Laudaev “The Chechen Tribe” part III


Concerning the peoples who inhabited the flatland of Chechnya

until the establishment of the Chechens there.


Earlier the Chechens lived in the mountains and only at the beginning of the last century did they settle in the flatland. In [their] legends, the Chechens say that Nogais, Russians and Kalmyks ruled the flatlands at different times. [But] legends about this topic are so inconsistent and contradictory that it requires a lot of perspicacity to grasp their true meaning.[1]

We must suppose that [either] the Tatars ruled the flatland of Chechnya because of [the legacy] the Golden Horde or possibly that on establishing themselves there they found no one inhabiting it. There were legends preserved in the irakh (songs or improvisations) of the Nogai that at that time the Shamkhal ruled the east and the Kabards the west of the Caucasus. Always occupied with raiding and robbery, the Kabards would gather in a large mass and set out to loot the territory of the Shamkhal. They would pass through the Kumyks and the flatlands of Chechnya and at that time found nobody living there.[2] From this legend, it’s clear that the Chechens occupied the flatland only recently. Furthermore, the Nogai sing that the khan Mamai (defeated by Dmitrii on the field of Kulikova) took yasak, or taxes, from the Kabards. It follows that the Tatars ruled the entire Caucasus flatland, including Chechnya. [But] being always engaged in [nomadic] pastoralism, the Tatars were not able leave behind any remains of their time in this country.  [Eventually] the [Golden] Horde weakened and collapsed, divided into several pieces by antagonistic khans.

The Russians, having thrown off its yoke, began to build cities and forts on the ruins of the Horde. The unconstrained Russian people began to look for space to let loose their adventurous spirit. On dry land and water, they tested their daring. Sailing along the Aten (Idil/Volga) to the Khalvyn[3] Sea, they encountered the Kizilbash (Persians), [and] appeared in Shemakh and other basurman[4] cities. Not stopping with this, they [also] appeared in Khiva. Without a doubt, the Russians, due to their adventurous spirit, passed through Chechnya, driving from it the Tatars already living there, and settled there. There are still commonly told Chechen legends in which they say that at that time “the Russian was the father of the country” (Orsai mekhki da khille) and “the Russians’ cart has gone up the mountain” (orgain gudalak lamte yaller).  The words mekhki da khille, i.e. to become father of the country, means to become father of all the Chechen lands, Ichkeria and the areas around the Argun. Lamte yaller, i.e. to go up the mountain, means to go up the bald mountains.[5]

It’s clear from these [expressions] that at that time the Russians were not temporary visitors to Chechnya, ready to quit her at the first occurrence of misfortune; rather, they had a permanent presence, because a wagon is an attribute of settled life in the mountains. In Greater and Lesser Chechnya, along where the rivers and streams exit out of the gorges of the black mountains onto the flatland, in the mountains themselves and in other places, can still be seen the trenches of the occasional former fort,  undoubtedly of Russian [make]. The name of the river and aul of Urus-Martana (Orsai-Martan), i.e. the Russian martyn and other [examples] corroborate this fact.  A few trenches, for example, at the Goyten-kurta kurgan, in Greater Chechnya, on the banks of the Argun, have held up so well with time that it would only require occupying them for them to serve as forts.  The Russians began to quit their homeland and leave for the south in the time of Tsar Boris Gudonov, who enserfed the peasants. Those not wanting to be bound ran away in throngs to the south of Russia, to the Cossacks and probably at that time also established themselves in Chechnya.

The Time of Troubles of the pretenders and outrages of the streltsy brought new settlers to the Caucasus and Chechnya. Since this period, the Russians have been closely acquainted with the Caucasus. Peter the Great, personally leading a host in the war against Persia, passed through the lands of the mountain tribes, who gave him their obedience. Memory of Pedar-Padshah has still not disappeared in the eastern Caucasus.  After the Azov defeat, the influence of Turkey on the Caucasus began to weaken. Simultaneously, the Russians became more powerful there.  At that time they began to earnestly establish themselves in the lower Stavropol Gubernia.  Surrounded on all sides by predatory tribes (who were not trustworthy and always desired loot), much vigilance was necessary for the Russians located in the Caucasus in order to protect themselves and their property from the attacks of these ungoverned tribes.  It is possible that these hardships and the memory of a homeland far away compelled them to quit Chechnya and settle adjacent to their countrymen, who were already established in great numbers on the Terek. [And so] they left her.

Having removed beyond the Terek, the Russians, however, did not relinquish their claim to the land left behind. Considering it their own property, they allowed the Chechens to occupy the flatlands on a conditional basis, carefully watching from beyond the Terek to see to the compliance [of their conditions]. The conditions were exclusively predicated on [the Chechen settlers’] ability to guard against predatory attacks by Chechens across the Terek. They allowed [Chechen] individuals, who were known to be loyal to them, to use the land, laying on them the responsibility for their own people.  The important conditions were 1) obedience to the Russian tsar[6] 2) in cases of a Russian taken captive or of theft, they were expected to bring back the captive or stolen goods 3) they were obliged to provide men for Russian expeditions or serve as sentries 4) they had to answer for predation that happened in their auls, through which passed paths and so forth. To ensure compliance with the conditions, they took hostages (amanat) from influential people because of [their] frequent perfidy.[7]

When the Russians had completely left Chechnya, Chechens willfully settled down without permission in the gorges of the black mountains, in the forests and other secret places.  The Russians tried to hinder their willfulness. They burned farmsteads, raided and robbed the inhabitants, [and] took them away in captivity. From this began the centuries-long struggle of the Chechen tribe with the Russians, which grew large at the start of the current century.

