"BAGADERAN" - RUSSIAN DESERTERS IN THE PERSIAN ARMY, 1802-1839.
By Aleksandr Kibovskii.
(From Tseikhgauz, No. 5, 1996.)
The event which was the start for this history was not in itself anything significant. In 1802, just before another war with Persia (1804-1813), a staff-trumpeter sergeant named Samson Yakovlevich Makintsev deserted from the Nizhnii-Novgorod Dragoon Regiment (Note 1). The reason for his flight is not known. Among the Nizhnii-Novgorod men, tradition held that he had stolen the mouthpieces from the regiment's silver trumpets. That may or may not be so, but nevertheless the mouthpieces had disappeared.
Giving himself up to the Persians, Makintsev entered the shah's service and was made a naib (lieutenant) in the Erivan Infantry Regiment. The crown prince, Abbas-Mirza, was forming a regular army and gladly received Russian deserters. Makintsev set to actively recruit fugitives into his company, and soon, upon an inspection of the regiment, he earned the approval of the prince and promotion to yaver (major). Now events began to go faster. At the next review, deserters already made up one-half of the Erivan Regiment. Having again been praised, the deserters expressed their dissatisfaction with the regiment's commander, Mamed-Khan, and asked that Makintsov be assigned in his place. Abbas-Mirza compromised by organizing a separate battalion of deserters and giving command to Makintsov, who became serkheng (colonel) and took the name Samson-Khan (Note 2). Since the Russians proved to be the best trained part of his army, the prince enrolled them into his guards. Now Samson-Khan recruited not only deserters, but also local Armenians and Nestorians. For the most part the officers were fugitive Russian officers from the Transcaucasian nobility. The majority of the battalion (including Makintsov) kept their Christian faith.
In the meantime, the war between Russia and Persian reached an apogee. The Russian battalion went with Abbas-Mirza's forces to Aslanduz. Here on 19-20 October, 1812, the deserters first surrounded and then in a terrible battle practically annihilated the soldiers of General P. S. Kotlyarevskii (Note 3). Of the battalion's few survivors, some returned to Russia in accordance with the Gulistan peace treaty. The more persevering, headed by Samson-Khan, began to form a new battalion. Using enticements, money, and cunning, they quickly made up their losses. The commander of the Khoisk column reported "that... Samson, now in Abbas-Mirza's complete confidence, is trying to increase the number of Russian deserters as much as possible, and sends people out to persuade our soldiers and, when they are away from their units, ply them with wine and seize them. Our soldiers know of the trust Abbas-Mirza places in Samson, who wears general's epaulettes, and of the benefits given out to those who desert to him, and under these circumstances they are agreeable to this..." (Note 4). Such a state of affairs greatly perturbed the Russian authorities.
In 1817 the deserters met with A. P. Yermolov's diplomatic mission near Tavriz: "This battalion was made up of big men; the officers were Russian soldiers. All were dressed in Persian coats, had long hair, and wore fur fleece-covered papakha caps. Their faces betrayed these rogues; the men were all handsome, well-formed, clean, and of mature age. This battalion was called the Yengi-Musulman [new Muslims - A.K.]. They had already fought against us, and prisoners taken from them by Kotlyarevskii were hanged and bayonetted. Now they all ask to be taken back, and we have hopes of returning them..." - wrote Staff-Captain N. N. Murav'ev, who with Colonel G. T. Ivanov had been assigned to interogate the deserters (Note 5).
The Persians promised not to hinder those deserters who wished to return, but in secret they took the battalion out of Tavriz, locked it in barracks, and put fetters on the soldiers. To Yermolov, though, they announced that the battalion had set off to pacify the Kurds. Perceiving this bald deceptoin, Yermolov quarreled with Abbas-Mirza and refused to recognize him as the heir to the throne. The frightened prince delivered 40 deserters, but Yermolov would not even accept them, demanding that first Makintsev be hanged. In the end, the talks accomplished nothing.
