The North Caucasus Mountains, 1942
“A Tatar has to be wise, or else how would you have conquered Byzantium and Rome with all her book learning?” said the Mars-wracked Nazi general. “You have the tales of Dede Korkut and the Epic of Köroğlu. We are not looking for sons of Allah, neither the Adyge nor the Tatar… not yet at this time,” he said with a knowing smile. The general nervously snapped his fingers.
We Caucasus Mountaineers hid, but tracked the Nazis going from village to village, fanning the hate of private feuds, widening the breach between the two hostile religious sects of Islam. We learned from the speakers of the Adyge language among us. Their North Caucasus language hadn’t changed that much from our different Tatar folklore of the Altai in this hidden place so high in the mountains.
We heard what sounded like the language of the Russians coming in from the front, chasing the speakers of the Germanic dialects from the mountains of the Kafkas, and the Moslem tribes were marching against them. We hid in the empty, burned out huts of the Mountaineer tribes.
“Von Liebnitz,” someone shouted the name of one of the Germanic commanders whom we learned was from Bavaria. Our mountaineer friends translated, as we heard their language had not changed enough to lose all understanding in this new time into which we were hurled.
“Send this request to Arslan, khan of the Kasi-Kamucks, in whose territory was Jarash that he should seize upon the person of the Mollah.”
Then the Mountain Men translated that “Arslan, afraid to lay his hands upon a teacher so holy to the people, took the Mollah to the adjacent city of Avaria.”
So that’s where we were, near Avaria. The word went out across the birch trees and into all the small wooden homes: “Believers forget your sectarian differences. Members of different tribes, mountain men of every warring tribe, Tatars, join together and lay aside your animosities. All lovers of your country rise in arms and drive back the dogs who had dared invade the sanctity of the mountains.”
The Bavarian General frothed at the mouth, glad the crowd undertook the Cherkessk dialect. Our leader, Atokay walked right in like he had been living here in these times. “No mountaineer shall ever be a slave!” The word went out. But how many of their women had been sold into slavery by the warring tribes on different sides? But they were a new faith now.
“The first law of our prophet is the law of freedom. No Moslem shall be a slave.” The word went out. Hmm. Something to ponder. But we Persian Jews living in the Caucasus Mountains have been here since 700 years before the Common Era. The Mountain Men also are people of the book. Their cheers rose all night. Now, where do we stand? I don’t see the difference between peoples.
Our Mountaineer friends led us into the homes of other Mountain Men, and we Judaic Persians of these Caucasus Mountains blended in with the rest of the mountain people of the Kafkas. They hid us well and didn’t ask where we came from, only warned us that there was a war.
Yes, we had the good fortune to have papers saying we were Tatars. We had been given these papers by a few Tatars who saved us. And luckily Our Persian, Tat, and Turkic dialects, they didn’t understand, but the different North Kafkas speech of the leader of the Caucasus Mountaineers who also saved us named Atokay was still barely distinguishable, and they might have thought we had come out of Central Asia or somewhere by the Caspian, that ancient Sea of Meotis far away and had joined to help them.
For the moment we kept our mouths shut and let them care for us until we could find our way back to the cave and get back to the glory of our own times and the orchards of our own Khazaria. The Ciracassians had a leader they called Murat. He came home from his long ride to Jarash and greeted us as fellow mountaineers, obviously in hiding from the men in the big metal elephants.
Our clothes had not changed much, with the exception of the chain maile and helmets that were stared down and laughed at until we removed them—or at least the men. “Actors,” Atokay smiled in his dialect. “Theatre of the mountain men,” he nodded.
The silence became unnatural. It was a silence that swallowed all sound and smothered it, a silence vibrating like a drum skin. Atokay stared at his bare feet and slowly moved the toes. They looked uncanny, as though his feet led a life of their own. He felt the fur of his blanket and the pressure of a servant girl’s hand under his neck.
“You’re a mountain man, and we are all going to be liquidated,” Murat warned Atokay and our Kagan, who still pretended to be a man from the Caucasus.
Where was the “physical liquidation” to take place? Murat pointed out of the window to a Germanic commander a few feet away. Look what we walked into in another time. Murat called them Germans and reminded us that in 1942 the Germans were here in the Caucasus, and we would be liquidated.
“Ask him,” Murat laughed. “Smell the leather of Von Liebnitz’s revolver belt and listen to the crackling of his uniform.”
“What’s a revolver?” All of us asked at the same time. Father smelled the pork stink on the breath of the German soldiers. What did will he say to his victims?
We decided to be survivors. “The Russians are coming.” Murat added.
“Rus? Is that who you mean?”
How would the Russians look? Would they call us ancient Khazar enemies when they came?
Murat, Atokay, and the Kagan all looked at their fingers. It was so quiet that we heard the crackling of the burning embers in the small fire pit.
“Do you feel ill, Murat?” His wife, Tanya’s quivering whispers broke the silence with a shock.
All Murat’s muscles contracted at once. Fear was beginning to seep into the hero. He blinked at her.
“Please, some water?” A Caucasus Mountains woman sat up and extended her hand praying to receive a tender touch. But he just stared blankly out of the window watching the war pass by. War drew his soul into the mountain.
I watched my father, in hiding, posing as a Tatar as Murat, another Mountaineer leader made his speech in front of the gathering tribes. Then I wandered about the small cabin waiting for dawn, waiting until those around me woke for prayers.
Someone motioned to Raziet the little Adyge girl in my care. She helped the older men take down the red-gold and green-blue prayer rugs and brushed them clean, laying them down facing east. The women had washed and stood still, listening to the silence between the white-washed walls.
The rain had stopped as suddenly as it began, and the new silence hit all of us as a new color. The dawn had now come to meet me from the deep well of sanity. Gradually the people of Himri had to take refuge behind the village’s triple walls. During the retreat, the warriors who had been compelled to fight with the Germans gradually fell off, one by one Murat told Atokay.
