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Published On:04 May 2013
Posted by Indian Muslim Observer

Chechens: Long History of Struggle

Islam, Chechnya, and Politics

By Elmira Akhmetova

Chechens constitute a Caucasian native ethnic group of the Nakh peoples family originating in the North Caucasus region of Eastern Europe. The people of Nakh are a group of people of the Northern Caucasus including modern Chechens' and Ingushes' ancestries speaking Nakh language (Northeast Caucasian Languages).

According to Jaimoukha, the term "Chechen" first occurred in Arabic sources imported from the 8th century. It is a popular tradition that it comes from the name of "Chechen-Aul," a village where Chechens defeated Russian soldiers in 1732.

The majority of Chechens today live in the Republic of Chechnya, a federal subject of Russia. The republic is located in north slope of the Caucasus Mountains within 100 km of the Caspian Sea. Its capital is the city of Grozny. According to the 2010 Census, the population of the republic is about 1.26 million of which 1.2 are Chechens, making up 95.3 percent of the republic's population.

There are also significant Chechen populations in other regions of Russia, especially in neighboring republics of Dagestan and Ingushetia. Chechen population of Moscow is about 15,000.

Outside the borders of Russia, countries with considerable Chechen populations are Kazakhstan, Turkey, Azerbaijan, Jordan, and Iraq. They are descendants of Chechens who were obliged to leave their native lands due to the Russian invasion around 1850, and, in the case of Kazakhstan, it was the result of the massive deportation of Chechens by the Soviet regime in 1944.

Also, tens of thousands of Chechens settled in Europe and the US due to recent Chechen Wars of 1994-96 and 1999-2000.

Islam and Chechens

Chechens converted to Islam between the 16th and 19th centuries, and overwhelming majority belongs to the Shafi'i doctrine.

Chechens converted to Islam between the 16th and 19th centuries, and their overwhelming majority belongs to the Shafi'i Madhab (doctrine). The Muslim faith linked Chechen culture to a greater identity and provided the basis for its alliances with other Muslim peoples of the region in their struggle against Russian Imperialism.

Chechens adhere to Sunni Islam, however, due to historical importance, majority of them are Sufis, of either the Qadiri or Naqshbandi orders; Shafi'i, Hanafi, and Maliki schools of jurisprudence are also adopted by some sincere Muslims.

The ethnically Muslims are predominant in Chechen Republic of the Russian Federation, where the disintegration of the Soviet Union in 1991 inspired hope for independence.
Muslims living in Chechnya today still consider the Russian presence as occupation and colonization of their native lands.

In the past few years, the process of Islamicization has accelerated. Despite the separation of "Church and State" imposed by the Russian federation, Islam is now taught in all schools, where the Islamic dress code is being observed properly. Gender segregation for the establisment of a healthy Muslim community is becoming a common phenomenon in Chechnya nowadays.

Russian Imperialism and the Chechen Resistance

Until present times, the Russian authority in the North Caucasus in general and in Chechnya in particular had been maintained by force.

Russian Empire completed its annexation of the territories of modern Chechnya, Dagestan, and Ingushetia in 1859, after suppressing 34 years of resistance of local Muslims under Imam Shamil (1797-1871), who was an Avar by his ethnicity.

Until present times, the Russian authority in the North Caucasus in general and in Chechnya in particular is being maintained by force. Following the collapse of the Tsarist regime in 1917, the North Caucasus peoples declared the formation of the Republic of the North Caucasus Federation in 1918, under the sponsorship of the Central Powers. Germany’s defeat and the outbreak of civil war in southern Russia turned the region into a battleground for Reds and Whites. After the civil war, the Bolsheviks overthrew the existing order and annexed the region in 1922.

Despite such difficult relations between Russia and Muslims living in the Northern Caucasus region, the latter produced the largest number of heroes of the USSR per capita of the population.

During the legendary defense of Brest Fortress alone, the Chechens constituted one third of the Soviet opposing force, heroism of which became a symbol of Soviet resistance during the Great Patriotic War.

Yet, close to the end of the war, entire Muslim nations such as Chechens, Ingushs, Kumyks, Karachays, Balkars, Meskhetian Turks, Crimean Tatar, and others were deported overnight to isolated areas of Central Asia under accusation of co-operating with Nazis during the war, genocide being the obvious objective.

Many of the deportees did not survive the winter journey, or died from hunger and disease upon arrival. As a result, the Chechen population alone was reduced by almost one-third.

Heroism of the Chechen soldiers at the Brest Fortress and their names were kept secret as the deported nation could not be a hero. It is why hundreds of those who fell in that legendary battle were recognized as “disappeared without trace.”

