This impertinent encroachment upon the sovereignty of Kabardia provoked a furious response. This step of animosity came as a surprise for Circassians who never expected a threat to their independence from Russia. That’s why the 1762 Xase (Supreme Congress) of Kabardia ruled out the immediate opening of military actions. It was to determined to use diplomatic means to achieve the demolition of the Mozdok fortress. The persistance that Kabardia showed when trying to persuade Russia to demolish Mozdok is explained by the fact that just 20 years before, in 1746 Russia had already tried to get a grip in the region founding a fortress at the same place of Mozdok. Then the delegation of princes of Kabardia negotiated through diplomatic means the destruction of that fortress. It is clear that the princely families of Kabardia assumed that they can do the same again in 1763.

Sure enough, the numerous delegations sent to the Kizlyar commandant who was the chief representative of Russian Empire in the region were vain. Then another Xase meeting in 1764 sent an embassy of Kabardia headed by prince Kaytouko Kaisinov (Къесын Къетыкъуэ) and first-class (tlekotlesh) warq Shabaz-Geri Koundenetov (Къундет Щэбэзджерий) to St. Petersburg. These were the demands made by the embassy:

1) Demolish the fortress and the settlement of Mozdok.
2) Pay Circassians for runaway Christian slaves.
3) Make the princes and warqs who flee Kabardia for baptizing give up all their property left in Kabardia.
4) Decrease the trade duties payed by Circassians in Kizlyar.

Circassians realized that most likely their delegation would reach zero results in St. Petersburg, so they sent another embassy – this time to Crimean Khan Selim III Giray to seek Tatar assistance. Finally, an expanded Kabardia - Temirgoy - Belseney Xase was assembled at the Urup (Uarp) River which carried out a decision to halt military advance in case of Russians agree to demolish the fortress, and Circassians sworn in to fight together against Russian forces if the Empress declines the requests.

Circassian deputies in Petersburg got a flat refusal to demolish the Mozdok fortress. At the same time, willing to soothe the acuteness of the refusal and “butter up” the Circassians, the Russian Court gave three thousand ruble to the deputies as a sign of “Empress’ Mercy” to give away at the Xase for help that Circassians showed to Russian troops during the expedition against the Chechens in 1757.

According to V.V. Potto, “the refusal that the deputies announced at the people’s gathering angered the Kabardians do bitterly that they refused to accept the three thousand rubles, moved their settlements to the upper reaches of the Kouma River and having joined the Trans-Kouban Circassians continued to assault our borders up until 1779. Their first raid was so stubborn and bold that could only be explained by the bitter irritation caused by the failure of their petition”.

What about the Crimean Khan? Selim III Geray welcomed Circassian ambassadors. In his reply, however, he recalled all defeats of Crimean armies caused by Circassians of Kabardia in the last 60 years. He recalled all his relatives – members of the Geray royal family – that were killed during their invasions in Kabardia. Circassian ambassadors were told to yield hostages – one from each princely family and pay tribute of 1500 Circassian slaves and then the Crimean Khan “would turn to the Kabardian affairs”.

“We haven’t heard good news neither from Crimea nor from Russia” – was often said in Kabardia at that time.

After the return of embassies from St. Petersburg and Bakhchi-saray, a Xase gathering in May, 1765, decided to assault the Mozdok and Kizlyar fortresses. Kourgoko Konchokin, who came as a cause for the construction of Mozdok, was sentenced to death and his property was outlawed – anyone could rob him and take away his serfs and cattle for no penalty. Kizlyar commandant Colonel Potapov then reported that “The baptized Kabardian lord lieutenant colonel Andrey Konchokin-Cherkassky is sought to be assassinated by the lords of the Greater Kabardia”.

The property of the renegade prince that he failed to hide behind the walls of Mozdok was plundered, but the death sentence was never executed – Konchokin died from natural causes in 1766.

Having realized that they could count on themselves only, Circassians of Kabardia Temirgoy and Besleney in June, 1765, “assaulted the Line and pillaged the outskirts of Kizlyar for six weeks. Finally their leader Aslanbek Karamurzin stormed the fortress but was beaten off with much casualties”. After these battles the Mozdok garrison received a reinforcement of a Dragoon regiment and 1000 Kalmyk warriors.

In 1767 Circassians plan another attack – this time on Mozdok, but their plans were foiled by a social disrupt – a Russian-organized peasant revolt, largest in history of Kabardia.

This is what’s happened:

During the years of 1765-1767 the representatives of Circassian peasantry Pache, Marem and Yedikoul held extensive negotiations with the Kizlyar and Mozdok commanders. Russian officers supported their plans in every way possible, promising any help needed in case if the peasants revolt against their lords. They also offer Circassian peasants to flee Kabardia and settle in the Russian-controlled areas.