Requests for the return of deserters were continued in 1819 by A.S. Griboedov, the secretary of the Russian mission. He even managed to question the deserters, and although Persian officials secretly "harangued them to come back, promising them women and drink", he persuaded 168 men to return. In a paradoxical farewell on 30 August, Abbas-Mirza "enjoined the soldiers to henceforth serve their sovereign with the same loyalty and devotion as they had served him, and in the meantime he gave me (A.S. Griboedov - A.K.) instructions on their future wellbeing, so that it would be well for them in Russia." This interval ended with a scandal. Abbas-Mirza summoned Makintsev. But Griboedov "would not stand for it and declared that it was not only shameful to have this scoundrel among his servitors, but it was even more shameful to present him to a noble Russian officer... --"He is my officer."-- "Even if he is your general, for me he is a rogue, a villain, and I will not even look at him." On 4 September, 1819, Griboedov's group left Tavriz, and soon on 12 September 155 former deserters crossed the Russian border (some were left on the way) (Note 6). Those who returned were pardoned and released "to live freely in their mother country" (Note 7). Of those who stayed in Persia, the majority (about two-thirds) had accepted Islam, which saved them from being turned back over to Russia. They did not study religious formalities and at prayer services they habitually crossed themselves.
By the beginning of the 1820s the battalion had acquired a permanent organization. The deserters were divided into family men and bachelors. The married men (about 200) were given land and lived well. They formed the battalion reserve, and with them were quartered the battalion's bachelor deserters during such times as the unit was stood down with the men released to their homes (which did not happen often, since they carried out palace guard duties for the heir to the throne). During wartime, the family men formed a company of volunteers. The bachelors formed four permanent companies (each of four platoons), which in 1831 were divided into two Russian and two Polish (the number of companies depended on the availability of one or the other nationality). National differences were carefully maintained, although this did not affect the battalions fighting ability. The number of deserters was not constant, but by analogy with the organizational structure of the regular sarbaz infantry the approximate composition of the unit would be as shown in the table.
|IN A BATTALION||IN EACH COMPANY|
|Serheng||colonel, battalion commander||1||Sultan||captain, company commander||1|
|Yaver||major, junior field-grade officer||1||Naib-Oval||lieutenant||1|
|Yassaul||senior battalion adjutant among the officers||1||Naib-Duyum||sublieutenant||1|
|Vekil-bashi||sergeant, junior battalion adjutant||1||Bek-Zade||ensign||3|
|Sultan-alyamdar-bashi and his naibs||standard bearer (on parade) and his two helpers, who usually carried the standard. *||3||Vekil||sergeant||2|
|Tabelzan-bashi||chief of all the battalion's musicians||1||Mubashir||supply sergeant||1|
|Vekil-bashi||NCO who looked after the infirmary||1||Additionally, each company had 1 drummer and 1 fifer; every 5 sarbaz soldiers were authorized a servant to prepare their food and look after their belongings in the supply train. The supply train consisted of pack horses and donkeys (1 for every 2 sarbaz).|
|* Note: It is not known for sure whether the Bagaderan had their own flag. In any case, not one of the sources known to us mentions one.|
At first the battalion did not have its own band, which greatly grieved Samson-Khan. Therefore he gladly welcomed three Russian musicians run away from Kumaira. They were immediately presented to Abbas-Mirza, prescribed a high salary, and told to pick a choir of thirty men and organize a band. This band was the best in the Persian army, "although many of its instruments were not in complete working order".
For its many military achievements the battalion received the title of Bagaderan - i.e. great warriors (in the European sense - grenadiers). It especially proved itself during the Perso-Turkish War of 1821-23, particularly at the town of Van, where it incurred many casualties, and also at the victory of Toprak-Kale.
