Book Review: Michael Khodarkovsky. Bitter Choices: Loyalty and Betrayal in the Russian Conquest of the North Caucasus

We all remember Lev Tolstoi’s ‘Khadzhi-Murat’: a tragic story of double loyalties, love, challenged by fidelity and vice versa. Perhaps that would be no exaggeration to say that every reader of ‘Khadzhi-Murat’ must have gone through the same torturing feeling of curiosity and puzzlement trying to uncover the real incentives for Khadhi-Murat’s actions, and understand what this mysterious character really cared about and longed for.
Miсhael Khodarkovsky’s ‘Bitter Choices: Loyalty and Betrayal in Russian Conquest of the North Caucasus’ gives one the opportunity to do so. Khodarkovsky’s absolutely compelling read focuses on a character very similar to that of Khadzhi-Murat. Semen Atarschikov, of Chechen/Kumyk and Cossack/Nogai descent, is a mysterious figure in the annals of Russia’s North Caucasus quest. Raised as a Chechen, Atarshikov was rooted both in Russian and Chechen cultures, and it was his knowledge of both languages as well as Arabic and Tatar (think of Khadzhi-Murat again) that brought him quick promotion in the Russian army which he joined at the age of sixteen, in 1823 to serve as an interpreter. We come across Atarschikov’s portrait in v.5 of Vasilij Potto’s ‘Kavkazskaia voina: Vremia Paskevicha, ili Bunt Chechni’: Continue reading “Book Review: Michael Khodarkovsky. Bitter Choices: Loyalty and Betrayal in the Russian Conquest of the North Caucasus”