The Chechen Nation: A Portrait of Ethnical Features1

By Lyoma Usmanov
Jan, 9, 1999, Washington, D.C.

  1. Freedom and the National Anthem
  2. The Chechen National Character
  3. Philosophy of the Chechen Ethics
  4. Ethics of Art, Mourning and Hospitality
  5. Democratic System of Social Organization and its Influence on the Chechen Nation’s Mentality
  6. The Closing Remarks

I. Freedom and the National Anthem   -----   to top

The National Anthem of Chechnya by its origin is the literary memorial of the Chechen folklore. It is impossible to determine the precise date of its inception; the text itself can tell us that it probably goes back to ancient times. We certainly can’t exclude the fact that its first melodies were sung as early as in the second millennium BC in one of the Hurrian States in the Ancient East Asia.

Anyhow, some of the Chechen mythological topics, came from the ancient history, and in the texts of the Cuneiform characters, we can find the first signs of the writings of the Chechen language. Probably, most parts of the Chechen folklore may have been established in the first millennium BC in the Ancient East Kingdom of Urartu (900-600 BC) or later in the Dzurdzuketia, which was formed in 4th century BC. These facts are referenced in the ancient Chechen manuscripts. Perhaps, it would be more realistic to think that the Chechen National Anthem was born in the middle centuries, when the Chechen people took part in the formation of the Caucasian states, such as the Kingdom of Serir (7th-11th centuries), Alania (8th-10th century), and Simsim (12th-14th century). But it is well known, that with the melody of this Anthem, the Chechen people defended their independence in 13th-14th centuries against the Tartar-Mongol hordes and the army of lame Timur. In the 16th century, they defeated 80,000 men’s army of Crimea Khan, and in 17th-19th centuries, they restrained the colonial expansion of the Russian Empire in the Caucasus.

The Chechen National Anthem was revived twice from the past history during the 20th century. The first time, it happened in 1917-1919, in the period, when the Chechen people could revive their aspirations for National independence, which had been broken off after the end of the First Russia-Caucasus War. The second revival of the Chechen Anthem began 26 November, 1990, when at the whole-nation congress of the Chechen people once again declared a State sovereignty and took a firm stand in defiance of the State system and the territorial integrity. In the title of the Anthem itself and in its text, one can see the nature of the Chechen people and the sanctity of their national tradition, which are united by such words underlined in the text as God, People, Native land, Freedom, Dignity, Honor and Nobility.

Death or Freedom2

We were born at night, when the she-wolf whelped. In the morning, as lions howl, we were given our names. In eagles nests, our Mothers nursed us, To tame a stallion, our Fathers taught us. We were devoted to our Mothers, to people and the Native land, And if they will need us – we’ll respond courageously, We grew up free, together with the mountain eagles, Difficulties and obstacles we overcame with dignity. Granite rocks will sooner fuse like lead, Than we lose our Nobility in life and struggle. The Earth will sooner be breached in boiling sun, Than we appear before the world; losing our honor. Never will we appear submissive before anyone, Death or Freedom – we can choose only one way. Our sisters cure our wounds by their songs, The eyes of the beloved arouse us to the feat of arms. If hunger gets us down – we’ll gnaw the roots. If thirst harasses us – we’ll drink the grass dew. We were born at night, when the she-wolf whelped. God, Nation, and the Native land – We devote ourselves only to their service.

Such important words chosen in the Chechen Anthem, as ‘Death’ for example, have a great philosophical essence; because it means that the political context in the form of dependent (without freedom) existence of a nation is equivalent to physical death. "Freedom" in the Chechen perception means immeasurably more than the traditional conception of this word as acknowledged by other nations. Freedom for the Chechen people is not only the philosophy of their existence, which is very natural for most nations, but it is exactly this concept that expresses many norms and traditions of the Chechen existence and their way of life.

The best way to show this, is to present some examples of everyday life of the Chechen people: Chechens greet each other saying: ‘Marsha woghiyla’ (masculine form), and ‘Marsha yoghiyla’ (feminine form). Meaning that: When you come to this house, a place of meeting, etc. – the complete freedom, peace and kindness are extended to you, they are in fact guaranteed to you as a guest.

