Death of abrek and rebel Mashuko and his legacy in the Caucasus mountains

The uprising raised by Mashuko against the Kabardian aristocracy, which became a vassal to the Crimean Khanate, at the very beginning had every opportunity for success. On the one hand, the haters of the Crimean-Turkish order from various strata of society joined the uprising. On the other hand, the uprising was of a vivid anti-serfdom character, mobilizing broad peasant masses who fled from the villages and thereby undermined the welfare of the ruling class.

However, the full potential of the uprising was not realized. However, it may not have been possible. The leader of the uprising was not sophisticated in political intrigues and did not have appropriate connections with the elites, not all of whom were positively disposed towards the Crimean Khanate, to put it mildly. In addition, the unification of all anti-Turkish, and, accordingly, anti-Crimean forces was partly prevented by the very class nature of the rebels’ struggle. Some of the rebellious peasants, according to old memory, automatically perceived any princes and even the military aristocracy (Warks) no longer as defenders, but as potential oppressors. But the uprising continued nonetheless.

Rise of Mashuko

Mashuko, who was considered by various sources to be among the slaves, and among the free community members-peasants, and among the blacksmiths-armourers, formed his detachments very competently. The army of Kabarda Islambek Misostov, reinforced by the soldiers of his suzerain, the Crimean Khan Saadat-Girey, was a formidable mighty force. There was no point in fighting such an enemy on the battlefield, except for heroic suicide, of course.

Therefore, Mashuko’s detachment inflicted swift stinging blows on groups of Crimeans, whom the khan deliberately resettled in the auls of Kabarda, and on the princes’ squads. After the raid, the detachments naturally hid in the mountains. Mashuko did not forget to weaken the economic base of the occupiers and the princely “collaborators” by all means. Stealing horses, expropriating edged weapons and setting fire to various buildings have become commonplace. It is thanks to this tactic that Mashuko went down in history as an abrek, and the path along which he and his troops retreated to the mountains was called “Abrek Chekeo”, that is, “Trail of the fugitives”. One of the places where the rebels were hiding was Pyatigorye. This fact formed the basis for the version that the famous Mount Mashuk near Pyatigorsk bears the name of the famous rebellious abrek.

Eliminate at any cost

After the first unsuccessful attempts to suppress the uprising, which suffered a fiasco, the princes and the khan’s invaders became thoughtful. As a result, they decided to sow confusion in the ranks of the rebels and use the old world blackmail. To begin with, a search was carried out in order to find out the names of the rebels. Then all members of the rebel families were taken hostage, and for a demonstration lesson, some of the family members were immediately sent to the Crimea to the slave market. Others were promised amnesty and even the return of property and relatives. During the punitive actions, Mashuko’s own sister fell into slavery.

The ranks of the rebels began to thin out, but the frantic Mashuko did not even think to stop his rebellion. On the contrary, the abrek became an implacable enemy. He openly said that he would fight even in complete isolation. Finally, the generous promises of the princes and the khan were able to pierce a wormhole in the heart of one of the ascetics of the abrek. Therefore, the rebel was captured on a mountain road on a tip and killed on the spot. Another version says that Mashuk was executed in public. The latter seems doubtful, since such an execution is in certain contradictions with adats. In addition, the appearance of an adamant Kabardian before execution could only mobilize a new wave of uprising.

There is a description of the death of the rebel, given directly by the Kabardian historian. In the 19th century, in his fundamental work “History of the Adyhei people, compiled according to the legends of the Kabardians”, one of the first Kabardian historians and philologists, Shora Nogmov, wrote about the end of the uprising:

“The fleeing slaves hiding in the mountains made peace with their masters, but Mashuko never agreed to this. He knew that his sister had been given to the Crimean Khan, did not want to forgive them for this, he burned houses at night, causing them all kinds of harm. He always went for robbery along the same path, and once, leaving the forest, he was killed by people hidden for this in an ambush. From then until now the mountain on which he was hiding is called Mashuko. “

The birth of a legend and the class pit

The insidious murder of Mashuko immortalized his name. Now he lived among the people uncontrollably for the Crimean Khan and local princes. Meanwhile, the Kashkatau princely coalition continued to lose its influence. The number of soldiers that Aslanbek Kaitukin and his princely allies Bekmurzins were able to put up against the collaborationist coalition of Islambek Misostov no longer exceeded two thousand. The situation was desperate. Kaitukin’s envoy in St. Petersburg conveyed to the representatives of Russia the prince’s desperate plea for help and a warning that, no matter how the prince wished, in the absence of help he would be forced to make peace with the hostile Crimea.


