In This Article Expand or collapse the "in this article" section Chechnya: History, Society, Conflict

  • Introduction
  • Chechen Language and Culture
  • Chechen History
  • Islam in Chechnya
  • Contemporary Chechnya

Islamic Studies Chechnya: History, Society, Conflict
Emil Aslan Souleimanov
  • LAST MODIFIED: 27 June 2017
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780195390155-0243


In the North Caucasus, located on Europe’s easternmost edge and stretching from the Black Sea to the Caspian Sea, lies the tiny country of Chechnya, which has become infamous for the armed conflict that first erupted in 1994. Back then, following a three-year period of de facto independence, this country of slightly more than one million inhabitants faced an invasion by Russia, of which Chechnya has been a formal part since the first half of the 19th century. The Russian invasion in 1994 was interpreted as a failure by the Chechen separatist leadership and the federal authorities of Russia to strike a compromise deal on autonomy. What came to be known as the First Russian-Chechen War (1994–1996) took the lives of tens of thousands people, predominantly Chechen civilians, and turned a blooming mountainous country into ruins. In 1996 the Russian Army left Chechnya, a move that was widely considered Moscow’s failure to defeat a popular local resistance movement in a far smaller country of less than 17,000 square kilometers. In 1996–1999, Chechnya again experienced a tumultuous period of de facto independence. The country was torn apart by competing warlord groups and any central authority was nearly missing. Following these three years of independence, Chechnya faced another invasion from the north. In the autumn months of 1999, Moscow relaunched military operations in Chechnya following a joint Chechen-Dagestani, Salafi-jihadist incursion into neighboring Dagestan, a Russian-controlled autonomous republic. The Salafi-jihadists expected a popular anti-Russian uprising in that republic, which is the largest in the North Caucasus and lies to the east of Chechnya. Concerted efforts by the Dagestanis, aided by locally stationed Russian troops, expelled the invaders, whose ideology was found alien to most Dagestanis. As a result, the Russian Army, now much better prepared for war, swept over most of Chechnya by early 2000, driving the insurgents out of the capital city of Grozny in February-March of that year. A pro-Moscow government was installed by the federal authorities, and Akhmad Kadyrov, a former insurgent leader and a mufti of Chechnya, was named the head of a provisional pro-Moscow government. A paramilitary-like force named after their leader, the kadyrovtsy, was formed in the early 2000s, consisting primarily of former insurgents with intimate knowledge of their former comrades-in-arms, their mountain hideouts, and their support networks. By the mid-2000s, as part of Moscow’s policy of Chechenization of the conflict, the kadyrovtsy came to replace the Russian military as the main counterinsurgency force in the country. This gradually led to the weakening of the local insurgency, which had become increasingly Salafi-jihadist. The world, which had viewed Chechnya primarily as the scene of the most serious armed conflict in post–World War II Europe, was now witnessing a dramatic transformation of what had been mainly an ethno-separatist movement into a largely Salafi-jihadist insurgency. Accordingly, most literature on Chechnya has been devoted to the various aspects of political violence that have shaped this post-Soviet republic.

Chechen Language and Culture

Inspired by the armed conflict in Chechnya, several English-language books and articles appeared that sought to cast light on the unique language and culture of the Chechens. Among these works, Awde 1996, Jaimoukha 2005, and Layton 2014 stand out. Sokirianskaia 2005 explores the overemphasized yet, as the author shows, dramatically diminishing role of the teip, or tribe, in contemporary Chechen (and Ingush) society.

  • Awde, Nicholas. Chechen Dictionary and Phrasebook. New York: Hippocrene, 1996.

    A basic dictionary of Chechen along with several hundred frequently used phrases.

  • Jaimoukha, Amjad. The Chechens: A Handbook. New York: Routledge, 2005.

    DOI: 10.4324/9780203356432

    The book looks into the history, organization, culture, and society of the Chechens.

  • Layton, Katherine S. Chechens: Culture and Society. London: Palgrave Macmillan, 2014.

    DOI: 10.1057/9781137483973

    This book brings an unusual overview of the Chechens’ culture and society at the times of armed conflict.

  • Sokirianskaia, Ekaterina. “Families and Clans in Ingushetia and Chechnya—A Fieldwork Report.” Central Asian Survey 24.4 (2005): 453–467.

    DOI: 10.1080/02634930500453590

    This ethnographic account offers a rare insight into the changing role of families and teips in contemporary Chechnya and Ingushetia.

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