It’s been 100 years since the beginning of World War I. Unlike Russia, many countries-participants to the event do commemorate it with highest level mourning ceremonies. We have almost forgotten about the war. Why? Was it due to the follow-up civil war dividing people into 2 irreconcilable camps, or are there any other reasons? This is the topic of our interview with a famous scientist, the founder and editor of the "Akhulgo" magazine, Doctor of History Hajji Murad Donogo.
"For Tsar and Fatherland"
- The Wild Division’s glorious deeds during the World War I are everyone’s knowledge. How was the division formed and why was it named ‘wild’?
- By the beginning of World War I, the Dagestan Cavalry Regiment formed back in the middle of the 19th century was part of the #3 Caucasian Cossack Division. In the summer of 1914, the emperor’s governor in the Caucasus made a petition "on creating a new division from Caucasian highlanders" followed up by Nicholas’ II Imperial decree of 23 August, 1914, on establishing the "Caucasian Native Cavalry Division" out of 6 regiments from Kabarda, Dagestan (#2 regiment), Chechnya, Tatar, Cirkassia, and Ingushetia.
The #2 Dagestan cavalry regiment was formed from hunters, i.e. volunteers and seconded officers from various Russian military units. At that time, it was widely thought that after a half-century confrontation with Russia, Caucasians had the moral right to stay away from the war. But they lined up to join the army at a whistle. There were several reasons to it: the patriotic propaganda "For the Tsar and to the Fatherland’s glory", highlanders’ warrior mentality, and the money issue – cavaliers got good salary, uniforms, and firearms. In the WWI, the regiment suffered losses and was replenished several times.
By the beginning of the war, the Caucasian Cavalry division and 5 Caucasian Cossack divisions were already there in the Russian army. So, they decided to make up a new military unit from Caucasian highlanders only, they called it the "Caucasian Native Cavalry Division" to emphasize its Caucasian origin. It was nicknamed the "Wild Division" due to its exotic members, the special relationships within the division, and their rampant bravery.
- What major battles did the regiment excel at? What did the command speak of them?
- Their baptism of fire was in the Carpathian Mountains, December 17, 1914 – the battle near Vetlino village. Then followed the battles at Beregi-Gorny and Laina villages. For 2 months, over 30 soldiers of the #2 Dagestan Cavalry Regiment were awarded the Saint George's Crosses and various degree medals. Commander Prince Amilakhvari said: "I consider it my sacred duty to express my sincere gratitude to all the regiment officers."
Dagestani were also involved in the so-called ‘Brusilov breakthrough’ – the frontline offensive of the Russian southwestern military front commanded by General Brusilov (June 3 - August 22, 1916) defeating the armies of Austria-Hungary and Germany. Generals Brusilov, General Mannerheim, and commander to the "Wild Division" Grand Prince Michael Alexandrovich noted the regiment’s success in their reports and orders.
The slandered war
- After the war, the regiment had to participate in the tragic events of 1917 and the following hard years of revolution. What would the Russian history have been if the division regiments had arrived in St. Petersburg in the summer of 1917 to support the rebel General Kornilov?
- General Kornilov’s attempt to seize power in the country and establish a military dictatorship, relying on the loyal military units, proved a failure. He tried to get the unsuspecting highlanders of the "Wild Division" into his adventure, but they were far from political woes, so they disgusted punitive police functions. "What would the Russian history have been if the division regiments had arrived in St. Petersburg?" I think there would have been a lot of blood shed...
After the October of 1917, they all forgot about the "Wild Division", its regiments, and their exploits. The fellow-soldiers later found themselves on opposite sides of the barricade. Often, they would have a tragic end.
- The Soviets won. Those who fought on the Bolsheviks’ side and escaped repressions were named the glorious sons of the mountains in textbooks. The others were forgotten or proclaimed enemies to Dagestan. There’s no monument to World War soldiers. Do we need to rewrite the history books?
- To answer this question, I’d like to quote Leo Anninskiy: "No other war broken out in Russia in modern times seems to have been so disgraced and slandered in the national mind as this imperialistic war. The "Imperialistic" war immediately overlapped by the revolution. It "turned into a civil war" and kind of ceased to exist. In fact, for nearly a century, our country kept shamefully silent about the tragic events of World War I; only historians and enthusiasts would retrieve the memory of those dramatic times. I think we should compile new textbooks, and be very careful in doing it.
The local authorities should publish books by authors engaged in this topic, shoot documentaries, establish a memorial sign, and hold conferences. We may have different views on this war, its consequences and participants, but the World War I completely redrew the map of Europe. It was a turning point of the European civilization actually indicating the end of the 19th century, a century of conservatism, enlightenment and stability, and the beginning of the 20th century, a century of great revolutions and world wars, mass terror and fast-paced technological development. Dagestani, someone’s grandfathers and great grandfathers, would also be participants to this 1914-1918 kaleidoscope of grand events.