Sunday, September 03, 2006

"Funny" Cossacks

Via Chechen Society Newspaper:

Social opinion in the Chechen Republic, and in Russia as a whole, is inclined negatively towards the idea of forming - in Chechnya - a 'peacekeeping Cossack division' composed of ethnic Chechens. Nevertheless, according to some facts, almost two thousand Chechens have already entered into a Cossack regiment which has been created in the Chechen Republic.


In early July, in Ingushetia, a meeting occurred between Ruslan Dunaev - Ataman (Cossack-chieftan) of the Chechen-Cossack special okrug "The All-Mighty Don Host" and Cossack Host Army General Nikolaj Kozitsin. At this meeting they discussed creating, in Chechnya, a representation of the International Union of Social Unification 'The All-Mighty Don Host' - as 'special Chechen okrug’.

According to Nikolai Kozitsin, the formation of this organization is necessary for strengthening friendship, cooperation and mutual understanding between citizens of the Chechen Republic and Cossack hosts both in Russia and abroad.

At present, this organization is not formally registered in the republic (the Ministry of Justice of the CR makes mention of the fact that there is already a Tersko-Grebenskij Cossack department and a Cossack national-cultural autonomy). However, Ruslan Dudaev maintains that registration is not necessary for the creation of a 'special Chechen okrug' because it is an international organization.

How to Become a Cossack

In Grozny, a 'Cossack regiment' composed of ethnic Chechens has existed for some time now. According to the regiment’s commanders, two thousand men have joined.

The main office of this organization - it's named the 'Headquarters of the Cossack-Chechen Society of the Chechen Republic' - is located on Gagarin Street in the center of Grozny. The 'Chechen Peacekeeping Regiment' and the 'Special Chechen Division' under the ‘All-Russian Union of Cossack Formations’ is located here. "In April, three hundred and fifty youth were accepted into the first sub-unit, one thousand were taken into the second," writes 'Ruskij Newsweek'.

It is not difficult to become a 'Cossack'. Just bring six hundred and fifty roubles as a registration fee and everything will soon be ready. Kozitsin asserts that a Cossack doesn't have to be Russian, that it to us is artificial ill-wishers present. "Russia is multi-national, but Cossacks are one of the peoples living in Russia. Thus, it's constitutional that Cossacks can serve in the military." Along these lines, he pointed out that both the Cossacks as a people exist as well as those who work as Cossacks.

Ruslan Dunaev claims that the 'Chechen Cossacks’' major problems are finding work-space and providing a patriotic upbringing for Chechen youth - so they can serve the fatherland. "I have a building company and when federal funding begins, we will take to construction. Besides that, we plan to open a sports club where our young men can train. We're going to raise champions," says Dunaev.

...a bad example – it’s attractive

Chechnya is not the first North Caucasian republic en route to its population’s 'Cossack-ization'. ‘The Union of Cossack Formations of Russia’ has already existed in the Republic of Ingushetia for several years. And upwards of five thousand people are presently involved.

In the words of Asab Barakoev - Chairman of the Council of Elders of the ‘Union of Cossack Formations of Russia’ in the Republic of Ingushetia, Cossack-ism in the Chechen Republic will “unify into one family”, the Russian and Chechen peoples.

Army Commandant of the CR, General Lieutenant Griigorij Fomenko, believes otherwise. In his opinion, the creation of a Cossack unit in the Republic is, "inexpedient and untimely because more than seventy thousand individuals from various security forces are currently located on its territory, (and are already) protecting the social order and constitutional structure of the region."


So why indeed is a 'Cossack Formation' being created in Chechnya? Many surmise that the plan is for 'Chechen-speaking Cossacks' to be sent to Abkhazia or South Ossetia, just in case an armed conflict were to break out in Georgia. Or in an extreme situation in Pre-Dniester koshevoi ataman, in other words, paymaster, Kitaeva "no analogies with the Abkhazian army of the early nineties - where ‘volunteer Russian Cossacks' and Shamil Basaev fought side-by-side for the independence of a rebellious republic - are perceived," quotes 'Russkij Newsweek'. "We have the aim of peacekeeping; building cities and republics as well as involving the unoccupied contingent of young people, helping them develop work skills and enter into studies," she explained to the journal's correspondent.

