Jembulat Bolotoko: The Prince of Princes (Part Two)

Publication: Eurasia Daily Monitor Volume: 8 Issue: 207

Building of the Georgian Military Highway (Source: Wikimedia Commons)

The 1830 Russian-Temirgoi Treaty: The Biggest Success That the Circassians Had During 101 Years of War.

On September 2, 1829, Russia and Turkey signed the Adrianople Treaty, and Turkey recognized Circassia as a territory of Russian influence. After the Adrianople Treaty, Jembulat decided to make peace with Russia. He had several reasons to do so. First of all, Jembulat realized a buffer principality such as Temirgoi would not be able to confront Russia without international support even if resistance was still possible for other principalities that did not border Russia. Secondly, when becoming the Great Prince of Temirgoi, Jembulat could not help but to consider the tradition of his predecessors to make peace with Russia as a way to reduce the constant threat of invasion. Thirdly, after decades of instability, the Temirgoi principality was in a state of demographic crisis; its population decreased by more than three times – from 5,000 families in 1820 to 1,600 in 1830 [18].

Yet, peace with Russia was not an easy act to perform after a decade of war. It was a double risk for Jembulat. Four years before, in 1825, General A.Velyaminov invited Kuchuk Jambotov, the Great Prince of Kabarda, with his son to a Russian fortress and killed the son in front of the father. Great Prince Jembulat had strong reasons to believe that the Russians were planning to kill him during the negotiations. Indeed, that was the intention of General Emanuel. When he learned about Jembulat’s proposal to make peace he said, “As soon as he shows up here, I will order to hang him” [19]. Equal danger awaited Jembulat from the Circassian side. His former comrades in the Resistance could accuse him of treachery.

Great Prince Jembulat conducted negotiations very skillfully, however. He met with Earl Paskevich and they concluded the Temirgoi-Russian peace treaty. After a private conversation with Earl Paskevich, Jembulat went back to Temirgoi and gathered people in his residency at New Aul on November 18-19, 1830. A special Russian committee arrived to sign the necessary documents. Great Prince Jembulat did not sign the papers immediately, negotiating different aspects of the agreement until the last minute. Earl Paskevuch reported to the Russian Military Minister about an episode when the Great Prince refused to sign the papers, gathered people around him and made a speech – “Jembulat shouted that he is a free Circassian and all it takes for him is to just jump on his horse” [20]. But the next day, the Great Prince allowed himself to be persuaded and signed the papers, saying that he hesitated so long only because he was fully aware of the great importance of his word; once he gave it, he intended to keep it.

Other Circassian principalities were unhappy with Temirgoi for reaching a separate peace with Russian. 300 Abadzekh horsemen came to his residency demanding an explanation. Jembulat told them that the Adrianople Treaty left the Circassians alone with Russia, and now they had to make a deal with the Russians. A contemporary analyst wrote that Jembulat’s “careful answer put him on such conditions with the Abadzekhs that they let him alone” [21].

In addition to his military genius, Jembulat Bolotoko turned out to have outstanding diplomatic talent. Temirgoi kept its sovereignty, the Great Prince enjoyed all his privileges and the Russians did not have the right to interfere in Termirgoi’s domestic affairs in any form (unlike in Kabarda where the Great Prince became the head of the Kabardian Temporary Court in 1822, subordinated to the Russian administration). The Russian-Temirgoi peace had two additional conditions. Firstly, Russia accepted the territorial integrity of the Temirgoi principality and Jembulat “restored the unity of his principality through the peace with Russia” [22]. Secondly, Russia was forced to return all the people who fled from Temirgoi to Russia and agreed not to accept anybody else in the future. Those were two of the three strategic demands of the Circassian Resistance since 1763 (the third being the destruction of the Russian fortresses along the border). The 1830 Russian-Temirgoi Treaty became the biggest diplomatic success that the Circassians ever had during the 101 years of war.

