A Russian Reverie: Chechnya's Literary Legacy
Layton, Susan, History Today
* During a televised debate prior to France's 1995 presidential election, Jacques Chirac recalled a 'viscious Chechen' in a poem by Mikhail Lermontov (1814-41), an author best known outside Russia for his novel A Hero of Our Time (1840). The quoted phrase correctly suggests historical antecedants to current Russian stereotypes of Chechens as a rebellious people prone to crime. However, Lermontov himself was no agitator for war against Chechnya. On the contrary, be was one of several writers who gave Russian readers thrilling images of the Caucasus as a realm of freedom on their despotic country's southern edge. This romantic literature contributed to a split in nineteenth-century Russian public opinion comparable to the modern-day cleavage between the Kremlin's party of war and proponents of non-violent resolution of tensions with Chechnya.
A division in Russian attitudes toward Caucasian mountain peoples occurred soon after the Napoleonic Wars. Certain Russian nobles then were envisioning the empire's peaceful assumption of control over Chechnya and other wild, Caucasian frontier territories. But the Russian state chose the war path instead, largely due to General Alexey Ermolov, the Caucasian viceroy and commander of the Caucasian army from 1816 to 1827. Ermolov convinced Tsar Alexander I that nothing but force would work, especially with Chechens, whom the general called the region's most dangerous, ethnic group. With a mind to pacifying, the area, Ermolov in 1818 founded Fort Grozny (a Russian name promising terror), and during the next few years Russia built more military outposts in Chechnya and Dagestan. Naturally alarmed at the incursion, the mountaineers began resisting. To punish, them for excessive 'love of independence,, the general instituted genocidal raids on their villages. Russian muskets were poor, and soldiers untrained in shooting. Raiders relied primarily on the bayonet and often did not spare even infants.
The ferocity of Ermolov's methods achieved the opposite …
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Publication information: Article title: A Russian Reverie: Chechnya's Literary Legacy. Contributors: Layton, Susan - Author. Magazine title: History Today. Volume: 47. Issue: 2 Publication date: February 1997. Page number: 6+. © 2009 History Today Ltd. COPYRIGHT 1997 Gale Group.
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