The Chechens and the Ingush


Written by: Abdurahman Avtorkhanov and Andrei Kolganov


        On 15 January 1939 "Izvestia" ( Russian newspaper -AD) published the following information from the official Soviet news agency TASS (today knows as Itar-Tass -AD) in the article 'Quinquennium of Chechnia-Ingushetia' (Grozny, 14 January):

        Five years ago, on 13 January 1934, two Caucasian peoples, endowed with a kindred language, culture and life-style, united to form an autonomous Chechen-Ingush oblast. On 5 December 1936, this oblast was transformed into an autonomous Soviet Socialist Republic. The history of Chechnia-Ingushetia is that of a decade long bloody struggle by a freedom-loving people against colonisers and the national bourgeoisie--the mainstay of tsarism. During the years of the Soviet regime Chechnia-Ingushetia was transformed beyond all recognition. By government deed, over 400,000 hectares of land were turned over for permanent use to the Republic's kolkhoz. 92.7 percent of peasants' properties were unified into kolkhoz. An important petroleum industry was founded. New petroleum-producing regions were discovered: Malgobek and Gorskaia. Two refining plants and an engineering plant, "Krasnyi molot" [Red Hammer], were built. Food processing and chemical engineering, in particular, together with both light and cottage industries, were newly created.

The culture of the Chechen-Ingush people, national in form and socialist in content, has flourished sumptuously under the sun of Stalin's Constitution. Before the Revolution, Chechnia-Ingushetia possessed just three schools. Today over 118,000 children are attending 342 primary and secondary schools. The higher education institutions--technicums and workers' universities--train hundreds of engineers, technicians and teachers every year. All these results have been achieved in the course of a stubborn struggle against the enemies of the people: Trotsykists, Bukharinists, bourgeois-nationalists, who are endeavouring to snatch from the workers the gains of the Great October Socialist Revolution.
        In February 1944, exactly five years later, the entire population of Chechnia-Ingushetia, literally in the course of twenty-four hours, were arrested and embarked in prisoners' convoys for transport to an unknown destination. Subsequently, two years and four months later, "Izvestia" published an antedated ukaz of the Presidium of the Supreme Soviet of the RSFSR on the "Liquidation of the Chechen-Ingush Soviet Republic and the Deportation of its Population", with no indication of the place of deportation. The ukaz, dated 25 June 1946, justifies the deportation as follows:

        Many Chechens and Ingush, incited by German agents, entered voluntarily into formations organized by Germans and, together with German armed forces, rose up in arms against the Red Army. Obeying German orders they formed gangs in order to attack the Soviet government from the rear. A large section of the population of the Chechen-Ingush Republic offered no resistance whatsoever to these traitors to the fatherland. For this reason the Chechen-Ingush Republic is being liquidated and its population deported.
        Thus came to an end the centuries-old history of Chechnia-Ingushetia with the obliteration of the entire Republic from the map of the Soviet Union and the disappearance of the names "Chechen" and "Ingush" from the current vocabulary. However, the official reason given for the annihilation of these people - collaboration with the Germans - is based on the assumption of the ignorance of the Soviet people and a lack of information in the Western world. It is relevant here to point out two factors first, that during the Second World War not one single German soldier ever appeared on Chechen-Ingush territory, with the exception of a brief occupation of the frontier locality of Malgobek, where the population was Russian; and secondly, that it was materially impossible for Chechens and Ingush to join German formations since there was no compulsory mobilization in Chechnia-Ingushetia throughout the entire existence of the Republic. The partial mobilization during the Soviet war against Finland was cancelled at the beginning of German-Soviet hostilities. Moreover, the Chechens and Ingush were exempt from service in the Red Army. (The order of the High Command of the Red Army in February 1942 explains this exemption by the refusal of the Chechens and Ingush to eat pork on religious grounds.)

