It is a great luck for any journalist to find a talented person possessing phenomenal abilities and introduce them to the large audience, as he deserves. B. Appaev, the «Golden square» chief editor, managed to meet such a man and to interview him. Allow me to introduce Bachiev Khamzat Teybievich, master blacksmith, well-known across the country and abroad.
В. Appaev. Khamzat Teybievich, many people have heard your name, but they would like to know more about you. Tell us about yourself.
Kh. Bachiev. I was born in Kazakhstan in 1956. After returning from the exile [T. N.: the deportation of Karachays during the repressions in 1943], our family settled in the Aksu village of Kabardino-Balkaria, where I went to school. My father was a blacksmith. As a child, I liked to run up to his workplace and watch ordinary pieces of iron burning brightly, bending, taking absolutely incredible shapes in the hot flames. That was when I became interested in the blacksmith's work. I learned to forge knives while still in school. Then was the time of my military service. After the army, I wanted to do blacksmithing not the cottage industry style, but on the level ofthe state manufacturing enterprises. So I got a job in the souvenir workshop of an industrial plant in Nalchik city. There I learned the trade and passed qualifications as a bone carver. And in 1986 the Shakmanov brothers and I opened our own artistic forging smithy. Some time later, I was invited to join the newly established «Balkaria» company. Here I was making a lot of things with my own two hands, from shoes, hats to ancient crockery (goppan ayak — T. N.: a ritual wooden cup for ayran) and household utensils. In 1990 I went back to the village, hoping to open my own smithy.
B. Appaev. Did your work experience in Nalchik allow you to do that, or did you learn anywhere else?
Kh. Bachiev. I had the experience, but I wanted to know all the details of my future trade. At that time the best specialist in multilayer forging in Russia, V. I. Basov, lived in the city of Suzdal. So I went there. During my 4 day stay there I learned a lot, and so, after coming home, I plunged into work.
B. Appaev. Not all our readers know what multilayer forging is, tell us about it, please.
Kh. Bachiev. The metal obtained through multilayer forging is indeed precious. The metal made of finest layers is called "golden". Each master has his own way of multilayer forging.The number of layers does not always determine the strength ofthe resulting metal.
I have brought the number of layers up to a million. The optimum, in my opinion, is the 891th layer, it is very strong. The quality of damask steel is determined by a special number. At the beginning of forging, the material is fragile, it consists of fine grains. During forging and quenching the metal gets stronger and stronger. From an outsider's point of view, this seems as a simple occupation, but it is actually a lot of work, and if you are not knowledgeable in the trade, it is better not to start at all. It is like a disease which is difficult to dispose of.
B. Appaev. Your work is held in high regard at home, is it known outside the country?
Kh. Bachiev.There is an Aikido school in Japan, its full name is «Aikido Martial Art».The head of this school has visited me 3 times already. Such schools are being opened in many other places, but only with his approval. In his first visit the Aikido master stayed with me only a day, in the second — 2 days. When I explained that it is impossible to learn the craft's skills in a day or two, he visited for the third time. From morning till night we were working, and he was making notes, because he was going to write a book. He, too, is engaged in the swords manufacturing. A folklore collector from Hungary, calling himself the White Eagle, visited my smithy, too. I also received orders for traditional Karachay knives from America and Holland.
B. Appaev. Why don't they order them in their home countries? What is the difference between your knives and the other ones?
Kh. Bachiev. According to their words, they do not know another expert in multilayer forging. They were interested in my methods, my products (both artistically designed and for everyday wear). So they tried to inquire deeply into the essence of my method of forging. The American studied a knife made by me for a long time. When I realized that he didn't understand fully the meaning of this product, I told him these knives had been known since as early as the 2nd century. I told him that in in my work I followed exactly the methods of forging of the products that had been found in our ancient burial places. Some people tend to confuse these knives with the blades which were made at the time by the Slavs and other peoples. I always demand people to pay attention to the different ways of forging of the blades, and, having noticed mistakes like that in the work of various craftsmen, always comment on them. One must know and observe the precise technology of the traditional craft of their ancestors that brought glory to the nation. I told the American then, that I wouldl not change what had not been changed for centuries, i.e., the product could be shaped in any form, but it wouldn't have any soul, and that was important to me. After our conversation, he ordered a knife worn traditionally by mountaineers. In two months, as agreed, he came to pick it up and said his father couldn't wait to see the knife. A representative of the «Medicine without borders» organization also came from the Netherlands, he watched me working for a long time. He was surprised by the unique design of the knife, which fitted organically into the traditional lifestyle of a mountaineer, being an integral part of his costume, merging with the hand, if I can say so. A knife like that was usually worn by a mountaineer — a Karachay or a Balkar. For centuries it has been a friend and a helper to a mountaineer in many everyday situations: wooden houses were built with such knives, animal carcasses were dressed. After learning the history of our knives'origin, the Dutchman ordered four knifes at once, and took them to his homeland.
