Caucasian War

The Caucasian War (Russian: Кавказская война; Kavkazskaya vojna) of 1817–1864 was an invasion of the Caucasus by the Russian Empire which resulted in Russia's annexation of the areas of the North Caucasus, and the ethnic cleansing of Circassians. It consisted of a series of military actions waged by the Empire against the peoples of the Caucasus including the Adyghe, AbkhazAbaza, Ubykhs, Kumyks and Nakh and Dagestanians as Russia sought to expand.[1] In Dagestan, resistance to the Russians was described as jihad.[2]

Russian control of the Georgian Military Highway in the center divided the Caucasian War into the Russo-Circassian War in the west and the Murid War in the east. Other territories of the Caucasus (comprising contemporary eastern Georgia, southern Dagestan, Armenia and Azerbaijan) were incorporated into the Russian empire at various times in the 19th century as a result of Russian wars with Persia.[3] The remaining part, western Georgia, was taken by the Russians from the Ottomans during the same period.

The Caucasian War
Part of Russian conquest of the Caucasus
Roubaud. Scene from Caucasian war

Franz Roubaud's A Scene from the Caucasian War
Result Surrender of Imam Shamil
Russian annexation of the Northeast Caucasus
Ethnic cleansing of Circassians
Caucasus annexed into Russia.
 Russian Empire
Odishi flag.svg Principality of Mingrelia
Banner of Guria.svg Principality of Guria

Thirdimamateflag.svg Caucasian Imamate

Flag of Adygea.svg Circassia

  • Kabarda3.gif Big Kabarda (to 1825)
Coat of Arms of the Principality of Abkhazia.svg Abkhazian insurgents
Commanders and leaders
Emperor Nicholas I
Emperor Alexander I
Emperor Alexander II
Aleksey Yermolov
Mikhail Vorontsov
Aleksandr Baryatinskiy
Ivan Paskevich
Nikolai Yevdokimov
Mansur Ushurma
Beibulat Taimin
Shamil Gimry
Ghazi Mullah
Kazbech Tuguzhoko
Akhmat Aublaa
Shabat Marshan
Haji Kerantukh Berzek
about 250,000 unknown
Casualties and losses
roughly 96,000 unknown


The war took place during the administrations of three successive Russian Tsars: Alexander I (reigned 1801–1825), Nicholas I (1825–1855), and Alexander II (1855–1881). The leading Russian commanders included Aleksey Petrovich Yermolov in 1816–1827, Mikhail Semyonovich Vorontsov in 1844–1853, and Aleksandr Baryatinskiy in 1853–1856. The writers Mikhail Lermontov and Leo Tolstoy, who gained much of his knowledge and experience of war for his book War and Peace from these encounters, took part in the hostilities. The Russian poet Alexander Pushkin referred to the war in his Byronic poem "The Prisoner of the Caucasus" (Russian: Кавказский пленник; Kavkazskij plennik), written in 1821. In general, the Russian armies that served in the Caucasian wars were very eclectic; as well as ethnic Russians from various parts of the Russian empire they included Cossacks, Armenians, Georgians, Caucasus Greeks, Ossetians, and even soldiers of Muslim background like Tatars and Turkmen.

The Russian invasion encountered fierce resistance. The first period of the invasion ended coincidentally with the death of Alexander I and the Decembrist Revolt in 1825. It achieved surprisingly little success, especially compared with the then recent Russian victory over the "Great Army" of Napoleon in 1812.

