Friday, August 08, 2008


Long before the present Russo-Georgian War, which is spiralling out of control as I write this, I developed an interest in the Caucasus and Russia’s frontier there. I read Mikhail Lermontov’s A Hero of Our Time, about Pechorin, a Tsarist army officer serving in the Caucasus. The book is a set of muscular, adventure tales posing as decadent ennui. Tolstoy began his career writing about the lives of soldiers and Cossacks in the bloody border wars with Chechen and Daghestani tribesmen. Then I read Lesley Blanche’s The Sabres of Paradise about Russia’s long war with the Imam Shamyl, a Muslim fundamentalist who waged guerrilla war in the mountains and had a son almost grow up at the imperial court.

I should add Uncle Sandro of Chegem by Fazil Iskander, Abkhazia’s Mark Twain. Nowadays Abkhazia has its own separatist government and Russian peacekeeping forces staring down the Georgian government. There’s Chechnya: A Small Victorious War about the first Chechen War. And there’s been lot’s else like Aukai Collins’ book My Jihad and At the Edge of Empire about the Terek Cossacks and Harold Lamb.

Anyway, I started to see the Caucasian Frontier as having some deep similarities to the American West. An expanding empire was conquering and colonizing a territory on the edge of European culture. Yes, I’m aware that Americans are not European, but we’re a lot more like Europeans than the Iroquois. Cowboys aren’t exactly Cossacks and Chechens aren’t Comanches. But the differences made the similarities all the more compelling. Frontiersmen living in a raw frontier battled for survival against natives. Sometimes they found they had more in common with their tribal foes than they did with the authorities from the settled regions.

So I thought, why not a Russian Western? The result was “The Abrek’s Shadow”. I’ll run it in six parts over the next six weeks, starting tomorrow, Saturday. Tonight however, you can find the Prologue below.


David A. Hardy


Fort Platov crouched like a panther over the Lezhgian Military Highway. Native carts and post coaches under Cossack escort crawled by as military couriers galloped with dispatches from the Tsar to his generals. Jewish and Armenian traders breathed easily, for this stretch of road was relatively safe, more than could be said of the wilder regions to the south in the heart of the mountains. Fort Platov’s cannons and soldiers offered protection to Russian settlers and loyal natives. They had a hard fist for the abreks, the bandits and rebels that infested the mountains.

Over fifty years ago the Tsar’s armies had marched south to humble the arrogant Persians, the cruel Turks, and the upstart mountain tribes. The sultan and the shah fell back before Russian might but the tribes, Chechen, Lezhgian, Avar, Abkaz and Circassian, battled on. In 1828 Kazi Mollah of Daghestan proclaimed jihad against the tyranny of the infidels and flames of war swept the highlands. Twenty-two years later the murids, the holy warriors, still fought under Imam Shamyl. The green flag of Islam still waved. The cry “Allah Akbar!’ still defied the Russian Empire and blood still flowed in the mountains.


Charles Gramlich said...

Wow, this sounds like a great setting for a story. Looking forward to this. It would make a good sub for the REHupafiction thing too eh?

Dave Hardy said...


I'd be happy to see it in the REHupa book, though it'd be a "re-print".

deuce said...

Hey Dave!

I agree with Charles: Great setting and great set-up. I've been interested in the Caucasus since I first started lookin' up things about the Circassians, Kurds, etc... (mostly due to their mentions in REH). There's another great book on 1800's Chechnya that I've got stashed somewhere. If I find it, I'll let ya know. :)


Dave Hardy said...

Howdy Deuce!This week's installment may be delayed since my copmputer is nearly terminally crashed.

I'd love to hear any other reccomendarions on books about the Caucasus. And yes, REH hooked me on Cossacks first!