CHECHENS AND THE INGUSH
SOVIET PERIOD AND ITS ANTECEDENTS
Written by: Abdurahman Avtorkhanov
and Andrei Kolganov
On 15 January 1939 "Izvestia" ( Russian newspaper -AD) published the following
information from the official Soviet news agency TASS (today knows as Itar-Tass
-AD) in the article 'Quinquennium of Chechnia-Ingushetia' (Grozny, 14 January):
Five years ago, on 13 January 1934, two Caucasian peoples, endowed with
a kindred language, culture and life-style, united to form an autonomous
Chechen-Ingush oblast. On 5 December 1936, this oblast was transformed
into an autonomous Soviet Socialist Republic. The history of Chechnia-Ingushetia
is that of a decade long bloody struggle by a freedom-loving people against
colonisers and the national bourgeoisie--the mainstay of tsarism. During
the years of the Soviet regime Chechnia-Ingushetia was transformed beyond
all recognition. By government deed, over 400,000 hectares of land were
turned over for permanent use to the Republic's kolkhoz. 92.7 percent of
peasants' properties were unified into kolkhoz. An important petroleum
industry was founded. New petroleum-producing regions were discovered:
Malgobek and Gorskaia. Two refining plants and an engineering plant, "Krasnyi
molot" [Red Hammer], were built. Food processing and chemical engineering,
in particular, together with both light and cottage industries, were newly
The culture of the Chechen-Ingush
people, national in form and socialist in content, has flourished sumptuously
under the sun of Stalin's Constitution. Before the Revolution, Chechnia-Ingushetia
possessed just three schools. Today over 118,000 children are attending
342 primary and secondary schools. The higher education institutions--technicums
and workers' universities--train hundreds of engineers, technicians and
teachers every year. All these results have been achieved in the course
of a stubborn struggle against the enemies of the people: Trotsykists,
Bukharinists, bourgeois-nationalists, who are endeavouring to snatch from
the workers the gains of the Great October Socialist Revolution.
In February 1944, exactly five years later, the entire population of Chechnia-Ingushetia,
literally in the course of twenty-four hours, were arrested and embarked
in prisoners' convoys for transport to an unknown destination. Subsequently,
two years and four months later, "Izvestia" published an antedated ukaz
of the Presidium of the Supreme Soviet of the RSFSR on the "Liquidation
of the Chechen-Ingush Soviet Republic and the Deportation of its Population",
with no indication of the place of deportation. The ukaz, dated 25 June
1946, justifies the deportation as follows:
Many Chechens and Ingush, incited by German agents, entered voluntarily
into formations organized by Germans and, together with German armed forces,
rose up in arms against the Red Army. Obeying German orders they formed
gangs in order to attack the Soviet government from the rear. A large section
of the population of the Chechen-Ingush Republic offered no resistance
whatsoever to these traitors to the fatherland. For this reason the Chechen-Ingush
Republic is being liquidated and its population deported.
Thus came to an end the centuries-old history of Chechnia-Ingushetia with
the obliteration of the entire Republic from the map of the Soviet Union
and the disappearance of the names "Chechen" and "Ingush" from the current
vocabulary. However, the official reason given for the annihilation of
these people - collaboration with the Germans - is based on the assumption
of the ignorance of the Soviet people and a lack of information in the
Western world. It is relevant here to point out two factors first, that
during the Second World War not one single German soldier ever appeared
on Chechen-Ingush territory, with the exception of a brief occupation of
the frontier locality of Malgobek, where the population was Russian; and
secondly, that it was materially impossible for Chechens and Ingush to
join German formations since there was no compulsory mobilization in Chechnia-Ingushetia
throughout the entire existence of the Republic. The partial mobilization
during the Soviet war against Finland was cancelled at the beginning of
German-Soviet hostilities. Moreover, the Chechens and Ingush were exempt
from service in the Red Army. (The order of the High Command of the Red
Army in February 1942 explains this exemption by the refusal of the Chechens
and Ingush to eat pork on religious grounds.)
It is true that at the beginning of the hostilities the Germans captured,
along with a 5-million-strong Red Army prisoner-of-war population, a few
dozen Chechens and Ingush who later formed into a company within the framework
of the North Caucasian Legion (in the summer of 1945, this company was
handed over by the British to the Soviets in the region of Hanover). But
it is in the first document quoted above that we find the key phrase revealing
the reason for the deportation: "The history of Chechnia-Ingushetia is
that of a decade-long bloody struggle by a freedom-loving people against
colonizers...." It is only thanks to this phrase that we can establish
the historical truth.