"‘Maybe our peacekeeping regiment will be called upon in relation to circumstances in Abkhazia,’ postulated Samart. ‘But you yourself said that you will protect the borders of the motherland,’ - I reminded the Commander. ‘Now there is an opposition in Georgia and Abkhazia. Is Abkhazia in Russia? No? Well our citizens are there. And our task is to help Russia.’ - the commanders political patience was wearing thin," - relates 'Russkij Newsweek' correspondent Lilia Mykhamed'jarova about her meeting with Kitaeva.

The Chechens have already had a similar 'peacekeeping' experience - in 1992. At that time, the as of yet unknown Shamil Basaev and Ruslan Gelaev fought on the side of the Abkhazians. The former was appointed to a post in the Ministry of Defense of Abkhazia and commandeered troops from the Confederation of Caucasian Peoples (KNK). The Chechens received nothing in return for their participation.

"Participation in the Georgian-Abkhazian conflict didn't bring any good. To speak openly, we helped some of our Caucasian brothers to kill others of our Caucasian brothers. Today I think that, in that situation, we, as well as other Caucasian peoples and Cossacks should not have gone as volunteers into Abkhazia, to create a unifying peace-making sub-unit and stop the blood-letting between Georgians and Abkhazians. That would have been a result indeed. As such, we have just divided the Caucasus with our own hands. And in case of a new conflict, if a similar wave of volunteers is sent, 'Cossacks' or anyone else, we risk only making the situation worse," - a former participant of military activities in Abkhazia, the forty year old Aslambek is convinced.


Many inhabitants of Chechnya are clearly displeased with the idea of Creating ‘Chechen Cossacks’. "I can understand those young men, who today have no employment or educational options - who have no way to make a life. They are prepared to go anywhere just to occupy themselves. But I disapprove of the idea of creating some kind of 'Cossack part' in our Republic. First, we must reconstruct our own distinctive culture. For example, our customs and traditions, but not rob that of others. We are Chechens, not Cossacks," says 24 year old Ch.G.U. student Mikail.

"I have heard that even 'atamans' are turning up among us. Interesting. Why not just start immediately with 'hetmans'? It would sound even more respectable. 'Hetman of the Chechen-Cossack troops'. I propose shortening the name of the Chechen 'Cossack special okrug' to B.Ch.K. That is to say the 'All-Mighty Chechen Cossacks'. And we can call those who have joined - 'Chechenocossacks' ... or for short - 'Chekists'," joked Mikail.

What exactly will our new 'Cossack Union' be called? It is hardly likely to be named after Sheik Mansur, Bajsungur Benoevskij or Alibek-Khadzhi Aldamov. Most likely, this 'host' will be named in honor of Yermolov. What more, General Gennady Troshev, the ex-Commander of unified forces in Chechnya, today holds the post of advisor to the president on Cossack affairs.

It would also be interesting to know what color the stripes on the Chechen Cossacks' trousers will be? Will they be red and blue or green? And how will Chechenocossacks greet each other? Will they shout "Ljuba!" at gatherings like other Cossacks customarily do to convey some or another expression of comrade-ship? Or will they say, "Allah-u-Akhbar" as Muslims do? In general, there are many unanswered questions.

"One really has to hate his past, not think about the future and very strongly disrespect both his people and himself, to 'Cossack-ize'," - thinks fifty-five year old Grozny inhabitant Salmu Madaev. Even in Russia, many call Cossacks none other than Masquerade -mans. Why ape and imitate someone else when you have much of your own. Why creep into someone else's monastery, when you have your own mosque? Leave Cossack-ness to Cossacks, those who were born as Cossacks. Find something better to do. It's better to rebuild your own. The Cossacks are our neighbors, but each must inhabit his own home. And first of all, each must solve his own problems. There is no need to play 'Cossack-robbers', stretching someone else's skin onto one's self. Let each stick to his own, as it has been since time immemorial. Caesar's things to Caesar, the metal-worker’s things to the metal-worker.

