Sunday, December 10, 2017

Stalin and the “slaughter” of the horses of Georgia


As a sometime visitor to the Australian outback town Broken Hill (birthplace of one of the world’s biggest mining companies), I love to visit the sculptures at the peak of Sundown Hill, within Broken Hill's Living Desert reserve.

The 12 sculptures were commissioned a quarter of a century ago.  Three of the sculptures are by Indigenous Australians, and the international artists are represented by three Georgians, two Mexicans and two Syrians.

Undoubtedly one of the most striking sculptures is “Horse” (above) by Georgian sculptor Jumber Jikaya. In his artist statement, Jumber explains his 'work is a tribute to horses. People must be aware of the nobility of the horse. At Stalin's request, all the Georgian horses (a special European breed) were slaughtered'. Jumber’s words are there for all to see alongside his statue.

But did Stalin request the slaughter of all of a special breed of Georgian horse?

Where is the evidence?

This is a shocking allegation, an allegation designed to arouse disgust and hatred towards a man already demonised as a mass murderer and bloodthirsty tyrant. Alongside dogs and dolphins, horses hold a special place in the hearts of humans.  What sort of evil could call for the slaughter of such a noble animal?

A special breed?

My first problem in searching for the evidence lay in identifying a horse breed peculiar to Georgia in particular and to greater Transcaucasia (Georgia, Armenia and Azerbaijan) more generally.

I could find no reference in English to a specifically Georgian breed on the web.  And I could not conduct searches in any of the three Caucasian languages, nor in Russian, which may have turned up some of the evidence I was seeking.  On the other hand, if such a shocking allegation against Stalin were true, then one would expect it to be readily available in English as further proof that Stalin is indeed the monster of anti-Communist depiction. (I confess here that I think history will be kinder to Stalin than the anti-Communists of the present era: he was the architect of Soviet industrialisation and arguably the most important leader of the Allied fight against Hitler Germany.)

However, there were references to a horse bred by the Turkmen of Central Asia which may have shared ancestry with Arabian horses. It was taller than Arabians and had a longer back. It was noted for its endurance. Although no pure Turkmene horses survive, their decline occurred long before Stalin.  Four other breeds are said to have descended from the Turkmene: the Akhal-Teke, the Iomud (or Yomud or Yamud), the Goklan and the Nokhorli. The Iomud and Goklan are bred by the Iomud and Goklan tribes whose boundaries are within Iran, not Georgia or Transcaucasia. The Akhal-Teke and Nokhorli originated in what is now modern Turkmenistan.

It was the Akhal-Teke that made me first think I had found some evidence to support Jumber Jikaya’s assertion.  A paper by Beverley Davis, Timeline of the Development of the Horse[1], had this interesting reference:

1935: Horsemen on 15 Akhal-Tekes and Iomuds ride from Ashkhabad to Moscow, 2,580 miles, including 600 miles of desert, in 84 days, to save the breed from Stalin’s order to do away with their stud.

The “request” (Jikaya) had now become an “order” (Davis), but it related to a stud, not to the breed as a whole. 

Again, where was the evidence?  No book on Stalin I could access, and nowhere in Stalin’s Collected Works, was there any reference to such an order. The internet turned up other references to the ride, but not one that supported Davis.

Wikipedia had a reference that contained no motive for the ride.  It simply said: “The breed is known for its endurance,[11] as shown in 1935 when a group of Turkmen riders rode the 2500 miles from Ashgabat to Moscow in 84 days, including a three-day crossing of 235 miles of desert without water.[12] [2]

Two authors published a book in 2007 which referred to the ride, again without a clear purpose for the undertaking.  They wrote: “The Russian military's interest in the Akhal-Teke horse partially compensated for the disruption of the horse-dependent traditional Turkmen way of life, but only briefly. A prolonged experiment undertaken by Russians to improve the breed and increase its size through crossbreeding to the English Thoroughbred ended in failure, as was convincingly demonstrated by the famous 1935 Ashkhabad-Moscow endurance ride… Akhal-Tekes are perhaps best known for their extraordinary aptitude for endurance riding. In 1935, their suitability for the cavalry was tested in a famous endurance ride from Ashkhabad, to Moscow, a distance of 4330 kilometers (2,600 miles). Twenty-eight riders, riding Akhal-Tekes, the related Yomud breed and Anglo-Teke crosses, covered a broad range of terrain, including a severe, three-day, 360 kilometer (215 miles) test under the scorching sun of the Kara Kum desert. From the desert, which though stressful, was familiar terrain, they then rode through mosquito infested swamps, over rugged, stony footing, through heavy rain and huge forests. Eighty-four days later they arrived in Moscow. The purebred Akhal-Tekes, notably Arab and Alsakar, arrived in significantly better condition than the Anglo-Teke crosses, impressive evidence for the superiority of the purebred Akhal-Teke for hardiness and endurance.”[3]