The direct translation of these words from the Chechen language is: ‘Marsha’ is freedom, and ‘woghiyla’, ‘yoghiyla’ means arrival, coming (from the Chechen verb ‘gho’, meaning to go, to arrive, to come). Good by, is expressed as ‘Marsha ghoyla’ – (freedom as you go away), ‘Marsha oila’ - (a wish of freedom and peace by the departing person ). Instead of using the phrase ‘Give my regards’, one says: ‘Marshalla doiytu’ (wish you freedom and peace), and instead of ‘to your health’, ‘Dala Marshall doila’ (may God provide freedom). ‘Dala’ means God, and ‘doitu’, or ‘doila’ are forms of the most usable Chechen verb, ‘doh’, meaning to make, to do. ‘Marshall’ and ‘marsho’ mean ‘freedom.’

II. The Chechen National Character   -----   to top

The traditional Chechen national character has created a specific cultural system. Honor and dignity, kindness and hospitality, cult of ancestors and progeny, cult of woman and family hearth, true love and charity, all are glorified in absolute terms. Only that traveler, who spends a significant period in the mountains of Chechnya, can understand the Chechen character and feel the cultural wealth, the extremely high degree of humanism in their ancient traditions of chivalry, and their attitude toward the women.

So what is the Chechen national character? The great Russian writer A. Solzhenitsyn, who survived the period of Stalin’s prisons and camps – where the communist regime conducted the experiments, trying to transform the people to obedient livestock – writes in his "Archipelago GULAG":

"One can never reproach Chechen people that they ever yielded to oppression."
Also,
"...But there was one nation, who didn’t yield to psychology of obedience, – not lone persons, not insurgents, but the whole nation. They are (the) Chechen people... No Chechen man ever tried to oblige or please the superiors, but they are always proud and even treat them with enmity... They respected only insurgents. And what a miracle – everybody was afraid of them. Nobody could prevent them from living this way. And the state power, master of this land for the last 30 years, couldn’t oblige them to respect its laws."

A Russian historian3 at the end of the first Russia-Caucasus war, complemented the Chechen people, as the "most rebellious" and hostile to Russian Empire, by stating that:

"the Chechen men and women are a very handsome nation. They are tall, very slender, their faces are expressive, especially the eyes; their motions are quick and adroit; their characters are impressionable, cheerful and humorous, they are called 'the Caucasus Frenchmen', but at the same time, they are suspicious, hot tempered, perfidious, crafty and vindictive. While striving for their aims they use all possible means. But the Chechen people are indomitable, of great endurance, brave in the attack, defiant and pursuit. They are very rare among the mountain knights of the Caucasus, and they are proud of their character, choosing the wolf for their ideal symbol among all animals".

To the Chechens, the wolf (‘Borz’) is the most respected and famous animal in nature. The explanation for this is that:

"the lion and the eagle are the symbols of strength, but they attack only the weak animals. The wolf however, is the only beast that dares to attack a stronger animal. Its lack of strength is compensated for by its extreme daring, courage and adroitness. If he loses the struggle, he dies silently, without expression of fear or pain. And he dies proudly, facing his enemy".

Every Chechen man is proud to be compared with the wolf. The appreciation for the boys’ adroitness and courage is linked to the saying: "He was nursed by the She-wolf". There is only a she-wolf referenced in the Chechen language. As the Chechen National Anthem says:

"Chechens were born at night when the She-wolf whelped",
and in one folk song there are the words:
"She-wolf whelps at night, when Mother gives birth to a Chechen child".

In the 19th century, the Russian Empire had the victorious procession in Europe, it had a strong position at the Caucasus and was at the height of its military fame. It was full of great ambition to annex the unconquered territories of the North Caucasus. The peak of the Caucasian antagonism towards Russia in the 19th century was reached, when in 1834 Shamil united the mountaineers of the North-East Caucasus to the one and indivisible military theocratic state. After the capture of Shamil in 1859, the war on Chechen territory continued for two years under the leadership of the legendary commander , Boiskhar Beno. In the northwest Caucasus, the struggle for the independence of the Adygean people was led by the Chechen, Magomed Amyn.

At the beginning of this murderous war, the population of the Chechen people was more than one million (Understated statistics. For example, the historian A. Rogov proposes, that in 1847 the population of Chechnya was more than 1.5 million.)4. The Russians used inhumane methods of conquest, failing to win the Chechen nation in a direct conventional war, they made raids , completely annihilating Chechen villages where only women and children were left while all the men were at the battlefield. The Russians killed the unarmed people and livestock, and burned down the houses.