Jembulat secretly concluded a peace treaty with Abadzekh as well. The forces of the Circassian Resistance would often pass though Temirgoi on their way to attack the Russian Military line and they were neither stopped by Great Prince Jembulat, nor did they ever attack him. Yet, the 1820 Temirgoi-Russian peace ended the era of Hajjret ideology in the Circassian resistance. Though later, in 1846, Imam Shamil of Dagestan made an unsuccessful attempt to raise up Kabarda against Russia, the principalities of Western Circassia abandoned the policy of rescuing “the Circassians of indigenous Palestine.” Many Hejjret leaders concluded peace with Russia, including Kabardian prince Ismail Kasei, a co-leader of the Circassian invasions into Russia with Jembulat in 1820, who settled down in Temirgoi.

The Approbation of the Genocide Methods and the Assassination of Great Prince Bolotoko in 1836.

Circassian political analyst Khan-Girei observed that the situation changed for Great-Prince Jembulat “after the field marshal [Paskevich] left the region” [23]. The new commander-in-chief, Baron Rosen, did not believe in peace between Temirgoi and Russia [24].

In 1833, Colonel Grigorii Zass was appointed commander of a part of the Kuban Military Line with headquarters in the Batalpashinsk fortress (now Cherkessk, the capital of Karachaevo-Cherkes Republic), which bordered the Temirgoi principality. Colonel Zass received wide authority to act as he saw fit. Grigorii Zass had racist views and regarded the Circassians as a lower race than the Russians and other civilized Europeans. In his view, the only way to deal with the Circassians was to scare them. From that concept, Zass developed new military methods – burning people alive, and cutting off the heads of corpses [25].

Zass had military talent and was the first to develop the tactic of burning settlements with the people inside, which later officially became the standard tactic of the Russian army in the region. Colonel Zass first used this tactic on February 19, 1834 on the village of Tlabgai. The Russians chose a very foggy night and secretly approached the village early in the morning while everybody was sleeping. The unaware villagers were “either killed or burned.” Colonel Zass calculated in his report that the sum of the killed villagers “together with the victims of the fire during the burning of the village, was 193 souls” [26]. Many such operations followed. Typical of these, early in the morning on November 4, 1834, general Zass with 1,300 soldiers surrounded the village of Tam from three sides. A regiment of Sergeant Rubashkin guarded the way to the Laba River to prevent the villagers from escaping. Major Rot’s regiment approached the village from the rear, and Colonel Kanivalskiy’s regiment “set fire to the village and hurriedly retreated.” In his report, Zass described how “the fire burned the villagers” [27]. The Russian tsar Nicolai I was pleased with Zass’ methods and promoted him.

In 1835, Zass became commander of the Kuban Military Line and a major-general. First, he ordered the building of a fence with Circassian heads on sticks around his new residency in the Prochnyi Okop fortress. G. Zass and later A. Velyaminov introduced “a custom of beheading the dead Circassians” to the Russian solders [28]. General Zass paid his soldiers for every Circassian head he collected to decorate his residency and for his anthropological collection, which he kept in a big box under his bed. Later, the soldiers discovered that the relatives of the beheaded Circassians were willing to buy the heads back because their custom did not allow burying the dead with a head missing. Head trade became a profitable part of the Kuban Military Line’s economy, with a standard price of two cows per head [29]. Zass’ manners shocked Russian society, and his contemporaries “regarded him as a cruel man and almost a barbarian” [30]. But his comrades shared his methods. One of them noted that Grigorii Zass liked to feed his canaries at his residency and argued that “no, it’s impossible that a man who loved so much the little birds would be a barbarian” [31]. The Circassians, on the other hand, called him a “devil” [32].

Tsar Nikolai I decided to visit the Caucasus himself and ordered the conquest of the Circassian principalities of Abadzekh, Natuhai, Shapsug and the Abkhaz coast “as soon as possible” – that is, before his visit planned in 1837. It started a new full-scale war. Great Prince Bolotoko temporarily decided to lessen his relations with the Russians. Russian general Malinovskyi reported that “not a single Temirgoi prince and noble responded” when he tried to meet them [33]. General Zass tried to weaken Great Prince Jembulat by initiating a division of the Temirgoi principality. At the beginning of 1835, General Zass sent 500 Cossacks and two guns to the Belaya River and unsuccessfully tried to provoke Prince Taw-Sultan Bolotoko to quarrel with his cousin [34].

