Muhammad Amin: Imam Shamil’s Naib to the Circassians (Part Two)

Publication: North Caucasus Weekly Volume: 11 Issue: 4

With the hope of Ottoman assistance, the North Caucasus mountaineers’ freedom from the claws of Russian colonialism seemed closer than ever. After a long wait, Muhammad Amin’s wishes finally came true. The local holy war took on an imperial character. On 9 October 1853, five days after the Ottoman Empire officially declared war on Russia, the Sultan sent a decree [firman] to imam Shamil calling for jihad. [1] Like the imam, the naib did not intend to remain passive in the expected struggle. He continued his vigorous campaign to procure and enlist a large number of local fighters for the joint offensive in Circassia.

To prepare for the planned operation, the Porte recruited key men with Circassian roots into the Ottoman imperial forces by awarding them ranks, titles and salaries. One of these key men was Sefer Bey Zanuqua [Zanoğlu in Turkish], a member of a Circassian noble family from the neighborhood of Anapa who returned to Istanbul from exile in Edirne. [2] Despite his advanced age, the Porte trusted him and awarded him the rank of Mirmirân [3] as well as an invitation to return to Circassia in the name of the Sultan.

Muhammad Amin did not hide his disappointment and misgivings about the Porte’s decision to send Sefer Bey to lead the sub-ethnic groups in Circassia. “Now [the naib wrote to the Ottoman Grand Vizier], if [Sefer Bey] Zanuqua arrives accompanied by the [Ottoman] military heads all those who were forced into obedience intend to blame us for the punishments we had inflicted on them according to the Book of God [Qur’an] [may His name be elevated]”. [4] After his appointment by the provisional war council [Meclis-i Muvakkat-ı Harbiye], [5] Sefer Bey arrived with the title of Pasha, “as civil and military Governor of all the Circassian provinces situated between the Black Sea and the River Kuban,” [6] thus ending the naib’s hopes. His six years of labor had been in vain.

By July 1854, Muhammad Amin felt that some Ottoman agents intended to abuse his authority and weaken his influence among the Circassians rather than assist him in providing real operational plans to fight the Russians. Therefore, he sailed to the allied headquarters in Varna to protest against them and to discuss further cooperation. He then continued to Istanbul to seek imperial support from the Sultan. [7] Nevertheless, he was made a Pasha with the rank of Mirmirân [8] under the Sultan’s service and became known by the Ottomans as “Naib [Emin] Pasha”. However, he continued to obey Shamil’s instructions. In the following months, the relationship between the two sides knew such vicissitudes that even his imam vowed to have nothing more to do with the Ottomans.

The first step in the political restoration of Circassia received a blow after the country was separated into two parts. The Porte recognized two different leaders. In doing so, each one used this authority to rule. In fact, by delegating authority to both these figures so opposite in natures and tendencies, the Porte increased the pair’s pre-existing rivalry. Indeed, the result was not long in coming. In March 1855, near the river of Shebzh, the first of three bloody battles between the supporters of Muhammad Amin and Sefer Pasha took place. [9]

It was not only the “silence” of the Ottoman Empire that left Circassia out of the Treaty of Paris (March 1856). Her policy failure during the Crimean War (1853-1856) left her population divided and confused, while the country continued to be led by two leaders with opposing concepts under the service of the Ottoman Sultan. Muhammad Amin’s appointment as civil governor [10] instead of Sefer Pasha preceded a new struggle for power. In May 1856 another battle took place on the banks of the Sup River. [11]

Despite Muhammad Amin’s trip to Istanbul to gain support and to complain about Sefer Pasha, the status quo ante was preserved. Each side claimed the crown. However against the backdrop of the Ottoman foreign policy, renewed conflict between the parties was only a matter of time. In January 1857, the followers of Muhammad Amin and Sefer Pasha met again near Tuapse, ending with heavy losses on both sides. [12]

In May 1857, Muhammad Amin sailed back to Istanbul. He might have returned to perform the hajj in the holy city of Mecca, obtain soldiers and guns [13] or both. Not knowing what to expect there, he fell straight into the Ottoman trap. Under Russian pressure, he was arrested and exiled to Damascus. [14] Although he received good treatment there and earned a monthly salary of 3,000 piasters, he expressed severe disappointment at being prevented from performing his pilgrimage to Mecca. In September 1857, after about two months of exile, the naib escaped and returned to Circassia. [15]

Muhammad Amin made his final efforts to revive his authority, but failed to do so. The consequences of Shamil’s surrender were not lost on the Circassians in the Northwest Caucasus. The heavy losses suffered by the Russians in the previous three years (1856-1859), tireless Circassian resistance of the colonial advance and, most importantly, the fall of the resistance movement in the Northeast Caucasus left a strong mark on the Circassians’ state of mind. Muhammad Amin and the Abdzakh surrendered to the Russians, as did the hierarchical sub-ethnic groups. After the death of Sefer Pasha, the Natkhuay followed them, while only the Shapsygh and Ubykh continued to resist.