The Russians quit Chechnya at different times. At first, they removed from Lesser Chechnya and afterward they soon began to quickly leave Greater Chechnya.  Their resettling was highly natural; the societies of Argun and Nazran, in their primitive rudeness, did not have any understanding of civilized existence. These ungoverned tribes made a living by robbery and banditry, and thus they greatly troubled the Russians in Lesser Chechnya.  At the same time, the Ichkerians were less of a danger to the Russians in Greater Chechnya.  The Ichkerians were at the beginning stage of civilized life, which had been inculcated amongst them by the Avars. And so they were less rude and dangerous.  Removing from the black mountains little by little, the Russians settled in the heart of the flatlands. In this way, they lived briefly in the Kachalyk and Sunzha ranges (Greben, from which comes the Greben Cossacks) where [some of them] remained long after the exodus of the mass of their [countrymen].[8]

[1] [Laudaev Extended Comment 3] There can be little doubt that the Kalmyks reigned in Chechniya. Legends among the people confirm their sojourn in Chechniya. For example, on the Sunzha there is now a Chechen aul, Gular. In Chechen, Gular means a fortified place, i.e. ditches dug around, moat, walls, etc. The aul of Gular is located in a place that was once fortified with trenches. And legend says that a mighty Kalmyk khan and his people once dwelt in this place. Localities called Gular are many, both in Chechniya and on the Terek. Others say that Russians once lived in those Gulars. It’s been verified that the Kalmyks lived in the Kumyk flatlands all the way to the Caspian itself. As Lamaists, they considered all the Muslim mountain tribes as enemies and the Shamkhal as the greatest [enemy]. The mountain people afflicted the Kalmyks, robbing and killing them and in every way tried to drive them from this country. If they actually lived in Chechniya, of course, the Chechens harried them no less than did the other mountain people. Legend says that, not seeing the possibility of their staying in this area, the Kalmyks gathered to hear advice from wise people. The advice amounted to this, “peace and quiet, they said, “we left behind the Heavenly Empire, and we should return to China for it.” Many of them were terrified of crossing the Idil (Volga), but circumstances helped them. An elderly Kalmyk, who was already alive at the time of their settlement in the Caucasus, gave his services to the people.  He ordered a basket to be woven for himself and made ready an easily accessible camel. The old man sat in the basket and loaded it on the camel, and in such a way began the exodus of the Kalmyks under his leadership. The old man found such a convenient ford that all the sheep were crossed to the eastern bank of Volga. When all had crossed from the one [side], the old man began to cross, [but] suddenly a wind started up, the Volga kicked up, the force knocking the legs out [from under] the camel and the Kalmyk drowned. The event was considered favorable, it being said that God himself had preserved the old man for this very day. In fact, the opposite occurred. The Kalmyks were overtaken by the Russians. Part of them were destroyed, part managed to immigrate to China and part returned to Russia.

In any case, it’s clear that they weren’t found for very long in Chechniya.  There is still another story about the [Kalmyk] exodus from Chechniya. Two Ichkerians, chasing a deer, passed through the flatlands, where they were captured by the Kalmyks and brought to the Khan. He asked them what were their people, how where they employed, how did they live and so forth. Words following words, the conversation came to the beauty of women – a sensitive topic for the Kalmyk ruler. The Ichkerians said that the plain Kalmyk [women] weren’t worthy of capturing the heart of such an important person as himself. They added that in their country, in Ichkeria, in the Dishnie family, there was a maiden of outlandish beauty. From the light of her eyes, they went on, night became day, and money should not be spared to avoid being hindered in acquiring this beauty. The Khan was driven to distraction by love for this maiden and asked them to facilitate her acquisition. The yearning of the Khan was made known to the Dishnies. Having gathered from among the wise men of the country, they set conditions and sent the maiden on the way [along] with emissaries. Realizing that the maiden was on the road, the arrogant Khan stooped so low as to go out himself to meet her and grab the bridle of the camel, on which was mounted the maiden. The messengers said that he would not otherwise receive her hand [unless he agreed] with [their] terms of yielding the country to the Ichkerians and crossing over the Terek. “If you want her for your wife, give us the land. And if you don’t want to, we will send her to the Sultan.” The khan agreed, but asked for a period of half a year. He wanted this time to spend quietly in the arms of [his] new spouse. He kept his word. Within half a year the Chechens didn’t see any more of the Kalmyks and occupied the flatlands.

