BRIEF CHECHEN HISTORY
The history of our people, the Noxche, and our land, is filled with rich and colorful stories. For thousands of years, stories have survived through oral traditions, passed down generation by generation through clan elders. Legends have blended with actual events so that the true history is difficult to write. During the 19th century, several Chechen writers tried to preserve the history in massive volumes. Some still survive, despite Stalin's purges between 1939-1944, which ended with the exile of all Chechen and Ingush peoples as well as the removal of all references to the Chechen people from maps, history books and more. The recent war of 1994-1996 destroyed most of Chechnya's treasured archaeological and historical sites. However, many ancient burial sites, architectural monuments and several prehistoric cave petroglyphs remain in the mountains, despite centuries of war. These valuable relics provide us with the only evidence of who our ancient ancestors were.
Our history, and our rich folklore and legends, provide a window into who we truly are: our extreme pride, our fierce independence, our persistence of ancient traditions, our morals, our beliefs, our customs and our attitudes. However, the richest source of information about our past remains the elders today, as they retell their histories and stories to the next generation,village by village. In this way, we will never forget.
WHO ARE THE CHECHENS?
We, the Chechens, are not slavs. We are not Turks, despite the fact that Turkey unites all North Caucasus Muslim into a category which is related to them. We are not even "Chechen." This was coined by the Russians after the name of a village (Chechen-aul) where the Russians first encountered our people in the early 16th century. The first written mention of our people was in the 7th century, where we were known as the "Noxche" (pronounced "No-h-chee" with the "h" pronounced as if one was gargling from the back of the mouth: very similar to one of the ancient Aramaic letters). Our ancestors also called themselves the "Nahk". But a few ancient sources refer to our earliest ancestors as the "Tushba" (or "Tushpa"), an early reference to the "center of the earth." Ethnically, we are unique.
We are related to other ethnic groups throughout the Caucasus, most closely with the neighboring Ingush. Together, the Noxche and Ingush people have been called the "Vainaikh" which means "Our People." We have lived where we are now since prehistoric times, especially in the mountain regions. There we we have remained ethnically the same for thousands of years. While the Mesopotamians, Persians, Turks, Mongols, Slavs and others have greatly influenced the region with their wars, conquests and trade, we have remained fiercely proud and protective of our ethnic roots and background.
The Noxche language is considered one of the most difficult and oldest languages in the Caucasus. Its roots can be traced most closely to the ancient Mesopotamians. A cuneiform-style of writing is evident on some of the stone inscriptions, dating at least to 2,800 BC. The Noxche language, as we know it today, is most linked to some of the words used by the ancient Akkhadians, and can be traced at least to 1200 BC.. It is not related to Russian, Slavic, Indo-European or Turkish languages. But linguistic influences from invaders and traders over the centuries, including Mongolian and Arabic, are evident in many words. The Noxche language has a complicated grammar and sounds which are not like any other Caucasus tongue, although our language belongs linguistically to the Nakh branch of Caucasian languages, which include Ingush (galgai) and Batsbi (found in present day Georgia).
The Noxche language is indigenous to our mountain regions. It has remained uniquely true to its ancient forms in the mountain regions. It was an oral language until Islamic tradition came in and words were transcribed phonetically into Arabic. In the early 19th century, the Russians changed it to Latin, and then the Soviets in the 20th century changed it to cyrillic. It is now written in Latin again.
Despite the fact that we are predominantly Sunni Muslim today, that was not always so. Before the adoption of Islam, the Noxche people practiced our own blend of religious traditions and beliefs. Like so many ancient cultures and civilizations worldwide, archaeological evidence and modern day practices suggest that our ancient religion was based on cycles of nature and astronomy, with many gods and complex rituals. Artifacts and monuments, as well as burial and sacrificial sites, tell archaeologists alot about our religious beliefs before Islam and Christianity.
Petroglyphs in underground caverns high in the mountains, dating from at least 4,000 BC, depict solar signs, anthropomorphic animals, and use of plants for rituals. Ancient underground burial vaults from approximately 2600 BC have carved niches and unusual stones with concentric circles in a variety of manners. Different underground dwellings dating from 1200 BC until the 9th or 10th centuries A.D. suggest a wide variety of gods associated with forces of nature and the stars. Between the 8th-11th centuries, evidence of Christianity and Islam on burial sites and architecture is first observed. By the 11th century, the Georgians try to baptize many people, but without huge success. Islam was slowly introduced over a period of centuries, gaining converts by the 15th & 16th centuries, but not taking root until well into the 18th-mid 19th centuries, with the mountain regions last. Today one can see ancient traditions and superstitions blended with traditional Islamic beliefs and practices.
It is unique and unlike any other.
