Origins-Kingmakers and warriors in the service of Khans, Hetmans & Tsars

Where do the Kuchuk / Küçük beys come?

The name in Turkish means little governor or little prince.  The origins of the family were rooted in the confluence of the Persian and Monghol people which were unified under the Crimean khans in the 15th century.  Much of the history we know prior to the 16th century is based on family legend. Elements of these legends are inferred by marriages and status that emerged in the mid 17th century.  Already in the early 19th century, Viktor Pavlovich would have his hand in making sure that the family’s history was told in a positive light and his coat of arms point to a deliberate association with some of the most ancient heraldic devices.  The Kotchoubeys claimed to be murzas or “princes of the blood.” They claimed descent from the Sirin tribe which was allegedly of Persian origin and descent from the mongols via the Mansur/Manghits tribe founded by Genghin Khan’s oldest son Jochi.  The family had four distinct phases starting with the pre-Khanate period, the Crimean Khan period (from 1440s), the Hetmanate period (from the 1550s) and the Russian Imperial period (1764-1920).  Each one seamlessly transitioning into the next in decreasingly bloodless fashion.

A Tartar* Heritage: A Politically Advantageous Affilitiation.

*Tartar and Tatar may be used interchangeably.

“Scratch a Russian and you’ll find a Tatar,” so goes the saying in Russia. Given the history of Russia it is not without its intended consequences that its ruling class was made up of so many different ethnicities that spanned such a wide geopolitical landscape for the last 1000 years. Rurik who was said to have founded Kieven Rus was a Varangian. He floated down the Dniepr river in the 10th century from his Swedish homeland to reign over the people of Rus at their invitation.  A few hundred years later, the thundering hooves of Ghenghis Khan’s grandson Batu could be heard shaking the stone foundations of the tiny cities of the principalities of Russia and in the 13th century began the famed Tatar yoke or rule of the Golden Horde which was to last well into the 15th century.  For two hundred years it placed the young Duchy of Muscovy between the feudal obligation to the Golden Horde and the constant incursions from he Polish Lithuanian neighbors. With the arrival of Peter the Great, a whole new class of noblemen were created to staff the officer corps, run the mines and drive Russia towards a European future. The Romanoffs, prior to their appointment to the throne in 1613 were a minor boyar family called the Zakharin-Koshkins but they, too embarked on a three hundred year program of diversification by marrying German royalty to complete the final integration of Europeans into Russia’s ruling class.

Notwithstanding the Russian imperial family’s requirement for marrying into the European royal households, the great noble families were principally divided between the Russian boyar families, Tatar families, Polish-Lithuanian families and later European families. In truth, many families arrived into the 19th century with incomplete geneologies having ancestors who came to Russia during various opportune moments in a country that has constantly been tossed around in a state of instability. Up until the 17th century, the provenance of Tatar family lineage was not only considered a sign of strength but was in effect an extension of the many traditions and economic developments that took place in Russia under the Tatar yoke.

While the Kotchoubeys only arrived in Russia in the 18th century via their rise to power in the Hetmanate state, the founders of the family that arrived in the Poltava region in the 1550s. It was still controlled by the Polish-Lithuanian princes and a number of powerful Tatar families had begun to settle in the area as far back as the 15th century.  When the family history began to be documented in earnest in the late 17th century, Vassily Leontievitch was certainly conscious of the importance of their Tatar lineage.  They were quick to establish the importance of the power of the Orthodox church and were proud of Kuchuk Bey’s conversion from  Islam to Orthodoxy in the early 1600s. This was a move that was surely politically expedient given the importance of the Church in the Hetmanate  political landscape. An anecdotal story on the Kotchoubeys that followed them throughout history was that they were secretly muslim. In 1905, when the estate of Piotr Arkadievitch (1825-1892)’s son Vassili Petrovitch (1864-1940) that was called Zgourovka was looted by the local peasants, a rumor was started that a room was discovered in the 80 room palace that was locked and appeared to be a secret mosque. Other well known Tatar families included the Princes Yusupov and the Princes Ourusov who descended from Khan Edigu of the White Horde. The Meschersky descended from Prince Bakhmet and the Glinki’s from Khan Mamai. Other families included the Stroganovs, Orlov-Davidovs, Apraxins, Narishkins, Bibikovs, Hitrovo, and the Mordvinovs.

