Dagestanis Put up Monument to Those Who Fought Russian Empire

By Paul Goble
When Chechnya’s Ramzan Kadyrov dedicated a monument to women who died in the fight against Russian imperial expansion in the Caucasus in the 19th century, that action attracted a great deal of attention in Moscow and around the world (see EDM, September 26). But without much fanfare, Dagestan’s Shamil Center for Humanitarian Research has erected a monument in Gunib “in memory of heroic popular actions in the Caucasus War [1817–1864],” with the words inscribed in Russian and Arabic—a move that is likely to have even greater resonance in the North Caucasus than Kadyrov’s (kavkaz-uzel.ru/articles/231146/).
Until last week, there was not a single monument of any kind in Dagestan “devoted to the historic events of the 19thcentury,” according to Khadzhimurad Donogo. “Five people from our center,” he said, collected funds, ordered the monument and put it up. They chose to erect it in Gunib because that is where Shamil was forced to end his resistance struggle: Some consider that he surrendered and was taken prisoner, others that he took part in negotiations. But [however it was] the war ended here.”
Asked by Kavkaz-Uzel.ru whether he and his compatriots feared accusations of separatism or exacerbating inter-ethnic tensions, Donogo said that he supposed the interviewer “had in mind the history with the Chechen monument. “But what is separatist about this? This is simply a reminder of the heroic struggle of the people. Why should there be memorials for the Great Fatherland War [World War II] and the [Russian] Civil War [1917–1922] but none for the Caucasian War?”
Gadzhimurad Sagirov, the editor of Makhachkala’s Novoye Delo newspaper, agreed. Putting up such a memorial, he said, “does not have as its goal setting at odds the sides who participated in the Caucasus War and does not have any political subtext. It was done so that people, especially the young, the rising generation, will know their history and the past of their region, Dagestan and Russia.”
Whatever the intent of those who put up this modest monument, the comments of those who read the Kavkaz-uzel.ru story suggest that many people in that republic see the monument as something more—or at least are investing it with meanings that simultaneously reflect the anger of Dagestanis at the Russian occupation and are likely to provoke even more in the future.
One online reply to the article suggested that “a hundred years from now, a monument will be put up to the present-day participant of the Caucasus war” and suggested that the memorial erected now needed to be clearer in whether it was to “the occupiers or the occupied.” Another suggested that the monument should have more “justly” carried the words “In memory [of] the heroic popular actions in the Caucasus War with the Russian-Fascist Usurpers.” And a third suggested that one should remember that Dagestan, and the North Caucasus more generally, had suffered from more than just Russian conquerors.

But perhaps the most thoughtful comment came from another reader who suggested that the war of monuments in the North Caucasus will continue, with the Cossacks seeking to put up more memorials to General Alexei Yermolov—the Imperial Russian military commander who conquered the Caucasus—and the Circassians a monument to their “genocide” at the hands of the Russians in Sochi.