Laudaev Part IX, “The Acceptance of Islam by the Chechens”


The Acceptance of Islam by the Chechens


The Chechens say that their forefathers were kerestan. Based on the assonance of this word, undoubtedly, kerestan means Christian. At present, the Chechens call all unbelievers by this name, for example, Christians, Jews, Lamaists, and often Persians, who follow the Mohammedan Shiite sect. According to their understanding, Kerestan-nity consists of one category.  But, when analyzing where this word comes from, it’s clear that it doesn’t mean pagan, rather Christian. The Chechens call the mountain Pagans dyn-batsu-kerestan, i.e. Christians without a faith or with no knowledge of the single God. They call Christians and Jews simply kerestan, which is to say, they believe in a single God, but don’t recognize the Prophet Muhammad. It’s clear therefore that, at first being Pagans, they accepted Christianity, and then, having accepted Muhammadism, became religious enemies of the Christians, calling them unbelievers without differentiating them from the rest. Without a doubt, Georgia, during the powerful period of her history, could not remain indifferent to the pagan faith of such close neighbors as the Chechens. Having power over them, it wasn’t hard for Georgia to convert them to its religion. Generally, primitive tribes, with the change from Paganism to a Monotheistic religion, can resist the conversion by adherence to the older [religion], but not from the strength of their conviction. It wasn’t difficult for the Chechens to leave their simplistic Paganism on understanding the clear argument for the oneness of the God of the Christians. To achieve their conversion, the Georgians probably didn’t spare with gifts, which the poor mountain people had a weakness for. The Georgians had communication with them along various, albeit difficult, roads. They could offer clergy and church membership to the Chechens. [But] the era of Georgia’s might passed and with it, naturally, it was more likely that the newly realized dawn of the Christian faith would extinguish rather than that the clergy could remain without any aid.  Then the Chechens became semi-Christian, i.e. they began to return to the pagan faith. Having once received knowledge of the true God, they quickly accepted Islam with the appearance of Muslim missionaries because in both of these religions there is only a single commonly-recognized God. There were other factors that sped up the conversion. In those troubled times, atrocities were committed ubiquitously. The Christian faith, which preached meekness and humility as dogma, was not suited to the contemporary spirit of the nation’s condition. Muhammedism, however, didn’t judge the actions of a person.  And where the Gospels order forgiveness for one’s enemy, the Koran allows one to take an eye for an eye, a tooth for a tooth, as per the law of Moses. Naturally, the latter appealed more to a semi-wild people. A ritual bath, as a rite in sharp contrast to the life of the eternally dirty and grubby mountain people, also served as a [good] cleaning for them.

The Chechens received Islam from the neighboring Dagestan tribes, and thus they follow the precepts of the Shiite persuasion. Legend names someone [called] Termaol as a missionary.  In this same legend it can be seen that they converted to the new faith by force of arms and that with this conversion there occurred persecution, coercion and other disorders.[1] Accepting Islam, the Chechens agreed to pay yasak to the Shamkhal, who was called the Vali (vice-regent) of Dagestan. These payments didn’t go on for very long. Although legend belittles the sort of faith from which the Chechens converted to Islam, they were doubtlessly Christians previously.  Besides their ancestors’ being called kerestan, there are other facts corroborating this truth.[2] Those who didn’t want to accept Islam couldn’t remain in the country and therefore they went over to the Russians in large numbers. The legends about this have remained fresh. The spread of Islam, beginning with fanaticism and coercion, towards the end adopted a more peace-loving character.

Until the acceptance of Islam the Chechens were peaceful towards their neighbors. At the same time, the Kabards and other tribes, earning their daily bread by raiding only and had no knowledge of cereal cultivation, an activity the Chechens were engaged in. The western mountain tribes acquired powder and firearms from the Black Sea coast from the Hungarians, Genoans, Greeks and Turks and traded them to the Chechens for cereals. Besides this, the neighbors herded horses and cattle into Chechnya to trade for cereals.  The mountainous and rocky environment of the Dagestan tribes didn’t abound with cereals and thus they traded their products: fruit, carpets, silk and others, for Chechen cereals. At the same time, the neighbors of the Chechens, with the knowledge of their princes, arrogantly set out in crowds to loot the Russians, with a blessing for the road by a mullah or a forecast from the book of stars (sedai-zhaina or astrology) about the fortunate outcome of their enterprise. The Chechens, in small gangs of maybe two or three, would secretly take leave of parents and comrades, and set out for beyond the Terek. Not infrequently did the bravadoes lose their heads in the Christian land or, being captured, were exiled into Russia.   Many dashing deeds were done by them, but there was nobody to pass the [news of] them on to the native village in order that the kinsmen could mourn the fate of the unfortunates.

With the acceptance of Islam everything changed with the Chechens. The Koran instilled in them an irreconcilable enmity with the unbelievers. [Their] fellow-tribesmen- the Galgai remaining pagans as did some Ossetians- were made into religious enemies.[3] Amicable prior to this, the Russians and Chechens started to be hostile towards each other. The clergy excited the fanaticism of the people, they termed night-time raids and theft “war for the faith” and promised heaven to people who fell in these exploits, calling them kazavat, i.e. martyrs for the faith. However, this was more often done because of the greed of the clergy.[4]

With the acceptance of Islam, contentious business among the Chechens had to be resolved according to Shariah. But how could an unrestrained people, following adat for centuries, submit to Shariah. Shariah is fine for pious people who have full knowledge of the meaning of this word, or in the case that power is concentrated in the hands of one person, able to, in cases of disobedience, to force submission with threats or orders. The Chechens were in no way such a people who needed Shariah. They were pious only in the superficial carrying out of the rites of Islam. They didn’t understand its inner virtues.  More to the same, they didn’t have a national ruler and thus followed Shariah only when it went along with adat. The country expected all the best from this, but in fact it caused the opposite, the disorder grew. Usually, two litigants would go to a kadi (judge) to settle a case. The kadi would impartially proclaim his judgement, [but] its carrying out resting on the litigants’ will and fear of God. It often happened that if the loser of the lawsuit was from  a powerful clan, he would disregard Shariah and turn back to the old adat, not so much to resolve the case to his satisfaction as to avoid redress. This evasive twisting and turning is still strong among the Chechens. Allowing for guilt all around, currently, it often happens that an expert on adat follows correct procedures and surreptitiously laughs at his opponent.

Right-thinking people always strived to rectify the evil amongst the people. In order to remedy the incommodities in the Shariah, they found it necessary to harmonize it with adat. Harmonization had already been introduced among various mountain tribes and therefore needed to be taken over by the Chechens. At present, the institution of makhkama (national court) proceeds more correctly than earlier legal proceedings. And with the vigiliant supervision of a Russian leader, it can satisfy national needs. Although Chechen deputations still can’t boast of total impartiality, at least they aren’t subjected to, as in earlier times, ridicule and tale-bearing amongst the people concerning the injustice of their rulings.

Only now do the formerly untamed Chechens enjoy their freedom. Space has been provided for their habitation, scattered about in small auls and farmsteads clustered together and forming proper large auls, [already] being called shakhar (city) with their own authorities and court. In many places they form bazaars, where Russians and Chechens shake hands, trading with each other, and where Chechens can profitably sell their wares. They are a hundred times happier than in the former untamed time when they had to sleep with weapons in their hands to fight off the nighttime thief, who circled their homes like a wolf in order to steal a bull, cow or ram. Now they are no longer comparable with those naked and hungry crowds, who, twenty years ago, desolated by the Naibs, shyly gathered at [the promise of] Russian protection.

[1]     [Laudaev Extended Comment 29] The Pagan beliefs of the Chechens have mixed with Islamic beliefs and thus are very difficult to separate out one from the other as these beliefs have already taken on a general Islamic guise. For example, having accepted Islam, along with it the Chechens accepted the belief in the existence of angels and devils (maliak and shaitan, or satana). In addition, they still believe in genies (djinn), who, according to their understanding deriving from the Koran, are divided into good ones and evil ones, or white ones and black ones. The white sort of genies are Muslims, but the black ones are Christian. These genies are found in the same sort of antagonism as angels and demons. There are still other beliefs among the Chechens, for example, the belief in almas and uburs, about which the Koran says nothing. Therefore, this belief was already found amongst the people in the Pagan era. An Almas is a being of female gender, who appears to people in human form in cemeteries, in the evenings in lonely parts of the aul, forests, on the road and else[where].  These beings are half-flesh and half-spirit. They herald the death of a person with a plaintive song, often proclaiming the name of the victim and letting out a deep sigh for them. The belief in almas is still strong among the Chechens. The Ubur is some sort of thing, like a vampire, which usually sucks the blood of infants in cradles. Chechens deal with almas, satans, and jinn without ceremony. For example, it was known to us that Nogai-Mirza one evening was coming from the field and spied a woman in white garb on the road who was sitting on the ground and weeping [great] sobs. Nogai-Mirza caught her ill-omened words, which were speaking about the coming death of his favorite sister. He quickly ran up to the woman with shashka in hand. The almas sprang up and ran away, leaving behind in the hand of Nogai-Mirza her plait, which he managed to cut off with the shashka. This plait, like a trophy, hung on the wall of the hut and was lost at the time of a raid by Chechens of the Terek auls. In the same manner they deal with the genies, who, far from human vision, converse amongst themselves in human form. If it happens that a Chechen, who has become lost in the forest or in a deserted place, happens on their community, then [he] fires on them, and the timid spirits disappear. Different chances in life (e.g. madness, physical debilitation, a fit of exhaustion, epilepsy, etc.) are also attributed to the schemes of the genies and shaitans. In a few instances, pagan beliefs are manifested in national songs. In such a manner, the national refrain of the Chechens, used by them as a chorus and a solo, for festive and mournful occasions, by rich merchants and poor shepherds, is made up of the following words:

Dalai, dalai, vai dalai, dalai

Yalai, yalai, laila, Yala lai.

These words, which now signify nothing, in all probability go back to that period of Chechen history when they, [still] pagans, were oppressed by another people. Dalai or Dalo means god in Chechen; the word yalai or yala means to die or death. In translation this refrain means:

Oh god, god, our god, god

Yala, Yala, let him die, let him die.

            It’s possible that in this refrain the word yala signifies some sort of pagan divinity, specifically a divinity of death.

In the legends of the people, the name of the first missionary of Islam amongst the Chechens is preserved. He was somebody [named] Termaol. He was a man eloquent and severe. Enthused by the flow of his speech, the Chechens submitted to him. At a gathering of the entire people, in solemn words he described the almighty God of the Muslims. With vivid colors he portrayed paradise, which had been prepared for true believers. He spoke about the sixty houris (khurial), who had been allocated for the elect. The houris will meet their bridegroom at the gates of Paradise, and singing hymns to the Prophet and praise of their new master, will conduct him to the house prepared for him, built of musk, gold and silver and decorated with expensive stones: diamonds (zhaukhar), sapphires (yagut), emeralds (zubarzhat) and others. In it will be found seventy rooms with magnificent couches. [There,] eternally young and virginal houris, their glances, full of love and passion, will be turned towards their master, anticipating his orders. They will be dressed in 60 gowns, one over the other, but due to the whiteness of their unblemished and clean flesh, the marrow in their bones will be visible through 60 gowns as if through clear crystal. He said that the righteous will have a height six times higher than their normal one in order to savor the sweetness of Paradise six times more. Such speeches fired up the Chechens, who, although they were still a little in doubt, immediately became Muslims. The national fanaticism went so far that the elders, in the final days of their lives, carried out the rite of circumcision.   Surrounding himself with diligent disciples, Termaol began to more boldly produce conversions and kill opponents, calling them enemies of God (deli-mastakhoi). This insult, now having come into general use, appeared for the first time among the Chechens at that time. They say that he had the habit [after] having killed a thousand unbelievers, of standing a corpse upside down. Apparently, he once passed a day putting three corpses in similar poses. In other words, he killed three thousand persons and was only mollified when the wives of the slain, having covered their heads with pots, went out from their homes as a symbol that they would no longer tend fire or water for anyone. When the country was finally reduced, this cruelty of Termaol was not forgotten by the people. He became an example for impertinent children, who pretended to play at knocking over corpses. Not being in a state to bear such humiliation, he dug himself a grave and lived in a cellar.  Burying himself in, he said “Goodbye Muslims, from now on you don’t need me, but I will come when you feel the need of me.” Even now, a few fanatics await his appearance. His tomb is located in Ichkeria, on the land of the Enokalin clan.

Islamism, which was spread at first by force, always had a largely epic character, which can be seen from the following legend.

Towards the conclusion of the establishment of Islamism amongst the Chechens, there was someone famous among the people [named] Bersa (Bersan), of the Kurchalin clan. He had influence among the people; they named him an imam and shaykh (saint). In the aul of Guni he had a great friend  [who was also] of great influence among the people, but he was an old opponent of the Koran. Bersa rode to the village of Akhshpatoi, not far from Guni, to convert those [there] remaining in Paganism. Bersa’s friend from Guni was offended because [Bersa], in contradiction to the national custom of hospitality, didn’t stop by his place and [thus] offended him in particular. He quickly took this hurt to heart and personally rode over to Bersa to voice his displeasure. Presenting himself to Bersa, he heaped reproaches on him. Bersa answered that when he was a Giaour like him, he was able to be his friend, but now, having accepted Islam, he couldn’t be friends with an unbelieving impure person and, “if I meet with such a one in the field,” added the shaykh, “I’ll start fighting with him so that the unbeliever can be saved by dying. My heart feels a stronger love for you than before, but our spirits are divided by a barrier that only you can break down.” The man from Guni was agreeable and loved Bersa, thus he agreed to accept Islam but asked for a period of one month. He said “I have thirty suckling boars. Eating one boar a day, I’ll finish them up during the course of a month and then, satiated with my delicious vittles, I’ll accept Islam.” “A month passes like the twinkling of an eye,” said the Shaykh, “[but] could you guarantee than within the hour the Angel of Death won’t end your life? And then, having not taken the words of a friend, you will quickly become acquainted with the truth of God and suffer all the horrors of torment in hell. Is it possible that the advice of a friend is less important to you than foul sucking pigs? Now or never!” yelled out the Shaykh loudly. The man from Guni accepted Islam and set out for home in order to convert his clan. But who among mankind isn’t susceptible to weakness or hasn’t strayed from the rules of religion?  Furthermore, [who] can blame him considering the all-but forcible conversion of the man from Guni an hour previous? Coming home, he grew hungry, and spying a sucking pig, he was tempted. Instead of teaching his family the new faith and impressing upon them the significance of fasting, like a new missionary, he ordered his wife to quickly set the cauldron and boil up ten sucklings. “It’s not for me to throw them away to the dogs,” thought he. “I labored hard, fattening the boars. Three days of misfortune, a fortuitous repentance, and maybe having gobbled up ten sucklings, I’ll fell disgust for them. Then I’ll become a Muslim without any backsliding.” The food was already ready, he went to unsaddle the horse and came back, smelling the odor of the fat sucklings [which] was still issuing forth. But how was his surprise, when, coming into the room, he saw the Shaykh in the place of honor for guests, [and] was frightened to say anything to him. The Shaykh took the pot out to the courtyard and threw the meat to the dogs. Struck by this miracle, the man from Guni became a zealous Muslim and made a vow to fast the entire month.