Likewise, the land of the Noxche has traditionally been a safe religious haven for persecuted peoples to gather. Small groups of people from Europe and Asia, over the centuries, have come to these mountains to hide. Welcomed by the Noxche people, they settled, and their religious traditions eventually blended with our ancient beliefs and customs. Our land also became a gateway for trade routes, drawing numerous religious and ethnic people to the region to settle permanently. A small number of Christians, Jews, Buddhists, other Muslims and more have a long and rich history in the land of the Noxche.
At the turn of the 20th century, there were over 800 mosques, numerous churches, temples and other places of worship, as well as hundreds of Islamic schools. During Soviet rule, religious facilities were mostly shut down, not to be opened or rebuilt until after 1991. Yet, through the entire Soviet period, Chechen religious beliefs survived. They survived because of our ancient clan structure, and the fact that Chechen law historically was civil and local.
Today Chechnya has mufti and a council of spiritual leaders. Our Chechen President Maskhadov has declared Chechnya to be under Shariat law rather than civil. However, most people in Chechnya today feel bound by their ancient laws and traditions: set up by each clan. Our villages and clans bind us. And have allowed us to survive Soviet rule.
Villages, Clans (Taips) and Tukums
Historically, our lives revolve around our village and clan structures. This is one of the most prominent and important institutions to persist since ancient times. Then, as now, everything centers around village life where elders rule. Taips, or clans, consist of several villages with a common ancestor. Each village can have anywhere from 10-50 families. We are taught from a young age to name our ancestors back 12 generations or more. Our clans forms strong units which, to this day, defend homes, land and extended family.
There are more than 125 clans among the Noxche people. All are categorized by a specific "Tukum", which is like a tribe. There are 9 Tukums among the Noxche people. Legend has it that we all share a common family ancestry of 9 brothers. (Editor's Note: That is the reason for the 9 stars on the flag. Visit our "Chechen Profile" page for more on the meaning of the Chechen flag). Within each tukum are numerous clans, although tukums vary in size. The largest tukum is the "Noxh-Mak-Kual". This is the tukum from which Ichkeriya is located and from where some of the toughest resistance fighters and heroes have emerged in our history. The late Chechen President Dzhohar Dudaev,
on the other hand, came from a small tukum high in the mountains near Georgia called the "Karaboolaks" (also known as the Quars-Orsch-Quo). Also in that region are the tukums of Sharawhy and Lameroe. Despite the fact that there are clan rivalries and blood feuds between clans, there has never been any tribal rivalry.Instead, members of the 9 tukums unite to help one another, just as the legendary 9 brothers did thousands of years ago.
While clans share a common history, language, religion and culture, each taip has their own elder council, court of justice, cemetary, customs, traditions and laws (called adats, which were customary laws). Leadership is by election and feudal relations do not exist. Each clan, or taip, is self sufficient and self contained. They are hard to break apart. The unity of clans, despite blood feuds, has traditionally been strong. It remains strongest in the mountain regions today. Our clan structure has protected us for thousands of years. It is one of the main reasons why foreign invaders, and later Russia, could not penetrate and conquer our people.
Our many taips, or clans, are a critical part of Chechen culture, identity and a key to our strong spirit today. As elders ruled in ancient days, today they are the backbone of village and clan life, and have the respect of all the people. Even though an elected government now exists, it is still the elders and the taips which truly rule. And the 9 tukums unite us all.
An interesting set of circumstances existed in the entire Caucasus for centuries. Boundaries did not exist. It simply was not necessary. Unlike Slavs, Asians or Europeans, there was a code of hospitality and respect regarding boundaries. If an Avar from Daghestan wanted to cross onto land owned by Chechen people, the Chechens would allow it. And vice versa. This existed all over the Caucasus. And when foreign invaders would try to come in, many would get together to protect their homelands.
Boundaries of what makes up the land of the Noxche was undefined and unclear until the 19th century. We know that Noxche clans controlled the fertile plains between the Terek and Sunja rivers, the Black Mountain region (forest) along the foothills of the Caucasus mountain range, the high mountains to the south and east. Until the 20th century, the land of the Noxche included parts of modern day Ingushetia, some of the high mountains of Georgia and portions of Daghestan out to the Caspian Sea. It was not until Soviet rule that borders were defined. Stalin's order to erase Chechnya boundaries from maps during the 1944 deportation has left the actual modern-day boundaries unclear. During deportation, Stalin transferred alot of the territory to the Georgians and others. Today, boundary disputes continue as the Chechen people try to recapture what is traditionally theirs.
Today's boundaries include Daghestan to the East and Northeast; Ingushetia and North Ossetia to the West; Russia's Stravrapol Province and Cossack region to the North; and Georgia to the South and Southwest.
--------------- --------------- ---------------
This section introduces you to the long and unique history of the Noxche people.
Pre-History: 32,000 BC-7th century AD
- 32,000 BC (and evidence up to 125,000 BC): The mountainous region of modern day Chechnya and Georgia reveal sites of early humans who lived during this period, mostly in caves. Tools, animal skins and use of fire are evident.
