By Paul Goble
No one who has followed the writings of the Russian extreme right either in the first years of the 20th century or in the last 25 will have been able to avoid suggestions by its denizens that Russia has been threatened throughout the last two centuries by an entirely mythical “Jewish-Masonic conspiracy.”
Now, following the appearance of a remarkable interview of Paris-based Chechen historian Mairbek Vatchagayev by Naima Neflyasheva of Moscow’s Center for Civilizational and Regional Studies, those Russians given to such conspiracy thinking are likely to start talking about “a Caucasian-Masonic conspiracy” or even “a Muslim-Masonic” one (kavkaz-uzel.ru/blogs/1927/posts/24171).
The involvement of Russian leaders in the masonic movement both in Russia at the end of imperial times and especially during the early years of the first emigration is well known and is recounted by the late Nina Berberova in her 1986 book People and Lodges: Russian Masons of the 20th Century (in Russian; New York: Russica).
But the involvement of people from the Caucasus in masonry is much less well known – Berberova mentions it only in passing – and consequently Vatchagayev’s findings following a visit to the Masonry Museum in Paris are intriguing not only for what they say about the past but also about how Russian nationalists are likely to integrate them in their ideology.
The Chechen scholar says that there were many Caucasian emigres who joined masonic lodges in the emigration during the 1920s. Indeed, he suggests, they may have numbered in “the hundreds.” Their numbers varied over time and grew particularly with the influx of new people from the second emigration after World War II.
“Caucasians were members of lodges alongside Russian masons, but they also established their own lodges,” he says. “For example, a lodge for people from the North Caucasus was established by the Georgians A.K. Vachnadze, Sh.A. Karumidze, F.S. Markov, V.V. Kochubey, and L.D. Kandaurov, among others.”
The first such lodge consisting of people from the Caucasus was called “the Golden Fleece” and was organized in order to provide assistance to impoverished emigres. It existed for a few years and then was succeeded by the Prometheus lodge, although that folded shortly thereafter with some of its members then joining the Russian-led Astral lodge.
Thus, the North Caucasus lodges existed only for a relatively brief time, mostly from 1924 to 1930. Among those in them who achieved the highest status in masonry was Amina khanum Shikhaliyeva, the daughter of a Russian major general and wife of Ufa’s deputy in the third Duma, and Makhmud Sheikh-Ali, a wealthy figure from Daghestan.
Vatchagayev calls for more research and suggests that it is entirely possible now to conduct it, at least in Paris. But even what he told Neflyasheva is likely to be enough for Russian national extremists to begin talking about traces of such an imagined conspiracy against their country.