According to Volkova5, there were only 116,000 Chechen people in 1867, and most of them were cripples, whose symbol of recalcitrance was the famous B. Beno, who had one leg, one arm and one eye. Many contemporaries in the 19th century considered this human disaster on Chechen territory as equivalent to the destruction of the Chechen nation. What power supports the spirit of this nation during the unbearably hard moments of their history? Perhaps, the answer can be found in the harmonious, regular system of world outlook, the direct and based on the real values of the philosophy of nature.

III. Philosophy of the Chechen Ethics   -----   to top

The basis for the perceived Chechen ethical rules is the one focal point – everything that will ennoble the person, that can give the possibility of developing the human potential, is considered good. The Chechens will say, "History is only the road, where a man or nation passes the lifetime. The road itself tells nothing about the past", people say. Moreover, "if a traveler digs holes, or casts stones along the way, not only his name, but the names of his seven forefathers will be mentioned in vain."

The mention of the seven forefathers has a deep meaning. That is, a person himself is thanked for his or her good deeds, but for the bad deeds, the forefathers will be mentioned as well. But if the forefathers are often mentioned, one will shorten the life of his posterity, because the forefathers are ashamed of the bad behavior and they have to lie on the ground , their faces down. Throughout the history of Chechens, the forefathers never liked to boast; they would prefer that their descendants act and behave always with dignity.

Among the Chechen people, simple questions, such as who are you? and where are you from? are quite common, which is a sign of inquisitiveness and the will to know, to evaluate a person. Thus, the potential actions and deeds are being acknowledged, because of knowing a person who respects the forefathers, will always know right from wrong.

In order to understand a nation, it is necessary to look deep into its soul, its dreams, to know the aims of its everyday life, and to acknowledge its ideals. The traditional Chechen culture of personal contact is based on the principal of equality for all people; on the basis, that nobody should use or underline his superiority. That is why a horse rider is the first to greet a person on foot; a person descending a hill greets the one climbing up the hill, and so on. The attention is always expressed to the weak or the poor person, so that the less fortunate will not feel inferior. The ancient Chechen wisdom says, that if you are a rider, you could possibly lose your horse in time, but if you are on foot, you can possibly become a horse rider tomorrow. That’s why the main theme in the Chechen folklore is: a person is stronger than a strong one, cleverer than a clever one, wealthier than a wealthy one, who may appear to be. So, in other words, one mustn’t be arrogant.

To this day, Chechen people think that all mankind is united in a blood kinship system, and the people of many nations are different only in their languages, confessions, customs and ceremonies. But these are secondary matters, and only the human essence dominates. All people have physical needs, sorrow and joy, birth and death, and everybody is equal before them. The Chechen people have the tradition of not decorating their cemetery memorials.

These basic conclusions from human life were transferred to nature by the Chechens. In the Chechens’ traditional world outlook, the organic and inorganic elements of nature live together, and there are no primary or secondary classes in it; there are correlation and interdependence everywhere. Micro- and macrocosms, rational and irrational, with man as a binding link, were included in the united system of the world; this was understood by everyone. There is nothing in nature and in society, that man can look at with superiority. Chechen proverbs and tales teach a child to respect all living beings and nature. There is nothing unimportant in life: As the saying goes, "if you leave a peg in the ground, you’ll have a headache, if you kill a frog, a cow will die, if you catch a butterfly, your sister will lose her joy of heart", etc. The Chechen people gather honey without killing the bees. They milk a cow with one hand, while supporting her udder with the other hand. It is unthinkable to beat the cattle. A child must be raised by example and guidance, but not by punishment. Everything in life is useful, and if today, you think that something is useless and unnecessary, tomorrow it may be a vital necessity.

The ancient Chechen people thought that the Universe consists of three elements: the high world, world of God; the low world, world of spirits; and the Earth – the human world. All these worlds are connected, and the man supports the harmony. The three worlds are three abstract circles: The first and the second are situated vertically and the point of their contact is the center of the third one, the Earth circle, which is situated horizontally. Their common center is the hearth cavity (‘tush’ in Chechen) and the man is directly connected with it. By the way, the capital of the Ancient Eastern State of Urartu was called Tushpa. The philosophical meaning of this name can be explained as follows: ‘Tush’, meaning hearth plus ‘pa’ or ‘pha’, meaning artery, village, i.e. Tush-pa / Tush-pha, which was associated with the center of the Universe.

