The North Caucasus

Russia's Long Struggle to Subdue the Circassians

by Paul B. Henze


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All ethnic groups in the fragmenting Soviet Empire, including the Russians themselves, are reexamining their history and drawing conclusions from it that contrast sharply with views that have been imposed upon them by communist dogma. Few areas have as rich a history as the North Caucasus, where Russian armies fought from the 1830s into the 1860s to subdue the indigenous peoples. This paper explores a neglected aspect of Russia's prolonged Caucasian wars: the effort to conquer the Circassians and their stubborn resistance which culminated in emigration en masse when they were finally defeated. The long struggle of the North Caucasian mountaineers against Russia in the mid-19th century attracted broad European sympathy and admiration. Historians described the struggle primarily in terms of the leadership and personality of the Imam Shamil. The recent resurgence of Islam as a dynamic political force in many parts of the world has generated new interest in Shamil's religious motivation and leadership techniques.

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