Their chieftain’s deserted them as they saw the superiority of the forces of the enemy. Even the principal Murid, Hamid Bey we were told was deceived, by forged proclamations issued in the name of the prophet separated himself from a leader whose fortunes were on the wane.
And when October’s fallen leaves were still covering the hills of Himri, the Russian bayonets arrived to add their gleam to the tired mood of autumn, brown leaves choking a stream. We marked the cave in the Kafkas. How, oh, how were we going to go back through that opening in the dark rock?
How are we to go back to our own times? Back to a time when Khazaria was at peace and was in the midst of that excitement and joy of just having turned Jewish, and dancing and song were everywhere?
“The Mountaineer dream will be rolling up aoul (village) Himri behind the roll of drums,” I whispered before I began to pray.
“One bullet will be mightier than a million forced votes when freedom is gunned down,” said Murat.
“What’s a bullet?” I joked. Is it like a pullet? The crowd of men showed us how time had changed, but everything remained the same.
“Would you rather be paid in a handful of flour or in knowledge?” Murat asked their leader, Atokay, who translated for my father.
“Our mountains are being used as a shield,” Murat said sharply.
The story passed along to me was that The Russians are at war with the Mountain Men, the peoples of the Kafkas, but the Mountain Men only go to war with their own rulers.
So nothing has changed the mighty mountains. Why did the people even come here eons ago from the Middle East?
“You have to rise above the law,” Murat announced.
“No, you have to bring love and peace to all these people,” my father said.
“How, by joining hands in death so others may live?
“No way,” I insisted.
My mother’s large green eyes widened. She began to speak and Atokay translated the North Kafkas dialect that hadn’t changed much in a thousand years.
The Russians were holding their chief men as hostages in Andrejewa. Atokay watched Murat smoke his chibbuk, a Mountaineer pipe.
“Bide your time,” my father put his word in through the translator. “Are you so child-like as to believe that invaders from one land or time are any better than invaders from another?”
In Avaria was an Amazon-like woman who called herself a “Khatun” and re-named herself Pashu Bikay, a direct descendant of the she-khan who ruled in the winter of 1830. Pashu Bikay approached us and unveiled herself before the circle.
She cried out, “Go home you who came from Chunsash, and tie your rifles to your wives’ corsets.”
Amazingly, the men followed Pashu as their leader just as the Pashu who came before her. The crowd of men told me that eight thousand men followed this female, Pashu.
In the morning, a Nazi general, Von Liebnetz appeared, and I was told through the translator what this so-called second world war was all about. Oh, no, not in the midst of another war! I want to go home, back to the peace of my mountains. The streets of Tarku were all torn up by war.
Gradually, each resident of Himri had to take refuge behind the villages’ triple walls. So we were still in Himri, in the place of our summer home far from Atil, but thrown a thousand years into a future not our own and not by choice. I had to find out why. That’s why the time-travels of the Silk Road continue.
Our hosts briefed us on what artillery was and the weapons of modern warfare, and I’d rather dance with the Bulgars than be here. And when the fallen leaves covered Himri, the Rus arrived to add their gleam to the mood of the end of summer.
Artillery soon brought down the towers of loose stones over the devoted heads. By that time, all of us found a common language, classical Arabic. We all spoke it, since the days when the great rabbis of Baghdad went forth into Persia with their Torah scrolls, and from Persia on Purim, came to the high Caucasus mountains. When we wrote in Hebrew, we also had to translate from the Arabic for the scholars and rabbis from Toledo, so we learned many languages. And our houses of worship were built facing south as we had built them in Persia.
Pachu Bikay met the Queen of the Steppes, but Pachu still wanted to take up arms against the Rus like the Khatun had a thousand years before. “I was born laughing,” Pachu said through the translator. I watched as her face marred by the pox caught the rain in small pockets that glistened in the sun when the rain stopped. Our rainbow Kaganate also glistened. She lived by the art of war. We Mountaineers vowed now to live by the art of Hebrew script, even if it meant learning four host languages and cultures.
I sensed a lack of unity among these tribes. We followed the men as they rode from aoul to aoul calling upon warriors to follow them. Each looked for a hero to lead him. The tribes of the Eastern and Western Kafkas seemed to be different. They sang the praises of heroes. My father told them to sing a little less and make more charts, but the chorus of voices sang louder and without ending.
Everyone still rode horses over a narrow, rugged path that winded over the mountains picking its way along the rocky bed of the torrent. Our horses dived into forests tangled with brambles. The horse of a Khazar or a Mountaineer is conscious that it is going to meet armed men.
We came out of the past and met men living in our past, men on horseback with no big elephants, or tanks as they told us, in an age of tanks. Each warrior dressed as if time had not passed, wearing their shaggy bourkas that covered the entire rider and the back of his steed.
We had arrows, but they had what they said were “rifles.” And the barrels of their rifles protruded from their long bourkas. Below dangled the horse-tails braided with bullets, just like the steppe warriors who carried their arrow heads that way. So nothing really changes in the mountains or in the steppes like it would have if we were at the crossroads of the world. We are not. Those of the steppes soon take to the eagle’s nests.
We stopped for the night. Murat seized his son and rode on a raid. He lived by the art of war. We lived by the book. I sensed these tribes needed a hero, but fast. What they had was the running fire of the guerilla as a power game.
Murat’s son, Lam, rode from aoul to aoul calling upon warriors to follow him. We rode with the villagers to a spot chosen to hold an assembly—in a vale shaded by trees.
Instead of making war charts, they sang praises of heroes. Murat determined his plans by a chorus of voices. A moonless sky paraded before us as we sprang into saddles of sheep’s wool.
A narrow, rugged path winded over the mountains picking its way along the rocky bed of the torrent. Stopping to rest, the greenish tea passed before our noses. Murat cooked better than Taklamakan and prepared hot burghoul wheat and barley cakes with a savory pilaf of minced mutton. I poured honey over dried fruits.