- 6,000BC-4,000 BC: cave paintings high in the mountains, artifacts and other archaeological data date a permanent occupation at least to this period or earlier. Cave drawings dating around 4,000 BC show pictographs of animals, men burying the dead, anthropomorphic figures, celestial events, symbols and glyphs. Some of these carved glyphs were later removed from caves and placed into combat towers for good luck.
Petroglyphs like the ones above (from the ruins of an early 16th century combat tower near Shatoy) were often found in ancient underground dwellings, dating back to at least 4000-6,000 BC.. As centuries went by, many of these symbols became part of religious beliefs, superstitions and other rituals. Combat towers and dwellings which were built high in the mountains during the 11th-17th centuries often included petroglyphs taken from ancient dwellings, perhaps as a symbol of good luck or as a symbol to the gods. The stones which formed many of these petroglyphs are different than the tower structures, and often came from different locations. They were usually placed above tiny outlook windows.
- 3,200 BC: pottery styles, burial sites, stone decorations (stelae) indicate that the early Noxche people were master craftsmen with stonework. Art styles and motifs suggest similar styles to those found in the early Mesopotamian period. Advanced metallurgy of copper and iron are noted, as well as trade with neighboring regions. A definite art style, distinct from neighboring regions, emerges in the mountain regions, suggesting a cultural group which differed from others. Archaeological evidence suggest an early form of language with cuneiform style. This is also the era when distinctive clans, or taips, were formed. These small village clusters shared a common ancestor, usually going back at least 12 generations. Within these clans, the elders ruled.
- 2,750 BC: first evidence of copper working in the mountains.
- 1250BC: earliest known evidence of a song or story which has been passed on through the centuries and has become a symbol of national identity. (Editor's Note: This song, as well as others, will be added to our page entitled "Customs & Legends". The song has to do with freedom, survival and determination).
- 1,850 BC: bronze working evident as the northern most point. Contemporary to bronze working among the Hurrians, Kassites, Amorites and others to the south.
- 1250BC-7th century AD: archaeological evidence shows increased trade to the south, and influence from Eurasia-across the Caspian Sea. Throughout, the tiny area high in the Caucasus mountains remains unconquered. Names of long forgotten peoples like the Sarmatians, Medeans, Alans, various early Roman and Iranian principalities, and names of the more powerful and well known, like the Persians, did not control. However, their influences are evident in art work, burial sites and more.
- 7th -8th c. AD: The first written evidence of the Noxche people, to date, is from an Armenian and Georgian set of 7th century chronicles. The Armenians refer to the Noxche as the "Nakh'chamat'ians." Ruins of burial and religious sites confirm that both Christianity and Islam are introduced into the region. But archaeological evidence and burial sites and inscriptions suggest a unique blend of ancient and new religious traditions.
- 9th-12th c AD: Valleys and mountain passes inhabited by the Noxche also became part of a set of trading routes linking east and west, as well as strategic hiding places against persecution during the first crusades. As early as the 10th century, Nomadic traders including gypsies from the west and others, would pass through the region. Many would settle in the mountains and form their own tiny villages which would remain isolated until modern times. Towers for both housing and military defense are built; some of them actually built into mountain sides and steep ravines. Plains north of Caucasus Mountains under control of Alans (Iranians of mixed Scythian and Sarmatian ancestry). Noxche (Nakh) clans keep invaders out of their mountain regions.
- 13th c: 1230 AD: Mongol-Tartar hordes sweep across the entire valley regions, burning villages and creating chaos everywhere except the mountains. This is the time that the Tatar Khanate of the Golden Horde occupies most of Russia, and holds control over many regions of the Caucasus. While the Mongol-Tartars came through the valleys of Chechnya, they did not take over. And they did not penetrate the mountain regions. The Chechens and their Ingush neighbors built larger towers; some with unusual cratsmanship. Many were well over 30 meters high and 6 meters wide. The petrographs on the towers depict a wide variety of ancient beliefs and superstitions. (Editor's Note: click here for "Pictures of Towers").
- 1250 AD: Much of the modern day ethnic grouping of the Caucasus begins at this time.
- 14th-15 c: 1390 AD: Tamerlan, claiming to be a direct descendent of Genghis Khan, and his armies came through the Caucasus, massacring civilians and destroying everything in their path. Known as Timur or Timur Lenk (Timur the Lame),he was one of history's most cruel leaders.
- 1475 AD: Ottoman Empire extends sphere of influence over western half of entire Caucasus; Persia extends sphere to the eastern half. Noxche people left alone for the most part until the 16th century. Many Chechens begin to settle in the foothills and plains when global cooling leads to glacial advances in the Caucasus mountains, shortening crop cycles.