B. Appaev. What other antique items do you also make?
Kh. Bachiev. Axes, for example (ay baltalani). According to the tales and the remaining documents, axes have been known since X-XIV centuries. Axes with a wide edge (guida balta) were found in ancient tombs. They were also manufactured in the later years, and I make them, too. Alkanov Soltan, a collector from Karachay-Cherkessia, helped me a lot in this work. He gave me an old hatchet with a wide blade, and an Alan saber. I made a similar saber. Recently I've been wishing to make a rifle worn by our mountaineer ancestors. I know some things about its manufacturing. Now I am gathering more information about it, and, if Allah grants it, I will be able to make it and show to people.
B. Appaev. We don't know of another specialist who could breathe life into a piece of metal, to create such splendid and durable items from it. Do you have the ability and the desire to share your invaluable experience with the younger generation, do you have any apprentices?
Kh. Bachiev. Any sensible person would like to share his or her experience and knowledge with the next generations. I, too, try to teach my craft to others. For that purpose, on May 17, 2013 I organized a meeting «Blacksmiths of the Caucasus» at my house, which was attended by 75 people. We had dinner together, and then spent a very intensive and productive day in the forge. We shared knowledge on how the Karachay and Balkar craftsmen («mountain people», as we should be called) forged iron, and exchanged experience in ancient forging. This meeting was of great importance for all of us, and we agreed to continue meeting periodically.
If I manage to realize a dream of mine - to make an old rifle, I will definitely arrange the most famous blacksmiths, from central Russia as well, to share experience. I have my apprentices, I cannot imagine myself without followers. Among them is Ibrahim Lipanov, who lives in the Chapaevskoe village. He has a great desire to learn this craft, he visited me repeatedly, learned from me. He is very talented and engaged in forging. There are two other guys from the Elbrus region of Kabardino — Balkaria, they work in forging and hilt manufacturing. I also had students during my time working with the «Balkaria» company, Rashid Kurdanov and Sufyan Zhanibekov, very enthusiastic guys.
B. Appaev. Weapons in good hands are useful. But what if the weapons were to fall into the wrong hands? Have you ever thought about that?
Kh. Bachiev. It is difficult to guess that, but not impossible. Those who wish to order a weapon for bad things can buy it in a store or on a market within a short time, and much cheaper. I work on each item for three months; the cost of such a product is 120-150 thousand roubles. For one thing, A person who paid such a price for the item will keep it very carefully, or will present it as a gift to a very close friend. And secondly, after talking a little with the customer, observing their behavior, everything becomes clear immediately. If I doubt the good intentions ofthe person, I find a reason to refuse taking the order. And, thirdly, what is most surprising, metal can feel unkind people, and it resists. Actually, I have noticed one thing: the work depends on the nature of the person who ordered the item. I myself, getting started, leave all my thoughts and worries behind the threshold of the forge. At work I am, if I may say so, like an astronaut in zero-gravity. And so the work goes.
B. Appaev. I could never think that metal is such a sensitive material. What else can you tell us about its properties?
Kh. Bachiev. A lot can be understood about a person judging by how fire burns in the furnace. For example, when a bad person comes into the smithy, the fire does not give any heat, although it continues to burn as it did before. Then the item breaks or gets burnt. Moreover, if my work doesn't go well, that means someone from my friends or relatives in the village has died. Then I stop my work and walk out of the forge, and the sad fact is confirmed. Until the dead is buried, the work will not turn out good. Who has not experienced he won't understand, thinking that fire and iron are all that is needed for forging.
B. Appaev. On one of my trips abroad I met a director of a large metallurgical plant. He compared working with people to working with metal. What can you say about this?
Kh. Bachiev. I am much more used to dealing with metal. Many men, many minds, each needs its own approach. As there is only one approach to metal — full commitment, because it doesn't understand the word «necessity», it only feels the inner world of a person, the aura.
B. Appaev. Sabers, daggers and knives made of Damascus steel are much appreciated in the world. What is your opinion on the Damascus steel quality?
Kh. Bachiev. Damascus steel was forged in the times when people were still riding horses, harnessing m ules. Today we drive cars, fly into space. New technologies are being developed, very high quality materials being created. The Damascus steel is beautiful; products feel nice in your hand. In its structure, this steel resembles the human organism: veins, joints are layered, too, after all. But modern technologies are strong, more and more new types of steel keep on appearing. People often bring me ancient items for restoration, ask to make the sheath. I do not agree. I prefer to do the work myself, from beginning to end. The master who takes the work must perform it flawlessly. For example, if they ask me to make only the hilt of an item — I don't take work like that. Sometimes, due to material hardship, some craftsmen agree to take such orders without asking too many questions. But payment is not the main thing, it is importantforyour products to be blessed, to serve for good. Then the recognition and respect will come.