They say that, seeing the green meadows beyond the Terek, the Chechens decided to cross and there, but were stopped by a lack of boats.  This didn’t hold them back [however]. Having mowed some hay, they beat a stack [together] and lowered it into the water and they sat themselves on it. The stack came apart and, [the Chechens] not knowing how to swim, they drowned. Attributing this to the wrath of God, the Chechens stayed on their side. This legend also confirms the Kalmyks’ dwelling in the flatlands of Chechnya. It’s very possible that, having occupied the Kumyk flatlands, they occupied a part of Chechnya. But to claim that the flatland was yielded by the Kalmyks to the Chechens would be incorrect. It was yielded by [the Kalmyks] to the Russians. The Kalmyks would have been in the Chechnya until the settlement of the flatlands by the Russians.

[2] [Laudaev Extended Comment 4] The [following] legend was collected about a raid by the Kabards on the kingdom of the Shamkhal. The Kabards fell on a border aul, took the possessions, livestock and all the people and left for the Terek with impunity. Assuming that they were already out of danger, they feasted on the banks of the river Kulkuzh, in Kabardina and started to divide up the yassir, i.e. the captives. Learning about this, the Shamkhal set off in a rage, gathered a large host and prepared to give chase. Someone [named] Ali, a favorite of the Shamkhal, dissuaded him from personally going in pursuit and took this business on himself. Choosing two hundred select horsemen, Ali set off after the Kabards. He caught them at the river Kulkuzh and placed himself a short distance from them. Ali was a reasonable person. Having personally examined the oversight of the feasters at night, at dawn he prepared his host with the following words, “You see, brothers, the oversight of the giaours (the Kabards were at that time pagans). Assuming that they have escaped the notice of our Shamkhal, they celebrate. They have taken off their armor and weapons, befuddled their heads with wine, committed iniquities on our defenseless wives and sisters and divvied up our brothers like sheep. Whoever has a heart that beats timidly, leave me and go find the trail left by the feet of his horse. Whoever has a lion’s heart, [he] is my comrade. Take revenge on those Karbards for our unfortunate brothers, wives and sisters. And let us make the face of the Shamkhal white (clear)!” [Translator’s note- defend the Shamkhal’s honor.] They rushed in on the half-drunken Kabards [and] wiped them out to the last man. They returned to the Shamkhal with their captive brothers [and] a great boon was awarded to Ali. The Kumyks and Chechens had not yet occupied the flatlands [of Chechnya] at the time of these noteworthy raids.

[3]  [Laudaev Footnote 2] Caspian

[4] Translator’s note: Basurman means Saracen, Muslim unbeliever or infidel (from a Russian Orthodox perspective).

[5] [Laudaev Extended Comment 5] That the Chechens were at that time submissive to the Russians is proved by the very name given by the Chechens to the Russian Tsar. The Sovereign [was called] in Chechen, padi-shakh or padshakh, i.e. tsar of the world. It’s improbable that they, [being] religiously sympathetic to the Sultan, would give [the tsar] this title if they weren’t [already subject] to the Russians. They called the Sultan khunkyar and the Persian Shah shakh.

[6] [Laudaev Footnote 3] To this day, the Chechens understand the might of the Russian tsar and recognize him as their own sovereign, called padshah or tsar.”

[7] [Laudaev Extended Comment 6] than a foreigner, can a native know about the development of his homeland from its national legends, beliefs and proverbs. Already in 1854, i.e. when Shamil was in his full strength, I remember very clearly how the Chechens, making sense of the Russians’ fighting with Shamil, [and] feeling powerless, said the following, “in past times the Russians were the rulers of the country and at that time a Russian peasant woman could go about on the black and forested mountains.” It is necessary to know that the going about of women alone in the mountains is considered a significant fact amongst the Chechens. When Shamil was taken and Chechnya pacified, it was if the people were [already] prepared for it and foresaw it. I well remember how my countrymen comforted themselves with the words, “Without a doubt, the Russian will again become the ruler of the country, [and] will cordon off the mountains with forts (galash) and the [Russian] woman will wander about the mountains. But God is great, a muri-da (i.e. a ruler of the sword) will appear and will drive them forth across the Terek.” That the Russians truly had an impact on the inhabitants of the forested mountains is testified to by these popular rumors.

[8]  [Laudaev Extended Comment 7] Legend says that when the Russians removed beyond the Terek, a single Russian, by the name of Taras, remained in Chechnya, in his former habitation. He was a prosperous and hearty man. His house was built next to a spreading oak. He kept his livestock and bees under it.  In such a way he passed two years by himself. Word of his richness spread amongst the Chechens, but his mettle kept them from insidious attempts [against him]. In the end, two men from Zumso (from the Argun clan), enticed by his riches, set out to kill him. They decided not to make an attack openly, but, setting up an ambush [from] behind the bushes, they tied a matchlock to a tree and aimed it at the door of Taras’ house. Taras unconcernedly returned to his home. The men from Zumso killed him with an accurate shot. The dead [man] having not fallen down, but died leaning against the door, was still terrifying for them. Assuming that he was using cunning against them, [it was] only after two days that they ascertained that he was dead and took his possessions.


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