Tsymyti, North Ossetia (central Caucasus mountains)

Caucasus Mountains medieval Tsymyti Fiagdon North Caucasus beautiful scenery eastern europe

Tsymyti is a medieval fortified settlement located in the Kurtat gorge, on the banks of Upper Fiagdon river. According to historians, it was built in the XIV century, thei locals’ occupations consisted of cattle breeding, agriculture, bee-keeping and hunting. Tsymyti was also known for its blacksmiths specialized in weaponry.

The settlement had over 30 combat towers, residential towers, crypts, monuments etc. During the Soviet period, the inhabitants were forced out to move and work in the new Soviet collective farms, and the settlement was destroyed.

The architecture is similar to Nakh architecture (Ingush and Chechen towers).

Kala-Koreysh (first muslim settlement) Dagestan

Kala Koreysh Dagestan North Caucasus islam

In the mountains of Dakhadaevskiy district in Dagestan, 1000 meters above sea level and 3 kilometers from the village of goldsmiths Kubachi lies Kala-Koreysh, an VIII century medieval fortress, which was the former capital of a feudal community (Kaytag utsmiystva) and the first muslim settlement in the Caucasus.


In the middle-ages, Kala-Koreysh was a well-defended fortress that served as political and cultural center, and most importantly it became the focal point for the spread of the Islamic faith in the Northern Caucasus. Built on top of inaccessible mountains by the Kuraysh in VII-VIII century, it stands at the confluence of five important rivers and it’s accessible through one single road. Built on a strategic point, they could control trade in the region and at the same time spread the faith.

Kuraysh was the name of the merchant tribe into which Prophet Muhammad was born – Kala Koreysh means “the fortress of koreyshids”. Several Kuraysh tribesmen came to the mountains of Dagestan as conquerors after Arabs conquered Derbent in 654  – the biggest city of Dagestan at the time. The spread of Islam began in the Cacausus which ended in the XIXth century with the conversion of the Ingush people.

As people started moving to the lowlands in the XVIII century, its role as an important cultural and commercial center gradually decreased. The last inhabitants were forcibly evicted to Chechnya by the Soviets in 1944 and most of the structures were destroyed.

Today, the only constructions still standing in Kala-Koreysh are a IX century mosque and a mausoleum; only one person lives here as guardian of the sacred place. The alabaster tiles of the partially destroyed mosque are displayed in the Regional Museum.

Kala Koreysh also has a graveyard where both noblemen and common residents were buried; tombstones date back to the IX-X century and contain sacred Islamic texts. The unique carving on the tombstones is very similar to the Kubachi pattern design (for more on Kubachi click here). The graveyard also has pagan sarcophaguses which are not typical of Muslim culture (where the dead are buried only in the ground).

Today, Kala Koreysh serves as tourist spot and place of pilgrimage for devout Muslims (the pilgrimage is called “ziyaret”).


Between 1939-1945, Stalin carried out massive deportations to central Asia and Siberia: Estonians, Lithuanians, Latvians, Finns, Romanians, Ukrainians, Poles, Germans, Crimean Tatars, Balkars, Karachays and the entire population of Chechnya and Ingushetia – numbering a total of 7-8 million people according to official Soviet estimates (although the numbers could be higher).

Stalin Deportations Siberia central Asia

Almost half (30 to 50 percent) of the Chechen and Ingush population perished due to the harsh travel conditions, as well as the starvation and cold they encountered in central Asia and Siberia. Similar fate was encountered by the rest of the deported nationalities.


Chechens Remember Horror Of 1944 Deportations

source: Radio Free Europe


Seventy years have passed, but memories of February 23, 1944 are still raw for Mukhazhar Dzhabrailova.

The elderly Chechen woman vividly recalls her mother’s alarm after spotting a column of army trucks from a hill overlooking Zandak, their small mountain village in what was then the Chechen-Ingush Autonomous Soviet Socialist Republic.

“My mother stopped, sat down by the roadside, and burst into tears,” says Dzhabrailova, who was 13 at the time. “I asked her why she was crying. She said these trucks had come for our people and would take us far away tomorrow.”

When Soviet troops came knocking at their door in the middle of the night and ordered them to pack their bags, Dzhabrailova realized with horror that her mother had been right.

That night and the day that followed, there were knocks on all the doors in her village and throughout the republic as local residents were systematically rounded up on the orders of Soviet dictator Josef Stalin.

The entire Chechen and Ingush peoples, about half-a-million strong, were being deported to Central Asia as punishment for what Moscow called their collaboration with Nazi Germany — a move widely seen as retaliation for their resistance to Soviet rule.

Operation Chechevitsa, or Operation Lentil, had begun.

Herded Onto Cattle Trains

Many who were old or sick, babies, and others deemed too weak to travel were slaughtered. So were those caught leaving their homes.