In July, 1767, about 10.000 Circassian peasants led by Mamsyryko Damaley (Мамсырыкъуэ Дамэлей) leave there villages and flee into the mountains. A group of noblemen, both the pshi and the warqs, come to them to negotiate and promise to grant all their demands. The main demand of the rebelling peasantry was to revive their basic freedoms granted to the serfs by the Karatek agreements in early 1700’s, which were to ease the social oppression. Russian emissaries, on their hand, tried to persuade the rebels not to trust the nobles’ promises and to resettle to the bank of the Kouma river, which marked the northern border of Kabardia. This would be a crucial blow at Kabardia’s economy and it would ruin its statehood.

Despite of the Russian gold and intrigues Circassian nobles and peasants reached mutual agreement, and the rebels returned to their homes. Soon after that General Johann de Medem was put in charge of Kabardian affairs with instructions “to act belligerently”.

By that time the Turkish and Crimean agents start their activities in all of Circassia. In the eve of new war with Russia the Ottoman empire sought the mountaineers’ support. It seriously bothered Russian authorities, but according to S. Bronevsky “afterwards it turned out that Kabardians wished neither our nor the Crimean domination but only wanted to keep their independence”.

The war broke out on October 6, 1768. The more desperate the Ottoman matters grew in the frontlines the more active their emissaries became in the Caucasus. In December, 1768 Crimean khan Kerim Geray’s messenger Muhamed-aga came to Kabardia to persuade Circassians to subdue to Ottoman rule, send an embassy to Crimea and assault Russians. He also demanded that people of Kabardia yield 40 warriors per village to fight Russia. The Crimean messenger failed to gain any success at Kabardia.

As V. Potto puts it, “During the 1769 campaign our troops deployed in the Caucasus which included regulars, Cossacks and Kalmyks and were led by General de Medem who previously was in charge of the Orenburg corps came to Mozdok and was supposed to act against Kabardians and Trans-Kouban Circassians who this time were especially sensitive to Turkish propaganda”. Of course, the Russian historian doesn’t elaborate explaining WHY Circassians became sensitive to Turkish propaganda.

Kabardia’s supreme ruler Kasay Atazhoukin (Хьэт1охъущокъуэ Къэсей) since the beginning of the war try to stay neutral, even after de Medem’s robberies when Russians stole much of Circassian cattle and horses in November, 1768. Some of the princes – Jambolet Kaytouko (Къетыкъуэ Жэмболет), Hammurza Aslanbek (Аслъэнбэч Хьэмырзэ), Misost Bamat, Yelbouzdouko Kanamat (Къэнэмэт Елбыздыкъуэ) and others came into conclusion that this would be a good moment for attacks. In April, 1769, their parties join with western Circassian forces near Kouban river and starta joint raid on Mozdok.

By the beginning of the Russo-Turkish war there were few regular Russian troops in the region. The Kalmyk ulus’ became a powerful; reinforcement for them. It was Kalmyk khan Oubasha with a 20.000 men army who ventured to intercept Circassians heading towards Mozdok.

Their forces met on April 29 1769 at the Kalaus river. This is its description given by Vasily Potto:

“The Kalmyk khan Oubasha with his 20.000 of cavalry stood on the banks of the Kalaus at watched the enemy closely. The battle took place on April, 29. The short, swarthy, yet dexterous like devils Kalmyks were superior in their warlike character to any other Asian people and were a dangerous and menacing enemy. Clear enough, with such an overwhelming advantage the Kalmyks didn’t leave a chance for Circassians. They routed Circassians and got on their backs like wild beasts – they cut them down and pushed them into the swamps, many drowned in Kalaus. Five banners, much armor and weaponry, about 5000 horses were Kalmykian booty for the day. They took few captives, fewer managed to escape, the rest lay on the battle field. At the place of actual battle Oubasha ordered to raise one barrow he called the Barrow of Victory and at the place where the battle ended to raise another onehe named the Barrow of Feast. Both of these monuments of that battle could be seen in the Stavropol steppes today”.

Having heard that Circassian army is defeated, Commander-in-chief of Russian forces in the Caucasus General de Medem entered Kabardia's territory in the north and made a camp at Mount Beshto (Бещто 1уащхьэ), today called the Pyatigorye region. He had 3000 man of the Kizlyar garrison, the Georgian hussar regiment and three Dragoon squadrons with 10 cannons plus the Cossack irregulars. And, of course, later the 20.000 Kalmyks also joined him.

