Letter:Chechens make a fearsome enemy

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The Independent Online
From Dr Bulent Gokay Sir: Christopher Bellamy ("Chechnya quagmire", 3 January) is right to say that "the Russian armed forces ... have ignored well-documented lessons from the original conquest of the Caucasus 150 years ago ...". However, I was surprisedno reference was made to the more recent Daghestani-Chechen revolt of 1920-21.

The Bolsheviks assumed control in the Chechen territory at the end of 1917 and the Terek Soviet Republic was formed in March 1918. The White Army occupied the area in early 1919 and it was not until 1920 that Soviet rule was re-established. It was at this moment that a popular uprising broke out in the mountains of north-eastern Caucasus against the Soviet rule.

In spite of the small area affected by the revolt, it was one of the most serious challenges Soviet power had ever faced. It was an especially ferocious war with very high casualties. No prisoners were taken and the losses suffered by the Red Army were extremely high.

The rebels' strongholds were the whole of upper Daghestan and upper Chechnya. The rebels were not numerous. The entire population of the area affected by the revolt was not large and the maximum number of rebels under arms were estimated at not more than10,000. But the fighters enjoyed the complete support of the population.

The Red Army suffered several severe blows before the rebels were finally wiped out. On 30 October 1920, the rebels surrounded an important Red Army unit in the narrow Arakan valley and destroyed it to the last man. The battle of Arakan repeated almost exactly the pattern of two preceding battles fought in the same area: the battle of the Sunzha river in May 1785 where Chechen leader Sheikh Mansur destroyed a Russian brigade, and the disastrous expedition of Count Vorontsov against the renowned Shamil in 1845.

A month later, on 30 November, the First Model "Revolutionary Discipline Rifle Regiment" was surprised by the Chechen mountaineers in a high pass between Vedeno and Botlikh and massacred. The few survivors were left naked to freeze to death. On 8 January1921, a cavalry regiment of Moscow cadets and a battalion of the 291st Rifle Regiment were surrounded in upper Chechnya and destroyed.

But the rebels were too heavily outnumbered and the Red Army proceeded systematically to occupy one valley after another. In May 1921, the revolt was finally crushed. Most of the leaders of the revolt had been killed in battle. Some rebels, however, retreated into the mountains of upper Chechnya and fought back until 1925, when they were finally captured and executed.

Yours faithfully, BULENT GOKAY Wolfson College Cambridge 4 January