Nahili Samurai

Gönübek – Gokdepe battle

Musician that died during the Gokdepe battle
Account of events about


by one Turkmen
who participated in battle

Prepared for print:

Seýitmyrat Öwezbaýev

Türkmenovedenie magazine
1927, 1st edition

Translated to Turkmen:

Nargylyç Hojageldiev
Aşgabat 1991
“Altyn guşak”

Transliteration from Cyrillic to Latin:

Akmurat Gürgenli

2006 year.

From the edition

While publishing this narrative, we believe it’s our duty to tell one thing beforehand: in order not to lose the influence of feelings he experienced during events, the recitals by the Turkmen who didn’t forget bloodshed of years 1880—1881, are left intact; despite the fact that on the third hand it doesn’t adhere to timeline, the depicted events don’t fully correspond to chronology, and much focus is given to Teke attacks.
S.Öwezbaýev was concerned with documenting of a big collection ofTurkmen legends popular among people, memoirs, tales and samples, this narrative is a tiny part of that collection. This story describes last days of Turkmen life crushed by severe force of tsar’s imperialism. Here, the shadow of British lion, which lost calm because of its rule is also apparent.

Türkmenovedenie magazine

Aman aga, Amangeldi Göni, Gönübek was the only and the best example of “Türkmenchilik” epoch. He was from Teke’s Sychmaz tribe’s Arabic line. He was Nurberdi han’s first advisor and his right hand. His opinion, his word were perceived as the opinion and word of the nation, all of society of that time. Without his participation, not even one big council could take place. He was an unmatched musician, father of Turkmen music, there’s probably no one who can play like him even now. He was a fervent smoker. He would pick a few respected old men and ride from Ahal’s one side to another, they would stop in almost every village, they would comprehend disagreements between villages, reconcile feud enemies, get to know opinion of the people on social and political events. In private life Gönübek was a modest, spartan man. Everyone respected and honoured him for his sympathy, modesty, and perceiving everyone equally. His house was always crowded. His family and friends from imminent and distant villages would live in house for many days. An old tradition had survived in his house. The person to fell asleep or got hungry earlier than others was considered done something shameful. Of course, people slept and ate in his house. But here’s a different point. Everyone had to sleep at the same time, everyone had to eat at the same time. People from various places discussed national issues and share everyday cares.
When forage, flour, sheep for slaughter were required for visitors and guests, Gönübek would send the first man to meet his eye to any random prosperous people, all needed things were made ready straightway, as if from his own storehouse or flock. To turn down his request or to ask for payment wouldn’t even cross minds, all these things were simply sent for Gönübek. Many of his friends and relatives, respectful people would bring required things by themsleves as well.
Everyone respected this person, honoured him, recognized his word, he would rejoice when nation rejoiced, and grieve together with the nation, spiritual support of people, this man lived like that, and continued like that.
Let me tell about several of his trends that describe how he was a man of his word. We, with a few hundred people including Kerimberdi işan, Nurberdi han and a few other respected people of that time gathered in Gäwers village. There was a hearsay that Persians were going to attack that place. In Näzdepe—(village 25 km from Bami, in 1869 all the village population was driven away as captives to Iran by Büjnurt ruler Haýdarguly han[Şatlu])—
We gathered to prevent a repetition of such incident. All of the assembled people divided into groups, and lived in villagers’ houses. A special field was cleared up, and Kerimberdi işan, Nurberdi han with many other people who read namaz would gather there and read namaz. Kerimberdi işan traveled to Mecca and back in 6 months, people respected him for being haji very much. Once when Nurberdi han went to Mary, Gurbanmyrat ishan attempted to be Ahal’s han, he was even named “sultan Sanjar’s successor” (It would be right to write Sanjar the 2nd – AG), this matter ended with bloodshed between Tilki and Ganjyk villages, Gurbanmyrat işan lost respect of people after this.