        It is true that at the beginning of the hostilities the Germans captured, along with a 5-million-strong Red Army prisoner-of-war population, a few dozen Chechens and Ingush who later formed into a company within the framework of the North Caucasian Legion (in the summer of 1945, this company was handed over by the British to the Soviets in the region of Hanover). But it is in the first document quoted above that we find the key phrase revealing the reason for the deportation: "The history of Chechnia-Ingushetia is that of a decade-long bloody struggle by a freedom-loving people against colonizers...." It is only thanks to this phrase that we can establish the historical truth.
        It is well known that the Bolsheviks considered the struggle of oppressed peoples for their national liberation and independence as justifiable when it took place before the establishment of the Soviet regime. Any national liberation struggle in the Soviet Union, on the other hand, was not only condemned but mercilessly quelled. This does not mean, however, that nations which fought for their independence in tsarist Russia gave up this struggle under the Soviet regime. Quite the reverse: never in the history of pre-1917 Russia was the national problem more acute, and never were non-Russian nationalities more pitilessly repressed, than under Soviet rule. In tsarist Russia it was principally the non-Slavic peoples, Caucasians and Turkestanis, that struggled for independence. But in the Soviet period the national liberation movement was carried on across a broad front that included all Slavic and non-Slavic nationalities. As of old, the Caucasus was in the vanguard of this struggle led by the Chechen-Ingush people. That is why they were the first victims in this unequal, though just, struggle.

Historical background

        According to the Soviet Union's Constitution of 1936, the territory (krai) of the North Caucasus consisted of the autonomous regions (oblast) of Cherkessia, Adyghe and Karachay, and the autonomous Soviet Socialist Republics of Kabardino-Balkaria, Northern Ossetia, Chechnia- Ingushetia and Daghestan. The Chechen-Ingush Soviet Republic occupied an area of 15,700 square kilometers with a population of 700,0V0. At the time of the deportation, which affected all Chechens and Ingush living in the Caucasus (including those resident in Daghestan and Georgia), and taking into account the normal increase in the population, this probably amounted to one million people. The Republic dealt mainly in agriculture, stock-breeding and the petroleum industries. Chechnia-Ingushetia was the second most important petroleum-producing area in the Soviet Union. At the start of the Second World War its average annual production was between 3 and 4 million tonnes.
        In spite of the existence of distinct languages and dialects, the North Caucasian Mountaineers are essentially one people consisting of kindred tribes sharing a common history and culture. The historical unity of these tribes conditioned their common evolution and historical struggle for independence, best exemplified by the State of Mansur (1780-91), the State ("Imamate") of Shamil (1834-64), the Republic of the North Caucasus Mountaineers (1918-19), the North Caucasian Emirate (1919-20), and finally the Soviet Mountain Republic (1920-4).
        Moscow became interested in the Caucasus after its conquest of the Kazan and Astrakhan Khanates in 1556. Ivan the Terrible even married a Cherkess princess, Maria Temrukovna, in 1561 to provide a basis for peaceful incorporation of the North Caucasus into Russia. However, the expected peaceful incorporation did not materialize. A few unsuccessful attempts to penetrate the North Caucasus were made by Boris Godunov (1606), after which attempts at conquest were abandoned and for a century no further move was made by Russia in that region.

        In the eighteenth century, Peter I undertook a campaign to annex the whole of the Caucasus, but was forced to withdraw after suffering a serious defeat at the hands of the Mountaineers and the Azeris in 1772. Russian expansion in the Caucasus was renewed under Catherine II; her commander-in-chief, Suvorov, directed this new campaign, which provoked the first organized resistance of North Caucasians operating mainly from Chechnia and Daghestan. In 1785, Mansur Ushurma, a Chechen from Aldy, assumed the title of imam of all the Caucasian Mountaineers, a move which effectively united all the tribes of the North Caucasus: the Chechens, the Ingush, the Daghestanis, the Ossetians, the Cherkess and the Kabardians. For a time, Catherine considered the idea of ending the war against the Mountaineers by concluding a treaty of independence and friendship with them, but the intervention of Turkey on their side put an end to this plan. While admitting the possibility of Caucasian independence, the Russian government was not prepared to turn the country over to Turkish domination, and fighting continued more bitterly than ever. Finally, the movement came to an end when Mansur was captured in Anapa together with Mustafa, the Turkish Pasha.
        However, the capture of Mansur did not mean the end of the Mountaineers' struggle. Under the leadership of Ghazi Mohammad, Hamza Bek and Imam Shamil, Daghestan and Chechnia made an appeal-to-arms uniting the mountain tribes. The struggle was crowned by the success of the Mountaineers. The North Caucasian independent state - the "Imamate of Shamil" - was created in 1834 and lasted for thirty years, during which it fought without interruption for every inch of its territory.