Between 1825 and 1833, little military activity took place in the Caucasus against the native North Caucasians as wars with Turkey (1828/1829) and with Persia (1826–1828) occupied the Russians. After considerable successes in both wars, Russia resumed fighting in the Caucasus against the various rebelling native ethnic groups in the North Caucasus. Russian units again met resistance, notably led by Ghazi Mollah, Gamzat-bek, and Hadji Murad. Imam Shamil followed them. He led the mountaineers from 1834 until his capture by Dmitry Milyutin in 1859. In 1843, Shamil launched a sweeping offensive aimed at the Russian outposts in Avaria. On 28 August 1843, 10,000 men converged, from three different directions, on a Russian column in Untsukul, killing 486 men. In the next four weeks, Shamil captured every Russian outpost in Avaria except one, exacting over 2,000 casualties on the Russian defenders. He feigned an invasion north to capture a key chokepoint at the convergence of the Avar and Kazi-Kumukh rivers.[4] In 1845, Shamil's forces achieved their most dramatic success when they withstood a major Russian offensive led by Prince Vorontsov.

During the Crimean War of 1853–1856, the Russians brokered a truce with Shamil, but hostilities resumed in 1855. Warfare in the Caucasus finally ended between 1856 and 1859, when a 250,000 strong army under General Baryatinsky broke the mountaineers' resistance.

The war in the Eastern part of the North Caucasus ended in 1859; the Russians captured Shamil, forced him to surrender, to swear allegiance to the Tsar, and then exiled him to Central Russia. However, the war in the Western part of the North Caucasus resumed with the Circassians (i.e. Adyghe, but the term is often used to include their Abkhaz–Abaza kin as well) resuming the fight. A manifesto of Tsar Alexander II declared hostilities at an end on June 2, 1864 (May 21 OS), 1864. Among post-war events, a tragic page in the history of the indigenous peoples of the North Caucasus (especially the Circassians), was Muhajirism, or population transfer of the Muslim population to the Ottoman Empire.[5]


Many Circassians fled to the Ottoman Empire and to a lesser degree Persia. Some Circassians joined Cossacks. Grebensky (Row) Cossacks were of Circassian origin from the very beginning. There were Mozdok Cossacks of Circassian origin as well. The genocide of Terek Cossacks during the Civil war was a continuation of the genocide of Circassians, former allies of the Russian Empire who supported the Communists. Most of the historical Circassian territories were historically distributed amongst the allies of the Russian Empire, such as certain Vainakh and Turkic families. However, many of those new settlers were exiled by Stalin in 1944, and some of those lands was redistributed, this time, to Georgians and Ossetians. Though many of the exiled people have returned, many lands, granted to them by the Russian empire, are still inhabited by Ossetians. The Georgians left all the lands given to them as they did not consider it theirs since the land was not within Georgia itself, but in neighbouring Russia. This still generates tensions (East Prigorodny Conflict) in the former war theaters of the Caucasian war.[6] Today, there are three titular Circassian republics in Russia: Adygea, Kabardino-Balkaria, and Karachayevo-Cherkessia. Other historical Circassian territories such as Krasnodar Krai, Stavropol Krai, and southwestern Rostov Oblast have much smaller communities of Circassians. The diaspora in Syria is repatriating Russia. Circassians from Kosovo also returned to Russia after the civil war in Kosovo.


Karte des Kaukasischen Isthmus - Entworfen und gezeichnet von J-Grassl - 1856

Karte des Kaukasischen Isthmus. Entworfen und gezeichnet von J. Grassl, 1856.


Construction of the Georgian Military Road through disputed territories was a key factor in the eventual Russian success

Sturm aul Gimry 1891

Assault of Gimry, by Franz Alekseyevich Roubaud

Штурм аула Салта

Caucasian tribesmen fight against the Cossacks, 1847

Storm of the fortress of Akhty 1848

Storm of the fortress of Akhty in 1848

Theodor Horschelt Tscherkessen

Circassians by Theodor Horschelt

Imam Shamil surrendered to Count Baryatinsky on August 25, 1859 by Kivshenko, Alexei Danilovich