[2]    [Laudaev Extended Comment 30]       I found some information, which demonstrates that the Chechens were Christians prior to receiving the Koran.

According to Biblical legends, God himself assigned the first six days for work and the seventh, Saturday, for rest. This procedure for ordering the week is followed by the peoples of Asia Minor, Arabia, Egypt, Persia and other places. After the resurrection of Christ, Christians changed the preexisting order of the week in memory of this event. Namely, their holy day was set as the Old Testament’s first day and after it, in order, are named the remaining days. Thus the Old Testament Sabbath became the Christian sixth day, and the first Old Testament [day] is the Christian seventh, or holy, day.

Muhammad also renamed the days; namely, following the former Old Testament numbering of days, then existing in Arabia. He started his holy day [on] its sixth day, the Christian fifth day. Calling it djuma, the rest of the days remained in the preexisting Old Testatement order.

Accepting Mohammedism, the Chechens would have had to follow the Muslim system of numbering the [days of the] week, but we have seen the opposite. Not only do they follow the Christian procedure for numbering the days of the week, and the names of the days in their language correspond with Russian names. This is clear from the following table:













From this tablet it can be clearly seen that the Old Testament and Mohammedan numbering systems are alike and the Russian-Christian corresponds with the Chechen.

The names of the days amongst the Chechens have the same meaning as in Russian. In Chechen, Tuesday is called shinera, from the word shi, which means two, which is to say the second day or Tuesday. Wednesday is kara, from the word ko or three, which is to say the third day. Thursday is iera, from the word yu, which is to say four. Until the coming of Islam, Friday was called pkhera, from the word pkhi, which is to say five. Accepting Islam, the Chechens called Friday pereski, from the Arab word farz, i.e. the revelations of Islam, given by God through the Koran. The Chechens pronounce the  Arab letter ﻑ (fu) as pu, thus farzski, the name for Friday, is pronounced pariski, as it is said in the mountains, or pereski in the flatlands, which is to say the day on which it is required to proclaim the farz. Saturday is called shabat and Sunday is kirin-de, i.e. week day, or the important day of the week. The name kirin-de comes from two words, kira [meaning] week and de [meaning] day, i.e. holiday.

By chance, an Arabic manuscript came to me from a person, who generally wasn’t interested by it. It lays out the events in the Caucasus in a chronological list and among them the story that Chechens were Christians 104 years before they accepted the Muslim faith. Then, assuming that the Chechens began to convert to Islam gradually starting at the beginning of the 18th century, it’s possible to conclude that they were Christians for the entire 17th century, and accordingly that Christianity was revived among them by the Russians. Able to serve as corroboration of this is the fact that [there were] Chechens, in the period of [the Chechens] accepting the Koran, who didn’t want to accept it, [and] went over to the Russians. If the Chechens had been pagans, they would have naturally gone over to fellow tribesmen and co-believers, to the Nazranovets (the Galga), the Ingush and others, and not to the Christian unbelieving Russians. They went over to the Russians because they considered them brothers in the faith. That  [some] Chechens in fact went over to the Russians at that time is confirmed by the Cossacks themselves of the Chervlennoi and other stanitsas. Up to the present, they have not forgotten their ancestral clans, and they themselves confirm that they originated as Chechens, from the Billeto, Varando, Akhshpato, Guno and other clans. Even now they have kunachestvo (fictive kinship/solidarity/long-term friendship) with the Chechens.



[3]    [Laudaev Extended Comment 31]       Accepting Islam, the Chechens were made into religious enemies of all unbelievers, including their pagan fellow tribesmen. A song has been preserved about their religious battles.

It happened that in these difficult times, the daughter of an influential Galga was stolen by a Chechen and carried off to Chechniya. The Galga, at the shrine of his god Tsu, called down hatred and vengeance on the Chechens. To execute his malice, he brought ten fattened bullocks as a sacrifice and began to gather a band. Furthermore, it is said that there joined his band a young Ingush, with a stately and beautiful horse. He reared his horse like a member of his own family. [When] he would come home from a late party, he wouldn’t lay down to sleep without [first] giving the horse half a cake of bread.  If he would come back from work, he would split some of the food given him with the horse. The band started out for Chechniya. Learning of this, the Chechens also gathered, and surrounded their enemies at night and fell to fighting at dawn. The greater part of the Galgas were wiped out [and] the horse under the leader fell. Spotting the young Ingush on the spirited horse, the leader said to him, “let me mount your horse, I’ll drive off these timid Chechens. Like starlings from a hawk, they will fly off scattering to all sides from my hands. Then we’ll return home with glory and loot.” “No,” said the Ingush, “you aren’t ignorant of how I reared him. I deprived myself of half my food so that on a black day he would save me from misfortune. Now comes this ill-fated day. Do as you think best, but I will return home as a herald of our misfortune.” Saying this, he galloped safely through the ranks of the Chechens, who were raining down a shower of bullets from their rifles. The band was destroyed [and] the desire to harry the Chechens [then] fell on the Ingush.

At the end of the last century, the Chechens, following the lead of the other mountain men, began to gather in masses and harry the Russian border. [At that time] somebody [named] Mansur, a native of Aldin, of the Arestenzho family, became famous amongst the people. They named him shaykh and imam. He began his actions with the intention of driving the Russians out of Muslim lands.  He aimed to gather all the mountain tribes and act against the Russians with one spirit. To achieve his aim, he turned to religion, knowing what great respect the mountain people gave to spiritual individuals. Putting a three-day fast on the country, he began to call on auls with his retainers (murids), accompanied by zikr (glorification [of God]) singing. The inhabitants would come out to meet him; they repented their sins to him and turned to taba (penitence), committing themselves to not doing evil deeds, e.g. not to steal, not to gamble, not to smoke tobacco, not to drink strong drink, but always pray to God, not neglecting the prescribed times for doing this. The people recognized Mansur as their usmas, i.e. an intercessor with God. They kissed the skirts of his clothes, and became so filled with religious enthusiasm that they said farewell to their obligations to each other, ended lawsuits and bid adieu to their own blood (tsi). Banishing spite, envy, selfishness and so forth from it, people opened their heart to others.  They say that at that time the people had turned to the way of truth to such a degree that finding items or money, they tied them to a pole and set it by the road as long as the current owner didn’t come for them. This crisis in the existence of the Chechens lasted for two years. Fame of it spread to the other tribes. The Pagan Kabards, Galgas and Mountain Chechens accepted Islam and in one spirit with the Chechens rose up in arms against the Russians. The Chechens took on themselves [the role of] leadership and began to act more boldly. Their conceit went so far, that, for example, a few persons, who didn’t own any oxen, agreed to get together their own plow [team] and to begin the work of cultivating, drove back from across the Terek some oxen , which had been taken from the Russians. They paid bride prices, having set a period of time for payment and seizing [the agreed property] from the Russians within [the agreed] time. Legend says that to put an end to such predation the Russians planned to take and raid the nest of the predators, the aul of Aldy, Mansur’s place of residence. They crossed over to the Chechen side of the river Sunzhi without a fight and shortly went on to the aul. Mansur did nothing to prepare for them. From such a lack of action his people began to doubt his sainthood and started to grumble. The Russians were prepared to attack the aul and only then did Mansur finish his prayers in the mosque, come out of it and give a dua (prayer/petition to God) for the whole people and dashed towards the Russians. They were completely defeated. The slain were so numerous that of the stakes, with which the aul was enfenced and on which were placed the heads of the slain Russians, only two were left without trophies. Some of the Russians scattered into the forest, and for a week after the fight, suffering from hunger, they themselves appeared in the aul. But a small part of the Russians retreated back to the river Sunzha with all possible order. The Chechens tried to break the rows of the courageous [men] with a quick charge, but the Russians deflected them. They say that the Russians were kept from disorder by a single horseman on a white steed. Mansur himself fired his rifle and with an accurate shot knocked this horseman from his steed. Then the Russian party was destroyed and, as the legend says, only forage caps (laba-yolykuin) floated along the Sunzhae, [and] were seen for the first [time] by the Chechens.

A common mournful end, of an anointed one [like] Mansur, didn’t make sense to the Chechens. They didn’t want to believe that he could be gotten by the unbelievers; rather, they said he was taken into the sky and would soon come back to earth for the final destruction of all the Russians.

But, [as they] were not waiting for his appearance, they simply couldn’t carry on without an imam and thus at first recognized [any] fancy sort or hypocrite as their imam. Thus someone [named] Gauka, of the Chermo clan, against the desire of some, was proclaimed imam. And there is still visible a ditch, [going] through the Khankal gorge, which was excavated during his time to hinder the Russians’ going into Chechniya. The ditch is called Gaukai-or.

And so it went in Chechniya , when finally in 1818 the Russians built the fort of Grozni on the Sunzhae, in the heart of Chechniya.

[4]     [Laudaev Extended Comment 31]      Khams or khamsi is an Arabic word and means five. The Chechens pronounce this word kums. At the time of the Chechen raids on the unbelievers, all the booty taken from the enemy was divided into five parts. Four parts of this were assigned to the raiders, but the fifth part was given to the clergy. During the imamate of Shamil, kums was given to him. Appropriation of the kums was punished.

Laudaev, “The Chechen Tribe,” Part VIII, The Public Life of the Chechens


The Public life of the Chechens


The public life of the Chechens has always presented a mournful spectacle.  It was not secure in any sense. Even if they tried [to establish]  beneficial relations with well-meaning [other] people (for example, neighbors) there were no means to bring them to a [successful] conclusion. Being formed from different elements, the Chechens strived only for the advantage of their own particular clan, not troubled with [the wellbeing of] their homeland more broadly. Until their conquest by the Russians, they had only one law, the law of arms. The strong clans injured the weak. The latter, taking their revenge on them [both] secretly and openly, only increased the disorder and caused new crimes.[1] Theft, as amongst all half-wild peoples, was strongly entrenched amongst them. Land disputes were turned into fights and blood feuds. And the Chechen custom of abducting a wife for oneself against the parents’ will  still further strengthened the chaos in the country.

The Chechens had no princes and all were equal amongst themselves. If it happened that a foreigner who was of high estate settled amongst them, he lost his high position and became equal with the Chechens. The Chechens call themselves uzden (ozdi or uzden). This word has a different meaning amongst them than it does amongst their neighbors. Amongst the latter uzden-ness is categorized by rank. Among the Chechens themselves all the people form one rank of uzden-ness, differentiated amongst themselves only by [personal] qualities: wisdom, wealth, generosity, bravery and, not rarely, evil actions: theft, banditry and so forth. The word uzden- borrowed by them from [their] neighbors- means to the Chechens a person free, unrestricted, independent, or, as they themselves put it, free like a wolf (borz-senna). Their neighbors lived in princely lands, acquired by right or force. Amongst the Chechens the land was territory held in common. If it happened that they settled in princely lands on the condition that they pay tax, as they grew stronger, they would stop paying it and possess the land. To them it was shameful to pay tax on land that God had given to all equally. Their fellow-tribesmen in the mountains taunted and reproached those who payed yasak, calling them lai, i.e. slaves. According to [their] understanding of uzden-ness, a Chechen could not subordinate another person to themselves because then uzden-ness would lose its significance. It’s apparent that this is why they didn’t suffer any kind of power amongst themselves and didn’t choose a leader from amongst themselves. Furthermore, public offices such as aul elder, foreman (turgak) and others, didn’t exist in the old Chechen auls. If it happened that  general disorder forced the people to choose a leading figure, his power was at a minimum and he was listened to only by his clan and relatives. In order to more sharply express their equality, the Chechens call themselves heroes or warriors, konakhi in Chechen. In order to depict the bravery or generosity of such a person, they say im diki konakhi vu, i.e. he is a fine warrior. This word is impossible to correlate to either the Russian molodets[2] or the Kumyk igit (djigit).[3]

This warlike people resolved issues amongst themselves by force of arms, [after a fight] the busted up contestants would separate, make peace and resolve the business in a domestic manner. But similar arbitration could only be done between fellow clansmen. In the earliest times of [the Chechens’] pastoral mode of life, the elder of the kindred was revered by his clan. He resolved domestic disagreements and arguments and he was like a father of the clan, a teacher and a leader. In cases of an argument of two clans, the elders of the kindreds deliberated in order to resolve the business, passed their judgment and nobody contradicted them. But, having multiplied, the people began to have lawsuits both over land, theft, abduction of women and so forth. At that time the judgment of the elder of the clan soon became insufficient. At that time, the elders of all the neighboring clans began to gather together to deliberate regarding the ending of disorder in the country. They resolved on the kind of retribution that was needed for various crimes. The elders would return home, orally declared their resolutions to the clans and forced them to make a religious vow to comply with them. The Chechens call these resolutions edil or adil, i.e. custom.  This same idea is expressed by the word adat, which was taken from the Tatars (from which [fact] it is possible to conclude that the features of the Chechens’ adat was burrowed from [their] neighbors). But the court of the elders was not sufficient for the unrestrained Chechen people because nobody ensured that their decrees were carried out. The powerful clans denied its competency and thus it was recognized only amongst the weak and for weak clans.  They also looked to maslagat, or precedent. The litigants reconciled by means of requests, rewards and compromises. But maslagat couldn’t satisfy the entire country or all lawsuits and in a few cases caused further harm. [But] gradually it developed in the judicial tradition as adat. People were chosen, who were known for [their] wisdom, integrity, disinterestedness and impartiality and entrusted with the obligation of the due process of a case and its resolution. Similar people were called kanoi, i.e. elders or judges, and the people were obligated to comply with their judgments. Simultaneously, [the Chechens] began to develop court procedures. For example, up to this time, the litigants had gone to the home of the judge for due process. Finding this inconvenient, and to ensure that the judges were impartial, [the people] chose places where the elder-judges, at the assembly of the people, could conduct a proper court and pass decrees.  Places for such gatherings were modestly called khattam, i.e. the questioning, from the word khattam which means inquiry. The judges heard out the case and then declared the judgment and then went home. It was up to the litigants to submit to the judgment. As the Chechens gradually exited the mountains out onto the plains the khattam was set up in the same form as originally in the mountains. The inhabitants of the old Argun okrug held theirs in Maast and Nashakh. The Ichkerians gathered on a kurgan near the aul of Tsontari and the flatland Chechens gathered in the Khankal gorge and in Kachkalyk. Until the time of Shamil, these gatherings were still called makhkama. This name has now passed on to the current national court.  We know that the aul of Maast was distinguished based on [its] adat.[4]

All that said, prudent, active people, who loved their homeland, could not be credited to the Chechens. Powerful families ran amok, not complying with the dictates of adat. Theft among them passed as glory and valor. They killed and slaughtered each other for almost no reason and, in the end, committed unprecedented crimes, taking their cue from the Adigei. They began to abduct or carry off forcibly defenseless people- their own countrymen- into slavery and sell them into slavery in far off countries.[5]