        Officially, the Caucasian war ended in 1859, when the active army in the Caucasus was increased to 300,000 men. In the summer of that year the new Commander-in-Chief of the Caucasian forces, Field-Marshal Prince Bariatinskii, had at his disposal a large concentration of fresh forces and modern military technology which enabled him to defeat Shamil. He was able to issue a triumphant note: "Gunib is taken, Shamil is made prisoner, I congratulate the Caucasian army." In 1864, the last component of Shamil's independent government, the Cherkess state, fell to the Russians.
        In spite of the fact that the Mountaineers were vanquished, the Tsar's government felt compelled to pay homage to their aspirations of independence and love of freedom by granting them certain rights to internal self-administration. The proclamation, in the Emperor's name, to the Chechen people reads as follows:

I declare in the name of the Emperor:

(1) that the Russian government leaves you forever absolutely free to profess the faith of your fathers.
(2) that you will never be forced into the army as soldiers or be transformed into Cossacks.
(3) that you are given a three-year exemption period from the date of ratification of this Act, after which you will be compelled to pay three roubles per household for the maintenance of your national administration services. However, the aul communities are free to distribute this tax among you as they think fit.
(4) that the authorities in charge of your government will exercise their authority according to the shariat and the adat. Judgment will be administered and decisions taken by popular courts composed of the best people.

        The original was signed by Bariatinskii.

        However, fearing new revolts in the Caucasus the tsarist government decided to exile large groups of Chechens, Daghestanis, Ossetians and Cherkess to Turkey. These deportations took place in 1864. The procedure was harsh and there were many victims--also many protests in the West.
        In 1877, a popular uprising headed by Ali-Bek Haji flared up in subjugated Chechnia and Daghestan. The ceaseless efforts of fifty years and the immense sacrifice made by Russia to subdue the North Caucasus were thus reduced to nought. However, thanks to an immense concentration of military force in a small territory (literally, fifteen soldiers for every one inhabitant of Chechnia), commanded by General Svistunov, the revolt was quelled after a year of warfare.

        Twenty-eight leaders of the revolt, including Ali-Bek Haji, aged twenty-three, Uma Zumsoevski, aged seventy, and Dada his son, a guards officer, were court-martialled. The presiding general asked if they considered themselves guilty under the laws of the empire. Ali-Bek Haji replied on behalf of his companions: "It is only before God and the Chechen people that we consider ourselves guilty because, in spite of all the sacrifices, we were not able to reconquer the freedom that God gave us!" They were sentenced to death by hanging. Before the execution the condemned were allowed to express their last wish. Uma Zumsoevski said: "It is hard for an old wolf to witness the slaughter of his puppy. I ask to be hanged before my son." The Tsar's court was not generous enough to grant this favour to the old man.

        The struggle of the Mountaineers for freedom and independence became an important issue in Europe. Marx and Engels wrote in their famous Communist Manifesto: "People of Europe! learn to fight for freedom and independence from the heroic example of the Caucasian Mountaineers." Russian writers such as Pushkin, Lermontov and Tolstoy immortalized their struggle, condemning at the same time the cruel and inhumane methods of their Russian conquerors.

        It is important to stress two characteristics of the social development of the Chechen-Ingush people which contributed to the intense conflict between the forces of the conquerors and the conquered. First (different in this respect from many other Caucasian regions), Chechnia and Ingushetia had never experienced either class antagonism or despotic government. Although the cultural-political development of the Chechens and Ingush had reached the same level as that of other Caucasian people (culture developed there on the basis of Arabic script), it knew no feudalism. Every Chechen and Ingush considered himself "uzden" (a freeman). Legal equality was an ancient law in this society.

Chantre, a French author, wrote in 1887:

"At the time of their independence, the Chechens formed several separate communities placed under the rule of a popular assembly.