This is Peter Butkov’s description of de Medem’s actions in Kabardia:”When Kabardians saw such a great force nearing their dwellings they became overcome by fear. Many of their leaders who previously opposed Russia now swore in and gave hostages. There were those, though, who intended to sit through (the Russian invasion) in the mountains. Medem first attempted to bring them to reason with easy measures but failed, so on May, 29 he sent major Saveliev with 700 Cossacks and 2000 Kalmyks to the upper Kouban to attack the enemy which he did and hurt them and took a few prisoners”.

The official leaders of Kabardia frowned on military actions against the Russians at that moment. Some princes, as we said before, formed an alliance and confronted the invaders.

The resisting Circassians were led by pshi Misost Bamat (Хьэт1эхъущэкъуэ Мухьэмэд и къуэ Мысост). This is a characteristic of that prince given by S. Bronevsky:” Although apparently the eldest are given most respect and authority among Kabardians, but skills and personal merits, especially courage, receive even greater respect of the people. A clear example of that is Kabardian prince Misost Bamat, who, being younger than many, managed to gather a strong party against us, left for the mountains and returned only when forced by firearms”

At the Eshkakon tract (Ешкуэкуэн) which lies at the Goumtsouk (Russian name - Podkoumok) river near modern city of Kislovodsk (ex-Northern Kabardia) Misost Bamat rallied the small Circassian groups who survived the battle of the May, 29. They fought the enemy in everyday clashes from June, 1st to 5th, slowly retreating to their encampment in the mountains. This camp was enforced with a barricade made of stones and trees. Medem dispatched Hussar major Ratiyev with one Hussar squadron, 800 Cossacks, 3000 Kalmyks with two cannons to attack the last standing Circassian fortification. On June, 6, 1769 Ratiyev had “a fierce affair with the enemy in the gorges of the Podkoumok River. Kabardians fought courageously but the Mozdok Cossacks attacked with exact same courage. Their ataman (leader) Saveliev personally led them against the barricades. This bloody and fierce battle went on until nightfall” and then the fight was stopped. Russian sources show Circassian casualties of over 50 killed and some 270 taken captive, and Russian casualties are said to be 9 dead, but the number of casualties in the Russo-Caucasian War can never be determined for sure, because the only source that we have for now are Russian Generals’ reports, and historically they always played their own casualties down and exaggerated enemies’ casualties.

The next morning Circassians of Kabardia had to seize military activities and give up hostages. After this defeat Russians appointed a pristav (a supervisor) of Kabardia – Major Peter Tatarov. Western Circassians together the Nogay warriors continued to fight Russian forces until July, 1769, after which the Russians and Kalmyks returned to Mozdok and then went to Chechnya where another uprising flamed up while Russians fought with Circassians.

Catherine II paid much attention to the clashes with Circassians. In her letter of September, 22, 1769 to Voltaire, famous French philosopher and writer, she wrote: “What do say, dear sir, if I tell you that the beautiful Circassian ladies, bored with their seclusion at Constantinople’s Seral where they are held like animals at stables, convinced their fathers and brothers to accept Russian sovereignty. These are the ones that inhabit the country called Kabardia, and it happened after the victory of our Kalmyks supported by our regulars over the Kouban Tatars who are Mustafa’s liegemen and live in a country crossed by the Kouban River beyond the Don River”.

Sure enough, Catherine’s private life experience suggested that questions of utmost importance for one’s state should be solved at boudoirs, but Circassian women in Istanbul had little influence on their fathers and brothers in Circassia. She greatly exaggerated the fact that Kabardia gave up her fight and was completely subjugated. She knew it was a lie, because here’s her letter to General de Medem of November, 1769 she wrote:

“This is our resolution to your report about the Kabardians who accepted our rule: Truly, we must take care to enforce that rule on that people. Now when they are afraid of our troops is the best time to tame them like one tames wild animals. Instead of letting them torment themselves with suspicion that we are to oppress them, it will be best to let them think that we would like them to keep their own internal laws and serve us only when it is of their own desire”. In other words the empress knew Circassian submission was sham and warned her General against hostile actions.

Winter of 1769-1770 in Circassia was calm with all fighting seized. During this cease-fire Russians sent their captain Michael Gastotti to Kabardia. His official task was to seek unoccupied “territory that truly belongs to Kabardian people, that is at the Kashkataw tract or near it, and at the Chegem, Cherek and Uref (Ouroukh) rivers” to resettle 100 Abaza families.

Circassian population was so dense that Gastotti stated in his report in December, 1769, that “all possible lands in Kabardia suitable for settlement and at the at the Kashkataw tract or near it, and at the Chegem, Cherek and Uref (Ouroukh) rivers as it is shown on the attached map are occupied with Greater and Lesser Kabardia settlements, so we found no suitable lands for resettling other peoples”.