They stopped respecting the customs of the fathers and didn’t comply with the rules of adat. In Chechniya there ruled only one law- the law of force. Such chaos was largely due to the following reasons. The Ichkerians, who were under the power of the Avar khans, rejected their power and possessed the land. The Little Chechens grew stronger and the Kabards dropped their pretenses over their freedom and land. The Russians no longer had any influence over the lowland Chechens. Not having any ruler over them, the wild and warlike spirit of the Chechens answered to nobody for their actions. At this time, there passed among the people proverbial toasts, which are now repeated only on festive occasions, but at that time were used for everything. “Our world, who else but us is in the world” (dune vain detsi)!  With this toast, they characterized the contemporary condition of their country, i.e. there was no accounting for actions, no retaliation for crimes. These disorders forced the prudent Chechens to see themselves to the pacifying of the country. For this reason, in various auls, they invited princes to come reign (alolu dan), pledging to continue to pay them yasak. The Ichkerians and part of the Shatoevians invited the Melardoevian princes, who derived from a collateral branch of the Avar khans. [These Melardoevians] ruled in Gumbet. Gumbet is called Melardy in Chechen. The inhabitants of Greater Chechniya invited the Kumyk, and [those] of Lesser [Chechniya], the Kabard princes. But this measure didn’t help. When the princes, according to their obligations, began to assert their power, the Chechens, not used to it, didn’t comply with the rules of the princes. Clans interceded on behalf of guilty members and the princes had no means to force them to obey. So they went back where they came from. Only the Terek Cossacks, settled on the right bank of the Terek, obeyed the princes and that was due more to the fear of the Russians, instead of the princes themselves. For the Russians, their political interest consisted of keeping people in obedience to the princes. By this means they could protect their borders from predatory raids from inside Chechniya. These princes made good use of their positions, understanding their significance. It was obvious to them that both the Russians and the Chechens needed them, and they constituted mediators between these peoples.  The Chechens feared the princes and obeyed them, knowing that the Russians protected them. The Russians themselves, knowing the respect of the people for the princes, flattered them. Only superficially dependent on the Russians, they held the lands of the right bank of the Terek. However, the princes didn’t exercise despotic pretenses over the inhabitants, which distinguished them from the princes of the tribes that neighbored Chechniya; indeed, it was impossible to impinge on the freedom of the Chechens because they would at once retreat deep into Chechniya from where it would be easy [for the Chechens] to take revenge on [the princes] for [real or perceived] injustices. For this reason the Terek auls were for the most part composed [only] of the princely retainers, the emchek (nurses, care-takers of the princes’ children) and their relatives. While the disorder in Chechniya grew and reached to the limits of the province, the patience of the victims stopped at the borders. The people searched for salvation from wherever it would appear. In the end they decided on the following means- to accept the Mohammedan faith, in the hope that shariah would bring peace to the province, which their Muslim neighbors already enjoyed. And [so] the Chechens accepted Islam.

[1]        [Laudaev Extended Comment 26]    In the event of a killing, the entire clan (or taipa) hurries to some[one’s] place of residence. Blood passes from one clan to another as long as the descendants of the slain man aren’t satiated with the blood of the descendants of the killer.  At first, a blood-debt fell on entire clan. With the increase of family members, [however], blood-debt fell on the gaara and on a single family in the end. Usually, they try to kill the killer or his brother and father. It has happened that the killer, having paid money, cleared himself of the blood-debt. It was considered more praise-worthy if the killer was forgiven without [any] retribution. In such situations he was considered the son of the slain man’s mother. To do this, the killer didn’t cut the hair on his head and didn’t cut his fingernails. And having embraced [his] new mother, fastened on her breast like an infant. Then a son or relative shaved his head, trimmed his nails, and he became a member of the family. Cases occurred in which the adopted son remained with the new family forever.


[2]Translator’s note: fine fellow, good guy. Also means something like the English expressions “way to go!” or “good job”

[3]Translator’s note: This originally Turkic word is used commonly in the Caucasus to mean a fine fellow, a dandy. In Central Asia it also has this meaning, but can further mean something like “a brave”, as in a young warrior or even a man, roughly aged 20-early 30’s.

[4]    [Laudaev Extended Comment 27]   We know that the customary laws of the aul of Maast were esteemed amongst the Chechens higher than [those of] the [other] auls of their society and thus suits, which could not be resolved in other places, were heard in Maast. There is the following story. Along the twisty, steep bank of a river, there passed a man on foot, with staff in hand. A shepherd from a nearby village was herding his flock and was sitting thoughtfully, letting his legs hand hang down over the edge of the [river’s] gorge.  It happened that the pedestrian, not noticed by the shepherd, [but] being almost next to him, lost his staff.  The shepherd started at the sudden sound and fell over the edge and died. The relatives of the shepherd declared the pedestrian a blood enemy. [But] that one, not feeling guilty, took the case along with them to be decided in Maast. The judgment was that the entire blood-debt was reckoned at 40 cows and was divided into 3 parts. One third fell on the pedestrian for carelessness with the staff. One third fell on the staff itself, from which came the sound. And one third fell on the timid soul of the shepherd. Paying one third of the fine and giving the staff to the relatives, the pedestrian cleared himself of the blood-debt.

A maiden loved a young fellow, but he was cold-hearted towards her. Coming from the river, she met him and began screaming for no reason. Apparently he had molested her. There were no witnesses and the case was decided in Maast thus: if on Friday, after prayers in the Mosque, the girl came to a gathering of the djaamata (community), clad in a single blouse, without a head scarf or sharovars, and climbed up on the roof of the mosque to affirm her testimony, then the fellow would be expected to marry her. If this didn’t happen, the fellow would be considered innocent. The girl decided not to carry out the instructions, the sense of shame had overcome [her] passion. And the honor of the wise men of Maast was celebrated among the people.

Along with migrating to different places, above all the Chechens aimed for establishing due process amongst themselves.  Having occupied Ichkeria, they suffered mightily from discord and disagreements. To restore peace, the Ichkerians assembled on a kurgan near the aul of Tsontar, choosing from among themselves 100 intelligent men to form a court for the establishment of peace in the country. The one hundred elected [men] made a vow not to disperse from that place for as long as they hadn’t pacified the country. They, remaining for ten months, not dispersing from the height, codified the preexisting customary laws and rights in Ichkeria. In memory of such a fortunate event, this kurgan is still honored by the people and called ketish-korma, i.e. assembly hill. The flatlands Chechens had already tried doing this [sort of meeting] and gathered in the Khankal gorge on a kurgan with the name khan-galai-barz, i.e. lookout kurgan. The Russians call it Ermolov [kurgan]. The Kachkalyks have their own similar [sort of] place. The Kumyks also go there for court cases. They call that place emu-gachalak, i.e. “seven Kachkalyks” or seven villages, comprised of Kachkalyks.

[5]     Strictly speaking, there was no slave class among the Chechens. Slaves appeared among them recently and among other peoples, who are their neighbors. In the beginning, they acquired knowledge of this class and its acquisition from the Adigei. They secretly kidnapped or increased their power over weak people of neighboring tribes or their own countrymen and sold them for money or bartered them into slavery. The unfortunate victims were arbitrarily called yassir, i.e. slaves.  There were still other reasons for, and types of slaves. Frequent crop failures at that time forced some to sell off or barter for bread a family member to avoid starvation for the entire family, to save the rest of the family from death.  It often happened that having been sold in such a manner the person was never bought out and forever remained a slave. The same was also done in cases of a bankrupt debtor. Recently, during the war, people taken captive were made slaves. The slavery of Chechen serfs was of a different type than that amongst other mountain tribes. Amongst these [tribes], serfs or slaves constituted a lower class of the people. The Chechens themselves, who always tended towards equality,  didn’t see them as serfs. While serfs formed a special class of persons among the other mountain people, among Chechens they were incorporated as lesser members of the family. Slaveholders of the other tribes settled their serfs in habitations around themselves. The serfs, [although] providing for their own family, still had to bear the burden of being a slave. Among the Chechens, they lived in the houses of their masters and made use of their food and clothes. Almost always the master and serf worked together. In relations with outsiders, the slaves were almost equal to the people. Only the appellation lai (slave) distinguished them from the other inhabitants. At the same time, the freemen of the other tribes, ashamed to be occupied with lowly work, put it on the slaves, [and thus] aimed in all ways to acquire them. [Therefore] this class was numerous amongst them.

Laudaev “The Chechen Tribe” Part VII, The settlement of the Chechens in the flatland


The settlement of the Chechens in the flatland


The Chechens began to settle in the flatland from the beginning of the 17th century, i.e. from the time when the Russians, at various times, started to abandon it. Even before the exodus of the Russians, due to various transgressions and for different causes, Chechens went over to the [area settled by the] Russians and established themselves amongst them. Half of these settlements had been established by the time the Russians crossed [back] over the Terek. The Chechens were prompted to resettle for many natural reasons. The Ichkerians and Shatoevians had multiplied to such an extent that it was impossible for them to [continue] living in the mountains. At that time, there was nothing better for maintaining their sheep and cattle than the [nearby] extensive, free and virginal flatland. Additionally, many landless clans tried to acquire plots of land for themselves in the flatland. Being wary of the Russians and supposing that acquiring and holding land would be as equally difficult here as in Chechniya, they settled at first in farmsteads in inaccessible places: in the gorges, forests and elsewhere.[1] The Russians fell on them, stole their possessions, burnt the farmsteads, killed and enslaved people, and so for a long time Chechens didn’t intend to establish themselves permanently in [the flatland]. For their part, the Chechens troubled the Russians in no way less, taking revenge on them by taking them off into slavery and rustling their herds and cattle. The Russians attempted strong measures to sop [the Chechens’] predatory attacks. [In exchange] for their allegiance, [the Russians] allowed people they were familiar with to build auls, entrusting them with answering for their own people [to the Russian authorities]. The Chechens then quickly flooded into the flatland. Offering their allegiance [in exchange], the landless and land-poor clans vied with one another to win the favor of the Russians so that they could acquire land.[2] Having acquired land in the flatland, the Chechens grew stronger there and afterward rejected the Russian administration, forsaking their [former] obedience.  Subsequently, they began to engage in negative actions against each other.  Starting from this time, the neighboring peoples began to become much more aware of the Chechens. Up till now, [the Chechens] had lived in the mountains and [merely] warded off the predatory attacks of [their] neighbors. [But] now they themselves set out from their homes to loot the lands of others. They harried the frontiers of others. Their descendants relate their successful fights and defeats in song. At this same time they received the national designation Nakhchoi. Finally, at this same time they accepted Islam and made religious enemies of both the Russians and their pagan neighbors and countrymen. A new period in the existence of the Chechens now began. They were [now] a powerful people amongst the mountain men.

Having declared the Chechens their enemies, the Russians yielded the flatland to the exclusive use of the Chechen powers,  Kumyk and Kabard princes. The Kumyks ruled Kachalyk and a part of Greater Chechniya and following from this gave this country its name. Kachalyk is called Gachalak in Kumyk. The word means a land little-settled or empty. It derives from the fact that the Kumyk khan princes, receiving this country from the Russians, established their landsmen on it, who settled in farmsteads at advantageous places.  These farmsteads simultaneously formed little auls, which the Kumyks called unsettled or empty (Gachalak in Kumyk) in order to differentiate them from the big auls. The Kabards appropriated for themselves the land on the left bank of the Sunzha and part of Little Chechniya. To this present day, the Sunzhe mountains are still called Chergezai-rag in Chechen, i.e. the Cherkess (Kabard) mountain range. The Chechens themselves, without any right, occupied the northern feet of the black mountain and were pursued by three enemies, Russians, Kumyks and Kabards. But these circumstances benefited the Chechens. Favorably established beyond the Terek, the Russians began to give less attention to Chechniya, satisfied with the vigilance of the Kumyk and Kabard princes as a buffer against Chechen invasions on their land.

For their own profit, the non-wealthy princes established Chechens on their lands, receiving yasak from them. On the other [i.e. Chechen] hand, the fertility of the land in the flatland and the crowding in the mountains induced the Chechens to search for settlements in the princes’ lands. But at first they only settled in small steadings, and only to maintain their cattle and sheep. They still weren’t entirely certain of the stability of their settling in this country, being in fear of the Russians, which is why for a long time they didn’t build auls. When the influence of the Russians over Chechniya began to weaken, i.e. when the princes began to grow stronger, the Chechens started to establish themselves there more bravely.  Soon they left the princes’ service, stopped paying them yasak and possessed all the flatland of Greater and Little Chechniya up to the banks of the Sunzhae. Having possessed the flatland and driven out the princes, the Chechens began to build bigger auls which was something new for them. They settled in auls of a few families together, but not alone, as was earlier in the mountains. Chechen-aul is considered the most ancient aul in the flatland. It took primacy ahead of the others. It was extensive, better built, [and] had small shops (tuken) on the threshholds of which could be seen Armenians, Jews and Kumyks. The Chechens got their national name Shashan, or Chechen, amongst the Russians and Kabards from the name of this village.[3]

At that time there appeared other auls, Germechik, Mayr-tup, Gekhi and others. From this time on,  the Chechens did not give the name of their clan to the land; rather, the land was named for an aul, river or mountain and afterwards the name passed over to the inhabitants. So, the inhabitants of the left bank of the Argun, from the Khankal mountains on high to the Argun gorge in the black mountains, were called Chechen-khoi, i.e. the inhabitants of the land belonging to the aul of Chechen.  And, as the flatland Chechens learned of [more advanced] social life from this aul, its land was more respected than the others and is called Nana-Chechen (Mother Chechen) in songs.  The inhabitants of Greater Chechniya were called Argunal-dizhere-nakh, i.e. the trans-Argun people. When the Chechens had driven off the Kumyks from the country of the Kachalyk auls, the Kumyk name for it, gachalk-choi, was continued to be used.  When the flatland was [finally] covered with auls, they took for themselves simply the names of their auls. The inhabitants of the aul of Shali are Shelikhoi, of Martana, the Martan-khoi, [and] of Goity- the Goiter-khoi, i.e. the Shalinians, the Martanovians and the Goitenians.

Aldi was the most significant aul at the beginning of the present century. It was composed of the members of 40 [different] clans and from it there came well-tested guides (byachchi) for forays into the Russian lands.

Having established auls in the flatland, the Chechens immediately began to derive the advantages of their land. Imitating the Russians, they exchanged their mountain light plows for heavy plows, correctly practiced cereal cultivation and exceeded the other tribes of the surrounding countries with this growth of [agricultural] production.

Understanding the conditions of their land, they became better husbandmen, raising horned cattle, horses, sheep and bees and laying out beautiful gardens. They cultivated premium wheat, millet and barley. Up till this time, maize had still been unknown to them and they subsequently learned how to sow it.[4] Such successes put the flatland Chechens ahead of their mountain brethren. Learning better ways from [their new] neighbors, they refined themselves in terms of disposition, habits and home life. Furthermore, their language itself, composed of imitations of natural sounds, was made more melodious. In everything they surpassed their mountain brethren (who had yielded to their primacy) calling them Nakhchoi. [The mountain Chechens] accepting this name for external purposes, retained for themselves the name Lamoroi.[5] From this [development] it’s clear why all the subsequent undertakings of the Chechens: outrages, migrations, religious war and so forth, were started by the flatland Chechens and from them spread by degrees into the mountains. Everyone, who wanted to agitate Chechniya, turned first to the flatland inhabitants, with the firm conviction that the mountain people would follow them.