The war would have to stop when it was time for cooking. Mountain men passed bowls of skhone, or mead with a little seasoned sour milk and a few honey and millet cakes. Everyone shared the food as they shared life.
Murat’s son was silent, and so was my brother. They were both boys of the same age, that special ritual of transition that began in the future when a child turned thirteen and became responsible… when you dress as a warrior, but are still a little boy with a big job to save your family and your homeland while learning great wisdom.
The food eaten, every man took to cleaning his weapons while uttering a short prayer for protection. No speaking to one another. The sentinels were set. Each man knew that if he fell down in battle, he would only be a sleeping baby, the sky his crib’s curtain.
I cut branches for them and covered the branches with mats and felts. It began to rain. And a wind rose up. The boughs furnished us a place to nap. The men couldn’t sleep well. They kept the watch fire burning out of the rain. Fires lighted up the whole mountainside making the granite glow with eerie colors.
Rocks snuggled against one another. The radiance warmed our faces. The enemy’s fire, still the same old enemy, diffused a glow. Where were we now? The Kuban River still flowed as it had in my time. Whoever made the war, set fire to the reeds on the Kuban and Terek rivers meant to destroy the huts of our mountaineers. Shadows threw a dull red tint on the horizon.
There’s the moon, a thin line of silver, rippling the blackness, outlining the sides of tanks hidden in a dark forest. “Never take an enemy’s life in cold blood,” Murat whispered to my brother. He did not answer, but moved to kiss my father’s hand, touching it to his forehead, and kissing it again before letting the Kagan’s strong hand drop slowly to his side.
The Mountaineer’s leader looked us over. “If you do not fear, there is nothing that can harm you. The horse’s head will be turned toward the mountains.”
Murat’s son paced back and forth. “You tell me what tanks do?”
My father answered them all, a stranger in a strange land. “The Creator of all of us must help your enemies. We can do without outside help when it comes to fighting the enemy of our brothers in the mountains.”
“Ah, but we have outside help,” Murat grinned.
“Might they be the Russian hirelings? The free men of the mountain have spies along the border. Everywhere there are souls which can be bought for gold.”
“War is not hell, son,” Murat told his boy. “It’s a poet’s paradise, a theater that fertilizes the crops.”
“It is too, hell,” I responded quickly.
“I’d rather be listening to the music of my water wheels.”
“A poet fights better because he has read or written the romance of war,” Murat said.
“Romance?” My father laughed.
“Yes,” said the Mountaineer leader. “Our enemies, like the Roman legions cut off in the woods of Germany, will be left with no one to bury them. Each foreigner who comes in here to make war thinks more of his hut in his own land. Then one of us, unable to rest, rides down from the mountains and hides for a day in the reeds of the Kuban River.”
Murat’s son continued the vision, “We creep at night like a wolf from his lair. We glide unseen by the guard post of the enemy as the war-makers take their final pull on a vodka bottle. We crawl up within sight of him, and pick him off.”
“And who is this enemy you speak of?” My father asked.
“Those whose goals are not to repair the world with charity,” I said.
“Where have you been? Don’t you know there’s a World War on?”
“You are not thinking real,” said my father.
“You’ll all perish. I haven’t received any invitation to a war.”
“You’re in it now,” Murat scowled.
We were all in this together, people from different times and different lands. Here and there small parties appeared in the distance. The method of warfare up here in the mountains hadn’t changed since my times.
The men rolled stones on the heads of the enemy below the same as they probably did twenty thousand years before. At Gogatel, a small fort situated south of the Andian range that runs parallel with the Andian branch of the Koissu, Murat and Atokay joined a tribe of mountain men.
Now, we all pitched in like two ends of one candle. We helped those around us to establish a depot of such provisions and munitions of war. This place, I’m told is a single day’s journey from Dargo. Muslim and Jew worked side by side for a free Caucasus, a hidden place where each cave became a womb of great critical thinking.
The soldiers, lightly laden, set off at dawn full of cheer and energy. Before they tired, the men had crossed the pass of Retchel into the beech woods of Itchkeria. I am the only teenage female in this pack of wolves, dear diary. And then the fight began.
Hostile tribes of the region were up in arms and waiting for the enemy. The woods are deep here. As Murat’s vanguard reached the first narrow ledge, a murderous fire from behind broke loose from behind the trunks of a thousand trees.
Lost in time. Lost in the woods. We scattered, not knowing what monstrous machines these men of the future had. Again, in the Kafkas, the more things changed, the more they didn’t.
The mountain men fell across the path, serving as a shield for one party and obstacles to their enemy. They never explained who the enemy was, but they were fighting the Rus or what they later told us were the Russians on one side and the Germans on the other and also other enemies of the tribes of the Kafkas.
We had barricades—natural vines and flower creepers. The paths were narrow and steep like in our summer palace away from the river flies. The winding path made the march so difficult that both us and whomever the enemy happened to be at the moment, none of us could march more than a few steps in a day.
Why were we fighting people we had never met? They told us about the war against the Jews and their war for a free Kafkas and the world war, and it all rang together like a giant gold bell.
Fighting went on into the night. Murat brought us close to Dargo. Flames and fire consumed this aoul, and the burning lighted up our path. Murat had set on fire every bit of wood, straw, and grain that could not be taken away. He left the enemy only the blackened stone walls of the mud houses.
“So you want to be a mountain man, eh?” I said to my brother, Marót. Our Mountaineer friends cooked their meals on the bivouac fires. We slept under the open sky. The next day more fighting came to us on wild horses.
Murat had found a force of six thousand warriors of the Kafkas to anonymously join up with this village called an aoul. The warriors opened fire on the Russians who were supposed to save the mountain men from Teutonic lands. We finally learned the name of those on each side.