Why was “evidence for the superiority of the purebred Akhal-Teke” needed? The Soviets had apparently tried to improve the breed.  This interpretation is clearly stated by Carolyn Willekes: “In 1935 the endurance capabilities of the purebred Akhal Tekes were put to the test when a group of Teke tribesmen rode their stallions from Ashkhabad to Moscow. The purpose of this epic trek was to prove the importance of preserving pure Akhal Teke bloodlines, as crosses with Thoroughbreds were becoming more frequent thus diluting the traditional desert adaptations of this type. The feat was repeated in 1988 when 29 Turkomen stallions – 27 Akhal tekes and 2 Iomuds – were ridden from Ashkhabad to Moscow across Turkmenistan, Uzbekistan, Kazakhstan and Russia. The horses were faced with extreme weather conditions and varying terrain as well as frequent shortages of food and water. The ride was completed in 60 days and only one of the 29 horses did not finish.” [4]

Not only did Stalin not “request” the slaughter of any breed that I can discover, and not only did he not “order” the closure of an Akhal-Teke stud, but the ride was a celebrated effort and the subject of a Soviet newsreel, available on Youtube[5].  The organisers of the ride made the impression they intended: crossbreeding with the English Thoroughbred was officially halted after 1935 and a second Akhal-Teke studfarm was set up at Djambul in Kazakhstan[6].

Jikaya’s motive?


If we can find no reference to Stalin having ordered the slaughter of Georgian or any other horses, then what might Jikaya’s motive be for creating artwork based on a falsehood?  I can’t find much on Jikaya, although he does have another horse statue (XX Century -  The Dying Horse) at Mt Penang Gardens on NSW Central Coast. And he and his brother (who also has a piece at Broken Hill’s Living Desert), began a three-horse sculpture, Horses of the Wind, in Rustavi, a city 25km to the south of the Georgian capital Tbilisi. Only two horses were completed by 2007 (right) when it became apparent to the brothers that city funding was not going to eventuate, so they removed the two already put in place[7].  So far, this merely shows the symbolic and aesthetic importance of the horse for the Jikayas.

However, at least two other statues by Jumber Jikaya exist and indicate the character of his politics.



In October 2015, a statue of two British siblings by Jumber Jikaya was unveiled in Tbilisi.  Marjory Wardrop (1869-1909) was an English scholar and translator of Georgian literature. Her brother Sir John Oliver Wardrop (1864-1948) was a British diplomat. In July 1919 he was offered the post of the first British Chief Commissioner of Transcaucasus in Tbilisi. He promoted Georgian nationalist culture and tried to gather support from the capitalist nations that had entered the newly-formed Soviet Union in support of the White Armies in the civil war.  He left when Bolshevism triumphed in Georgia. Today, he and his sister are remembered as heroes of Georgian anti-Communism[8].



Earlier this year, Jikaya won a contest of the City Hall of Tbilisi for a sculpture commemorating the anti-Communist Czech leader and first President of the new Czech Republic, Vaclev Havel. The statue (above) was unveiled by the President of Georgia, H.E. Giorgi Margvelashvili, together with the Minister of Defense of the Czech Republic, Mr. Martin Stropnicky.

Putting his artistic skill at the service of heroes of anti-Communism is Jikaya’s prerogative; however, it does raise questions about his motives in impugning Stalin as a slaughterer of that noble animal, the horse.

People who live in glass houses….


Anyway, it hardly suits for Australia to go throwing stones at Stalin for his alleged mistreatment of horses. Can we so easily forget the fate of the noble Walers, 121,324 of which were sent overseas to the allied armies in Africa, Europe, India and Palestine in World War 1, only one of which returned, "Sandy", the mount of a Major-General who died at Gallipoli. The rest were slaughtered by their own riders (on orders because of the cost of shipping them back to Australia, and the cost of quarantine measures) or sold for horse meat to the hungry in France and Belgium. Did Jikaya know about this?

Even as late as May of this year (2017) it was reported that Australian horses, ponies and donkeys can be exported for slaughter overseas without any control over what happens to them - a loophole authorities are trying to shut[9].



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