History of Chechens in the Russian Empire

Chechnya was first incorporated as a whole into the Russian Empire in 1859, after decades-long Caucasian War. Tsarist rule was marked by a transition into modern times including the formation (or re-formation) of a Chechen bourgeoisie, the emergence of social movements, reorientation of the Chechen economy towards oil, heavy ethnic discrimination at the expense of Chechens and others in favor of Russians/Cossacks, and a religious transition among the Chechens towards the Qadiri sect of Sufism.


Deportation of Chechens to Turkey

In the 1860, Russia commenced with forced emigration to ethnically cleanse the region. Tsar Alexander II forced the exile of millions of Caucasians (including at least 100,000 Chechens) in 1860-1866. [1][2][3] Although Circassians were the main (and most notorious) victims (hence the "Circassian Genocide"), the expulsions also gravely affected other peoples in the region. It was estimated that 80% of the Ingush left Ingushetia for the Middle East in 1865.[4][5]. Lowland Chechens as well were evicted in large numbers, and while many came back, the former Chechen Lowlands lacked their historical Chechen populations for a long period until Chechens were settled in the region during their return from their 1944-1957 deportation to Siberia. The Arshtins, at that time a (debatably) separate people, were completely wiped out as a distinct group: according to official documents, 1366 Arshtin families disappeared (i.e. either fled or were killed) and only 75 families remained.[6] These 75 families, realizing the impossibility of existing as a nation of only hundreds of people, joined (or rejoined) the Chechen nation as the Erstkhoi tukkhum.[6][7]

As Dunlop points out, the 100000 Chechens that were exiled in 1860-1864 may have comprised over half the nation at that time, as in the 1896 Russian census there were only 226171 Chechens total. [1]

Attempts to return

Some Chechens tried to return, but the Tsarist government refused to let them, even when they promised to convert to the Orthodox faith if they did. [8][9] Nonetheless, some managed to return regardless.

Social trends

Conversion to Qadiri Islam

In the mid-1800s, the Qadiri sect of Sufism gained large numbers of followers among the Chechens (largely at the expense of the Nakshbandi sect). Eventually, an overwhelming majority of Chechens were Qadiri, separating them from their eastern neighbors in Dagestan who continued to follow the Nakshbandi sect. The zikr, which later came to be seen as more of a "Chechen custom" then a "Muslim or Qadiri custom", is the circular dance accompanied with chanting or singing, and was largely specific to the Qadiri sect (although later it became more ethnic as non-Qadiris joined in). Finally, the Qadiri sect focused much more on individual salvation rather than the need to improve society (as the Nakshbandi did). For this reason, the Russian government initially viewed this mass transition with the hope that its allegedly less societal mindset would mean an end to Chechen resistance to their rule. [10] However, in protest of unfavorable conditions, the Chechens rose up again in 1877-8, and the Qadiris played a major role in organizing the protests.

Land confiscation from the natives

In 1864, trying to dissuade further resistance, Tsar Alexander II issued a decree regarding the Caucasians' "religion, adat [Caucasian local law customs], lands and woods" stating that they would be preserved and protected "in perpetuity for the peoples of the North Caucasus". [9] However, it did not take Alexander long to break this promise. The Russian government seized large swathes (hundreds of thousands of hectares) of the best farming land and the best wooded land, and gave them to Cossacks. Considerable land was also awarded to Russian soldiers who would later assimilate with the surrounding Cossacks, identifying themselves as Cossacks. [9] These confiscations impoverished generations of Chechens and made large numbers of them land-hungry, sparking escalation of conflicts between Chechens and Cossacks. [9][11] Chechens and Ingush clans in the area previously were forced to go without their traditional lands, and they maintained claims on the land throughout the whole period, jumping to reclaim the land as Russia receded in 1917.

