The Caucasian Shadow of the Ukrainian War

SecondIn the first few days of February in Kyiv, the snow in Mariinsky Park is slowly melting. Barbed wire passes through it, marked with dams and sandbags, into the nerve center of Ukraine at war. On the sidewalks of nearby streets, the State Military History Museum exhibits the most recent remains of the Russian army. An armored vehicle was destroyed at an airfield not far from the capital during the liberation in the spring of 2022, brushing past other methodically rusting corpses.

Just across the way, a gold plaque commemorates a stern-eyed, bushy-bearded character with a fur cap and ammo belt across his chest. It is, the inscription specifies, “Shamir, Imam of Dagestan and Chechnya”From 1834 to 1859, he led the fierce resistance to Russian advances in the Caucasus.

From now on, President Vladimir Zelensky has chosen to invoke this militant figure to call “Indigenous people” Russia against Vladimir Putin.

“Caucasians know, Caucasians see”

Imam Shamir managed to unite around him the various nationalities of the Caucasus, at the forefront of which were Chechens and Circassians, while he himself was an Avar, one of the many nationalities that made up Dagestan. His charm and bravery inspired a Sufi network of followers across the region.

This is how he was able to face the Russian army for a quarter of a century with colorful pages during his tour of the Caucasus in 1858, inspiring even Alexandre Dumas. The following year, the balance of power overwhelmingly favored the tsarist forces, forcing Shamir to lay down his arms. But it was an honorable capitulation, and the leaders of the Caucasus partisans were relegated to southwest Moscow before settling in Kyiv in 1868. Permitted to make the pilgrimage to Mecca in 1869, he died in Medina in 1871, where he was buried.

Read Jean-Pierre Filiu’s previous column: Articles reserved for our subscribers The Anti-Semitic Seduction of Russian Diplomacy

According to his correspondence, Shamir seemed to particularly enjoy his stay in Kyiv. A plaque commemorating him is flanked by quotes from Taras Shevchenko, a leading figure of Ukrainian nationalism who celebrated Shamir’s resistance from 1845: “Victory is yours! God bless you! The truth is yours, the glory is yours! ». That is, contemporaries are willing to preach from Kyiv a kind of brotherhood in the struggle against the Caucasus.

In the fall of 2022, it was on such a register that the President of Ukraine issued a solemn appeal in front of a plaque commemorating Shamir: “The people of the Caucasus! I was in that place in Kyiv, where Imam Shamir, the hero of Dagestan and the entire Caucasus, lived in the 1860s. You will see how Ukraine knows how to honor your heroes. We preserve our peoples Memories of a place where cultures meet. This is the center of our capital. One of hundreds of Ukrainian cities that Russia attacked with bombs and missiles. The Caucasus knows what it means. The Caucasus has seen it. »

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