Topographic research was Gastotti’s important, but not primary task. He performed a thorough analysis of allocation of power within the two princely parties of Kabardia. In his “Conceptions” that he presented by October, 15, 1769 to the imperial court he stated his opinion of the Russian policy that should be carried out in Kabardia. This is a notable extraction from the above mentioned “Conceptions”:

“It is necessary to entice strife and discord between Kabardians and take every action to not let those two parties make peace with each other before it is within our interests”.

Sure enough, the accord that the princely parties reached by 1763 after the construction of Mozdok by 1769 was broken. After the 1769 campaign Circassians decide to send another embassy to Saint Petersburg. In 1764’s embassy the entire Kabardia was represented by one prince. This time each of the two parties send their own representative. We must give a short description of these two parties so it is clear what we are talking about.

We must give a short description of these two parties so it is clear what we are talking about.

By mid-1600’s the remaining members of the Idar clan – successors of Ivan the Terrible’s father-in-law prince Temruko and his kin – were either killed or ousted from Kabardia. The territory was now under control of the successors of Temruko’s worst foe – Pshiapshoko Kazi. Kazi was killed in a feud fight in 1615 along with seven family members. He had three sons left though – Jambolet, Misost and Hatakshoko. These three founded the princely families that ruled Kabardia for the last century and a half of its independence. Later, two of the Jambolet sons – Bechmirza and Kaytouko found their own clans, so there were four princely families in Kabardia.

Yet, by 1720 Jambolet-Misost-Hatakshoko’s grandsons were fighting each other in another merciless feud. Misost and Hatakshoko clan formed an alliance, so did the successors of Jambolet – members of the Bechmirza and Kaytouko families. The first one was called the Baksan party, with their capital being on the Baksan river, the other one was called the Kashkataw party. Their capital settlement was situated on the Kashkataw tract.

The bloody feud went on for decades. By 1756 the parties reached and agreement and signed a peace treaty in which the Chegem river was declared to be their borderline. Lands to the north belonged to the Baksan party, lands to the south to the Kashkataw.

In the 1770 embassy these two parties were represented by Jankhot Sidak (Сидакъ Жэнхъуэт) and Kourgoko Tatarkhan (Тэтэрхъан Къургъэкъуэ). Their demands were exactly the same that were submitted by the Kaytouko Kaisin’s embassy to Catherine six years earlier (1764).

In the mean time, conflict sprung up again in Eastern Circassia in spring, 1770. It was stirred by a quarrel that took place between the Commander-in-chief of the Russian forces General de Medem and the Kalmyk khan Oubasha. In December, 1769, Oubasha led a raid party into the territory of Besleney, burning a number of Circassian villages on the Laba and the Ourup rivers. He didn’t inform de Medem about this raid. The Russian General was furious – he told the Kalmyk khan off and ordered not to engage in any activities on the border without his orders. The Kalmyks took offence with such rebuke and decided to flee to China. This is the official Russian version, but the real reason was that Russians activated their plans to colonize Kalmykia. The Kalmyks saw that Russians are deep into their steppes, and they revolted against actions that restricted their right to move about freely. Catherine was swift to show de Medem the necessity of keeping the Kalmyk army in the Caucasus but it was too late. Thus, the main forces – the 20,000 Kalmyk horsemen - that confronted Circassians were leaving the arena.

Medem knew nothing about Kalmyks’ intentions entered Kabardia in summer 1770 and built a camp near Mount Beshto, waiting for Kalmyks to join him. Circassians gathered their army, the Besleney and Temirgoy regiments came to help. By this time Kalmyks were on the banks of the Volga river. When de Medem found out that the Kalmyks left he was terrified. He immideatly fled to Mozdok to hide behind its walls. Peter Taganov, the Russian-appointed supervisor of Kabardia was forced out of Kabardia with the detachment of troops that were with him. The entire Circassian borderline was on fire. Despite the Chechen uprising Russians had to raise an army of 2 000 men. On October 17 (4), 1770, Circassian and Russian armies clashed on the Kouma (Гумыпс) River. None was victorious, but on the other day Circassian leaders got into a fight with each other and their army dispersed, each one left for the territory they came from.

At the same time Eastern Circassians managed to rally themselves and blockaded Russians in their fortresses and stanitsas. All communication between Russians and the Georgian kingdoms, who needed their co-religionists’ assistance, was interrupted. Russians sent an emissary to Solomon, the king of Imeretia, asking for a rescue army, bit this emissary, an Ossetian named Osip Abayev was killed by Circassians in Kabardia.

On January, 18 (5), 1771, 28 162 of Kalmyk wagons migrated to the Urals, an further on to China. Some 11 000 Kalmyk tents stayed on the Volga river, but they could yield even a half of the power that the old Oubasha used to provide.