Murzas of the Shirin and Mansour Clans: 

As noted above, the family’s history cannot be written in its entirety as the origins of the family were likely documented in different texts that do not create a linear relationship between each other as they represented different ethnicities geographies and no historical king or Khan to unify the story.  Until the 13th century the Kuchuk beys may have been descendent from both a particular branch of warriors within the As people who were identified by a specific tamga or stamp (in Mongolian) and damga (in Turkish).  They were also descendent from  the  Mongols and more specifically from the Mansur or Manghit tribe. The As may have who came over from the Persian steppe and may have been originally from the Iranian Alans who inhabited the Pontic steppe.  They were powerful warriors and having settled around the modern day Black sea and Azov sea area, they founded the tribe called Sirin / Shirin / Şirin which became the most powerful of the four ruling tribes in the Crimean Khanate.  One scholar ( see: The Umdet ul-ahbar and the Turkic Narrative Sources for the Golden Horde and the Later Golden Horde by Uli Schamiloglu Link) suggests that the Umdet ul-ahbar is the history of the Sirin tribe and as such is the key to understanding its rise and maintenance of power in the Crimea. An important historical figure in this narrative is Khan Haci I Giray who descended from a family that had claimed that 11 generations before they had been descendents of Ghingis Khan. Haci I Giray was known also as Devlet Haci Giray and could claim like al Girays to be a descendant of Ghenghis Khan. A branch of the family that would marry into the Kotschoubey family were his descendets who in Russa took the title and name: Princes Divlet Kildeev.  The Haci I Giray was the first Crimean Khan and he won independence for the Crimea from the Golden Horde by striking an alliance with the Lithuanian princes, where he was exiled for a few years. The Sirin tribe were a critical factor in his rise to power.

Whether the Kuchuk beys were directly or indirectly associated with one particular Khan or linked to one by marriage is unclear but they arrived in modern day Ukriane in the 1550s and claimed to be murzas which denotes a family of royal blood or more specifically a title which comes from their royal provenance. Murzas were principly a Persian honorific that was given to  the sons and grandsons of Emirs, Khans and/or kings and later found their way into Tatar traditions . As murzas and patriarchs of the Sirin family the powerbase was nonetheless derived from the accumulation of landed wealth and influence over the political destiny of the mongols in the region. These were clear factors in their rise to power before the appointment of the first Khan.

Could it have been that the Kuchuk beys left the Crimea due to the eventual loss of their lands to the Ottomans in the 16th century? Most likely, the Kuchuk beys were faced with the declining fortunes of a weakended Tatar state in the mid 1500s and had begun migrating north from their Crimean strongholds, When Khan Islam III Giray agreed to help Hetman Boghdan Khmelnitskiy in his war against the Polish-Lithuanian princes, Kuchuk bey now Andrei Kotchoubey and his cossack warriors would have been happy to fight along side their Tatar brethren by Khmelnitskiy’s side. Recalling that the Sirin tribes supplied the Khan with soldiers, it is consistent that Kuchuk bey would have the resources to fight alongside the rebel cossacks. soldiers as he would have arrived in the Poltava region with a retinue of warriors and their families numbering in the thousands.  Following the victory over Poland and the peace treaty of 1654, Leonti Andreievitch, comrade-in-arms of Khmelnitskiy, who had begun to educate his son Vassilil Leontievitch in Kiev ant the Kiev Myhola University expanded his land holdings which would in turn make his son a wealthy suitor and potent political ally in the treacherous world of Poltava politics. If Vassili Leontievitch’s gramota is correct, his murza forefathers were a unique blend of mongols of the Golden horde and the powerful Crimean Tatar clans who ruled behind the throne. Herein on bloody wars between Tatars, Mongols, Ottomans & Lithuanians was forged the first family traits, that of warriors and fierce horsemen and landowners who ruled as kingmakers.

If in fact, the family’s roots dated back to the As people who arrived on to the lands around the Black Sea coast then the second world was their rise to power among the Crimean Tatars. Whatever the truth, the origins, of the family’s history is still based on legend and self-serving political interpretations of various affiliations. We have today, the document prepared by Vassili Leontievitch (available is a portion of the document in English in “David Saunders’s The Ukrainian Impact on Russian Culture 1750-1850,  Canadian Institute of Ukrainian Studies, University of Alberta, Edmonton 1985) in his application for recognition amnongst the Russian nobility. Vassili Leontievitch was not a soldier as much as he was respected for his education and his political acumen. He was a scholar, a deeply spiritual and righteous man as well as well traveled. He was able to read and write in Latin, Greek, Slavonic and Russian.  Most of what we know about the Kotchoubeys prior to Vassili Leontievitch comes from his application to be accepted as a nobleman in the Russian nobility, he argues that the family were Crimen Tatars and murzas of the Sirin and Mansur (earlier known as Mangits) clans. The interesting choice of tribal affiliations places the Kuchuk beys at the crossroads of the powerful Sirin tribe and the Mansur / Mangits clan who while less influential were feared for their prowess as warriors and who were part of the Mongolian hordes that settled in Bukhara (modern day Uzbekistan) (see: Manghits). The Mansur clan’s warriors protected the northern borders of the Crimean khanate from Russian and Polish-Lithuanian incursions, while being active farmers in the rich black earth that they inhabited.

