LOCATION: Chechnya territory between Russia and Georgia
LANGUAGE: Chechen, Russian
The Chechens (Nokhchii, singular Nokhchuo) inhabit a small territory in the Caucasus Mountains between the Russian and Georgian republics. Throughout their long history in the Caucasus Mountains, their strong sense of national pride has kept them prepared to fight to retain their homeland. The mountainous territory has protected them not only from enemies but from outside influences in general. Thus, the Chechens have retained many traditional customs and practices.
Throughout the 19th and 20th centuries, the Chechen people and their territory have been threatened. In particular, the Chechens have struggled against Russian interference. During the 19th century, the Chechens joined other peoples of the North Caucasus to defend their territories from Russian attack. These struggles, known as the Caucasian Wars, lasted over 70 years. The Chechens gained a reputation for being the most determined, skillful, and aggressive fighters among the North Caucasian peoples. Ultimately, the Russian forces, which substantially outnumbered the North Caucasian fighters, were victorious. The Chechens and others who were involved in the wars were brutally repressed, and many were killed as the Russians attempted to consolidate their power in the territory. Large numbers of Chechens were forced to flee, with many emigrating to Turkey.
When the Russian monarchy collapsed in 1917 and Soviet power replaced the Tsarist regime, the Chechens experienced a brief period of relative freedom as part of the short-lived Republic of Mountain Peoples. In the 1920s, the early years after the imposition of Soviet government, the state granted the Chechens considerable opportunity to express and develop their national culture. The state even assisted the Chechens, providing linguists and other expert scholars to help the Chechens develop a standard national alphabet. This alphabet, based on Latin rather than Cyrillic characters (like English rather than Russian letters) bore some resemblance to modern Turkish.
This period of relaxation ended by the late 1920s, as Iosif Stalin (himself of Caucasian origin) emerged as the new Soviet leader. Chechen schools were forced to expand their Russian language curriculum, the publication of Chechen-language books and newspapers was curtailed, and the public practice of Chechen cultural and religious customs was restricted. This repression heightened throughout the 1930s. Many political and cultural leaders among the Chechens were arrested, exiled, or executed. This situation culminated in the late 1930s with the arrest of many local cultural leaders, whose activity was seen by the Soviet government as dangerous and subversive. In response, many Chechens participated in armed resistance. The Soviet government had difficulty containing the Chechens, as the Soviet Union was preparing to fight Nazi Germany in World War II.
Despite the difficult relations between the Chechens and the Soviet regime, however, the Chechens supported the struggle against Nazi Germany and contributed to the Soviet victory. Nevertheless, the Soviets continued to view the Chechens as a threat. Soviet suspicion of the Chechens led to the brutal deportation of the entire Chechen population in the winter of 1944. In the course of a few days, the people of Chechnya were rounded up by the Soviet army and secret police, loaded into boxcars, and transported to remote regions of Kazakhstan, Central Asia. Many died on the way, and many more died in their harsh, new living conditions. Those who survived were denounced as traitors and suffered severe discrimination. During this period, Chechens were often denied employment opportunities or entrance to schools and universities. They were not permitted to assemble in groups or to engage in their traditional cultural practices. Despite these brutal conditions, some Chechens were still able to publish and circulate a secret Chechen newspaper during the years of exile.
After Stalin's death in 1953, Nikita Khrushchev rose to power. Under this new leadership, the Soviet government began to reconsider the Stalinist decision to deport the Chechen people. In 1956, the Chechens were permitted to return to their homeland. Although they had spent over a decade in exile, the Chechens returned in massive numbers to their native territory. Conflicts arose when the returning Chechens discovered that, in their absence, new settlers—many of whom were ethnic Russians—had taken over their territories. Clashes and animosity between Chechens and Russians living within Chechen territories have persisted down to the present. The difficult relations between the two groups heightened the long-standing Chechen resentment of Russia.
The Chechen people have, in general, adhered strongly to their cultural practices and customs, resisting active attempts by the Soviet government to stifle Chechen cultural self-expression. Soviet policies of Russification (Russianization) in Chechnya were not effective, and Chechen intellectuals attempted to strengthen Chechen culture from the 1960s to the early 1980s.
