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From the foregoing outline of the history of the Caucasian tribes, the reader will see that they are far from being homogeneous either in blood, language, manners, government, or religion. It is a popular delusion to talk of the pure Circassian race, or of the white races of mankind, being descended from the Caucasians; since there is a large admixture of Tartar, Turkish, Mongolian, Calmuck, Nogay, Median, Armenian, Persian, Georgian, Greek, and Arab blood among them.
. All that can safely be predicated of them is that the Indo-Germanic, or Aryan, type of man is predominant among them; and their active, hardy habits and simple fare, persevered in for generations, have given them robust health and strength, far surpassing that of their neighbors the Turks, the Persians, and the Georgians. They have, indeed, by the constant intermixture of Circassian women with the wealthy men of Constantinople, Shiraz, and Teheran, been instrumental in preventing these nations from degenerating so fast as they otherwise would have done.
The existence of a variety of languages in any country is generally accepted as a proof of the antiquity of the native races, and of their having varied in their origin. If this test be applied to the land of the Caucasus, we shall be convinced that this interesting portion of the earth's surface has peculiar claims to both antiquity and diversity of origin as regards its inhabitants. “This country,” says Harthausen, * "is inhabited by innumerable races, among whom it is said there exist more than seventy original tongues ; frequently a language is spoken only in a district composed of a few villages. All the races who have passed through this country have left memorials behind them; in fact, there exist here monuments of every period of the world's history.” He estimates the entire belt of land between the Black Sea and the Caspian at from 150,000 to 170,000 square miles, with a population of 4,500,000, and asserts that “there is no country, of the same extent, which comprises such a variety of races, differing in
Transcaucasia, p. 15.
origin, physiognomy, character, religion, manners, and dress as this."* In ancient times merchants from more than three hundred nations met and traded in the market at Dioscurias, on the Black Sea. Strabo says that twenty-six languages were spoken in the eastern Caucasus alone, that is, in Albania, where the Lesghians now dwell. The Arabian writers, IbnHaukal and Massoudi, mention seventy-two languages, which were said to be spoken in the East, about Derbent, where there must have been a perfect Babel of tongues. Abulfeda calls the mountain of the Albanian gate “Djebel-il-Alason," or “the Mountain of Tongues.” And at the present day, the tribes comprised under the name of Lesghians, who have a great resemblance to each other in manners and customs, speak thirty different languages.t
Amid all this variety of tongues, it is remarkable that the people speaking one of them can rarely understand the others. Frequently four or five villages have a distinct language wholly unintelligible to any others. But a few of the primitive languages, with their dialects, have a wider range. According to Harthausen there are: 1. The Circassian, a language of the Finnish stem, with thirty-two dialects, spoken by the sixteen Circassian tribes, properly so called, viz., the four Kabardian and the twelve Abadian, numbering in all about 700,000 souls. 2. The Abkhasian, also a primitive language, its connection with any other being quite unknown. The five Abkhasian tribes number 50,000. 3. The Ossetian, which is of Persian derivation, and is spoken by the sixteen Ossetian tribes, numbering 40,000. One would think that there was evidence enough in all this to satisfy any sceptic as to the diversity of the origin of the Caucasian tribes; yet wo find Mr. Bell using the following language : 5 “The most cur sory view, however, of the past and present history of the Caucasian Isthmus leads to the conclusion that the mass of the Caucasian tribes, in comparison with those of the tribes by Harthausen, Tribes of the Caucasus, p. 14,
† Ibid. Ibid, pp. 15, 16.
S Preface, p. x.
which they are surrounded, is what may be called aboriginal or indigenous! Their languages differ materially from those of the Indo-Germanic, Semitic, Mongol, and Slavonic nations, by whom their frontiers have been successively encroached upon. The state of society seems to indicate a people independently engaged in the process of developing home-born laws and institutions, which have contracted a slight coloring at times from the reflected light of more advanced neighbors. And turning to those great tides of national conquest, which alone history in early times attempted to portray
"Fins, Teutons, Mongols, Caimucks, Huns,
The North's fair ard the South's dusk sons,
In tide-waves of ensanguined war'they seem all to have swept past the central mass of the Caucasus, wetting it at most in a transient manner by some chance billow which rose higher than its fellows."
