The Sheikh Mansour Volunteer Battalion - Ukraine Insurgent Army

The beginning of the Caucasian (Russian-Caucasian) War is dated in
different ways, mainly within the first quarter of the 19th century,
though according to our consideration the warfare broke out in the 80s
of the 18th century, when uncoordinated resistance to the tsarism
exceeded the bounds of separate regions (the Kuban Region, Kabarda,
Chechnya, Daghestan) and turned into an all-North Caucasian movement
advancing the precise religious-political slogans.
So, in spring of 1785 a Moslem preacher, Sheikh Mansour, or Ushurma,
appeared in Chechnya, who, striving for unification of the highlanders
to fight against the tsarist colonialists, called upon them for
"hazavat", i.e., "sacred war" against the "unfaithful" enemy. Thus
through Islam taken as an ideological basis, politically separated
Caucasians of different tribes partially consolidated in the struggle
against the colonial power.
In the Northern Caucasus (in Daghestan) Islam began to spread yet in
times of the Arab Caliphate, though for the majority of the native
peoples it was established as the official religion considerably later.
Thus the Vainakhs inhabiting in the plain and foothill zones of the
Caucasus apparently came into contact with this teaching not earlier
than in the 15th - 16th centuries; as to the inhabitants of the
mountainous part of Chechnya and Ingushetia, the influence of
Mohammedanism on the highlanders was rather weak even in the 17th - 18th
centuries. As is generally known, in the 18th to the early 19th century
the Ingush elders swore not to the Koran but to their pagan gods
despite the fact that Islam had already existed among a certain part of
the Ingushes.
A striking and mysterous person of Sheikh Mansour gave rise to a
number of fabulous versions about his non - Caucasian origin as far back
as the end of the 18th century. He was believed to be an Italian
adventurer (soldier or monk) who had adopted Islam. Some considered him a
descendent of Shah Nadir, the ruler of Persia, others attributed him to
the Poles. It was also rumoured that he had come from the Orenburg
steppes. However, these considerations have been rejected scientifically
as having nothing in common with the historical truth. It is proved
scientifically that Mansour was Chechen by birth.
Ushurma was born in 1760, in a poor family, in the village of Aldyi
(the Chechen Plain). In his youth he pastured cattle and tilled the
soil. He got married at the age of 22 and had three children. Owing to
his mode of life of high moral standards, wit and strong character,
Ushurma was held in high respect by the countrymen even when he was
young in years. Although Ushurma was illiterate, he was a brilliant
orator and subtle psychologist.
In 1785 Ushurma began an active religious and political activity. Due
to his preachings Ushurma became far-famed and enjoyed the support of
the influential mullahes and theologians of Chechnya, who declared him
sheikh and gave him the name "mansour" which means "victor" in Arabian.
The highlanders, not only peasants and ordinary people but also the
representatives of feudal nobility, came from everywhere to listen to
Mansour. Apart from the Chechens, among his numerous followers were the
Kumyiks, inhabitants of mountainous Daghestan, Adygeis, Ingushes,
Ossets, Nogais? The Russian command kept vigilant watch of the processes
taking place over the river Terek and in summer of 1785 sent a military
unit three thousand strong under the command of Colonel Pierry against
the village of Aldyi, where the Imam had his seat, to capture the "false
prophet and restore calm and order violated by him in that region".
Having left part of the troops for guarding the crossing across the
Sunzha, Pierry and his main armed forces (three infanry battalions and a
Cossack sotnia (squadron) with two guns) burst into the aul abandoned
by the inhabitants and committed it to the flames. The chastisers failed
to find Mansour, but on their way back when moving through the forest,
they fell into the ambush laid by the Chechens. Pierry was killed in the
battle and it ended in an utter rout of the Russian detachment.
According to official data, 8 officers and 414 soldiers were killed, 162
of the enemy were made prisoners and an overwhelming majority of the
survived were wounded. The highlanders captured both of the guns.
This victory has brought a great fame to Mansour. The Russians had
not been defeated in the Caucasus since their unsuccessful campaign
organized against Daghestan in the early 18th century, therefore, the
fellow-fighters of the Sheikh did not fail to proclaim the results of
the battle to be the fulfilment of his prophecy. The number of Mansour's
supporters and followers was increasing at still faster rates. That was
the period of the utmost general enthusiasm.