The Circassian embassy reached St. Petersburgh and submitted their demands. Throughout winter of 1770-1771 and spring of 1771 Russian government was busy with “coming up with ideas to pacify the Kabardians”.

The split between the “parties” of Kabardia was so deep that even when negotiating with Russians about the future of their homeland their representatives tried to hurt each other. Kourgoko Tatarkhan, representative of the Kashkataw party secretly from the other ambassador – Jankhot Sidak– told Russians that the “Baksans” will never surrender, that they gave hostages to Crimean Khan, that they keep communicating with Turkey and even advised to arrest Jankhot Sidak on their way back and keep him or children of the Baksan party leaders as hostages at Astrakhan.

Kourgoko failed to fool Russian authorities. Boutkov points that “the Cabinet, suspecting that Korgoko is merely pursuing his own interests when trying to make us take these Kabardians out of their homeland, concluded that, since Kabardians are so attached to their freedom, there can be no worse insult to them than taking some of their finest noblemen out of Kabardia by force. They will be swift to conclude that we try to enslave them and that will be enough to stir their worst actions against Russia. It would, too, be indecent to arrest Jamkhot, who came to the Court as a member of a commission and keep him imprisoned at Astrakhan, and it would warn other Kabardians off contacting us in the future. It would be most commendable to make a rule for us, as long as there is hope to pacify Kabardians by easy means, to refrain from slightest signs of compulsion.”

Considering that Circassian border was completely “naked” after the Kalmyks’ retreat the Tsarism was forced to revision some of their actions against Circassians.

On August, 30 (17), 1771 ambassadors of Kabardia received the Highly confirmed Charter “to the name of all the Kabardian people. Prince Kourgoko Tatarkhan was personally given the rank of a Captain of the Russian Army.

The text of this Charter shows that the Russian Empire did try to compromise.

Catherine II agreed to pay 50 rubles per each fugitive slave of Christian (Georgian) descent who fled Kabardia for Mozdok. Serfs of Circassian origin had to be returned to Kabardia. As one of the contemporary sources puts it, “this decision was based upon conclusion that all the runaway people who originate in Kabardia and flee to Mozdok are rotten and unreliable and they used Christianity only for their advantage to get freedom from slavery or to escape punishment for their acts of crime that they committed in the Homeland; many of them reached a collusion with their lords and fled back to Kabardia after robbing other Mozdok dwellers”. Furthermore, if a pshi or a warq wished to move to Mozdok his entire estate and possessions were to remain in Kabardia.

But the main damand – destruction of Mozdok – was denied: “The settlement founded at Mozdok we, great empress, our Imperial Majesty, will never agree to demolish for it is established not on your – Kabardian – soil and thus it by no means violates your property rights”.

By the way, the only ones in the Caucasus who Catherine II addressed with a Highly confirmed Charter, aside from Adyghe, were kings of Georgia.

These halfway measures, naturally, couldn’t satisfy Circassians. After the return of the embassy, Kabardia gathered a Xase, at which Circassians expressed their disdain with the Catherine’s Charter, and the Supreme Prince (пщышхуэ) of Kabardia Hatokshoko Kasey declared: “If Russian supremacy is the same thing that Russians showed to the Kalmyks, that were looted and ravaged so that the Kalmyks had to leave Russians and run away, Circassians will be forced to do the same and flee into the mountains”.

The continuation of war was unavoidable. The Kalmyk exodus had weakened the Russia border dramatically. Potto notes that after that “the entire steppe area between the Volga and the Kalaus rivers was empty to an extent that when Haji Karamirza led a raid in 1771 Circassians reached the Don Cossacks’ land without hindrance, razed the Romanovskaya Cossack village and only on their way back had a miscellaneous skirmish with major Kridner’s Hussars, who followed them to the Kouban River”.

But in 1772 an outbreak of plague in Circassia made Adyghe cease military actions. Russians, on their hand, as Potto notes, had no chance to counterattack, because “the betrayal of the Kalmyk khan, an uprising in Chechnya and nonstop disorders in Kabardia kept de Medem so busy that he couldn’t start any serious advance in three years”.

No troops could be detached to fight Circassians because the Russian army was occupied fighting the Crimean Khanate. Sure enough, the tsarist government wasn’t going to put up with the situation in Kabardia. By any means Catherine had to eliminate the legal consequences of the Belgrade peace treaty of 1739, which decalred Kabardia to be an independent state.

By all means Catherine had to eliminate the legal consequences of the Belgrade peace treaty of 1739, which decalred Kabardia to be an independent state.

