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The Republic of Chechnya

autonomous province within the Russian Federation

Situated in the eastern part of the North Caucusus, Chechnya is bordered by the provinces of Ingushetia, North Ossetia and Stavropol Krai to the west, Russia to the north, the province of Dagestan to the east, and the Republic of Georgia to the south.

map of Chechnya

Geography

Chechnya has an area of 7,452 square miles (19,300 square kilometers). The republic's southern border lies in the Greater Caucasus Mountains, in which its highest point, Mount Tebulosmta, rises to a height of 14,741 feet (4,493 meters). The broad valleys of the Terek and Sunzha rivers make up most of the middle portion of the republic, while the level, rolling plains of the Nogay Steppe make up the northernmost region.

Chechnya has significant oil and natural gas deposits, the exploitation of which make up a large portion of the republic's economy. Limestone, gypsum, sulfur, and other minerals are also exploited, as are the region's many mineral water springs.

Population

Chechnya has a population of approximately 1.1 million people. Chechens account for 93.5 percent of the population, while Russians make up the largest minority group. The majority of Chechens are Sunni Muslims. While Russian is the official language of Chechnya, Chechen (a Caucasian language) is the principal language of the people.

Government

On March 23, 2003, a new constitution granted the Chechen Republic a significant degree of autonomy, while simultaneously keeping it firmly attached to the Russian Federation.

The President, who heads the executive branch of government, is elected by direct vote to a term of four years, and can serve no more than two consecutive terms.

The bicameral Parliament is composed of the Council of the Republic, consisting of 21 deputies elected by the voters of each individual district, and the People's Assembly, consisting of 40 elected deputies. The Assembly passes the laws, while the Council is responsible for reviewing and approving those laws.

The judicial branch is composed of a constitutional court, courts of justice, federal courts, the High Court of the Chechen Republic, the Court of Arbitrage of the Chechen Republic, as well as district and specialized courts.

flag of Chechnya Chechen Coat of Arms

Economy

Sheep herding and agriculture make up the bulk of Chechnya's traditional economic base. Much of the republic's industrial potential was destroyed during Chechnya's war for independence, but the Russian government has been slowly rebuilding the infrastructure so that the region's petroleum and natural gas potential can be fully exploited.

History

Caucasian speakers have inhabited the northeastern Caucasus since about 6000 B.C., according to archaeological and linguistic evidence. The Nakh clans, the ancestors of the Chechens and Ingush, lived in the mountains of the region until the 16th century, when they began moving into the lowlands. Over the millennia the region was controlled by the Scythians, Parthians, Persians, Turks, Arabs, and Mongols. The Ottoman Empire took over the area in the 15th century, and it was about this time that many of the region's inhabitants were converted to Islam. The Chechen were first recognized as a distinct people sometime in the 17th century. The Russian Empire gained control over the area in the early 18th century.

Although the Chechens did what they could to resist foreign invaders over the centuries, organized resistance was rare. In the late 18th century, Mansur Ushurma, a Chechen Sheik, with the support of many other ethnic groups throughout the Northern Caucasus, mounted the first true resistance against Russian rule. He hoped to establish a Transcaucasus Islamic state, but failed to garner support from the people, and the resistance effort failed.

A new resistance effort was mounted in 1839, by Imam Shamil of Dagestan. Although he was successful so long as Russia was occupied with the Crimean War, he was ultimately defeated in 1859. Over the subsequent years, every time Russia found itself occupied elsewhere, Chechnya launched a new nationalist campaign -- during the Russo-Turkish War, the Russian Revolution of 1905, the Russian Revolution of 1917, the Russian Civil War, and the Collectivization.

On January 20, 1921, Chechnya and Ingushetia joined the Republic of the Mountaineers of the North Caucasus, which also included what are now the provinces of North Ossetia and Dagestan. The republic was unable to survive an invasion by the Russian Red Army, however, and it was dissolved. The Chechen Autonomous Region was created on November 30, 1922. On December 5, 1936, Chechnya was combined with Ingushetia to form the Autonomous Republic of Chechen-Ingushetia.

Chechen rebellions began anew during World War II, led by a descendant of Imam Shamil. The rebels declared war on the Soviet Union on June 22, 1941, counting on support from Germany. The Soviets were forced to divert some of its forces to counter the insurrection, but by the end of September, 1943, the rebellion had been crushed. On orders from Joseph Stalin, the entire population of Chechnya was exiled to Kazakhstan, and the province was divided between North Ossetia, Georgia, and Dagestan. The Chechens were finally allowed to return in 1957, and the Republic of Chechnya was re-established that same year.

Chechnya remained free of major insurgency movements until 1990. With the Soviet Union on the verge of collapse, a group of Chechen nationalists formed the Chechen National Congress. In 1991, the group declared itself to be the lawful government of the newly independent Chechen Republic of Ichkeria. A large portion of the Chechen population, however, actually opposed secession from Russia, and soon the entire region was embroiled in civil war. Tens of thousands of Chechens were killed over the next three years, as various factions fought each other for control of Chechnya -- some in favor of an independent republic, some in favor of staying within the Russian Federation, and still others fighting for someting in between.

For the first few years of the civil war the Russian government was content to let the official government of Chechnya handle the nationalists. But when the conflict began spilling over into neighboring provinces, Russian President Boris Yeltsin decided it was time to act. In 1994, he sent 40,000 Russian troops to restore order in Chechnya, believing it would be a fairly quick operation. It was not, however, and in 1996 the two sides agreed to a ceasefire that included allowing Chechnya to maintain control over its own affairs while remaining within the Federation. Fighting resumed in 1999 following a series of terrorist attacks in Moscow and other Russian cities, and has continued in spurts ever since.

SEE ALSO
Dagestan
Boris Yeltsin

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The Robinson Library >> General and Old World History >> Eastern Europe >> Russia >> Russian Federation, 1991 to Present

This page was last updated on April 08, 2017.