Having possessed the flatland, the Chechens, no longer fearing anyone, began to conduct their predatory activities more bravely and, having satisfied themselves with defending their freedom from the pretenses of the Kumyks and Kabards, accepted [the latter] as brothers in the faith. All [then] turned their energies against the Russians.

The composition of the societies of the Chechen tribe at that time, i.e. the end of the 18th century, was as follows. The Aukhovians, who had been under the power of the Avars, liberated themselves from them. A small part of them still paid yasak to the Kumyks. It being more a case of free choice, imitating the other inhabitants of the Kumyk flatland, than of being forced to by the might of the princes. The Ichkerians and Shatoevians owed nobody allegiance and amongst them reigned anarchy in the full sense of the word, manifested in the controversies, fights and blood feuds of their clans. The inhabitants of the Nazranovian community remained Pagans. The Muslim Chechens saw them as religious enemies. They became embittered towards each other, robbing and killing each other in turn.  This is why the Nazranovians became estranged from their Chechen fellow tribesmen, associating with the Ossetes and Kabards, due to [their] Paganism. The Kachalykovians grew strong and stopped giving yasak to the Kumyk [rulers]. The Lesser Chechens opposed the Kabards with the force of their weapons and, taking their land, pushed them to the West. The Russians now and then troubled the Chechens, requiring obedience to the Russian tsar for the land granted. At first, they went on raids into Greater and Little Chechniya and burnt auls.[6] The Chechens didn’t recognize their power, from which followed an ongoing war, which ended 12 years ago.

[1]      [Laudaev Extended Comment 20]     There is a legend that after the removal of the Russians from Chechniya, the Chechens found an image in the ruins of one of their houses. Like in our time, the Chechens at that time were of the opinion that Christians think God is in an image itself or in a cross. Considering such a find as very important, the people gathered for a meeting. They decided that if the Russians, in the haste of resettling, forgot their god, they would come to their senses on the opposite bank of the Terek and, remembering it,  would come back for it. Then, possibly, they wouldn’t go back and would stay in Chechniya. Thus it would be best for themselves to hand it back to the Russians. Two Chechens came with the image to that place, where now is located the aul of Naur and called across the Terek to a Russian named Pedaro (Fyodor) and gave him the image, and waited for a big gift for [bringing back] the god. Pedar gave them 10 kopeeks. About the image, they say to this day:

Orsashna Dalla daga mavgaila

Dagaviachakh vai mekhke bukha mabagaila

            In translation it means:

Let the Russians forget their god

But may they remember to not come back to our country

[2]     [Laudaev Extended Comment 21]      Originally, the Chechens built fortified homesteads on the flatland because of the danger posed by the Russians, who ravaged and burned the steadings, stole the cattle and took people into captivity. There is a legend that seven householders built a fortified homestead for protection from the Russians. The Russians, numbering eight persons, came to punish them, but, not daring to attack them, left with threats. Fearing a new appearance, the Chechens increased their number to 18 persons. Two days later, the Russians, numbering 19 persons, appeared at the steading, and again, fearing the Chechens, turned back. One Chechen shot at them and killed one of the Russians. In memory of this event, this place is called Maur-tup, i.e. the camp of the brave ones. When an aul was founded at this place, the name was passed on to it.

[3]       [Laudaev Extended Comment 22]    They say that the aul of Chechen was at that time so great that a horseman, thinking to go around the aul, starved his horse.

[4]      [Laudaev Extended Comment 23] Maize is called khajki in Chechen, from the words hadji and ka, i.e. pilgrim and wheat, or pilgrim’s wheat. It’s likely that some hadji, wandering about on the way to Mecca, saw how the Turks and Egyptians sowed and gathered maize and taught it to his countrymen. Currently, the raising of maize constitutes an important part of their cereal husbandry.

[5]          [Laudaev Extended Comment 24] Having settled in the flatland, the Chechens became wealthier and were in all things more refined than their simple-hearted mountain brethren. As explanation for their success, they disdainfully called the mountain men Lamoroi, i.e. mountain people. The mountain men were indifferent to this appellation and replied that the eagles came from the mountains, i.e. they compared themselves to eagles.

[6]      [Laudaev Extended Comment 25]     Continually ravaged by the Russians, the Chechens were so used to migrating from one month to the next that this constituted a distinctive national trait. They migrated for no reason and were fitted out with simple, flimsy structures. Because of Shamil’s [war], a few families resettled in 20 [different] places. The national trait of migrating that they have was clearly displayed at the time of the last migration of the mountain people to Turkey. Chechens went there in large numbers. There were examples of those who, having resettled two times, resettled a third time.

Laudaev “The Chechen Tribe” Part VI, Relics, legends and stories


Relics, legends and stories

Found at a lower level of development, the Chechens were not able to build significant relics [testifying] to their history. Knowing [only] a life of herding, they could not build anything lasting. And even if they built shrines and temples, as they were pagans all of these needed to be thrown down into obscurity upon the acceptance of Islam. Only in the mountains of the Nazranovian society, where Islam was finally adopted only in the last forty years, do they still exist.

At different times, the Chechen tribe was under the rule of various outlanders. To hold their conquered lands, the conquerors needed to fortify them, building forts, towers and other defensive structures to maintain their forces. Thus, the Georgians, ruling the cis-Argun krai, left behind stone towers as relics of their sojourn, which still exist.[1] The Avar khans ruled Ichkeria. Not as mighty as the Georgians or as developed, they weren’t much different from the Ichkerians which is why they didn’t leave behind relics of their ownership of the country.  The power of the Avars depended on chance. They were threatened from the east, from which direction the might of the Shamkhal could shake their power.  For that reason, they fortified their own central lands [rather] than Ichkeria. The Russians, possessing the flatland, also had influence on the mountain inhabitants.  Surrounded by predatory tribes, they concentrated their habitations in stations, fortified against intrusions of predators. These fortifications serve as relics of the sojourn of the Russians in Chechniya. Similarly , the ditch of Tamerlane, raised kurgans, moats of former forts, and stone towers in the mountains worthy of note from among the ancient relics of [foreign conquerors in] Chechniya .[2]

The Chechens are very poor in legends, and those inconsistent. Many are so improbable that it is difficult to differentiate truth from fairytale.  Living in the inaccessible mountains,  the Chechens weren’t witnesses to larger events and their krai wasn’t rocked by large revolutions. Thus there was nothing of the sort from which to make legends to pass on to [their] progeny. But they very much loved to listen to fabulous legends and stories.[3] With the acceptance of Islam the mullahs began to acquire manuscripts from the Arabs, Turks and Persians and then the Chechens became acquainted with stories about the caliphs, sultans, Aksak-Temir (lame Temir or Tamerlane), the heroes of the Eastern peoples, the humorous Mullah Neseret (Nasr-Eddin the mullah) and so forth.

The legend of the Narts is more significant than the others amongst the legends of the Chechens. They say that mysterious strangers ruled Chechniya down to the [time] of the Chechens.  Legend says that they were kerestan, i.e. Christian.  They were of gigantic height.  Often they are described strikingly, clad in iron armor from head to foot. Their arms consisted of a shield (galkan or pkhunish), a sword (tur) and a mace (chonkur). It’s clear from the legends that they ruled the country, although small in number, robbing the inhabitants, killing and squeezing them, forcing themselves on wives and daughters or taking them by force to be their wives.  The people feared their appearance and a sense of this fear carried over into the legends.  Not only the Chechens, but almost all the mountain tribes speak of them in their legends. The Adegei peoples were more familiar with them. They call them by name and compiled songs about their doings. A famous key in Kislovodsk, narzan (nart-sana) got its name from the Narts. The Terek Chechens point out a place where they lived and it still carries their name.[4]

The folktales of the Chechens also don’t clarify in any way the origins of the nation or the circumstances of the major changes in the country. They all speak of the Narts, Kalmyks, Tatars and Russians, i.e. those peoples who were stronger than the Chechens and who they feared. [But the Chechens] themselves play a passive role in the tales. Usually in the tales, there are parents with a son and daughter or a few sons and a daughter. The only daughter disappears. With tears, the aged parents wail away the final stage of their darkened lives.  The son, not being able to bear their tears and lamentation, takes his father’s prized steed, seizing the ancestral weapon[5], and starts out on the chase and makes a promise to either return with his sister or lay down his life,  [so as to in any case] to wipe away his misfortune. Wandering for a long time, undergoing a thousand dangers and labors, he makes his way into the home of the kidnapper, embraces his sister and suggests she run away with him. The kidnapper was either a khan, a Arzhe-Nogai (Black Nogai) or a Gyaur-Orsai (Russian infidel). The sister says to the brother that his labors are in vain, that even if he ran faster than the North wind the khan would still overtake them on his three-legged horse, kill him and carry her back. ‘What can we do?’ asks the brother. They deliberate and agree that the sister will try to find out from the khan how to kill him. Hiding her brother in a secret place, she washes herself with sweet-scented soap (bazarai-saba), combs [her] hair,  plaiting it in a long, splendid braid, puts on her best dress (darai beder) and captivates the khan with her charms. [They go to] the bed for love-making. Once they are both in bed, she asks on what is his strength based and in what fashion could he be overcome? To put aside suspicion, she plies him with her embraces and showers him with passionate kisses. The overjoyed and befuddled khan yields to the seductions of the beauty’s charms, and, like a new Samson with Delilah, lets out his undisclosed secret, there is a talisman to end his life. The sister tells the brother the secret. He, having waited for an advantageous moment, deprives the khan of life, taking his property, returns with the sister to the aged parents, who were desperate to see them again.

Generally, all the Chechens’ stories are of similar content, from which it can be seen that the original Chechens were not ambitious, [rather] living modest, domestic lives in the inaccessible places of their homeland. [Thus their] neighbors always exceeded them and often ruled over them.

[1]   [Laudaev Extended Comment 15]     It’s very likely that the towers in the mountains are of Georgian construction, but I don’t insist on this opinion. Furthermore, I’ll point out the opinion of one person that [I] heard, according to who their construction is attributed to the Parsenoi family, who lived at sometime in the Argun krai. This family isn’t [found] there anymore; it crossed down into the flatland where it appears [the family] consists of two or three households. I can’t say how much [this] opinion merits credence. It’s sufficient only [to note] that the Chechens have no legends about Persian rule in the mountains. In their legends, the people talk a lot about about the Georgians (gurzhiy).

[2]     [Laudaev Extended Comment 16]       Ancient remarkable relics of Chechniya            1) Tamerlane’s ditch

            In different places in Chechniya: beyond the Argun, around Fort Vozhdvinskii, in little Chechniya and on the Terek, it is still possible to see a ditch, which with time has already become almost level with the ground. Chechens attribute it to Tamerlane and call it Aksak Temir-or, i.e. the ditch of lame Temur. Concerning this moat, legend says that Tamerlane had a son go missing. In order to find him, he gathered a numerous host and decided to either conquer the world or find [his] son.  In order to come back sooner, he dug a moat along the entire road. His host was composed of so many that, at the time of the digging of the moat, every warrior’s share was only a sack of earth. The moat stretched from the Caspian to the Black sea and went [up] to Russia. Tamerlane suggested to his warriors [that they] carry off more of the soil. Having spoken about how much soil had been carried [off], he said] that warriors who didn’t carry any [more] off would regret it.  The warriors didn’t understand Tamerlane’s words, therefore [only] a few warriors carried away some [more] soil, [while most] others didn’t. The soil that was carried off was turned into gold and the prophetic words of Tamerlane were fulfilled. The warriors who carried off the soil and had [then] carried off [some more of it] were despondent that they had carried off so little. Those who didn’t carry any off [extra soil] were despondent that they hadn’t carried off any. It is said that later on [that Tamerlane’s] son was discovered by a herdsman of the contemporaneous Tatar khan Tokhtamish. In this herd was the steed Turnal (Polkana in [its] Russian form). The son of Tamerlane sat on him. With [its] sensitive ears, the horse heard the progressing horde of Tamerlane and brought him his son. Having drubbed the Tatars, he came back [home].

2) Raised kurgans

Not only in Chechniya, but across the whole north Caucasus, in proximity to water, are scattered kurgans. The greater part of them are surrounded by a moat. A kurgan was raised from  the earth that had been dug out and therefore a large kurgan is surrounded by a correspondingly [large] moat.  The builder of a kurgan could make two uses of it. He lived on the kurgan with his family, and the moat served as protection from enemies. At night he penned his livestock within it. Kurgans often are distributed in groups, standing at a distance of about ten versts from each other.  Among every group of small kurgans there is one big one, lording it over the neighboring ones. It’s possible to believe that a group of kurgans formed a village. On a big one lived the prince or chief, and his subjects on small ones. From the number of kurgans it’s possible to conclude that they were built by a numerous people. A few believe that these kurgans are the kernels of cemeteries of a formerly existing, mighty Caucasus people. Eyewitnesses testify that on excavating a kurgan in the territory of the Chechens beyond the Terek human remains were dug up, which were lying between slabs of stone. In the tomb, along with the remains, were found a kinjal and clay water basin. There is a legend that Kalmyks and Tatars constructed these kurgans. But this is very unlikely because these peoples usually lived in felt yurts and never engaged in such engineering work. A few kurgans have excavated tops; for example, a kurgan on the Terek, called akhkene chu barz, i.e. the kurgan with an excavated interior. Legend says that Russians excavated it in the hope of taking treasure (buried treasure or gold) from it. When the workers had dug down as far as the treasure, a spade, striking on metal, made a sound and then suddenly a storm started up. Hail and winds destroyed the workers. The people are currently of the opinion that there is gold in them, but unclear spirits (shaitan) guard it. But its very unlikely that my countrymen would be afraid of shaitan. They are more likely held back by the uncertainty of the existence of the treasure.

In Chechniya, money, jars, pots, silver bracelets and other things are found in kurgans, but all of these have all been shown to be buried in the previous century at the time of the beginning of the war of the Chechens with the Russians.

3) Trenches of bygone forts in Chechniya

The Georgians and Avars had power over the Mountain Chechens, [but] not extending to the flatlands, [so their power] wasn’t over the entire population. The sometime rulers of the flatlands, the Tatars were occupied as pastoralists and didn’t have to construct fortifications, particularly because the Chechens were weaker. Thus it is likely that these trenches were constructed by the Russians. The Chechens are fully convinced of this. For example, the kurgan Goyten-korta, around the Argun, in Great Chechniya, whose trenches are still fully intact. They say that it was a priority for the Russians, who stayed longer than the others in Chechniya. Their trenches were also in the Martan and Goyten gorges. The Chechens found in silver and copper coins in them.

