Chechnya has been much in the news this past week due to the two alleged Boston bombers being ethnic Chechens. On the assumption that many of us will be a little rusty with the goings on of this small country in the Caucuses, below is BookBrowse's "beyond the book" article written for Masha Gessen's The Man Without A Face: The Unlikely Rise of Vladimir Putin (2012).
Though it seems that the Tsarnaev brothers had not lived in Chechnya, although the older brother is thought to have visited last year, an understanding of the history of Chechnya is relevant as it explains why hundreds of thousands of ethnic Chechens currently live in countries such as Kyrgyzstan and Dagestan, as did the Tsarnaev family before coming to the USA.
While this article gives you some historic background, to get a glimpse of the humanity of the Chechen people, I strongly recommend Anthony Marra's brilliant debut novel A Constellation of Vital Phenomena, which publishes on May 7.
All About Chechnya
Chechnya lies to the south of the Russian Republic and is bound by Russia on almost all sides - it shares a border with Georgia high in the Caucasus Mountains. The secession attempts following the dissolution of the Soviet Union in 1991 are just a couple of many periods of disturbance Chechnya has witnessed. The republic, whose population currently stands at around one million, has been in almost constant battle against foreign rule since at least the 15th century. In fact, the area's original conversion to Sunni Islam may have been in large part so as to receive help from the Ottoman Empire against encroachment by the Russian Empire.
The current resistance has its roots in the late 18th century when Russia expanded its territories into areas formerly under the control of the Ottoman Empire and Persia (Iran) including the Caucasus Mountains. After a prolonged conflict of more than forty years, the area was formally annexed by the Russian Empire in 1859.
Since then, secession attempts have flared up pretty much every time Russia's internal politics have showed signs of weakness - including rebellions during the Russo-Turkish War in the 1870s; the Russo-Persian War (1804-1813), The Russian Revolutions of 1905 and 1917 and the Russian Civil War of 1917-1923.
Under Soviet rule in the 1930s, the oil-rich region of Chechnya was combined with its even smaller neighbor Ingushetia to form the autonomous republic of Checheno-Ingushetia. In 1944, in response to Chech uprisings during World War II, Stalin gave orders that the entire ethnic population of Chechnya and Inguishetia were to be forcibly relocated. Checheno-Ingushetia was dissolved, mosques and graveyards were destroyed, place names changed and vast numbers of historical Chechen texts were burned.
It is estimated that about half of ethnic Chechens died between 1944 and 1948. Checheno-Ingushetia was renamed Grozny Oblast and used to settle refugees from the Western Soviet Union. In the center of Grozny, Chechnya's capital city, the Soviets erected a statue with the inscription, "There is no people under the sun more vile and deceitful than this one."