- 1556: Russia's annexation of the Tartar Khanate's capital of Astrakhan marks the beginning of Russian interest in the Caucasus. This had been an area fought over by the Khans, Persians and others for a long time. But on this date, the strategic importance of the entire Caucasus region for both trade and military reasons becomes acute. This also marks the beginning of Christian Cossacks inhabiting the northern foothills of the Caucasus, often fighting against the Noxche and others.
- 1559: The Russians establish their first fortress in Tarki (some authors called it Terka), which is along the mouth of the Sunja River on the Caspian shores (part of modern day Daghestan).
- 1561: Turks (Ottoman Empire), Persia and Russia began to vye for the Caucasus for strategic and trade reasons. In 1561, Tsar Ivan the Terrible married a Karbardine princess (North Caucasus) named Maria Temriuk. The Tsar brought many Karbardines into his government as a way to try to increase control in parts of the North Caucasus. A document from the 17th century confirms the Tsarist attempt to rule over Kararda, thinking that the region was controlled by true monarchs. Instead it was a loose confederation.
- 1587: the Russians establish the fort of Terek Gordok, trying to cross the river into Chechnya and Daghestan. At the same time, the Russians had created a union with a part of Georgia, called the Kingdom of Kakhetia. This was a Christian union. The Kakhetians wanted assistance against Muslim Iranian and Daghestani (the Shamkhal) powers.
- 1593-1594: Russians defeated in the region and defeated by the Daghestanis. They abandoned their forts near the Noxche territory.
- 1604-1605: The Tsar of Russia, Boris Godunov, launched a series of major military campaigns to control territories of modern day Daghestan and Chechnya. Using the Cossacks north of the Terek River, they tried to gain a foothold in the North Caucasus. They were interested in this region as a military and trade route to Persian territories. But they were defeated by locals and Ottoman Turks, and abandoned all their forts. They never entered the land of the Noxche. This would be the last time that the Russians would try to go into this region for another 120 years.
- 1706-1708: Tsar Peter the Great sent his Prime Minister to the nothern borders of Chechen and Daghestan territories. When repelled away from the borders and defeated, Peter the Great asked the Khan of the Kalmyks to assist. In 1708, the Kalmyk leader signed a pledge to forever be loyal subjects of the Tsar and to pursue and attack the Noxche and other neighbors. This is the first time that Tsarist Russia refers to the Noxche people in documentation.
- 1722-1723: Peter the Great decides to conquer the Caspian basin region, which had been under Persian control, for its natural riches and strategic location as a trade route. His intent was to conquer Persia and then India. He transported a large army across the Sea to the Daghestan coast, occupying territory as far south as Baku, Azerbaijan. But he could not defeat the Chechens. His soldiers tried in 1722 to occupy the Enderee-aul on the Aktash once again, but were defeated. Peter the Great tried to bribe local Daghestani fighters but most were loyal to the Shah. He encouraged the Cossacks to keep provocations along the North Caucasus borders, with the hopes of opening it for Russian colonization.
- 1729-1730: Russians forced to abandon all provinces including Baku. All they had left were a few forts to the North and Cossack help along the northern rim of the Terek River.
- 1732: Russian soldiers were able to get into a Noxche village called Chechen-aul, along the Argun River. The Russians were quickly defeated and withdrew: not to return to Noxche land at least for 30 years. It was this tiny squirmish, in which Russian detachments came face to face with the Noxche inside their territory, that the Russians began calling the Noxche people "Chechens."
- 1732: This is the year also that a Chechen named Ushurma was born in the aul of Aldy near the Sunja River. Ushurma would become one of the first resistance leaders in the name of freedom and Islam. He became known as Sheikh Mansur.
- 1763: The Russians establish Fort Mozdok (modern day North Ossetia) which was under Kabarda control. As a result, the Kabardinians felt betrayed by the Russians and a series of battles began. This fort was significant, because it brought the Russians closer to the natural mountain pass (the Daryl Pass) through the Georgian Mountains.
- 1768: A Chechen tribe fights the Russians in the Daghestani settlement of Kizlyar and expell the Russians. The Russians go to war with the Ottoman Empire from 1768-1774.
- 1770-1774: A Russian General named Medem and his small group of troops squirmish often with Chechens by crossing into their territory.
- 1774: Russian defeat over Turkey gives Russia Kabarda and the Ossetias, called Great and Little Kabarda. Control over the Ossetians give the Russians further control over the Daryl Pass, as the Ossetians controlled much of the transit.
- 1777: Catherine II wants to establish a definite line of demarcation of Caucasus territory and control with a series of forts and Cossack settlements. Dubbed the "Greek Project", she set out to expand the Russian empire.
- 1783: King Erekle of modern day central Georgia (called Kartli-Kakheti) appealed to the Russians for further help. As a result, Catherine the Great signed the Treaty of Georgievsk which makes this region a Russian protectorate. Catherine the Great transforms the Daryl Pass into the Georgian Military Road and begins construction of a major fort called "Ruler of the Caucasus" (Vladikavkaz) at the mouth of this Pass to the north.
