Sunday, August 12, 2018

Firing Guns into the Air at North Caucasus Celebrations has Long History, Anthropologists Say

Paul Goble

            Staunton, August 11 – Firing guns into the air at weddings and other celebrations in the North Caucasus and by North Caucasians elsewhere in Russia is viewed by many outsiders as threatening; but in fact, anthropologists say, it has a long and distinguished history as a sign of respect that others should respect.

            Sergey Arutyunov, an ethnographer and corresponding member of the Russian Academy of Sciences, says that the tradition of firing off guns into the air came to the North Caucasus in the 16th century from the West when guns first appeared in the region and was viewed as in England as a sign of respect (

                The practice became more widespread in the 19th century as ever more people in the region acquired guns.  Arutyunov, a native of a city in eastern Georgia, says he has been present on many occasions when such shooting in the air has taken place but he has not known any cases during his lifetime in which someone was injured or died as a result.

            He thus “does not consider the tradition dangerous if the guns are used appropriately … In Daghestan villages to this day, no holiday passes without such saluting.  If however one speaks about population centers with more residents, then this strongly depends on the local authorities.” They don’t want shootings in major streets but allow them elsewhere.

            “In relatively major Caucasus cities like Makhachkala or Grozny,” he continues, such firing of weapons is “a rare occurrence,” given that most of the people there have given up such traditions.  And firings elsewhere are even more unusual.  It is entirely possible, he suggests, that the custom will die out entirely.

            Akhmet Yarlykapov, a specialist at the MGIMO Center for Problems of the Caucasus and Regional Security, says that the tradition arose from the idea that loud noises would ward off evil spirits but that now it has more to do with a display of boldness and happiness on the part of those taking part in these ceremonies.

            Like Arutyunov, Yarlykapov says he hasn’t heard of any victims of such practices. But he says they cannot be completely excluded. “Unfortunately, sobriety is not the norm in the Caucasus” and so where there is drinking” something could go wrong.  He adds that he sees no reason for extending this custom to Moscow.

            And his colleague at MGIMO, Vadim Mukhanov, agrees, noting that even people from the Caucasus have forgotten the original meaning of this tradition and engage in such actions only because they think it is a good way to celebrate any important event.


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