4) Stone towers

Although the people don’t have legends about the building of the towers, it’s still possible to attribute them to the Georgians with some certainty. The Georgians were able to penetrate into the North Caucasus. They had communication with the Chechens along different footpaths, then and now. I also note that many Chechen families ascribe a Georgian origin to themselves.  At the time of their rule over the Chechens, the Georgians were able to build stone towers for quartering their warriors.  The towers served them as strongholds against the weaker [Chechen] people. The towers had the appearances of a truncated, four-sided pyramid with a small base. They thus appeared narrow and tall. The natives call them gala (forts). This [designation] also shows that armies were kept in them.  Uniformly, they were erected in the sort of places from which it was easy to keep watch on the locality. The towers near the aul of Baranda controlled the mountain gorge of the Argun. That Georgia had mastery of Chechniya is also clear from the names for Georgian money that have been preserved in Chechniya: som, abaz, shaur or shei. In the Nazran mountains there are remarkable relics, a pagan shrine of the god Tsu [and the] Boragan-kesh, i.e. the graveyard of Boragan and others, which, with [further] study, might be of use to scholarship. I haven’t been able to go there.

[3]     [Laudaev Extended Comment 17]          Chechens will often alter legends so as to match [them to] their present state. For example, in their opinion all of the Biblical patriarchs and prophets were of the Muslim faith. The first caliphs wiped out the unbelievers with artillery fire. Also, Tamerlane was an excellent artillery man. Furthermore, the Russians and Turkish are the best known of the Western peoples. They consider the rest of the Europeans as clans (taipanas) put under the power of the Russian Tsar or the Sultan and paying them taxes.

[4]  [Laudaev Extended Comment 18]  The Narts are themselves the basis of many stories amongst the Chechen people, both in the mountains and in the flatland. Everywhere, these infidel giants appear as oppressors of the people. We present a few stories here as examples. There lived in Ichkeria a lonely widow who had lost two sons, killed by the Narts. Sitting in her hut, she contemplated her sorrows and wept loudly.  Her wails were interrupted by sounds in the yard.  Coming out of the hut, she saw to her terror seven Narts and was ready to run away when one of them held her and asked her to feed them. Nothing could be done, [so] she brought them into the hut, hung their shields and weapons on the wall and began cooking. Putting dried mutton chops in a small cauldron, she put it over the fire. Taking a handful of flour, she made up griddle-cakes.  The Narts were amused by such a light lunch because each of them could eat a ram. But what a surprise it was for them, when, starting in on the lunch set out, they didn’t eat up all the meat and bread. They asked the old woman to explain this miracle. The old woman answered, “until the invasion of the Narts into Ichkeria, the country was fortunate. Bread, milk and meat were plentiful. Our children grew and were the delight of our old age. [But] everything has changed with the appearance of the Narts. It’s clear that God is punishing us for our sins with your invasion. The crops are gone, cows don’t give milk. Abundance, like a river into the sea, has leaked out of Ichkeria. Looking on our children, we cry out our eyes and run through the sad days of our lives. The Narts kill the men, and carry off the daughters to dishonor them. And the damned, unclear Narts impregnate [the girls]. It would be better if God punished us with a plague of sickness and destroyed all  of us! The meat and flour given you were preserved from that fortunate time, when we didn’t know about the Narts.” Hearing this story, the Narts were ashamed of themselves. They were so ashamed that they served as protectors for the people, even those who were most resentful of their [previous] lawlessness. Remorse ruled their cruel hearts, they were [thereafter] considered sons of the old woman, and built homes around her hut, and taking brides, [the girls were] the old woman’s favorites, they merged with the Chechen [people].

The Chechens on the Terek have more information about the Narts. From their legends it’s clear that once upon a time there were two Narts, Naur and Gozhak. The home of Gozhak the Nart can still be seen in the area of the Nogai-Mirza aul and is called Gozhak-or, i.e. Gozhak’s cave or tunnel. The entrance of this burrow opens out of a sheer cave, beyond which the tunnel extends and reaches back more than a verst  in a straight line, having many rooms, which are up to a sazhen in height. The earth from this digging was taken out of the entrance and [put] under the cliff, where there was accordingly formed a large kurgan.  A similar cave can be seen in the area of the aul of Verkhne-Naur and is called Naur-or, i.e. Naur’s cave. These two Narts ruled over the territory of the Terek Chechens and what follows is what has been passed down to [the local people’s] descendants, in legends, concerning [the Narts’] doings. Gozhak had a beautiful wife, named Belashai. Naur fell in love with her and was determined to seize her. Naur was aided in this by his friend, a Kabard. [The Kabard] distilled [some] vodka and, having poured it into bottles, loaded it on [his] steed. The Kabard set off with [the bottles] for the home of Gozhak. The latter wasn’t at home. Knowing the road on which Gozhak would return home, the Kabard laid out the bottles with vodka in a visible line, one after the other. The tired Gozhak spotted the first bottle with vodka and drank it down. In the same manner, he drank it and all the others and the intoxicated [Nart he] tripped on the wooden threshold of his home. The Kabard took chopped off his head and took it to Gozhak and received one hundred steeds as reward, and Belashai became the wife of Naur. Naur had two wives. The first, Saraikhan, resided on a kurgan on the Terek in the area of the aul of Staro. The second one, the already identified Belashai, lived in the mountains of the Nogai-Mirza aul on a kurgan. Naur himself lived in his cave, located in the area of the aul of Berzhne-Naur, i.e. 40 to 30 versts  from them. But this distance didn’t stop him from entertaining his wives with music. In the evenings, he played on a balalaika. Its sound reached both his wives and for each of them Naur had a special musical sound, from which they knew to who he would make a nightly visit. He had so many horses that, coming to be watered, they weren’t limited to the meadows of Berkhne-Naur aul. About his death, they say the following. There lived on the Terek a mighty hero, Mirza the Nogai. He had a beautiful wife, who he had taken with force from [her] parents.  Mirza performed his raid [riding] on a light bay steed with a black stripe down its back. The horse was emaciated from the ride and was left in the herd to recuperate. Riding on a different steed, Mirza remained dissatisfied with it and thus, after two months, believing that his favorite steed one had already recovered, went to examine him and found him still very thin and still with a sore back. Suspicions started in the shrewd soul of the Nogai. “Either my wife is riding the steed to a lover, or that same lover, having visited my wife, rides off on [the steed].” In order to find out the truth, he used cunning. From this time, every time he rode off from home, he beat his wife with a nagaika, saying “Do you know of a hero more gallant than me and a wife prettier than you.” Tiring of [these] pranks,  which had been repeated too often, the wife once answered, “Naur-on-the-Terek is more gallant than you, [and] his wife, Satai-khan is prettier than me.” The Nogai at once understood the meaning of these words and rode off to Naur. From the heights of the mountains, Naur noticed a horseman going along the river.  For the first time in his life, fear seized his soul and he prepared for any possibility. He speculated in the following manner about the horseman- if he is a timid soul he will look for a ford, [but] if he is gallant and brave, he won’t hesitate to plunge into the water. The Nogai jumped into the water from the high bank, swam across the river and stood before Naur. “Warrior,” said Naur to him, “does your path bring you to me or are you going further?” The Nogai answered, “Presently, I’m with you. [And] I want to head on [to your house]. I want to stay with you.” Naur accepted the guest, killed a mare, boiled [it] and gave the meat to the Nogai. Full, the Nogai said “listen Naur, you rule the right bank of the Terek; I, the left. Our steeds drink the waters of the Terek in common and accordingly there is an affinity between us. The Terek mountains echo with your name; the wind of the Nogai steppe carries the sound of my name far and wide. Which would, it appears, be sufficient for us. Yet why don’t we live as friends? Let’s not gabble like gals and children, let’s talk like heroes. You’ve been dishonoring my wife and should allow me to do the same with yours.” Naur answered that he had been dishonoring [Mirza’s] wife and [yet] he was guilty and not guilty.  He was guilty in that he been in sin, but was not guilty in that the Nogai’s wife loved Naur more than [her] husband. But guilty or not he would allow nobody to dishonor  his wife. They started fighting. One of them, the Nogai, [was] young and sly. The other, [was] the aging Naur, who was beginning to lose his physical strength. They started hand fighting. The evening had already come. The Nogai, became tired and [thus] used his cunning, [with] which [he] ruled his people. “Naur, look at the sky at how the birds are flying in it. And dry the sweat from your brow.” Naur glanced up at the sky, the Nogai felled him with a kick, and sitting on him, said “Now, I don’t want your death. A hero doesn’t go back on his word. But your life is in my hands. Only allow me to spend the night with your wife.” Naur refused and was killed. Putting his head in a saddle bag, the Nogai rode to Satay-khan, spent the night with her, and taking a finger ring from her, returned to [his] wife. Throwing down the head of Naur, he said to her, “Now I’m sure that you don’t know a hero more gallant than me.” And afterward, giving her the ring, he said “and no wife is prettier than you.” [His] wife recognized the head of her beloved Naur, took it in her hands, kissed it and held it to her chest. Turning to her husband, she said “You were able to kill him with either deceit or perfidy. He was always more gallant than you.” Caught in [his] deception, the Nogai was ashamed, sent his wife off honorably back to [her] parents and himself left for Kazan. Learning of the death of Naur, his wives took their lives. Satay-khan was leaped off the slopes of the kurgan into the Terek and was buried in its waves. In memory of this incident, this place is now known by her name, Satay-te, i.e. Satay’s hill. From the high kurgan, Belashai threw her self into a chasm and was buried. This kurgan is now known by her name, Belashai-barz, i.e. Belashai’s kurgan. The descendants of Mirza the Nogai still exist and talk about Naur.

[5]    [Laudaev Extended Comment 19]       A weapon has constituted an unavoidable necessity for Chechens since long ago [dow] to the present time. Formerly, they were not assured of a single day of their lives [and] therefore didn’t take a [single] step without it, both at work and at home. Moreover, on going to sleep, they checked to make sure it was in good order. Even now, when peace hedges them in with law, a love for weapons, as [was] earlier, owns them and thus they spend a lot of money to acquire and decorate them. In times past, they paid ten rams for a rifle or a shashka, or the equivalent in rubles or a slave. It was harder for Chechens than other mountain people to acquire [weapons]. Gunpowder and guns were trafficked in the Caucasus from the Black sea shores by Venetians, Genoans, Greeks and Turks. Exploiting the passion of the mountain people for weapons, these peoples, profited greatly. [The Chechens] think that the best shashkas are those that have the image of an animal on the blade. It’s not known why the Chechens preferred a monkey (in Chechen maimun) for this image, and called the shashka ters-maimun. Russians prefer a wolf for this image and call such a sword a volchok.  The shashka called kaldam, with the image of a cross, are considered old and good. It’s remarkable that Persian Khorasanian [sabers] and Turkish Damascene swords are not highly regarded among the mountain people. Favored among guns is the mazharmon, probably of Hungarian [make], although they are more famous for their sabers than guns. The guns called gryme (Crimean) and bakhchiserai are also [highly] valued. Famous among pistols are the vendig, or (Hungarian), the perenk, or (French), and the genzhi, which received its name from the pistols from Genoa. Despite all this love of weapons, it’s [still] not possible to say that the mountain people were experts with them.

Laudaev, “The Chechen Tribe” Part V, Concerning the taipanas or Chechen clans


Concerning the taipanas or Chechen clans

The [everyday] life of the Chechen people was tightly connected to the dynamics of their clans, therefore particular attention should be turned to this.

Deriving from different [ethnic] elements, these clans, as is general with semi-wild peoples, were at odds with each other. For example, let’s suppose that four clans (Russian, Avar, Georgian and Kabard) established themselves in one area. Naturally, these clans, not cultivating amongst themselves a feeling of kinship, instead having one interest, [namely] acquiring for themselves the best piece of land, would have antagonistic relations with each other. This feeling of enmity would pass down to their descendants. The disunited beginning of the Chechens was a necessary result of this [sort of situation]. All the Chechen clans tried to acquire for themselves land in the mountains, where they could live more peacefully than in the accessible lower elevations. For this reason, the clans who established themselves there earlier have land on the northern slopes of the bald mountains. The ones who established themselves later settled in the black mountains. When the entire territory had been occupied by inhabitants in this manner, newcomer clans, not having any land to establish themselves on, lived temporarily on the land of others; in other words, they were guests, khamalga-byazhema in Chechen. Hence, both the guest clan and the host were waiting for the chance to acquire land. By different means: purchase, force of weapons or lawsuits, they found themselves land where, having established a hearth, they maintained their family. A few newcomers, in this manner, acquired land for themselves. At the same time, others, less fortunate, remained without [land] and were called landless (mokhk-batsu). After the exodus of the Russians from Chechniya, both the land-poor and landless clans took land for themselves in the flatland and it’s clear that this is why a few [clans] have land in the mountains and in the flatland, [but] others [have land] only in the flatland.  In such troubled times, everything was based on arms. At a meeting of two people of different clans, instead of the present-day greeting “salyam-aleykum” (peace be with you),  they often resolved to fight in those days. The strong would defeat the weak, often killing him in order to get his possessions: weapon, clothes, steed or donkey.  Thus every clan constituted a single body and all its members were in close connection. In cases of offense, given to a member of a clan, all the rest would stand up for him, as if they had all been personally given [insult]. This kin-based connection of the members of a clan is called taipan or taipa in Chechen. It means one clan, kindred, or one tribe. Thus when Chechens speak about the good or evil characteristics of a person, they will ask “which taipana is he from?” or  when speaking about different peoples, they say “giriy taipa”, “donskoi taipa”, i.e. Ossettian clan, Donskoi clan[1] and so forth. In the intra-familial relations of a kindred, all members are called brothers (vezherei or vosha) and all the bonds of brotherhood [are called] voshalla. In the earliest times, when the members of a clan were small in number, [and] not divided into subsections,  they went by a single name and constituted a single family.  With the multiplication of clan members, it was difficult to keep on living on the ancestral land and therefore they found themselves new places.  Thus they were divided and [the clansmen] grew unacquainted with each other. But this living [apart] didn’t weaken their brotherly ties, but further strengthened them, provided they recognized their clan-brotherhood.[2] Branches (or gaara) of a clan, leaving for another country, didn’t leave their plot of land in the full ownership of their brothers they left behind. Instead, allowing them to use the land, they received ber (gift or tax) from their brothers for [using] it.[3] The strong clans afflicted the weak. To oppose them, the latter settled next to other weak [clans] or relied on [other] strong [clans for protection] and thus opposed the oppressors. From these clan relations, it can be seen that at that time clan connections, in their own way, formed a government for the country. It must be noted that in our time, [even as] Chechen customs are beginning to weaken in the face of the Russian way of life, clan ties are becoming even stronger. Being formed from different elements, the clans competed with each other, not allowing any which one to rise above [the rest of] the people. For different reasons, a few individuals would come to the fore. With [their] rise, such an individual and their clan would gain influence amongst the people. Then the others, envying them, would increase their strength in order to bring such a person and his clan back down to the general level.

It was said that the society of the Chechen tribe, composed of many clans, in enmity with each other from time immemorial, was free of any feeling of unity. In such a manner, the Nazarovians were the irreconcilable enemies of the Chechens on the flatland and on the Terek. They robbed and killed each other.  The Shatoevians also fell on the Terek Chechens. These people, taking revenge on [the Shatoevians], abducted their people and sold them into yassyr (slavery) in the west of the Caucasus. The Aukhovians were closer to the Kumyks, and the Nazarovians to the Ossettes and the Kabards, than to their fellow tribesmen the Chechens.  The lack of their country’s geopolitical significance was due to this lack of a sense of unity amongst the Chechen societies.