In our struggles with neighbouring countries for generations the most difficult, the most bloody, the most audacious was the conflict with Russians. On the approaches of Gökdepe fortress walls, inside, on the desert escape road, during the fortress battle, during demolition, during three days after the capture, more than 15 thousand people died. All our property was scattered. Captured women with children, and only childrens themselves appeared in different countries, passed from hand to hand of victors, and neighbouring enemies that took advantage of our grief. The forces were unequal. The fate of losing people was obvious to everyone, to every person. The 12th of January, the cold, winter day was the last day of our free life and the day Turkmenchilik was put into the grave. From that fatal day our new life started growing on the battlefield of our whole old life.
The understanding of what woes despotic life will bring, the understanding of violence, constraint, moral and material losses the defeat will bring, gave force to fortress defenders, inspired them for big heroism, sacrifice, and “self-sacrifice”. Of course, “self-sacrifice” of those days wasn’t equal to “self-sacrifice” of our days. It’s necessary to state that the inequality of forces, the inevitability of our misfortune was clear much earlier than that day. Nevertheless we continued to fearlessly defend the fortress.
The English representative, the man who spoke in their name[O’Donovan “Turkmenvedenyýe” magazine comment-AG] promised help with weapons. However to the very end that help never came. Hard days were nearing… The dead were gone, they finished their matters, therefore they were peaceful, happy, if only we could die sooner… not to see this dread… disgrace… humiliation” thought was sinking into the minds. The animal-like fear was long forgotten, guys fearlessly went into attacks, without any precautions, stepping over dead bodies of their kinsmen. “Better die than live” thought had captured young and old minds alike.
Some moments, some situations revive in my mind as if it happened today. I remember, it was a cloudless, sunny day. My wound was getting better, but wasn’t fully cured. Rifle bullets were falling inside the fortress, occasionally a grenade exploded. Children were running, collecting bullets, and their fathers, in their unoccupied time, were melting those bullets, and making shots for their rifles. This matter ended with death of some children, even so the bullets needed to be collected, able children continued to do this job. Russians approached the walls of fortress. From the behaviour of people, their conversations, the danger of enemy approaching like this was evident. I got out of my cover. People were going towards the fortress wall, some were running with swords, knives, shears bound to the tip of stick. All people who had rifles, pistols-revolvers were already there and firing bullets onto enemies. I gave best wishes to people passing near me, and observed their sullen faces.
Around eighty steps from me one elderly woman was walking towards me. She was walking with a basin of just baked bread on her side. She didn’t even care to observe the incidents around her or the noise they created. I forgot about everything with giving best wishes to people passing by me. When I looked at the old woman with bread again, she was lying dead. She was covering half of the hot blood-drop bread heap with her body. People running by her side stopped at her body. They squatted down, took a little piece of blood coloured bread and sent it into their mouth:
– God, please give us an easy death like this as well!– they would say, and keep going.

There weren’t many who returned with heads held high, most were wounded, and injured. A part of those who attacked found eternal peace, they were relieved from the torterous waiting of what will happen, what disgrace this will lead to. Now here, now there women bringing water to warriors or searching bodies of their relatives among delivered corpses could be seen.
During those days Gara batyr– I don’t know from which tribe, from which branch he was,– I didn’t see him perish from an enemy bullet myself, but I heard from people who saw it with their own eyes.
From afar trenches of Russians become a line. Somewhat on their right side there’s a group of Cossacks on horses. Occasionally an exchange of fire is heard. Fortress defenders who responded to enemy fire very rarely discussed among themselves how Russians will proceed. One guy was remembered who mingled with enemy at night absolutely naked, silently approached the guard, cut him with the sword and took his berdanka as trophy, and returned safe and sound. Also, another three men were discussed who went around the enemy trenches at night, approached them from behind, and killed two sleeping officers and three soldiers. They took two revolvers, three rifles and boots of three killed people as trophy, and returned back safe and sound. It was learned two of killed were officers because of revolvers and the tent at their place. This kind of luck was considered brought by fortune, and in the first place it was considered the result of courage of the valiant guys. Then the grenade which exploded right on a cover beside Diñlidepe and killed four people.
– If the death comes looking, it will find one anywhere. If the fate is not due anywhere you are, in any situation you will remain unhurt– said one of the old warriors.
– God will take His property (“life” – when He requires, this only depends on His will– said he at the end of his words.
–If I bring His property to Him myself, won’t He take it? – asked Gara batyr.
– You won’t be able to do so– replied the warrior.
– This isn’t in a man’s hands.
– On this very day, right now I will bring His property to Him. I will return it if He wants, and even if He doesn’t want.
Gara batyr having said these words went towards the fortress, and came back soon mounted on his horse. He held his spear with a lean. He rode through the south gate of the fortress, swept near the base of its wall, approached his sitting and reclined friends. He told them:
– Watch me go and return God’s property to Him now. I will return it if He wants, and even if He doesn’t want, he said.
He had a magnificent bay horse under him. He leaned towards the saddle and thrust towards horsed Cossacs like a bullet. People left behind observed him with curiosity. There was an increase in shots from the Russian trenches. Cossacks were still in a group as before. Gara batyr attacked them face to face, and immediately dismounted two of them. It wasn’t possible to clearly observe all actions of Gara batyr from afar, but panic he created was very big. A few Cossacks fell off their horses; a few leant their horses down and escaped.
Gara batyr returned back to the fortress. They sent a volley of bullets after him. He let the horse gallop forward, and approached the fortress to the distance of a conversation. At that place he fell off the horse. The enemy bullet broke his fatal thread the moment it hit him.
Spirits of friends adoring his courage were lowered; they set to collecting Gara batyr’s dead body.
– He kept his word; he became a shahid– said one of the people carrying him.
– He met his fate– said the old warrior who was helping to carry Gara batyr’s dead body and guided his horse.
The grief didn’t prolong, that very moment the sorrow was swept off peoples’ faces. Because Gara batyr was relieved from torture of so many hard days and nights! Similar to this, brave actions like this – self-sacrifice happened a lot.
A musician, blind for both eyes, well-known as the Blind of Kepele run towards the way from which roar was coming the day fortress fell. But that unfortunate poor man quickly realized trying to escape was useless. He staggered along, falling every two steps, stumbling over the dead bodies, wounded people, pits and bumps.
–I will sing the last song about the nation and the land–and having said so he sat down, took his dutar out of the casing, and started singing at the top of his voice. But the bullet of fate tore off the song in between. Among the ear-blocking noise of cannonade and shots, enemy that surrounded everything, terrible din, wailing of women and children, trample and crash, the song of the Blind Musician was proclaiming the end of free, reckless Turkmenchilik in a way that made hair stand on end.

