Caucasian War: History and Representations by Khasan Kasumov

Special to

Khasan Kasumov
Fatih University, Istanbul

The history of the Caucasian War that ended 146 years ago, memories of it, as well as stereotyped perceptions and representations of the past events have become the scene of ideological nationalistic struggle and propaganda for the ruling groups and elites striving for legitimization. The change of methodological paradigms as a result of departure from the orthodox Marxist historiography favored the formation of pluralism in scientific research on the one hand, and led to “methodological anarchy” on the other. Apart from that, the longing of some political circles for placing history at the service of their nationalistic interests has turned out to be an obvious move towards keenness on ethnic history, politics and culture.

Thus, it may be ascertained that a deep crisis is being observed both in the field of current historical Caucasian Studies and in the entire Russian academic historical science. It is well manifested in the regional and ethnic seclusion within professional historical society. Moreover, the to-date economic and social crisis in Russia has led not only to alianation inside Russian society but to the loss of contacts with the global (mainly western) historiography tradition. The lack of any serious theoretical discussions has caused such a situation that important issues like the difference in understanding the nature on interrelations between the historian and original source, between the subject of scientific research and methods of historical cognition, between the subject matter and the nature of historical knowledge obtained, between its presentation form and the follow-up interpretations of the historical text, failed to draw attention of modern historians working in the field of Caucasian Studies.

The use of literary sources in historical works as well as methods and theory of literary criticism, as the latest tendency in historical science, has also escaped attention of Russian historians covering the issue.

The main question is how such a rhetorical construct as “Caucasian War”, formulated in the second half of the 19-th century, has acquired the properties of materialization of that phenomenon accompanied by fixing it in the historiography discourse. The task is being set to trace the shift in interpreting the concept of “Caucasian War”, its fixing in historical memory especially with the beginning of formation of the ethnically-colored groups of historians working in the field of Caucasian Studies in the 1930 – 2000's. As a result, historical knowledge about the Caucasian War is presented not as a system of complete cognitive experience but as a contradictory intellectual process, the knowing of reality conditioned by the mobile cultural context. As a result, it seems fruitful to show professional culture of historians covering the Caucasian War as a definite discoursing practice, a specific method of communication - a ritual based on the ideas and symbols shared by the majority of historians.

The analysis of the sources and literature, the scientific reflection of the obtained data, the adaptation of the corresponding theoretical conceptions and methods of investigation to the history of interrelations on the line Russia – North Caucasus allowed to make a conclusion that the complicated process of formation of a new system of relations of the power and the so called “disciplinary practices” having as well the discourse dimension begins in the Russian empire in the end of the XVIIIth – the first half of the XIXth century. The process of differentiation in geographical and social space, inspectorate and punishment, discipline and training reveals in the most distinct way in the suburbs of the empire, and in North Caucasus in the particular, where the Russian macropower and macropolitics comes into collision with the quite different types of public, social and cultural relations (quasi-state unions of Central and North-East Caucasus, the highland societies of North-West Caucasus). The objects of colonial conquering and domination so become the aims of new biopolitics of the power (micropower). Such an immanent by itself power not localizing, transverse, positive (on the microlevel), but illegal can’t co-exist with the fields not imposed to disciplining (the suburbs of the empire) and individuals not built into the net of the micropower relations, which bodies are not imposed to training and are not useful for the power.  Such an implicit system of the power leads to the appearance of the complex “power – knowledge” in Russia (according to the conception of M.Foucault), which is formed on the level of practices of the power through observation (ethnography, geography, statistics, history), control, differentiating (classification), domination (administrative measures etc.).

The application of the conception of “places of memory” differentiating the social memory and the historical memory, constructing by the historiographic discourse. The study of the corresponding discourse ensembles allowed to single out the texts of various types (narrative and analytical) and levels (didactic, educational, academic, popular, literary historical) forming the complicated intertext of common culture discourse.

Cultural, social, ideological and ethnic foundations of “places of memory” allowed to reveal two main directions in the development of the historiographic discourse about “the Caucasian War” as a social historic construct: institutionalized history and counterhistory.

So the historic reality about “the Caucasian War” becomes inaccessible to the consciousness except of the form mediating by the cultural conventions and conceptions. The historical reality is mediating in the system of historic education, belles-lettres style about the Caucasus, in museums, monuments, architectural constructions, folklore and etc. Such maximally wide approach to the concept “memory” allowed to reevaluate the traditional epistemological and methodological significance of the objects of investigation, various cultural and subcultural forms. Plural “cultural practices” and their systems of signifying in the cultural space which in this or that extent deal with the problems of the concept “Caucasian War” have been studied in this context. Various aspects of functioning of such “cultural practices” have been revealed both in the “big” Russian society and in the societies of North Caucasus. We’ve managed to show how various “places of memory” and various techniques of memorizing” the history of interrelations between Russia and the Caucasus form in various sociocultural and politic contexts in the 20 – 90-ties of the XXth century.

The analysis of school textbooks and educational programs and also academic courses of universities showed that the concept “the Caucasian War”, its description take far larger place in the practice of the school and high school teaching at present, impacting on the ethnic political practices, peoples consciousness and experiencing the replying impact of the contemporary discourses in the field of politics, historiography, ethnic processes in North Caucasus.

The important place is given to the process of constructing and further representation of the historical knowledge about “the Caucasus”, “The Caucasian War”, “highlanders” and so on.

It is shown that the construction of the history of North Caucasus on the example of “the Caucasian war” was not arbitrary. We’ve managed to pick out several big discourse ensembles changing each other, coexisting in the space-temporal scale of historiography of the history of the Caucasian war.

In general the problem of deep and all-round study of the concept “the Caucasian War” is solved which allowed to make the large methodological conceptual generalizations connected with the existence of various discourse ensembles in the system “power – knowledge” in the limits of the history of the historic caucasiology, each time recomprehending and representing anew “the mental archive” in this or that historical epoch.

Dr. Khasan KASUMOV, Russian language and literature, Fatih University, Istanbul. Author of the book ‘‘Genocide of Adyghes’’ (Genotsid Adygov: iz istorii bor´by adygov za nezavisimost´ v XIX veke) A.Kh. Kasumov, Kh.A. Kasumov, Nalchik, 1992.