Ethnic Discrimination

Ethnic discrimination occurred in many forms against Chechens during the Tsarist era of Chechen history, largely due to the colonialist viewpoint of the Russian government, viewing Chechens as inferior, savage and subversive, one of many peoples who Russia had a "moral duty to civilize". [12]


During the Tsarist period, Cossacks and Russians were tried for all crimes in civilian courts, usually being taken into custody by civil authorities. By contrast, Chechens and Ingush (as well as some other ethnic groups in the region) were dealt with exclusively by the military and tried in military courts, where they were typically given drastically harsher sentences, often death for crimes such as stealing food.[9]

Land ownership

In addition to the initial land seizures, long term Russian policies favored the acquisition of more and more land by Russians at the expense of Chechens. In 1912, in their own homeland (and not including the lands north of the Terek that are often considered part of Chechnya and are currently within its jurisdiction), Chechens and Ingush owned well less than half as much land as Terek Cossacks did, per capita. Chechens had 5.8 desyatinas[13] on average, Ingush had 3.0, and Terek Cossacks had 13.6. [14]

Socioeconomic and Demographic changes

By the end of the 19th century, major oil deposits were discovered around Grozny (1893) which along with the arrival of the railroad (early 1890s), brought economic prosperity to the region (then administered as part of the Terek Oblast) for the oil-mining Russian colonists. The immigration of colonists from Russia brought about a three-way distinction between Chechens and Ingush on one hand, Cossacks on a second, and "other-towners" (inogorodtsy), namely Russians and Ukrainians, who came to work as laborers.[15] A debatable fourth group, including Armenian bankers and richer Russians, and even some rich Chechens (such as Chermoev), arose later. Some Chechens got rich off oil, and the industry brought wealth to Chechnya, and (along with other factors) caused a growth of a Chechen bourgeoisie and intelligentsia.

Emergence of European-styled nationalism

During the late 1860s and 1870s (just 10 years after the incorporation of Chechenia into the Tsarist Empire), the Chechens underwent a national reawakening in the European sense of the term. The conflict with Russia and its final incorporation into the empire, however, brought about the formation of a modern, European, nationalist identity of Chechens, though it ironically solidified their separation, mainly over politics, from the Ingush.[16] The nation was held to be all-important, trumping religion, political belief, or any other such distinction. In 1870, Chakh Akhiev wrote a compilation of Chechen and Ingush fairy tales (called "Chechen fairytales").[17] In 1872, Umalat Laudaev, an early Chechen nationalist, recorded the contemporary customs of the Chechens. Following in his footsteps, Chakh Akhiev did the same for their "brothers", the Ingush, the following year.

Other notable early Chechen nationalists included Akhmetkhan, Ibraghim Sarakayev, Ismail Mutushev. Later Tsarist-era Chechen nationalists include the five Sheripov brothers, among others. Among these, Sarakayev, Mutushev, Akhmetkhan and Danilbek Sheripov were notably democratic-minded writers, while Danilbek's younger brother, Aslanbek, would adopt communism. [18]

Notes and References

  1. ^ a b Dunlop, John B. Russia confronts Chechnya. Pages 29-31
  2. ^ Fisher. Emigration of Muslims. Page 363, see also 371
  3. ^ Gammer, Moshe. Lone Wolf and Bear. 80
  4. ^ "Caucasus and central Asia newsletter. Issue 4" (PDF). University of California, Berkeley. 2003. http://ist-socrates.berkeley.edu/~bsp/caucasus/newsletter/2003-04ccan.pdf. 
  5. ^ "Chechnya: Chaos of Human Geography in the North Caucasus, 484 BC - 1957 AD". www.semp.us. November 2007. http://www.semp.us/publications/biot_reader.php?BiotID=479. 
  6. ^ a b Anchabadze, George. The Vainakhs. Page 29
  7. ^ Jaimoukha, Amjad. The Chechens: A Handbook. Page 259.
  8. ^ Nekrich. Punished Peoples. Page 107.
  9. ^ a b c d e Dunlop, John B. Russia confronts Chechnya: Roots of a Separatist Conflict.Pages 31-36
  10. ^ Gammer, Moshe. Lone Wolf and Bear. Page 75
  11. ^ Kozok. Revolution and Sovietization in the North Caucasus. Caucasian Review, 1 (1955), 49. Cited in Dunlop.
  12. ^ Jaimoukha, Amjad. The Chechens. Page 152
  13. ^ Note:1 desyatina is 1.09 hectares.
  14. ^ Pipes, Richard. The Formation of the Soviet Union. Pages 94-6
  15. ^ Gammer, Moshe. Lone Wolf and Bear. Pages 119-140.
  16. ^ Gammer. Lone Wolf and Bear
  17. ^ Jaimoukha, Amjad. Chechens: A Handbook. Page 13
  18. ^ Turkayev. Kul'turi Chechni, pages 164-187

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