The new Russo-Persian War (1826-28) put the deserters in a difficult situation. Samson-Khan declined to fight, declaring: "We swore on the Holy Gospel that we would not shoot at our co-religionists and we will not change our oath" (Note 8). But Samson did not manage to stay in Tavriz, since Abbas-Mirza named him his military advisor. The battalion itself went on campaign under the condition that it be in the reserve. However, at the battle at Yelizavetopol on 13 September, 1826, the deserters defended the right flank of the center of the Persian position. They were led by Kasum-Khan, who was commander of Abbas-Mirza's Second (Persian) Guard Battalion (Note 9). Apparently, the battalion joined the operational army on 30 August along with the shah's guards, and Kasum-Khan took command as senior in rank after Samson. By 1829, after making good their losses with Russian prisoners, the battalion numbered 1400 men. But a cholera epidemic in 1830 reduced its strength. A short time before, in 1828, there deserted to Persia an ensign in the Nasheburg Infantry Regiment - Yevstafii Vasil'evich Skryplev. He entered the shah's service and married the daughter of Samson-Khan. Makintsev made his son-in-law a serheng and commander of the Bagaderan. He himself, being already a general, took the position of the battalion's honorary colonel-in-chief [chef].
In 1830-32 the battalion took part in marches to Khorasan against rebellious Kurds, and to Turkmenia. The wild Kurds did not fear Persian units, but were very afraid of the deserters. Among them there even arose the legend that Russian soldiers had cartridges in their fingers, ready at any moment to shoot forth. At the siege of Kuchana (1832), several of the famed Russians lay dead under the walls of the fortress. The Kurds surrounded the bodies, but would not touch them until they had carefully doused the hands of the slain. In 1833 the battalion distinguished itself at Herat. In one of their sorties the Afghans were defeated and took refuge in the Rouze-Gakh citadel, which held a famous tomb of a local saint. For this reason the storming of the citadel was entrusted to Samson Khan's "unbelievers", who took the place by assault. The death of Abbas-Mirza on 9 October, 1833, put an end to the siege of Herat, and the battalion returned to Tavriz. The new heir to the throne, Mohammed-Mirza, took the Bagaderan under his patronage, which in a year helped him definitely secure the throne. After Fath-Ali-Shah's death, the prince's uncle, Zeli-Sultan, usurped power. But with strong forces Mohammed advanced from Tavriz to Teheran and forced the rebels to yield. The Russian battalion occupied the capital's citadel and city barracks, and became the palace guard.
In 1835 Persian forces campaigned in Khorasan against the Uzbeks, Turkmen, and rebellious Kurds. In the mountains of Kurdistan one column fell into an ambush. The Persians were broken and ran away in panic. But a reserve made up of 250 men from the Russian battalion formed into a square and repulsed the attack with a volley. Retreating through hordes of Kurdish horsemen, they reached their camp safely. An Italian doctor in the shah's service who was saved in the Russian square wrote to the Persian commander telling all about this. Depressed by the flight of his warriors, he sagaciously noted: "O Hakim (Doctor)! ...Now I understand why these infidel Russians are invincible. They do not have that ability which we Persians possess to a high degree: they cannot run, and stand like a wall if they are attacked by the enemy." (Note 10.)
In 1836 the Bagaderan (595 men) took part in a campaign into Turkmen territory, and in the fall of 1837 it again set out for Herat. The battalion crossed the Afghan frontier numbering 450 men. However, during the course of the long and unsuccessful siege of the fortress it received reinforcements, and on 30 May, 1838, it numbered 585 bayonets. Finally, on 12 June, 1838, it was decided to undertake a general assault on the city. The author of the troop dispositions Colonel I.F. Blaramberg of the Russian mission asked that the battalion be selected for the main attack, but as the Persians knew that the Afghans would put their best forces opposite the Russians, they put the battalion with the troops of Veli-Khan, who performed a diversionary maneuver. Everything ended very sadly. The self-assured Veli-Khan took it into his head to break into Heart before anyone else and take the victors laurels for himself. Violating the deployment plans, he rushed to storm the fortress walls. Samson-Khan was forced to support this madness. At the height of the attack a bullet struck down Veli-Khan. The Persians picked up the body of their chief and ran back to camp, where they began to mourn his worthy death. For long minutes the Russian battalion was left under the wall completely alone, with bullets and stones pouring onto it. Only at this moment did the Persian artillery think to cover the flight of their units. Of course, most of their hits were on the Russian battalion. The wounded Samson-Khan ordered a retreat. The cost to the battalion for this failed assault was terrible: 4 officers and 50 "bogatyrs" [so-called after the heroic warriors of Russian legend - M.C.] were killed and about 200 men were wounded i.e. almost half the personnel. (Note 11.) In the end, the nine-month siege of the fortress collapsed, and the battalion (about 400 men) returned to Teheran. Here stunning news awaited it.