By the mid- to late 1980s, under Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev, the state's policies toward freedom of expression grew more permissive. Thus, Chechens began to work energetically on their cultural development. However, this relatively free political climate provided the Chechens with opportunities to discuss the possibility of splitting from the Soviet Union and forming an independent, sovereign Chechen state. By August 1991, with the collapse of the Soviet system and rise of Russian president Boris Yeltsin, ideas of national independence gained widespread support in Chechnya.
In November 1991, the Chechens formed a government under leader Dzhokhar Dudaev and declared Chechnya an independent state. Boris Yeltsin immediately contested the declaration and refused to negotiate with Dudaev. Tensions between Russia and Chechnya continued to escalate and, in December 1994, Russia launched an air attack on Chechnya, precipitating a brutal war. Although severely outnumbered, the Chechens managed to prevent Russia from gaining control in Chechnya. The war lasted for nearly two years, with massive casualties on both the Chechen and Russian sides. Much of Chechnya was destroyed.
Fighting came to an end in 1996 when General Alexander Lebed successfully negotiated a cease-fire treaty between the two sides. However, the treaty did not resolve the issue of Chechnya's independence. Instead, the treaty postponed the issue until the year 2000, when a referendum of Chechen citizens was to be held on the question of independence from Russia. Chechnya continued to consider itself an independent state, and Russia continued to treat Chechnya as part of the Russian federation. Dissension, desperate economic conditions, and armed bands created a violent and chaotic period between August 1996, when a cease fire was signed, and October 1999, when Russia once again invaded Chechnya. During the interval between wars Chechnya grew to be dangerous, with numerous kidnappings and murders. In August 1999 the warlord, Shamil Basaev, invaded the Andi highlands of Daghestan. Russia was suddenly confronted with the prospect of losing Daghestan. Although Basaev retreated, Yeltsin's successor, Vladimir Putin, launched a second war in October 1999. Major fighting began to die down in 2006, after the death of Basaev, but sporadic fighting persists and the future of Chechnya remains an open question.
LOCATION AND HOMELAND
The Chechen territory is located between Russia and Georgia in the Caucasus Mountains, between the Black and Caspian seas. The mountainous terrain has been strategically important for Chechnya. Chechen fighters have been able to withdraw into their familiar, mountainous territory, hiding and launching attacks from well-concealed bases. Thus, they have fought successfully against opponents of greater strength and numbers.
The mountains also support sheep-farming, the traditional Chechen occupation. The flatter territories of Chechnya accommodate other industries. Until the destruction of Chechnya in the recent wars with Russia, Chechnya had a major oil-refining industry, as well as an important pipeline that transported oil to Russia.
From 1934 to 1992 Chechnya shared official boundaries with the neighboring Ingush people, in a republic called Checheno-Ingushetia. The 1989 Soviet census reflected conditions in the former Checheno-Ingushetian Republic. In 1989, 957,000 Chechens lived in Checheno-Ingushetia, comprising 57.8% of the population. Ingush and ethnic Russians accounted for 13% and 23%, respectively. Because the Chechens maintained a majority in the republic, they had greater opportunity than other groups to develop their cultural and political identity.
The breakup of Checheno-Ingushetia was precipitated by the Chechen decision to form an independent state and the Ingush decision to remain a part of the Russian Federation. The two nations had been long-standing allies, with similar languages and cultures. The split was remarkably peaceful and free of contention. Local ethnic Russians living in Checheno-Ingushetia did not play a prominent role in this process. Many Russians left the territory in the late 1980s and early 1990s, concerned about rising anti-Russian sentiment among Chechens and Ingush. Because of the devastating war with Russia, and the large number of Chechen casualties, it is difficult to know how many Chechens live in Chechnya. The 2002 census lists 1.1 million Chechens and 361,000 Ingush. During the wars many Chechens fled as refugees to other areas of the Caucasus, especially Ingushetia, which welcomed them. The capital city, Grozny, has been reduced to rubble by repeated shelling and air raids. During the present time of relative peace and stability, rebuilding is underway under the appointed governor, Ramazan Kadyrov, who has conscripted many former Chechen fighters into his security apparatus.
The Chechen language is unique to the Caucasus region and not related to any languages outside of this region. Within the Caucasus, only the Ingush language (the language of the neighboring Ingushetians) and Batsby or Kisti of northern Georgia are closely related to Chechen. These three languages form a distinct branch of the Northeast Caucasian family, which includes the Dagestani languages.
