Imam Mansur Ushurma
Ushurma was born in the aul (village) of Aldi in 1760 as the fourth son of the farmer Shaabaza. He married when he was 22 and fathered three children. But he left his aul in search of humanist ideals and justice and began living as a hermit. From 1785 he travelled between villages preaching equality and social justice in conjunction with an ascetic form of Islam. He could not read or write, and yet his ideas and ideals fired people’s imagination and soon he became an acknowledged authority in Chechnya. He condemned stealing, blood feuding, smoking and drinking and urged support for the sick, orphaned and needy. As he roamed the country he preached the equality before God of all Caucasian peoples, uniting them in a religious struggle – ghazavat – against the unbelievers. Ushurma received the support of influential mullahs and elders in Chechnya who elected him as their sheikh and gave him the name Mansur, which is Arabic for “victor”. He had soon amassed thousands of supporters in Dagestan, Kumykia and Northern Azerbaijan, to be joined later by Kabardians, Ingush, Ossetians and Circassians.
The Russian invaders warned against believing this “prophet of lies”, but their words fell on deaf ears. So in 1785 Colonel De Pieri set off for Aldi to annihilate Sheikh Mansur. When the delegation sent to parley for Mansur were shot, the 400 crofts in the village were plundered and burnt and Sheikh Mansur’s brother was killed, the peace-loving Mansur Ushurma finally lost his patience. The Tsar’s troops were decimated in a legendary battle and De Pieri lost his life. Only one man resisted until he, too, was wounded: the Georgian Prince Peter Bagration, then a low-ranking officer, who was later to be a hero of the war against Napoleon. Ushurma returned him on a stretcher to Russian officers. When they sought to reward the stretcher-bearers the Chechens retorted: “The brave are not for buying or selling!”
This resistance against the Tsarist conquerors infected many serfs, who rose up against their masters and offered allegiance to Sheikh Mansur. Most supporters of his movement were simple farmers.
In 1786 the Tsar’s troops attacked the Chechens again. Almost every village along the Sunzha River and in the region of Karabulaki was razed to the ground, including Mansur’s birthplace Aldi.
Again and again the Tsarist forces suffered tremendous casualties. In September 1787 Potemkin’s 8,000-man campaign was beaten into retreat. But the Russians were able to draw on never-ending reinforce-ments. In October that year General Tekkeli, the new commander in the Caucasus, inflicted a defeat on Sheikh Mansur with a force of 12,000 troops.
Mansur sought refuge in the Turkish fortress Sudzhuk-Kale (Novorossisk). The North Caucasians launched further successful attacks on Russian forts south of the Caucasian Line, and the Tsarist troops were obliged to abandon them and withdraw north of the River Terek. In 1791, after a protracted battle, Sheikh Mansur Ushurma was captured in the Turkish fortress Anapa and taken to the Schlüsselburg in St Petersburg. He died there in 1794, but lived on in the Caucasus as an immortal legend.