Chechens (/ˈɛən/; Chechen: нохчий, noxçiy, Old Chechen: нахчой, naxçoy), historically also known as Kisti and Durdzuks, are a Northeast Caucasian ethnic group of the Nakh peoples originating in the North Caucasus region primarily in Eastern Europe, located between the Black and Caspian Seas. They refer to themselves as Nokhchiy (pronounced [no̞xtʃʼiː]; singular Nokhchi, Nakhchuo or Nakhtche). Chechen and Ingush peoples are collectively known as the Vainakh (which means our people in Chechen) since the 1930s and were known as Nakhchi prior. The majority of Chechens today live in the Chechen Republic, a subdivision of the Russian Federation. Chechens are predominantly Muslims.

The North Caucasus has been subject to innumerable invaders since time immemorial. Its isolated terrain and the strategic value outsiders have placed on the areas settled by Chechens has contributed much to the Chechen community ethos and helped shape its national character.

Chechen society has traditionally been egalitarian and organized around many autonomous local clans, called teips.



According to popular tradition, the Russian term Chechency (Чеченцы) comes from Central Chechnya, which had several important villages and towns named after the word Chechen. These places include Chechan, Nana-Checha ("Mother Checha"), and Yokkh Chechen ("Greater Chechena"). The name Chechen occurs in Russian sources in the late 16th century as "Chachana", which is mentioned as a land owned by the Chechen Prince Shikh Murza. The etymology is of Nakh origin and originates from the word Che ("inside") attached to the suffix -cha/chan, which altogether can be translated as "inside territory". The villages and towns named Chechan were always situated in the Chechan-Are ("Chechen flatlands or plains") located in today's Central Chechnya.


Although Chechan (Chechen) was a term used by Chechens to denote a certain geographic area (Central Chechnya), Chechens called themselves Nakhchiy (highland dialects) or Nokhchiy (Lowland dialects). The oldest mention of Nakhchiy occurred in 1310 by the Georgian Patriarch Cyrill Donauri, who mentions the 'People of Nakhche' among Tushetians, Avars and many other Northeast Caucasian nations. The term Nakhchiy has also been connected to the city Nakhchivan and the nation of Nakhchamatyan (mentioned in the 7th century) by many Soviet and modern Historians. Chechen manuscripts in Arabic from the early 1820s do mention a certain Nakhchuvan (near modern-day Kagizman, Turkey) as the homeland of all Nakhchiy. The etymology of the term Nakhchiy can also be understood as a compound formed with Nakh ('people') attached to Chuo ('territory').

Geography and diaspora

Terloy-Moxk, Oshni village. 1906

The Chechens are mainly inhabitants of Chechnya. There are also significant Chechen populations in other subdivisions of Russia especially in Aukh (part of modern-day Dagestan), Ingushetia and Moscow.

Ushcaloy, Chechnya

Outside Russia, countries with significant diaspora populations are Kazakhstan, Turkey and Arab states (especially Jordan and Iraq): those in Iraq and Jordan are mainly descendants of families who had to leave Chechnya during the Caucasian War, which led to the annexation of Chechnya by the Russian Empire around 1850, while those in Kazakhstan originate from the ethnic cleansing of the entire population carried out by Joseph Stalin and Lavrentiy Beria in 1944. Tens of thousands of Chechen refugees settled in the European Union and elsewhere as the result of the recent Chechen Wars, especially in the wave of emigration to the West after 2002.


Prehistory & origin

The Chechens are one of the Nakh people, who have lived in the highlands of the North Caucasus region since prehistory. There is archeological evidence of historical continuity dating back since 3000 B.C. as well as evidence pointing to their ancestors’ migration from the Fertile Crescent c. 10,000–8,000 B.C.

The discussion of their origins is intertwined with the discussion of the mysterious origins of Nakh peoples as a whole. The only three surviving Nakh peoples are Chechens, Ingush and Bats, but they are thought by some scholars to be the remnants of what was once a larger family of peoples.