Today they live as people unaware of class distinctions. They are very different from the Cherkess whose gentry occupies a very high place. This is the essential difference between the aristocratic Cherkess state and the wholly democratic constitution of Chechen tribes. It is this that determined the specific character of their struggle.[. . .] The equality among the population of the Eastern Caucasus is clear-cut. They all possess the same rights and enjoy the same social position. The authority with which they invest their tribal chiefs grouped within the framework of an elected council is limited in time and power . . . Chechens are witty. Russian officers nicknamed them the French of the Caucasus.
        The German author Bodenstedt mentions the same circumstances and concludes that the "Chechens have a purely republican constitution and equal rights." The second feature of the Chechen-Ingush is the immense significance they attach to the Muslim faith. Chechens are almost fanatically religious, and any attack on Islam arouses among them a profound reaction. It is these two characteristics that constitute the Chechen-Ingush specific way of life. They were in total opposition to the spirit and general trend of the tsarist conquerors' official policy.

        The Russian Revolution of 1917 and the restoration of North Caucasian independence

        After the declaration of rights promulgated by the Russian Revolution of 1917, the First North Caucasian Congress set up the Central Committee of the Union of the North Caucasus and Daghestan in May 1917. This Central Committee was to act as the provisional government of the North Caucasian independent state. In September of that year, the provisional constitution of the newly-formed state was ratified by the Second Congress. On 11 May 1918, after the Bolsheviks had seized power, the North Caucasian state declared itself entirely independent from the Russian Federation. Its status as such was recognized by Germany and Austria-Hungary and by Turkey, with which the North Caucasian Republic concluded an alliance on 8 June 1918. Its most important political figures were President Tapa Chermoev, the chairman of parliament Vassan-Giray Jabagi, the minister of foreign affairs Haidar Bammate and the ministers Pshemakho Kotsev, Abdul Rashid Katkhanov, Ahmet Tsalikov, Alikhan Kantemir and Aytek Namitok.

        It was not the Bolsheviks but Denikin who dealt the first blow to the North Caucasian Republic. The White Russian movement--the "Voluntary Army"--began its operation in Cossack territory in the North Caucasus. It was favorably viewed by some Mountaineers as a military and political movement directed against the Bolsheviks, but disillusion set in when its anti-national aspect became apparent. With the slogan "for one indivisible Russia", Denikin decided to subdue the Caucasus. He considered the Mountaineers' desire to organize their political life as they saw fit as equivalent to "national Bolshevism", which he deemed it his sacred duty to eliminate; hence his policy of burning down the auls and exterminating the rebellious Mountaineers.
        After having dealt with serious resistance in Kabarda and Northern Ossetia, Denikin penetrated the territory of Chechnia-Ingushetia with the intention of breaking down the opposition of the Chechens and Ingush. He burned dozens of the largest centres of Chechnia-Ingushetia to the ground, including Ekazhevo, Dolakovo, Alkan-Yurt, Chechen-Aul, Ustar-Garday, Gudermes, Gherzel-Aul and Staryi-Yurt. The only result was to arouse a universal desire for revenge among the Chechen and Ingush population and to unite them. This is the reason why, instead of concentrating his forces against the Bolsheviks during the Moscow campaign, Denikin was forced to draw on his best detachments to fight against the Mountaineers. Indeed, he himself acknowledged later that no less than one third of his forces were kept busy in the Caucasus. The objective was to extinguish the "seething volcano"--his own words when describing Chechnia-Ingushetia in his Description of the Great Trouble.

        The independent Republic of the North Caucasus fell, and Denikin became a rather anxious master of his conquest. This was hardly surprising since already in September 1919, after the August revolt in Chechnia-Ingushetia, Sheikh Uzun Haji had liberated the mountains of Daghestan, Chechnia, Ossetia and Kabarda. The Sheikh then proclaimed the independence of the North Caucasus once more and established the "North Caucasian Emirate".
        In February 1920, Denikin was forced to evacuate from the territory of the Emirate (the former Republic of the North Caucasus), and the Red Army made its entrance there in the guise of "liberators". The Bolsheviks had formerly recognized the government of Uzun Haji "de facto" and assisted him in his struggle against Denikin; they had even placed at the disposal of the North Caucasian Emirate the 5th Red Army commanded by Nikolai Gikalo. The Emirate was now liquidated, and Sheikh Uzun Haji was offered the honorary post of Mufti of the North Caucasian Mountaineers. He died three months later thus ridding the Bolsheviks of a dangerous ally. Nevertheless, in August 1920 an anti- Soviet revolt flared up in the mountains of Chechnia-Ingushetia and Daghestan under the leadership of Said Bek, Shamil's great-grandson. The movement lasted exactly one year until September 1921.


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