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Chechens (Noxçi)
Total population
1,500,000 worldwide (2009)
Regions with significant populations
 Russia 50,000 (not including Chechnya and north Caucasus)
  Chechnya 900,000[1]
  Dagestan 115,000[1]
  Ingushetia 90,000[1]
  Kabardino-Balkaria 4,000 [1]
  North Ossetia-Alania 3,000 [1]
  Karachay-Cherkessia 2,000 [1]
  Adygea 1,000 [1]
  Stavropol Krai 15,000[1]
  Krasnodar Krai 1,000 [1]
 Europe 100,000[2]
 Kazakhstan 35,000[1]
 Turkey 25,000[1]
 Jordan 10,000[1]
 Azerbaijan 5,000[2]
 Egypt 5,000[2]
 Syria 4,000[2]
 Georgia 10,000 (including 9,000 Kist people)
 Iraq 2,500[3]
 United States 500
 Canada 100

All data from 2009




predominantly Sunni Islam

Related ethnic groups

Ingush, Batsbi, Kists.

Chechens (Chechen: Hохчи / Noxçi) constitute the largest native ethnic group originating in the North Caucasus region. They refer to themselves as Noxçi (singular Noxçi or Noxço), which comes from the name of a large Chechen tribe, the Noxçmexkaxoy, and their homeland.

The isolated mountain terrain of the Caucasus and the strategic value outsiders have placed on the areas settled by Chechens has contributed much to the Chechen community ethos and helped shape a unique national character. Chechen and Ingush peoples are collectively known as the Vainakh.[4]


Origins of the word Chechen

The term "Chechen" is ultimately believed to derive from the Iranian name for the Noxçi and it first occurs in Arabic sources from the 8th century. According to popular tradition, the Russian term "Chechen" comes from the name of the village of Chechen-Aul, where the Chechens defeated Russian soldiers in 1732. The word "Chechen", however, occurs in Russian sources as early as 1692 and the Russians probably derived it from the Kabardian "Shashan".[5]

Geography and diaspora

The Chechen people are mainly inhabitants of Chechnya, Russian Federation. There are also significant Chechen populations in other subdivisions of Russia (especially in Dagestan, Ingushetia and Moscow). A smaller numbers of Chechens are widely scattered in Siberia and the Russian Far East.

Outside Russia, countries with significant Chechen diaspora populations are Turkey, Kazakhstan, Azerbaijan, and the Middle East (especially Jordan, Egypt, Syria and Iraq). These are mainly descendants of people who had to leave Chechnya during the Caucasian War (which led to the annexation of Chechnya by the Russian Empire around 1850) and the 1944 Stalinist deportation in the case of Kazakhstan.

More recently, tens of thousands of Chechen refugees settled in the European Union and elsewhere as the result of the First and Second Chechen Wars, especially in the wave of emigration to the West after 2002.[6]


The Chechens are one of the Vainakh peoples, who have lived in the highlands of the North Caucasus region since prehistory (there is archeological evidence of historical continuity dating back since 10,000 B.C.[7]). In the Middle Ages, the lowland of Chechenya was dominated by the Khazars and then the Alans. Local culture was also subject to Byzantine influence and some Chechens converted to Eastern Orthodox Christianity. Gradually, Islam prevailed, although the Chechens' own pagan religion was still strong until at least the 19th century. Society was organised along feudal lines. The North Caucasus was devastated by the Mongol invasions of the 13th century and those of Tamerlane in the 14th.[8][9]

In the late Middle Ages, the Little Ice Age forced the Chechens down from the hills into the lowlands where they came into conflict with the Terek and Greben Cossacks who had also begun to move into the region. The Caucasus was also the focus for three competing empires: Ottoman Turkey, Persia and Russia. As Russia expanded southwards from the 16th century, clashes between Chechens and the Russians became more frequent. In the late 18th century Sheikh Mansur led a major Chechen resistance movement. In the early 1800s, Russia embarked on full-scale conquest of the North Caucasus in order to protect the route to its new territories in Transcaucasia. The campaign was led by General Yermolov who particularly disliked the Chechens, describing them as "a bold and dangerous people".[10] Angered by Chechen raids, Yermolov resorted to a policy of "scorched earth" and deportations; he also founded the fort of Grozny (now the capital of Chechnya) in 1818. Chechen resistance to Russian rule reached its peak under the leadership of the Dagestani Shamil in the mid-19th century. The Chechens were finally defeated after a long and bloody war.[11] In the aftermath large numbers of muhajir refugees emigrated or were forcibly deported to the Ottoman Empire.[12][13][14] Since then there have been various Chechen rebellions against Russian power, as well as nonviolent resistance to Russification and the Soviet Union's collectivization and antireligious campaigns.

In 1944 Moscow's oppression reached its apogee as all Chechens, together with several other peoples of the Caucasus, were ordered by Joseph Stalin to be deported en masse to Kazakhstan and Siberia and at least one-quarter and perhaps half of the entire Chechen nation perished in the process.[12][15][16] Though "rehabilitated" in 1956 and allowed to return the next year, the survivors lost economic resources and civil rights and, under both Soviet and post-Soviet governments, they have been the objects of (official and unofficial) discrimination and discriminatory public discourse.[12][17] Chechen attempts to regain independence in the 1990s after the fall of the Soviet Union have led to two devastating wars with the new Russian state since 1994.


The main languages of the Chechen people are Chechen and Russian. Chechen belongs to the family of Nakh languages (North-Central Caucasian languages). Literary Chechen is based on the central lowland dialect. Other related languages include Ingush, which has speakers in the nearby Ingushetia, and Batsi, which is the language of the people in the adjoing part of Georgia. At various times in their history, Chechens used Georgian, Arabic and Latin alphabets; as of 2008, the official one is now the Cyrillic alphabet.


