Drawing The Wrong Lessons From Yermolov

Publication: North Caucasus Weekly Volume: 5 Issue: 29

According to a recent poll conducted by the All-Russian Center for the Study of Public Opinion (VTsIOM) and published in Novye izvestia on July 17, two-thirds of Russians surveyed (67.6 percent) consider that the rising young generation of Chechens—those who are now 10 to 12 years old—are going to view Russia with greater hostility than their elders. Only 13.7 percent believed that these Chechens would have more friendly feelings.

In the same issue of Novye izvestia, sociologist Emil Pain of the Russian Academy of Sciences’ Center for the Study of Xenophobia and Extremism argued against what he called “the most important erroneous belief held by today’s Russian authorities and by a significant portion of the populace—that Chechens respect nothing but force.” Pain reminded his readers that General Yermolov, the famous 19th-century imperialist whose reputation is now undergoing a revival in Russian ultra-nationalist circles, was a strategic failure.

“What did Yermolov achieve in the Caucasus?” asked Pain. “From current press reports, one might think that it was he who won the Caucasian War, but in fact after his resignation in 1827 the war lasted another 34 years. His strategy of ‘total cruelty’ only led to an unprecedented strengthening of the [indigenous Caucasian] resistance. It stimulated the unification of the highland peoples and the quicker diffusion and solidification of Islam in the North Caucasus, especially in Sufi forms that were then new to the region and provided an ideological foundation for a long war and the consolidation of fragmented tribes and ethnic groups which previously had been warring with each other.”

Pain also pointed out that it was under Yermolov that robbery, marauding and the selling of civilian captives as slaves became standard practice for the Russian military in the Caucasus—not only as instruments of revenge but as sources of income for the officers. Yermolov himself engaged in the practice of selling captives. Yet in spite of this he is increasingly admired in today’s “patriotic” circles as an exponent of Russia’s great-power ambitions.