Imam Shamil surrendered to Count Baryatinsky on August 25, 1859

Pyotr Nikolayevich Gruzinsky - The mountaineers leave the aul

Mountaineers leave the aul, by Pyotr Gruzinsky

Russian medal for subjugation of Western Caucasus 1859-1864

Russian medal for subjugation of Western Caucasus 1859–1864


  1. ^ King, Charles (2008). The Ghost of Freedom: A History of the Caucasus. New York City, NY: Oxford University Press. ISBN 978-0-19-517775-6.
  2. ^ Kemper, Michael (2010). Companjen, Françoise, ed. Exploring the Caucasus in the 21st Century: Essays on Culture, History and Politics in a Dynamic Context. Amsterdam: Amsterdam University Press.
  3. ^ Dowling, Timothy C., ed. (2014). Russia at War. Santa Barbara, California: ABC-CLIO. pp. 728–730. In 1801, Russia annexed the Georgian Kingdom of Kartli–Kakheti.
  4. ^ Robert F Baumann and Combat Studies Institute (U.S.), Russian-Soviet Unconventional Wars in the Caucasus, Central Asia, and Afghanistan (Fort Leavenworth, Kan: Combat Studies Institute, U.S. Army Command and General Staff College, n.d.)
  5. ^ Yale University paper Archived December 29, 2009, at the Wayback Machine
  6. ^ Bertolt Brecht The Caucasian Chalk Circle study guide

Further reading


The Abazin, Abazinians, or Abaza (Abaza and Abkhaz: Абаза; Circassian: Абазэхэр; Russian: Абазины; Turkish: Abazalar; Arabic: أباظة‎) are an ethnic group of the Northwest Caucasus, closely related to the Abkhaz and Circassian people. They live mostly in Turkey, Egypt, and in Karachay-Cherkessia and Stavropol Krai in the North Caucasus region of Russia.

The Abazin originally inhabited the Sadzen region in the western part of Abkhazia and migrated from Abkhazia to Abazinia in 14th and 15th centuries. They later migrated to various regions of the former Ottoman Empire in the 18th and 19th centuries. Since the late 18th century, their dominant religion is Sunni Islam (Hanafi).

Abaza people speak the Abaza language, a Northwest Caucasian language closely related to Abkhaz and Circassian. There are two dialects of Abaza spoken in Karachay-Cherkessia: Ashkharua and Tapanta. The culture and traditions of the Abazin are similar to those of the Circassians. On many old maps Abazin territory is marked as part of Circassia (Adygea).

According to the 2010 Russian census, there were 43,341 Abazins in Russia. An Abazin diaspora exists in Turkey Egypt, and in Middle Eastern countries such as Jordan and Syria, most of which are descendants of muhajirs from the Caucasian War with the Russian Empire.

There is a significant Abazin presence in Turkey. An estimated 150,000 Abaza live in the provinces of Eskişehir, Samsun, Yozgat, Adana, and Kayseri. Most of them belong to Ashkharua clan that fought against the Tsarist army and emigrated to Turkey after losing the battle of Kbaada (Krasnaya Polyana in today's Sochi), whereas the Tapanta clan fought with the Russian forces.

Aleksey Petrovich Yermolov

Aleksey Petrovich Yermolov (Russian: Алексе́й Петро́вич Ермо́лов, IPA: [jɪrˈmoləf]; 4 June [O.S. 24 May] 1777 – 23 April [O.S. 11 April] 1861) was a Russian Imperial general of the 19th century who commanded Russian troops in the Caucasian War. He served in all the Russian campaigns against the French, except for the 1799 campaigns of Alexander Suvorov in northern Italy and Switzerland. During this time he was accused of conspiracy against Paul I and sentenced to exile. Two years later he was pardoned and brought back into service by Alexander I. Yermolov distinguished himself during the Napoleonic Wars at the Battles of Austerlitz, Eylau, Borodino, Kulm, and Paris. Afterwards he led the Russian conquest of the Caucasus.

Alexander Chavchavadze

Prince Alexander Chavchavadze (Georgian: ალექსანდრე ჭავჭავაძე; Russian: Александр Чавчавадзе) (1786 – November 6, 1846) was a notable Georgian poet, public benefactor and military figure. Regarded as the "father of Georgian romanticism", he was a pre-eminent Georgian aristocrat and a talented general in the Imperial Russian service.

