On July 3rd, 2008 Dmitry Medvedev signed the Concept of State Policy of Russian Federation in respect of Russian Cossacks which implies restoration of Cossack traditions and their involvement in public service to meet national and municipal issues. Numerous meetings were held and many decisions were made in the last two years to implement this document.
After the incident at the Baksan hydroelectric power station in July plenipotentiary representative of the Russian President in the North Caucasus Federal District Alexander Khloponin has established a special commission at the administration of his subordinate entity which aimed to implement process of restoration and formation of Cossack military units, to develop special privileges for them, to create material financial basis, etc. He also stated beyond diplomatic embellishment that "only the Cossacks can introduce a proper order in Kabardino-Balkaria".
Decisions and statements of the Russian President and his designated in the Caucasus have raised a lot of questions in the society.
Why do the authorities create armed formations on ethnic grounds in the North Caucasus when hundreds of thousands of militaries, border units and internal forces, many federal and local security forces armed with the latest technology are concentrated in the region? Does this decision signify that there is distrust of local population or is it another attempt to set different ethnic and social groups against each other?
How legitimate and, most importantly, how moral is this step of the Russian authorities with regards to the local ethnic group?
As it was stated in the administration of Alexander Khloponin, Cossack leaders endorsed the initiative of the authorities. But nobody knows what broad sections of the Cossacks think about this – those Cossacks that have passed through years of hard times and because of the treacherous and provocative actions of its leaders have repeatedly found themselves in a tough situation unworthy of the Cossacks' honour. Cossacks were again brought into action on the approaches to Chechnya, Ingushetia and Ossetia. They behave boldly in Abkhazia. Cossack troops in uniforms strode on streets of cities of Cherkessia and Adygeya causing irritation and protest among local population.
Will Cossack population once again succumb to provocations and false slogans of the authorities and go for confrontation with local population, or will they make adequate conclusions and not repeat bitter mistakes of the past in relation to their Caucasian neighbours?
The Club of Experts an overview of the Cossacks on the basis of historical materials.
The word "Cossack" is of Turkic origin and means "free", "desperate".
Back in the XVI century runaway peasants who escaped from the Russian feudals were called Cossacks. Subsequently, they began to unite, to arm themselves and move to the eastern lands, where, during hunting, fishing or collecting honey, they had to deal with Turkic nomads who gave them name "the Cossacks", i.e. "free wanderers".
Those increased Cossack associations later started to attack and rob neighbouring tribes, making them pay tribute. Since the beginning of XVII century Cossack tribes of the Volga, Dnieper and Don were gradually gaining strength. The Russian Empire demanded obedience and faithful service of the Cossacks and that contradicted to their rules of free life. This became the cause of large-scale rebellion of Cossacks, some of which rebellions are associated with the names of the rebel atamans such as Stepan Razin, Kondraty Bulavin and Yemelyan Pugachev. They created serious problems to central authorities.
In subsequent years by giving fertile land and high-paying jobs to the Cossacks the rulers of the empire managed to create a privileged layer and through this managed to put large sections of the Cossacks at the service of the autocratic monarchy,.
Cossack military units were involved both in fight against the external enemy and in the Caucasian wars, conquering the local population. Cossacks and their families settled on land peoples of which were physically destroyed or uprooted.
On June 24th, 1861, Alexander II signed the rescript "on settlement of the North Caucasus" which was about settlement of the occupied territory with Russian-speaking population.
The Cossacks have always unquestioningly obeyed all orders of the Emperor, but, surprisingly, 270 Cossack officers appealed to the monarch with the petition where they asked him to stop settling on the land of the Adyge. This step was caused by unjust and cruel treatment of local population by the authorities.
But the petition was just an empty piece of paper and had not results. The process of destruction and expulsion of Circassians and settlement of the freed territories with Russian-speaking population continued.
The Cossacks were given a task - to protect the southern and eastern borders of Russia. For this purpose fortified settlements - the so-called stanitsas were built on the border line of the country. The military order of life and farming in parallel with development of local land meant permanent combat readiness.
The Cossacks were notable for their fanatical devotion to the Empire and strict military discipline, a minor breach of which was strictly punished. The Cossacks did not tolerate cowards and drunkards, lazy and irresponsible people in their midst. The welfare of the Cossack and his family depended on the good performance of military service.
The high combat effectiveness, endurance, mobility and mutual support distinguished Cossacks troops from other units of the Russian army. Until 1918, there was no case of desertion in the ranks of the Cossack troops.
Cossack was in a permanent military service from the age of 18 until 38. He was obliged at the first call to come to his military unit on a war-horse, armed and clad in uniform. After serving military duty, Cossack used to go back to normal life but at that had many privileges.
Cossack troops initially were under subordination of the General Staff of the Ministry of War and after that the main department of Cossack troops. Since 1827, an heir to the imperial throne was considered their commander-in-chief.
The Cossacks gave Russia hundreds of heroes and prominent military figures. Among them are generals who distinguished themselves in the World War I such as A. M. Kaledin, L.G. Kornilov, D. P. Krasnov and others, who even after the February and October revolutions of 1917 remained loyal to the Tsar of Russia and had repeatedly tried to restore the monarchy. Cossack attack on Tsaritsyn and Moscow in 1918 put existence of Soviet power in question.
Despite the fact that some of the Cossacks did not follow the White Army generals, the Bolshevik government still did not forgive their rebellion and passed sentence.
On January 29th, 1919, a directive was issued signed by the chairman of the Executive Committee of Russia I. Sverdlov according to which the Cossack elite - officers and a rich layer was to be destroyed. All of their privileges were abolished. Long after this the Cossacks were considered as dangerous, counter-revolutionary people.
Every year on March 27th Terek Cossacks commemorate their perished compatriots. This date refers to the events of 27th of March 1920, when authorities shot 35 thousand Cossacks out of those 72 thousands that were evicted from three stanitsas. In subsequent years, many more other tragic pages were written in the history of the Cossacks.
There is a saying among Cossacks: to boldly go forward, one must often look back. Today's young Cossacks are guided by this wisdom. They are carefully studying the unvarnished history and do not want to repeat the sins of their ancestors, who were misled and forced to destroy "infidels and rebellious people" and to expel them from their native land.
One would like to believe that current generation of Cossacks will properly analyze the decisions and statements of Medvedev, Khloponin and others, critically review the history and avoid recurrence of those fatal mistakes that were not so rare in relations with neighbouring nations.
This was happening for many years. We do not want to it to continue tomorrow as well.