The hopelessness of situation at that time, and how it was evident to everyone was also told by a person called Guba poet.

On the second coming of Russians, the construction of fortress wasn’t finished yet. All families were living in yurts, tents, and covers inside the fortress. The assaults of Russians were rebounding from the outer wall of the fortress. At nights the enemy was attacked in turns, and likewise powerful guard was put outside the fortress at night. Inside the fortress, elders would gather at one house or another, and together discuss necessary measures to be taken. Among other measures, it was decided to move the single cannonball we took trophy from Persians near Garrygala, from Änew to Gökdepe. Änew was always considered our weak spot. We recently drove Persians away from there. Population banished from there has asked their khans many times to organize a punitive expedition and seize Änew again. We saved our single cannonball there to alert the nearby villages in a case of emergency. As soon as the shot is heard, everyone had to grasp their ammunition and hurry to help Änew despite everything, and send harbingers to other nearby villages. After we captured Änew, we gave such an announcement once on the second year, and around eight thousand horsemen gathered there. It was decided to bring that very cannonball to Gökdepe. Also, it was decided to prohibit inflation of gunpowder prices and keeping extra weapons. Broken bailers (kunduk: specific Asian bailer – and cauldrons were to be submitted to Abdulla ussa so that he could mould a cannonball for the cannon. In addition it was decided to take a nationwide oath on faithfulness to the motherland, and on fearlessly protecting it against the “infidel” Russians. News was coming from Buhara and Hiwa that approved our stand.

On the big counsel before the hostility Hanmämmet atalyk (sychmaz) and Orazmämmet han (beg) spoke against the fighting, they based their position on inequality of forces, the absence of weapons on the Turkmen side, imminent grave outcomes that Turkmens will face because of such correlation of forces and logistics. They offered to let them carry on negotiations, and advised people to move their families to the sands and wait for the outcome of talks there. They said if negotiations are unsuccessful, then the fight should be carried out in small groups. According to them building the fortress was unnecessary. They said construction of the fortress and gathering of population in one place makes the job easier for the enemy. They asked to give them forty volunteers.

Most of the counsel objected their view. They said that Russians are everlasting enemies of Islam, it’s impossible to live together with them, that we bought the country with a very expensive price of endless bloodshed, there are many hidden and open enemies around us, and there’s no other place to go. We live in our own country, we don’t bother Russians, we have nothing to share with them, what do they need from us? In addition there are other countries beside Russia in the world such as England, Turkey, France and China, they won’t let Russia to do whatever it wants. We should build the fortress and seek help from our relatives and neighbors. We shall all die inside the fortress defending our country and defending our families, but shouldn’t let the tyranny take us. Our land deserves protection and sacrifice. Cowards, doubting diffidents, reconcilers, are all people who betray the defense. After all, we Turkmens are not coward mercenaries of Buhara and Hiwa.

A few years before that Arabs and Turks that came from Mecca together with Kerimberdi ishan said that to defend ourselves and the common purpose of Islam we need to fearlessly battle with the Russians. Russians ventured to capture these lands several times before. But after their detachments were scattered, they went back. If we fearlessly firmly keep our stand, Russians will leave this time again. If we start negotiations with them, show weakness, hesitate, then Russians will stay forever, bring their own and deprive us of everything. What will we do then? English promise us help with weapons. If we don’t gather the whole family in one place, Turkmens won’t fight. Eventually let the families die together with us, anyway they will become prey after we’re gone. We don’t have to discover what citizenship means today. Even from our brothers in faith and their governors (Horezm) we haven’t seen anything but oppression, tributes and humiliation. Do you think Russians are better than them? It’s said that they slaughtered half of the Caucasus under the command of an imam. Muslims were forced to run to Rumelia (Turkey). It’s said that the English king doesn’t like Russians.

Advocates of battle, the majority of people were saying things similar to these.

– I don’t like Russians– said Atalyk. – I saw who they are in Hiwa. Remember I participated in battle between Hiweans and Russians. I have nothing against motherland or religious freedom. I pity own destiny, my family’s destiny. I will say nothing more. I will die together with you if necessary.

The glowering and hubbub of the crowd didn’t let Atalyk talk much. Orazmmät han spoke after him.

