Showing posts with label Cossacks. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Cossacks. 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.



09 November 2012

A Different Band of Brothers

by R.T. Lawton

Many ideas start off with good intentions, but end badly. You could say that's what happened to the Cossacks in their roughly 550 year existence. While no one knows for sure where their name originated, some say it came from kazak, the old Turkish word for "free man" or "adventurer."

During the late 15th Century, Ukrainians suffering under the yoke of feudalism began running away to the south and settling along the lower reaches of the Dnieper River. Here, they lit the candle of their own freedom, setting up their own government and electing their own officials. If the community didn't like the leadership they were getting, then an open meeting was called, current officials resigned and new ones were elected.

Even though most of the Cossacks came from Slav heritage, anyone arriving at the settlement could become a member. His name might be Ivan or Ali in the morning, but all it required was being baptized with a name change and a profession of belief in Christianity to make him a Cossack before night fall. Each new arrival was issued a musket, lance, saber and dagger from the local armory of weapons seized from enemies. After that, the new Cossack was expected to become self sufficient and to contribute towards the good of the community.

They sustained themselves with fishing in the rivers, farming small plots for vegetables and grain, hunting deer, boar, ducks and pheasants, raising cattle for meat and leather, and growing vineyards and orchards for fruit and wine. Surrounded by enemies, they designated the four winds by Moscow and the Russian Tsar to the north, the Polish King and his holdings to the west, the Sultan and his Turkic empire to the south and the Tartar and Mongol tribes in the east. Constantly beset by one or more of these enemies at a time, the Cossacks quickly learned the art of warfare. Knowing that static defense would not protect their small settlements, they carried the war to their enemies. Raiding and plundering became a means of survival. In their time, various Cossack Hosts either knocked on the gates of Moscow or captured several Turkish cities on the Black Sea, going so far as to take the Spanish city of Saragossa. They formed alliances with the four winds as was necessary and broke those same alliances as was also necessary.


Courage in battle was one of the highest virtues a Cossack could display. And the highest form of courage was the rescue of a downed comrade in the face of enemy fire. Unwritten laws of the Brotherhood did not allow them to leave a comrade in trouble. In time, the Cossacks grew to become a military caste. Around the age of fifteen or sixteen, as needed, each male was equipped by his family with a horse, weapons, a quantity of food and an extra set of horse shoes before being sent off to the main Host or the local military cordon.

With the Cossack's great expansion, their sense of freedom and bravery began to work against them. Having no central government, each Host responded only to its own ataman or hetman. As they spread along the Dnieper, Don, Volga and Terek rivers, their politics splintered. Being of the same religion, they mostly aligned themselves with Moscow and the Tsar, however even that alignment of faith suffered when the Russian church changed the method of crossing oneself, plus a few other religious matters. Those conservative Russians who resisted the changes became known as the Old Believers and went south to eventually join the Terek and Greben Cossacks.

Also, upon the death of the old Tsar or Tsarina, contention for the throne further split the Cossack's alliances. Some Hosts backed one contender or pretender, depending upon how their leaders felt about the candidates, while another Host rose up in rebellion, and they fought each other. Moscow royalty soon saw the danger of having such uncontrollable large military groups on their southern doorstep. Eventually, the Muscovy throne crushed each Host and brought them under subjugation.

By the mid-1800's, the Cossacks were relegated to to the role of frontier guards and had Russian troops quartered in their Cossack villages along the Terek and Greben Rivers. This produced a mix of cross emotions within those communities. Whereas the Cossack male had long emulated his Chechen enemy in clothing, weapons, mannerisms, courage and warfare, he also respected this same enemy who lived in the Wild Country south of the Terek. Conversely, he found his ally, the Russian soldier, to be contemptible. Seems no one likes an occupation army. This 1850's time period during the decline of Cossack power is where I set my Armenian series of historical mysteries, a time and place which had been visited  and written about by Leo Tolstoi who left Moscow in his 20's to see Russia's southern frontier.

For those of you who remember Yul Brynner in the 1962 movie Taras Bulba, based on Nikolai Gogol's short novel of the same name, here is a clip from the Hollywood version.

or, if you prefer, a trailer from the 2009 Russian remake in the Ukraine.

Both movies were set in the 16th Century, when Poland was invading the Ukrainian Cossacks.

During the Russian Revolution, the Cossacks split between the White Armies and the Red Armies. The losing White Cossacks ended up emigrating to other countries, else suffered under the Bolshevik's rule. Twenty years later saw Red Cossack units on horseback charging into invading German tanks on the field of battle. In time, Stalin, not being one to let a perceived problem get ahead of him, forbid the Cossack brotherhood to exist.

Poof!

The candle went out.

The Cossacks had begun with noble ideas of freedom, courage and brotherhood, but history also shows times and places where they went off the track. In the end, they were overwhelmed and ceased to exist. Only in the last decade have some Cossack families openly tried to revive their heritage, much as other ethnic groups have done.