It is well known that the Bolsheviks considered the struggle of oppressed
peoples for their national liberation and independence as justifiable when
it took place before the establishment of the Soviet regime. Any national
liberation struggle in the Soviet Union, on the other hand, was not only
condemned but mercilessly quelled. This does not mean, however, that nations
which fought for their independence in tsarist Russia gave up this struggle
under the Soviet regime. Quite the reverse: never in the history of pre-1917
Russia was the national problem more acute, and never were non-Russian
nationalities more pitilessly repressed, than under Soviet rule. In tsarist
Russia it was principally the non-Slavic peoples, Caucasians and Turkestanis,
that struggled for independence. But in the Soviet period the national
liberation movement was carried on across a broad front that included all
Slavic and non-Slavic nationalities. As of old, the Caucasus was in the
vanguard of this struggle led by the Chechen-Ingush people. That is why
they were the first victims in this unequal, though just, struggle.
According to the Soviet Union's Constitution of 1936, the territory (krai)
of the North Caucasus consisted of the autonomous regions (oblast) of Cherkessia,
and Karachay, and the autonomous Soviet Socialist Republics of Kabardino-Balkaria,
Northern Ossetia, Chechnia- Ingushetia and Daghestan. The Chechen-Ingush
Soviet Republic occupied an area of 15,700 square kilometers with a population
of 700,0V0. At the time of the deportation, which affected all Chechens
and Ingush living in the Caucasus (including those resident in Daghestan
and Georgia), and taking into account the normal increase in the population,
this probably amounted to one million people. The Republic dealt mainly
in agriculture, stock-breeding and the petroleum industries. Chechnia-Ingushetia
was the second most important petroleum-producing area in the Soviet Union.
At the start of the Second World War its average annual production was
between 3 and 4 million tonnes.
In spite of the existence of distinct languages and dialects, the North
Caucasian Mountaineers are essentially one people consisting of kindred
tribes sharing a common history and culture. The historical unity of these
tribes conditioned their common evolution and historical struggle for independence,
best exemplified by the State of Mansur (1780-91), the State ("Imamate")
of Shamil (1834-64), the Republic of the North Caucasus Mountaineers (1918-19),
the North Caucasian Emirate (1919-20), and finally the Soviet Mountain
Moscow became interested in the Caucasus after its conquest of the Kazan
and Astrakhan Khanates in 1556. Ivan the Terrible even married a Cherkess
princess, Maria Temrukovna, in 1561 to provide a basis for peaceful incorporation
of the North Caucasus into Russia. However, the expected peaceful incorporation
did not materialize. A few unsuccessful attempts to penetrate the North
Caucasus were made by Boris Godunov (1606), after which attempts at conquest
were abandoned and for a century no further move was made by Russia in
In the eighteenth century, Peter I undertook a campaign to annex the whole
of the Caucasus, but was forced to withdraw after suffering a serious defeat
at the hands of the Mountaineers and the Azeris in 1772. Russian expansion
in the Caucasus was renewed under Catherine II; her commander-in-chief,
Suvorov, directed this new campaign, which provoked the first organized
resistance of North Caucasians operating mainly from Chechnia and Daghestan.
In 1785, Mansur Ushurma, a Chechen from Aldy, assumed the title of imam
of all the Caucasian Mountaineers, a move which effectively united all
the tribes of the North Caucasus: the Chechens, the Ingush, the Daghestanis,
the Ossetians, the Cherkess and the Kabardians. For a time, Catherine considered
the idea of ending the war against the Mountaineers by concluding a treaty
of independence and friendship with them, but the intervention of Turkey
on their side put an end to this plan. While admitting the possibility
of Caucasian independence, the Russian government was not prepared to turn
the country over to Turkish domination, and fighting continued more bitterly
than ever. Finally, the movement came to an end when Mansur was captured
in Anapa together with Mustafa, the Turkish Pasha.
However, the capture of Mansur did not mean the end of the Mountaineers'
struggle. Under the leadership of Ghazi Mohammad, Hamza Bek and Imam Shamil,
Daghestan and Chechnia made an appeal-to-arms uniting the mountain tribes.
The struggle was crowned by the success of the Mountaineers. The North
Caucasian independent state - the "Imamate of Shamil" - was created in
1834 and lasted for thirty years, during which it fought without interruption
for every inch of its territory.