They are thought to either be descended from original settlers of the Caucasus (North and/or South) or supposedly Nakh-speaking ethnic minorities in the north-eastern regions of the ancient state of Urartu (whose people also spoke a language that was possibly related to the Nakh languages). The two theories are not mutually incompatible, and there has been much evidence that seems to link the two (either by dual origins or the "return" theory, in which the Nakh peoples originally lived in the Caucasus, migrated down to the south, lived there for a long period of time, and then returned to the Caucasus).

According to the opinion of Caucasus folklorist Amjad Jaimoukha, "It is certain that the Nakh constituted an important component of the Hurrian-Urartian tribes in the Trans-Caucasus and played a role in the development of their influential cultures."

Amjad Jaimoukha notes in his book “The Chechens”: «Some authorities believe that the Nakh nation was an offspring of the Hurrians and Urartians, builders of the magnificent civilizations of the Near East, that had a profound influences upon other cultures of the region». According to some data, Chechens are genetically, linguistically and anthropologically considered the descendants of the Hurrians and Urartians.

According to scholars, the Minoans and Etruscans were also relatives of the Chechens among the ancient nations. Some scholars suggested that the Etruscan language are related to Northeast Caucasian languages, especially to the Nakh one.


In particular, the Chechens were known as Durdzuks, while Ingush as Gligvs. Before his death, Targamos [Togarmah] divided the country amongst his sons, with Kavkasos [Caucas], the eldest and most noble, receiving the Central Caucasus. Kavkasos engendered the Chechen tribes, and his descendant, Durdzuk, who took residence in a mountainous region, later called "Dzurdzuketia" after him, established a strong state in the fourth and third centuries BC. Among the Chechen teips, the teip Zurzakoy, consonant with the ethnonym Dzurdzuk, living in the Itum-Kale region of Chechnya. Dzurdzuks and Nakhchmateans were remnants of the Urartians.

Georgian historian G.A. Melikishvili posited that although there was evidence of Nakh settlement in Southern Caucasus areas, this did not rule out the possibility that they also lived in the North Caucasus. Prior to the invasion of the Cimmerians and Scythians, the Nakh had inhabited the Central Caucasus and the steppe lands all the way to the Volga river in the northeast and the Caspian Sea to the east.

It has been noted that at many points, Urartu in fact extended through Kakheti into the North Caucasus. Jaimoukha notes in his book: “The kingdom of Urartu, which was made up of several small states, flourished in the 9th and 7th centuries BCE, and extended into the North Caucasus at the peaks of its power.”

The mighty state of Durdzuketi has been known since the 4th century BC. In the Armenian Chronicles mention that the Durdzuks defeated Scythians and became a significant power in the region in the first millennium BC.

Others, like Amjad Jaimoukha, traces the name Durdzuk to an ancient city north of Lake Urmia, near Nakhichevan (Nakhichevan is thought to be a Nakh placename by some).

Other groups of peoples attributed to being the ancestors of the Chechens and Ingush include the Gargareans (from the Nakh root gergara, meaning "Kin"; reported by Strabo to have "returned" from the South Caucasus to the North Caucasus, fleeing the wars in the south) and the Nakhchmateans (Armenian chronicles).

The Vainakh in the East had an affinity to Georgia, while the Malkh Kingdom of the West looked to the new Greek kingdom of Bosporus on the Black Sea coast (though it may have also had relations with Georgia as well). Adermalkh, king of the Malkh state, married the daughter of the Bosporan king in 480 BCE. Malkhi is one of the Chechen tukkhums.


Chechen warrior in chain mail

In the Middle Ages, the lowland of Chechnya was dominated by the Khazars and then the Alans. Local culture was also subject to Georgian influence and some Chechens converted to Eastern Orthodox Christianity. With a presence dating back to the seventh century, Islam gradually spread among the Chechens although the Chechens' own pagan religion was still strong until the 19th century. Society was organised along feudal lines. Chechnya was devastated by the Mongol invasions of the 13th century and those of Tamerlane in the 14th. The Chechens bear the distinction of being one of the few peoples to successfully resist the Mongols and defend themselves against their invasions; not once, but twice, though this came at great cost to them, as their state was utterly destroyed. These events were key in the shaping of the Chechen nationhood and their martial-oriented and clan-based society.