By that time Russians took Perekop and invaded Crimea. On November, 7, 1772 Crimean Khan Selim-Geray capitulated and signed Russian-imposed “Eternal Union and Friendship” Treaty. Article 3 of the Treaty talked about Kabardia’s future : “All the Tatar and Circassian peoples, the Tamans and the Nekrasovtsy Cossacks that were under Crimean Khan’s rule at the beginning if this war are to remain under Crimean Khan’s rule. The Greater and Lesser Kabardia are to be subjects of Russian Empire”.

There it was. Catherine’s hands were untied now. Of course the Crimean Khan had nothing to do with Kabardia, even more so he couldn’t make arrangements of Kabardia’s sovereignty. But in a situation when Russian troops made camp in the Bakhchi-Saray palace the Khan, and later on, the Turkish sultan, too, were ready to cede the Moon and the stars to Russia.

That was the first step of legal termination of Kabardia’s sovereignty. Despite of Khan’s obedience, he was deposed and replaced with even more loyal Khan Sahib-Geray II.

In December, 1772 a Russian reconnaissance party captured a group of 12 Circassian princes, who were hunting in the territory of Kabardia. This act of hostility caused a Xasa meeting, which on January, 26, 1773, confirmed a letter to general de Medem. In their address Circassians demanded unequivocal immediate release of the captured princes, otherwise they stated ”we do not recognize ourselves to be Russian subjects, and, since we are too weak to hurt Russia, but God Almighty is merciful and we set our hopes upon Him, and everyone will prefer to die than put up with attacks like that”. In reality it was an ultimatum that de Medem tried to ignore at first.

Lacking enough forces to start a direct assault de Medem decided to incite new disorders in Kabardia itself to keep Circassians busy with their own problems. For that he held negotiations with some of the Ingush elders who agreed accept Russian rule and resettle closer to Mozdok. In return, the Ingush promised to join Russians against Kabardia. Circassian sent their demand to leave the Ingush alone, “explaining that the Ingushes are their subjects from olden times and they pay tribute to Circassians”.

The Ingush elders decided to gain seize the opportunity and car off the Circassian yore. They addressed de Medem with a letter, saying that “although we did temporarily pay tribute to Kabardians – one sheep per house and those who didn’t have that payed one piece of iron per house, but we never recognized ourselves as Kabardian subjects, and even more so we do not recognize now when we accepted Russian supremacy and many of us converted to Christianity”.

The Ingush were directly implying that while being Christians they didn’t wish to succumb to Muslim Kabardia. General de Medem sent a Russian detachment to protect the Ingush from Circassians. He also addressed the Court at St. Petersburg asking to send additional troops saying that “Kabardia’s discontent with the Ingush affairs is just a quibble, whereas the real reason is their eternal enmity (towards Russia) and without terror they never were and never will be obedient”.

By this time Circassians realized that de Medem ignored their ultimatum. They start gathering forces in Kabardia, this time inviting not only other Circassians but also neighboring mountainous peoples. A skilled negotiator prince Kaysin Kilchouko (Къесын К1ылъщыкъуэ), who led the embassy to Russia in 1764, was sent to Lesser Kabardia, and further on to Chechnya, Aksay, Anderi, Kostyuk villages (of Koumykia) and Tarki (Avars of Daghestan).
Catherine II prescribed to de Medem to use against Circassians of Kabardia defending measures only and refrain from irritating them. “Kabardians by their lifestyle and place of living always were and will be most apt to robbery and villainy, and for their Muslim faith inwardly hostile to us as Christians and friendly with the Turks”, she wrote, “but the past time proves that they are unanimous only when defending themselves and their homes, when threatened with outside dangers, and never were they united for actions outside their Homeland”. She also instructed de Medem to foist off on Circassians those 3000 rubles that they rejected in 1764.

The forces were gathered by May, 1773. At that time several thousands Circassians of Kabardia, Besleney, Temirgoy and warriors from Koumykia (Daghestan) crossed the Malka (Balhk) River and encamped about 30 km from Mozdok. Russian sources show that Circassian army was 25 000 men strong, but number is improbable, because neither then nor lateron could Circassians simultaneously raise an army like that. Most likely the size of the Circassian force was deliberately given too high so that it could justify cowardice of General de Medem. By the way, Circassians called de Medem “ineral degu” – deaf general, he couldn’t hear with one ear.

Mozdok was garrisoned with a force of 2342 men. Under these circumstances de Medem was afraid that he wouldn’t stand if Circassians stormed the fortress. He immediately released the 12 princes. Moreover, he acknowledge Kabardia’s sovereignty over the Ingush, as he put it in his report, “to seize irritating Circassians by trying to lure the Ingush away from them, since the Ingush elders acknowledged themselves that payed Circassians tribute with sheep and iron”, and called the detachment deployed in Ingushetia back.