B. Appaev. How do you take orders?
Kh. Bachiev. Despite the fact that in the modern world everything is bought and sold over the Internet, I do not post my products on the Internet. I also don't go looking for customers. I am often visited by journalists who tell about me.The «Elbrusoid» foundation has posted some of my products. Journalists from Russian and foreign TV channels have visited me repeatedly. People see the quality of my products, trust it, and so through these channels get my address, contact me. I have plenty of orders.
B. Appaev. Where do you get the materials for your work?
Kh. Bachiev. From factories, mainly. It's a pity that many are being closed. I brought them from Nalchik before, now there is no such possibility. I choose the material for my work carefully. It is said that every person has his own star, his own stone. Iron is similar. The iron with which I work may not be suitable for another blacksmith, and vice versa. Sometimes, you can see that the material is not suitable for your inner world, aura, thoughts...
B. Appaev. Tell us, how quickly can a knife you made get blunted?
Kh. Bachiev. It depends on how you handle it. Even clothes lose their appearance if you wear them carelessly. The same thing happens with a knife if it is not taken care of. I demonstrate clearly the quality ofthe knives made by me. To pass the test, the knife should be very sharp. And if you make the knife's edge a bit thicker, it can even cut through a piece of iron. Only it won't be a knife then, but an axe. The knife should serve as a knife. Each item has its purpose.
B. Appaev. You spoke about very important qualities of metal, connecting them to the history and traditions of people. What are your wishes for the young generation?
Kh. Bachiev. Our life would be meaningless if the younger generation doesn't honor the traditions and precepts of our ancestors. And the life of generations to come will then become completely dark. Even in the years of deportation, we didn't lose our language, our religion — all that every nation is proud of. We are even more obliged to preserve everything today. I would like to especially note that in the pursuit of material wealth we should not forget about the real values of life: to take care of each other, to support each other and not to forget our roots. We had role models like that before, and we still have a lot of them now. We must live thinking about the future of our children, about what we are leaving them as a legacy. And make sure to preserve the language, the religion, the spiritual culture. We need to look at the world through the prism of common human values, not the material goods, to think of others before our own benefit. This is what the young generation should be taught. Allah bless us!
B. Appaev. There is a saying: «Honor to whom honor is due». Your achievements are great, as the respect your fellow countrymen have for you is. Based on this, I would like to know how your noble work was marked.
Kh. Bachiev. I have been accepted to the Union of artists of Russia, awarded with the Krymshaukhalov Islam medal, and the title of People's Master of Russia.
B. Appaev. A few words about your family.
Kh. Bachiev. I have five children: three daughters and two sons. They studied to be a dentist, a teacher, a tailor, and are already working.
B. Appaev. Thank you for the interesting conversation.
...After meeting Khamzat Bachiev, we wanted to meet one of his apprentices, Ibrahim Aliyevich Lipanov, who lives in the village of Chapaevskoe. And here is what he told us.
I. Lipanov. My grandfather, Korkmazov Khizir, lived in the village of Dausuz and was a blacksmith, too. I, as well as Khamzat, spent my childhood watching him working in the smithy. Later, when I heard of Kh. Bachiev, I wanted to know more about him. One day there was a feature in the «Muslims» TV program that told about the work of a blacksmith. In the end the master addressed the audience, saying that he would teach his craft to anyone who wanted to learn. There were three of us at the time, who went to him immediately after the broadcast. He welcomed and treated us warmly, showed us the forge. When he showed the methods of work, I realized that he was a real magician. There are few specialists like that in Russia, no more than 3-6 people. I would say that he is the best one of them all. After all, people come to him from all over the world. On my first visit he asked if I had a smithy. Hearing that I didn't have any yet, he said, «You should definitely build one and come again!». I did: I built a smithy and came to him again. We worked for a long time, he taught me a lot — patiently, easily understandable, like a real teacher. After his lessons my work was progressing well, this was another confirmation of his skill. When I was leaving, he gave me homework: to make a knife from 9-layer steel. I completed the task and brought to show it to him. He studied my work for a long time (it was evident that he liked the knife) and said confidently, «Well, now you can work in a smithy». I gave him the knife as a memento. That is how I began to work as a blacksmith; it's been 6 years since then. I'm taking orders now, making knives, sabers...
By Bilal Appaev