In 1957, after the death of Stalin, Nikita Khrushchev allowed the Chechens to return to their native lands and the Chechen republic was reinstated in 1958.

When Mikhail Gorbachev, the last General Secretary of the Soviet Union, embarked on his ill-fated attempt to save the Soviet system via glasnost and perestroika, Chechens saw an opportunity for national self-determination.

Chechnya declared its independence from Russia in November, 1990. Djohar Dudayev (1944-1996) was elected by referendum as the president of the Chechen Republic of Ichkeria, ruling from 1991 to 1996. Russian troops left Chechnya, and for the next three years, the country gained de facto independence.

However, the Chechen movement of independence ended with the First Chechen War (1994-1996) leaving 7,500 Russian military casualties, 4,000 Chechen combatants, and no less than 35,000 civilians — a minimum total of 46,500 while others have cited figures within the range of 80,000 to 100,000.

Estimates of casualties in the Second Chechen War range from 25,000 to 200,000 dead or missing, mostly civilians in Chechnya. According to official sources, Russian casualties are over 5,200 and are about 11,000 according to the Committee of Soldiers’ Mothers.

Consequences of Chechen Wars

The horrible consequences of these wars, together with the 9/11 attacks in the United States, played a fundamental role in creating a negative image of Islam and Muslims in general, and Chechens in particular, in the Russian Federation.

In fact, the factor of Islam played a minor role in the declaration of these two wars by the Russian government against Chechnya in 1994 and 1999. Many experts agreed that the Caspian Sea’s oilfields and the strategic significance of oil pipelines passing through the Caucasus were major incentives for Moscow to use force against the separatist movement in Chechnya during the two Chechen wars of 1994-1996 and 1999-2000.

Earlier Chechen attacks within Russian territory such as the September 1999 apartment bombings in Moscow in most of the cases were seen as an overspill from the localized conflict in Chechnya and the product of separatism rather than any religious ideology.

The 9/11 attacks in the US were the catalyst for the Russian government's decision to get serious about "religious extremism." Along with the beginning of the US-led war on terrorism, the Russian Federation adopted a new law entitled "On Fighting Extremist Activity" in June 2002.

According to the report of Carl Gershman published on the Washington Post, this law defines "extremism" in broader meaning to include media criticism of public officials and provides imprisonment of up to three years for journalists and the suspension or closure of their publications. The law was used that same year to shut down the "Russian-Chechen Friendship Society" and convicted its executive director Stanislav Dmitrievsky of "extremist" activities.

Furthermore, as Carl reported, "The extremist charge against Dmitrievsky involves his publication in 2004 in the RCFS newspaper Human Rights Defense of two articles by Chechen leaders, one of them an appeal to the European Parliament to hold Russia responsible for genocide in Chechnya. The author of this article was Aslan Maskhadov, who had been elected President of Chechnya in 1997 following the settlement of the first Chechen war."

Recent Developments

Vladimir Putin established direct rule of Chechnya in May 2000, and adopted the pacification policy by setting up a pro-Moscow regional government; transferring more and more local security duties to this government. An important factor in Russia’s further policy in Chechnya has been reliance on pro-Moscow Chechen clans affiliated with regional president Ramzan Kadyrov.

Although large-scale fighting within Chechnya had ceased with establishment of pro-Moscow government, daily attacks targeting pro-Russian officials, security forces and military convoys continued particularly in the southern regions.

Government security forces under Ramzan Kadyrov acted extremely aggressively to tamp down the range and scope of the insurgency activities by aggressively carrying out over a thousand counter-terrorism operations (termed “zachistki” or “cleaning-up” operations) in Chechnya and elsewhere in the North Caucasus.

In a bid to apprehend terrorists, security forces carried out targeted operations to search residences of Chechens in one of the villages. Some critics claim those operations were considered "illegal abuses" because these troops frequently got involved in gruesome acts of violence. They confirmed that troops are responsible for kidnapping civilians for "ransoming benefits."

Flagrant abuses of human rights had been committed by paramilitary forces of the Chechen government. They included holding relatives of insurgents as hostages, threatening to kill them conditioning the insurgents surrender. Abuses extended to torching of relatives' homes and crops.

According to some observers, a growing number of recruits for terrorist groups increased violence in the North Caucasus. This number is a direct impact of economic and social distress, contributing to the increasing scope of public discontent against zachistki.

(Courtesy: OnIslam.net)

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Posted by Indian Muslim Observer on May 04, 2013. Filed under , , , . You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0. Feel free to leave a response

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