Excerpt from Anssi Kullberg and Christian Jokinen's 'From Terror to Terrorism: the Logic on the Roots of Selective Political Violence'

The Eurasian Politician - July 2004

Anssi Kullberg and Christian Jokinen
Research Unit for Conflicts and Terrorism, University of Turku, Finland

“A notorious user of the "fire and sword" strategy was General Aleksey Yermolov, who used to terrorize Chechens and Dagestanis during the Russian conquest of the Caucasus in the 19th century. General Yermolov believed that "the total subjugation of the Caucasians" was only possible with the use of extreme cruelty, which would target civilian population, instead of the Caucasian fighters, known as the Murids, who were difficult to defeat. Yermolov concentrated his troops to destroy villages, burn houses, devastate cropfields, and slaughter the people and cattle. They also cut down beech forests to take away shelter from the Chechens. The outcome of this strategy was, however, that population fled to the mountains and was mobilized into an even fiercer resistance and retaliations against the Russian forts.

Another strategy of terror targeting civilian population was also initiated by the policies of imperial Russia. In addition to Yermolov's unsuccessful terror campaigns in the Caucasus, the Russian Empire launched a new strategy, which was to have long-lasting and tragic consequences for world history. It was the strategy of genocide, combined with mass deportation. The first victims were the Crimean Tatars, soon to be followed by Circassians, and finally Jews.

The first genocidal act took place within days of the declaration of Crimea's annexation by Tsarina Catherine II. At the end of April 1783, several thousand Crimean Tatar intellectuals, military officers and clergy were rounded up in Karasubazar and killed. The whole early 1800s marked a period of genocide and ethnic cleansing targeting the Crimean Tatars and aiming at wiping out their culture, intellectual heritage as well as physical presence from the Crimean Peninsula. Following the Crimean War (1853-1856), by the summer of 1860, the flight of Tatars from the terror in Crimea had turned the once flourishing peninsula into a "torched earth" landscape.

What happened first to the Crimean Tatars, stroke next the Circassians in the 1860s. An unprecedented genocide and wave of terror aimed at emptying the whole Caucasus from Circassians. Russia started a mass expulsion in Circassia in 1860, with catastrophic consequences. Unlike the Tatars, who chose the exile and fled from the dar al-harb, the Circassians put up armed resistance, fortified their capital, Sochi, and made appeals to Turkey and the West to gain recognition for independent Circassia. After having forcibly halted the exodus of Crimean Tatars, in 1862, Russia launched terror campaign, massacres and targeted famine against Circassians, and by May 1864, the Circassian resistance movement had been crushed. In 1865, Russia spread the terror campaign against Chechens. By the 1880s, more than three million Circassians (up to 90 % of the population) as well as hundreds of thousands of Chechens, Abkhazians, Georgian Muslims and other Caucasians had been forced to emigrate to Turkey in the proportionally most massive ethnic cleansing of the time. The number of those directly killed has not been properly investigated. Suddenly, as in the case of the Crimean Tatars, Russia stopped the persecution of the remaining populations, and crushed the voluntary emigration movements by deporting the organizers to Siberia. This coincided with the launch of yet another campaign - the pogroms and expulsions of Jews.

The careful timing, planning and systematic organization of the ethnic cleansings and genocide against Crimean Tatars, Caucasian Muslims and Jews indicate that imperial Russia, even during the reigns of some monarchs, who have been considered as "more enlightened", did not follow a random strategy in Russia's southward expansion … Also regarding the history of the time, the systematic use of ethnic cleansing, pogroms and genocide as a means of imperial expansion and colonization marked the beginning of a novel and sinister trend in imperial politics. What was launched by Russia's brosok na yug, with their first victims being the Crimean Tatars and Circassians, was continued against the Jews, and the fashion was soon exported both west – targeting Jews across Europe since the 1870s – and south – leading to the atrocities against Armenians in the 1910s.

The history of modern ethnic cleansing and genocide, therefore, began in the outskirts of the Russian Empire in the late 18th century and throughout the 19th century. The relevant difference to the medieval campaigns was that the campaigns of "fire and sword" had primarily sought for the subjugation of the conquered populations by terror, the ethnic cleansings in Crimea and the Caucasus marked the beginning of a tradition, where the goal was no longer just vanquishing active resistance, but ethnic cleansing and the physical elimination of the opponent as a collective, ethnic, entity.

Consequently, in the late 19th century and early 20th century, the Russian word pogrom became known all around Europe, meaning violent operations targeting targeting the civilians of a certain, limited, ethnic or religious group (usually Jews or Muslims)…”

* * * * *

“This is how terror also changed the nature of war. Previously, the population of conquered areas had been an important part of the conquest and it just got new rulers. However, starting with the policies of the Russian Empire in the late 18th and 19th centuries, the concept of conquest included ideas of territorial ethnic cleansing, so that state terror and genocide became "necessary" characteristics of territorial conquests. The Tatar and Caucasian Muslims of the conquered territories of the former Khanates of Crimea, Kazan and Astrakhan as well as Circassia and Dagestan, were to experience these horrors first, soon to be followed by Jews, Armenians, Balkan Turks, and many others.”

Excerpt from Annsi Kullberg's ''The Background of Chechen Independence Movement II: The Sufi Resistance''
The Eurasian Politician - October 2003

Russia's war campaigns concentrated in the Circassian lands of the Northwest Caucasus and the Black Sea coast. To oppress the Circassians, Russia ended up in a solution that was to have sinister historical significance: All the historical territory of the Circassians, the Kuban plains and the Black Sea coast, were to be cleansed of the original population. The Circassians were given two choices: they could move to the interior parts of the Empire, or flee to Turkey. Most Circassians chose Turkey. Mass deportations were started in 1860, and the consequences were catastrophic. A humanitarian disaster followed, and the Circassians immediately organized armed resistance, and made Sochi (Sashe) their capital, appealing for Turkey and the Western states to recognize independent Circassia. Their appeals were ignored.

In 1862, Russia again started violent deportations, and by May 1864, the Circassian resistance had been crushed. More than 400'000 Circassians as well as 200'000 Georgian Abkhazians and Ajars were compelled to flee for Turkey. The deportation did not take place without major violence, but the Russian imperial troops committed horrible massacres, and besides, thousands of people starved to death. In 1865, Russia decided to use the same methods to cleanse Chechnya, from where 5'000 extended families were deported to Turkey (the amount was huge compared with the size of the population at the time – a family is a very large unit).

It was really the first intentional large-scale genocide of the modern times, as well as the model case of the consequent tradition of ethnic cleansing. It was also the largest single genocide of the 19th century. It preceded the wave of pogroms and deportations that Russia used against the Jews, and it also preceded the tragic consequences that the same Russian expansion wars against Turkish territories had on Armenians after the turn of the century. For some reason, the Circassian genocide has never been given proper attention or researched well. The Circassian genocide ended at about same time with the launching of the Jewish deportations in 1880s, when more than three million Circassians had been expelled from the territories occupied by Russia. The numbers of those who were killed, are not known. Anyway, it meant 90 per cent of the whole Circassian population.