- 1784: Ushurma, now imam and called Sheikh Mansur, becomes upset with Russian encroachment in the North Caucasus. Proclaims holy war, called Ghazawat, against the Russians to the north. Having been trained in Daghestan under strict Islamic law, he returned to the land of the Noxche. He ordered the Noxche to stop practicing many of their old pagan traditions with the cult of the dead, to stop smoking tobacco, to replace the customary laws (adats) with Islamic law (shariat) and to attempt Islamic unity. This was not easy in a land where people had lived under ancient traditions, customs and religions. Islamic tradition in the land of the Noxche, especially in the mountains, was not as strong as it was in Daghestan. But the holy war that he declared was an attempt at unity.
- 1785: Sheikh Mansur's destroyed Russian forces in the Battle of the Sunja River. Historical documents show that Russian Colonel Pieri and more than 600 Russians were killed in this battle. Sheikh Mansur rallies resistance fighters from Daghestan through Kabarda. Most of the forces are Daghestani and Chechen, numbering more than 12,000 by December 1785. However, Mansur suffers a defeat when he tries to enter Russian territory and fails to take over the fort in Kizlyar. And subsequently loses a battle in Kabarda. After this, the Russians refortified their settlements, but Catherine the Great withdrew forces from Georgia to the Terek River Line.
- 1786: Catherine the Great abandons the new fort of Vladikavkaz, and would not occupy it again until 1803.
- 1787-1791: Russian-Turkish War. Sheikh Mansur moves to northwestern Caucasus region of Adygei, strengthening Islamic tradition there. Led Adygei and Nogai people in assaults against the Russians, but was defeated many times. In June 1791, Sheikh Mansur was captured at the Turkish fortress of Anapa on the Black Sea. He was brought to St. Petersburg and imprisoned for life. Russia
- 1789: Hamza Bek ibn Ali Iskandar Bek al-Hutsali (Gamzat Bek) born in one of the largest Avar villages in Daghestan.
- 1794: Sheikh Mansur dies in prison. He becomes a legend and hero to the Chechen people. His military victories and defeats were written throughout Europe.
- 1796 or 1797: Shamil is born, first as Ali, but then his name was changed to Shamil when he was born sickly. Born in Daghestan near Ashilta. Grows up to be strong and athletic and tall.
- 1801: Paul I incorporates Christian Georgia into the Russian empire after the Georgians ask for help in ridding of the Persians who had led many raids.
- 1816: Russian General Yermolov, the Russian hero of the Napoleonic wars, is appointed head of military in the Caucasus. His method of control was to link forts and to shut off conquered areas.
- 1817-1821: Yermolov tries to build a series of forts, but is thwarted by the Chechens. Stating that he will not rest until all Chechens are killed, he built Fort Grozny, which means "terrible", along the Sunja and Terek Rivers. From there, he built a series of forts along the Sunja River, carrying out a campaign of terror. He cut down forests, trying to rid of the livestock and crops of those Chechens who lived along the plains and foothills. He burned villages, murdering civilians including women and children. The Tsar heard about the brutalities of Yermolov's campaign. Yermolov justified his campaigns by informing the Tsar that the Chechens were criminals and evil people which had to be destroyed.
He referred to the Chechens as "savages". Chechens, Avars and others unify to fight Yermolov's powerful army which numbered more than 40,000.
- 1825: Chechen fighters were successful in siezing one of Yermolov's posts, killing his general, Grekoff, who had also led campaigns of murder and terror from village to village
- 1827: The Tsar dismisses Yermolov for cruelty. For five years, there would be relative peace, and the Chechens were left alone.
- 1828: Russia fights huge military campaigns against the Ottoman Turks to the west, and the Iranians to the south. Nearly all the Transcaucasus came under Russian control. The exceptions, which remained independent territories: mountainous Chechnya, Ingushetia and Daghestan to the east, and Circassian-Abkhazia to Georgia's north.
- 1830: Ghazi Mohammad ibn Ismail, of Daghestan, who had called for unification of Chechen and Daghestani tribes in 1828 by adhering to a strict Muslim tradition, led a few successful campaigns against the Russians along the Caucasian Line. Hamza (Gamzat Bek), who studied under Ghazi Mohammad, leads several raids against the Russians. Ghazi Mohammed sends one of his deputies, Sheikh Abadallah of Ashilti to Chechnya to organize campaigns against the Russians. The Russians demand that Muslim villages abandon sharia law throughout the entire region. This, combined with Russian destruction of many Chechen villages, drove the Chechens into the arms of the imam.
- 1831: Ghazi Mohammad captures various forts in Kizlyar, Tarki, Nazran (present day capital of Ingushetia), and more. The Tsar appoints Baron Grigorii Vladmirovich Rosen as commander of the Caucasus.
