Saturday, March 2, 2019

Is Pan-Turkism Again on the March in the North Caucasus? Some Russians Think So

Paul Goble

            Staunton, March 1 – Two weeks ago, some well-connected Moscow commentators said that the FSB was planning to set up special offices to track and counter the spread of pan-Turkist ideas among Russia’s Turkic nations ( Now Igor Leonidov argues that there is a compelling need for this step.

            In an article entitled “Nostalgia for Pan-Turkism?” on the Russian nationalist portal Stoletiye, the Moscow commentator says that it now appears that “certain politicians in the North Caucasus are supporters of pan-Turkism at least within the framework of its historical-geographic context” (

            That bitter reflection is prompted, Leonidov says, by the opening at the end of December of a monument near Makhachkala to the soldiers of the Caucasus Islamic Army, a force in which fighters from Turkey, Azerbaijan and Daghestan fought against what it called “’the occupation forces’ of General Lazar Bicherakhov who supposedly was ‘helping the Bolsheviks.’”

            The three-meter-tall monument was financed by Kamil Aliyev, a Kumyk activist. It specifies that this unit consisted of “’soldiers of the Ottoman army’” and thus expresses “solidarity with the military-political or more precisely geopolitical plans and actions of the Ottoman Empire in the North Caucasus.”

            According to Leonidov, those who erected this monument don’t know that Lazar Bicherakov (1882-1952) commanded a force organized by the British and which fought against both the Caucasus Islamic Army and Bolshevik units in the region at one and the same time, displaying, the commentator says, “unusual military capabilities.”

            The Russian nationalist commentator says that those who have erected this monument ignore this history and seek to “convince the population in the justice of the supposedly liberating but in fact expansionist pans of the Ottoman and also post-Ottoman Turkey regarding the entire Caucasus.”

            The Caucasus Islamic Army, Leonidov says, did not lay down its arms on November 11, 1918, despite the end of World War I. Instead, it occupied Port Petrovsk (now Makhachkala) on that day and renamed it Anzhikale, an indication, he says, that Turkey’s expansionist plans for the region didn’t end then. (On this murky history, see A.Yu. Bezugolny, General Bicherakov and His Caucasus Army (in Russian, Moscow: 2011, 416 pp.)

            The Caucasus Islamic Army was disbanded only in February 1919, but many of its officers and men were shifted to the Turkish coast where they fought against the Greeks. Bicherakov himself emigrated to Great Britain but later was involved with North Caucasus emigres in Germany and himself died in Ulm.

            The Kumyk monument to the Caucasus Islamic Army, Leonidov says, is part of an effort by Turkey and the West to stir up trouble against Russia in the North Caucasus.  But what is worrisome is that militants in this region continue to lookback to the ideas of the 1910s and 1920s when they are planning for the future. 

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