In the world of subjects and objects, there are no primary and secondary. All essence are of divine origin, and must be treated with care and respect. It is difficult to say, what element was more respectful: The divine or the real. Understanding the world system and the world outlook allowed the forefathers to live in harmony with nature. Every subject on this Earth has its purpose and can be used by man.

Love, respect, and gratitude; these feelings the Chechen people compared to the flower in full blossom. To express these feelings, one must pull out the petals and throw them at the feet of the targeted person. If the person openly shows his feelings, everybody thinks that instead of a living flower in his heart the primitive stem stays.

The Chechen people very painfully perceive the infringement of honor and dignity (either by word or by action), no matter where it comes from. The Chechens have no sense of fatality. Every person must accept responsibility for his own actions. He alone must answer for his deeds directly to God (All Mighty), to society, to the forefathers, and to the new generation. But all the good deeds in his life are credited not only for him, but for all his relatives as well.

IV. Ethics of Art, Mourning and Hospitality   -----   to top

The traditional Chechen culture attaches great importance to music (like nature and color). With the sounds of music, the Chechen people cured illnesses, expressed the words of love and hate, reconciled and embroiled, and told the mysteries of life. The attitude was for the musicians and their musical instruments. According to one of the Chechen tales about the heroic deed of Pkharmat (Prometheus), the origin of the reedpipe associated with the output of the fire from the Underworld. Based on the Greek myth, the eldest brother of Pkharmat gave him the ‘carz’, a sort of bamboo or reed, with a soft core (like a sunflower pith) with a small piece of coal inside. The attraction of this piece of coal to Mother’s fire was very strong, so while ascending higher and higher together with Pkharmat to the next sphere, the piece of coal burned the core and escaped, and the sparks, burning the side of the bamboo, fell to the next sphere, so that the over-burdened eagle could continue his journey.

Thus, when Pkharmat reached our Earth sphere, the small piece of coal had burned the side of the bamboo eight times. Therefore, the reedpipe has eight holes, and so the bamboo and the reed are now hollow inside. People play such a reedpipe once a year before the sun shines at the summer house, i.e. June 20 – in honor of Prometheus – Pkharmat, who brought the fire to man, separated the sky and the earth, and eliminated chaos. This great holiday in June and the great birthday of the sun on December 25, were the main holidays of the Chechen nation up to the middle of 18th century.

Speaking about the musical instruments, one must tell the legend about the terrible devastator of Chechnya, Timur. When the battle of the day was over, Timur asked his commanders: "Have you taken away their ‘pondar’" (musical string instrument). The answer was negative. And then he said: "If you haven’t taken away the ‘pondar’, you only destroyed their army, but you didn’t subjugate them. So we must make them our allies. I welcome them, and I wish as a sign of my respect to their steadfastness and for their edification, to grant them my sabre, which I haven’t given to anyone yet." His men didn’t find the fighting men; they were all killed. They brought the storyteller, who was prohibited from taking part in the battle and had to observe from a distance, so that he could tell the story to the future generation. The storyteller, Illancha, took the sabre of the Iron Lame and gave it to nine pregnant women, who passed it on to nine young boys. Later, Timur ordered freedom for all the Chechen prisoners. The Chechen elders told that this sabre, together with other presents and many Chechen relics were saved up until February, 1944, when the Chechen people were robbed of all their possessions during deportation; the main part of the Chechen treasures were taken to Moscow.

The usage of musical instruments by the Chechen people had a special historic significance. For example, the use of ‘chungur’ (a sort of string musical instrument) was associated with crop production: This instrument was played in the field in order to speed the growth of the grain crop and during the sheep’s mating season. The singers and ‘chunguroi’ (chungur players) were considered relatives in the same ‘taip’ (clan). The academician, N. Dubrovin, called them the professional union, caste, or brotherhood, who were considered the most honorable and highly respected group in the society.

The most famous Chechen dance is the "lezginka". It was performed with expressed words and interpretations. The different passes and movements were indicative of this fact, and the spectators can "read" them even today. The main peculiarity of this pair-dancing is that the dancers raise to their toes (toe-dancing). It is very interesting that the metal sculptures of the Bronze age (Coban sculpture), demonstrate this pose not only for men, but in the figures of animals. So we can suppose, that this dance has its roots in the bronze epoch.