- 1832: Ghazi Mohammad threatens fort Grozny, Vladikavkaz and Vnezapnaya (in eastern modern day Chechnya), Derbent along the Caspian Sea (modern day Daghestan), some regions of modern day Georgia. He ambushes a Cossack unit of more than 500 men, killing nearly 1/3. General Rosen leads nearly 20,000 men into modern day Chechnya, destroying villages and crops. Russians capture Ghazi Mohammads camps in Dargo, Chechnya and in Gimrah, Daghestan. October 1832, Russians storm Ghazi Mohammad's fort in Gimrah and kill him in battle. Shamil takes part in Ghazi Mohammad's battle at Gimrah and is one of a few survivors. Hamza (Gamzat Bek), another Avar from Daghestan, takes Ghazi Mohammad's place as Imam and continues campaigns.
- 1833: Hamza offers to make peace with the Russians on condition that the Russians allow shariat practices. The Russians do not respond, and instead they put pressure on the Avar ruling house to unite against Hamza. Several murders within the Avar ruling house leads to blood vendettas. Shamil serves under Hamza.
- 1834: Hamza murdered (September) while entering a mosque to lead Friday prayers. He was killed by a blood vendetta proclaimed against him. Shamil elected Imam. Shamil spends next year organizing his military by joining Chechens and Avars, imposing the death penalty for murder and other sins, and setting strict rules for his fighters.
- 1836-1859: Shamil leads troops from Chechnya and Daghestan to rid of Russian presence in the region. The Russians, in the meantime, were determined to conquer the last two remaining regions of the Caucasus: the Circassian region to the west and the Chechen-Dagestan region to the east. Some historians, and chroniclers of the time, claim that Russia dispatched nearly 200,000 soldiers to fight in the Caucasus during this time. That is the 2nd largest military campaign after Russia's Napoleonic war. Shamil's men, at their height, never numbered more than 28,000.
- 1836: Shamil briefly sought reconciliation with the Russians, as had been tried by Hamza before him. The Russians would not accept the conditions of Shamil, which included the allowing of sharia. Instead, the Russians called for Shamil's surrender. General Rosen threatened that he would take Shamil and Shamil's Chechen representative (Tashov Haji)by force if they did not surrender.
- 1837: The Russian Tsar invited Shamil to meet with him after heaving battle losses on both sides and Russian withdrawal of troops from the region. He does not meet Shamil but goes through Georgia and parts of the North Caucasus, including a meeting with various Chechens.
- 1839-winter 1840: Mass participation of Chechens in Shamil's movement begins this year. The Russians attack Shamil's headquarters on June 29th, leading to a battle in which Russian soldiers suffer severe losses for more than 80 days (despite large numbers of troops and sophisticated weaponry). However, the Russians also try to introduce direct rule into the lowland (non-mountain) Chechen region through networks of local people hired to work for the Russians. These locals, pretending to collect taxes, seized Chechen belongings and had many detained and arrested. Severe human rights abuses were recorded. On top of it, the Russian military were allowed to seize livestock, food and ammunition. Many of the weapons were part of the Chechen heritage, including swords used in battles for centuries. The Russians also forbade the Chechens living in the lowlands to have any contact with the mountain Chechens.
The Russian strategy was to starve the mountain Chechens by cutting off the flow of foodstuffs from the fertile lowland areas. When Shamil came to the the Ichkeri region in the mountains, he was welcomed. As a result of Russian actions, most joined Shamil's movement in this year. Shamil, like Sheikh Mansur and Imam Gazi before him, worked to convert the still semi-pagan mountain Chechens into orthodox Muslims. He tried to stop the use of tobacco and drinking, as well as rid of the old adats. He set up schools in the mosques.
- 1840: Caucasus War begins in eastern North Caucasus, lasting to 1859. Historians have written that the Chechens suffered the most during this war of all ethnic groups, losing 1/2 of their population, their entire economy, and subject to constant battles.
- 1841: Russian General Pullo's brutal campaigns against the civilian populations of the Chechens along the Terek River region forced the people to flee into the mountains. His reign of terror against the Chechens and Avars is likened to that of Yermolov. This forced even more followers join Shamil in an effort to stop Pullo. Pullo was killed in battle.
- 1843: Russians withdraw from Chechnya and many points in Daghestan after Shamil's men inflict heavy casualties.
- 1844: A second deportation of Chechens begins. Russians construct a fort near the Argun River inside Chechnya called Vozdvizhenskoe (elevation of the cross. They set up a fortified demarcation line from this fort to the village of Achkoi in Chechnya, calling it the "Great Russian Highway." All Chechens living within this region were expelled by force.
- 1845: Famous Dargo Battle in which 30,000 Russian troops attacked Shamil's men. The Russians lost 4,000 men.
- 1846-48: Shamil tries to gain support of the different Kabarda leaders, but fails.