An arrow wasn’t good enough, or a stone. We had to learn the guns. And the guns consumed too much ammunition to be fired with any rapid movement. When the mountaineers took the weapons, they could not operate the Russian equipment they had taken. Someone took Dargo, but it wasn’t Murat.
“In Medieval times,” it has been said, ‘when the Jews of Eastern Europe had no hope other than the grace of the Almighty, the coming of the Meshiach (Messiah), or the arrival of the Khazari,’ guess who showed up on white steeds carrying wolf and horse tamgas and silver standards? The Khazari, the Kosarin… . They alone saved the battle for those we defended,” said my father.
“Things don’t get any better for us.”
“It will,” my father answered. “We have a specific life purpose—the repair what’s broken in the world.”
The Russians sent half of their force back to Gogatel to grab a supply of provisions. They had to push through the woods to regain their line by the north route. This move on Gogatel gave our brothers, the mountaineers another chance at their
enemies. But who were our enemies—those who were now called the Russians or the Germans?
“You’re Jews. What do you think?” Murat assured us.
“And we’re also Mountaineers for nearly three thousand years, I answered. “And what do you think?”
“We certainly remember tales of the Mountain Jews from Azerbaijan and Persia.” Murat nodded. “But we learned of them through books written by the Russians.”
The mountain men speaking thirty-four different languages of the North Caucasus had given themselves no rest. Not satisfied with the slow work of the rifle, they now rushed in on the battalion tanks with only knives and expected to fight hand to hand. I still had to learn all about tanks and rifles, but with Murat at their head and strengthened by reinforcements, they attacked the escort party both going and returning.
Rain made the battle muddier. Along came a general named Klucke. He was a German deserter who still fought the Russians in vain. Now he asked to join the Mountain Men. When he arrived at Dargo, he had left thirteen hundred of his men, together with two captured Russian generals behind in the woods.
Three hundred mules with packs and wagons overflowing with grain stood next to cannons. And the mules and wagons fell into the hands of the Russians as all of us watched still hidden deep in the woods.
Soldiers were put on half rations as they called their nomadic meals, and the horses at the grass. Through the valley of the Aksai, a battle left scars on the earth. Murat’s mountain men fought the battalions step by step s they retreated. Wherever the mountain of pain stood forth to the banks of the Aksai, only a narrow passage was left for their troops. Barricades blocked the way.
The mountain men took aim from behind the rocks and the beech trees as they brought down so many that the Russians took to their tanks. Murat sent for reinforcements so his men wouldn’t fall into enemy hands. Fortunately for the mountain men, a band of our friends, the Tatars carried messages to the fortress of Girsel.
The Tatars got through the barricades and brought the news of what was happening to the Mountain Men. Then three thousand infantry and three hundred Cossacks under a German named Freitag ran to their relief. The joy of the famished battalions could be painted in a portrait.
So nothing has really changed except the shape of the metal and the reach of the weapons. We still didn’t know who we were fighting and for what. All we knew is that there is a war against the Jews and the Nazis wouldn’t want us to survive. And when the Russians found out we were Caucasus Mountaineers, they, too would be the enemy of the Mountain people.
Everyone thought the impenetrable mountains would stop the columns of soldiers. If it didn’t stop the mountaineers with arrows, why would it stop anyone else with elephant tanks?
What were we doing here, trying to liberate Kabarda? The fall of Dargo was a gray tedium that went through everyone, regardless of his tribe. These are the mountains. The Kabardas, great and small, lie on the northern side of the Kafkas range halfway between the two seas, northwest of the Lesghi and Chechen highlands.
If only there wasn’t war. The green valleys, the broken, dappled mountains would undulate in the center like Khadife velvet on a Altai horse. Army after army crawled out of the north, fresh from the tomb of men, and inexhaustible. Bulwarks circled the free homes of the highlanders. The Pagan days seemed to live on, even though the mountaineers are Moslem now.
Yet these mountains are as tree-spirit worshiping as the ghosts that live in the rocks and the witches who live in the trees. So we were in the Mountaineer Militia now. A bunch of Mizrahi Mountain Jews speaking Tat and Judeo-Persian, Azeri and the languages of the North Caucasus. We were now imbedded with friends in the middle of a Moslem militia.
We were drafted to be among the warriors, the hot young bloods who simply liked to fight. Every man wanted to through off his yoke. Independence was the word now as in our homeland and time. Finally, Murat had sent his zealous partisan, Ibrahim to lead an armed force that hoped to compel the Kabardians to take sides with him. Was there no other choice than war or to be a zealot?
Fearing the Russian tanks and the German tanks, the Kabardians preferred to stay neutral. No matter how much Murat asked them to riot against the Russians, they preferred to perfume their beards. Then the deportations started. Many of the mountain men were marched village by village to the deserts of Kazakhstan. Murat made a speech, “The enemy has conquered Cherkei and taken Akhulgo, and murdered the women of Avaria.
When lightning strikes one tree, does every other tree in the forest bow down to the storm and cast itself down should the lightning also strike them?” My brother watched Murat closely. The speech went on in front of the Kabardins.
“You think for a moment they think of you as Russians? Is not your passports stamped ‘Tatar’ or stamped with your religion?”
“Words won’t work any longer. Now deeds will.”
Everybody likes the idea of fighting for your faith, but there are so many types of faith, and just who is the enemy? No, this war thing won’t due at all. I watched Murat walk away to his quarters.
On a pole a breeze trembled through a proclamation sign put up by the Russians. My Mountaineer friend translated and told me it read, “The commotions and bloodshed that have taken place among the Caucasian Mountaineers have attracted the most serious attention of Stalin.”
Now who in the world is Stalin? Sounds like the name of a type of horse. Stalin the stallion. I had to find out. Troops already had arrived. I sensed a lot of people in this insane war had lost hope. We say when you lose hope you lose all fear.
What’s good about that? I met a young lady my age that was from one of the Mountaineer tribes, the Adyge. She began to teach me her language and I followed her through these neutral fields of Kabardia. Her name is Raziet. We had run out of time in this place.