Striving for exploitation of his success, Mansour assaulted the
centre of the Russian domain in the North-Eastern Caucasus, Kizlyar, but
the storm was repelled. The highlanders managed to capture one
stronghold only, which covered the Terek crossing in the environs of the
city. At night the army of the Sheikh got lost in the marshland when,
all at once, was attacked by the Cossacks. So, the mountaineers, having
suffered heavy losses in killed and wounded, had to retreat.
The same fate befell the mountaineers when taking Kizlyar by storm
for the second time and when they were breaking through Kabarda to join
the local rebels. In the battle which took place in the vicinity of
ancient ruins of Tatartup the Russian forces defeated the detachments of
the highlanders (Chechens, Kabardians, Kumyiks and others) and threw
them back. In 1787 Mansour was impelled to flee to the Kuban Region
where, at the head of the Adygei detachments he, in alliance with the
Turks (the Russo-Turkish war of 1787-1791 was in progress), continued to
fight against the Russians, though in 1791 in the battle for Anapa
Mansour was captured by the Russians and died in casemate of the
Slisserburg Fortress. (According to another information Mansour died on
the Solovetsk Islands).
Proceed from the afore-said Sheikh Mansour, or Ushurma, a Chechen
from the village of Aldyi, was the first great organizer of the
liberation movement of highlanders against tsarist Russia in the
Northern Caucasus. The activity carried out under his command, though
religious but anticolonial in its essence can be in fact regarded as the
beginning of the Caucasian War.
During the first ten years of the 19th century tsarist Russia annexed
part of the territories of Georgia and Northern Azerbaijan. The newly
formed provinces were connected with the parent state by the only
existed road running through the Daryali Pass which is rightfully called
the Georgian Military Road.The Ossets, inhabiting to the west of this
strategic highway, had been considered to be subject to the rule of the
Russian Empire since 1774, but the Ingushes, living to the east of this
road, maintained their independence. Meanwhile, in order to ensure the
safety of communication with Tiflis (Tbilisi), the centre of Russia's
domains in the south, it was necessary to bring the tsarist troops into
Ingushetia and subordinate the country to the Russian control.
Acting according the principle "divide et impera"(1)
the Russian authorities succeeded in provoking the armed skirmish
between the Chechens and Ingushes (June 5, 1810) just with a view to
display the "care" for the Ingushes and naturalize them in Russia.
Commander-in-chief of the Russian troops in the Caucasus, General
Tormasov charged the commandant of the Vladikavkaz fortress with a
mission to take the opportunity and submit the Ingushes to the Russian
Empire. And really, an official Act of voluntary rapprochement of
Ingushetia with Russia was signed between the representatives of the
Ingush people and Russian military administration on August 22, 1810 in
Vladikavkaz. According to the terms of the treaty the Ingushes were
under the obligation to assist the Russians in defending the Georgian
Military Road from the attacks of the hostile tribes, and accommodate
the Russian armed forces in Nazran, a newly built stronghold in the
upper reaches of the Sunzha. In return for this on behalf of the Russian
government the Ingushes were promised to obtain "justice", "profit",
"advantages" and protection from the enemies.
Besides that the Ingushes were given a promise that the lands
occupied by them in the plain as well as on the right bank of the Terek
would be in their possession for ever(2).
According to the Act of 1810, however, only the flatland of
Ingushetia was taken under the control of Russian administration. As
regards the communities of mountaineer Ingushes, in the middle of the
19th century they were still considered to be "semi-submissive". The
government of Russia several times sent punitive expeditions against
them.* * *
After the defeat of Mansour, the Chechen Plain, stretching on the
area from the Terek River to the Black Mountains, was regarded by the
Russian administration as a country, dependent on the Russian Empire,
though the Chechens did not consider themselves to be the vassals of
Russia. As to the mountainous part of Chechnya, it was practically
inaccessible for the Russian guns.
General Ermolov, allotted with unlimited military, civil and
diplomatic power, was appointed commander-in-chief of the Russian forces
in the Caucasus in 1816. Under his command military operations against
the mounatineers were activized in order to change the course of events
in favour of the Russian Empire.
Of particular importance in the extensive plan of activities, drawn
up by Ermolov, was Chechnya. He intended to drive out the Chechens from
the plain, press them to the mountains and bereaving them of the fertile
fields and pastures impell them to submit to Russia once and for all.
