Laudaev “The Chechen Tribe” Part VI, Relics, legends and stories

VI.

Relics, legends and stories

Found at a lower level of development, the Chechens were not able to build significant relics [testifying] to their history. Knowing [only] a life of herding, they could not build anything lasting. And even if they built shrines and temples, as they were pagans all of these needed to be thrown down into obscurity upon the acceptance of Islam. Only in the mountains of the Nazranovian society, where Islam was finally adopted only in the last forty years, do they still exist.

At different times, the Chechen tribe was under the rule of various outlanders. To hold their conquered lands, the conquerors needed to fortify them, building forts, towers and other defensive structures to maintain their forces. Thus, the Georgians, ruling the cis-Argun krai, left behind stone towers as relics of their sojourn, which still exist.[1] The Avar khans ruled Ichkeria. Not as mighty as the Georgians or as developed, they weren’t much different from the Ichkerians which is why they didn’t leave behind relics of their ownership of the country.  The power of the Avars depended on chance. They were threatened from the east, from which direction the might of the Shamkhal could shake their power.  For that reason, they fortified their own central lands [rather] than Ichkeria. The Russians, possessing the flatland, also had influence on the mountain inhabitants.  Surrounded by predatory tribes, they concentrated their habitations in stations, fortified against intrusions of predators. These fortifications serve as relics of the sojourn of the Russians in Chechniya. Similarly , the ditch of Tamerlane, raised kurgans, moats of former forts, and stone towers in the mountains worthy of note from among the ancient relics of [foreign conquerors in] Chechniya .[2]

The Chechens are very poor in legends, and those inconsistent. Many are so improbable that it is difficult to differentiate truth from fairytale.  Living in the inaccessible mountains,  the Chechens weren’t witnesses to larger events and their krai wasn’t rocked by large revolutions. Thus there was nothing of the sort from which to make legends to pass on to [their] progeny. But they very much loved to listen to fabulous legends and stories.[3] With the acceptance of Islam the mullahs began to acquire manuscripts from the Arabs, Turks and Persians and then the Chechens became acquainted with stories about the caliphs, sultans, Aksak-Temir (lame Temir or Tamerlane), the heroes of the Eastern peoples, the humorous Mullah Neseret (Nasr-Eddin the mullah) and so forth.

The legend of the Narts is more significant than the others amongst the legends of the Chechens. They say that mysterious strangers ruled Chechniya down to the [time] of the Chechens.  Legend says that they were kerestan, i.e. Christian.  They were of gigantic height.  Often they are described strikingly, clad in iron armor from head to foot. Their arms consisted of a shield (galkan or pkhunish), a sword (tur) and a mace (chonkur). It’s clear from the legends that they ruled the country, although small in number, robbing the inhabitants, killing and squeezing them, forcing themselves on wives and daughters or taking them by force to be their wives.  The people feared their appearance and a sense of this fear carried over into the legends.  Not only the Chechens, but almost all the mountain tribes speak of them in their legends. The Adegei peoples were more familiar with them. They call them by name and compiled songs about their doings. A famous key in Kislovodsk, narzan (nart-sana) got its name from the Narts. The Terek Chechens point out a place where they lived and it still carries their name.[4]

The folktales of the Chechens also don’t clarify in any way the origins of the nation or the circumstances of the major changes in the country. They all speak of the Narts, Kalmyks, Tatars and Russians, i.e. those peoples who were stronger than the Chechens and who they feared. [But the Chechens] themselves play a passive role in the tales. Usually in the tales, there are parents with a son and daughter or a few sons and a daughter. The only daughter disappears. With tears, the aged parents wail away the final stage of their darkened lives.  The son, not being able to bear their tears and lamentation, takes his father’s prized steed, seizing the ancestral weapon[5], and starts out on the chase and makes a promise to either return with his sister or lay down his life,  [so as to in any case] to wipe away his misfortune. Wandering for a long time, undergoing a thousand dangers and labors, he makes his way into the home of the kidnapper, embraces his sister and suggests she run away with him. The kidnapper was either a khan, a Arzhe-Nogai (Black Nogai) or a Gyaur-Orsai (Russian infidel). The sister says to the brother that his labors are in vain, that even if he ran faster than the North wind the khan would still overtake them on his three-legged horse, kill him and carry her back. ‘What can we do?’ asks the brother. They deliberate and agree that the sister will try to find out from the khan how to kill him. Hiding her brother in a secret place, she washes herself with sweet-scented soap (bazarai-saba), combs [her] hair,  plaiting it in a long, splendid braid, puts on her best dress (darai beder) and captivates the khan with her charms. [They go to] the bed for love-making. Once they are both in bed, she asks on what is his strength based and in what fashion could he be overcome? To put aside suspicion, she plies him with her embraces and showers him with passionate kisses. The overjoyed and befuddled khan yields to the seductions of the beauty’s charms, and, like a new Samson with Delilah, lets out his undisclosed secret, there is a talisman to end his life. The sister tells the brother the secret. He, having waited for an advantageous moment, deprives the khan of life, taking his property, returns with the sister to the aged parents, who were desperate to see them again.