“Let’s ride in the apple truck,” Raziet motioned to me with hand signs and her words that I quickly learned. “In this year your destiny will be decided,” she told me.
I decided everyone around me was no match for a war of this size. “My father has a plan for raising a troop for the crossing of the Kuban,” Raziet explained.
“Sheik Mansour from the Eastern Kafkas will give my father three thousand men.”
“I still don’t know who you are fighting. Is it the whole world against the Kafkas? I thought this was the war against the Jews.”
“And everyone else,” she told me. I began to understand her language.
“Raziet, my friend. Are you talking three thousand men against the whole Russia? Or is it Germany you’re fighting now?”
Nothing was clear to me anymore. Not only had I to deal with a time leap, but now sizing up who was fighting who and for what kind of freedom and independence. All I saw were messengers riding from one end of the mountains to the other.
And they were using the same horses we used, and it seemed everyone else was riding in those big tanks. I looked around. Peaceful highlands to my right and left. All I saw were the blossoms.
A steed cropped the first tender blades in the vale. A Lesghi sat listless at the door of his sakli basking without a thought of war. He watched the wooden beams of his home. The birds chirped, and I saw a turtle moving slowly in peace, half-asleep.
Then came the shouting. “Drag him down. He is the alien. He will kill us all by pulling us into a useless fight against an unseen enemy. Pull him down with ropes.”
All of the men of Himri, Akhulgo, and Dargo, the riders of Arrakan and Gumbet, Avaria and Koissubui, Itchkeria, and Salatan, the people of the four branches of the Koissu, the bloodstained banks of the Aksai—all of them gathered here.
Lesghi, Chechens, warriors of Dagestan. Tribes of mixed Khazar and mountain origin, freemen all, speaking a basket of dialects sat in stirrups when they couldn’t find jeeps. Guns and rifles rode at their side where medieval arrows had gone before them.
Their leather bags were filled with cracked wheat. Few could afford what they showed me were called “cars.” “Pull him down,” the men shouted at Murat. No one had to pull him. He stepped down to meet the crowd who cheered.
Raziet and I, like stick figures, were pushed into the crowd. I found out the men here were Sufis. Murat explained to father and me when I brought Raziet home to take a meal with us. She explained with translators through two different dialects so we could barely understand the words sent from Turkic to Adyge, a language of the North Kafkas. I also spoke the Kievan dialect and some of the languages of the mountain people we lived with in the summer from my own time.
“Our enemy is common,” Raziet told us.
“Don’t tell me you still have the same enemy over all these years? Why do people have to have enemies?” I asked her. I’m not sure she understood where we belonged and when.
You’d be surprised at how many different faiths have leaders who say they hold direct communication with heaven, seeing their prophet, leader, or savior in the form of a dove who gives divine commands. Of all the places I traveled to and in all the times, almost everyone from everywhere sees a dove and gets divine commands from that dove. I wonder why and what that means…and why a dove? Does it mean freedom to everyone all over the world? Or does it mean peace?
Freedom and peace should be the same, but you rarely see one without the other. Some force crammed the mountaineers. The state was spreading like plague.“We go home and wait to die because your leader thinks the Mountaineer mode of warfare is not good enough for him now,” said one man at our table.
“Fighting is useless without tanks,” said one warrior.
I stared out of the window watching horses clopping down the stone streets of the aoul. The streets were almost empty. Rain washed bits of colored paper from an empty market place. Flies buzzed in the sun, and doors remained bolted waiting for some word.
They showed me what a radio was, but all I heard was a blank noise. In the distance, the boom echoed across the hills. Fire and smoke and the sound of war closed in.
Therefore, the more things change, the more they change back to what they were in the first place. “What will happen to us?” I asked my new friend, the lady, Raziet.
Outside a dear friend, a Sufi Imam preached from a goat stand. “My words came to pass.” Inside this cabin, small tablets were placed around the room inscribed with verses.
Raziet explained it wouldn’t be proper for a man to question his wife. Great wooden pegs and tables filled the women’s rooms where they knitted their silver lace in an obscurity illumined by scanty rays of sunlight from an opening in the roof.
Raziet and her mother showed me where they live, in their own set of rooms. The walls of the women’s quarters were hung with dresses and fabric, not with weapons. Yet perhaps clothes also are passive weapons.
In the corners were large boxes filled with the bedding for her house. Strung on lines across the room were embroidered napkins, scarves, silk bodices glittering with gold threads and silver flowers. The shelves were filled with copper and crass, china and glass ware, pottery, and the wooden bowls and spoons used for eating. Raziet showed me her loom.
I was offered a pottage of millet. Raziet drank from leather bottles filled with sour milk and honey and some barley. I ate the wheat loaf with honey and wild thyme. Outside was a shaggy steed. In walked the Kalmyk Mongolian women that tinted their hair red with henna. We went with these women to their hut half buried in the sand on the shore.
A boy ran to meet us with a falcon on his wrist. Then we saw him—the Bavarian, General Neid. The women told us through a translator, but we understood the Tatar women that lived near the Cherkessk peoples.
I learned new words—that the Nazis were all over the mountains. Who are the Nazis? Oh, yes. Murat told me what had happened. Then he told me about the soldiers who deserted their Nazi ranks and were hiding and creeping in the mountains. All over the mountains the men searched for deserters from the Nazi ranks.
“He was sent into the Kafkas to carry out a system of defense and conquest,” they warned me. Raziet pointed to the older Tatar woman. “Murat uses German and Polish deserters to make Dargo their headquarters.
He collects stores of ammunition and provisions.”
“What side is that man on?” I asked.
“We can’t be too sure.” The Tatar woman grinned. “He uses the zeal of the tribes all over this part of the Kafkas. He’s defensive. Watch out, but he isn’t making any progress in stepping on us highlanders. He’s been here two years, and is losing ground.”