Lezginka dance (‘khelkhar’), accompanied by the demonstration of life stories, military deeds, men’s daring, and women’s grace. At the beginning of the dance, a young man and a young woman approach from opposite sides and distant positions, advance into the circle and begin the movements; each one moves to the right side in a spiral motion. Then they move to the center of the circle, as if some strange force leads them, once more, they untwist the spiral from the center to the periphery, while the young man in some special movement turns over to 180 degrees and stays behind his partner. At this stage, he is not allowed to raise his hand or lead her in her movements. When the spiral becomes completely untwisted and each have gone away to their opposite positions, the young man will stand briefly in front of the men’s row, and the young woman in front of women’s row. After these initial movements, the real dance begins, where the young woman submits to the gestures and movements of her partner.

This dance is associated with the myth (similar to the Ancient Greek one about the {Ariadna’s} Arachnid’s thread and the rescue of Theseus). In the first part of the dance the man is passive, he only follows the girl, and in the second part, their roles reverse.

Art expresses the world outlook of the Chechen nation; their religious beliefs, rituals, myths and legends become apparent in their art. In their decor, applied arts in the dimensions and forms of objects of everyday priorities, is the basis for an ideal human body, especially for ancient art. Chechen art concentrated on many Oriental traditions, and it brings the origin to our present time.

According to tradition, the Chechen man must restrain himself from expressing his sorrow or joy. That’s why mourning shouldn’t be expressed openly. As the Chechens believe, your today’s sorrow could be a repeat of yesterday’s sorrow of others. It is possible, that tomorrow you’ll face an even deeper sorrow, and today’s sorrow will seem to you only like a child’s play.

For a Chechen a guest is a sacred person. That’s why friendship is appreciated so highly, as well as helping the weak person or those in need. A story tells about a driver who accidentally knocked down a woman on the street, and she died immediately. The driver took her in his arms and rushed to the nearest house, praying to God for help and mercy, for he had neither relatives nor friends near by. The man who opened the door saw his dead mother, and said to the praying driver: "Keep calm, I’ve heard your prayer. This dead woman an is my mother, and if you wish, I’ll be your brother from this day on. But by God, if you had only left her at the road and tried to run away, I would spend all my life looking for you in revenge for my mother."

Do the Chechens think about their future as a Nation? Certainly. An Egyptian officer of Chechen origin said that his family has forgotten the native language, but all the descendants were told of such a spell: "Like a whip that fell down from the hands of a horse rider, who was overwhelmed by a sand storm, the Chechen nation will disappear. But, that same wind will blow in from the other direction, and the whip will appear on the surface of the Earth once again. Thus, the Chechen nation may go into non-existence for some period, but it will revive from dormancy for the sake of goodness and justice, and will survive until the "judgment day".

V. Democratic System of Social Organization and its Influence on the Chechen Nation’s Mentality   -----   to top

The Chechen people are subdivided into several ethnic groups, known as ‘taip’ (clan). At present, their number totals more than 150. According to some Chechen sources, in the middle of the last century, their number was a little over 100, while in the beginning of the last century, there were only 59 ‘taips’. Each ‘taip’ is composed of a united group of people, more or less, connected with blood relatives or strong moral obligations. The number of persons in a ‘taip’ depends on the period of its existence. In those very ancient ‘taips’, the degree of relationship was conventional, and it was determined only by its designation. But the moral obligation of such ancient groups was extremely high. If someone ignored his or her obligations, they were quickly reminded of their duties.

Whether the ‘taip’ was based on blood-related bonds or not, it was the foundation of the Chechen culture and their way of life. People say that ‘taip’ is the fortress of "Adat" or ‘edelsh’ (national customs). Execution of these customs requires a commitment of moral forces and material inputs (for example, in the case of hospitality). Not all people can manage to keep at a due level. Therefore, such people would depart from traditions and norms of their ‘taip’. There is a Chechen expression which says: "It is very difficult to be a Chechen man". So the taip’s customs are not just a casual rule, varying from time to time with the whims or moods of the society. A firm and steady structure of a ‘taip’, is an integral part of the formation of the Chechen ethnic character.