Until 1991, Chechnya had two official languages, Chechen and Russian. Russian was taught in all schools, and many radio and television broadcasts were in Russian. A working knowledge of Russian was required for any prestigious or important job; consequently, most Chechens had a fluent command of Russian. One effect of the wars has been an interruption in education. Consequently, many young Chechens no longer have a command of Russian. After 1991, Chechen national identity and rising anti-Russian sentiment resulted in movements to purify the Chechen language and increase its use. Thus, a Chechen thesaurus prepared in the early 1990s replaced many words derived from Russian with new, Chechen equivalents. A new school curriculum to increase Chechen language teaching was developed, and Chechens tried to increase the number of publications and media broadcasting in the native language.
With the new president the situation with Russian language turned to the old times again and currently there is a bilingual system in Chechnya.
Because the Chechens did not develop a widely-used written language until the early 20th century, folklore was passed on orally from generation to generation. The traditional epic folk tale, which can be found in various forms throughout the Caucasus, was a traditional folkloric form. Such tales feature stories of heroism, hardship, and sacrifice, reinforcing values of bravery and personal or family honor. The Chechens used these folk tales to present historical events. Thus, events of the Caucasian Wars, the deportations, and the hardships suffered during the Soviet period are expressed in traditional form, passing stories of national survival to the next generation. The Chechens (and Ingush) also had a distinctive tradition of Nart lore, ancient and garbled tales about a race of heroes.
Islam is the traditional Chechen religion. Despite efforts of the atheistic Soviet regime to eradicate the practice of Islam, the Chechens continued to adhere strongly to their religion throughout the years of Soviet power. However, because the practice of Islam was not permitted during these years, many conventions of Islam, particularly public prayers, were not maintained. Instead, a sect of Islam called Sufism gained strength in Chechnya. Because Sufism emphasized secrecy and mysticism, it was well-suited to the need to observe religion in secrecy during the Soviet period.
Islam remained a strong force among Chechens. The weakening of Soviet repression during the late 1980s intensified the public expression of religion. The daily prayers (namaz) were heard again, religious publications became more widely available, and people began to make the traditional pilgrimage to Mecca. Traditional dress, featuring head-covering for both men and women, became more widespread. The public celebration of major Islamic festivals, such as Ramadan and Eid al-Fitr, also increased. However, like most cultural practices in Chechnya, the development and revival of organized, publicly-observed religion was disrupted by the wars with Russia.
As the second war has wound down, some Chechens have returned to Groznyj. Now, large groups of men are allowed to gather to perform the circle dance, the zikr (Arabic dhikr), a form of mystic prayer. The Chechen zikr is unique in the Muslim world. It is so intense that the chanting and rhythmic movement of the men can be heard blocks away.
During the years of Soviet power, the celebration of religious or national Chechen holidays was discouraged. In particular, traditional celebrations were curtailed during the deportations in the 1940s, when the Chechen people were dispersed throughout various regions and harshly repressed. Even after their repatriation and return to their homeland, the Chechens were still restricted by Soviet authorities from celebrating their religious holidays.
The Soviet holiday of the Day of the Revolution (October 7) has been turned into the National Pride day of Russia and is celebrated in Chechnya, too. The Day of International Socialism (May 1) is still an official holiday. People are not required to attend work on these days, and the holidays are often marked by state-sponsored fireworks and cultural displays. New Year's Day, another holiday acceptable to Soviet power, was widely celebrated.
After the collapse of Soviet power and the Chechen declaration of independence in 1991, the Chechen government tried to create new holidays. In particular, November 9 was declared a national holiday in celebration of Chechen independence. The Chechens also celebrate Deportation Day on February 23. Religious holidays have regained popularity. The 1994-96 war with Russia, however, interfered with the replacement of Soviet holidays by the new Chechen holidays. The social fabric now remains damaged, and holidays seem not to be particularly important.
RITES OF PASSAGE
When a baby is born, he or she is registered with the local authorities, giving the birth date and name. Even in contemporary Chechen society, the birth of a boy is viewed as an especially important occasion. Family and friends hold celebrations welcoming the new son. Boys are usually circumcised in a traditional ceremony, in adherence to Islamic requirements. The festivities surrounding the birth of a daughter are much more modest.