[1]Translator’s note. Does Donskoi clan refer to the Don Cossacks?

[2] [Laudaev Extended Comment 13] Tragic scenes often come from these situations. There is a story which was still to be heard in the recent past. There was a person [named] Nogai-Mirza, of the Chermoi family, who was going on horseback through an aul. He spied a disheveled woman,  running away, with screams and groans, from her husband, who was pursuing her with a bare kindjal. The woman was screaming “Oh Muslims, you must take pity on me! I am being murdered without guilt. Is there not one of my brothers, of the Chermois, left living on the land, who can protect an innocent sister?” Nogai-Mirza galloped up to her and said “The Chermois still live, their swords have not become dull.” And pulling his sword from [beside] his leg, he killed the pursuer for the woman. She was of the Chermoi family. There are many similar stories,  in which clan brothers subject themselves to danger, not sparing their lives to help a relative.

[3] [Laudaev Extended Comment 14] Chechen families tell tall tales and legends about their own settling in Ichkeria. The Chermoi family says that the family left from Maast and settled in the aul of Nashakh; accordingly, they are of Khevsur origin. A wealthy Chermoi, in Nashakh, lost his parents and decided to leave this place [which had become] mournful for him because of [his] memories. Looking for a new place to live, he climbed a mountain, which now is called Chermoi-lam, i.e. the mountain of the Chermois. From the heights of the mountain he admired [the view] of the locality. The day was hot; [but] nearby was a babbling brook. Tired from the walk and the heat, he thrust his spear (gemuk) into the brook and lay down to rest. Coming awake, he spied a fresh bird’s nest on the end of the spear, and taking this for a fortunate omen, resettled there with his family. Soon others of his surname settled next to him and they formed the village of Chermi in Ichkeria. At the foot of this mountain is Beden, a significant village of the Shamil [movement].

When branches (or gaara) of a family split off to [settle] new land, they don’t leave their plots of land under the complete control of the remaining brothers, but, viewing it as their property, they allow the brothers to use it, receiving from them for [using] it ber, i.e. a present or type of tax. I offer my own branch of the Chermoi clan as an example. This family has land in Ichkeria, formerly in the Argun okrug and Chechniya. At the beginning of the present century, the Chermoi Nogai-Mirza, my great-grandfather, removed from Ichkeria to the flatland with his property, which consisted of horned cattle. He passed through many auls, but stopped nowhere, [being] dissatisfied with the quality of the land. He had a measuring pot for cereals, called girdi (around 5 garnets). The milking yield of each of his cows could nowhere [he stopped] fill this pot with milk, not like they could in Ichkeria. Searching for better land, he came to the Terek, where, to his delight, the milk went over the sides of the bucket. “Here’s the land which I was looking for” he said, and founded an aul, which still exists and goes by his name. Our family received ber, or presents, for [our] plots of land from those whom remained in Ichkeria. Still in the time of Shamil, i.e. forty years after [Nogai-Mirza’s] leaving Ichkeria, my father would go to the Chermoi for bers. This ber consisted of a pair of sheep, one or two goatskins and up to 16 arshins of coarse stuff. No matter how small this collection was, our family was proud of it, saying that it came from the patrimonial land and [from] maintaining landless [kin] people on it. Even in 1860, our arable land was pointed out to me by Chermois.

Laudaev, “The Chechen Tribe” Part IV


The origins of the Chechen tribe and its dispersal

How did this tribe originate? To answer this is impossible because it is not possible to obtain [the requisite] information from either legend or other sources to resolve this question.

The Chechens do not have a common national legend about their origins. They say that some sort of prince of Shams (Shams means Syria), earning the wrath of his sovereign, fled and settled in the Caucasus. He had a few sons; a younger one of these, named Nakhchoi, took himself a piece of land in the mountains and became the progenitor of the Chechens. This legend is confirmed by nothing else and is the simple expression of the vanity of a young people, who desire a prince’s son as a progenitor.  Or might this be a modification of the genealogy of the family of the Shamkhals, who derive from the Syrian Shahbal, founded by Abu-Muslim, who played an important role in starting the Muslim religion in the Caucasus? In their ignorance, the Chechens might have connected this fact with their own national origins. And the name Nakhchoi itself originally meant only the inhabitants of the flatland. In other words, it dates from the end of the seventeenth century. There are other legends, similar to this one, about the origins of the Chechens, but all of them do not merit attention. The origins of the Chechens are difficult to determine as are the origins of all small, historically insignificant peoples, and thus, without going back into the depths of time, it is sufficient to present information which can provide a probable basis for the origins of the people.

There have been many peoples in the Caucasus. The mighty and powerful occupied its northern flatlands. The weak tribes, due to dangers posed them, retired into the depths of the mountains and fortified places. A new influx of peoples, passing from Asia to Europe, drove the earlier inhabitants from the occupied territories. The evicted peoples had to retreat further back towards the North-West.  Because of this migration, they were not able to maintain their former societies intact.  Those who retreated before the later peoples went into the mountains, entrenched themselves, and mixed with the natives. Legends say that the very first clans of the Chechen tribe came down from across the snowy mountains to their northern feet, from where they quickly began to disperse to other places.  It’s possible to assume that at the time of the great migration of the peoples, when all the countries of the East were in a ferment,  this movement was also felt in Georgia, and thus Georgians and mountain tribes neighboring them occupied what is now Chechnya. And, having settled down there, [they] mixed with the natives. This mixture is now obvious on the edges of the lands of the Chechen tribe. For example, the inhabitants of the auls of Maast, Magli and other [auls] have a makeup of something halfway between Chechens and Khevsurs; similarly, a few Chaberloi clans are a mixture of Chechen and Tavlin, and a few Nazranian clans are a mixture of Chechens with mountain tribes- Gladalovians and others. The original inhabitants of these countries occupied the glens between the snowy and bald mountains, i.e. the south of the former Argun okrug, part of the Nazran and Chaberloi [okrugs].[1] The rest of the tribe,  establishing themselves in this territory, settled below [the former] and close to the flatlands. Thus the old inhabitants were called lamoroi by the newcomers, from the word lam, mountain, in other words, the inhabitants of the bald mountains. The latter themselves were called shotoi, i.e. those who live in the black mountains, lower than [the lamoroi]. and near to the flatlands .  Having established themselves in the mountains, every one of these tribes had its own leader or chief, who established himself on lands [he] claimed. Due to the weakness of the tribe, a leader would search for a fortified place as a habitation for his people. His name was given to the lands claimed and to the tribe itself by both neighbors and the people themselves. In this manner he would become the progenitor of a clan (taipana). The Sharo, Chanti, Akki and Khil-dikhero clans are the main ones of the original native clans of the country. The Mikhailo, Pamato, Varando and others are the main clans of the newcomers to the country. It is possible that all of these clans, coming from different countries, each had their own particular language.  Having multiplied, they felt an insufficiency of land and needed to spread out across the whole country. They could not advance to the south, further into the mountains, because a strong people were established there, who had at some stage driven the original inhabitants of Chechnya from there.  Therefore they had to spread out in the three other directions. To the East they mixed with the original inhabitants of Chaberloi and they [now] constitute the new clans in Chaberloi.  The weak, original tribe of Chaberloi lost its language, taking on the new one, Chechen. This is why the Chaberloevians still speak such a coarse and incorrect dialect of Chechen, coarse enough for one to believe it possible that it wasn’t their ancestral tongue.  To the West, the newcomers occupied the mountains of Nazran, where, mixing with the natives, they formed many new clans, such as the Galga, Galeshe, Ingush (Angusht) and others. They stretched up to the north as far as the southern feet of the black mountains. Immigrants from other countries: Georgians, Avars, Khevsurs and others, established themselves amongst them. The outlanders eagerly settled amongst them as free people, not having a government or a sovereign.  In this same way, Persians, serving Nadir Shah,  having been defeated by the Avars, dispersed throughout Dagestan [and] a few of them settled amongst the Chechens and formed their own new clans, such as the Turkoi, Khurkoi, Khoi, Parsenoi and others.[2] The original clans of the Chechen tribe tried to acquire new lands, which was a cause of discord and bloodshed.  For their place of habitation they chose places not so much for profit and beauty as for   security and being [naturally] fortified.   Contemporaneously, restless people from other countries and fugitives of different nationalities added themselves to the number of Chechen clans. The newcomers were smarter and more enterprising than the natives (the Lameroi) and thus they gained the upper hand and constricted them.  The best evidence for this is that the clans of the newcomers owned the best and most profitable lands, leaving for the Lameroi the infertile heights of the bald mountains.  That the newcomers exceeded them in intellectual development can be seen in that even now the simplicity of the Lameroi serves as a source of jibes for the Shatoevans; their simplicity comes close to idiocy.[3] Satisfied with the locations [they] occupied, they fortified them for themselves and soon afterward established auls; Maast and Nashakh were famous ones in the country.

At that time, the population of Chechniya still didn’t have a common designation. Formed from different nationalities, this population was united by a common language. Every clan was known by the name of their progenitor, who had established it in Chechniya, took pride in this name and looked out for clan interests against injuries from other clans. It was, in its own way, [a country of] many small republics, united by a common language.  Legends say that before the migration to Ichkeria, all the clans of the Chechen tribe numbered 59, or, as the Chechens put it, three times twenty minus one. Now they are more than 100.

The clans, which formed the Chechen tribe, deriving from different elements, had hostile relations with each other, robbing from each other reciprocally. The Akka family suffered more than the others [from this].  Due to this, half of the clan went to Aukh, submitting to the Avar khan and received the name of Aukhovian. This clan, for themselves, preserved the ancestral name of the clan, Akkiy, i.e. immigrants from Akki. The Chechens also called them by this name. At some point, the Aukhovians accepted Islam, but the original Akki clan remained Pagan. In order to religiously distinguish this clan, the Chechens called the original Akki clan Kerestan-Akkiy, i.e. Christian Akki, in contrast to the Aukhovians, who had accepted Islam.[4]

Ichkeria had still not been populated by this tribe; it was ruled by the Avar khans. With its green hills and fertile meadows, it strongly attracted the semi-nomadic Chechens.  The  legends fail to mention the causes that induced half the clans of the Chechen tribe (of that time) to settle in Ichkeria. Many causes could have induced them to do this. 1) A lack of land for the numerous clans and population. 2) Disagreements and strife over plots of land. 3) They could have gone because of political reasons. Georgia gained power over the people and laid heavy demands on the country. Those who did not want to comply with them could not stay in the country and had to resettle [elsewhere].  Pledging to pay yasak (tax) to the Avar khan, they began their migration. As the khan had a material interest in having more people settle and pay taxes, he contributed to a substantial migration [to his lands] with various concessions. Mostly, the fertility of the land in Ichkeria and the might of the Avar khans attracted half of the clans of the Chechen tribe (of that time). The endless fights and discord, originating in the cis-Argun lands, strengthened the [impetus for] the migration even further.  The weak, taking hope in the might of the khan, fled [to the area] under his protection so quickly that soon the area felt crowded. Afterward, in consequence there were fights and killings for [the land], which were unavoidable amongst a half-wild people. The Khan was forced to divide the land into plots, assigning each clan their own piece. This action somehow managed to pacify the krai.[5] This division of land into plots has been preserved down to the present. Currently, these plots are populated by the same clans to which they were assigned in the beginning. And they carry their names. For example, Chermoi-mokhk, Chermoi-lam mean [respectively] the land of the Chermoi clan and the mountain of the Chermoevians; Dishiniy-mokhk [means] the Dishinievian land; Kharachoi-lam [means] the Kharachoevian mountain, and so forth.  Yasak, or tax, was paid by the inhabitants according to the terms of the khan. These terms changed, i.e. the taxes went up or down, according to the disposition of the inhabitants; in other words, the strengthening or weakening of the khan’s influence over the country. Generally, they were taxed based on the number of horned cattle, sheep, horses and other [livestock].  There are anecdotes of when a 3% [value tax]  was to be paid for the sheep, and 1% for the cattle, but it happened that only 1% was taken for the sheep and nothing for the cattle. Taxes were taken from the weak clans according to the terms of the khan. At the same time, [however], the powerful clans did not submit to these terms and gave nothing. In cases of demands, they opposed them with the force of their weapons.  Growing stronger in Ichkeria, they became unconcerned with paying the yasak. [And] at that time, they generally stopped paying it, possessing the land as if it were their own property. As has already been said, Ichkeria is a Kumyk word. Ichi-eri means a place amongst the mountains. In Chechen it is called Nakhchoi-mokhk, i.e. the country of the Chechens. Having settled in the flatland, the Chechens often called it de-mokhk, i.e. the land of the forefathers, although, more correctly, this name should be given exclusively to the cis-Argun country. Considering Ichkeria to be an ancestral land, they explained it in this way. They came out into the flatland from this country, in which they held their clan plots of land. The Ichkerians built auls, as did the Shatoevans, on their plots of land, and gave the auls the names of the clans. For example, Chermi, Khachi, Tsontari and others, from the Chermo, Kharacho, Tsontari and other clans. And still [even] at that time, the tribe didn’t have a common national designation and was composed of a number of small clans, speaking one language. The official name of this country, amongst the neighbors, was Ichkeria, taken from the Kumyks.

Up to this time, the Chechens had still not advanced on the flatland beyond the black mountains,  because it was ruled by a powerful people, threatening the Chechens with death and slavery.  Thus they looked on it with fear and curiosity from the Basska, Khulkhulai, Argun and other gorges.  When the Russians, having quit Chechniya, crossed over the Terek, the Chechens then quickly occupied the flatland, established themselves on it and there received the national designation Nakhchoi, applying it to all the communities of the Chechen tribe and consequently transferred [the name] to the other communities of Chechniya.[6]

[1]  [Laudaev Extended Comment 8] The aborigines of this country were called Chaberloi. When the Chechen race was formed in the territory of Sharo-Chanti-Argun, they multiplied and then pushed out to neighboring areas. It occupied Chaberloi and, mixing with its aborigines, formed new clans. The natives of Chaberloi lost their ethnicity and ancestral tongue, which is why they still express themselves incorrectly in Chechen. The country, however, kept its old name of Chaberloi.

[2] [Laudaev Extended Comment 9] Amongst the Chechens there is an insignificant clan, Parsenoi, deriving from the remnants of a broken Persian host. The correspondence of Parsenoi with pers is remarkable, but the Chechens call the Persians kizilbash or gazharai.

[3]   [Laudaev Extended Comment 10] amongst the Chechens, they tell many anecdotes about each other. Considering itself more refined, the population of Chechnya usually laughs at and makes fun of the others. For example, they tell tales about the Aukhovians Three Aukhovtians [once] went to the Kumyks to learn [their] language. They spent three years  [there] and all three learned to say three phrases, each [learning only] one.  The first knew one word, biz, i.e. “we”; the second [knew] khalva uchun, i.e. “for khalva” (khalva is sweet dough), and the third knew the words zhan chyksyn auzna, i.e. “let the soul pour out of the mouth.” Returning home, they incessantly repeated these words in order that they wouldn’t forget them. On the road they saw a murdered man and they began to inspect him. On the alert, three relatives of the murdered man came to them and asked them did they know who was the murderer?  The first Aukhovians quietly said biz, i.e. “we.” The Kumyks were surprised that they confessed so easily to the murder, and asked what did he do to you that [caused] you to kill him?  The second said khalva uchun, i.e. “for khalva.” The Kumyks were even more surprised and reproached them, saying, “Is it really possible to kill a Muslim for khalva?” In order that he wouldn’t be [seen as] behind his comrades in knowing the Kumyk language, the third said zhan chyksyn auzna, i.e. “let his soul pour out of the mouth.” Angered by these responses, the Kumyks killed them.