‘Taips’ played an important role in the preservation of Chechen ethnos, which for example, created the forces to maintain the first Russia-Caucasus war, in the face of the strongest army in the world. The ethnology proves that the ‘taip’ organization didn’t just appear from nowhere, but rather, as a result of logical searches and perfection. There is a legend, saying that the first ‘taip’ (about 20 people) formed and lived in the Nashkha area in the Caucasus mountains, and from them other ‘taips’ formed and came to the whole Chechen territory. These ‘taips’ were called by ethnographer the "pure taip". And those ‘taips’, in which the members of other tribes have come from, were called the "impure taip". There is another legend related to this fact. That is, members of the "pure taip" had stored, for thousands of years, a sacred relic, a huge copper boiler; on its sides was the ancient designation of names of the "impure taip". The "impure taip" managed to seize this boiler and melt it down by fire, thus destroying the identity of the "impure taip".

According to another legend, during the first Russian-Caucasian war, the preserved Chechen relic was sunk in the mountain lake, ‘Kezen-Am’, by Imam Shamil, in order to consolidate the Chechen nation in their struggle against the Russian aggression. All ‘taips’ were obliged to write chronicles. These manuscripts were constantly rewritten depending on their physical conditions. They contained invaluable information on the history of the Chechen people. The elder of each ‘taip’ was obligated to save these historical documents in a solemn secret. It was explained by the fact that the secrets of centuries can become the subject of a boast or quarrel between the Chechen groups. Use of these documents was admitted only by the judicial executors of a prime-power organization named ‘Mekhk Khell’ during the settlement of disputes between the ethnic groups. It was concerned predominantly with the use of land. A large number of these manuscripts were destroyed by the Russians during the period of systematic genocide of the Chechen people in 1944. However, some relics were saved.

Many documents are not decoded yet. According to some of the decoded documents (some of them were published in a scientific literature, in 19th century), some ‘taips’ came to the Northern Caucasus from the south, beyond the southern slopes of the great Caucasus mountain range, or possibly advanced from the south along the eastern coast of the Black Sea, and then eastward to the main Chechen Motherland. It is necessary to note, that the names of ancient Chechen ‘taips’ were mentioned in ethnonyms and toponymies of the ancient East Asia and Southern Caucasus6.

The representatives of each taip were dispersed widely in the area. The larger ‘taips’ were distributed over practically the entire Chechen ethnic territory. Hence, they execute functions of a common ethnic connection, and not a division of ethnos. Many Chechen ‘taips’ have origins in foreign ethnic founders. Naturally, the first founders were the various Caucasian ethnos. During the Russian-Caucasian wars, Russian, Ukrainian, and Polish groups joined the Chechen ethnos. There were also ‘taips’ from other European origins who joined the Chechen ethnos in earlier times. The process of formation of new ‘taips’ continues even at present.

Thus, during the 13-year period of deportation (1944-1957), the deported Germans lived together with Chechens, and they also formed a new Chechen ‘taip’. M. Weisert is known as the founder of such a ‘taip’; he is a "pure German" and all his relatives live in Germany. Now, he is one of the most dear and respected Chechen Elders. Chechen society is organized according to the principles of freedom and equality; it is consolidated into a strong nation with the help of ‘taip’ structure. The democratic organization of the Chechen people was recognized by the Russians during the wars in the 19th century. An "Encyclopedia by Brockgaus and Efron" (vol. 76, p. 786), describes:

"This social organization explains the extreme resistance of the Chechen nation in the long struggle against the Russians, which glorified their heroic death".
We can also find similar evaluations in the works of V. Potto, ‘Caucasus Wars’.
"They (Russians) found the persistent, stubborn enemy, whose physical strength, and democratic customs, and their whole way of life breathed by war and will."
Thanks to the democratic organization, a foreigner, or a member of another clan can join the ethnos of the Chechen society, and easily adopt their language, customs and ethnic values.

A democratic ‘taip’ organization, as a form of society’s self-rule, has the function of social control. The pure ideological concept remains in the Chechen ethnos, which carefully elevates the values of the ancient Caucasus culture. The major orientations of their culture can lead to clear understanding, that the Chechen ethnos have directed their efforts not to conquer space, but to conquer time, to preserve the circuit of times. This major ethnic feature explains the culture and psychology of the nation. Through the ages, the people’s dialogue with their own forefathers, with carriers of other ancient civilizations, has given the Chechen ethnos the entry into further dialogue with contemporaries of Russian and other cultures. At present, the Chechen ethnos undertakes the next attempt to be released from severe colonial oppression and to revive public organization in accordance with Chechen ethnic philosophy, directed towards development of time and culture.

