General Aleksandr Vissarionovich Komarov

(From K.M. Fedorov, Zakaspiiskaya oblast’ (1901). Prilozhenie “Deyateli Zakaspiiskoi oblasti” pages 3-4.)

Aleksandr Vissarionovich Komarov, general-of-infantry, was born in 1830. After finishing the General Staff Academy in 1855, Komarov served in the Caucasus until 1883, holding positions that included military chief of southern Daghestan and chief of the directorate for military relations with the Caucasian populace. In 1883 Komarov was named commander of the Trans-Caspian Region. His greatest achievement was effectively incorporating into the Russian empire the oases of Merv, Tedzhen, Serakh, and Iolotan without bloodshed or the extraordinary expenditure of government funds. These acquisitions were definitely sealed on 18 March 1885 as a result of Russia’s battle with the Afghans on the Kushka River. It is not amiss to remember that we are obliged to the English for this battle, as they greatly feared our influence on the Afghans following our successes in the Trans-Capsian. Their methods can be seen in the proclamation that the Afghan emir, Abdur-Rahman Khan issued upon his return from Rawalpindi, where he met with the viceroy of India:

Afghans, chiefs and warriors—the peace of Afghanistan is in danger. I will take pains to see that it is not disturbed. We are all ready to bare the sword to defend the honor and independence of Afghanistan and will sheath it only after it is stained with the blood of our enemies. We seek only a just war, and war is only just when all means to preserve peace have been exhausted. If war is pressed upon us, then all Afghanistan will rise as one to repulse the foe. Placed between Russia and England, I will keep the peace between the two governments by means of our own independence. I will never allow by any means the passage of a Russian army through our country to invade India. I will never yield to either England or Russia one inch of Afghan soil. We will welcome English friendship if it helps us protect our freedom. I hope that the peace will not be broken. Reliant on the mercy of Allah, I will participate in the matter of maintaining peace. Here—and this is what I wanted to bring to your attention—are our comrades in arms.

When he arrived in Kabul, Emir Abdur-Rahman summoned the tribal leaders to a conference to discuss further courses of action. Meanwhile, on 15 March, Komarov occupied Ak-Tepe, near where the Kushka flows into the Murgab.

From reports it is clear that our force came up to the crossing over the old Tash-Kepri aquaduct and encountered a trench occupied by the Afghans. The troops deployed in front of the Afghan position about three miles from the western side of the crossing over the Yungeila. From the Afghan side there then began a number of hostile actions. They crossed the left bank of the Kushka River and the right bank of the Murgab, which is to say they came out of Pende, and began to construct new fortifications and occupy points overlooking our encampment. The Pall Mall Gazette directly explained the reason for these threatening actions as resulting from an Afghan desire to make a sudden night attack on our force, when because of the darkness our artillery and rapid-fire rifles would lose much of their effectiveness.

However, this cowardly plan, apparently proposed by English adventurers, had the unintended drawback of indicating the weak tactical understanding of the honorable Captain Yate and company. We know that the Kushka River, below Kala-i-Mor up to the confluence with the Murgab near Tash-Kepri, i.e. for a distance of 30 miles, has a level and muddy bottom, so that although its average depth for most of the year is no more than a couple of feet, fording it can only be done at a few specific points. And in March the water is higher, the fords more dangerous, and the current very swift. The road goes along the bank through sandy hillocks that line the very narrow valley of the lower Kushka, covered with growths of reeds. The Murgab is also difficult to cross during the spring. In this manner, after having crossed the Kushka and Murgab, the Afghans had a very risky line of communications to their rear. It was enough to merely occupy the Tash-Kepri aquaduct to place them in a very bad position.

In response to Komarov’s demand that they remove themselves from the left bank of the Kushka and the right bank of the Murgab, the Afghan sirdar answered with a refusal, referring to advice from English officers. Subsequently, for all the reasons related above, General Komarov on 18 March attacked the Afghans, defeated them, and scattered the remnants. The Afghans lost more than 500 men killed or wounded, all their artillery, two standards, and their entire camp. On our side the Turkmen officer Seid-Nazar-Yuz-Bashi and 10 lower ranks were killed. Wounded were: Colonel Nikshich, Sotnik Kobtsev, Lieutenant Khabalov, Sublieutenant Kosylin, and 29 lower ranks. After the engagement our column retired to Tash-Kepri, and a temporary autonomy was introduced in Pende. The area of the acquired territory was 50,000 square miles.

In 1890 Komarov was promoted to general-of-infantry and released into the reserves. Residing in the Trans-Caspian territory, General Komarov collected materials relating to archaeology, ethnography, and other scientific branches of knowledge. He transferred a large paleontological collection from Daghestan to the Caucasus museum. About 3000 of the most rare eastern coins were given by him to the Imperial Hermitage. Komarov’s known works are: “The Population of the Daghestan Region,” (Zapiski Kavkazsk. Otd. Imperatorskago Russkago Geograficheskago Obshchestva), Book VIII, with ethnographic map); “Adaty (customary law) of the Daghestan Mountaineers and Their Legal Procedures”; “History of the Kyura and Kazikumyk Khans” (in Sbornik svedenii o kavkazsk. gortsakh), and others. Part of the archaeological collection created by Komarov in the Caucasus (relating to the beginning of the Iron Age) was described in Ernest Chantre’s famous work Recherches anthropologiques dans le Caucase (Paris and Lyons, 1885 and later, with marvelous plates. In 1881 Komarov was elected chairman of the Fifth Archaeological Conference in Tiflis.

Translated by Mark Conrad, 2007.