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.”


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