Showing posts with label Chechens. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Chechens. Show all posts

31 July 2016

History behind the Story

by R.T. Lawton

(NOTE: this blog article is a re-post originally written for AHMM and posted at Trace Evidence on 07/12/2016.)


Out of history comes a story: "The Great Aul," AHMM July/August 2016 issue

The tomes of history are rich with strong characters whose actions influenced the future of nations, entire civilizations and even the course of world events. Much of known history is written by the winners, some accounts are retold by survivors of that same happening and some events are documented by independent observers who have no axe to grind concerning the facts or truth of those events. Often the perspective or alleged truth depends upon the teller of that history and many times there are gaps in what gets told. These gaps are fertile grounds for an author of fiction to create his own version of the story.

The Known History:


Imam Shamyl
For centuries, the Tsars of Russia had pushed their border southward into the Turkic lands. Their invasion vanguard usually consisted of freebooting Cossaks who lived in stockade villages along the frontier and raided their Muslim neighbors by horseback or by sea. Eventually, after many rebellions by the freedom loving Cossacks against their own Tsars, the Russian army quartered soldiers in each frontier village, made these Cossacks into subordinate military units and launched their own massive spring campaigns into Chechnya to subjugate the various hill tribes.

One of the opposition leaders was an Imam named Shamyl who led a group of religious Chechens and Daghestans known as Murids in the northern Caucasus. At one point, the Russians offered to broker a peace treaty with the Murids. In order to guarantee the safety of the Russian negotiators, Shamyl was forced to give up one of his sons as a temporary hostage. The Russians, acting in bad faith, promptly whisked the young boy off to Moscow, Russianized him over the years and made him a cavalry officer in one of their units.

During the summer of 1854, Shamyl put a plan in motion to recover his now grown son. On the morning of July 4th, a detachment of Murid horsemen clattered into the Tsinandali palace courtyard of King George XII, the last king of Georgia and an ally of the Tsar. They seized the two princesses, their children and their governesses. The women were tied to the horsemen's saddle frames and the small children were stuffed into large saddlebags. In short time, the entire group rode into the mountains headed for the Great Aul, a mountain fortress in the heart of Daghestan. Imam Shamyl had plans to trade the hostages for his son Jamal al-Din (various spellings depending upon the source). As a matter of history, the trade did take place, but there is a gap in the details..

Murid followers
Filling the Gap:

Constantly researching for more Russian history on their invasion of the Caucusus to use as story background, this event is a great find for me. I already have two story characters, the Armenian and his helper the Little Nogai Boy, trading goods with the Cossacks on the Terek River and with the Chechens south into the Wild Country. Since the Armenian is already trusted by people on both sides of the river (as shown in previous stories), who better to act as intermediary for the exchange of the hostages? These two fictional characters can fill the existing gap and write their own story as to their part in what happened.

It's now time to invoke the writer's famous What if...clause. What if the Armenian and the Little Nogai Boy are crossing a shallow river deep in the Wild Country when the raiders fleeing with their prisoners happen upon them?

The Story is Born:

     The young orphan boy, from the Nogai split out of the Great Mongol Horde after the death of Genghis Khan, tells "The Great Aul" story as he sees these hostage events through his own eyes. Using the young boy as the Point of View also allows for a more emotional impact upon the reader at the end. So let's get down to the bare bones.

Our two protagonists, all their trade goods, plus their string of pack animals are taken by the Murids and are forced to travel along with the hostages to The Great Aul high up on a mountain top. Here, the Armenian is offered freedom for himself and his helper if the Armenian takes a letter from the Imam to the Tsar, offering the Georgian hostages in exchange for his son Jamal. However, the Nogai boy must stay behind to ensure the Armenian's return.

It's a long trip to Moscow and back. Many things can happen to the Armenian along the route and the boy doesn't know if his master will even return to get him out of the aul. To pass time, the boy starts selling their trade goods in the local market and making his own plans for escape just in case things don't work out according to the plans of others. But, he has to be careful in his actions because he is closely watched by one of the Murids assigned to guard him, a Murid who has lost his entire family to earlier Russian incursions. Plus, it seems not all Murids are happy to have outsiders on the inside of their fortress.

Sorry, but that's all you get here. To find out what becomes of our young orphan after the Imam's son is returned, you'll have to read the story yourself. If you are female, you might want to have a tissue handy. It allegedly made the editor cry.



27 May 2015

The Verdict

David Edgerley Gates

Awhile back, I wrote a story and submitted it to HITCHCOCK. Not long after, a bomb went off at the finish line of the Boston Marathon. It was one of those WTF moments, because it didn't make any sense. (Of course, you could say that terrorist acts, by definition, don't make any sense, and you wouldn't get an argument from me.) The weird thing was that inside of 48 hours, the suspects in the bombing were ID'd as Chechens. My story began with a hit on a guy in a car. The shooters were hired guns, contract killers. They were Chechen gangsters, brought in soft, for the one job.