Generally, all the Chechens’ stories are of similar content, from which it can be seen that the original Chechens were not ambitious, [rather] living modest, domestic lives in the inaccessible places of their homeland. [Thus their] neighbors always exceeded them and often ruled over them.

[1]   [Laudaev Extended Comment 15]     It’s very likely that the towers in the mountains are of Georgian construction, but I don’t insist on this opinion. Furthermore, I’ll point out the opinion of one person that [I] heard, according to who their construction is attributed to the Parsenoi family, who lived at sometime in the Argun krai. This family isn’t [found] there anymore; it crossed down into the flatland where it appears [the family] consists of two or three households. I can’t say how much [this] opinion merits credence. It’s sufficient only [to note] that the Chechens have no legends about Persian rule in the mountains. In their legends, the people talk a lot about about the Georgians (gurzhiy).

[2]     [Laudaev Extended Comment 16]       Ancient remarkable relics of Chechniya            1) Tamerlane’s ditch

            In different places in Chechniya: beyond the Argun, around Fort Vozhdvinskii, in little Chechniya and on the Terek, it is still possible to see a ditch, which with time has already become almost level with the ground. Chechens attribute it to Tamerlane and call it Aksak Temir-or, i.e. the ditch of lame Temur. Concerning this moat, legend says that Tamerlane had a son go missing. In order to find him, he gathered a numerous host and decided to either conquer the world or find [his] son.  In order to come back sooner, he dug a moat along the entire road. His host was composed of so many that, at the time of the digging of the moat, every warrior’s share was only a sack of earth. The moat stretched from the Caspian to the Black sea and went [up] to Russia. Tamerlane suggested to his warriors [that they] carry off more of the soil. Having spoken about how much soil had been carried [off], he said] that warriors who didn’t carry any [more] off would regret it.  The warriors didn’t understand Tamerlane’s words, therefore [only] a few warriors carried away some [more] soil, [while most] others didn’t. The soil that was carried off was turned into gold and the prophetic words of Tamerlane were fulfilled. The warriors who carried off the soil and had [then] carried off [some more of it] were despondent that they had carried off so little. Those who didn’t carry any off [extra soil] were despondent that they hadn’t carried off any. It is said that later on [that Tamerlane’s] son was discovered by a herdsman of the contemporaneous Tatar khan Tokhtamish. In this herd was the steed Turnal (Polkana in [its] Russian form). The son of Tamerlane sat on him. With [its] sensitive ears, the horse heard the progressing horde of Tamerlane and brought him his son. Having drubbed the Tatars, he came back [home].

2) Raised kurgans

Not only in Chechniya, but across the whole north Caucasus, in proximity to water, are scattered kurgans. The greater part of them are surrounded by a moat. A kurgan was raised from  the earth that had been dug out and therefore a large kurgan is surrounded by a correspondingly [large] moat.  The builder of a kurgan could make two uses of it. He lived on the kurgan with his family, and the moat served as protection from enemies. At night he penned his livestock within it. Kurgans often are distributed in groups, standing at a distance of about ten versts from each other.  Among every group of small kurgans there is one big one, lording it over the neighboring ones. It’s possible to believe that a group of kurgans formed a village. On a big one lived the prince or chief, and his subjects on small ones. From the number of kurgans it’s possible to conclude that they were built by a numerous people. A few believe that these kurgans are the kernels of cemeteries of a formerly existing, mighty Caucasus people. Eyewitnesses testify that on excavating a kurgan in the territory of the Chechens beyond the Terek human remains were dug up, which were lying between slabs of stone. In the tomb, along with the remains, were found a kinjal and clay water basin. There is a legend that Kalmyks and Tatars constructed these kurgans. But this is very unlikely because these peoples usually lived in felt yurts and never engaged in such engineering work. A few kurgans have excavated tops; for example, a kurgan on the Terek, called akhkene chu barz, i.e. the kurgan with an excavated interior. Legend says that Russians excavated it in the hope of taking treasure (buried treasure or gold) from it. When the workers had dug down as far as the treasure, a spade, striking on metal, made a sound and then suddenly a storm started up. Hail and winds destroyed the workers. The people are currently of the opinion that there is gold in them, but unclear spirits (shaitan) guard it. But its very unlikely that my countrymen would be afraid of shaitan. They are more likely held back by the uncertainty of the existence of the treasure.