- 1850: Chechen territory, along the plains, is reduced nearly one-half of its original size by increased Russian military campaigns and subjugation. By 1860, it will be reduced to a quarter of its original size.
- 1853-1856: Crimean War. The Circassians and Chechens/Avars were not under Russian control. Shamil raids Georgia, and Turks land troops in Abkhazia to rise up against the Russians. Shamil works hard to enlist the help of the British, but does not succeed. Despite this, news of the time shows that the west, especially the Americans, heard of Shamil's campaigns and becomes widely admired. Russia names Prince Baryatinski as Viceroy of the Caucasus in 1856 and focuses their new military campaigns on finally subduing the Chechens, Avars and Circassians. Mass migrations out of the Caucasus by many Muslims to the Ottomon Empire.
- 1858: Disunity begins among Chechen and Avar leaders, including the Chechen village of Vedeno which was Shamil's main headquarters. In this year, the Russians fortified the village of Shatoy. Ammunition and food supplies were few as the Chechens and Avars had been fighting for 25 years. The Russians went forward in this year, blockading all they could.
- 1859: Shamil's Vedeno headquarters fell in April; the Russians surrounded his new location. Shamil surrendered to insure safety of his family.
- 1860: Chechen resistance fighters continued against the Russians, despite Shamil's surrender. Russian generals waged campaigns against the villages: burning them, killing people, deporting others. The Russians begin a massive Chechen exile to Siberia. Nearly 80,000 Chechens leave for Turkey. (another 25,000 will flee to Turkey in 1864-65).
- 1862:Chechen-Russian war formally ended. Russians turned their attention to the Circassians, defeating them in 1864.
- 1864: Russians continue mass exile of Chechens and others in the Caucasus, ignoring decree by Emperor Alexander II to preserve the different peoples of the North Caucasus with land, religion, laws. Russians continue to take fertile land through expropriation measures.
- 1870: Fort Grozny transformed into a town.
- 1877-1878: Chechen uprising of a new Imam, Ali-Bek Haji against the Russians. The Russians destroy many villages, most crops and there are mass executions of civilians. Thousands of Chechens deported to Siberia, and the Russians execute the leaders including Ali-Bek Haji. For the remainder of the century, the Russians distribute Chechen lands in the north to the Cossacks as a reward for Cossack help in subjugating the Chechens and others. Yet, many Chechens who had left for Turkey began to return without Russian permission once the Russian-Turkish War was over in 1878.
- 1878-remainder of century: Period of religious tolerance: Tsarist Russia tolerates Chechen tradition, schools and Islamic religion right through to end of Tsarist rule in 1917.
- 1887: First oil drilled in Chechnya, producing 1600 tons annually. French and English and Dutch engineering firms establish refineries, including Dutch Shell.
- 1880s-1890s: Pipeline and rail lines built through Grozny.
- 1900-1914: Russians send in thousands of oil workers to Grozny. Population of Russian oil workers nearly 12,000 by 1906; 22,000 by 1912. Oil refineries spring up through Dutch Shell and other western oil companies. See picture and commentary below.
- 1905: Chechens try to reclaim their stolen lands. The Russians deport thousands to Siberia. Russians continue to give the most fertile land to the Cossacks from Chechen and Ingush territories.
- 1917: February 1917: Bolshevik Revolution. Chechen Congress elects a committee of sheikhs and others. May 1917:First North Caucasus Congress meets in Vladikavkaz, establishing a Central Committee of the North Caucasus and Daghestan to act provisionally over an independent North Caucasus. Mass attacks by Chechens against Cossacks, and Cossacks destroying Chechen villages. August 1917: Congress of Mulsim leaders gather in the aul of Andi, Daghestan. Elect Sheikh Najmuddin Hotso Imam of Daghetsan and Chechnya, along with another Sheikh, Uzun Haji. Wanted to revive sharia, expell Russians. Together, they formed an army of over 10,000 men. November-December 1917: Battle between Chechens and Russian units (led by cossacks). Mass pogrom against Chechens in the city of Grozny. Sheikh Arsanov and his men annihilated by Cossacks while attempting peace talks in Grozny. Cossacks in Mozdok Province (modern North Ossetia) tried to create a bloc against Chechens and Ingush.
Cossacks, Chechens and Ingush fight for territory. The Soviets guarantee an appeal to allow Shariat law and customs among the mountain peoples of Chechnya and Ingushetia.
- 1918: Civil War in Russia between the Bolshevik "Reds" and Tsarist "Whites." Each vye for power and control in the Caucasus. May 11, 1918: North Caucasus declares independence, which is recognized by Germany, Austria-Hungary and Turkey. Establishment of the Mountain Republic, as it is known. Arabic and Turkish become the chief languages in schools, although Chechen spoken also.