Battle of Ghunib

The Battle of Ghunib was a siege between the Russian Empire and the Caucasian Imamate in 1859.

After 25 years of resistance Imam Shamil surrendered to the Russians. See Murid War#The end (1857-1859).

Dmitry Milyutin

Count Dmitry Alekseyevich Milyutin (Russian: Дмитрий Алексеевич Милютин; 28 June 1816, Moscow – 25 January 1912, Simeiz near Yalta) was Minister of War (1861–81) and the last Field Marshal of Imperial Russia (1898). He was responsible for sweeping military reforms that changed the face of the Russian army in the 1860s and 1870s. Further, he was instrumental in creating the framework for the Circassian genocide that murdered approximately 600,000 Circassians from 1861 to 1865.

Ghazi Muhammad

Qazi Mullah (Russian: Кази-Мулла, Kazi-Mulla, early 1790s–1832) was an Islamic scholar and ascetic, who was the first Imam of the Caucasian Imamate (from 1828 to 1832). He was a staunch ally of Imam Shamil.

He promoted Sharia, spiritual purification, and facilitated a jihad against the invading Russians. He was also one of the prime supporters of "Muridism", a strict obedience to Koranic laws used by imams to increase religio-patriotic fervor in the Caucasus.

Grand Duke Michael Nikolaevich of Russia

Grand Duke Michael Nikolaevich of Russia (25 October 1832 – 18 December 1909) was the fourth son and seventh child of Tsar Nicholas I of Russia and Charlotte of Prussia. He was the first owner of the New Michael Palace on the Palace Quay in Saint Petersburg.

Grigol Orbeliani

Prince Grigol Orbeliani or Jambakur-Orbeliani (Georgian: გრიგოლ ორბელიანი; ჯამბაკურ-ორბელიანი) (October 2, 1804 – March 21, 1883) was a Georgian Romanticist poet and general in Imperial Russian service. One of the most colorful figures in the 19th-century Georgian culture, Orbeliani is noted for his patriotic poetry, lamenting Georgia's lost past and independent monarchy. At the same time, he spent decades in the Russian military service, rising through ranks to highest positions in the imperial administration in the Caucasus.

Grigory Gagarin

Prince Grigory Grigorievich Gagarin (Russian: Григорий Григорьевич Гагарин, 11 May [O.S. 29 April] 1810 - 30 January [O.S. 18 January] 1893) was a Russian painter, Major General and administrator.

Hadji Murad

Hadji Murad (Russian: Хаджи-Мурат, Avar: XӀажи Мурад; late 1790s – April 23, N.S. May 5, 1852) was an important Avar leader during the resistance of the peoples of Dagestan and Chechnya in 1811–1864 against the incorporation of the region into the Russian Empire.

Ivan Paskevich

Prince (1831) Ivan Fyodorovich Paskevich (Russian: Ива́н Фёдорович Паске́вич; 19 May [O.S. 8 May] 1782 – 1 February [O.S. 20 January] 1856) was a Russian Imperial military leader of Ukrainian Cossack ethnicity. For his victories, he was made Count of Yerevan in 1828 and Namestnik of the Kingdom of Poland in 1831. He attained the rank of field marshal in the Russian army, and later in the Prussian and Austrian armies.


Kumyks (Kumyk: къумукълар, qumuqlar, Russian: кумыки) are a Turkic people living in the Kumyk plateau (in northern Dagestan to the south of the Terek river), the lands bordering the Caspian Sea, Northern Ossetia, Chechnya and the banks of the Terek river. They speak the Kumyk language, which until the 1930s had been the lingua-franca of the Northern Caucasus.

The territories traditionally populated by Kumyks, and where their historical states used to exist, are called Kumykia. (Kumyk: Къумукъ, Qumuq).