Officially, the Caucasian war ended in 1859, when the active army in the
Caucasus was increased to 300,000 men. In the summer of that year the new
Commander-in-Chief of the Caucasian forces, Field-Marshal Prince Bariatinskii,
had at his disposal a large concentration of fresh forces and modern military
technology which enabled him to defeat Shamil. He was able to issue a triumphant
note: "Gunib is taken, Shamil is made prisoner, I congratulate the Caucasian
army." In 1864, the last component of Shamil's independent government,
the Cherkess state, fell to the Russians.
In spite of the fact that the Mountaineers were vanquished, the Tsar's
government felt compelled to pay homage to their aspirations of independence
and love of freedom by granting them certain rights to internal self-administration.
The proclamation, in the Emperor's name, to the Chechen people reads as
I declare in the name of the
(1) that the Russian government
leaves you forever absolutely free to profess the faith of your fathers.
(2) that you will never be forced
into the army as soldiers or be transformed into Cossacks.
(3) that you are given a three-year
exemption period from the date of ratification of this Act, after which
you will be compelled to pay three roubles per household for the maintenance
of your national administration services. However, the aul communities
are free to distribute this tax among you as they think fit.
(4) that the authorities in charge
of your government will exercise their authority according to the shariat
and the adat. Judgment will be administered and decisions taken by popular
courts composed of the best people.
The original was signed by Bariatinskii.
However, fearing new revolts in the Caucasus the tsarist government decided
to exile large groups of Chechens, Daghestanis, Ossetians and Cherkess
to Turkey. These deportations took place in 1864. The procedure was harsh
and there were many victims--also many protests in the West.
In 1877, a popular uprising headed by Ali-Bek Haji flared up in subjugated
Chechnia and Daghestan. The ceaseless efforts of fifty years and the immense
sacrifice made by Russia to subdue the North Caucasus were thus reduced
to nought. However, thanks to an immense concentration of military force
in a small territory (literally, fifteen soldiers for every one inhabitant
of Chechnia), commanded by General Svistunov, the revolt was quelled after
a year of warfare.
Twenty-eight leaders of the revolt, including Ali-Bek Haji, aged twenty-three,
Uma Zumsoevski, aged seventy, and Dada his son, a guards officer, were
court-martialled. The presiding general asked if they considered themselves
guilty under the laws of the empire. Ali-Bek Haji replied on behalf of
his companions: "It is only before God and the Chechen people that we consider
ourselves guilty because, in spite of all the sacrifices, we were not able
to reconquer the freedom that God gave us!" They were sentenced to death
by hanging. Before the execution the condemned were allowed to express
their last wish. Uma Zumsoevski said: "It is hard for an old wolf to witness
the slaughter of his puppy. I ask to be hanged before my son." The Tsar's
court was not generous enough to grant this favour to the old man.
The struggle of the Mountaineers for freedom and independence became an
important issue in Europe. Marx and Engels wrote in their famous Communist
Manifesto: "People of Europe! learn to fight for freedom and independence
from the heroic example of the Caucasian Mountaineers." Russian writers
such as Pushkin, Lermontov and Tolstoy immortalized their struggle, condemning
at the same time the cruel and inhumane methods of their Russian conquerors.
It is important to stress two characteristics of the social development
of the Chechen-Ingush people which contributed to the intense conflict
between the forces of the conquerors and the conquered. First (different
in this respect from many other Caucasian regions), Chechnia and Ingushetia
had never experienced either class antagonism or despotic government. Although
the cultural-political development of the Chechens and Ingush had reached
the same level as that of other Caucasian people (culture developed there
on the basis of Arabic script), it knew no feudalism. Every Chechen and
Ingush considered himself "uzden" (a freeman). Legal equality was an ancient
law in this society.
Chantre, a French author, wrote
"At the time of their independence,
the Chechens formed several separate communities placed under the rule
of a popular assembly.
Today they live as people unaware
of class distinctions. They are very different from the Cherkess whose
gentry occupies a very high place. This is the essential difference between
the aristocratic Cherkess state and the wholly democratic constitution
of Chechen tribes. It is this that determined the specific character of
their struggle.[. . .] The equality among the population of the Eastern
Caucasus is clear-cut. They all possess the same rights and enjoy the same
social position. The authority with which they invest their tribal chiefs
grouped within the framework of an elected council is limited in time and
power . . . Chechens are witty. Russian officers nicknamed them the French
of the Caucasus.