In contemporary society, a child's first day of school, which begins in the first grade at the age of seven, is viewed as an important transition toward greater maturity. For males, this process is completed when they leave school and choose careers.
Traditionally, Chechens married young. Men usually married by the time they were 16 or 17, and many girls married before they were 14. Marriage marked the end of childhood and the initiation into the responsibilities of adult life. Young Chechens did not have a distinct teenage period in which they could enjoy greater independence without yet assuming adult roles. In contemporary Chechen society, most young people spend some time in high school, and many go on to university, enabling them to enjoy some years of relative freedom before assuming adult roles. However, by North American standards, the teenage period for Chechens is brief. Even today, many young men are married by age 20, and many girls marry at age 17 or 18. Most young couples have children soon after marriage. Once their children marry, parents gain prestige and authority in the household.
Rituals surrounding death are generally religious, although deaths are always registered with local authorities. Even during the Soviet period, death was marked by a religious ceremony. In addition, the family of the deceased generally holds a large feast for mourners.
Chechen men, as do those in Western countries, greet one another with handshakes. In most other respects, however, interpersonal behavior follows Chechen tradition. Women are expected to behave modestly and deferentially in the company of men, keeping their eyes lowered. When a man enters the room, women stand in respect. At most social gatherings, men and women interact separately, with men congregated in one room (usually the living room), and women in another (usually the kitchen). Children remain with the women most of the time. Segregation by gender is not strictly observed in the workplace, although there is a tendency for men and women to spend most of their time in the company of their own gender.
Chechens place great importance on displays of hospitality toward guests. In a Chechen home, guests can expect to receive the best food and the most pleasant accommodations that the hosts can afford. If a guest is not shown proper hospitality, this is regarded as shameful for the entire extended host family. This can cause some intergenerational friction, as the younger generation today tends to have a much more casual and relaxed attitude toward the treatment of guests. Visiting is an important part of Chechen social life, and guests are expected to return invitations and extend hospitality to those who have entertained them in the past.
Chechen clans, teips, serve, among other things, as exogamous social units. Dating is not usually part of Chechen social life. Premarital sexual relations among teenagers are strongly discouraged, and such relations between young men and women can even start feuds between their families. Marriages are sometimes arranged by families, as each family is seeking to marry into another family of at least equal, if not superior, wealth and social standing. Many young people choose whom they will marry, although they may ask for parental approval. Young men and women generally become acquainted in public settings and have little privacy during their courtships. Chechen parents exert considerable pressure on their children to marry other Chechens. This is particularly true for women, as married women are considered to belong to the culture of their husbands.
Chechens are among the few peoples of the Caucasus who continue to observe avoidance customs in everyday life. Avoidance customs limit the contact that an individual may have with his or her in-laws. For example, according to Chechen avoidance customs, a son-in-law is not allowed to speak to, or even see, his mother-in-law. Similarly, relations between daughters-in-law and fathers-in-law are limited by avoidance customs. Because the daughter-in-law often lives with her husband's parents, avoidance between daughter-in-law and father-in-law cannot be strictly observed. However, they will often limit their contact and may speak to one another only indirectly through a third party. Even if these customs are not practiced, young Chechen women are expected to show great deference and respect to their fathers-in-law.
Traditionally, most Chechens lived in isolated mountain villages. Because extended families and clan groups lived in close proximity, traditional dwellings featured several large buildings in a courtyard enclosed by a wall. The buildings of the courtyard also housed farm animals, such as cows, chickens, and horses.
The rural population of Chechnya has remained large, but many Chechens, particularly the younger ones, have chosen to move to towns and cities. Most urban residents live in apartments. However, in contrast to many other cities in the former Soviet Union, most Chechen towns and cities also have a large number of small houses, set behind walls with their own small courtyards. Even in cities, people may keep some small livestock, such as chickens.
Living conditions in Chechnya deteriorated sharply after the first war with Russia in 1994-96. Many towns, cities, and rural areas were destroyed, and thousands of people were forced to flee their homes. The supply of water and electricity became unreliable. Service has been partly restored as the second war tapers off.
Maintaining an adequate food supply has always been difficult in the former Soviet Union and, in Chechnya, food selection and variety were often poor. This problem has been particularly acute for urban dwellers, whereas rural people have been able to produce and store food more easily. Since the war, the food situation has deteriorated even more. Russia stopped importing food and Chechen farmland and reserves of food were destroyed. Other basic essentials, such as medical supplies, have become difficult to obtain since the war.