Kabardian peasants at their house (saklya)

Soon, Aslanbek’s positions (not without the help of Russia) were strengthened, and civil strife acquired a new force of civil war. True, the war between the elites, in which mere mortals got the role of cannon fodder or a cash cow. Former members of the Baksan and Kashkatau coalitions alternately asked for help and swore allegiance to either St. Petersburg or the Crimea. The position of the peasantry continued to deteriorate. As a result, it became clear that the patriotic enthusiasm was used by the aristocracy to solve their own problems of seizing power in a competitive struggle with each other.

As a result, the created situation resulted in a general flight of the Kabardian peasantry to Russia, which began in the 30s of the 18th century. This weakened the position of the Kabardian nobility, so they constantly sent angry complaints to both the Astrakhan governor Artemy Petrovich Volynsky and the Emperor Peter I. The aristocracy of Kabarda even demanded to demolish the Mozdok fortress, which became a refuge for fugitives. Of course, she received a decisive refusal to know, but Russia did not want to quarrel with the Kabardian elite, so she promised to return the fugitives back, but with one clever caveat. Only unbaptized mountaineers were subject to return. Thus, having correctly planned the escape, the highlander, together with his family, was baptized vividly and became out of reach of his pursuers. By the way, it was this fact that partly made the Ottomans and Crimeans intensify their Muslim expansion in the Caucasus. For them, Islam was a kind of weapon.


Map of Bolshaya and Malaya Kabarda showing the Mozdok fortress

It got to the point that the Kabardian aristocracy decided to threaten Russia with the resettlement of its subjects from Kabarda to the banks of the Kuma and Kuban. However, later they changed their minds, since it was clear to everyone that the Russians, understanding this threat as a gesture of complete despair, which, if fulfilled, would lead the princes to the loss of power, would ignore it.

The uprising and death of Mamsyryko Damaley

In 1754 (according to other sources, in 1767, which is considered a less reliable date), another peasant uprising broke out. In the vanguard of the rebels stood the inhabitants of the villages of Kudenetova and Tyzhev, located in the region of the Chegem River. The reason for the uprising was attempts to further stratify and enslave the free peasants-communes. The nobility decided to bind them more strongly to their possessions, strengthening the serf system.

At the head of the rebels was Mamsyryko Damaley, who belonged to the class of free communal peasants, whose rights were precisely violated in the most harsh way. Know and this time could not discern a social time bomb in their own politics and immense lust for power. All of his property was taken away from Damaley, and the whole family was deprived of their previous rights and, in fact, became slaves. Mamsyryko vowed to take revenge on the aristocrats for such dishonor until the end of his days and, as Mashuko had already done, fled to the mountains to continue the struggle.

This time, when the peasants left their homes in whole clans (they are often called “tlepk”), the nobility could not simply interrupt them or, having enslaved part of the family of the rebels, compel them to obedience. Moreover, the Kabardian princes and aristocracy were frightened by the new demands of the peasantry. This time, the rebels demanded not only to stop the strengthening of serfdom, but to return the ancient order of a free society. In fact, princes and aristocracy were deprived of their exclusive rights in principle.

After several months of armed confrontation, the nobility decided to negotiate, but this was slyness. Since people from all over Kabarda began to flock to Damaley, there was no unity in them. Some were ready to go to peace on condition of limiting serfdom, while others wanted complete freedom at any cost. The princes took advantage of this.

The aristocracy promised to reduce the level of conscription and limit the scope of legal arbitrariness, when even adats were not observed. In the midst of the rebels, a deep split was outlined, ready to turn into a conflict already within the conflict. Taking advantage of this, the aristocrats, following the old scheme, killed Mamsyryko. Having lost its leader, the uprising collapsed, and the people formed another heroic image, embodied in the song:

He gathers people from pastures and fields,
He leads the peasant people into battles.
Fear and confusion in the princely camp,
The peasants come with a great war.
Princes and nobles flee from the rebels,
And they hide, in awe, in the thicket of the forest.

Another uprising was suppressed. However, even then there could be no talk of complete pacification of the peasantry. The social illness that struck Kabarda through the fault of its own elite continued to progress. Less than 15 years remained until the next uprising.

To be continued…

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