Heroics of Imam Shamil

Chechnya is a tiny Caucasian land-locked enclave, predominantly
inhabited by the Muslims. It has been in continuous confrontation with
Russia since the 18th century.

It all started when the Czar's expansionist policies gradually brought
many parts of Central Asia and Caucasia under the influence of Russia.
However, the Caucasians did not accept foreign domination and put up
severe resistance.

The struggle for maintaining sovereignty reached its peak when the
'Murid Movement' under the leadership of Imam Shamil, a man of
extraordinary charisma and master of guerrilla tactics, began
resisting the Russian expansion into Chechen and Daghestan borders far
more than 25 years.

Imam Shamil was born in a village called Gimrah. He was a natural
leader and did not have any extremist tendencies. He turned many
tribes into a cohesive unit and developed such a power base that
proved good for outmanoeuvring the Russians.

He first became a trusted lieutenant of Ghazi Muhammad, the first Imam
of Daghistan, who had declared Jihad against the Russians. It was in a
fierce battle against the Russians that the first Imam was surrounded
and got killed along with his companions in their stronghold at
Gimrah. Only Shamil and one of his men survived. Shamil continued
putting up severe resistance to Russian advancement under the
leadership of another Imam. However, when the second Imam was also
killed, Shamil was unanimously chosen as the leader and the third Imam
of Daghistan.

Owing to his extraordinary military talent and despite the Russian
influence, he managed to control Daghistan. The Russian commander who
failed to capture the territories he wanted, was able to recognize
Imam Shamil's extraordinary military talents and on several occasions
had to ask for peace. As a result, Imam Shamil's reputation as a
leader spread all over the place, making him 'enemy number one' to the
Russian military administration. Realizing Imam Shamil's growing
influence on the tribes of nearby Chechnya, the Russians launched a
massive military attack against his headquarters.

After a series of bloody engagements that ensued, the Russians were
finally able to surround the brave Imam and his men in their mountain
fortress. When he refused to surrender after several weeks of fierce
fighting, the Russians ruthlessly cut his garrison into pieces.
Miraculously, Imam Shamil again made an almost incredible escape under
the enemy's very nose. His spirit was far from broken. This time,
however, he found new powerful allies among the Chechans, who were
disgusted at the continued Russian encroachment on their independence.
After regaining strength with new powerful allies Imam Shamil expanded
his power and delivered several shattering blows to the invading
forces of the Czar in Chechnya and Avaristan.

Exasperated by these reversals, Czar Nicholas I ordered a determined
campaign to crush the resistance. In 1844, a force organized and led
by Prince Vorontsove with 10,000 men was dispatched - but it also
proved disasterous. From 1846 to 1849 they prepared all out
strategies, erected fortifications in and cut roads through the
impenetrable forests of Chechnya. At the same time, they pacified the
population of fertile plains, chasing those who refused to submit to
the Russians' will. In the meantime, another Russian force attempted
to eradicate Imam Shamil's stronghold in central Daghistan, a goal for
which they paid an enormous price.

Their successes, nonetheless, proved short-lived. Once the Russian
troops had withdrawn, the Imam quickly built his fortification and
invaded southern Daghistan, whose free communities had asked for his
assistance against the oppressive Russian rule.

During 1851-53, the battles in which Imam Shamil personally took part
were centred around Chechnya with results generally favourable to the
Russians. But throughout this period, faced with the prospect of going
to war with the Ottomans, the Russians were unable to capitalize on
their earlier successes and diverted their attention to the Ottomans
front, giving Imam Shamil a much-needed respite. He also sought help
from Britain, but the British refused to oblige.

After getting a bit of relief from the Ottoman forces, the Russians
paid undivided attention to the Caucasus. In a relentless advance,
Imam Shamil made his last move on the top of mount Ghunib, surrounded
by his family members and 400 loyal men. In the face of inevitable
destruction due to overwhelming might of the Russian empire, he
surrendered unconditionally to the Russians in 1859. He was given
abode in Kaluga, a town about 120 miles southwest of Moscow, where he
lived along with his family. In 1869 he was allowed to move to Kiev
(now capital of Ukraine) and was subsequently given permission to
leave to Makkah for performing Haj where ho found his final resting

In 1920, after the communist revolution, a Chechen autonomous oblast
(province) was created. Later on it was merged with Ingush and was
subsequently given the status of a republic. In World War II, Chechan
and Ingush people were accused of collaborating with the Germans and
were awarded severe punishment by extraditing them to Central Asia.

In 1957, Under Nikita Khrushchev's government, Russia rescinded its
earlier decision and the province was restored and exiled were also
allowed to return home. However, the freedom movement which gained
momentum during Imam Shamil's time continued and did not die down.
Following the disintegration of the Soviet Union in 1991, the movement
even gained more impetus. In 1992 Checheno-Ingushetiva was divided
into two separate republics, Chechnya and Ingushetia.

The torch of freedom struggle lit up by Imam Shamil still continues to

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