Early modern period

Chechen warrior

The Caucasus was a major competing area for two neighboring rival empires: the Ottoman and Persian Empires (Safavids, Afsharids, Qajars). Starting from 1555 and decisely from 1639 through the first half of the 19th century, the Caucasus was divided by these two powers, with the Ottomans prevailing in Western Georgia, while Persia kept the bulk of the Caucasus, namely Eastern Georgia, Southern Dagestan, Azerbaijan, and Armenia. The Chechens, however, never really fell under the rule of either empire. As Russia expanded slowly southwards as early as the 16th century, clashes between Chechens and the Russians became more frequent, and it became three empires competing for the region. During these turbulent times the Chechens were organized into semi-independent clans that were loyal to the Mexk-Kela (National Council). The Mehk-Kela was in charge of appointing the Mehk-Da (Ruler of the nation). Several of these appeared during the Late Middle Ages such as Aldaman Gheza, Tinavin-Visa, Zok-K'ant and others. The administration and military expeditions commanded by Aldaman Gheza during the 1650-1670s led to Chechnya being largely untouched by the major empires of the time. Alliances were concluded with local lords against Persian encroachment and battles were fought to stop Russian influence. As Russia set off to increase its political influence in the Caucasus and the Caspian Sea at the expense of Safavid Persia, Peter I launched the Russo-Persian War (1722-1723), in which Russia succeeded in taking much of the Caucasian territories for several years. Notable in Chechen history, this particular Russo-Persian War marked the first military encounter between Imperial Russia and the Vainakh. Sheikh Mansur led a major Chechen resistance movement in the late 18th century.

Tomb of a Chechen warrior of the 19th century

In the late 18th and 19th centuries, Russia embarked on full-scale conquest of the North Caucasus in the Caucasian War. Much of the campaign was led by General Yermolov who particularly disliked the Chechens, describing them as "a bold and dangerous people". Angered by Chechen raids, Yermolov resorted to a brutal 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 leader Imam Shamil. The Chechens were finally defeated in 1861 after a bloody war that lasted for decades, during which they lost most of their entire population. In the aftermath, large numbers of refugees also emigrated or were forcibly deported to the Ottoman Empire.

Nineteenth and twentieth centuries

Chechen family from 1920

Since then, there have been various Chechen rebellions against Russian/Soviet power in 1865–66, 1877, during the Russian Civil War and World War II, as well as nonviolent resistance to Russification and the Soviet Union's collectivization and anti-religion campaigns. In 1944, all Chechens, together with several other peoples of the Caucasus, were ordered by the Soviet leader Joseph Stalin to be deported en masse to the Kazakh and Kirghiz SSRs; and their republic and nation were abolished. At least one-quarter—and perhaps half—of the entire Chechen population perished in the process, and a severe blow was made to their culture and historical records. 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 both official and unofficial discrimination and discriminatory public discourse. Chechen attempts to regain independence in the 1990s after the fall of the Soviet Union led to the first and the second war with the new Russian state, starting in 1994.


Chechen-Soviet newspaper, Serlo(light), written in the Chechen Latin script during Korenizatsiya.

The main language of the Chechen people is Chechen. Chechen belongs to the family of Nakh languages (Northeast Caucasian languages). Literary Chechen is based on the central lowland dialect. Other related languages include Ingush, which has speakers in the neighbouring Ingushetia, and Batsbi, which is the language of the people in the adjoining part of Georgia. At various times in their history, Chechens used Georgian, Arabic and Latin alphabets; as of 2008, the official script is Russian Cyrillic. Usually linguists attributed Ingush and Batsbi to the Chechen language (to the Chechen dialects or to Chechen languages) before the endoethnonym Nakh and Vainakh appeared at the beginning of the 20th century.