- 1919: Feburary: Chechens fight the White armies in the mountains. Chechens under the Shariat flag. Red Army gives limited support to mountaineers to get rid of Whites. May-June 1919: White armies under General Denikin refuse to recognize independence of mountain peoples. August 1919: Denikin decides to force Chechnya and Ingushetia into submission. Burns down villages and cities including Guedermes and others. October-November 1919: Full scale war between the White Army and the North Caucasus. Sheikh Uzun Haji and the mountain forces liberated the mountains in Daghestan, Chechnya, Ossetia and Kabarda. Haji declares the independence of the North Caucasus and begins the "North Caucasus Emirate."
- 1920: February: Denikin forced to leave the territory. Emirate placed under the nominal rule of the Ottoman sultan. March 1920: Uzun Haji dies, age 90. Buried in the village (aul) of Dishne in Vedeno district. (Today it is considered one of the holy sites in Chechnya and is visited by people from all over the Caucasus). After death of Haji, Red Army tries to move in to Daghestan lowlands. Red Army had already won over Georgia, Azerbaijan and Armenia. Many mountain peoples did not appreciate the policies of the Reds, as well as the Red attacks on Islam and traditions. August 1920: Rebellion against the Reds, led by great grandson of Imam Shamil, Said-Bek. Spiritual leader Najuddin Hotso, and others lead the rebellion. Most fighters from the mountains in Daghestan and Chechnya. The Reds had an army of nearly 35,000 men. The mountain people had approximately 10,000.
- 1921: January: Stalin meets in Vladikavkaz with heads of Mountain Republic. Stalin offers amnesty to all in the Said-Bek rebellion if they recognize the Bolshevik government. Stalin wants creation of Soviet Mountain Republic with autonomy. Congress accepts on condition that sharia be officially accepted as constitutional law of the Mountain Republic and Soviets cannot intervene in internal affairs of mountain peoples. Stalin accepts conditions, and Congress recognizes Soviet government. May: Rebellion ends. Soviet Mountain Republic begins with 6 regions: Chechnya, Ingushetia, Ossetia, Kabarda, Balkariya and Karachai. Daghestan becomes Soviet Socialist Republic of Daghestan. Soviets returned some of Cossack lands to Chechens and Ingush. Soviets allow Arabic as official language.
- 1922: Soviets bring troops to Chechnya and try to break up Mountain Republic. November 1922: Soviets create a Chechen Autonomous Oblast and removes Chechnya from rest of Mountain Republic. Rest of members of Mountain Republic rid of by 1924. In 1922, Soviets attempted forced disarmament of Chechen people.
- 1923: Soviets try to rid of Arabic language by introducing Latin alphabet for Chechens.
- 1924: Soviets crack down on Islamic practices.
- 1925: August 23-September 12: Soviet operation to disarm the Chechens and to remove "bandits." Operation under secret police and a North Caucasus military unit, and they surrounded borders of Chechnya. Some bombing. Soviets wanted to capture and execute leaders of the 1920-21 rebellion, as well as to finish disarming the chechens. Soviet strategy of divide and rule throughout Caucasus.
- 1926: Chechen population of 310,000 composed of 94% Chechen, 2.4% Russian and rest others. Ingushetia's population of 75,000 consisted of 93% Ingush, 1% Russian, rest others.
- 1929-1930: Soviets introduce collectivization. Officials arrive in North Caucasus and confiscate lands and other properties. In Chechnya, there had never been private ownership of land. But Soviets put property into collective farms in lowland areas. Soviets try to combine lands in mountains. Red Army along borders of Chechnya. Chechens rise up against collectivization. Revolts in Shali, Goiti and many villages. Chechens seized Soviet buildings including refineries. These uprisings would continue until 1933. Chechens wanted their land back, as well as traditions and religious practices which were promised by Stalin in 1921. Soviets backed down and made a peace agreement. But then the GPU sent in detachments to arrest leaders of the movements. The Chechens won, and appealed to other Chechens to join them in holy war to rid of Soviets from Caucasus. Many towns rose up, and it spread to Daghestan, North Ossetia, Kabarda, Balkariya and Karachai.
Russians pursue new strategy and rid of collective farms, withdrew their forces and gave amnesty and political positions to leaders of the insurrection.
- 1934: January 15: Soviets combine Chechen Autonomous Oblast with Ingush Autonomous Oblast. Change borders to dilute Chechen and Ingush majority. Places Grozny and other highly Russian populated cities, which were not part of the mountain/ancient territories, into the Oblast. Soviet idea was to break apart the mountain peoples. Collective farms brought back. Resistance to the Soviets continued.
- 1936: December: Stalin organizes the Chechen-Ingush ASSR.
- 1938: Kremlin asks that North Caucasus people use cyrillic alphabet. Chechen raids on Soviets continued.
- 1939: Soviets require study of Russian as a second language for all schools.
- 1923: 10,000 mountain people expelled to lowlands.
- 1925: Bolsheviks capture Najuddin Hotso and others.
© 2007 Chechen Republic Online