Now, my story didn't have anything to do with terrorism. It was about money, and closing a loop. Eliminating loose ends. But the coincidence bothered me, and I dropped a note to Linda Landrigan at AHMM, and suggested it was kinda too close to home, as if I were exploiting a real-life event - that killed people - and better we revisited it, if and when she bought the story.  

Next up, I touched base with my pal Michael Parnell, who at the time was living in Tbilisi, Georgia. Michael's pretty much my go-to guy for crazy feudal stuff in the Caucasus, and I wanted his input. Michael came back at me and agreed it was an odd juxtaposition. He said, Chechens make great heavies, for sure, but you got a lot to choose from, this neck of the woods. For openers, there's your Armenian rug guy who gets his thumb cut off - why not make the baddies Azeris, for example? Armenians and Azeris hate each other. And he threw some other stones in the pool, the Iranian Revolutionary Guard, the heroin traffic out of Afghanistan, the Moscow mafia moving in on the Georgian gangs. In the end, writers being jackdaws, attracted to shiny objects, I wound up writing a book called EXIT WOUNDS, and I'd happily credit Michael with giving me the background.

This is taking the long way around to the Tsarnaev verdict. Everybody's familiar with the essential narrative. An impressionable kid, led astray by his older brother, who'd been lured to the dark side of Islam. I have to comment that I have no patience at all with Fundamentalism, whether it's Born Again bible-thumpers, or extremist Orthodox Jews (like the guy who murdered Yitzhak Rabin), or ISIS thugs. My personal sympathy is that I'd like them out of the gene pool. Tsarnaev himself is sort of a poster boy, or at least that's the tack his defense took. There's something to this. The wars in Chechnya, for instance, drew in plenty of recruits from the disenchanted Soviet republics, border states along the southern perimeter, what the Russians like to call the Near Abroad, many of them with majority Moslem populations. Uzbeks, Kazakhs, Tajiks. All of them disaffected with native dictatorships, set up by Moscow. These are genuine grievances, and historic. Don't think people don't nurse old wounds.

This is, however, no alibi. You don't spray a crowd with shrapnel from pressure-cooker bombs. An eight-year-old kid died. What does he have to do with the Palestinians, or the invasion of Iraq? There's something truly screwy with making these things morally equivalent, or using them as an excuse. I don't get it. Terror tactics, the bombing of the King David hotel by the Irgun, say, or the IRA campaign in central London, in the 1990's, don't really work. They come back to haunt you. Prince Charles can shake hands with Gerry Adams, but it was the Irish, after all, who blew up Mountbatten.

I know inviting a conversation about the death penalty is asking for trouble. Abortion, capital punishment, and gun control seem like hot-button issues. (How gay marriage got sucked into this is beyond me.) But certain things seem obvious. The death penalty isn't a deterrent. It's unequally applied. Guys on Death Row turn out not to be guilty. DNA evidence, twenty years later. That's enough reason to get rid of it. Me, personally, I kind of like beheading, and hanging, and electrocution. They're all inhumane - you hang somebody, you have to stand on their shoulders, it doesn't break their neck, put some weight into it. This is, not to put too fine a point on it, society's revenge. You murder the social compact, you pay the price. And in this particular case, there's certain guilt. I'm sorry, but this isn't good enough. I might personally think Tsarnaev should be publicly disembowelled. That's not the issue.

Tsarnaev has no excuse, legally or morally. Like the old lawyer joke. Guy murders his parents, and then throws himself on the mercy of the court, because he's an orphan. I don't think so. You take responsibility. Diminished capacity doesn't work, not in this instance. There was a plan that required malice aforethought. They knew innocent people would die. They went ahead. Good lawyering can't explain this away. In fact, nobody even tried. We're left with the raw thing itself. The dead.

I think we deserve satisfaction. Socially. I think we deserve an endgame. I think we want payback. I think we're entitled to it. The death penalty speaks to this. You fry 'em, or they roll on the gurney. Retribution. But. I can't answer my own question. Are there people who deserve to die? Yeah, there are. Who makes the decision? I guess we all do, collectively. Which means the burden is ours. We choose this. Have we repaired the damage to the social compact? There's certainly something final about it, that a blood price is paid, and we're complicit. I don't know. If you take innocence off the table - if we can say, beyond doubt, that Tsarnaev is guilty - is justice served? I'm not convinced.


www.DavidEdgerleyGates.com