At that time, Jembulat Bolotoko became even stronger politically in the Caucasus then he was militarily. He was on good terms with all pro-Russian and anti-Russian coalitions. James Bell, a British observer in Circassia, stated at that time, that Great Prince Jembulat Bolotoko “although on a similar footing with the other independent chiefs of these provinces, is said to have possessed more influence and power than any of them, not only on account of his zeal for the welfare of these provinces, but also on account of his energy and integrity of character, which induced him to see scrupulously to the observance of the treaty with Russia, and, at the same time, to prevent all approximation to her treacherous friendship” [35].

Russian military command suspected that Jembulat “secretly turned the Abadzekhs, Shaprugs and Natuhais against us” [36]. Jembulat had connections with the Turkish government through his close relative Sefer-bey Zanoko “with whom he never stopped having constant relations” [37]. Jembulat Bolotoko communicated with the leaders of the Resistance in Dagestan that was gaining strength at that time. In 1825, Kirakasai Yakub from Temirgoi assassinated General Dmitri Lisanevich in Dagestan. In 1836, Kirakasai Yakub’s son Megmet-bey went to Dagestan and brought with him letters written by David Urquhart, a British MP who helped the Circassian resistance [38]. Later, after Jembulat’s death, Magomet Amin, a religious leader from Dagestan, came to Temirgoi, married a Bolotoko princess and became an influential figure among the Circassians. It was not Jembulat’s actual actions, but the political power he had, that irritated the Russians. He was a dangerous figure who was able to unite resistance all over the North Caucasus. But in spite of strong suspicions against him, the Russians never had any evidence to prove his anti-Russian actions allowing them to accuse him directly. This permitted Sultan Khan-Girei to defend him after his death, stating in his writings that the Great Prince kept his loyalty to Russia [39].

General Zass designed a project to move the Kuban Military Line to the banks of the Laba River. In that way, the Russians would move 100 kilometers into the Circassian lands. Great Prince Jembulat was the main obstacle to general Zass’ project because Jembulat would oppose it on the grounds that it broke his agreement with Earl Paskevich not to move the Russian borders. If ignored and alienated, Jembulat Bolotoko could become an open leader of the Circassian Resistance and lead it against Russia as he did in 1820.

In October 1836, General Zass sent Great Prince Jembulat word that Russian spies collected intelligence of his anti-Russian actions. It was a common trick. The Russians would openly say that they suspected somebody and provoke him to action – if he came to a Russian fortress for explanation, he would be assassinated; in case he did not come, the Russians would claim that to be an indication that they were right in their suspicions and accuse him of treachery.

Great Prince Bolotoko came to Zass’ residency to demand an explanation. The general was not there for his first visit, but Zass told him to come at an exact date when he would certainly be in his residency. On his way to the Prochnyi Okop fortress, Great Prince Jembulat was killed by a sniper who was hiding in the forest on the Russian bank of the Kuban River at the intersection with the Urup River. According to Russian historians, upon his death, Jembulat said the name of Zass’ sniper who alone was capable of shooting him from such a long distance from the forest [40].

James Bell presented a different narrative of how the Great Prince was killed. According to Bell, Prince Jembulat actually met with General Zass “attended by only one servant,” and during the “interview an altercation occurred between the two, the general reproaching the bey with having broken the treaty with Russia, by fighting against her in disguise, which the latter indignantly denied. He set out for his house, but was waylaid in a defile in a forest, just as he had entered his own province, by a Noghai and some Cossacks, shot at, and mortally wounded. He survived one day and, with a prophetic vision of what has since occurred, with his dying breath he desired that his son might be sent, for safety, into Abazak” [41].