In Chechniya, money, jars, pots, silver bracelets and other things are found in kurgans, but all of these have all been shown to be buried in the previous century at the time of the beginning of the war of the Chechens with the Russians.

3) Trenches of bygone forts in Chechniya

The Georgians and Avars had power over the Mountain Chechens, [but] not extending to the flatlands, [so their power] wasn’t over the entire population. The sometime rulers of the flatlands, the Tatars were occupied as pastoralists and didn’t have to construct fortifications, particularly because the Chechens were weaker. Thus it is likely that these trenches were constructed by the Russians. The Chechens are fully convinced of this. For example, the kurgan Goyten-korta, around the Argun, in Great Chechniya, whose trenches are still fully intact. They say that it was a priority for the Russians, who stayed longer than the others in Chechniya. Their trenches were also in the Martan and Goyten gorges. The Chechens found in silver and copper coins in them.

4) Stone towers

Although the people don’t have legends about the building of the towers, it’s still possible to attribute them to the Georgians with some certainty. The Georgians were able to penetrate into the North Caucasus. They had communication with the Chechens along different footpaths, then and now. I also note that many Chechen families ascribe a Georgian origin to themselves.  At the time of their rule over the Chechens, the Georgians were able to build stone towers for quartering their warriors.  The towers served them as strongholds against the weaker [Chechen] people. The towers had the appearances of a truncated, four-sided pyramid with a small base. They thus appeared narrow and tall. The natives call them gala (forts). This [designation] also shows that armies were kept in them.  Uniformly, they were erected in the sort of places from which it was easy to keep watch on the locality. The towers near the aul of Baranda controlled the mountain gorge of the Argun. That Georgia had mastery of Chechniya is also clear from the names for Georgian money that have been preserved in Chechniya: som, abaz, shaur or shei. In the Nazran mountains there are remarkable relics, a pagan shrine of the god Tsu [and the] Boragan-kesh, i.e. the graveyard of Boragan and others, which, with [further] study, might be of use to scholarship. I haven’t been able to go there.

[3]     [Laudaev Extended Comment 17]          Chechens will often alter legends so as to match [them to] their present state. For example, in their opinion all of the Biblical patriarchs and prophets were of the Muslim faith. The first caliphs wiped out the unbelievers with artillery fire. Also, Tamerlane was an excellent artillery man. Furthermore, the Russians and Turkish are the best known of the Western peoples. They consider the rest of the Europeans as clans (taipanas) put under the power of the Russian Tsar or the Sultan and paying them taxes.

[4]  [Laudaev Extended Comment 18]  The Narts are themselves the basis of many stories amongst the Chechen people, both in the mountains and in the flatland. Everywhere, these infidel giants appear as oppressors of the people. We present a few stories here as examples. There lived in Ichkeria a lonely widow who had lost two sons, killed by the Narts. Sitting in her hut, she contemplated her sorrows and wept loudly.  Her wails were interrupted by sounds in the yard.  Coming out of the hut, she saw to her terror seven Narts and was ready to run away when one of them held her and asked her to feed them. Nothing could be done, [so] she brought them into the hut, hung their shields and weapons on the wall and began cooking. Putting dried mutton chops in a small cauldron, she put it over the fire. Taking a handful of flour, she made up griddle-cakes.  The Narts were amused by such a light lunch because each of them could eat a ram. But what a surprise it was for them, when, starting in on the lunch set out, they didn’t eat up all the meat and bread. They asked the old woman to explain this miracle. The old woman answered, “until the invasion of the Narts into Ichkeria, the country was fortunate. Bread, milk and meat were plentiful. Our children grew and were the delight of our old age. [But] everything has changed with the appearance of the Narts. It’s clear that God is punishing us for our sins with your invasion. The crops are gone, cows don’t give milk. Abundance, like a river into the sea, has leaked out of Ichkeria. Looking on our children, we cry out our eyes and run through the sad days of our lives. The Narts kill the men, and carry off the daughters to dishonor them. And the damned, unclear Narts impregnate [the girls]. It would be better if God punished us with a plague of sickness and destroyed all  of us! The meat and flour given you were preserved from that fortunate time, when we didn’t know about the Narts.” Hearing this story, the Narts were ashamed of themselves. They were so ashamed that they served as protectors for the people, even those who were most resentful of their [previous] lawlessness. Remorse ruled their cruel hearts, they were [thereafter] considered sons of the old woman, and built homes around her hut, and taking brides, [the girls were] the old woman’s favorites, they merged with the Chechen [people].