It is a question, however, whether the Circassians and the Turks are not of the same stock, the Scythian, compounded of Finns, Huns, Mongols, Tartars, and Tschudi, crossed with the Aryan races of Persia and Media. The position of their country renders it highly probable that at very remote periods vast tides of migration passed through it, and probably each tide left a small deposit behind; in this manner the extraordinary number and difference of the languages would be accounted for. The subject is a very interesting one, but too extensive to be treated here. Montpereux, in his voluminous treatise on the Caucasus, bas accumulated evidence to show that from the origin of history there existed an Asia proper to the north of the Caucasus, and a people called As or las, doubtless the ancestors of the Assi or Ossetes of later ages. This Asia exercised astonishing influence on the myths and civilization of the Greeks through the Deucalionidæ and the Dardanidæ. Thence, also, came the myths of the North, of the Asen, which carried into Scandinavia a literature and a religion and manners eminently Indo-Germanic. The Asia of Prometheus and the Greeks was at the foot of Caucasus, and there we must look for Asaland (the country of Asa) and for the Asgard (the city of As) of the Scandinavians.
It is time to mention some of the modern developments of the Caucasian character, without doing which our notice of the Circassians would be incomplete. One of the most remarkable of these is Muridism, a species of Mohammedan doctrine, but of a political rather than a religious nature. The originator of it was a humble Moollah, of Jarach, a small village in Daghestan, named Mohammed, a peaceful and venerable man, who nevertheless preached a bloody and relentless war against the unbelievers (the Russians), who, he believed, had acquired undue influence over the Turkish and Persian governments, and were bringing Islamism to degradation. His preaching had the effect he desired: the war of 1825 between Russia and Persia followed, in which Mohammed and his Murids performed prodigies of valor; and after it was over they continued their fanatical attacks on the Russians, gaining several victories over them, but the death of Mohammed at the battle of Ghimry in 1832 cooled their enthusiasm for a time.
Gamzad Beg was chosen Mohammed's successor in the conduct of "the Holy War" against the Infidels. He carried it on chiefly against the Khan of Avaria, but he lacked enthusiasm and ability, and he was assassinated by his brothers in a mosque. On his death, the Murids unanimously nominated the Imaum SCHAMYL their Commander-in-chief. This celebrated man had heen the favorite pupil and faithful companion, as well as the most valiant and skilful warrior, of Kazi Moollah, the right-hand disciple of the old Murshed Moollah Mohammed. Schamyl was born in June, 1797, at Ghimry, in Circassia, of a wealthy family. He was endowed with an iron will which nothing could shake. He courted solitude, and devoted himself to the study of the Koran, the Arabian philosophers, the doctrines of Soofiism, and the ancient Per
Voyage autour du Caucase, tom. iv, pp. 320-408.
sian heroic legends and songs. He was by nature gifted with fiery eloquence and extraordinary military genius. Moreover, he bound himself by a solemn vow to temperance, and forced his father, who was an inebriate, to do the same, on pain of death,-a vow which he compelled the old man to keep until he died, twenty years afterwards.*
The Circassians had entirely embraced Mohammedism half a century before, under the influence of the Turks; but the sects of the Shites and Soonïites caused division and weakness among them. To heal this and unite them against their common foe, the doctrines of Muridism were advocated, as has been before stated, by Moollah Mohammed and Kazi Moollah, and were eloquently and zealously acted upon by Schamyl, who, by his extraordinary exploits against the Russians and his hair-breadth escapes from death, excited the wonder and enthusiasm of the Circassians. Having been elected Imaum (on 2d Oct., 1834), he at once attacked and defeated the Russian general Lasskoi, who had taken his native village, Ghimry. For three years he carried on a guerrilla war against the Russians with a genius and energy scarcely paralleled in history. He then apparently submitted to them, and induced the Russian general Fosi to evacuate the country. By this stratagem Schamyl raised his influence to the highest pitch. From 1839 to 1843 the Russians made prodigious efforts to conquer the country, but were greatly embarrassed by his exploits, some of which border on the marvellous; in fact, he inflicted severe losses on the enemy, so much so, indeed, that they became disheartened, and they ceased to prosecute the war effectually. The Russians endeavored to cut off all supplies from the heroic mountaineers and thus starve them out; but though they pursued this system for several years,
it was not attended with success. In 1845, Prince Waronzoff, one of the most distinguished
These particulars of Schamyl and the Murids are taken from Harthausen's Tribes of the Caucasus, and from L. Collas' memoir of Schamyl in the Nouvelle Biographie Générale.