In the late 10s of the 19th century Russia launched a great campaign
against the Chechens inhabiting the plain region. Wide openings were cut
down in the forests towards the main fortifications in their struggle
against the Russian colonists. At the end of the cuttings were laid
strongholds connected to each other as well as to the already existed
strong points by a chain of fortifications. The fortress laid in the
lower reaches of the Sunzha was named "Groznaya" (the present-day city
of Grozny). The conquerors were of the opinion that even the name of the
stronghold should be frightening to the recalcitrants (the word
"grozny" means "menacing" in Russian). In 1817 - 1823 was formed a
Sunzha fortified line, dividing the Chechen Plain into two parts. The
territory between the Terek and Sunzha rivers was seized by the
Russians; as to the Chechens, they were banished from the places of
their habitation and driven away to the foothill zone on the other bank
of the Sunzha. Those highlanders only who resigned to the colonial
administration, were allowed to stay on their native lands. The Russians
called them the "peaceful" highlanders as distinct from the unsubdued,
i.e., hostile part of the native population, who were known as
"brigands", "scoundrels" and "plunderers" among the Russians.
All this would have influenced to a certain extent the native
population. The discontent of the Chechens was gaining ground and
getting ready to grow into the armed action which would involve the
masses. In order to avoid such outcome of the affair, the Russian
command resorted to the well-tried method. As a result of the punitive
expeditions sent to Chechnya by the Russian command, some unsubdued auls
were reduced to ashes. Sometimes the operations were accompanied by
extermination of the whole population, regardless of women, children and
the old.
A great misfortune befell the aul of Dadi-Yurt located on the right
bank of the Terek. In September 1819 Ermolov ordered to surround the aul
and "punish everybody giving no quarter to anybody".
Having learnt about the forthcoming punitive operation, a certain
Cossack who was in friendly terms with the highlanders, stole up to the
bank of the Terek and cried loudly in Chechnyan: "Hey, the Dadiyurtians!
Your aul will be surrounded and destroyed in three days! Go away!"
People in the aul heard this warning but did not attach great importance
to it. On September 14 Dadi-Yurt was attacked by the chastisers (six
infantry companies and seven hundred Cossacks with 5 guns). In an
unequal battle the Chechens defended themselves desperately, women and
children helped the warriors who had to take each saklia (dwelling of
Caucasian peoples) by storm. The aul was razed to the ground and nearly
400 people, i.e., more than half of its population, were killed. The
chastisers lost in killed and wounded 230 soldiers and officers.
This kind of measures, however, only poured oil on the flame. In
response to devastation of the auls the inroads on the cordon line
became more frequent. The Chechens more frequently co-ordinated their
activities with the Avars and other peoples of the Caucasus. On the
night of July 25, 1825 they captured by storm and destroyed one of the
Russian strongholds on the Terek. 98 were killed and 13 were captured
out of 181 soldiers in garrison of the fort.
A Chechen leader Beibulat Taymiev (Taym Bibolt) gave much trouble to
the Russian command. Beibulat had great influence on his compatriots, as
well as on the neighbour peoples of the Northern Caucasus; he was
elected chairman of the "Mekh-khel", i.e., Council of the country. For
many years this "main Chechen horseman", as Beibulat is called in
official reports, gave no rest to the tsar's generals (his first raid on
the other bank of the Terek Beibulat made in 1802), until he was killed
treacherously in 1831.
Yielding to the Russian regular army in organization and military
might, the Chechens worked out the tactics of partisan warfare enabling
them to fight against the enemies for years. V.Potto, Russian military
historian, describes the character of military operations in Chechnya:
"When marching in Chechnya the Russian troops, as rule, were not
showed any kind of resistance in open localities. But once a forest came
in sight, a heavy skirmish broke out, seldom in the vanguard, more
frequently - in the lateral chains and almost always - in the
rear-guard. And the denser the forest was the heavier the skirmish
was... This is how things stood until the soldiers steadily kept the
order. But the trouble was if the chain became weaker or fell apart in
any place; hundreds of sabres and daggers would arise in front of it as
if from under the ground at once, and a slaughter would begin, as the
Chechens are as agile and ruthless as tigers".
Towards the beginning of the 19th century the Chechens had a
reputation of militant and unsubdued people. From a position of the
tsar's military leader General Ermolov called them "the most dangerous
villains". Ermolov directed his subordinates "to trouble the Chechens
more frequently... catch the people, cattle, horses, burn the bread,
lay, in other words, damage them as much as possible". His directions
were executed diligently. The Russian servicemen believed that with the
"Aziats" should be used only force.