In 1837, Nicholas I traveled to the Caucasus. The Persian emissary Naser-ed-Din-Mirza went out to greet the emperor, along with the commander of forces in Azerbaidjan, Mohammed-Khan. In talking with the latter, the tsar insisted on the discharge of the Russian battalion and the return of the deserters. It was impossible to refuse. On 25 January, 1838, Nicholas announced an amnesty for the deserters, except those who were accused of murder in Russia. Upon this decision, a new plenipotentiary minister was sent to Persia A.O. Dyugamel. Before him went the direct executor of the mission Captain L.L. Albrant. Graf Simonich (the former Russian ambassador) went towards Herat and personally informed Mohammed-Shah. The shah promised not to hinder the return of the deserters and to release them at the end of the siege. At the same time he sent word to Mohammed-Khan and Prince Kahraman-Mirza, the governor of Azerbaidjan, that he had decided to release the battalion reserve. On 13 August, 1838, Albrant began to receive deserters at Udzhan. Having overcome their distrust, by the end of October he had sent to Russia 142 deserters (9 under arrest) along with their wives and children 327 persons in all.
In the meantime five active companies arrived. Albrant rode to Teheran to try to persuade them to come to Russia. He overcame the sabotage attempts of the Persian authorities and by the beginning of December, 1838, had induced almost all the deserters to agree. The 1st (Russian) Company asked to be Albrants own company, which he accepted, transferring into it the wildest soldiers. The only refusal was the Polish company (3 officers, 80 men), which the English had promised to take to Baghdad to form a legion under their own flag (with the failure of the siege of Herat, the English forgot about the company). At this point Albrant seized their officers. The company rose in mutiny and marched out of Teheran, but alone and left without support it agreed to go to Russia. At the demand of the shah, Albrant left behind all the battalions musical instruments except for fifes and signal drums, but the Russian musicians went and took them with them.
On 6 December, 1838, the battalion celebrated the name day of Nicholas I. Overcome by the ceremony, Skryplev decided to go to Russia. This news stunned Samson-Khan: his daughter the pregnant wife of Skryplev miscarried out of fear, but followed her husband. On 22 December, the battalion marched out of Teheran and in exactly one month arrived in Tabriz. Here it stayed 15 days, collecting the wives of deserters, after which it went on further. On 11 February, the battalion crossed the Russian border singing and with drums beating, and it conducted a prayer service for its safe exit from Persia. On 5 March, 1839, the deserters arrived in Tiflis. In all, 1084 persons came out of Persia: 597 "bogatyrs", 206 wives, and 281 children. (Note 12.)
The fates of the returned deserters were varied. The married men were enrolled in the Caucasian Line Cossack Host and settled in cossack villages. Bachelors were assigned to Finnish line battalions and the Archangel Garrison Battalions (their years in Persian service were counted as being in the Russian army). Thirty old and decrepit men were released to their motherland. The Polish officers went home. All those who had converted to Islam received church dispensation of their "renunciation of the faith, caused by long sojourn in Persia and extreme circumstances". Skryplev was pardoned and accepted as a sotnik [Cossack lieutenant] in the Caucasian Host, where he settled on the Laba Line. In battles with the mountain tribesmen, he rose to the rank of yesaul [Cossack captain] and became ataman of the Chamlyksk settlement. The deserters on the line continued to consider him their chief, so that "a single word from him was absolute law for us Persian cossacks: it was only necessary to say This I ask as sargang", and every man would crawl through fire and water." (Note 13.) By the end of his life, Skryplevs eyesight began to fail due to his constant use of the henna with which he colored his eyebrows and eyelids. He died in the early 1860s, full of memories of his days of power in Persia.