Mikhail Semyonovich Vorontsov

Prince Mikhail Semyonovich Vorontsov (Russian: Михаи́л Семёнович Воронцо́в; 30 May [O.S. 19 May] 1782 – 18 November [O.S. 6 November] 1856) was a Russian prince and field-marshal, renowned for his success in the Napoleonic wars and most famous for his participation in the Caucasian War from 1844 to 1853.

Russo-Circassian War

The Russo-Circassian War (1763–1864) involved a series of battles and wars in Circassia, the northwestern part of the Caucasus, in the course of the Russian Empire's conquest of the Caucasus. Fighting lasted approximately 101 years, starting in the reign of Empress Catherine the Great and finishing in 1864. Although the Russian conquest of the Caucasus started at least as early as the Russo-Persian Wars, the term Caucasian War commonly refers only to the period 1817–1864. Those who use the term Russian–Circassian War take its starting date as 1763, when the Russians began establishing forts, including at Mozdok, to be used as springboards for conquest.The Caucasian War ended with the signing of loyalty oaths by Circassian leaders on 2 June [O.S. 21 May] 1864. Afterwards, the Ottoman Empire offered to harbour the Circassians who did not wish to accept the rule of a Christian monarch, and many emigrated to Anatolia, the heart of the Ottoman territory and ended up in modern Turkey, Syria, Jordan, Israel, Iraq and Kosovo. Different smaller numbers ended up in neighbouring Persia. Various Russian, Caucasus, and Western historians agree on the figure of ca. 500,000 inhabitants of the highland Caucasus being deported by Russia in the 1860s. A large fraction of them died in transit from disease. Some of those that remained loyal to Russia were settled into the lowlands, the left-bank of the Kuban River.

Shamil, 3rd Imam of Dagestan

Imam Shamil (English: also spelled Shamyl, Schamil, Schamyl or Shameel; Avar: Шейх Шамил; Turkish: Şeyh Şamil; Russian: Имам Шамиль; Arabic: الشيخ شامل‎) (pronounced "Shaamil") (26 June 1797 – 4 February 1871) was the political, military, and spiritual leader of Caucasian resistance to Imperial Russia in the 1800s, as well as the third Imam of the Caucasian Imamate (1840–1859) and a Shaykh of the Naqshbandi Sufi Tariqa.

Vasily Potto

Vasily Aleksandrovich Potto (Russian: Василий Александрович Потто; 1 January 1836 – 29 November 1911) was a Russian lieutenant-general (1907) and military historian, known for his landmark works on the history of the Caucasian War.

Born of a noble family of a German descent in the Tula Governorate, Potto was educated at the Orlovsky Bakhtin Cadet Corps. He served as a captain in the Crimean War (1853–55) and took part in putting down the Polish January Uprising (1863–64). In 1887 Colonel Potto was attached to the staff of the Caucasus Military District, where he was appointed head of the military and historical department in 1899. During his tenure in the Caucasus, Potto collected pieces of folk literature of the Caucasian mountain peoples and the Cossacks. He exploited his access to vast historical and first-hand material and produced a series of works pertaining to the Russian conquest of the Caucasus, including his monumental five-volume The Caucasian War in Different Essays, Episodes, Legends, and Biographies (1885–91).

Yevfimiy Putyatin

Count (since 1855) Yevfimiy Vasilyevich Putyatin (Russian: Евфи́мий Васи́льевич Путя́тин; November 8, 1803 – October 16, 1883) was an admiral in the Imperial Russian Navy noted for his diplomatic mission to Japan which resulted in the signing of the Treaty of Shimoda in 1855.

Yevgeny Golovin

Yevgeny Aleksandrovich Golovin (Russian: Евге́ний Алекса́ндрович Голови́н; 1 May 1782 – 27 June 1858) was a general in the Imperial Russian Army. In 1811 was appointed commander of Fanagoriyskaya Regiment and steadily rose through the ranks until he was promoted to General of Infantry in 1839. He was also Commander-in-Chief in the Caucasus from 1838 to 1842 and Governor-General of Baltic provinces from 1845 to 1848.

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