– Countries and nations are protected not with an oath, but with cannonballs and weapons – he started talking. – An oath, a vow, and then breaking the oath, won’t protect the country, but ravage it. I think there’s no need to expose ourselves, our country, our children and wives to such horrific torture. Russians are neither Persians whom we destroyed regardless of their number, nor Tats. If you want to withstand against Russians today by this earthen fortress you built, this will be the last pattern you leave in this world. It’s better for the weak rabbit to keep quiet. It’s better to stroke a swine’s back the right, not the wrong way. If we listen to this insane crowd, to these mad people, all our possessions and we ourselves will perish. I ask permission to carry out negotiations. I’m not accepting this oath and urge everyone to abstain from it.

Angry voices erupted among the crowd:

– How much did you receive from Russians?
– Who are your companions?
– When did you betray the religion?
– Traitor!
– Betrayer!
– Killing Russians should start from Atalyk and Orazmämmet!

It was evident from their voices that people have reached the verge, and it’s not far for them to cross the border and catch Atalyk and Orazmämmet by the throat.

Elders that spoke after them set to calming the crowd down, they assured Atalyk and Orazmämmet han’s advice was whole-hearted, and they were ready to protect the motherland. They said it’s good to be careful and prudent. They called everyone to peace and wisdom, they noted that every person, and especially such honorable people as Orazmämmet han and Atalyk, should be given opportunity to speak their mind. They said if it’s not the case, this can’t be called counsel.

So, opposing views were voiced out about the deep meaning of this issue, and elders couldn’t come up with a decision, it was decided to leave the issue to the will of people, and the majority opinion will be compulsory for the minority opinion. The counsel of many thousands of people almost unanimously decided to fight. Right on the spot it was decided to seize some elders who were stirring up their villages and tribes, as well as their villages, and to raid Dykma serdar’s village Börme, who had interrelations with Russians, and to move all families from there to Gokdepe. It was planned to demolish Çulba baý’s house, and to destroy the village of Köşi. Many people who looked suspicious were named.

But there was no need to demolish houses or to destroy villages. After a special detachment of one thousand horsemen raided Börme village, all of hesitating people joined the majority, and started gathering in Gökdepe fortress.

After these events the issue of taking an all-national oath was resolved by itself. People demanded for Orazmämmet han and Hanmämmet to take the oath first. The oath was taken in the following circumstances. A huge hand-copied Quran was placed in front of Kerimberbi ishan who was standing among several ishans, mollas and elders. People taking oath could just pass between ishan and Quran or touch Quran with both hands and pass hands over their face! – Majority of the crowd started to yell:

– Orazmämmet! Atalyk! – They both had to obey demand of the people and take the oath.

– You really are a stupid nation! – said Orazmämmet han. – I’m taking this oath not because I’m stupid, but because you are stupid, and I will die here. If you don’t want any good for yourself, manage to die well too!

With these words, he passed by the Quran.

– I will prove you Atalygyk is not a coward – said poor Atalyk. – It’s not us who betrayed the faith, those who push the stupid nation to the wrong way have betrayed faith.. Here, I’m passing too!
Thousands and thousands of people passed by Quran, with great discipline and heads held high. Horrible events of the aftermath were not further than disastrous range lying ahead of us.

Much later after described events, news has spread that Dykma serdar with his companions have crossed from Russian side to our side. Dykma serdar has explained his move towards Russians by the wish to find out their plans and strength. He said he believes this mission to be complete, and therefore his and Börmeli family capture is the result of misunderstanding. He assured he will firmly stand where the whole nation stands together with the people listening to him. His words were found solid and he wasn’t kept separate anymore. According to Dykma serdar’s words, two yomuts, Musa han and Molladüñder, are leading Russian detachments, Dykma serdar has arranged things with Musa han, he would keep reporting on Russian detachments’ plans. He said “If someone meets Musa han, then he should shoot, but shouldn’t hit. But Molladüñder is a man who wears “infidel fur”, he serves Russians whole-heartedly. Everything must be done to get rid of him”. With his later actions the Serdar has firmly kept his word.

Russians were approaching. Our small horsed detachments weren’t bad at carrying out small tasks, but they couldn’t harm enemy much as well. First rows of Russian forces could now be seen from the fortress. The decisive battle was near. We had no fear, since we haven’t had a decisive battle with enemy before, therefore we couldn’t imagine the whole truth.

We have seen Russians two times before that. First, we participated in the battle under Ketdegorga as one thousand horsemen, when emir of Buhara called for aid. We returned back when emir Muzaffar started peace negotiations with the Russians. The second time we attacked Russian detachments when they tried to descend to land near the long island. Then Russians escaped us by going back to their ships. Majority of people haven’t seen Russians yet and knew nothing about them. Many people boasted by saying: “Will our swords cut Russians? How many heads they have? How many lives does one Russian have?” People who warred before, those who knew Russians well observed behavior of their companions silently. Only some of them answered with short sentences “you will see that soon by yourselves. Soon you will see.”

Berdimyrat han’s oldest son Nurberdi han walked around the whole fortress and the warriors in the front rows, wearing a silk robe and holding a drawn sword.

– Allah’s festive day has come – he said. We should glorify this day, and celebrate as we have celebrated many times before. Allah is on our side. A great glory is awaiting us if we win, if we lose – paradise. Let’s attack the enemy like lions, smiling with joy, with our flaming swords drawn. Be brave. There’s no falling back, and there’s no mercy. There’s no better day to die than these days, there’s no day better than that decisive day!