“How do you know all this?”
The Tatar woman laughed. “I listen to the men talk. I sleep with one eye open. The men around here say he has the power of life and death over the mountain people. He’ll put anyone he wants on trial for offences, and he appoints the civil workers. Someone hired him to put down us few rude tribes in the mountains. We women of the mountains marry young.”
“Who hired him?” I looked at the women. “Don’t tell me you mountain men are still battling the Russians for independence after more than a thousand years. What did you expect—the Nazis to set you free? What about us steppe and mountain Jews? Whose side are you on anyway, my friends?”
“Nothing short of the capture of Dargo would kick the Germans out and restore Russian rule of the twelve tribes of the Caucasus Mountains.” The Tatar whispered to me.
“Is that what you want, more Russian rule over your people?”
“We want independence,” the Tatar shouted.
“Here, have a bite of this cake.” She shoved her honey cakes in my mouth to shut me up. It was toasty and sweet.
I studied Neid’s face from a few paces away later that day. The blackness beneath his eyes told me he wasn’t eating well. What I didn’t know wouldn’t harm me, yet.
Murat left his meal with the mountaineer men and my father and went to see the Tatar woman’s men folk.
“I have a plan,” he told his followers at the Tatar’s place. “With a force of ten thousand infantry and a few hundred Cossacks, I’ll set out for Dargo, taking the northern track, the route by the river Koissu and through the district of Andi.”
The Tatar males agreed. “The mountaineers will watch all the enemies.”
“Only small parties are to show themselves. The villages will be left without police indefinitely.”
Women were afraid they’d be molded by grief, but suddenly the latest infantry rifles came into the hands of the mountaineers. Their world was smelted together into a unity for an undetermined goal. If one mountaineer fed the enemy a spoon of yogurt, the Russians would take their revenge on the Sufi Mountain Men. Nazis had just exterminated thousands of Russians on the front, and they were ready for revenge on any mountaineer who thought for one instant that the Nazis would promise the mountaineers a homeland free from the Russians.
Enemies boxed in the hills from all sides. Neid, the German general who had run away from his Nazi army walked into the house of the Tatars. “You work in a factory?” He asked the woman’s old husband.
“I’m a machinist,” said the Tatar.
“That’s the myth of the happy worker,” the deserter grinned.
“And what about you?” He looked right through me.
“I’m getting married.” I didn’t know what else to say.
“So? If you’re not in school, then you belong in the factory.”
What could I say, that I’m Jewish living among the friendly Sufi? Luckily, the Tatar man spoke up. “From whom do you get your soldier’s pay?”
“What?” Neid said sharply.
“We don’t depend on the fifth of the booty taken from the enemy or the fines imposed for violations of the shariat.”
The Tatar moved closer to Neid. “We have a system of taxation. A poll tax to the amount of the ruble is levied on every family. One tenth of the produce of the land goes into the public treasury. If you die without heirs, your money goes to the government. And wealth is accumulated in the mosques.
“The Sufi dervishes living on voluntary contributions have been absorbed into our army or driven out of the land. Our general lives as simply as we do. The Imam is rich and deposits money in secret places in the woods of Ani and Itchkeria—great treasures of gold, diamonds, and other valuables.”
As Neid scrambled to his feet the Tatar man laughed. He looked at me or through me as if I were invisible, assuming from my gaudy Khazar clothing, straight brown hair, and high cheekbones that I was a Tatar.
“Riches are a strong ally,” Neid grumbled.
“But simple living makes us outlast you.” The Tatar walked around him. “We number only a million and a half, maybe less now. The Russians are returning to the front by way of Transcaucasia and Cis. Better watch out, General Neid.”
“Large expenditure for such a small result,” the General said.
“Where do you stand? I know you’re a deserter, but what side are you really on, or did they plant you here?”
“Someone set you up in the mountains. I don’t believe you’re hiding out here.”
“This damned Kismet of yours,” Neid scowled.
“You see us through foreign eyes,” the Tatar man added. “I heard there’s a wedding.”
“No wedding in wartime,” Raziet said.
“Then what?” Neid paced the floor. “I know the trap will close on Berlin.”
“Whom can we trust?” Raziet whispered to me.
“Only yourselves.” I told her. “Always be prepared.”
A whistle made us jump from the smoking breach in the front line. Not hands, but two would do just fine. Ahead lay a long journey, and we had no chance to return to that cave and trace our footsteps and markers placed to get back to our own homeland and time. We weren’t in a hurry.
“Foreign workers!” The cry went up from the Nazis we saw. “Workers from the Caucasus.” Only now we were in the West Kafkas and we had come from the East Kafkas.
Mountain men were being brought into Germany to work in large numbers as the people were shouting why are their own commanders doing that when the war was in part about expelling large amounts of people considered foreign.
The Nazi’s war was about excluding, segregating, and expelling people they didn’t like, and made up labels and names that these people were not as good as themselves. That was an excuse to get them out so boundaries could be established, racial, land, and political. Once boundaries were in place like neat little lists, more living space would be provided for their own people, so the line went.
Tribesmen told me that a quarter of their labor force was made up of foreign workers and those who worked by force with no pay. The farms were “manned” by foreign workers supervised by farm women, old men, and boys. As more foreign workers, usually unpaid, were dragged into their country, the Nazi fears gave way to terror. And all along they started the whole thing by wanting to cleanse their country of foreign workers.
There’s always a type of man—or woman, who had a need to wage war. It was as if his or her visual space or pattern of brain electricity radiated as so understimulated to begin with—in mind and pulse, that only to bring up the person to the level of well-being or normal, that individual had to wage combat.
The whole lot of us except my father, mother, and brother, stayed behind. Everyone else finally landed in one of the 22,000 camps in Germany. All the tribesmen we had camped with landed in Ohrdruf, a concentration camp for Russian and Mountain men and other minority groups.
