Caucasus peoples in the First World War
This year marks the 100th anniversary of the beginning of one of the most large-scale armed conflicts in human history - the First World War. The director of the Russian Institute for Strategic Studies, Leonid Reshetnikov, believes that the initiative to rethink the events of the First World came from the president, as "there is an understanding that we cannot build our history, our state, our past, our ideological education only on the exploits of our people in World War Two. This is clearly not enough for a country like Russia."
In his interview to Vestnik Kavkaza, Mr Reshetnikov spoke about the role of the Caucasus people in the First World War: "The First World War incorporated minorities, the peoples of the Volga region and the Caucasus, into its body in such a way that they became a pivotal part of our state. That is, they became an organic part of our state. The Tersk Cossack Host largely consisted of Ossetians. There were two famous Cossack villages - Chernoyarskaya and Ossetinskaya. Kabardians, Chechens, Ingush who constituted a large part of the "Wild Division". The "Wild Division" is famous for its heroism and loyalty. There were almost no prisoners among the "Wild Division". The Caucasus peoples and other peoples of the Russian Empire proved themselves to be as reliable as the rest of the Russian army in the First World War. Now, unfortunately, very little is known about it, very little is written about it. Very little is written about the Russian army in general, and even less about the national formations that I have just mentioned.
Mr Reshetnikov studies the fate of the Cossack armies who were taken to the island of Lemnos after the Civil War. During the First World War, the island housed the garrison troops of the Entente. In the autumn of 1920 more than 18 thousand Kuban Cossacks from the army of Wrangel arrived there. Here were also the Lifeguards Don Corps, the Terek Cossacks and Astrakhan. “There was a mountain division among them. It was the remaining part of the "Wild Division." It consisted of Chechens, Ingush, Dagestanis, Kabardians, Balkars, among whom many were Cavaliers of St. George or owners of St. George medals who had taken part in the First World War. And when General Wrangel managed to relocate these troops from the island of Lemnos and the Dardanelles to Bulgaria and Yugoslavia in late 1920 - early 1921, this mountain division gathered for a general meeting and some horsemen, they were called private, asked, "Why are we going to a Slavic land? We are Muslims, we'll go to Turkey." I myself read the documents in the State Russian Archives, according to which officers said: "How can we go to Turkey, when our army, the Russian imperial army is going to Bulgaria and Yugoslavia? We have to go with this army, we are officers of this army." And the vast majority of officers and non-commissioned officers and even some horsemen went there. This was their mentality, their understanding of loyalty and honor.”
According to the historian, “out of all front commanders and commanders of the guards corps only two people sent telegrams to Nicholas II following his abdication to support him, saying that they were going to fight for him until the very end. Those were Khan Nakhichevan and General Keller. This is also an indicator of loyalty, an indicator of honor. Generally, it should be said that officers from the Caucasus accepted the motto of Russian officers - "honor and fidelity" - very quickly and naturally, because it had been in their blood before that. This is the reason why officers from the Caucasus were welcomed by the Russian army.“
Mr Reshetnikov is sure that “we have to talk and write about it more now, because we have forgotten many have forgotten and do not realize that the Russian Empire was very organic. Different people felt part of it. It is very important for us. Unfortunately, we see an everyday nationalism developing in our country. I would not even call it "nationalism," simply a common lack of culture. It comes only from the lack of knowledge of history. Due to ignorance of, for example, the role of the Armenians in the Russian Empire and about the role of the Tatars - one of the constituent peoples along with Russians, about the role of the Ossetians, the role of mountain peoples. This ignorance gives rise to wild nonsense, crazy hysteria in the streets and crowds. This is the origin. We have to know that. This is not the only reason, of course, there are other reasons, but it is a very important one. We have to know that, it is necessary to talk about it, it is necessary to write about it, it is necessary to create movies about it, and as a result everything will be more or less alright.