Decisive days were nearing… I remember the dawn of a clear day. In one of the days Gönübek has gathered a lot of elders. He was telling about dream he saw last night. In the dream Gönübek was riding his white donkey to the south-east. Ahead of him a black carriage showed, the donkey hit the carriage directly, and resumed going like nothing happened, but Gönübek fell…

–Who can interpret my dream? – Amangeldi Gönübek adressed the people. All kept quiet. Then Gönübek addressed on of his close friends and asked to interpret his dream.

– If you wish so,– replied his friend– I will interpret.

– I’m sincerely asking you – brightened Gönübek.

– This time Russians cannot win us– he started interpreting. – But, Gönübek, you die.

– Ylahy omyn (I surrender to Allah’s will)! –Gönübek repeated three times as he was stroking his beard. – Explain the interpretation in parts– he requested from the friend.

– That small donkey is us– replied his friend. – You are a respected man of this nation, its singer, spiritual support of our way of life, that’s why you are riding that donkey. Teläri that hit the donkey are the Russians, who are coming upon us and stand in our way. Donkey hitting the teläri is the decisive battle ahead of us. As deducted from donkey’s walking as if nothing happened, we overcome obstacle ahead of us. Your falling is obvious, we get to continue our way without you– his friend concluded the interpretation.

– Ylahy omyn! – Gönübek again repeated three times, and stroked his beard.

People were displeased with such interpretation of the dream, how could one say such things during these days?! But Gönübek was pleased with such interpretation.

– There’s no better or more correct interpretation than this, there can’t be, and I don’t want any other interpretation– said he.

Three or four days passed after this. Everything predicted Russians will flood the fortress within two days. It was decided to forestall them. We agreed to attack at dawn, and to leave a limited quantity of people in fortress to withstand in case Russians attack the fortress from unguarded side. Preparations continued from early evening for the whole night. Some whetted their swords, some whetted shears attached to tips of their sticks, some whetted their knives, some mould bullets in a hurry, some prepared gunpowder. Closer to dawn the outer side of the fortress wall was cluttered with warriors. Everyone had to attack the enemy, saying “Alla!” following an arranged sign. Everyone waited with excitement. Although the light dawn breeze started rising, it was still dark. A sharp whistle echoed at last. Sounds of “Al-la-a-a! Al-la!” continuously erupted from thousands of chests. Echoing the intense silence of the night, countless hubbubs radiated to far away. Barefooted, with sleeves of shirts and legs of trousers rolled up, the mass of common people started running towards the Russians, dissolved into unknown dark, into mystical dark. Incessant straight sounds of “Al-la-a-a!” yelled in groups, started to mix with sounds of the shots. Long enemy trenches at that very moment lighted up because of the fire from rifles and mitraliez points. They shot hastily, in order. Cannons were silent. Warriors fell as they ran. Some fell noiseless, some uttered “oh!”, some “ah!”, some long-drawn-out cries, there were those who fell with terrible shrieks. Surroundings were full of fallen warriors. It was impossible to distinguish who fell, how fell, if they fell wounded or dead.

Unharmed people ran forward. People coming from behind stumbled over dead bodies, wounded people, then they got up and continued running forward.

There were many who fell on they way. Almost no bullet missed target, because it was attacked too crowdedly, people were scattered too broadly, and seemed endless. Since there were too many people who fell hit by a bullet while running, their lines thinned out. In some places the shooting stopped, peoples’ shouts, clank of arms, curses, nagra were heard, this meant ours have reached the enemy and started fighting them. Soon, the skirmish along the trenches ended, everywhere Turkmen voices were heard, and sometimes incomprehensible Russian shouting mingled with their voices. Many warriors in trenches were cut; many others were wounded and ran. Visible runners were pursued. Most of people delayed in trenches, they searched for weapons and bullets, and took footwear from dead. The environment was full of dead and wounded, dead people, wounded Russians, Turkmens, moans; – all of this was creating a terrible view knotted to the finishing night. Silhouettes of some people ran back and forth, some ran towards the fortress. Somewhere in the Russian camp disturbed shouts and unintelligible voices were heard. After some time passed, gunfire from the Russian side started again, but it couldn’t harm much now.

The day was breaking. Everything became distinct and clear. Russians retreated quite to some distance, leaving only a few lines of warriors. Most of ours returned to the fortress. Some brought trophy weapons, some dead bodies, some wounded people, some returned without any reason. Trenches were full of dead Russian soldiers. Some had their skulls cracked, some had their stomachs disemboweled some had their arms cut. Lying in various positions, most of them had their clothes stripped off. Turkmen bodies were also spread in different positions: some lay facing the ground, some lay stretched out like a thread, some lay sideways. Wherever you looked, every place was covered with blood traces.

