Chechnya is one of the constituent republics of the Russian Federation. It is located in the north of the Caucasus, its territory almost surrounded by other republics and regions of Russia, except for the south, where it borders Georgia through the Caucasus mountain range, with peaks reaching up to 4,500 metres.
According to the 2010 Russian census, ethnic Chechens make up 95% of the republic’s population, with Russians at 2% and Kumyks at 1%. Other peoples, including the Nogai, form the rest of the population.
Most Chechens are Sunni Muslims, although some pre-Islamic traditions have survived.
The republic is a producer of gas and, above all, oil. The agricultural sector remains important. Since the early years of the 21st century a tourism sector has also developed.
Control of the Caucasus region from the early modern period onwards was contested between the Russian, Turkish, and Persian empires. The Russian Empire began to advance into Chechnya from the 16th century onwards, although the formal start of the Russian-Chechen conflict is conventionally considered to be 1785, with the beginning of Sheikh Mansur's resistance to Russian expansion under Catherine the Great. Russia consolidated its domination of Chechnya from the 1860s onwards. Between 1917 and 1921 several North Caucasian peoples, including the Chechens, were independent under the Mountainous Republic, which was later dissolved into Soviet Russia.
In 1936 the USSR united the Chechens and the Ingush under one republic. During World War II, Stalin accused both peoples of collaborating with Germany, deported them to Central Asia, and dissolved the republic. Nikita Khrushchev allowed them to return to their ancestral lands and, in 1957, reconstituted their republic.
Chechnya, under the leadership of President Djokhar Dudayev, proclaimed its independence in 1991 under the name of the Chechen Republic of Ichkeria. Russia rejected the declaration, but however Chechen authorities managed to implement de facto independence from Moscow. Chechen and Russian forces fought the First Chechen War between 1994 and 1996, which concluded with the signing of the Khasavyurt Accord, which was followed by the withdrawal of the Russian federal troops from Chechnya and continued de facto independence. The decision on the final status of the Caucasian Republic was postponed until 2001.
Starting from 1997, Chechnya entered into a phase of political, social, economic and military deterioration, which was linked to the confrontation between Chechen president Aslan Maskhadov —who had signed the Khasaviurt Accord with Russia— and his deputy president Shamil Basayev. In 1998, Basayev resigned from his post and lead an armed Islamist group aimed to put an end to the peace process with Russia and to establish an independent emirate in Chechnya and Dagestan.
Basayev’s group, in August 1999, invaded a part of Dagestan. The militants were expelled by Russian federal forces, who counterattacked by invading Chechnya and putting an end to the republic’s de facto independence.
Since 2000, Chechnya has been under the control of the Kadyrovs —until 2004 by Akhmad and since then by his son Ramzan—, a close ally of Russian president Vladimir Putin.
The Kadyrovs have imposed a tight control over the republic, which several international and Russian organizations denounce as systematically violating human rights and killing opponents.
The Islamist insurgency, with the aim of establishing a pan-Caucasus state under Sharia law, was active mainly until 2017. The two most prominent groups were the Caucasus Emirate (2007-2016) and the Caucasus Province of the Islamic State (2015-2017). Since 2017, some isolated militants have tried to maintain armed struggle in the mountains, with very limited impact.
Chechen, belonging to the North-Eastern Caucasian family, is the most widely spoken language in the republic. According to the 2010 Russian census, it has 1,350,000 speakers in the Russian Federation, most of them concentrated in Chechnya. Alongside Russian, Chechen is the official language of the republic. Russian is widely used in the education system. Chechen is preserved more in rural areas than in urban areas. Unesco considers the language to be endangered.
Politics and administration
Chechnya is one of the 22 constituent republics of the Russian Federation. Unlike the other republics, Chechnya maintains a high degree of autonomy, the result of a pact between Russian President Vladimir Putin and Chechen President Ramzan Kadyrov.
The republic has its own government and parliament. In practice, Chechnya is ruled under an authoritarian system where power is concentrated by Kadyrov, who thanks to Putin’s support has imposed a regime of iron control on the republic, which several international and Russian organisations denounce as systematically violating human rights and murdering opponents.
(Last updated March 2022.)