Ethnographer Jan Chesnov (Institute of ethnology and anthropology of Russian Academy of Science), who studies deeply the phenomena of Chechen ethnos, has made a number of interesting assumptions about the high energy of the Chechen personality. Having excluded natural, as well as other factors, related to other nations of the Caucasus, Jan Chesnov pays a special attention to the ‘taip’ organization, as that cell where a Chechen person is born, allocated by the special energy, passion. The blood-related structure, for example the primordial state, can’t bear such passionate person. A person who determines situations based on his idea of Duty and Honor, accepting decisions based on this, and thus putting his life on the line.

This feature was realized by the Chechen people thousands of times. The heroic epochs, the political history of the Chechen nation in the last two centuries, the works of many ethnographers, the word of A. Solzhenitsyn about a proud nation in GULAG, all confirms this. This feature also describes today’s heroic war of the Chechen people against one of the strongest armies of the world. Today if you ask any honorable Chechen man, whether he is ready to die for independence, you’ll receive an unequivocal positive answer. Already, hundreds of Chechen men have faced fatal situations in order to realize the ideals of freedom, without which they simply would cease to be Chechen men.

During the Soviet years, the administrative totalitarian regime destroyed all ethnic and traditional social structures, but nevertheless, the organic basis of Chechen society, democracy stays firmly in place. Communist ideology, justifying its propaganda, used the thesis that the ‘taip’ organization contradicts the laws and philosophy of a state. On the contrary, the ‘taips’ in ancient times, undoubtedly gave birth to supreme bodies of government, ‘Mekhk Khell’ (Council of the country), i.e. representative authorities – parliament. But it was not only the Council of the country, it was the complete system of a State government.

The bodies of local self-management were called ‘Gala Khell’ (Council of a city) and ‘Evla-Khell’ (Council of a village). ‘Mekhk-Khell’ established strict laws, based on the philosophy of ‘Adat’, and controlled observance of the law. The social and normative role of these laws was above the legal bodies of a modern state; powerless in the face of problems of criminal and anti-social morals, other negative phenomena of modern civilized societies.

Centuries ago, Chechen ‘Mekhk Khell’ authority solved problems connected with the rights of the woman, her protection; problems of military ethics, etc., that were beyond their ordinary activities in a sphere of land holdings, trade and commerce. The constructive effect of political traditions in the Chechen national and state status, depends upon the modern concept of a state, in which aspects of violence should play smaller and smaller role, and moral norms and cooperation should be much more significant.

During the period of the Russian-Chechen war (1994-1996), the whole world observed the intrepidity of the Chechen soldiers and volunteers in the unequal fight for the independence of their country. All foreign observers, paid particular attention to the noble attitudes of the Chechen soldiers towards the defeated enemy prisoners and wounded Russian soldiers. Russian authorities, having chosen terrorism against peaceful citizens, were surprised more than anybody, that despite the obvious inequity of the fighting parties, the Chechen people didn’t accept such dirty ways of war and didn’t use the same violence against Russian civilians who lived in Grozny. The merciless attitude from the Chechen side was only toward the Russian bandits, who came to the Caucasus as mercenaries, in order to murder and rob the civilians of the Chechen Republic. This phenomenon impressed everybody who was in Chechnya. It can be explained specifically by the existence of a spiritual culture, ethics of equality, mercy for the weak, respect for the woman and high moral responsibility, all of which are the basis for the strong democratic system of the Chechen society.

V. Novodvorskaya, the leader of Democratic Union, says that Chechen people fought in ‘white gloves’ for a long period. It was not until seven months after the continuous brutal attacks by the Russian army, that Shamil Basayev, well known for his action in Budyonnovsk, was forced to remind the whole world, that the Russian authorities were fighting a dirty and criminal war against the Chechen people. The world community became accustomed to the total destruction of Chechen women and children; only then could they see and realize the horrors of the uprising in the world terrorism. Again, the Chechen people declared that they were against the war, and demanded that the Russian government abolish the policy of total terror against the oppressed Chechen nation.

