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.


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