The German author Bodenstedt mentions the same circumstances and concludes
that the "Chechens have a purely republican constitution and equal rights."
The second feature of the Chechen-Ingush is the immense significance they
attach to the Muslim faith. Chechens are almost fanatically religious,
and any attack on Islam arouses among them a profound reaction. It is these
two characteristics that constitute the Chechen-Ingush specific way of
life. They were in total opposition to the spirit and general trend of
the tsarist conquerors' official policy.
The Russian Revolution of 1917 and the
restoration of North Caucasian independence
After the declaration of rights promulgated by the Russian Revolution of
1917, the First North Caucasian Congress set up the Central Committee of
the Union of the North Caucasus and Daghestan in May 1917. This Central
Committee was to act as the provisional government of the North Caucasian
independent state. In September of that year, the provisional constitution
of the newly-formed state was ratified by the Second Congress. On 11 May
1918, after the Bolsheviks had seized power, the North Caucasian state
declared itself entirely independent from the Russian Federation. Its status
as such was recognized by Germany and Austria-Hungary and by Turkey, with
which the North Caucasian Republic concluded an alliance on 8 June 1918.
Its most important political figures were President Tapa Chermoev, the
chairman of parliament Vassan-Giray Jabagi, the minister of foreign affairs
Haidar Bammate and the ministers Pshemakho Kotsev, Abdul Rashid Katkhanov,
Ahmet Tsalikov, Alikhan Kantemir and Aytek Namitok.
It was not the Bolsheviks but Denikin who dealt the first blow to the North
Caucasian Republic. The White Russian movement--the "Voluntary Army"--began
its operation in Cossack territory in the North Caucasus. It was favorably
viewed by some Mountaineers as a military and political movement directed
against the Bolsheviks, but disillusion set in when its anti-national aspect
became apparent. With the slogan "for one indivisible Russia", Denikin
decided to subdue the Caucasus. He considered the Mountaineers' desire
to organize their political life as they saw fit as equivalent to "national
Bolshevism", which he deemed it his sacred duty to eliminate; hence his
policy of burning down the auls and exterminating the rebellious Mountaineers.
After having dealt with serious resistance in Kabarda and Northern Ossetia,
Denikin penetrated the territory of Chechnia-Ingushetia with the intention
of breaking down the opposition of the Chechens and Ingush. He burned dozens
of the largest centres of Chechnia-Ingushetia to the ground, including
Ekazhevo, Dolakovo, Alkan-Yurt, Chechen-Aul, Ustar-Garday, Gudermes, Gherzel-Aul
and Staryi-Yurt. The only result was to arouse a universal desire for revenge
among the Chechen and Ingush population and to unite them. This is the
reason why, instead of concentrating his forces against the Bolsheviks
during the Moscow campaign, Denikin was forced to draw on his best detachments
to fight against the Mountaineers. Indeed, he himself acknowledged later
that no less than one third of his forces were kept busy in the Caucasus.
The objective was to extinguish the "seething volcano"--his own words when
describing Chechnia-Ingushetia in his Description of the Great Trouble.
The independent Republic of the North Caucasus fell, and Denikin became
a rather anxious master of his conquest. This was hardly surprising since
already in September 1919, after the August revolt in Chechnia-Ingushetia,
Sheikh Uzun Haji had liberated the mountains of Daghestan, Chechnia, Ossetia
and Kabarda. The Sheikh then proclaimed the independence of the North Caucasus
once more and established the "North Caucasian Emirate".
In February 1920, Denikin was forced to evacuate from the territory of
the Emirate (the former Republic of the North Caucasus), and the Red Army
made its entrance there in the guise of "liberators". The Bolsheviks had
formerly recognized the government of Uzun Haji "de facto" and assisted
him in his struggle against Denikin; they had even placed at the disposal
of the North Caucasian Emirate the 5th Red Army commanded by Nikolai Gikalo.
The Emirate was now liquidated, and Sheikh Uzun Haji was offered the honorary
post of Mufti of the North Caucasian Mountaineers. He died three months
later thus ridding the Bolsheviks of a dangerous ally. Nevertheless, in
August 1920 an anti- Soviet revolt flared up in the mountains of Chechnia-Ingushetia
and Daghestan under the leadership of Said Bek, Shamil's great-grandson.
The movement lasted exactly one year until September 1921.