[Some] Aukhovians were sitting in a circle, their legs stretching out in the center. All were in yellow high boots, just purchased in the bazaar. A passing horseman said to them, “what are you doing and why don’t you go home? It’s already evening.” The Aukhovians answered “we can’t sort out our feet, they are all yellow.” They asked him to help them. Gladly, said the horseman, and began to beat them with a nagaika. The jumped to their feet from fear and thanked the horseman for the service [he] provided.

[Some] Aukhovians were passing through a field [and] saw a den. Assuming that a fox was sitting in it, one of them climbed into the den. Unfortunately, it wasn’t a fox in the den, but a bear. When the Aukhovian stuck his head in there, the bear knocked off his head from the neck. The Aukhovian quivered, and they pulled him from the den, and, not seeing a head on him, they asked each other, whether it was on him [to begin with]. Nobody could give an answer in the affirmative. They brought his wife from the aul and asked her if there had been a head on him. “I must confess I don’t know if there was a head on him,” she said. “But I know that every year I sewed him a papakh .”

[Some] Aukhovians were going along a steep and precipitous river bank and a saw a bag [down] in the gorge. The discussed how to reach it. Clasping each other by the hand, they formed a chain, the first link of which grabbed on an oak with his hand. Unfortunately the first [link] scratched his head. He asked the second to let go of his hand for a second, so he could scratch. “Ok, be quick!” said the second and let go of the hand. [And] the rest all died.

A Shatoevian was passing through Chechniya and found a melon. “What green gourds the Chechens have,” thought he and took it home. [His] wife cooked it and served it to her husband. Finding it tasteless, the Shatoevian said “What a fool I am, that I didn’t guess that it isn’t ripe. [But] it was worth the cost of the labor carrying it from Chechniya to the mountains.

[Some] Chechens went to the Nazranovians to convert them from Paganism to Islam. One Galga, accepting the new faith,  received the instruction that [he had] to pray to God five times a day until [his] death and fast for one month a year. Coming home from the missionaries, he met with his  friend, taking him also to the missionaries. The convert gave him the following instruction. “See that you don’t blunder; I made a mistake. Commit to fasting one month a year, but don’t commit to praying because you are expected to perform this rite until death. Wouldn’t it be easier to fast one month rather than beating [your] head on the ground like a stinky beetle until the end of your life?”

[4][Laudaev Footnote 4] “Chechens call all kinds of nonbelievers- including Pagans- Christians.

[5] [Laudaev Extended Comment 11] say the following about the division of Ichkeria into clan plots. The land was divided at a meeting of the entire people. When a clan received their plot, in order to prevent misunderstandings per boundaries at some time in the future,  witnesses were selected from all those present for the marking of the boundaries. Bulls and rams were slaughtered and the meat boiled in huge cauldrons for these [witnesses], at [one] end of the boundaries, and the witnesses were entertained as a token of the approval of the boundaries.  To mark this celebration, at the conclusion of the entertaining, the cauldrons were rolled from the mountain to the boundaries at the other end, which expressed their assumption of land ownership. If often happened that the feast was repeated at the boundaries on the other end [of the property].

[6] [Laudaev Extended Comment 12] The people of Shato and the people of Nazran unwillingly call themselves Nakhchoi, which comes from their previous, antagonistic relationship with the Chechens. But with heart-felt outpourings at meetings, as guests, on the road, etc., they are always willing to recognize their shared ethnicity, saying “we are common brothers (vai tsa vezherei detsy)” or “we are all Nakhchoi (vai tsa nakhchoi du)”.

Laudaev “The Chechen Tribe” part III


Concerning the peoples who inhabited the flatland of Chechnya

until the establishment of the Chechens there.


Earlier the Chechens lived in the mountains and only at the beginning of the last century did they settle in the flatland. In [their] legends, the Chechens say that Nogais, Russians and Kalmyks ruled the flatlands at different times. [But] legends about this topic are so inconsistent and contradictory that it requires a lot of perspicacity to grasp their true meaning.[1]

We must suppose that [either] the Tatars ruled the flatland of Chechnya because of [the legacy] the Golden Horde or possibly that on establishing themselves there they found no one inhabiting it. There were legends preserved in the irakh (songs or improvisations) of the Nogai that at that time the Shamkhal ruled the east and the Kabards the west of the Caucasus. Always occupied with raiding and robbery, the Kabards would gather in a large mass and set out to loot the territory of the Shamkhal. They would pass through the Kumyks and the flatlands of Chechnya and at that time found nobody living there.[2] From this legend, it’s clear that the Chechens occupied the flatland only recently. Furthermore, the Nogai sing that the khan Mamai (defeated by Dmitrii on the field of Kulikova) took yasak, or taxes, from the Kabards. It follows that the Tatars ruled the entire Caucasus flatland, including Chechnya. [But] being always engaged in [nomadic] pastoralism, the Tatars were not able leave behind any remains of their time in this country.  [Eventually] the [Golden] Horde weakened and collapsed, divided into several pieces by antagonistic khans.

The Russians, having thrown off its yoke, began to build cities and forts on the ruins of the Horde. The unconstrained Russian people began to look for space to let loose their adventurous spirit. On dry land and water, they tested their daring. Sailing along the Aten (Idil/Volga) to the Khalvyn[3] Sea, they encountered the Kizilbash (Persians), [and] appeared in Shemakh and other basurman[4] cities. Not stopping with this, they [also] appeared in Khiva. Without a doubt, the Russians, due to their adventurous spirit, passed through Chechnya, driving from it the Tatars already living there, and settled there. There are still commonly told Chechen legends in which they say that at that time “the Russian was the father of the country” (Orsai mekhki da khille) and “the Russians’ cart has gone up the mountain” (orgain gudalak lamte yaller).  The words mekhki da khille, i.e. to become father of the country, means to become father of all the Chechen lands, Ichkeria and the areas around the Argun. Lamte yaller, i.e. to go up the mountain, means to go up the bald mountains.[5]

It’s clear from these [expressions] that at that time the Russians were not temporary visitors to Chechnya, ready to quit her at the first occurrence of misfortune; rather, they had a permanent presence, because a wagon is an attribute of settled life in the mountains. In Greater and Lesser Chechnya, along where the rivers and streams exit out of the gorges of the black mountains onto the flatland, in the mountains themselves and in other places, can still be seen the trenches of the occasional former fort,  undoubtedly of Russian [make]. The name of the river and aul of Urus-Martana (Orsai-Martan), i.e. the Russian martyn and other [examples] corroborate this fact.  A few trenches, for example, at the Goyten-kurta kurgan, in Greater Chechnya, on the banks of the Argun, have held up so well with time that it would only require occupying them for them to serve as forts.  The Russians began to quit their homeland and leave for the south in the time of Tsar Boris Gudonov, who enserfed the peasants. Those not wanting to be bound ran away in throngs to the south of Russia, to the Cossacks and probably at that time also established themselves in Chechnya.

The Time of Troubles of the pretenders and outrages of the streltsy brought new settlers to the Caucasus and Chechnya. Since this period, the Russians have been closely acquainted with the Caucasus. Peter the Great, personally leading a host in the war against Persia, passed through the lands of the mountain tribes, who gave him their obedience. Memory of Pedar-Padshah has still not disappeared in the eastern Caucasus.  After the Azov defeat, the influence of Turkey on the Caucasus began to weaken. Simultaneously, the Russians became more powerful there.  At that time they began to earnestly establish themselves in the lower Stavropol Gubernia.  Surrounded on all sides by predatory tribes (who were not trustworthy and always desired loot), much vigilance was necessary for the Russians located in the Caucasus in order to protect themselves and their property from the attacks of these ungoverned tribes.  It is possible that these hardships and the memory of a homeland far away compelled them to quit Chechnya and settle adjacent to their countrymen, who were already established in great numbers on the Terek. [And so] they left her.

Having removed beyond the Terek, the Russians, however, did not relinquish their claim to the land left behind. Considering it their own property, they allowed the Chechens to occupy the flatlands on a conditional basis, carefully watching from beyond the Terek to see to the compliance [of their conditions]. The conditions were exclusively predicated on [the Chechen settlers’] ability to guard against predatory attacks by Chechens across the Terek. They allowed [Chechen] individuals, who were known to be loyal to them, to use the land, laying on them the responsibility for their own people.  The important conditions were 1) obedience to the Russian tsar[6] 2) in cases of a Russian taken captive or of theft, they were expected to bring back the captive or stolen goods 3) they were obliged to provide men for Russian expeditions or serve as sentries 4) they had to answer for predation that happened in their auls, through which passed paths and so forth. To ensure compliance with the conditions, they took hostages (amanat) from influential people because of [their] frequent perfidy.[7]

When the Russians had completely left Chechnya, Chechens willfully settled down without permission in the gorges of the black mountains, in the forests and other secret places.  The Russians tried to hinder their willfulness. They burned farmsteads, raided and robbed the inhabitants, [and] took them away in captivity. From this began the centuries-long struggle of the Chechen tribe with the Russians, which grew large at the start of the current century.

The Russians quit Chechnya at different times. At first, they removed from Lesser Chechnya and afterward they soon began to quickly leave Greater Chechnya.  Their resettling was highly natural; the societies of Argun and Nazran, in their primitive rudeness, did not have any understanding of civilized existence. These ungoverned tribes made a living by robbery and banditry, and thus they greatly troubled the Russians in Lesser Chechnya.  At the same time, the Ichkerians were less of a danger to the Russians in Greater Chechnya.  The Ichkerians were at the beginning stage of civilized life, which had been inculcated amongst them by the Avars. And so they were less rude and dangerous.  Removing from the black mountains little by little, the Russians settled in the heart of the flatlands. In this way, they lived briefly in the Kachalyk and Sunzha ranges (Greben, from which comes the Greben Cossacks) where [some of them] remained long after the exodus of the mass of their [countrymen].[8]

[1] [Laudaev Extended Comment 3] There can be little doubt that the Kalmyks reigned in Chechniya. Legends among the people confirm their sojourn in Chechniya. For example, on the Sunzha there is now a Chechen aul, Gular. In Chechen, Gular means a fortified place, i.e. ditches dug around, moat, walls, etc. The aul of Gular is located in a place that was once fortified with trenches. And legend says that a mighty Kalmyk khan and his people once dwelt in this place. Localities called Gular are many, both in Chechniya and on the Terek. Others say that Russians once lived in those Gulars. It’s been verified that the Kalmyks lived in the Kumyk flatlands all the way to the Caspian itself. As Lamaists, they considered all the Muslim mountain tribes as enemies and the Shamkhal as the greatest [enemy]. The mountain people afflicted the Kalmyks, robbing and killing them and in every way tried to drive them from this country. If they actually lived in Chechniya, of course, the Chechens harried them no less than did the other mountain people. Legend says that, not seeing the possibility of their staying in this area, the Kalmyks gathered to hear advice from wise people. The advice amounted to this, “peace and quiet, they said, “we left behind the Heavenly Empire, and we should return to China for it.” Many of them were terrified of crossing the Idil (Volga), but circumstances helped them. An elderly Kalmyk, who was already alive at the time of their settlement in the Caucasus, gave his services to the people.  He ordered a basket to be woven for himself and made ready an easily accessible camel. The old man sat in the basket and loaded it on the camel, and in such a way began the exodus of the Kalmyks under his leadership. The old man found such a convenient ford that all the sheep were crossed to the eastern bank of Volga. When all had crossed from the one [side], the old man began to cross, [but] suddenly a wind started up, the Volga kicked up, the force knocking the legs out [from under] the camel and the Kalmyk drowned. The event was considered favorable, it being said that God himself had preserved the old man for this very day. In fact, the opposite occurred. The Kalmyks were overtaken by the Russians. Part of them were destroyed, part managed to immigrate to China and part returned to Russia.

In any case, it’s clear that they weren’t found for very long in Chechniya.  There is still another story about the [Kalmyk] exodus from Chechniya. Two Ichkerians, chasing a deer, passed through the flatlands, where they were captured by the Kalmyks and brought to the Khan. He asked them what were their people, how where they employed, how did they live and so forth. Words following words, the conversation came to the beauty of women – a sensitive topic for the Kalmyk ruler. The Ichkerians said that the plain Kalmyk [women] weren’t worthy of capturing the heart of such an important person as himself. They added that in their country, in Ichkeria, in the Dishnie family, there was a maiden of outlandish beauty. From the light of her eyes, they went on, night became day, and money should not be spared to avoid being hindered in acquiring this beauty. The Khan was driven to distraction by love for this maiden and asked them to facilitate her acquisition. The yearning of the Khan was made known to the Dishnies. Having gathered from among the wise men of the country, they set conditions and sent the maiden on the way [along] with emissaries. Realizing that the maiden was on the road, the arrogant Khan stooped so low as to go out himself to meet her and grab the bridle of the camel, on which was mounted the maiden. The messengers said that he would not otherwise receive her hand [unless he agreed] with [their] terms of yielding the country to the Ichkerians and crossing over the Terek. “If you want her for your wife, give us the land. And if you don’t want to, we will send her to the Sultan.” The khan agreed, but asked for a period of half a year. He wanted this time to spend quietly in the arms of [his] new spouse. He kept his word. Within half a year the Chechens didn’t see any more of the Kalmyks and occupied the flatlands.

They say that, seeing the green meadows beyond the Terek, the Chechens decided to cross and there, but were stopped by a lack of boats.  This didn’t hold them back [however]. Having mowed some hay, they beat a stack [together] and lowered it into the water and they sat themselves on it. The stack came apart and, [the Chechens] not knowing how to swim, they drowned. Attributing this to the wrath of God, the Chechens stayed on their side. This legend also confirms the Kalmyks’ dwelling in the flatlands of Chechnya. It’s very possible that, having occupied the Kumyk flatlands, they occupied a part of Chechnya. But to claim that the flatland was yielded by the Kalmyks to the Chechens would be incorrect. It was yielded by [the Kalmyks] to the Russians. The Kalmyks would have been in the Chechnya until the settlement of the flatlands by the Russians.