It is hard to tell why Circassians managed to raise such a force and then gave up further advance onto Mozdok. This way or another, the Circassian army disbanded. Probably Catherine II was right when saying that Circassian could only unite when protecting their families and Homeland and were disinclined to take any outbound actions. Another possible the reason for that was the death of Hatokshoko Kasey, the Supreme Prince of Kabardia. In summer 1773 Circassians elected a new Supreme Prince - Tatarkhan Jankhot (Тэтэрхъан Жанхъуэт), a representative of the Bechmirze clan and full-blooded brother of Tatarkhan Kourgoko who was one of Kabardia’s ambassadors to St. Petersburg in 1771.

In December, 1773, in the Natoukhay territory of Western Circassia a 10000 men strong Osman-Crimean army landed at the Soudjouk-Kale (Circassian name - Tsemez) fortress. This army was headed by Devlet-Geray, who was declared a Khan by some of the Tatars who didn’t wish to submit to the Russian-imposed khan Sahib-Geray II.

He was also supported by Turkey. Devlet-Geray’s primary objective in the Caucasus was to defeat Russian forces and those of local Nogays and Tatars who supported the Russians, thus showing enough valor to “earn” the Crimean thrown.

It must be stated that by that time – the last third of the XVIII century – Tatars were a very weak troops, a mere shadow of the Crimean Tatars of the XVI and XVII centuries, who cast havoc in the entire Central European region and Russia. Crimean Khanate was at its last breath, endless fighting with Circassians undermined its military strength. It is known that in 1700-1735 there were over 80 000 of invading Tatars killed in Kabardia alone. By 1774 10 000 Tatars couldn’t scare anyone but themselves. As the Astrakhan’s governor Russian Artemy Volynsky wrote about Circassians of Kabardia in 1721 “if Tatars or Koumyks (come in group of) a thousand – two hundred Circassians will be enough (to defeat them)”.

Devlet-Geray took the Taman peninsula (Teman – Circassian for a swamp) and established a base there. He was going to strike his first blow at the Yedisan Horde which joined the Russian-oriented Kouban Tatars.

Tatar force appearing at the Kouban’s bank didn’t go unnoticed. Since the battle for the Crimea was over, a part of the Russian force that conquered the Crimea was transferred to the banks of Kouban. On April, 2 1774 these troops headed by brigadier Brink and sided by Yedisan Horde’s Tatars beat off Devlet-Geray’s attacks. After that the Turkish corps headed to Kabardia.

Kabardia sent representatives – Misost Bamat and Hamirza Aslanbek - of both parties to meet with Devlet-Geray. They had negotiations and reached an agreement of setting up a combined attack on Mozdok. On April, 10 1774 Shirin-beg, a representative of Crimean Tatars, arrived to Kabardia. He was at the village of Hatakshoko Hamirza (Хьэмырзэ Хьэт1эхъущокъуэ) when scouts reported about his arrival to Mozdok. Immediately Russians dispatched a force under command of major Kriedner of a battalion of infantry, Dragoons, Cossacks and 4 cannons (Note the number of troops and cannons – they show that Russians expected heavy resistance). The Russian troops surrounded Hamirza’s village and after a fierce battle they took Shirin-beg and Hamirza prisoners. Despite the Circassian counter-attacks, Kriedner managed to deliver the prisoners to Mozdok.

When questioned, Shirin-beg confirmed the reports of Delvet-geray heading to Kabardia. Hamirza and Shirin-beg were released after the end of the Russo-Turkish war a few months later.

Soon Devlet-Geray’s army which was joined by Circassians of Besleney, Temirgoy and the Abazas entered Kabardia and laid camp at the Balhk (Балъкъ) river.

Kabardia’s princes Jankhot Tatarkhan and Devlet-Geray Kasey (Къэсей Долэтджерий), as reported by a Russian contemporary source, “showing their loyalty to Russia strongly suggested major Kriedner to attack the enemy to protect those Kabardians that were loyal to us from the Crimean army, assuring that the majority of Kabardians will join Russians as soon as they see the Russians’ might”. Lieutenant-General de Medem heeded to the princes’ requests and dispatched a force of 1356 men under Kriedner’s command and sent them to the place where the Yekaterinogradkaya stanitsas is at (Adyghe name for that place is Zey pache – Cornel forest, it is in modern Kabardia’s territory). However, when Kriedner arrived to the scene he “only discovered prince Devlet-Geray Kasey with 80 Kabardians who arrived only to inform Russians that almost all of the Greater and Lesser Kabardia’s princes and commoners joined the Turks and sworn an oath to them”. This made Kriedner retreat to Mozdok.

