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The Caucasian War
Roubaud. Scene from Caucasian war.jpg
Franz Roubaud's A Scene from the Caucasian War
Russia Russian Empire
Principality of Mingrelia
Principality of Svaneti
Banner of Guria.svg Principality of Guria
Thirdimamateflag.svg Caucasian Imamate
Circassian flag.svg Circassia
Abkhazian insurgents
Big Kabarda (to 1825)
Khanate of Kazi-Kumukh
Dagestan free people
Avar Khanate (1829–1859)
Commanders and leaders
Tsar Nicholas I
Tsar Alexander I
Tsar Alexander II
Aleksey Yermolov
Mikhail Vorontsov
Aleksandr Baryatinskiy
Nikolai Yevdokimov
Imam Shamil
Ghazi Mullah
Kazbech Tuguzhoko
Akhmat Aublaa
Ismail Ajapua
Shabat Marshan
Haji Kerantukh Berzek
about 250,000 roughly 300,000
Casualties and losses
roughly 96,000 about 200,000 (4 000 000 Circassians)

The Caucasian War of 1817–1864, also known as the Russian conquest of the Caucasus[1] was an invasion of the Caucasus by the Russian Empire which ended with the annexation of the areas of the North Caucasus to Russia and the Ethnic cleansing of Circassians. It consisted of a series of military actions waged by Russia against territories and tribal groups in Caucasia including Chechnya, Dagestan, Karachay and the Circassians (Adyghe, Kabarday), Abkhaz, Abazins and Ubykh as Russia sought to expand southward.[2]

The Russian–Circassian War, a conflict between Russia and Circassia, was part of the Caucasian War.

Other territories of the Caucasus (Georgia, Armenia and Azerbaijan) were incorporated into the Russian empire at various times in the 19th century as a result of Russian wars with the Ottoman Empire and Persia.


Three Russian Tsars sparked the war: Alexander I, Nicholas I and Alexander II. The leading Russian commanders were Aleksey Petrovich Yermolov in 1816–1827, Mikhail Semyonovich Vorontsov in 1844–1853 and Aleksandr Baryatinskiy in 1853–1856. The writers Mikhail Lermontov and Leo Tolstoy, who gained much of his knowledge and experience of war for his book War and Peace from these encounters, took part in the hostilities. The Russian poet Alexander Pushkin referred to it in his Byronic poem The Prisoner of the Caucasus (1821).

The Russian invasion was met with fierce resistance. The first period coincidentally ended with the death of Alexander I and Decembrist Revolt in 1825. It achieved surprisingly little success, especially as compared with the then recent Russian victory over the "Great Army" of Napoleon.

During 1825–1833 there was little activity, since Russia was engaged in its wars with Turkey and Persia. After considerable successes in both wars, Russia resumed fighting in the Caucasus. They were again met with resistance, notably led by Ghazi Mollah, Gamzat-bek and Hadji Murad. Imam Shamil followed them. He led the mountaineers from 1834 until his capture by Dmitry Milyutin in 1859. In 1843, Shamil launched a sweeping offensive aimed at the Russian outposts in Avaria. On the 28th of August, 10,000 men converged from three different directions on a Russian column in Untsoikul, killing 486 men. In the next four weeks, Shamil captured every Russian outpost in Avaria except one, exacting over 2,000 casualties on the Russian defenders. He feigned an invasion north to capture a key chokepoint at the convergence of the Avar and Kazi-Kumuh rivers.[3] In 1845, Shamil's forces achieved their most dramatic success when they withstood a major Russian offensive led by Prince Vorontsov.

During the Crimean War, the Russians brokered a truce with Shamil but hostilities resumed in 1855. Warfare in the Caucasus finally ended between 1856–1859, when a 250,000 strong army under General Baryatinsky broke down the mountaineers' resistance.

The war in the Eastern part of the North Caucasus ended in 1859 when Shamil was caught by the Russians and forced to surrender and swear allegiance to the Tsar and was sent to live in Central Russia. The war in the Western part of the North Caucasus resumed however with the Circassians (Adyghe, Abkhazian, and Ubykh) resuming the fight. The end was declared on June 2, 1864 (May 21 O.S.), 1864, by manifesto of the Tsar. Among the post-war events, a tragic page in the history of the indigenous peoples of the Caucasus especially the Circassians was Muhajirism, or population transfer of the Muslim population into the Ottoman Empire.[4]


A lot of Circassians fled to the Ottoman empire. For example, they inhabited the villages around Ankara, the Turkish capital. They became the core of Turkish army and of Atatürk's supporters. Circassians had become the first target of Arab Armies during the first Arab-Israeli war, and helped to mobilize Jewish settlers during the siege of Circassian villages in Palestine by Arab armies and to create Israeli army. Circassians from Kosovo returned to Russia only after the Civil war in Kosovo. There are many Circassians in Syria now who preparing to repatriate. Some Circassians joined Cossacks, Grebensky (Row) Cossacks being of mixed Russian-Circassian origin from the very beginning. There were Mozdok Cossacks of Circassian origin as well. The genocide of Terek Cossacks during the Civil war was the continuation of the genocide of Circassians, the former Russian empire allies supporting Communists. Abkhazia is the only independent Circassian state, but Adyghe, Kabardino-Balkarian and Karachaevo-Circassian republics have some sovereign rights within Russia. The problems of Circassian republics within Russia originate from the distribution of many Circassian tribal lands among the Russian empire allies in the Caucasus, especially Georgians, Vainahs and Turkic peoples. Many new settlers were exiled by Stalin in 1944, and some of their land was returned to Circassians. Though numerous exiled people have returned, many lands, granted to them by the Russian empire, are still inhabited by the Circassian minority, supported by Cossacks, Nogai and Russians. This still generates tensions in the former war theaters of the Caucasian war.[5]



  1. Baddeley, John F. The Russian conquest of the Caucasus. London, New York, Bombay, Calcutta: Longmans, Green and Co., 1908. Reprinted Mansfield Centre, Conn.: Martino Pub., 2006. ISBN 1-57898-576-5.
  2. Charles King The ghost of freedom: a history of the Caucasus Oxford University Press US, 2008 ISBN 0-19-517775-4 ISBN 978-0-19-517775-6
  3. Robert F Baumann and Combat Studies Institute (U.S.), Russian-Soviet Unconventional Wars in the Caucasus, Central Asia, and Afghanistan (Fort Leavenworth, Kan: Combat Studies Institute, U.S. Army Command and General Staff College, n.d.)
  4. Yale University paper
  5. Bertolt Brecht The Caucasian Chalk Circle study guide

Further reading

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