Most Chechens living in their homeland can understand Ingush with ease. The two languages are not truly mutually intelligible, but it is easy for Chechens to learn how to understand the Ingush language and vice versa over time after hearing it for a while.

In 1989, 73.4% spoke Russian, though this figure has declined due to the wars for a large number of reasons (including the lack of proper education, the refusal to learn the language, and the mass dispersal of the Chechen diaspora due to the war). Chechens in the diaspora often speak the language of the country they live in (English, French, German, Arabic, Polish, Georgian, Turkish, etc.).

The Nakh languages are a subgroup of Northeast Caucasian, and as such are related to Nakho-Dagestanian family, including the languages of the Avars, Dargins, Lezghins, Laks, etc. However, this relationship is not a close one: the Nakho-Dagestani family is of comparable or greater time-depth than Indo-European, meaning Chechens are only as linguistically related to Avars or Dargins as the French are to the Russians or Iranians.


Chechen veterans of the Great Patriotic War

Genetic tests on Chechens, have shown roots mostly in the Caucasus as well as slight connections to and influences from the Middle East as well as Europe. As is the case with many other Caucasian peoples, Chechens are broadly connected with European populations on the Y-DNA (the paternal side) from all European regions, but narrowly closer to Western Europeans in terms of mitochondrial DNA (the maternal side).

A 2004 study of the mtDNA showed Chechens to be diverse in the mitochondrial genome, with 18 different haplogroups out of only 23 samples. This correlates with all other North Caucasian peoples such as the Ingush, Avars and Circassians where the mitochondrial DNA is very diverse. They clustered closer to European populations than Middle Eastern populations this time, but were closer to Western European populations (Basques and Britons) than to Eastern European populations (Russians and other Slavs, as well as Estonians), despite living in the East. They actually clustered about as close to Basques as they did to Ingush (Chechens also cluster closer to many other populations than Ingush, such as Abazins), but the Chechens were the closer to the Ingush than any other population, the imbalance probably largely being due to the uniqueness of the Ingush on the mitochondrial DNA among those tested. However the FTDNA groups show that Mitochondrial DNA is very diverse in the North Caucasus in general with Chechens having 12 mtDNA haplogroups out of 108 samples and Ingush 9 out of 15 samples.

The most recent study on Chechens, by Balanovsky et al. in 2011 sampled a total of 330 Chechens from three sample locations (one in Malgobek, one in Achkhoy-Martan, and one from two sites in Dagestan) and found the following frequencies: A weak majority of Chechens belong to Haplogroup J2 (56.7%), which is associated with Mediterranean, Caucasian and Fertile Crescent populations. Other notable values were found among North Caucasian Turkic peoples (Kumyks (25%) and Balkars (24%)). It is notable that J2 suddenly collapses as one enters the territory of non-Nakh Northeast Caucasian peoples, dropping to very low values among Dagestani peoples. The overwhelming bulk of Chechen J2 is of the subclade J2a4b* (J2-M67), of which the highest frequencies by far are found among Nakh peoples: Chechens were 55.2% according to the Balanovsky study, while Ingush were 87.4%. Other notable haplogroups that appeared consistently appeared at high frequencies included J1 (20.9%), L (7.0%), G2 (5.5%), R1a (3.9%), Q-M242 (3%) and R1b-M269 (1.8%, but much higher in Chechnya itself as opposed to Dagestani or Ingushetian Chechens). Overall, tests have shown consistently that Chechens are most closely related to Ingush, Circassians and other North Caucasians, occasionally showing a kinship to other peoples in some tests. Balanovsky's study showed the Ingush to be the Chechens' closest relatives by far.

A German anthropologist Bruno Plaetschke describes the Anthropology of the Chechens as follows:.