The lack of effective leadership left the local population in a state of disarray, without any support from the Ottoman Empire or the Western Powers. The tragic fate of the Circassians was foredoomed. Sharing the same fate as the Circassian exiles, Muhammad Amin resettled with his family in Bursa until in 1899, dying around the age of 81. [16] He was buried in Armutköy.

[1] Istanbul, Başbakanlık Osmanlı Arşivi [hereafter: BOA], İrade Dahiliye [İ.DH.], 281/17605, 5 Muharrem 1270 [8 October 1853]; Sadâret Amedi Kalemi [A.AMD.], 49/77, 5 Muharrem 1270 [8 October 1853].

[2] NA, F.O. 195/443, Longworth to Clarendon, “Cyclops” off Anapa, 21 June 1855 [copy].

[3] BOA, Hariciye Nezâreti Siyasî Kısım [HR.SYS.], 1345/94, 22 Safer 1270 [24 November 1853]; Sadâret Divan-I Hümayun Kalemi [A.DVN.], 94/2, 25 Safer 1270 [27 November 1853].

[4] Ibid, İrade Dahiliye [İ.DH.], 303/19234, 28 Şevval 1270 [24 July 1854].

[5] Mustafa Budak, “1853-1856 Kırım Savaşı’nda Kafkas Cephesi”, Unpublished Ph.D. thesis [Istanbul Üniversitesi, 1993], p.77.

[6] NA, F.O. 195/144, Longworth to Clarendon, “Cyclops” off Anapa, 21 June 1855, No.3, see the same in Ibid., F.O. 188/1441, No.8.

[7] NA, F.O. 195/443, Lloyd to Clarendon, Varna, 24 July 1854.

[8] BOA, İrade Dahiliye [İ.DH.], 305/19355, 5 Zilkâde 1270 [30 July 1854]; Kazem-Bek, “Mokhammed Amin”, p.238; [Rear-Admiral Sir] Adolphus Slade [Mushaver Pasha], Turkey and the Crimean War: A Narrative of Historical Events [London: Smith, Elder & Co., 1867], p.203; Budak, p.77.

[9] BOA, Hariciye Tercüme Odası [HR.TO.], 424/37, 20 Rebîulâhir 1272 [30 December 1855]; Askhad Iosufovich Chirg, Razvitie obshchestvenno-politicheskogo storia adygov Severo-Zapadnogo Kavkaza, konets XVIII – 60-e gg. XIX v. [Maikop: Kachestvo, 2002], p.155.

[10] NA, F.O. 78/1243, Longworth to Stratford, Sokoom Kaleh, 24 October 1855.

[11] Chirg, p.158.

[12] AKAK, Vol. XII, p.719, document No.614, Bariatinskii to Sukhozanet, 22 February [6 March] 1857, No.22.

[13] BOA, İrade Meclis-i Mahsus [İ.MMS.], 10/430, 28 Zilkâde 1273 [20 July 1857]; NA, F.O. 195/528, Stevens to Clarendon, Trebizond, 15 May 1857, No.16 [copy]; Ibid, Stevens to Stratford, Trebizond, 16 May 1857, No.12; Kazem-Bek, “Mukhammed Amin”, p.239; Lapinskii, Vol. 2, pp.108-109.

[14] BOA, İrade Dahiliye [İ.DH.], 25156, 9 Zilkâde 1273 [1 July 1857]; NA, F.O. 195/458, Misk to Stratford, Damascus, 30 September 1857, No.21.

[15] BOA, İrade Meclis-i Mahsus [İ.MMS.], 10/430, 28 Zilkâde 1273 [20 July 1857]; NA, F.O. 195/458, Misk to Stratford, Damascus, 30 September 1857, No.21; F.O. 78/1303, Stevens to Clarendon, Trebizond, 19 December 1857, No.44; F.O. 78/1276, Alison to Clarendon, 25 December 1857, No.53; Kazem-Bek, “Mukhammed Amin”, pp.239-240.

[16] A.N. D’iachkov-Tarasov, “Abadzekhi”, Zapiski Kavkazskogo Otdela Russkogo Imperatorskogo Geograficheskogo Obshchestva [Tiflis: Kn.22, Vyp.4, 1902], p.49.