Some bodies of our warriors were carried to the fortress at night, some, in fact most of them were still lying uncollected. Some of lying people still showed signs of life. Collecting of corpses and wounded continued. Soon the whole battlefield was cleared. Warriors started to come to trenches in pairs carrying cannonballs. Some had Berdan rifles in hands; brave warriors gave trophy weapons to their friends, brothers or other close people. Most of them had rifles. Our horsemen started emerging from different points of the cursed fortress, and started to move towards enemy roots. From far away grouping Cossacks could be seen. Cannons started firing. Some of cannonballs fell inside or near the fortress, some hit the trenches.

Surroundings were full of activity. Our horsemen started to pursue the Cossacks but met the infantry fire and retreated. A group of horsemen returned at noon. They told how they pursued a group of Cossacks and that their leader was a Turkmen. They said that Turkmen dropped something while retreating, and gave a piece of paper. It’s necessary to mention that Russians kept dropping various paper pieces, and advised to surrender without battle in those letters. Those letters concluded with threats.

A literate person was found and brought. The letter turned out to be from Musa han. In that letter he suggested that Russians made up their mind to start a decisive attack today and therefore to be prepared for the battle. The meaning of the letter was passed to all people and to warriors on the outside of fortress.

Shahids are supposed to be buried without washing the body in their clothes, therefore this task was eased, so, before long there remained no unburied bodies. Many wounded were lying, moaning in hideouts and houses. Their wives and relatives were taking good care of them. Bu there was no use from doctors and medicines; everything depended on whether the body could withstand the acquired wound, on the level of wound’s severity, whether it was a bullet wound or a spear wound. If his time is due he will die, otherwise he will live, said people to calm down, and keep the hope. If the time isn’t due, the medicine is just an excuse. And if fate has come, they said, medicine cannot help.

Cannon and rifle firing intensified, the confusion seen from afar, the emergence of first lines of warriors, supported the correctness of warning from Musa han. Returned horsemen confirmed that Russians were preparing for battle. It was decided to bring all warriors outside and to place them in good positions, and to select best warriors.

The moment of truth has come. People that brought warriors water and food reported that Russians were firing much stronger than expected and warriors are suffering losses. They said additional forces were required, because Russians summoned their strength and were advancing forward. They were moving with no worry, since our warriors lacked bullets. Only few of them died from our Berdan rifles, but we had so little Berdan rifles.

Warriors and people joined the battle in groups or alone, going to the places they chose. Only people with cold arms stayed in fortress. They were instructed to stay ready in a fosse outside the fortress walls, in case our warriors need help.

Just as soon we got busy putting our single cannonball on Diñlidepe hill. Abdylla ussa who founded several cannonballs started preparing to fire the cannonball. As a large crowd of people, we climbed the hill with curiosity to observe firing of a cannonball. After thorough preparation and taking aim, Abdylla ussa fired the cannonball. “Ja-an! ja-an!” exclaims echoed around. Black smoke that exhausted from the cannon muzzle enveloped surroundings. After the smoke dispersed, Abdylla ussa started preparing for a second shot. The same din, the same smoke, the same old joyful cries.

Russians who saw a big number of people crowding on top of the hill, sent a few cannonballs towards us. Cannonballs exploded quite close to us, so we were forced to break up. Only Abdullah tried to continue firing by himself. But a messenger came from warriors, with a request to stop firing cannonballs, because they barely crossed over warriors’ heads, and they are dangerous for ours, and can do nothing to Russians. Truly, it was necessary to follow the flight of the cannonball, and it was possible to avoid it. We expected a lot from our cannon, but our firing ended there. That cannon stood on the hill top for a long time without care. Warriors on front lines delivered worsening news. They said we had big losses in killed, that major Russian forces were nearing, and it’s getting evident that the situation is about to change completely.

Near the afternoon rifle and cannon shots reached the peak. Dead bodies of people who were hit by bullets while going from warrior positions to fortress and back could be seen. Women, children and elders were praying to Allah “Give power to Islam!” “ýa Hudaý”. Some women run from fortress to trenches, with a bottle of water or a bag of bread. Bullets hadn’t mercy for them either. However, some returned safe and sound.

After the afternoon cannon shots intensified, and rifle shots decreased. And suddenly unexpectedly “ura-a-a! Ura-a-a!” voices echoed in the air. Russians charged with their bayonets. Ours ran forward, crying “Al-la-a-a!” emerging from trenches and ditches. “ura!” and “Alla!” voices united, and roared, rattle of exploding grenades added to that din. Before ours got there running, Russians annihilated a big part of our warriors and occupied the trenches. A number of warriors ran back to the fortress. Russians plastered people of our group with deadly fire. Those voices of “Alla!” and “ura!” still occupied the air. Our rows thinned out. When our attackers mixed with people returning from battle positions, it created a stir. A part of others continued running towards Russians, another part hesitated and seemed like stopping. Gönübek was also among attackers. Russians who saw confusion of our forces got out of their trenches and ran towards them. Alla!…Ura!… Alla!…Ura!…in the mid noon Russians and Turkmens started battling. One chopped, one pierced, another one shot. Clang, clatter, roar, rumble, shrills, moans echoed endlessly, wherever you looked, blood shed, Russian and Turkmen bodies lay randomly, there were more of Turkmen ones… the number of Russians’ grew, fresh troops quickly replaced them. Cannon and rifle shooting reached the culmination; the whole world seemed covered with terrible roar. Confusion spread our lines, and Russians’ spirit has stiffened. Some of our men started to run back. Russian voices got louder. Number of warriors running towards the fortress increased. Russian fresh troops joined their front lines. A bit later everyone was facing the fortress. On the front Turkmens randomly left fallen ones, and from behind Russians encouraged by advantage were shortening the distance. Only “ura!” voices were heard now…All of Russians rushed towards the fortress from where they stood, from various distances. Our loss was inevitable. Different people, no matter how much elders yelled at them, couldn’t stop the running crowd. Russian victory became clear.