From Emirs to Atamans

At the end of the so-called ‘First Chechen War’, we had in the Republic, our own particular ‘fashion’ for ‘Brigadier-Generals’ and ‘Emirs’. every self-respecting ‘man-in-arms’ called himself one or the other. Soviet military ranks, commanding posts and subdivision titles were all changed into one capricious and succinct word - ‘emir’. ‘Emir’ of the detachment, ‘Emir’ of the group, ‘Emir of the Djamaat’.

Indeed, it is well known that ‘fashion never rests’; and these days being an emir not only lacks prestige, but it is downright dangerous. Much is required in order to fancy oneself a cool Chechen Rambo and rapidly climb the ladder of service while yet avoiding tedious army humdrum. But an alternative has been found. ‘Ataman’ of the Chechen-Cossacks.

All the same, any know nothing of history or his motherland Chechen must know that there never was any ‘Cossack-ism’ among the Chechens.

In our history, there did exist the murtazeki of Imam Shamil, the ‘Sharia hundreds’; a regiment within the structure of the Caucasian native division better known as ‘Wild’; Aslambek Sheripov’s ‘Murids of the Revolution’; the Chechen-Ingush cavalier regiment and so on; but there weren’t any ‘Cossacks’. Of course in tsarist times, some Chechens served in Cossack formations, but the idea of creating a ‘Chechen-Cossack army’ didn’t enter the mind of anyone - then, before or after. It resonates as absurd or preposterous as, say, the phrase ‘Cossack Sahria hundreds’.

“In 1852, Emperor Nikolai I - at the suggestion of Minister Dolgorukov and Commander of the Left Flank of The Caucasian Line Prince Barjatinskogo - advanced a plan for ‘Cossack-izing’ the Chechens. But even the Russian officers of Chechen extraction dared not propagandize this plan. And thus it was lost in the bowels of Russia’s War Ministry,” recounts Chechen historian Murad Nashkhoev.

“Funny” Cossacks

Historians in Russia and in Chechnya, finding the many of discrepancies between the historical aspects of Cossack-ism and its contemporary realization in Chechnya, believe that - in the full sense of the word - Chechen Cossacks cannot now be considered as such., and they will have no future.

Director of the CR Republican Library Edilbek Khasmagomadov points out that in ‘Chechen Cossacks’, the very same principle that establishes the association is destroyed . “The Cossack armies had a written charter. In order to become Cossacks, it was necessary to be registered at a station. The new Cossack would receive a share of land from the land which surrounded the station. This was the principle of Cossack service - land in exchange for service,” he says.

Historian Murad Nashkhoev affirms that, “today this plan is doomed to fail as every Cossack must be Orthodox Christian.” “Moreover, our people have always known that the Russian Empire’s Cossacks were the ‘shock force’ for conquest of the entire Caucasus at the end of the XVII century. In our time, even Chechens of Russian descent expect this this affair to be a crippling failure,” he declared.

Despite the fact that on the Middle Volga and in the Urals, Bashkkiri-Muslims became Cossacks (in 1798 the Russian government issued a decree on the system of governance in cantons of riflemen, converting Bashkir and mishars in riflemen, and on the territory of Bashkiria created 11 Bashkir, 5 Mishar and 5 Orenburg Cossacks cantons), in the North Caucasus, Cossacks were always only Orthodox Christians.

In the words of author Irina Dedjukhova, among Cossacks there were Christian Jews, Armenians and Volga Germans. But it was always believed that the ‘idea of Cossack-ism’ - was united with the preservation and dissemination of the Christian Faith. One could be of any nationality, but he had to be Christian,” she says.

Concerning the “present campaign for restoration of the Don Cossacks - which brings to mind people’s folkloric collective,” as it relates to the “Chechen Cossacks,” Dedjukhova presents an analogy to the Mamluks - the personal guard of Egyptian leaders that was composed of Georgians, Cherkess and other Caucasian peoples.

Roman Toporkov - deputy of the Refts Duma - made the following remark to the press about the creation in Chechnya of a Chechen Cossacks: “So? Russian Tsars had ‘funny regiments’. Here, in this spirit have appeared …. Funny Cossacks!”

Translated by Sarah SLYE
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