Sheikh Mansur

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Not to be confused with Sheikh Mansour
Sheikh Mansur (Usharma)
Sheikh Mansur 140-190 for collage.jpg
Born 1760 (1760)
Aldi, Chechnya
Died April, 1794 (1794-04-28) (aged 33)
Shlisselburg, Russian Empire

Sheikh Mansur (1760?-1794) was a Chechen religious and military leader who led resistance to Russian expansion in the Caucasus from 1785 to 1791. In this period Russia was expanding Cossack settlements along the Terek River and had not yet moved south across the mountains to Georgia which happened in 1800. He is mainly remembered as a precursor of Imam Shamil and the Murid War which happened 40 years later.

Information on him is scanty and contradictory. This article follows Gammer, which seems to be the fullest English source. He was probably born about 1759/1760[1] in the village of Aldy just south of the modern Grozny (Grozny was founded in 1818). His original name was Ushurum, Ushurma or Ucherman. When he began to preach he assumed the title Al-Imam al-Mansur al-Mutawakil ‘ala Allah (the victorious Imam who puts his trust in God), which the Russians converted into Sheikh Mansur. He was educated at home and in Dagestan and was given the title of Sheikh because of his outstanding scholarship. He was probably a member of the Naqshbandi sect of Sufis, although this is not certain.

He began preaching in 1785 or before and his fame spread rapidly. The Russians saw him as a false prophet who was stirring up the natives. Colonel Pieri was sent to capture him alive. On 15–17 July 1785[2] he and 4 to 5000 men (or 2000 according to the Russian wiki) marched to Aldy and burnt the town, but Mansur escaped. On their way back the Chechens attacked, killing Colonel Pieri and 300 men, wounding a large number and taking 200 prisoners and two cannon. One of the prisoners was a young adjutant named Pyotr Bagration. Two days later Colonel Apraksin burned the village of Alkhan Yurt west of Grozny but did not dare cross the Sunzha River toward Aldy. This attack led Mansur to preach a holy war, if he had not done so before. On 26 July he unsuccessfully attacked Kizliar, on 9 August Grigoripolis {somewhere in Lesser Kabardia which is approximately the great bend of the Terek} and on 30 August Kizliar again, this time with 12000 men according to the Russians. On 23 October he tried to attack Kizliar but was prevented by a Russian force that held the opposite bank of the Terek. In November he moved back to Lesser Kabardia and fought two inconclusive battles, the Russians being saved only by their artillery.

The second phase of his career lasted about 18 months. In December 1785 he moved from Aldi to Shali deeper in the Chechen forests. His movement seemed to weaken, he was militarily inactive and spent much time organizing taxation, enforcing the Sharia and attempting to convert the semi-pagan Ingush and partly Christian Ossets. He appealed to the Ottomans without result. ([3]) In October 1786 he tried to make peace with the Russians but was rejected.

On 16 July 1787 he crossed the Kuban into Circassia. Two months later Russia and Turkey went to war. In cooperation with the Turks he led a force of Circassians, many of whom did not possess firearms, against the Russian Line (September–October 1787). His military results were negligible but his political importance was great because he embodied the idea that the many peoples of the Caucasus should unite under the banner of Islam to resist the Russians. In 1789 he sent an appeal to the Kazakhs to attack Astrakhan. In 1790 he was briefly back in Chechnya. He was weakened when General Herman defeated at Turkish-mountaineer force under Battal Pasha (10 October 1790). In July 1791 he was in Anapa when that Turkish fort fell to the Russians. He fortified himself in a cellar and surrendered when the Russians threatened to blow it up. He was imprisoned Shlisselburg fortress and died there in 1794.[4]

The Giovanni Boetti Story[edit]

Sometime after 1786 two anonymous manuscripts appeared in northern Italy which claimed the Sheikh Mansur was really an Italian monk named Giovanni Battista Boetti. Boetti was a real person. He was born in Piedmont in 1743, joined the Dominicans, went to Mosul as a missionary, quarreled with the local priests, was accused of fathering an illegitimate child, went to Italy to clear his name, returned to the East without permission, returned to Italy and sought release from his vows. He is last heard of in July 1779. So far the manuscripts match reliable documents. The manuscripts go on to say that Boetti became Mansur, preached a reformed religion which was basically deism, gathered a large army, marched around eastern Turkey and northern Persia, defeated the king of Georgia and sacked Tiflis (sic). The manuscripts stop in October 1786. There appears to be nothing other than the manuscripts to connect the Boteti/Mansur of the manuscripts with the documented Boetti, the documented Sheikh Mansur or the known history of the Caucasus. The only available book in English [5] is not scholarship, but does have translations of the two manuscripts and a discussion of the mostly Italian sources. The book (page 8) also says that his niece had a letter from him asking forgiveness for his sins which was written from the Solovetsky Monastery in September 1798.

See also[edit]

References[edit]

  • Moshe Gammer, ‘The Lone Wolf and the Bear’, 2006, Chapter 3 (for Mansur specifically)
  • John F. Baddeley, "The Russian Conquest of the Caucasus", 1908 (for general background)
  1. ^ Gammer’s preferred dates. Other dates found on the web are 1732, 1743, 1750.
  2. ^ All dates new style
  3. ^ According to Brockhaus and Efron Encyclopedic Dictionary, but possibly nowhere else, in 1786 his activity forced the Russians to abandon a number of advanced forts including Vladikavkaz.
  4. ^ or the Solovetsky Monastery according to Brockhaus and Efron Encyclopedic Dictionary.
  5. ^ Robert C. Melzi, The Conquering Monk: The Story of El Mansur, 2005