A big field was full of corpses, further away Russian and Turkmen bodies were lying mixed together, closer to the fortress only Turkmen bodies lay. The fortress was very close. It looked like Russians would hit the fortress directly with ours. There was a big confusion in the fortress. “Why have you gathered here?”, “Why do you wear hats and grow your beards?”, “Cowards!” yelled women who were experiencing a strange nervousness. Some waved headscarves they took down from their heads and yelled “Hide behind our backs!” Many women hasted to meet the running troops.

The final moment was nearing. At the fortress those who were running mixed with those were standing here. People were in a big crush. Screams, shouts, panicked crushing, baby cries… Shouts of “Go, go! Allah, move, don’t stop…Alla-a” were heard. Clamour increased, and suddenly, unexpectedly the crowd ran towards ours and Russians. The wave of running connected with the wave of attackers, number of Turkmens increased. They hesitated and halted for a moment… women yelled waving their headscarves…”Al-la-a!..ura-a-a! Al-la-a!” …again the people attacked Russians. The massive move forward was very strong; the number of attackers was great, Russians were lost within the crowd. Most of them were cut, a small portioned ran back. Now they were running in opposite direction, the process of running was in opposite order – Russians in front, Turkmens from behind. The number of running Russians increased, because their reinforcement joined the running. “Alla!” cries echoed strongly, while “ura!” cries were weak. A bit later “ura!” cries completely ceased. Stepping on Turkmen corpses, on Turkmen and Russian corpses, only stepping on Russian corpses, the massive crowd moved forward, some chased, others ran for their lives. Cannon shots did not fire anymore. Our horsemen groups chasing Russians could be seen now. Cossack efforts to withstand them were fruitless. Russian lines were confused. Our victory was obvious. The number of Russian corpses increased substantially. It was possible to catch up with runners and finish them all. In distance the enemy was busy deserting artillery positions. Russians tried to put the remaining forces into lines and to resist. On of our groups was left behind, collecting weapons and loaded bullet cases.

The sun was setting. People were exhausted. The number of chasers first decreased to several hundreds and then to tens. It was getting dark. The chase stopped. Shots weren’t heard at all. Groups of people sitting in the twilight, returning ones, people lurking in the field, tugging Russian bodies could be seen. Moans of wounded could be heard randomly. Women searching for bodies near the field could be seen now, they congratulated the living ones. People yelled each others’ names, searching for alive. Silhouettes of people carrying dead bodies and wounded in groups could be seen. Movement in the field didn’t cease throughout the night. Warriors returned to the fortress, women and people assigned for collection of bodies and wounded exited the fortress. Before the morning all of our people in the field, except maybe those who have fallen into pits or were left under Russian corpses were collected. Killed soldiers were lying all around.

We spent the night waiting. Only at the dawn we celebrated the victory, after hearing the news that Russians gathered the remaining forces and left. Celebrating the victory, boundless joy, the pain of many losses– everything was mixed, fortress defenders were experiencing such confusing and opposite feelings. Horsemen gathered in groups early in the morning and started chasing Russians for trophies. That very day a new message was received from Musa han. Russians have decided to leave for good. After hearing this news, a new group of horsemen went after running Russians. They were free to do so, they could do anything, as long as they harmed Russians.

From the words of survivors it was learned that Gönübek unarmed, and was in the first group that attacked to help warriors. At the same time the situation totally changes. It becomes clear that Russian forces are overmuch. When Turkmens started running Gönübek called them to bravery and fearlessness. But his admonition and begging was fruitless. Gönübek said:

– I don’t want to see the enemy enter the fortress and touch our women with haram (dirty) hands! – then stopped, did teýim[teýommen-a kind of religious cleaning with sand, if water is unavailable- AG], he kneeled and facing the Kaaba uttered keleme (faith confirmation). While we were chasing smashed Russians, his body was still there where he sat, still lying with his forehead touching the ground. Poor man assumed that our battle is lost, therefore as the only bold solution didn’t want Russians to enter the fortress. It was decided to bury him right where he lay, and was done so. This way, the dream he saw, turns out to have fulfilled.

The number of shahids and wounded was very big. We got victory for a very expensive price. Among the dead was Nurberdi han’s grandson – Döwlet han’s son Berdimyrat han (buried on the Diñlidepe cover), Dykma serdar’s son Hanberdi serdar. It’s not possible to count all shahids by name, they all died protecting motherland, the religion and families.

