Tuesday, June 4, 2019

Who’s Buried in Haji Murad’s Tomb?

Paul Goble

            Staunton, June 3 – Yesterday, a group of Daghestanis solemnly reburied what they says are the remains of Haji Murad, an aide to Imam Shamil and the subject of Tolstoy’s story. These remains had been in Azerbaijan, but officials ignored the ceremony lest they spark veneration of the grave and many historians suggest that the remains are not those of Haji Murad. 

            But this story, which took place in the Daghestani aul of Khundzakh, is at the intersect of historical disputes, Azerbaijani law enforcement agencies, and even Kremlin politics (regnum.ru/news/society/2640418.html, ndelo.ru/khadzhi-murat/neozhidannyj-povorot-v-istorii-s-ostankami-legendarnogo-naiba-imama-hadzhi-murata-i-o-strastyah-vokr and  www.kavkaz-uzel.eu/articles/336232/).

            It is almost certain that whatever remains were buried in Daghestan yesterday are not those of Haji Murad.  Patimat Takhnayev, a historian at the Moscow Institute of Oriental Studies says that when Haji Murad was captured, he was beheaded along with two of his colleagues. His head was sent to Tiflis (now Tbilisi).
            It appears that his body was simply put in a ditch rather than given a formal burial, the historian continues, but in the 1870s, Haji Murad’s son visited the area and guided by local people still loyal to the Caucasian military leader put up a gravestone in honor of all three.  A Soviet archaeologist excavated the graves in 1959 and they were empty.

            But the archaeologist found other graves nearby which included three whose bodies were missing their heads and concluded that he had found Haji Murad’s last resting place.  As for the skull, it made its way into museums where it was displayed – and then as a result of vicissitudes made its way into Azerbaijan.

            Family members and those who venerate Imam Shamil and his fighters, including Haji Murad, became committed to reburying the body and the skull in Haji Murad’s native Daghestan. They got some support from officials in the Kremlin earlier this year (kavkaz-uzel.eu/articles/330773/) and have now gone ahead despite the questions.

            Meanwhile, in addition to becoming the subject of high politics in Moscow, the issue of the remains if such they are now being investigated by Azerbaijani law enforcement which says it wants find out who took the remains out of Azerbaijan to Daghestan in Russia (chernovik.net/content/lenta-novostey/pravoohranitelnye-organy-azerbaydzhana-nachali-rassledovanie-ischeznoveniya).

                “If it is confirmed that the remains of the great Haji Murad were carried out of [Azerbaijan],” they say, “all those guilty in this case must be punished,” a local Azerbaijani official says.  As for Moscow, it would like to give the family members the skull of Haji Murad, but reportedly the center fears that could create problems in the current environment.

            This case has the potential to be even more serious in the North Caucasus than is the issue of the remains of the Russian Imperial family who were murdered by the Bolsheviks in 1918. That is because even more than among Russians, Caucasian Muslims in the Sufi tradition venerate such noble ancestors and make their graves pilgrimage sites.

            Obviously, Moscow doesn’t really want to encourage a further growth of that Islamic practice; but the central government is not in a position to prevent those who want to set up new holy places from doing so. Consequently, the issue of “who’s buried in Haji Murad’s tomb?” is likely to continue to roil the waters in the region for years, even decades to come. 

            The facts of the case in this instance as in so many others like it are irrelevant while the passions of the people determine what they believe and how they act. 

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