In taking the punitive measures the tsar's authorities followed the
principle of mutual guarantee. For the fault of separate persons the
whole communities and tribes were punished. For example, it happened in
1825 in the stronghold of Gherzel-Aul. The Russians gathered there 318
peaceful Chechen and Kumyik elders. Two generals made their speeches at
the meeting, heaping insults and threats on the highlanders as they were
suspected of having connections with those people who participated in
raids. All of a sudden one of the highlanders snatched out a dagger and
stabbed the generals with it. One of them was killed on the spot and the
other was mortally wounded. In response to this the soldiers standing
on the watch slaughtered all the elders who were at the meeting.
This incident caused a storm of resentment in Chechnya and
Ingushetia. The inhabitants of those Kumyik auls, which had been
subjugated long before, sent a messenger to Beibulat and begged him for
help. The precarious situation impelled Ermolov to lead the punitive
expedition personally. In a fierce battle waged on the river Arghun on
January 30, 1826 the Russian troops gained the victory.
In 1832 general Rosen, one of the successors of Ermolov on the post
of a commander-in-chief in the Caucasus, having devastated 60 auls,
destroyed Chechnya and mountainous Ingushetia.
The atrocity of the conquerors, however, only strengthened the
resistance of the highlanders. In the 20s of the 19th century in the
North-Western Caucasus a new uniting movement begins setting up under
the name of "muridism"(3)
- a certain variety of Islam, as a consequence of which a theocratic
state - Imamate was formed in the highlands of Daghestan and Chechnya.
In 1834 its leader becomes Shamil (1797-1871), a talented statesman and
commander. Under his leadership the Chechens and Daghestans retained
their independence yet for 25 years in the fight against the Russian
In a permanent military resistance against a powerful empire the
Chechen-Daghestan Imamate needed battleworthy armed forces. So every
male inhabitant, able to carry arms, was considered to be responsible
for military service. Only the inhabitants of several villages,
producing firearms, coldsteal(4)
, gunpowder, etc., were free from military service. According to the
1841 census in Imamate battleworthy male inhabitants totalled 65
thousand. As for Russian sources, they say that in his disposal Shamil
had permanent army of 5 thousand and people's volunteer corps of 48
thousand. Additionally, Imam had private Guards consisting of about a
thousand most selected soldiers. There were a lot of Chechens among the
guardians (murtazeks). Yet it was impossible to concentrate all forces
on one operating direction. During the war the biggest army Shamil could
deploy simultaneously was 12 thousand strong (march to Georgia, 1854).
Imamate was divided into the military administrative units - naibats,
the quantity and size of which changed frequently. The naibats were
headed by naibs appointed by Shamil. They were entrusted administrative,
military and judicial power. Every naib had a staff of officials and
permanent detachment of Murid warriors. Besides, naibs collected the
people's volunteer corps in the whole country and commanded them during
the military operations. As a rule, a family had to send one armed
warrior (any fully armed highlander had a flintlock, one or two pistols,
a saber and a dagger), but sometimes naib declared general military
service. Frequently women volunteered in defending the auls. They not
only assisted the warriors but also fought together with men.
In 1839 the tsarist command made a decision to put an end to Imamate
by a double attack on Daghestan where there was a center of Murid
movement for that time. A culmination moment of this bloody drama became
an attack on a mountainous aul of Ahulgo, the main residence of Imam. 3
thousand Russian soldiers and officers besieged it. Ahulgo fell.
Wounded Shamil together with his few survived comrade-in-arms hid
himself in Chechnya.
Triumphant news flew to Petersburg about the "suppression" of
Daghestan but the rejoice soon revealed to be premature. Shamil,
supported by the Chechens, counterattacked the Russians and banished
them from a considerable part of the Daghestan highlands in a short
A period of Shamil's most successes comes for the early 1840s. The
Chechens took a great contribution to that. Most of them joined the
movement. After Ahulgo's destroy the political center of the Imamate was
shifted to Checnya. Dargo and Vedeno became the following residences of
Shamil. In response, the Russian command strengthened the military
pressure on Chechnya. In 1840 General Galafeev passed through the
country reducing everything to rubbles and ashes. On July 11 at the
river Valerik the Chechens attacked a detachment of Galafeev who hardly
broke off, losing 29 officers and 316 soldiers. M.Lermontov, a great
Russian poet witnessed the battle. He described it in his poem "The
Neither a repeated expedition undertaken in autumn of the same year,
nor punitive marches in 1841 had tangible results. In the beginning of
the 1840s as a result of permanent offenses of Russian army, a half of
auls of the Chechen Lowland had already been burned, though the Russians
could not subdue the Chechens, and no sooner had the army returned to
its base than the highlanders come upon the cordon line again, reaching
Mozdok and Kizlyar at times.