The death of Gönübek is the evidence of what a man he was, how much he believed in Türkmençilik. With his death and our earned victory we stepped onto a new road, that day was the last day of our freedom and our way of life. After that a tragic new life began.

After that on the second, third day it was decided to send big horsed troop to crush the enemy totally. Small horsed groups managed to seize some things from Russian transportation, got into small skirmishes with Cossacks, and even if endured losses, could only cause small damage to Russians. Russians put their remaining forces into order, and in this position, and continued withdrawing with great caution.

About one and half thousand horsemen went to chase Russians. These forces too couldn’t cause much damage to Russians; they limited their actions to capturing caravans and eliminating small Cossack groups. Without losing sight of Russians, causing much terror to them, this horsed group “saw them to” Gyzylarbat. Russians went further. Chasing them further was stopped.. Some brave guys in small groups went even further.

Near Gyzylarbat, in a small skirmish with Cossacks, a few Cossacks and their guide Türkmen Molladüñder were captured. Cossacks were killed there immediately, Düñder was brought to Gyzylarbat. After he was recognized, it was decided “for him to live hell in this world”. Fire was lit in a big tamdyr (clay hemisphere oven for baking bread), and threw Molladüñder head first into fire. This way only the traitor, who sold himself his people to Russians was burnt in fire.

Groups returned to fortress. It was decided to completely restore fortresses’s height and width. New families returned from the desert. Wounded people either recovered or died.
Nurberdi han returned from Mary. He lay sick during the whole war. Nurberdi han proclaimed that he was very glad Berdimyrat han died.

– In these harsh day for all people it would be a great disgrace for me not to suffer – he said – Gönübek’s death affected me the most. This is an irretrievable loss for us. Another Gönübek won’t be born.

Only the understanding of greatness of victory weakened the grief of sorrow. Han made round of the entire fortress, visited every fortress defender, congratulated the survivors with victory, wished a home in Heavens for the dead.

Nurberdi han raised the issue of the future actions in a secret meeting with a few elders. The difficulty of resistance, the limitlessness of losses became evident. Oramämmet han and Atalyk repeated their suggestion about peaceful talks. There were supporters of continuation of struggle. It was decided to wait for the events, without letting discussions reach the people. If Russians don’t come back, then the situation is stable, if Russians gather new forces and return, talks “from the people” should be started, and in case of a battle, best conditions should be achieved. No unilateral negotiations should be carried out. The nation’s fighting spirit has to be supported, talks should be done by the Nurberdi han. This decision should be kept in total secret.

There were some elders who opposed this idea with obstinacy, and demanded to keep fighting no matter what. Nurberdi han told them:

– We will see–, and thus the council ended.

Both war supporters and war opposers believed Han was on their side, both had big hopes on him, counted on his authority, they believed Han’s authority will bring dissimilar thinkers to accept Han’s decision.

During days and nights people would gather in various places of the fortress, everyone would tell stories, and everyone would listen. Recent events were still too fresh, and with unexpected outcome, carried a great meaning. The news of our victory over Russians were spread all over ther region, to the all neighbouring countries, our victory was exaggerated. All of these encouraged people who never participated in battles, lucky survivors, and all our relatives up to Mary for struggle.

Soon Nurberdi han died, he was poisoned by people sent by Russians. In general, after Russians failed, they kept sending spies from Uzbeks, Tatars and others to us. With Nurberdi han’s death we were left without a man who earned a great reputation with protecting Ahal and caring about people. Tehran and Buhara had proclaimed Nurberdi han as the real Han of Ahal. The people have elected him Han several times, and fired him from Han position several times, but he was always respected and supported. Only he could protect us from the following harsh fate, no one could oppose his words. When Orazmämmet han and Atalyk tried to revive peaceful interrelations with Russians, old oppositions happened again. When the fortress was completely destroyed, when it was sieged for a long time, and a big part of it was exploded during an attack, Orazmämmet han, Kerimberdi işan, Hanmämmet Atalyk have died.

* * *

After many years, about in 1900, while the head-governor and army chief of Zakaspiy region [Türkmenistan’s title at the time- AG] general Kuropatkin was inspecting villages according to his custom, spoke to one elder, and asked:

– How many Turkmens were annihilated at the walls of Gökdepe?

– Three – replied the elder. When general repeated his question, the elder again replied:

– Three.

Kuropatkin thought the elder doesn’t understand his question, he said that only Russians themselves buried more than five thousand Turkmens, and he wants to know the approximate number of dead Turkmens. The elder again replied:

–Three. Getting aware of the opponent’s confusion then adressed the interpretor with these words – Tell the ýanaral[general], I understand his question, he is talking about all the people who have fallen to the ground. It’s true that many people were buried, our women gave birth to them the next day. I’m talking about people who are not there anymore, and will never be again.

– Who are these three people?

– Amangeldi Göni [Gonubek], N. and N.

* * *


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