The Chechens on the Terek have more information about the Narts. From their legends it’s clear that once upon a time there were two Narts, Naur and Gozhak. The home of Gozhak the Nart can still be seen in the area of the Nogai-Mirza aul and is called Gozhak-or, i.e. Gozhak’s cave or tunnel. The entrance of this burrow opens out of a sheer cave, beyond which the tunnel extends and reaches back more than a verst  in a straight line, having many rooms, which are up to a sazhen in height. The earth from this digging was taken out of the entrance and [put] under the cliff, where there was accordingly formed a large kurgan.  A similar cave can be seen in the area of the aul of Verkhne-Naur and is called Naur-or, i.e. Naur’s cave. These two Narts ruled over the territory of the Terek Chechens and what follows is what has been passed down to [the local people’s] descendants, in legends, concerning [the Narts’] doings. Gozhak had a beautiful wife, named Belashai. Naur fell in love with her and was determined to seize her. Naur was aided in this by his friend, a Kabard. [The Kabard] distilled [some] vodka and, having poured it into bottles, loaded it on [his] steed. The Kabard set off with [the bottles] for the home of Gozhak. The latter wasn’t at home. Knowing the road on which Gozhak would return home, the Kabard laid out the bottles with vodka in a visible line, one after the other. The tired Gozhak spotted the first bottle with vodka and drank it down. In the same manner, he drank it and all the others and the intoxicated [Nart he] tripped on the wooden threshold of his home. The Kabard took chopped off his head and took it to Gozhak and received one hundred steeds as reward, and Belashai became the wife of Naur. Naur had two wives. The first, Saraikhan, resided on a kurgan on the Terek in the area of the aul of Staro. The second one, the already identified Belashai, lived in the mountains of the Nogai-Mirza aul on a kurgan. Naur himself lived in his cave, located in the area of the aul of Berzhne-Naur, i.e. 40 to 30 versts  from them. But this distance didn’t stop him from entertaining his wives with music. In the evenings, he played on a balalaika. Its sound reached both his wives and for each of them Naur had a special musical sound, from which they knew to who he would make a nightly visit. He had so many horses that, coming to be watered, they weren’t limited to the meadows of Berkhne-Naur aul. About his death, they say the following. There lived on the Terek a mighty hero, Mirza the Nogai. He had a beautiful wife, who he had taken with force from [her] parents.  Mirza performed his raid [riding] on a light bay steed with a black stripe down its back. The horse was emaciated from the ride and was left in the herd to recuperate. Riding on a different steed, Mirza remained dissatisfied with it and thus, after two months, believing that his favorite steed one had already recovered, went to examine him and found him still very thin and still with a sore back. Suspicions started in the shrewd soul of the Nogai. “Either my wife is riding the steed to a lover, or that same lover, having visited my wife, rides off on [the steed].” In order to find out the truth, he used cunning. From this time, every time he rode off from home, he beat his wife with a nagaika, saying “Do you know of a hero more gallant than me and a wife prettier than you.” Tiring of [these] pranks,  which had been repeated too often, the wife once answered, “Naur-on-the-Terek is more gallant than you, [and] his wife, Satai-khan is prettier than me.” The Nogai at once understood the meaning of these words and rode off to Naur. From the heights of the mountains, Naur noticed a horseman going along the river.  For the first time in his life, fear seized his soul and he prepared for any possibility. He speculated in the following manner about the horseman- if he is a timid soul he will look for a ford, [but] if he is gallant and brave, he won’t hesitate to plunge into the water. The Nogai jumped into the water from the high bank, swam across the river and stood before Naur. “Warrior,” said Naur to him, “does your path bring you to me or are you going further?” The Nogai answered, “Presently, I’m with you. [And] I want to head on [to your house]. I want to stay with you.” Naur accepted the guest, killed a mare, boiled [it] and gave the meat to the Nogai. Full, the Nogai said “listen Naur, you rule the right bank of the Terek; I, the left. Our steeds drink the waters of the Terek in common and accordingly there is an affinity between us. The Terek mountains echo with your name; the wind of the Nogai steppe carries the sound of my name far and wide. Which would, it appears, be sufficient for us. Yet why don’t we live as friends? Let’s not gabble like gals and children, let’s talk like heroes. You’ve been dishonoring my wife and should allow me to do the same with yours.” Naur answered that he had been dishonoring [Mirza’s] wife and [yet] he was guilty and not guilty.  He was guilty in that he been in sin, but was not guilty in that the Nogai’s wife loved Naur more than [her] husband. But guilty or not he would allow nobody to dishonor  his wife. They started fighting. One of them, the Nogai, [was] young and sly. The other, [was] the aging Naur, who was beginning to lose his physical strength. They started hand fighting. The evening had already come. The Nogai, became tired and [thus] used his cunning, [with] which [he] ruled his people. “Naur, look at the sky at how the birds are flying in it. And dry the sweat from your brow.” Naur glanced up at the sky, the Nogai felled him with a kick, and sitting on him, said “Now, I don’t want your death. A hero doesn’t go back on his word. But your life is in my hands. Only allow me to spend the night with your wife.” Naur refused and was killed. Putting his head in a saddle bag, the Nogai rode to Satay-khan, spent the night with her, and taking a finger ring from her, returned to [his] wife. Throwing down the head of Naur, he said to her, “Now I’m sure that you don’t know a hero more gallant than me.” And afterward, giving her the ring, he said “and no wife is prettier than you.” [His] wife recognized the head of her beloved Naur, took it in her hands, kissed it and held it to her chest. Turning to her husband, she said “You were able to kill him with either deceit or perfidy. He was always more gallant than you.” Caught in [his] deception, the Nogai was ashamed, sent his wife off honorably back to [her] parents and himself left for Kazan. Learning of the death of Naur, his wives took their lives. Satay-khan was leaped off the slopes of the kurgan into the Terek and was buried in its waves. In memory of this incident, this place is now known by her name, Satay-te, i.e. Satay’s hill. From the high kurgan, Belashai threw her self into a chasm and was buried. This kurgan is now known by her name, Belashai-barz, i.e. Belashai’s kurgan. The descendants of Mirza the Nogai still exist and talk about Naur.