Russian military historian and lieutenant general, V.A. Potto describes the appearance of the Chechens as follows: “The Chechen is handsome and strong. Tall, slender, with sharp features and a quick, determined look, he amazes with his mobility, agility, dexterity."

Also, Chechens combine many elements of such subtypes of the Mediterranean race such as Pontid and Caspian. Chechens have the highest percentage of dolichocephalic index among the characteristic brachycephalic-Caucasions [Mtebids].

Chechens have second largest brains among Caucasoids.


Istang, a type of woven Chechen carpet

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

An example of Chechen tower architecture, ruins of the medieval settlement of Nikaroy

Chechens are accustomed to democratic ways, their social structure being firmly based on equality, pluralism and deference to individuality. Chechen society is structured around tukkhum (unions of clans) and about 130 teip, or clans. The teips are based more on land and one-side lineage than on blood (as exogamy is prevalent and encouraged), and are bonded together to form the Chechen nation. Teips are further subdivided into gar (branches), and gars into nekye (patronymic families). The Chechen social code is called nokhchallah (where Nokhchuo stands for "Chechen") and may be loosely translated as "Chechen character". The Chechen code of honor implies moral and ethical behaviour, generosity and the will to safeguard the honor of women. The traditional Chechen saying goes that the members of Chechen society, like its teips, are (ideally) "free and equal like wolves".

Group portrait of Chechen men and young woman in traditional costumes. 19th century

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 ("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 was considered extremely sinful. It is notable that the glasnost era Chechen independence movement, Bart (unity) in fact originated as a simple environmentalist organization in the republic's capital of Grozny.

A phandar, a traditional Chechen musical instrument

Chechen culture puts a strong value on the concept of freedom. This asserts itself in a number of ways. A large majority of the nation's national heroes fought for independence (or otherwise, like the legendary Zelimkhan, robbed from the Russian oppressors 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.

Chechens are sometimes referred to as the "French of the Caucasus", for a number of reasons (it is notable that the Circassians are the "English of the Caucasus", and the Georgians are the "Italians of the Caucasus"). This comparison may refer to either political/historical traits, or to personality characteristics. Like the French, who overthrew their age-old monarchy in the French Revolution, the Chechens had a similar revolution a century or two earlier, and like the French, they bore the distinction (for a period) of being the only egalitarian society in an area full of monarchic states. Like the French, the Chechens preferred swift, revolutionary (and often violent) methods to realize the change they wished to see – unlike the Circassians (called the "English of the Caucasus" both for their political and personality characteristics) who preferred more gradualist methods. Chechens were also called "French" by early Russian military officers and the French anthropologist Ernest Chantre who noted their "happy and witty" nature.


A Chechen man prays during the Battle of Grozny. The flame in the background is from a gas line hit by shrapnel. (January 1995)
Chechen Mosque Architecture

Chechnya is predominantly Muslim. Chechens are overwhelmingly adherents to the Shafi'i Madhhab of Sunni Islam, the republic having converted to Islam between the 16th and the 19th centuries. Most of the population follows either the Shafi'i or the Hanafi, schools of jurisprudence, fiqh. The Shafi'i school of jurisprudence has a long tradition among the Chechens, and thus it remains the most practiced. 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).

A stereotype of an average Chechen being a fundamentalist Muslim is incorrect and misleading. By the late 2000s, however, two new trends have emerged in Chechnya. A radicalized remnant of the armed Chechen separatist movement has become dominated by Salafis (popularly known in Russia as Wahhabis and present in Chechnya in small numbers since the 1990s), mostly abandoning nationalism in favor of Pan-Islamism and merging with several other regional Islamic insurgencies to form the Caucasus Emirate. At the same time, Chechnya under Moscow-backed authoritarian rule of Ramzan Kadyrov has undergone its own controversial counter-campaign of Islamization of the republic, with the local government actively promoting and enforcing their own version of a so-called "traditional Islam", including introducing elements of Sharia that replaced Russian official laws.

See also


External links

Uses material from the Wikipedia article Chechens, released under the CC BY-SA 3.0 license.