Traditionally, Chechens lived in large, extended family units. Parents lived with their sons and the sons' wives and children in several buildings in a single large courtyard. Many rural families still live in these large family units, as the additional labor provided by family members helps to bolster the economic welfare of the whole family.
In urban areas, few families live in the traditional, extended family groups. Sons are still encouraged to start their own families in their parents' house, moving out only after several years of marriage or after the birth of the first child. One son, usually the youngest, is expected to stay and raise his family in his parents' home. Sons and their families are expected to show great respect and deference toward the son's parents, particularly to his father. Married couples rarely live with the wife's family. Chechen men consider living in the home of their wife's father to be dishonorable.
After marriage, when a young couple moves in with the husband's parents, a bride may have a difficult adjustment period learning to adhere to the practices and instructions of other household members. The youngest wife in the household is considered the lowest person in the family hierarchy. Therefore, she usually does the bulk of the work and unpleasant tasks. However, young wives can look forward to a time when their own sons will marry and bring a new wife into the household. Although young married people almost always spend a period of time living with the groom's parents, a couple who has married without the consent of their parents may choose to live in a different town or city for a few years, until the parents accept the marriage.
Traditionally, Chechen marriages were arranged by the families of the bride and groom. The bride and groom could not be related, even distantly. They had to come from separate teips (clans). Young women were expected to provide a dowry of household objects, linens, livestock, and, sometimes, money to the groom's family. In turn, the groom's family paid a bride-price to the woman's household. According to Islamic law, the woman was allowed to keep her dowry, or its cash value, in the event of divorce from or death of the husband. Dowries and bride-prices were declared illegal under Soviet law, but many families, especially those in more isolated rural regions, continue to use them to negotiate the marriage of their children.
Occasionally, if a man could not obtain the consent of the woman's family, he would arrange a "kidnapping marriage." The woman was kidnapped by the groom and some of his friends and then taken immediately to be married. Sometimes, these marriages would be prearranged between the bride and groom. However, a man may choose to kidnap and marry a woman who may have refused to give consent. Although declared illegal under Soviet law, kidnapping marriages persist to the present day. If a woman is kidnapped and objects strenuously to the marriage, her family may try to have the marriage dissolved. If the man's family is of lower social standing than the woman's, the kidnapping marriage could result in a feud between his and her relatives.
Polygamy was traditionally practiced among Chechens according to the Quranic restrictions that a man could have no more than four wives and that he must provide each with a lifestyle of equal quality. During the years of Soviet power, polygamy was outlawed and the practice ceased. However, since the fall of Soviet power and the rise in Islamic consciousness, interest in such traditional institutions as polygamous marriage has grown. Although polygamy is not widely practiced, some Chechen men take a second wife. These are often men whose first wives have either been unable to produce children or who have not given birth to sons. Such men are generally older and must also have considerable financial means, as the second wife must be provided with the same lifestyle as the first. Typically, the man will obtain a second apartment or house for the new wife. Thus, a second marriage is not only a means of bringing more children into the family, but also of displaying prestige and wealth. Most women, especially first wives, object strongly to the practice of polygamy. However, for some women, becoming a second wife is one way to gain many of the social advantages of married life and yet retain some measure of independence.
The traditional Chechen national costumes were elaborate and very similar to the costumes worn by other Caucasian peoples. Women wore long, flowing dresses with fitted bodices. Women wore long scarves over their heads but did not cover their faces. Men's clothing was more practical, with tall leather boots and loose-fitting trousers convenient for horseback riding. Men's pride in their fighting skill and bravery in battle was expressed in their clothing, wearing tightly-belted jackets decorated with loops into which bullets (originally, silver tubes with pre-measured musket charges) were inserted. The number of bullets increased with a man's age and battle experience. Men also covered their heads, wearing tall lamb's wool hats, usually in black or grey.
In modern times, men and women wear Western-style clothing, although some men, particularly those in rural regions, continue to wear boots and loose-fitting trousers. Women always wear skirts or dresses that fall below the knee. Especially in the cities, women wear jewelry and use cosmetics. Unlike their North American or European counterparts, Chechens of both genders continue to wear head coverings. Older women often wear wool head-scarves, usually in grey or black. The head-covering of younger women is often purely symbolic, usually consisting of a silk scarf, folded and wrapped around the head to resemble a thick headband. According to the new State law established by president Ramzan Kadyrov women must cover their heads, especially the TV broadcasters and University students. Even the female manikins must have their heads covered in the stores. Men, especially middle-aged or elderly men, still wear traditional lamb's wool hats.