Some interpret Vassili Leontievitch declaration  as claiming descent from the Mansurs (or Mansur Bek of the Ulus of Jochi) as an allusion to Khan Mamai’s son Mansur Kiyat who fleeing to the Lithuanian Princes protection in the aftermath of his family’s defeat by the Russians would return as Prince of Glinski to rule over estates in the Poltava region in the 1400.  However, there is no indication that the Kuchuk beys descend from one particular khan and the reference to Mansur was likely to the tribe and not to the historical figure of Mansur Kiyat. In fact, the Mansur tribes were a strong presence in the Crimean and originally ruled by Khan Nogai already settled in a neighboring region of the Sirin. In addition, as the family history is vague regarding its origins,  there is no mention in historical archives that the Kuchuks were a related to Mansur Kiyat or any of his grandsons, including, Prince Michael Glinski who appears in history in the first half of the 15th century following an illustrious military career and ultimate move to the allegience of the Grand Prince of Moscow. Wed do know that there is evidence of Tatars settling in Poltava under the protection of the Lithuanian princes and like the Glinski’s, The Kuchuks would make up part of the ethnic Tatar people with privileges and titles that were carried over from their Tatar world even as they settled in the left bank of the Dniepr.

Vassili Leontievitch argued that the Sirin clan was first among the ruling tribes. As such they were considered to be only second in importance to the Girays / Khans of Crimea and as murzas they had the privilege to marry into the family descendant from Ghengis Khan and as such were entitled to be recognized as the equivalent to the  princely families in Russia. This is explored in more depth in Alan W. Fisher’s The Crimean Tatars: Studies of Nationalities in the USSR.

In a book entitled, A History of Ukraine: The Land and Its Peoples
By Paul R. Magocsi, in the section called, The Tatars and the Crimea Knanate, the Sirin and Mansur clans were among the four most important clans and called the Karachi  beys. Their power came from the ownserhip of vast tracts of land at the entry to the Crimean peninsula to the north and their ability to supply the Khan with troops. In addition, the clan held the eastern part of the Crimena penninsula which included the lands surrounding the Azov sea. The bey of the clan ruled from Katirsa Sarai The patriarchs of the clans were called beys.  They would meet in kurultays and appoint a Khan who in turn would be approved by the Ottoman sultan.  In Bakchiserai, the palace and place which stands today in Crimean from where the Crimean Khan ruled is a splend typically Ottoman albeit small hall where the Khan’s council would assemble sitting on rolled rugs against the sides of the ornately decorated room and council him on matters of state. The beys would logically sit on his council of advisors.

The name Kuchuk which can be translated as little may refer to the concept of little brother to the Khan or denote a geographic location. Scholars have suggested tht the Bey of Kuchuk came from the Khadjibey, a fortified port which was a crucial Black sea castle that protected the trade routes along the coast and eventually became Odessa.  It is possible that the name or the family descend from the Khan Haci I Gioray and one of his daughter. He ruled from 1441-1466 and he is associated with a fortified city which came under the protection of the Lithuanian princes but fell to the Ottoman Turks in 1529. The town  which was named after Haci Giray is spelled Kocibey, Hacibey or Khadjibey. While the similarities are obvious, the problem is that the family descends from the Sirin tribe which traditionally controlled the Eastern parts of the Khanate and Khadjibey is on the Western frontier with the Ottoman empire.

The third world that the family inhabited was within the Zaporozhian sych or the Ukrainian Hetmante. They were present from its very founding in 1654 until its eventual integration into the Russian Imperial state in 1764.  We know that Kuchuk Bey arrived on the left bank of the Dniepr in the first half of the 17th century and was already a feared warrior who joined the Zaporozhian cossack host in the raids against both the Ottomans and the Poles. Kuchuk Bey was a Crimean Tatar and as such muslim but it would have been politically expedient to re-invent himself in the company of his new comrades-in-arms who praised him for his battlefield victories and merciless treatment of his enemies. He was a feared warrior and shrewd in his assesment of the opportunities that traveling north from the Crimean peninsula with his raiders could bring in terms of economic benefits. Clearly, he disntiguished himself through political cunning by realizing that to continue in the successful exploitations of mean and arms he would have to converting to Chrisitianity.

So Kuchuk Bey became the first Christian in a long line of nomadic pagans and more recently warring musmlims. He took the name of Andrei, which was s highly symbolic and shrewd act of propaganda as Andrei was the apostle who was thought to have preched the word of God as far as modern day Ukraine and who legend has it, made it to Kiev. By the mid 17th century, he was known as Andrei Kotchou’bey and already a comrade in arms of the power Bogdan Khmelitsky who pledge allegiance to the Russian Tsar in Muscovie.


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