[2] [Laudaev Extended Comment 4] The [following] legend was collected about a raid by the Kabards on the kingdom of the Shamkhal. The Kabards fell on a border aul, took the possessions, livestock and all the people and left for the Terek with impunity. Assuming that they were already out of danger, they feasted on the banks of the river Kulkuzh, in Kabardina and started to divide up the yassir, i.e. the captives. Learning about this, the Shamkhal set off in a rage, gathered a large host and prepared to give chase. Someone [named] Ali, a favorite of the Shamkhal, dissuaded him from personally going in pursuit and took this business on himself. Choosing two hundred select horsemen, Ali set off after the Kabards. He caught them at the river Kulkuzh and placed himself a short distance from them. Ali was a reasonable person. Having personally examined the oversight of the feasters at night, at dawn he prepared his host with the following words, “You see, brothers, the oversight of the giaours (the Kabards were at that time pagans). Assuming that they have escaped the notice of our Shamkhal, they celebrate. They have taken off their armor and weapons, befuddled their heads with wine, committed iniquities on our defenseless wives and sisters and divvied up our brothers like sheep. Whoever has a heart that beats timidly, leave me and go find the trail left by the feet of his horse. Whoever has a lion’s heart, [he] is my comrade. Take revenge on those Karbards for our unfortunate brothers, wives and sisters. And let us make the face of the Shamkhal white (clear)!” [Translator’s note- defend the Shamkhal’s honor.] They rushed in on the half-drunken Kabards [and] wiped them out to the last man. They returned to the Shamkhal with their captive brothers [and] a great boon was awarded to Ali. The Kumyks and Chechens had not yet occupied the flatlands [of Chechnya] at the time of these noteworthy raids.

[3]  [Laudaev Footnote 2] Caspian

[4] Translator’s note: Basurman means Saracen, Muslim unbeliever or infidel (from a Russian Orthodox perspective).

[5] [Laudaev Extended Comment 5] That the Chechens were at that time submissive to the Russians is proved by the very name given by the Chechens to the Russian Tsar. The Sovereign [was called] in Chechen, padi-shakh or padshakh, i.e. tsar of the world. It’s improbable that they, [being] religiously sympathetic to the Sultan, would give [the tsar] this title if they weren’t [already subject] to the Russians. They called the Sultan khunkyar and the Persian Shah shakh.

[6] [Laudaev Footnote 3] To this day, the Chechens understand the might of the Russian tsar and recognize him as their own sovereign, called padshah or tsar.”

[7] [Laudaev Extended Comment 6] than a foreigner, can a native know about the development of his homeland from its national legends, beliefs and proverbs. Already in 1854, i.e. when Shamil was in his full strength, I remember very clearly how the Chechens, making sense of the Russians’ fighting with Shamil, [and] feeling powerless, said the following, “in past times the Russians were the rulers of the country and at that time a Russian peasant woman could go about on the black and forested mountains.” It is necessary to know that the going about of women alone in the mountains is considered a significant fact amongst the Chechens. When Shamil was taken and Chechnya pacified, it was if the people were [already] prepared for it and foresaw it. I well remember how my countrymen comforted themselves with the words, “Without a doubt, the Russian will again become the ruler of the country, [and] will cordon off the mountains with forts (galash) and the [Russian] woman will wander about the mountains. But God is great, a muri-da (i.e. a ruler of the sword) will appear and will drive them forth across the Terek.” That the Russians truly had an impact on the inhabitants of the forested mountains is testified to by these popular rumors.

[8]  [Laudaev Extended Comment 7] Legend says that when the Russians removed beyond the Terek, a single Russian, by the name of Taras, remained in Chechnya, in his former habitation. He was a prosperous and hearty man. His house was built next to a spreading oak. He kept his livestock and bees under it.  In such a way he passed two years by himself. Word of his richness spread amongst the Chechens, but his mettle kept them from insidious attempts [against him]. In the end, two men from Zumso (from the Argun clan), enticed by his riches, set out to kill him. They decided not to make an attack openly, but, setting up an ambush [from] behind the bushes, they tied a matchlock to a tree and aimed it at the door of Taras’ house. Taras unconcernedly returned to his home. The men from Zumso killed him with an accurate shot. The dead [man] having not fallen down, but died leaning against the door, was still terrifying for them. Assuming that he was using cunning against them, [it was] only after two days that they ascertained that he was dead and took his possessions.

Laudaev “The Chechen Tribe” Part II


The names of communities of the Chechen tribes and their meaning

In former times, the primacy over all the communities of the Chechen tribes was always held by the inhabitants of the old Chechen territory, both in terms of numbers and social development, by audacity and courage.

The Chechens call themselves Nakhchoi; the Kumyks call them Michikish; the Tavlins, Burtel, the Kabards, Shashan, and the Russians [call them] Chechens. Why is it that one and the same people are called by different names by neighboring tribes? The tribe, as we will see, was formed under the snowy mountains near to the source of the river Argun. It began to spread out from it to different places, as it had need of land. It occupied the mountains of the old Nazran province and Chaberloi, afterward settling in Ichkeria and Aukh. Finally, after the exodus of the Russians from the flatland of Chechnya to beyond the Terek, it occupied the flatland and finished its expansion.  Typical of primitive peoples, the Chechens were engaged primarily in animal husbandry as a central means of their existence out on the flatland. Their livestock multiplied on the wide-open and virginal land. [The livestock] gave milk, cheese and butter in abundance. In a primitive state, still unfamiliar with cereal cultivation, [and] lacking bread, for the most part they relied on cheese as food.  Noticing their own abundance compared to their countrymen living in the impoverished Argun mountains and over-populated Ichkeria, they named themselves ‘those with cheese’, Nakhchoi in Chechen. Cheese is called nakhchi in Chechen. This word in the plural is nakhchiy. From this comes the national name nakhchoi, i.e. the people with lots of cheese.

It’s possible that this name was given in mockery to the flatland Chechens, they being called cheese-eaters, in the way that currently the Terek Chechens are mockingly called kaldashiui nakh, i.e. the people who eat cheese. That the Chechens received the name Nakhchoi from cheese is confirmed by the example of the Nazranians, who speak an impure Chechen language. They call cheese nachkhi, and the Chechens Nachkhoi. The name is given by [the Nazranians] to [the Chechens] because of cheese.  The Kumyks call the Chechens Michikish, from the words michik and gishi. The Michik is a river in Great Chechnya neighboring on the Kumyks. This river at some time served as a boundary between the two peoples. Gishi means person in Kumyk. Together they form michikgishi or michikish, i.e. someone who lives on the Michik, a Michikian. The Kabards name the Chechens based on the aul of Chechen, on the banks of the Argun, at the foot of the Khankal Mountains.  This aul was the first place in the flatlands settled by the Chechens. The Kabards refer to the Chechens by the name of this village, pronouncing this word “Shashan” with their national pronunciation.  The Russians took the name for the Chechens from the Kabards. From these different names, given to the Chechens by [their] neighbors, it can be seen that originally they were an insignificant and weak people, because a strong people are known by one name amongst all [their] neighbors. Strictly speaking, Nakhchoi is the name of the community of the old province of Chechnya.  The other societies are only superficially known by this name. Each one has a particular name for themselves. Aukhovians are called Akkiy. They received this name because, having lived earlier in the Argun okrug, they constituted the members of the Akki clan. The meagre quality of the land belonging to this clan forced half of the clan to resettle in Aukh, where the Kumyks and Russians called them Aukhovians. [But] they preserved for themselves the name of the primeval clan Akkiy, and [were called so] by the Chechens. Ichkerians are called Nakhchoi-Mokhkkhoi. This name was given them by the flatland Chechens, who had left Ichkeria and had already received the name Nakhchoi, and it means land of the Chechens or cheese-eaters. Settling on the flatland, they didn’t consider it their property because it belonged to the Russians. In order to not be landless, the Ichkerian immigrants kept as property their own family plots of land [in Ichkeria]. Thus, the Chechens in the flatland, having already been called Nakhchoi, called Ichkeria Nakhchoi-mokhk in relation to themselves, i.e. the country of the cheese-eaters or the country where the flatland Chechens have their own plots of land. Ichkeria is a Kumyk word. Ich-eri means the inner land, i.e. amongst the mountains. Indeed, it is located amongst the bald and black mountains.  The inhabitants of the old Argun okrug are called shotoi, from the word shu meaning heights, in other words, those who live in high places.  The inhabitants of the northern slopes of the bald mountains all the way to the flatlands themselves are principally called shotoi. This name they received from the flatland Chechens.  The primeval inhabitants of this country live further south in the mountains at the foot of the snowy range and are called, in Chechen, Lamoroi, i.e. of the mountains, from the word lam, which means mountain. The Lamoroi occupy the southern part of the old Argun province, Chaberloi and the south of Ichkeria. The Nazranians, comprising many clans, were earlier called by their clan names: Galgai, Galoi, Ingush (Angusht) and so forth. When, at the end of the last century, they settled in the aul of Neser (Nazran), they began to be called Neserkhoi, i.e. Nazranians. When the Russians established the Nazran fort, the name Neserkhoi became the official [designation] for them. In addition to these broad designations, the Chechens have many subdivisions amongst themselves, taking their names from locales, rivers, mountains and elsewise.

Laudaev, “The Chechen Tribe” Part I

The Chechen Tribe

I. The territory occupied by Chechen tribes

            The area lying between Ossetia and the Kumyk plain is settled by numerous tribes of Caucasus mountain people, speaking one language called Chechen. Communities from former territories (Aukhov, Ichkeria, Argun, Chechnya and Nazran) form these tribes.  [Although] speaking a common tongue, these communities are not all called Chechens by either the Russians or natives. The Chechens proper are expected to live in the territory that bears their name and pure Chechen is the language that they speak. The other societies deviate significantly from this language, [each] having their own distinct patois.

To the north, the river Terek serves as a border of these tribes with the Russian stanitsas. The Caucasus range serves as the southern border. Looking at the mountains from the flatland, you see that they go from east to west in three ranges. The southern slopes of these mountains are sheer and steep, the northern ones are gradual and gentle-sloping. The highest or first range consists of the snowy mountains, called in Chechen bash-lam, i.e. the melting mountains. The word beshe means it melts, and lam is mountain. The peaks of this range are covered with eternal snow.[1] Their feet are covered with grass only at the end of May.

The second range is called in Chechen lam, i.e. mountain. The mountains which constitute this ride are covered with forests from the base to halfway up to their top, but their peaks are bare and often have a rocky form. In order to distinguish the heights of these mountains, therefore, it’s possible to refer to them in Russian as bald mountains because Russians call any elevation a mountain. Probably, the mountain cold prevents the growth of a forest on their peaks and [the forest] stretches up to a common elevational boundary. These peaks are covered with nutritious grass and so the inhabitants, to protect their herds from the sun’s intensity, drive them up to these places. The third range, called in Chechen ars, i.e. mountain, is covered with forests. The Russians dub the range the black mountains. They are covered with thick forests composed of all kinds of European trees. Birches or evergreen resinous types (pines, spruces and others) are met with occasionally only on the bald mountains.[2] Chechens give names to mountain ranges according to their height. The Sunzha Range of low mountains is called rag, from the word rago, which means a barn, i.e. with this name they are saying that these mountains are much lower than the black mountains. The elevated ridge of the Terek foothills is called shu, i.e. bankside elevation. Beyond the black mountains follows the plain, or flatland of Chechniya, with rich vegetation, which will reward labors a hundredfold almost effortlessly and with little exertion. The land is very suitable for horticulture.[3]

A number of rivers and streams flow down from the mountain range, heading from south to north. Some of these, flowing from the melting of the snow of the first range, noisily roll down the slanting [slope] to the north, tearing themselves a deep channel in the ground and with force breaking the chains of the bald and black mountains, forming terrifying and narrow gorges.  Leveling out on the expansive flatland, however, their willfulness decreases as does their current. Others, originating out of the bald and black mountains, meander through the flatland and empty into the river Sunzha. The Sunzha empties into the Terek, which serves as the border of Chechniya.

The borders of these tribes have remained almost the same as those which prevailed until the conquest of Chechniya by the Russians, with some minor changes. Land has been taken from [their holdings] for two Sunzha Cossack regiments. The Karabulak community left for Turkey and their land has still not been resettled by anyone. The Nazranian population, which was scattered amongst farmsteads and small auls, has gathered together for protection against robbers and are [now] distributed in large auls around the Nazran fort and other [forts].

[1] [Laudaev Extended Comment 1] Typical of all Muslims, Chechens explain all natural phenomena incomprehensible to the mind, without the aid of science, with the help of religious stories: earthquakes, solar and lunar eclipses, thunder, lightning, etc. They say that thunder is the sound of strikes made by angels on the devil (shaitan) in their mutual eternal struggle.  Lightning is is a fire bolt with which the angels stab the devil. After the lightning strikes there emits a sulfurous smell which emanates from the impure ones, who hide from the bolts under ricks, in a house, etc. The phenomenon of eternal snow on the snowy mountains is explained in a similar manner. They say that everything is created by God, both animate and inanimate, and will suffer in the next life for [its] sins. The snowy mountains, covered by constant snow, are consequently found in a state of constant freezing, having agreed to endure this suffering in this life in order to receive bliss in the next.

[2] [Laudaev Extended Comment 2] They say that the black mountains were not covered with forests in the old days, and give the following [story] as confirmation. Due to the absence of forests, Mountain Chechens surrounded their courtyards with stone walls. This custom only disappeared recently, and in a few places still goes on, although it is possible to plait fences with brushwood, with which the country abounds. Legend says that once upon a time there appeared white birds which had not been seen before.  They manured the mountains with their own droppings, and from that time the woods began to spread. Undoubtedly, the Khankal Mountains and the banks of the river Argun weren’t forested. A paisan of mine, an old man of 90 years, claims that his mother told him that once only blackthorn grew on the Khankhals. Furthermore, Ichkerians say that in all of Ichkeria there were no sticks [to be found] fit to use for driving bulls.

[3][ [Laudaev Footnote 1] “After ten years of tranquility in the krai, the gardens that were destroyed by the Russians have come back even more luxuriant than before.”

Umalat Laudaev and “The Chechen Nation”


Umalat Laudaev (1827-1890) was a Chechen who served as an officer in the Russian Army. He wrote ethnographic and historical studies of the Chechens and other Caucasus peoples.

Everyone seems to be in agreement that Umalat Laudaev’s “The Chechen Nation” is a seminal work concerning the history of that people. Yet nobody has translated it into English. Perhaps it is presumptive of me to offer the first English translation, but here goes.

If someone can locate a translation, that is readily available and not languishing in manuscript form in a university library or in private holdings, please let me know. Searches on WorldCat and Google have proven fruitless. This was the only version I was able to locate. If someone has another version that is readily available online, please let me know in the comments section. Thanks.

The version I used is found in the Sbornik Svedeniy o Kavkazskikh Gortsakh, an intimidating phonetic assemblage which means “Digest of Intelligences concerning the Caucasus Mountaineers.” The last word is meant in the sense of Mountain People, not extreme sports enthusiasts. There are other ways to translate the title. Also, the title of Laudaev’s work has been translated as the “Chechen Nation,” but it is more accurately translated as the “Chechen Tribe.” The term used, plemia, is very clear. The reader can speculate as to the attitudes or motivations of Laudaev or his editors and later commentators and historians when opting for “tribe” vs. “nation.”

The article Chechenskoe Plemia  can be found in Vol. 6, which was published in Tbilisi in 1872 by the [Imperial] Caucasus Mountain Administrative Division (Kavkazkie Gorskie Upravlenie). It is the third entry in the first section of volume 6. Unfortunately the digest wasn’t effectively paginated. The article runs 31 pages. Immediately after the article is another entry which consists of extended notes (commentary to be precise) to the main article, a 19th-century rough approximation of footnotes. I have included these extended comments.