Recently, as Chechen nationalism has become a widespread and powerful force, more men have adopted the traditional head covering. Sometimes, a colored band of cloth is sewn around the hats, most commonly green, the Chechen national color. White cloth bands indicate men who have completed the pilgrimage to Mecca. With increasing awareness of their Islamic identity, some Chechens, especially young people, have adopted very conservative Islamic dress. Some Chechen women have chosen to wear a full head covering, although the practice is not traditionally Chechen. Efforts to impose Muslim norms of dress in the cities are meeting with resistance from Chechen women.
Lamb and mutton are staples of the Chechen diet. These meats are served in a variety of ways—roasted, stewed, or ground and shaped into patties. The internal organs of the sheep are ground together and made into a sausage-like dish. Like all Muslims, Chechens do not eat pork or pork products. Thus, pigs are not raised in Chechen agriculture.
Tomatoes, red or green peppers, or eggplants are often stuffed with a ground lamb mixture and baked. Milk products, such as butter and cheese, are also an important part of the diet. Fruits, fresh in summer and dried in winter, are the most common dessert.
Traditionally, Chechen men and women dined separately. The men ate together in the dining room as the women cooked and served the food. Then the women and children ate in the kitchen. Larger, more traditional families, where many generations are dining together, often observe this segregation today. However, younger, more-modern families tend to eat together rather than in segregation. North American visitors to traditional households will usually be invited to eat in the living room with the men, even if the visitors are women.
In the 19th and early 20th centuries, before the rise of Soviet power, formal education was not a traditional part of Chechen life. The exception was for boys who were interested in a clerical career. These boys went to special Muslim academies where they were taught to read and write Arabic. Those few who were interested in administrative careers had to leave Chechen territory to learn Russian. Until the 1920s, the Chechens did not have a written language.
The Soviet government took steps to ensure that all children, both boys and girls, would receive an education. In the 1920s a written Chechen language was created and a school curriculum in both official languages (Russian and Chechen) was instituted. Education until the tenth grade was mandatory for both boys and girls. At first, parents were reluctant to send their children to school but, by the 1930s, most children were receiving at least an elementary education. A university was opened in the capital city, Groznyj.
In contemporary times, children continue to attend school until tenth grade. Universities and trade institutes offer further career training to high school graduates. Many high school graduates, particularly boys from cities and towns, choose to continue their education. Girls sometimes do not take advantage of higher education opportunities, choosing instead to marry and raise a family. People in rural areas often remain at home and work in the family farming business.
Unfortunately, the wars with Russia have interfered with formal education. Most schools were not able to remain open during 1994-96 and have only recently (2006) begun to function again. Many educational buildings and supplies were destroyed. Primary school children in the late 1990s and early 2000s often did not have the opportunity to learn the basic skills of mathematics and literacy.
During the years of Soviet power, the central government exercised strict control over the publication of literature and the writing of national histories. Thus, Chechen authors and historians were forced to write according to the Soviet government's version of events. Many historical events, particularly the Caucasian Wars and the 1944 deportations, were distorted. However, after the relaxation of central authority in the late 1980s, Chechens began to publish works that presented more authentically Chechen versions.
Chechens express great pride in their culture and began in the late 1990s to publish collections of Chechen memoirs and folklore. Traditional music is very percussive and energetic, with drums and accordion as the main instruments. Although European and North American classical and rock music is available in Chechnya, Chechen music is still very popular, even among young people.
As in many areas of life, artistic and cultural activity has diminished as a consequence of the wars with Russia. These severely interrupted the development of cultural renewal by many talented and innovative Chechens.
Traditionally, Chechens were sheep farmers, with men living a seminomadic life accompanying the herds through mountain pastures. In the 20th century, opportunities for education and urban employment have grown, and many people chose to leave farming, obtain higher education, and work in the towns or cities. Oil refining has been an important part of the Chechen economy, drawing many workers. The process of urbanization was interrupted during the Soviet period by the deportations; in addition, many Chechens became unwilling to remain in agriculture.