Prior to the adoption of Islam, the Chechens practiced a unique blend of religious traditions and beliefs. They partook in numerous rites and rituals, many of them pertaining to farming; these included rain rites, a celebration that occurred on the first day of plowing, as well as the Day of the Thunderer Sela and the Day of the Goddess Tusholi.

Chechen society is structured around tukhum (unions of clans) and about 130 teip, or clans. The teips are based more on land than on blood and have an uneasy relationship in peacetime[citation needed], but are bonded together during war. Teips are further subdivided into gar (branches), and gars into nekye (patronymic families). The Chechen social code is called nokhchallah (where Nokhcho stands for "Chechen") and may be loosely translated as "Chechen character". The Chechen code of honour implies moral and ethical behaviour, generosity and the will to safeguard the honour of women.

In addition to sparce written record from the Middle Ages, Chechens traditionally remember history through the illesh, a collection of epic poems and stories.

Chechens today have a strong sense of nation, which is enforced by the old clan network and nokhchalla- the obligation to clan, tukhum, etc. This is often combined with old values transmuted into a modern sense. They are mythically descended from the epic hero, Turpalo-Nokhchuo (the Chechen Hero). There is a strong theme of representing the nation with its national animal, the wolf.

Due to their strong dependence on the land, its farms and its forests (and indeed, the national equation with the wolf), Chechens have a strong sense of affection for nature. According to Chechen philosopher Apty Bisultanov, ruining an ant-hill or hunting Caucasian goats during their mating season were considered extremely sinful. [18] According to the modern Chechen independence movement, Bart (unity) in fact originated as a simple environmentalist organization in the republic's capital of Grozny. [19]

Chechen culture puts a strong value on the concept of freedom. This asserts itself in a number of ways. Much like Scots and Albanians, a large majority of the nation's national heroes fought for independence (or otherwise, like the legendary Zelimkhan, robbed from the nation deemed the oppressor in order to feed Chechen children in a Robin Hood-like fashion). A common greeting in the Chechen language, marsha oylla, is literally translated as "enter in freedom". The word for freedom also encompasses notions of peace and prosperity.


A Chechen man prays in Grozny, January 1995.

Chechnya is predominantly Muslim. Most of the Chechens belong to the Shafi`i school of thought of Sunni Islam.[12] Some adhere to the mystical Sufi tradition of Muridism, while about half of Chechens belong to Sufi brotherhoods, or tariqah. The two Sufi tariqas that spread in the North Caucasus were the Naqshbandiya and the Qadiriya (the Naqshbandiya is particularly strong in Dagestan and eastern Chechnya, whereas the Qadiriya has most of its adherents in the rest of Chechnya and Ingushetia). Some of the modern Chechen rebels are Salafis, but these form a small minority of the group and are often viewed suspiciously by non-Salafis who protectively guard their national customs against encroachment (hence, the phrase "Muhammad may have been an Arab, but Allah is surely Chechen"). The view of the Chechens as being an obsessively pious, intolerant, fundamentalist Muslim group is highly incorrect (and largely encouraged by the Russian media for political purposes). [20] [21]

See also


  1. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k l Russian Census of 2002
  2. ^ a b c d Chechens in the Middle East: Between Original and Host Cultures, Event Report, Caspian Studies Program
  3. ^ Chechens in the Middle East
  4. ^ Arutiunov, Sergei. (1996). "Ethnicity and Conflict in the Caucasus". Slavic Research Center
  5. ^ Jaimoukha p.12
  6. ^ Chechnya's Exodus to Europe, North Caucasus Weekly Volume: 9 Issue: 3, The Jamestown Foundation, January 24, 2008
  7. ^ Bernice Wuethrich (19 May 2000). "Peering Into the Past, With Words". Science 288 (5469): 1158. doi:10.1126/science.288.5469.1158. 
  8. ^ Jaimoukha pp.33-34
  9. ^ Dunlop p.3
  10. ^ Dunlop p.14
  11. ^ Jaimoukha (p.50): "The Chechens suffered horrific losses in human life during the long war. From an estimated population of over a million in the 1840s, there were only 140,000 Chechens left in the Caucasus in 1861..."
  12. ^ a b c d "Who are the Chechens?". Archived from the original on 2006-09-15.  by Johanna Nichols, University of California, Berkeley.
  13. ^ Dunlop p.29ff. Dunlop writes (p.30): "In 1860, according to Soviet-era figures, 81,360 Chechens left for Turkey; a second emigration took place in 1865, when an additional 22,500 Chechens left. More than 100,000 Chechens were thus ethnically 'cleansed' during this process. This was perhaps a majority of their total population..."
  14. ^ Jaimoukha p.50
  15. ^ Jaimoukha p.58
  16. ^ Dunlop, Chapter 2 "Soviet Genocide", particularly pp.70-71 ("How many died?")
  17. ^ Jaimoukha p.60
  18. ^
  19. ^ Wood, Tony. Chechnya: The Case for Independence. Page 46
  20. ^ "Shattering the Al Qaeda-Chechen Myth: Part 1". Archived from the original on 2004-01-29. , by Brian Glyn Williams, The Jamestown Foundation, October 2, 2003
  21. ^ Wood, Tony. Chechnya: the Case for Independence. p127-145


  • Amjad Jaimoukha The Chechens: A Handbook (London, New York: Routledge, 2005)
  • Lechi Ilyasov The Diversity of the Chechen Culture: From Historical Roots to the Present (Moscow, 2009), [1]
  • John B. Dunlop Russia Confronts Chechnya: Roots of a Separatist Conflict (Cambridge University Press, 1998)


Up to date as of January 15, 2010

Definition from Wiktionary, a free dictionary




  1. Plural form of Chechen.


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