On June 10 1774 Devlet-Geray, now sided by Circassians of Kabardia, approached Mozdok He didn’t dare to attack it though and instead of that he decided to storm the Cossack stanitsa of Naurskaya. This stanitsa was heavily fortified and was defended by Cossacks under command of ataman Saveliev. Ivan Saveliev for most of his life fought Circassians. He was among those who stormed Circassian fortification at the Eshkakon in 1769, where he was wounded in his shoulder and received a golden medal with “Her Majesty’s portrait”. He continued to fight Circassian until his death in 1812.

There is a lot written about the siege of naurskaya and the entire event is turned into such a myth that today is almost impossible to tell which of the written is a lie and which is true. But the main result remains the same – the 12-hour long storm was beaten off, and among the killed Circassians Cossacks discovered the body of Kabardia’s prince Kourgoko Tatarkhan, who was a full blooded brother to the Supreme prince of Kabardia Jankhot Tatarkhan and he was also the one who was one of the ambassadors to the Catherine II’s court in 1771 (remember the one who suggested the Russians arrest the other ambassador on their way back?)

Devlet-Geray of Crimea retreated inside the Kabardia’s territory and had another clash with Russians at the Gundelen River. On July, 10, 1774 the Russo-Turkish war ended. Russia and Turkey signed a peace treaty at Kuchuk-Kaynarji (Kucuk-Kaynarnci). Turkey lost that war, and traditionally, following the Crimean khan’s example, ceded Kabardia to Russia.

These are the two articles of the KK peace treaty regarding Kabardia:

“Article 21. Both Kabardias, that is the Greater and Lesser ones, since they are Tatar’s neighbors, have strong ties with the Crimean Khans. For that reason, their affiliation with Russia is subject to the will of the Crimean Khan and his council and the Tatar elders.

Article 22. The Belgrade tractate is now destroyed, which was signed in 1739, and all consequent conventions, in which Kabardias were declared independent and to be a barrier between the two empires.”

With Crimean khan given Kabardia as a gift to Russia and the Belgrade treaty destroyed, Kabardia’s independence was de jure terminated.

De facto Circassians of Kabardia kept fighting for independence for 51 more years until 1825, when having lost 90% of population and 74% of its territory were forced to curtail their resistance. Almost half of the surviving Circassians (over 70 villages), unwilling to subdue to the conquerors, left Kabardia and settle in the Trans-Kouban region (Western Circassia). Their descendants are now part of the Circassian population of the Karachay – Cherkes republic (today called the Cherkes) and Adyghea (villages of the Koshe-hable region). Those who fled Kabardia were called Hajiret in Circassian, meaning those who resettled.

The main outcome of the first stage of the Russian-Circassian war which ended in 1774 was not the de jure termination of the Kabardia’s sovereignty, but the changing of the nature of the military actions, both form Adyghe and Russian sides. In their further fight with Circassians the Russian Tsardom relied not on isolated battles, but on annexation of Circassian territory by building fortresses and Cossack stanitsas and extermination of those who was unwilling to subdue. It was after 1774 when Russians started settling the territories taken from Circassians by Cossacks from Don and Volga Rivers. After the 1777-1780 campaign Kabardia lost its best lands between the Kouma and Malka (Balhk) rivers, todays Caucasusu Mineral Waters region of Russia. This territory was cutt off Kabardia by a line of fortresses and stanitsas of the newly constructed Azov-Mozdok Line.

On another hand, the nature of Circassian fighting changed as well. After the deafeats of 1774 Circassians started to view their fight as one having a religious meaning, not only as a fight for independence, but also a fight against the infidels. On a 1779 tombstone to one of Circassians slain during the battle with the Russian troops of Generals Jacobi and Fabrizian on the Ketouko island of the Malka (Balhk) river has the following epitaph: “Here lies Koushmazouko Noukh son of Aslan-Geri, fallen in the Gazavat against the gyaours. May Allah have mercy upon his soul”.

Sources:

  • N.F. Grabovsky “Annexation of Kabardia by Russia and it fight for independence” / Collection of materials for description of the places and tribes of the Caucasus. Issue No. IX, Tibilis, 1876.
  • Circassians and other peoples of the North-Western Caucasus during the reign of Catherine II. Collection of documents. Nalchik, 1996.
  • S.M. Bronevsky “Historical notes on relations of Russia and Persia, Georgia and other mountainous peoples living in the Caucasus since the times of Ivan Vasilievich to present day”. Institute for Oriental Studies, SPb, 1996 ”.
  • P.G. Butkov’s “Materials for New History of the Caucasus 1722-1803”, SPb, 1869.
  • Baddeley John F. “The Russian Conquest of the Caucasus.” London, 1908.

Adyghe Union - Worldwide Circassian Brotherhood