Word got back to us that several days before the arrival of the troops of liberation. The Nazis brought out all their inmates of the camp to the square in the center of the camp and had killed them.
You can look this up for yourself, whatever time zone you’re in now. It was reported by Vernon Kennedy, UNRRA Liaison Officer to the 12th Army Group in a memorandum detailing an inspection trip made from April 15 to 21, 1945. There were about 4,000 killed and 1,000 who survived this massacre, mostly people from the Kafkas or Rus.
So war is not what anyone would want to return to in any time zone. Well what happened was eerie. When it came to the Mountain men, some people had the idea that if they didn’t want to return to Russia, then they must have collaborated with the Nazis.
Actually, they were afraid of being under the thumb of the Communists where they were treated badly. So one group of Mountain men refused to return to Russia and began to fight the liberating troops who only wanted to pick them up and free them so they could return to Russia. They wanted their own familiar mountains as a homeland.
Then word got around that a few distinguished Mountaineer generals who had fought on the side of the White Russians in the old Russian Civil War had emigrated and held Austrian or German citizenship from the years before this war. These generals tried to intervene with the authorities.
They failed, and voluntarily returned with the others. As leading White “Russian” officers, automatic execution awaited these generals in Russia, but they voluntarily returned anyway. Then I heard what happened, all about the Mountaineer suicide rite, the ‘adat’ or unwritten law of the mountains that took hold. Their honor would not be defaced.
Well, we don’t have any suicide rite of the mountains or the steppes. We have the Torah. The Sufis have their Zikr dance and writings. And they are our friends. That’s what we answer to. So just after breakfast, Atokay raised a nervous fist and began to hammer on the door of the International Refugee Organization.
“Let me in, I tell you.” He growled at the clerks.
“Stop that banging.” The door opened a bit and Atokay put his foot in it. We stood behind him.
“War criminals, quislings, traitors!” We heard the shout go up around us.
The voices began, “Any other persons who assisted the enemy in persecuting civil populations or voluntarily assisted the enemy forces, ordinary criminals, and persons of German ethnic origins, whether German minorities in other countries, who have been transferred, evacuated, or have fled into Germany….”
“We are Jews with forged Tatar passports because the Germans aren’t interested in Tatars.” Nobody believed us in this time zone or in this longitude. We spoke too many languages and dialects.
“When they have acquired a new nationality, they become otherwise firmly established. When they have unreasonably refused to accept the proposals of the Organization for their resettlement or repatriation, or…”
The one in authority kept on reading, “When they are making no substantial effort toward earning their living when it is possible for them to do so, or when they are exploiting the assistance of the Organization.”
Atokay sat next to his wife. The clerk warned him, “The main object of the Organization is to bring about a rapid and positive solution of the problem which will be just and equitable to all concerned.
The main task is t encourage and assist in every way possible early return to their countries of origin. No international assistance should be given to traitors, quislings, and war criminals, and nothing should be done to prevent in any way their surrender and punishment.”
Atokay confronted the International Refugee Organization officer reading his constitution and explaining it to the others. “Stalin is exterminating the Mountain Men in Russia because someone told him that a few sided with the Germans to get out from communism. Do you believe that story?”
The clerk cleared his throat. “The constitution provides for individual freedom of choice. We handle valid objections to repatriation.”
A shuddering silence filled the room. Atokay watched the blue veins in his bare feet grow fat. “Persecution or fear based on grounds of persecution because of nationality provided these are not in conflict with the principles of the United Nations as laid down,” the clerk continued to speak in a flat tone.
“Objections of a political nature judged by the Organization to be valid.”
“What do you mean—valid?” Atokay questioned him.
“Do you believe the entire peoples of the North Kafkas or the émigrés who fled to Austria and Germany sided with the Germans to escape Russia’s treatment of mountain people and Communism?”
“What should I believe when a see a few Mountaineer generals trying to help your people, Generals who had fled to Austria and Germany who were not judged to be of such an inferior “race” as the Nazis put it, that they were promoted to generals? What should I think?” The clerk’s faced blushed as he spoke to Atokay.
“We want the Kafkas to be free, that’s all. We are not traitors, and we didn’t fight for the Germans.”
“Well, Turkey didn’t exactly go with the allies either at the start of the war,” the clerk answered.
“We’re not Turks. We are Mountain Jews speaking Tat. And we came from Persia to the Mountains twenty-seven hundred years ago, through Azerbaijan.”
“Some of the tribes of the North Caucasus do speak a Turkic language, but most speak one of the North Caucasus Mountains dialects.”
“I know,” the clerk said. “I also know you people sought independence under the protection of England and Turkey. That’s the real reason Stalin killed 800,000 North Caucasus Mountains people and sent the remainder to prisons in Kazakhstan.”
“There can be no religion under Stalin.” Atokay bowed his head and pounded on the clerk’s desk.
“Stalin is our ally,” the clerk answered defiantly.
“Are you doing this to me to save your own face for the Soviet bloc?” Atokay turned and left.
“Wait,” the clerk shouted. “We have responsibility for the care of more than seven hundred thousand refugees and displaced persons. We have a problem in France to take care of.”
The clerk sat back uneasily. “Do you need medical services?” His blue eyes stared at Atokay and the rest of us standing behind him. What do you need? Blankets? A place to sleep? Name it.”
“I’ll name it,” Atokay said in a shaky voice.
“You gave people like us to the highest bidder. Why are you treating us like next-to-nothings?”
“Don’t tell me you have a sense of entitlement. You’re like anyone else here. We’re all equal.” The clerk rubbed a spot in his shirt.
“Why are you blaming me?” Atokay paced restlessly as he spoke. “Why don’t you blame it on the Cossacks?”
“The Cossacks aren’t traitors.”
“You know what I mean,” Atokay said to him.
“How come you distribute cash grants and furnish legal assistance to the White Russians and others with Nansen passports and to the Spanish Republicans, but Mountain Men you treat like dirt?”