After the collapse of Soviet power, many jobs that had formerly been funded by the government were no longer supported. The transition from a state-driven to a market-based economy was difficult for some, who were unable to find new areas of employment. For others, the transition opened up new fields of work, such as the import/export area. Because many Chechens have links with other countries, particularly Muslim countries such as Turkey, with its large (50,000) Chechen diaspora, import/export is a popular career choice. For the most part, Chechens have made a smooth transition to new economic conditions. Extended families are often involved in a single family business.
However, as the Chechen economy was beginning to develop, war with Russia broke out. Much of the infrastructure, including oil refineries and pipelines, was destroyed. Because of closed borders, the import/export business became difficult. Furthermore, the local market deteriorated greatly, as many Chechens were forced into hiding. However, the current reconstruction of the country is underway, with great likelihood of economic recovery.
A popular traditional Chechen sport is horseback-riding. Riding has always been part of the job of sheepherding, but is also enjoyed as a recreational sport. Many young boys from rural areas learn to ride as they help with the herding, and become more skilled as they grow older. Recreational riding features daring tricks on horseback, and is common among young people in the countryside.
Wrestling is another popular sport. Boys start to wrestle at a young age and, as they get older, are often encouraged to pursue the sport seriously. During the Soviet years, many coaches and wrestlers on the Soviet national team were from Chechnya. Recently Chechnya has a strong soccer team Terek, which with the financial support of the Chechen president Kadyrov became one of the most famous teams in Russia
ENTERTAINMENT AND RECREATION
In Chechnya, entertainment centers are around the family and the home. There are few cafés, restaurants, or theaters. Thus, most people entertain at home. Home entertainment is quite lavish and guests are treated to elaborate and lengthy meals. Visits are reciprocated, as guests are expected to entertain their hosts in their own homes at a later date.
Some socializing also takes place at work or school. Often, people will invite the families of friends and coworkers to their homes. Young people, who may wish to get out of the family environment from time to time, may get together in groups and go for walks, especially in the early evenings.
Most Chechen homes have televisions, radios, and stereos, and watching television and listening to music are popular pastimes. Predictably, the wars with Russia have interrupted the leisure time of Chechens.
FOLK ART, CRAFTS, AND HOBBIES
Weaving and knitting are traditional folk arts among Chechens. Even in the 1990s and 2000s, rural Chechen women continue to weave and knit, producing fine garments. Children may have opportunities to learn music and visual arts in school.
The most urgent social problems in Chechnya today are the consequences of war with Russia. Many people spent almost two years as refugees in neighboring territories, returning to disrupted lives and destroyed homes in their native region, only to flee a second time in 1999. Chechens have experienced massive destruction. Education was disrupted and opportunities for a normal social life and secure living environment have been delayed for young people of the late 1990s and 2000s. Furthermore, many youths were exposed to, and even involved as fighters in, great violence. Many were orphaned and some were badly injured. With all these deaths, those who were fighters or who lost loved ones must come to terms with the Chechen obligation of vengeance. The future consequences of these events are cause for concern.
In general, the status of Chechen women was lower than the status of women in Soviet society. However, the Soviet norms of equal education for girls and boys and equal access to health care and social security had made a positive impact on their lives. A set of cultural prejudices against women's public roles has been maintained and was reinforced by the recent militarization of society. The social infrastructure, health care, and insurance systems were practically ruined by the Chechnya authorities under the connivance of the federal government, and resources were allocated to the armed groups. Women became primarily responsible for the survival of their families. Girls in Chechnya nearly lost the possibility of going to school. It is almost impossible to get information about rapes and violence against women in armed conflicts in Chechnya because, in accordance with some traditions, a raped woman is expected to commit suicide or be murdered by her relatives.
The Chechen woman, like all women in the Caucasus, has always been defined by her humility, which is expressed through respect and deference towards members of the "stronger" sex. However, despite living in a patriarchal society, women have a genuine role in it; they do indeed have some rights and are far from being oppressed. Western culture has strongly influenced Chechnya within recent years. Chechen women have to work to help support their families. Because of the lack of jobs for men, the unsettled conditions in which they live, and the difficulties entailed in traveling within the republic, women are often compelled to be the sole breadwinners in the family.
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—by J. Ormrod, J. Colarusso, and F. Tlisova