History of the Region
conflict over the region now known as Chechnya has raged intermittently
since the mid-18th century. Reports of fighting between czarist
Russian forces and Muslim tribes in the region date back as early
as 1722. By mid-century, Russian troops had occupied much of the
the same time, Sheikh Mansur, a Muslim cleric, unified the Chechen
tribes and declared holy war on the czar and his army, delivering
a shocking defeat to Russian forces in 1785. Mansur is still seen
as a mystical figure and an inspiration to generations of Chechen
Mansur's victory, the czar dispatched more troops with an eye
toward annexing the region. During renewed violence, Chechnya's
second great military leader emerged another Muslim holy
man, Imam Shamil.
would lead decades of resistance using emerging guerilla techniques
to thwart Russian efforts. As the Muslim fighters continued to
resist, Russian forces poured into the region, eventually capturing
Shamil in 1859.
czar moved quickly to quell any other uprising, officially annexing
the territory that same year and forcing thousands of Shamil's
supporters to flee to other areas, including the Ottoman Empire.
this fighting in the 1850s, Russian novelist Leo Tolstoy served
with czarist troops in Chechnya. After witnessing the destruction
of a Chechen village and the brutal repression of its citizens,
Tolstoy described the residents' reaction.
one spoke of hatred for the Russians," he wrote. "The
feeling which all Chechens felt, both young and old, was stronger
than hatred. It was...such a revulsion, disgust and bewilderment
at the senseless cruelty of these beings, that the desire to destroy
them, like a desire to destroy rats, poisonous spiders and wolves,
was as natural as the instinct for self-preservation."
this historic anger and resentment, Chechnya remained fairly stable
after it was granted a semi-autonomous status within Russia. The
relative calm would last for another 50 years until the Bolshevik
that uprising occurred in 1917, the Chechens again used the chaos
within Russia to attempt to create an independent North Caucasian
state. Its fighters took on both the rebellious Red Russians and
the counter-revolutionary White Russians.
as the Soviets took full control in Moscow, they exerted more
power in the Caucasus, forcibly subduing the resistance in the
early 1930s. When the Russians again offered the Chechens a nominally
autonomous republic in 1936 in a bid to end the violence, the
Chechens joined with neighboring Ingushetia in 1934 to form a
joint republic that was later named the Chechen-Ingush Autonomous
Soviet Socialist Republic.
than a decade later, Soviet leader Joseph Stalin, who had ordered
numerous purges of the communist party, the military and other
ethnic groups, decided the Chechens could not be trusted in such
a pivotal region.
the Chechens of being pro-Nazi, Stalin deported nearly all of
them more than 500,000 men, women and children to
Kazakhstan. He also deported the entire population of neighboring
Ingushetia. Stalin's deportation orders were carried out on Feb.
23, 1944, a date that remains a touchstone in Chechen history.
Chechens stayed in Kazakhstan for more than ten years, isolated
from the local Kazakhs and resentful of the Soviets. Following
Stalin's death in 1953, the Soviets eased their restrictions on
the Chechens and Ingush and almost all had begun to return to
their homeland by 1957. Although reports vary widely, experts
estimate some 200,000 Chechens died during the exile.
the Chechens were allowed to return and their limited republic
was restored, the Soviets continued to curtail their ability to
practice Islam, and many of the region’s mosques were not
rebuilt until well into the 1970s.
would later separate from Chechnya to form its own autonomous
republic. When Chechnya declared itself independent of Russia
after the collapse of the Soviet Union, the Ingush objected, preferring
to keep their ties with Moscow.
Clogg, professor of modern Balkan history at the University of
London, wrote in a 1995 article for the Times of London that Russia's
moves to limit Islam's religious influence in the region only
strengthened the Chechens' beliefs.
from crippling the influence of Islam, as the Soviet authorities
hoped, such policies simply drove religion even further underground,
and the influence of the Sufi tarikats, or religious brotherhoods,
if anything, increased," he writes.
region once again experienced an uneasy calm during the 1970s
and 80s, but as the Soviet Union began to unravel, Chechnya once
again made a move towards independence. Like prior attempts, the
independence movement would soon devolve into a guerilla war between
the Russian army and militant separatists aimed at ending more
than 150 years of Russian rule.