CHECHEN REPUBLIC ICHKERIA
The Chechen Republic Ichkeria is situated in the eastern part of the North Caucasus. In the west it borders North Ossetia and Ingushetia, in the north to Stavropol Kray, in the east to Dagestan (of the Russian Federation), and to the south Georgia.
Area: 17,000 km˛. Capital: Grozny.
The population of Chechnya is more than 1,2 million, of which one million are Chechen. The remainder consists mainly of Russians, Ingush and other North Caucasians. More than 1,000,000 live in other areas of the Caucasus, Central Asia and part of the Russian Federation.
The Chechen language is of the North East Caucasian group.
The main industry is oil refinery. Important production of grains, fruits and vegetables.
The Chechens are indigenous to the north slope of the Caucasus. Up in the mountains they built fortified watchtowers and were able to resist the attacks by the Scythians, Sarmatians and Mongols. It seems that a large part of the Chechens were once Christians, but during the 16th to 19th c., they were all converted to Islam by Sunni missionaries from Dagestan and other neighboring areas. Since the 17th c., Islam has been a basis for Chechen nationalism. In the wars against Russia, Chechens found inspiration in fanatical, secretive, and mystical Sufi brotherhoods, which still exist and are perfectly suited to clan-based underground warfare against an occupying power. Chechnya has been ruled by Russia since the end of the Caucasus War (1711-1864).
In the 18th c., Russia fought the Ottoman and Persian empires for dominance in the Caucasus region. The Chechens resisted the Russian invaders bitterly. In 1785, the movement of Sheik Mansur was established, as a centre of resistance. The movement still exists today. The long and extremely brutal Caucasian war, which started in 1817, and ended in 1864 as the last of the Caucasian peoples was defeated, impressed on both Russians and Chechens the most terrible beliefs about each other. The Russians saw the Chechens as dishonest and merciless brigands, whereas the Chechens, according to Lev Tolstoy, refused to recognize "the Russian dogs as people". The Russians built a strong line of forts from the Black Sea to the Caspian Sea. One of these forts was named Groznyy, and from this fort, the Russians sent punitive expeditions to destroy Chechen villages, burn crops and kill anyone who came in their way, including women and children. The Chechen resistance against Russian occupation, led by Imam Shamil, lasted until 1858, when Chechnya was incorporated into the Russian empire. In 1865, nearly 40,000 Chechens were sent into exile in Turkey, but revolts against the Russians flared up again and again.
- Oil was found near Groznyy in 1893 and the railroad to Baku was laid through Chechnya. Russians were brought in to settle in the lowlands and the cities of Chechnya, to work in industries and administration or to cultivate the earth in areas where the Chechens had been driven away.
- In the Civil War years (1917-20), the Chechens again tried to expel the Russians and launched a jihad (holy war) under Sheik Uzun Haji against the White Forces.
- The Bolsheviks reasserted Russian power in 1920, however, and in 1922 the Chechen Autonomous oblast (AO) was established.
- 1936: The territories of the Chechens and Ingush were combined into one region and obtained the status of an Autonomous Republic. Russian language dominated in all areas.
- Chechen resistance to collectivization was fierce, and despite cruel purges against Chechen leaders, that started in 1937, a new revolt broke out in 1940.
- 1944: In the Second World War, when the Nazi Germans neared the Caucasian oilfields, Chechens were found on both sides in the war. Because of this lack of loyalty to Soviet power, the Chechens and Ingush (totalling 319,000 and 74,000 respectively) were deported to Siberia and Central Asia and removed from official statistics. The AO was disbanded.
- 1957, the Chechens were rehabilitated and the Chechen-Ingush AO re-established. Re-settlement caused tensions with neighboring peoples (Avars, Dargins and others) that had moved into their villages, and now had to be relocated.
- In the following decades, despite campaigs against religion, the Chechens clung to Islam. In 1975, it was estimated that half the Chechen population belonged to Sufi brotherhoods. Mosques were reopened in 1978.
- 1990: During Glasnost years, Chechen independence increased, and a Chechen national movement for self-determination emerged.
- 1991: in the turmoil of the failed coup in Moscow in August 1991, the government of the Chechen-Ingush Republic fell. General D. Dudajev, a leader in the Chechen national movement, was elected President of Chechnya in October. Chechnya officially declared its independence. Ingushetia was formed as a separate republic within the Russian Federation. Chechen independence was a challenge, not only to the Soviet Union, but also to the Russian Federation, of which it was part, and President Yeltsin declared emergency rule and sent 1,000 troops which were almost immediately called back as the Soviet Union disintegrated at the end of 1991. Chechnia became a member of UNPO.
- In December 1994, Russian troops launched an offensive against the rebel forces of Chechnya, after almost three years of "supporting the anti-Dudayev-opposition". The Russian campaign was a military disaster from day one, and in August 1996 Moscow gave up a military solution. A peace agreement was signed in Khasavyurt by Yeltsin appointee Aleksandr Lebed, and Chechen chief of staff Aslan Maskhadov, to end the fighting. Perhaps as much as 10% of Chechnya's population had perished during the 21-month war (around 100,000 people were killed, many towns and villages destroyed). The conflict over Chechnya's status is still unresolved.
- 1996: A cease-fire was signed in Moscow.
- 1997: A new president, Aslan Maskhadov, was elected.
Little substantial progress has been made in the negotiations between the Chechen and Russian governments of the future status of the Chechen republic Ichkeria. Although both parties agree that a settlement can be negotiated, disagreement on the key issues persist. Russia insists that Chechnya remain an integral part of the Russian Federation.
Unrepresented Nations and Peoples Organisation (UNPO)
Norwegian Institute of International Affairs [NUPI] - Centre for Russian Studies
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