The deserters remaining in Persia continued to serve the shah, but they no longer formed an independent fighting unit. These were mainly those men who had long ago accepted Islam or had committed serious crimes in Russia. Samson-Khan ended his military career with the taking of Meshed in 1849. He died a few months later, aged 73, and was buried in Surgule under the altar of the Orthodox church he had built. (Note 14.)
|The chief-officer and Private "Bagaderan" at the siege of Herat, 1838|
UNIFORM: Information about the Russian battalions uniform is almost non-existent. It is only possible to be sure that the appearance of the bogatyrs was similar to that of the sarbaz infantry, distinguished only by the tidiness of the uniforms and the correctness of the accouterments. At first, in the Erivan Regiment, deserters were apparently wearing green coats. In any case, the Russian traveller V.P. Borozdna wrote in 1817: "The Erivan serbazy have green single-breasted jackets with red collars, wide linen pants, and half-boots with little buttons, into which are tucked the lower part of the pants. Privates do not have beards, only moustaches, while officers are permitted to have beards. Their weaponry consists of English muskets whose bayonets, as well as the cartridge pouches, hang on cross straps. Officers have sabers." (Note 15.)
Nothing is exactly known in regard to changes in the uniform after the battalion was separated as an independent unit (such changes must surely have occurred). The Russian historian A.P. Berzhe (1828-1886), researching the Bagaderan, writes that Samson-Khan dressed his deserters in the Russian manner. No sources for this are given, and at the same time the diarist N.N. Muravev has a definite eyewitness account in 1817 that the deserters "were all dressed in Persian coats with long hair and fleece caps". Thus, the Bagaderan uniform was of the sarbaz pattern, but its distinctions can only be guessed at. In 1819 a group of deserters which accompanied A.S. Griboedov back to Russia was disarmed. Griboedov then "ordered that iron tips be put onto fifty lances, which were distributed to his group". With these improvised weapons the group safely crossed the border. The bogatyrs who accepted Islam and remained in Persia grew beards and side curls which were only cut off in 1838 at Albrants insistence, during which the younger men forcibly trimmed the hair of the more resistant older ones.
|"Entry into Tavriz of the battalion of Russian deserters returning to the fatherland." January 22, 1838 (painting by Calumbari)|
In May of 1828, the Russian consul in Tavriz "made a written memorandum for His Majesty regarding these deserters wearing Russian medals and the officers of one regiment wearing Russian epaulettes. In regard to these I later received the answer that the wearing of such distinctions was most strictly forbidden, and I noted that the epaulettes were indeed removed". (Note 16.) However, epaulettes later reappeared in the battalion. This is confirmed by the only reliable depiction of the bogatyrs a picture of "Entry into Tavriz of the battalion of Russian deserters returning to the fatherland". This picture was painted in 1839 by the Italian artist Calumbari, who was with Prince Kakhraman-Mirza. Struck by the fine appearance of the Bagaderan, Calumbari applied his paint to canvas and presented the effort to Albrant. The location of the painting, which was kept by the Albrant family, is unknown. But a lithograph of it allows us to judge the uniform of the battalion. The lower ranks are depicted in the guards uniform given to them in, apparently, 1834, when the battalions patron, Mohammed-Mirza, became shah of Persia red coats with dark-blue collars and cuffs. Officers in dark-blue nizam coats with epaulettes.