The main danger caused by terrorism, as a direct consequence of the behavior of Russian military men in Chechnya, is that this policy demoralizes the society, allowing one part to murder and rob without objections by the authorities, and to oblige others to get accustomed to this lawless practice. The Chechen people want to be left in peace on their own land; they don’t want to come to the dirty road of political terror. In such case, they certainly can’t call themselves a Chechen nation, in the traditional sense.

VI. The Closing Remarks   -----   to top

Finally, we shall analyze the dominant ethnic characteristic, that is vitally importance for the ethnos existence – the "attitude" of the Chechen nation toward its Homeland in the moral and political sense. The Land of Chechnya is not only the nursing Mother of the nation, but the burial vault of its forefathers. That’s why Chechen people consider it blasphemous to claim the territory of other nations. In the Chechen view, it is impossible to give territorial rights to another state’s policy. This attitude toward the native land, as well as toward the other nations’ lands, is the main characteristic feature of all nations in the Caucasus. Only this philosophical view can explain the unique phenomenon: Numerous nationalities exist in the small Caucasian territory; they preserve their languages, cultures, and their ethnic self-consciousness. Never in the history of the Caucasus has the stronger nation conquered the territory of a nation lesser in size.

It is slanderous Moscow propaganda, that people of the Caucasus cannot live without Russia, and that they can’t solve their problems on their own. The fact is, the only state that destroys peace and spreads chaos in the Caucasus is Russia. All problems in this region were caused or created only by Russia, and it has no intention of solving them. Certainly not for the purpose of peaceful settlement, Russia has laid the explosive mines of ethnic conflict throughout the entire Caucasus. These problems can be settled only when Russia makes a complete about-face and leaves the Caucasus alone. The Caucasus is a very special cultural and political region of the world. The Caucasus should live free according to its own cultural norms and rules. Moreover, these rules are the ideals for the way of life in democratic societies throughout the world. The Caucasus must be one and indivisible.

Russia, morally and legally is obligated to leave the Caucasus. This will be good not only for the welfare of Caucasians but for the Russians as well, leading to the survival of the national state establishment of Russia, and it would help to jump-start the beginning of a new epoch in the history of this region – an epoch, of Russian-Caucasian benevolent cooperation equal in rights. The Caucasus shouldn’t be regional territories for foreign states, such as Russia or others. The Caucasus must be an independent region with its own fundamental interests. The Caucasus cannot be characterized as Christian or Islamic in nature. There can be a lasting peace and good will in the Caucasus, if it is allowed to be purely Caucasian. The ‘Adat’ philosophy which is the life philosophy and civilization of the whole Caucasus. He who doesn’t know the Caucasus would have difficulty understanding this idea. The Caucasus will always be "the burning piece of coal resting on the palm of (this) world" (W. Shakespeare), if it does not obtain its freedom. It is illogical to think that one can execute some fundamental commercial projects in this region, without solving their local political problems, and eliminating the violence and atrocities directed toward the Caucasian people. If the Caucasus soon obtains its freedom and independence, it would become the most beautiful, most magnificent and most hospitable region on this planet.


Comments and Some Rreferences:   -----   to top

1) In the authors edition, the main part of this material is based on the ethnography works of Dr. Ibrahim Saidov, Dr. S. M. Hasiyev (Chechen Academy of Science) and Jan Chesnov (Institute of Ethnology and Anthropology of Russian Academy of Science).

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2) The author’s translation from Chechen language.

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3) "Conquered Caucasus. Essays of history and temporary situation at Caucasus". Published by: A. A. Kasparia, St. Petersburg, 1904.)

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4) The magazine "Revolution and Mountaineer" No. 6-7, p.94.

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5) N.G. Volkova. "Ethnic Structure of Northern Caucasus Population in 19th Century", Moscow, 1973. p. 121 Adjustment of population statistics for the number of Chechen people up to the year 1861, after the Russian annexation of Chechnya, the figure was 140,000 people. Then Russian authorities carried out several punitive raids on Chechenia, and in 1865, 23,000 Chechen people were forced to migrate into Turkey. (S.A. Isayev: "Traitorous Turkish Policy during the organization of deportation of the mountaineers from Caucasus", "Orga" Magazine, No. 4, 1988, Grozny, p. 90).

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6) K. Tumanov was the first to pay attention to the existence of Chechens in ancient times in East Asia and Southern Caucasus. ("The prehistoric language of Caucasus", Tiflis, 1913).

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