A scandalous "burial": body of legendary commander assumed stolen from Azerbaijan, reburied in Dagestan
A funeral ceremony that took place on June 2 in Dagestan [an autonomous republic within the Russian Federation] has caused a stir: there is suspicion that the remains of the legendary commander Haji Murat were taken from Azerbaijan and were reburied there, reports Molodyozh Dagestana.
Hadji Murad was from Dagestan, but his body was buried in Azerbaijan, and his skull was kept in St. Petersburg. The question of where and how to reconstitute the commander has been going on for about 10 years.
Hadji Murad Avarsky (circa 1818–1852) was a North Caucasian military leader and national hero, a participant in the struggle of the Caucasian highlanders against the Russian Empire. He is also a character in a story by the same name of Leo Tolstoy.
Hadji Murad was killed in the north of Azerbaijan, in the Qakh region. His body was buried there, and his head was brought to Russia as a war trophy. Now the skull is kept in the St. Petersburg Museum of Anthropology and Ethnography.
Where to be buried?
For about ten years, the Leo Tolstoy’s and Dagestan Heritage Public Committee and the descendants of Hadji Murad have sought to “reunite” his remains. In early 2018, Russia agreed to donate his skull for re-burial. The administration of the President of Russia says that this will depend on the “domestic political situation.”
But the question remained open as to where exactly to rebuild the remains.
The Heritage Committee of Leo Tolstoy and Dagestan demanded to transport the body from Azerbaijan to Dagestan and have it buried there with the skull.
The descendants suggested not to touch the body, but simply to bring the skull to Azerbaijan and put it in an existing grave.
The Azerbaijani side did not intervene in these disputes, but promised, if anything, to help with the reburial.
A dug out grave
On May 30, Dagestani social media reported that the body of Hadji Murad would be reburied in Dagestan in his native village of Khunzakh. The ceremony was scheduled for June 2. Journalists cited Magomed Amirkhanov, “the chairman of the organizing committee for burial”. The administration of the Khunzakh district officially denied this information.
But on June 1, residents of the Qakh region of Azerbaijan discovered that the grave of Hadji Murad had been disturbed. And on June 2, a funeral ceremony was held in the village of Khnzakh. Witness of the funeral, Amir Amirov, told Molodyozh Dagestana that the ceremony was informal in nature and was preceded by a long discussion about how expedient this reburial was.
“Nobody presented evidence that these remains belong to Hadji Murad. Everything has been done honestly”, said Amirov.
The administration of the Khunzakh district once again said that they did not know about the event.
“A certain reburial ceremony at the village cemetery of the village of Khunzakh did take place, but there is no confirmation that the buried remains belong to Naib Hadji Murad. None of the district officials were present there. It is also not known who these people were, who carried out the reburial.”
According to unconfirmed reports, the remains were stolen from Azerbaijan by young people from Dagestan. But so far there is no evidence that the remains were gone from Azerbaijan, and that they were buried in Dagestan.
Reaction in Azerbaijan
The authorities of Azerbaijan have never resisted giving the remains of Hadji Murad to Dagestan.
“The President of Azerbaijan promised to assist,” said Jamaludin Omarov, a member of the Russian parliament, who is actively involved in the issue of reburial, said in January.
But in this case, Azerbaijan did not give any permission, because no one was asked. There has been no official reaction of the Azerbaijani authorities. And the press and residents of Qakh district were shocked by the fact that the remains had been stolen.
Qakh district is home to many national minorities of the North Caucasus.
In particular – Lezgins and Avars. Hadji Murad was also an Avar.