- Ethnic group. With a population of more than 1.3 million, the Chechens (or Nokhchi, as they call themselves) are the largest national minority in the North Caucasus and the sixth-largest ethnic group in the Russian Federation. Like the Ingush, they are Vainakh, a grouping of indigenous Caucasian mountaineers. Even in a region known for its martial traditions, the Chechens have long had a reputation as fierce warriors.Their language, Chechen or Nokhchin, is a member of the Nakh subgroup of the Northeast Caucasian language family. While Chechens lack perceptible internal social stratifications within the nation, there is a regional divide between the “Russified” lowlanders in the north and the highlanders in the south, who have maintained more traditional Caucasian cultural practices. Chechen society is strongly influenced by clan (teip) affinity. Through the clan structure, enforcement of customary laws (adat) in daily life was resurrected after the end of Soviet rule.Most Chechens observed a locally derived, Sufi-influenced brand of Islam prior to the 1990s, although, in the decade after Russia’s independence, a significant number embraced the radical and ascetic Wahhabist tradition imported by foreign Islamists.The Chechens are the titular majority of Chechnya; prior to 1991, they were one of two represented groups in the Checheno-Ingush Autonomous Soviet Socialist Republic. In 1944, Joseph Stalin ordered their forced removal from the Caucasus as Nazi collaborators. The entire nation was sent in cattle cars to Siberia and parts of Central Asia, suffering extremely high mortality rates in the process (nearly 80,000 died en route, with a quarter of the remaining population perishing in the first five years). This was the second large-scale deportation of Chechens; after the Great Caucasian War in the 19th century, a sizable portion of the population was exiled to the Ottoman Empire, punishment for their central role in the 25-year resistance to Russian conquest. In 1957, the Chechens were rehabilitated and they returned to their ethnic homeland; however, unlike other punished peoples, the stigma of treason clung heavily to the nation. Suspicion ran so high that Moscow prevented a Chechen from holding the highest office in the republic until 1989.Anticommunism, Russophobia, and ethnic nationalism were effectively used by Jokhar Dudayev’s administration in 1991 to advocate for absolute independence from Russia. Unlike other ethnic republics within the Russian Soviet Federative Socialist Republic that proclaimed their sovereignty in the final days of the Soviet Union, the Chechens attempted genuine secession from Russia. For several years after Russia’s independence, Chechnya functioned as a de facto state until Boris Yeltsin ordered Russian troops into the country in 1994, triggering the first of two Chechen Wars. The chaos that ensued resulted in hundreds of thousands of Chechens fleeing their republic and living as refugees in neighboring Ingushetiya or other parts of the Russian Federation. Chechens are widely mistrusted throughout the Russian Federation, as they are commonly associated with the mafia and terrorism.See also Ethnic violence.
Historical Dictionary of the Russian Federation. Robert A. Saunders and Vlad Strukov. 2010.
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