“Where did you learn that?” The clerk squinted at Atokay.
“From books and travels. You’re not educated unless you have traveled like I have—everywhere.”
Well, he hadn’t traveled in time—the ultimate education. And I have. Atokay stared at the fluttering eyelids of the IRO officer. The officer poured eye drops into his eyes while the clerk shuffled papers in a file cabinet. “We’re cutting costs to the bone,” the IRO officer said, looking at the clerk instead of Atokay who was talking to him.
“What does that mean for me? I’m interested in being resettled. I don’t want to be repatriated. Little necessities like dental treatment and washrooms are for those not facing death as a traitor in Moscow. Where shall I go? What shall I do?”
The IRO officer yawned. “Maybe you should keep trying to settle in New York. My sister’s American husband lives near Atlantic Avenue in Brooklyn, with all those Middle Eastern spice stores nearby.”
“Mumtaz Allah!” Atokay raised his voice an octave. “I want my people’s old flag back. It was the flag of a free Kafkas, symbol of unity. Our flag of 1830 was green with three crossed arrows and twelve stars, representing the twelve tribes and districts of the Northern Caucasus. Long live the valley of the apple trees, our capitol.”
“Is that the city of Maikop?” The officer surmised.
The clerk intervened. “You should have thought of your beautiful valley of the apple trees that before you ran over to the Germans to be liberated from them from Russia, our ally. You’re always talking about the mountains, but now you want the valley of the apple trees as well? What’s wrong with going back to Russia? You’ll be repatriated to where you came from.”
“I’m not Russian,” Atokay shouted. “I’m a Mountaineer, a Moslem. Stalin wants to kill my people. Mikoyan and Molotov signed the secret orders to kill all of my people.”
And what about my family I thought. There was a pause and then a bell.
“Calm down,” the clerk sighed. “Don’t act like you are going to kill yourself in front of our building. No employment is available, except with the Germans, and refugees are not required to accept such work.”
“We are good men doing good deeds.” Atokay begged and pleaded. “There’s no sense in bad men doing evil. The charges are false that we sided with the Germans. We just came from fighting them in the mountains. Besides, there’s a deserter from the German army hiding with us and helping us. We are not helping the men he deserted.”
“You ran from communism to the first road to what you thought was freedom,” the IRO officer added. “I understand. When the Nazis found you, they put you in work camps as their slaves. That’s how they freed you from the Russians. ”
Atokay looked at his people and took a vote. They sure didn’t want to be repatriated back to Russia, and they didn’t want the Nazis in their homeland, not with all the slave labor and the camps for their war machine. That was not their idea of a free Kafkas and free mountain nations—free from the communists. Not their idea of freedom at all….Darkness began to creep along the valley. You call this peace? With a country this peaceful, who needs war?
Deportees marched into empty cattle cars filled to overflowing, locked, and sealed. Most of the Crimean Turks we followed went to concentration camps in Sverdlosk Raion in the Urals. Most died of the hunger and disease brought on by slave labor. A small minority fled to Turkestan.
So many tribes were loaded up and deported. They were the Chechen, Ingush, Karachay, Balkars, Tatars, and Mountain men. Then of course, there were millions of Jewish people from all over Eastern Europe that outnumbered all the tribes of the Caucasus, but the Russians did not deport Jews in huge numbers at that moment.
The Nazis did. Russians deported peoples of the Caucasus, and they used the excuse to deport them that a few had been traitors, looking up to the Nazis to rescue them from the Russians’ Communist rules.
Life cannot be contained in a small space. It’s the old nomadic reach fighting against the need of the settled farmer to grow orchards and put down deep roots instead of far-reaching branches. You become the horizontal expression of your vertical wish to move up the ladder.
The earth has become too small to reach sideways. One stretch and you’ve squashed your palm into the face of the person next to you. Life on the Silk Road as a nomad has become too complex.
Dear Diary, even now, I feel the closing in of compartments, the containment of life in small spaces. I have only the personal space of my own limited to what I can carry in my pockets. We formed a human chain, hand in hand and tied a rope around each of our waists to keep together in a line. As darkness fell, we were back in the cave where I had tied my silver lace in little pieces of fabric all along the route. I knew where the road split in two and had tied a bouquet of flowers on a post to mark the route back home to my own time and place.
We trekked through the winding paths, beyond the stalagmites and stalactites. I checked each tiny piece of silver lace to keep on the trail. Finally, we came to the dark opening in the cave. There were old paintings there as we lighted a torch of twisted reeds to see our way and feel for the sharp wind and the pulse in the fabric of time at the opening of the time travel entrance. We and they are steppe sisters.
The torchlight threw eerie shadows on the walls. Someone had painted horses and bison on those caves, and part of the cave was under water. We walked for hours until the waterline and the rock that I marked to show the opening into time began to pulse in the opposite direction from the edges where it closed when we whirled out. I took a leap of faith, and I was in first, and then my brother tied in back of me, and all the rest.
So around we went, and through the maze of time. We floated and swam as if in a pond, a salty well of all beginnings. And we again where swirled through time.
In an instant the pulsing light and the walls of the cave closed in and expelled us beyond all time and space through a whirlwind. And faster and faster we spun like dreidles (Festival of Lights tops) on Hanukkah.
We were great spinning tops and floating kites of the children of the Silk road with our healing acupuncture needles with which we travel the world. We spun and spun until we were almost fabric woven into the cloth of time ourselves, this long chain of human longing. We wove ourselves through the fabric of time not like in the 1940s, but more like futuristic nonstick frying-pan crystals retreating from a frying egg. Yes, as I look at this pan decades later, we also had to have a nonstick future in a flypaper universe.
Out we leaped, rolling like boulders onto the soft summer petals. Daylight soothed us now, early morning with the rollaway sun’s rays firing from our fingertips. And mist on the meadows showed us that we were reborn.