In the spring of 1842 General Grebbe, the conqueror of Ahulgo,
invaded Chechnya with great forces but he suffered a hard defeat in the
Ichkerian forests, losing in killed and wounded nearly 2000 soldiers.
In 1843 Shamil attacked the royal forces and put them to rout in
Daghestan. The highlanders seized 13 fortified points and booty: tens of
sub-machine guns, great number of ammunitions and provisions.
In 1844 Emperor Nicholas I, dissatisfied with the activities of his
army in the Caucasus, appointed Prince Vorontsov Vicegerent and
Commander-in-Chief there, entrusting him extreme power. In may 1845
Vorontsov with an army of 25 thousand soldiers, 46 guns and cavalry 2
thousand strong intruded far in the mountains and seized aul Dargo, the
residence of Shamil. In the whole, though, Vorontsov's expedition was
not successful. His army was besieged and survived only thanks to a
reinforcement with General Freigat in head who arrived there to rescue
them. According to official data, in this expedition Russian casualties
totalled 3,967 people, with 3 generals among the dead. According to
unofficial sources, the figure of Russian casualties is considerably
In April 1846 Shamil with Chechen-Daghestan volunteer corps 10
thousand strong intruded into Kabarda in order to unite with the Adygeis
and form a solid anti-Russian front from Daghestan to the Black Sea.
But the plan turned to be unrealizable, in the main, due to the
passiveness of the Kabardians who took a temporizing position. The
Russian command, mobilizing all forces, asked for reinforcement from
Tbilisi through the Georgian Military Road. Shamil sent part of his army
to Daryali Passage in order to cut off communication with Georgia. But
the Ingushes and Ossets destroyed Imam's plans. They did not allow his
detachments to cross their territories. Shamil had to return to
Chechnya. He was followed by a small group of Kabardians who joined his
From 1846 Vorontsov renewed Ermolov's tactics: the Russian army
slowly advanced deep in the mountains by contracting the Imamate with a
circle of reinforcement and methodically destroying the recalcitrant
auls. Shamil tried several times to break through the blockade but the
highlanders' forces were fading out. As to the Russians, they
unceasingly sent new units and formations to the Caucasus. In the second
part of the 50s the empire had already an army 350 thousand strong in
the Caucasus, the main forces of which (about 2,000,000 soldiers and
officers) acted against Checnya and mountainous Daghestan surrounded by
the Russian domains. Thanks to overwhelming numerical superiority and at
the price of heavy casualties the Russian army could break the
resistance of Shamil's main forces. Vedeno, a fortified aul and the
capital of Imamate since 1845 was taken by storm (in February, 1859). It
should be noted that among the defenders of Vedeno were quite a number
of Russian deserters (turncoats) - soldiers and Cossacks - living in one
of the quarters of the aul. Shamil retreated to Daghestan. Besieged on
the Mt.Guniba, after hopeless fights on August 26, 1859, he surrendered
to Prince Baratinsky, Commander-in-Chief and Vicegerent in the Caucasus.
When the Caucasian War ended (in 1864) hundreds of thousand
highlanders left their motherland and deported to the Ottoman Empire,
never wishing to reconcile to the supremacy of Russians. There were more
than 20 thousand Vainakhs among the emigrants.
In 1858 the Ingushes rose in rebellion provoked by the arbitrary of
tsarist administration resettling the local inhabitants from small
settlements to large auls by force in order to make easier the police
control over the population and use the cleared territories for colonial
needs. Nearly 5 thousand rebels attacked the fortified aul of Nazran
but they were defeated. Shamil's attempt to help the Ingushes did not
succeed. The Ingush rebellion was subdued. Its leaders were executed;
several thousands of activists were exiled from the Caucasus. Utter
suppression of the Ingush highland societies by Russia belongs to the
same time.