As soon as Great Prince Jembulat was assassinated, General Zass occupied the Temirgoi principality. Princes and nobles gathered for a meeting “demanding an explanation” from Zass as to why he broke the Peace Treaty? General Zass “coolly replied that the treaty was at an end, the chief who had made it on their part being dead (!) – that they must thenceforth consider themselves as Russian subjects” [42]. Baron Rosen, the commander-in-chief in the Caucasus, wrote to the Russian Military Minister proposing to appoint a Russian governor to the Temirgoi principality [43]. But the Russian actions had the opposite effect. They were astonished when the majority of the principality joined the Circassian resistance, “left for the Belaya River and trouble us by their attacks” [44].


Thanks to his military genius, Jembulat Bolotoko became a military leader of the Circassian Resistance in 1820. With the Hajjret ideology of rescuing Eastern Circassia, Jembulat systematically invaded Russian territories in 1823-1829. After the Adrianople Treaty, the Great Prince of Temirgoi signed his own Treaty with Russia in 1830, which demonstrated his outstanding diplomatic talent. In time, Jembulat Bolotoko strengthened his relations with Russia, Turkey, the Circassian Resistance, the pro-Russian Circassian coalition and the leaders of Dagestan Resistance. Jembulat emerged such a strong political figure that he became the main political obstacle to the Russian advance in the North Caucasus. Consequently, the Russians were forced to assassinate him.

After Jembulat’s death, Circassians defended their country from the Russians for three decades, until 1864, when 90 percent of the population of Circassia was killed or escaped to Turkey.


1. AKAK, v. 7, p. 899.
2. Novitskii G.V. Vospominaniya Vospitannika…, p. 304.
3. AKAK, v. 7, p. 898.
4. Ibid., p. 896.
5. Stal’ K.F. Etnograficheskii Ocherk…, p. 146.
6. Khan-Girey, S. Cherkesskie Predaniya, p. 247.
7. AKAK (Tiflis, 1881), v. 8, p. 650.
8. According to General A. Ermolov, it was General A. Velyaminov who invented the tactic of killing villagers while they were asleep, when he assassinated 400 people in the morning of October 3, 1823. (Записки А. П. Ермолова. 1798—1826 гг. Ed. Fedorov V.A. (Moscow, 1991), p. 392). Yet it was G. Zass who started using the tactic regularly. A. Velyaminov later became a follower of G. Zass and paid to solders a chervonets (10 golden rubles) per a head cut from a dead Circassian sending many of them to the Russian Academy of Science (Vospominaniya Grigoriya Ivanovicha Filipsona. Russkii Archiv, No 5, 1883, p. 199 <>).
9. AKAK, v. 8, p. 742.
10. Ibid., p. 746.
11. Vospominaniya Grigoriya Ivanovicha Filipsona. Russkii Archiv, No 5, 1883, p. 199 <>.
12. Golubov S. N. Soldatskaya Slava (Krasnodar, 1983), p. 38.
13. Atarshikov, G. Zametki Starogo Kavkaztsa. O Boevoi I Administrativnoi Deyanel’nosti Na Kavkaze General-Leitenanta Barona Grigoriya Khristoforovicha Zassa. (Syroi Material Dlya Istorii Pokoreniya Kavkaza). Voennyi Sbornik. No 8, 1870, p. 316 <>.
14. Ibid., p. 317.
15. Ibid., p. 319.
16. AKAK, v. 8, p. 752.
17. Ibid., p. 749.
18. Bell, James Stanislav. Journal of a residence in Circassia during the years 1837, 1838, and 1839 (London, MDCCCXL), v.1, p. 421. <>.
19. AKAK, v. 8, p. 769.
20. Ibid., p. 768.
21. Ibid.
22. Khan-Girey, S. Cherkesskie Predaniya, p. 247.
23. Sherbina F. A. Istoriya Armavira I Cherkeso-gayev (Ekaterinodar, 1916), p. 11. <>
24. Bell, James. Journal of a residence…, p. 422.
25. Ibid., p. 420.
26. AKAK, v. 8, p. 651.
27. AKAK (Tiflis, 1884), v. 9, p. 296.