[5]    [Laudaev Extended Comment 19]       A weapon has constituted an unavoidable necessity for Chechens since long ago [dow] to the present time. Formerly, they were not assured of a single day of their lives [and] therefore didn’t take a [single] step without it, both at work and at home. Moreover, on going to sleep, they checked to make sure it was in good order. Even now, when peace hedges them in with law, a love for weapons, as [was] earlier, owns them and thus they spend a lot of money to acquire and decorate them. In times past, they paid ten rams for a rifle or a shashka, or the equivalent in rubles or a slave. It was harder for Chechens than other mountain people to acquire [weapons]. Gunpowder and guns were trafficked in the Caucasus from the Black sea shores by Venetians, Genoans, Greeks and Turks. Exploiting the passion of the mountain people for weapons, these peoples, profited greatly. [The Chechens] think that the best shashkas are those that have the image of an animal on the blade. It’s not known why the Chechens preferred a monkey (in Chechen maimun) for this image, and called the shashka ters-maimun. Russians prefer a wolf for this image and call such a sword a volchok.  The shashka called kaldam, with the image of a cross, are considered old and good. It’s remarkable that Persian Khorasanian [sabers] and Turkish Damascene swords are not highly regarded among the mountain people. Favored among guns is the mazharmon, probably of Hungarian [make], although they are more famous for their sabers than guns. The guns called gryme (Crimean) and bakhchiserai are also [highly] valued. Famous among pistols are the vendig, or (Hungarian), the perenk, or (French), and the genzhi, which received its name from the pistols from Genoa. Despite all this love of weapons, it’s [still] not possible to say that the mountain people were experts with them.

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