That night, amid the panic and confusion that gripped her village, Dzhabrailova says four of her relatives were killed.

Her aunt was shot dead by soldiers as she fetched water from a stream.

Her two teenage cousins and her uncle were also gunned down outside her house after dropping by to return earrings borrowed from her mother.

“My cousins were both buried there, they were simply put in the ground and covered with earth,” says Dzhabrailova. “There’s still a small mound in that place today. Their father rushed to the scene; he was also shot and buried right there. That’s how all three of them were killed.”

Dzhabrailova and her surviving family members were herded onto cattle trains and shipped off to the barren steppes of Kazakhstan. A small number ended up in Kyrgyzstan and Siberia.


From Stalingrad battlefield to deportee trains


Even the roughly 40,000 Chechen and Ingush soldiers fighting against Hitler’s troops on the battlefield were not spared.

Salman Dudayev was in the trenches of Stalingrad when he was told he was being exiled on charges of helping the invading Nazi army.

The young Chechen, who had run away from home to join the Red Army at the age of just 13, was crushed.

The news, Dudayev recalls, also came as a shock for his commander – an ethnic Ukrainian named Mykola Kotov:

“There were tears in his eyes,” Dudayev says. “He came up to me, wrapped an arm around me and said: ‘Son, I wasn’t able to tell you this for several days but I have to. Chechens are born warriors, they fight well. I’m truly sorry but I cannot disobey orders.”

Harrowing Journey

Dudayev was immediately demobilized and put on a cattle train bound for the eastern Kazakh city of Leninogorsk, close to the border with China.

He survived the harrowing 27-day journey and the famine that killed tens of thousands of deportees in the months that followed, which Chechens refer to as “Aardakh” — the Exodus.

After a fruitless, six-month search for his relatives in Kazakhstan, Dudayev resolved to brave the travel ban on Chechens — punishable by 25 years in prison — and made his way to Kyrgyzstan, where he was able to find his family.

The Dzhabrailovs, too, were able to reunite after being sent to Kazakhstan on separate trains.

The deportation, however, took a devastating toll on their family.

Dzhabrailova’s brother was run over by a train on February 23, 1944 as he helped his mother and siblings board their carriage.

When the family stepped off the train in Kazakhstan four weeks later, Dzhabrailova says they were on the verge of starvation.

“There was no water, no food,” she says. “We had long ago eaten what we had taken with us. When the train stopped, my mother would gather snow in a jug. She would then give us the melted snow to drink.”

Within months of their arrival in Kazakhstan, Dzhabrailova’s whole family died of hunger – first her father, followed by her two remaining brothers, her mother, and her two sisters.

Deportees - parents burring their only daughter, killed by the harsh conditions

Deportees – parents burring their only daughter, killed by the harsh conditions

Painting displayed at the Nazran memorial to victims of political oppression in Ingushetia

Painting displayed at the Nazran memorial to victims of political oppression in Ingushetia

Like the Dzhabrailovs, between 30 and 50 per cent of Chechens and Ingush are estimated to have succumbed to cold, hunger, and Soviet bullets during the deportation and the ensuing year.


Back home

Survivors were permitted to return to their homeland as late as 1956, three years after Stalin’s death. The Chechen-Ingush Autonomous Soviet Socialist Republic, which had been wiped off the map, was restored.

But Chechens barely recognized their homeland.

Other people had moved into their houses and taken their land. Soviet authorities had shut down hundreds of mosques and burned ancient manuscripts in Chechen and Ingush. Gravestones had been pulled out, and in the mountains, centuries-old towers had been razed.

Many, heartbroken, returned to Kazakhstan. A second wave of Chechens fled to Central Asia when the first Chechen war broke out in 1994.

Both Dzhabrailova and Dudayev stayed in Chechnya.

They have not forgotten the deportation, even though Chechnya’s Kremlin-backed leader, Ramzan Kadyrov, had cancelled all commemorative events on February 23.

To this day, Dzhabrailova still weeps when she recalls her father’s dying wish that she honor his memory by returning to Chechnya, checking on the family’s horses and beehives, and baking corn bread for his people.

“When we got back home, there were, of course, neither beehives nor horses,” she says. “It had all been taken away. I baked the bread and handed it out in memory of my father. But it was not corn bread; it was made from simple wheat flour. I wasn’t able to fulfill my father’s wish. This thought torments me every single day.”


Written by Claire Bigg in Prague based on reporting by Akhmad Sultanov and Lecha Yelkhoyev in Chechnya. RFERL North Caucasus Service correspondent Lyoma Chabaev contributed to this story
Nazran memorial to victims of Stalin political oppression (Ingushetia)

Nazran memorial to victims of Stalin political oppression (Ingushetia)