I.F. Blaramberg noted in 1838 that "The Russian battalion was the best in the entire army: this was true in uniforms as well as order and discipline." Albrants memoirs give a few more lines describing the external appearance of the "bogatyrs". Namely, the deserters with families came to Albrant in Udzhan "drunk, with long hair, uncut beards, in various clothing, so that they were not like soldiers, but like a gang of fierce bandits." Apparently, this battalion of "bogatyrs" did not wear uniforms. In Teheran, however, Albrant gave the following picture: "When riding past the gates of the shahs harem-khan, I saw one of our soldiers on guard duty: unshaven, he was sitting with his musket on his knees. Further on I met with two more of our soldiers: one was in a Persian headdress, the other in a uniform forage cap with a white cover, worn pulled down to one side. They walked along merrily and with self-assurance." Before the ceremony of 6 December, 1838, the "bogatyrs" fixed up worn clothing. "On 22 January," recalled Albrant, "we arrived from Teheran in Tavriz. The battalion entered the town with drums beating and the choir singing, as if after a victory The variety of clothing, the muskets with and without bayonets, and the brave and bold visages of our soldiers, whose tanned faces were made glowing by wind and sun, all made a fearsome appearance. This drew the attention of the Persians and those foreigners who were in Tavriz."
1) The service record of (Lieutenant General V.V. Grushenkos) Nizhnii-Novgorod Dragoon Regiment for 1 January, 1800, has the following about him: Samson Makantsov [sic], son of Yakovlev. 19 years of age, height 2 arshins, 4 1/2 vershoks (162 cm). White face, light blond hair, grey eyes. Can read and write Russian. Unmarried. Taken into Major O.A. Kulikovskiis squadron as a dragoon on 14 September, 1799, from the soldiers children with the regiment who had attained adulthood. (RGVIA, f. 489, op. 1, d. 2476, l. 1506-116.)
2) Russian documents stubbornly continued to call Makintsev a major, even when he had already become a general (sartib).
3) Druvil, G. Pueshestvie v Persiyu v 1812 i 1813 godakh. Part 2, Moscow, 1826. Page 121.
4) Documents collected by the Caucausus Archaeographic Commission. Vol. 7, Tiflis, 1878. Page 649.
5) Muravev, N.N. Zapiski. Russkii Arkhiv, 1866. No. 4. Pg. 485.
6) Griboedov, A.S. Sochineniya. Moscow, 1988. Pgs. 416, 457.
7) Popova, O.I. Griboedov-diplomat. Moscow, 1964. Pg. 25.
8) Berzhe, A.P. Samson Yakovlevich Makintsev i russkie begletsy v Persii, 1806-1853 gg. In Russkaya Starina, 1876. No. 4 (April). Pg. 775.
9) Shcherbatov, A.P. General-feldmarshal knyaz Paskevich. Yego zhizn i deyatelnost. Vol. 2. St. Petersburg, 1890. Appendices, pgs. 58, 64.
10) Blaramberg, P.F. Vospominaniya. Moscow, 1978 Pg. 154.
11) Blaramberg, P.F. "Osada goroda Gerata". In Sbornik geograficheskikh, topograficheskikh i statisticheskikh materialov po Azii. Issue XVI. St. Petersburg, 1885. Pgs. 18-40.
12) Albrant, L.L. "Komandirovka kapitana Albranta v Persiyu v 1838 godu, raskazannaya im samim". In Russkii Vestnik. 1867. Vol. 68, No. 3.
13) Shpakovskii, A. "Zapiski starogo kazaka". In Voennyi Sbornik, 1872, No. 8. Pg. 342.
14) According to the above-mentioned service record for the Nizhnii-Novgorod Regiment (Note 1), Makintsevs year of birth would be 1780. Probably, by the end of his life he himself did not know exactly how old he was.
15) Borozdna, V.P. Kratkoe opisanie puteshestviya rossiisko-imperatorskogo posolstva v Persiyu v 1817 godu. St. Petersburg, 1821. Pg. 41.
16) Berzhe, A.P. Op. cit. Pg. 779.
Translated by Mark Conrad, 1999.