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Chechnya

Iwona Kaliszewska

 

Basic information

People and their culture

National holidays and customs

Everyday life

Cuisine

Associations with Poland

Integration in Poland – successes and difficulties


Basic information

Chechnya is a small republic, belonging to the Russian Federation, bordering Georgia in the south, Ingushetia and North Ossetia in the west, Stavropol Krai in the north and Dagestan in thegory w okolicach Itum-kale małe east, separating it from the Caspian Sea. The territory of Chechnya is 17,300 square kilometers, roughly half of which are lowland territories occupying the northern and central part of the republic, while the mountains are located in the north. Chechnya is traditionally presented as a mountainous republic, while the majority of Chechens inhabit lowland villages and towns, and approx. 30% of the inhabitants live in the capital of the republic, Grozny. The mountainous part of the republic is inhabited only to a small degree. Nevertheless, when talking about themselves and about their ancestors, the Chechens often refer to the name of the village or the region in the mountains from which their grandparents or great grandparents came. Migration from the mountains is not only the result of the two last wars but, first of all, the industrialization from the USSR age as well as the deportation of Caucasian nations, including Chechens, in 1944 to Central Asia, in particular to Kazakhstan. These processes essentially changed the social structure of Chechen communities, had a huge impact on families, held values as well as performed work.  


People and their culture

The Chechens refer to themselves as nochczi (nochczuo in singular). They are the largest ethnic group in North Caucasus, inhabited by more than forty ethnic groups. The name nochczi may come from the word nok (plough) or the word nakh which means "our people" in the Chechen language. The word Chechens, on the other hand, Started to be used ca. the 17th century during Peter the Great's wars with Persia and most probably comes from the name of the village Chechen-Aul located in the flatland part of the republic. Today's Chechnya is an almost mono-ethnic republic inhabited by 95 % of Chechens. Other larger ethnic groups include the Kumyks and the Ingushes. Before the fall of the USSR in 1991, Chechnya was inhabited by approx. 1.3 million people approx. 700 thousand of which were the Chechens, almost 300 thousand - Russians, 160 thousand - the Ingushes as well as other Caucasian nations. The mass exodus of Russians and other ethnic groups took place already during the First Chechen War in 1994. The teip was the basic unit of the Chechen society before the incorporation into the Russian empire. Teips (from the Arabic word taifa) are patrilineal exogamic groups consisting of extended families connected via blood. In the past, members of the teip occupied a specific territory and believed in a common ancestor. Teips are divided into larger segments of the clan (gar) which consist of smaller segments (neg) and then of extended families (tsa) which are divided into nuclear families (diozel), namely parents with children. For the time of war of for economic reasons, teips were combined into tukkhums the number of which was seven (thus the seven stars in the emblem of Chechnya) which were further combined into confederations, the  so-called "free societies". During the perestroika, when a number of ethnic groups of the former USSR was learning about the details of their own history, the Chechens started to revive the meaning of teip affiliation. However, teips no longer play a significant role in the political or social life. The meaning of teips is becoming increasingly symbolic. Religion is very important both in private and public life. In the public sphere, religious orders and bans come from the law of sharia - understood not so much as a system of Islamic law regulating social life but simplified to consuming and selling alcohol (it is impossible to buy alcohol in Chechnya beyond specified hours - at least officially), food bans (understood locally - the content of pork in sausage is not a problem for many people) and following the principles of modest clothes by women. Middle aged people and the elderly are often members of Sufi fraternities, in particular the most popular Kadirija fraternity, to which the president of Chechnya also belongs. Practices of the Kadirija fraternity, among others, include the so-called loud dhikr. Pilgrimages to holy places are also popular, e.g. to tombs of Sufi shayks. Dhikr was traditionally celebrated in narrow circles of the fraternities but Kadyrov's religious policy made this practice a national practice.


 National holidays and customs


The calendar of annual holidays, family and state ones, was significantly changed across the last century - some holidays lost their importance, others existed in form but their content changed, still others changed in form while their message remained similar. The secularization of the USSR age, the national revival in the 1990s and the intensive (re) Islamization at the beginning of the 21st century as well as the period of meczet im. Achmada Kadyrowa w Groznym małyRamzan Kadyrov's rule resulted in continuous changes in the practice of celebrating. As a result, public and national holidays in today's Chechnya draw both from pre-Islamic, Islamic tradition, revived pre-revolutionary traditions as well as Soviet ceremonials. For instance, pompous celebrations of New Year's Day is a tradition popularized in the age of the USSR. In Chechnya, as in the entire USSR, this is a time when entire families meet, Christmas trees are dressed and Chechen children are visited by Ded Moroz and Snegurochka. The celebrations of New Year's Day previously involved feeding fire, people also believed that seeing money immediately after waking up would bring them prosperity in the following year. Recent years involved a criticism of celebrating New Year's Day as a non-Islamic holiday, thus contributing to a significant decrease in interest in this event. Over the last decade the popularity of Islamic holidays, on the other hand, definitely increased. In the age of the USSR they were celebrated secretly, were not celebrated at all (particularly in towns) or which were transformed into regular family and friendly meetings which often involved alcohol. The beginning of the new century and the Second Chechen War coincides with the second wave of (re) Islamization of North Caucasus. Islam in the 1990s was one of the elements of national identity but today it is the way of life for many young people. Many young men regularly attend mosques (women pray at home), observe fasting periods, bring up their children according to the Muslim faith.


 Everyday life

 

 "It is hard to be a Chechen", wrote Jan Czesnow - bearing in mind the number of moral standards regulating the life of an individual in society to a smaller or larger extent. Central places in them are occupied by the following notions: honor, dignity and freedom.  The Chechens' everyday life is regulated by a number of quite well internalized orders and bans which remain relevant despite the passage of time. For instance, young people always stand up when an older person or a woman enters the room, they do not raise their voices in this person's presence, the try not to speak first, in the street they always give way to an older person. Women go to the toilet only when men do not see. A Chechen man must not only be courageous but also modest, reserved in his opinions, he should reflect on each word, not speak too much without the need. However, people with an oratorical talent enjoy wide respect. Young Chechens start families quite early - sometimes people who are 18-20 years old get married. In the case of women, this age is sometimes even 16. In recent years, marriages are mostly concluded in the Muslim order in the presence of a mullah and relatives. Civil weddings are often concluded only for formal reasons, such as a joint departure, a new passport or the registration of children from the relationship. Chechen families usually abound in children. Women often give birth to three or even five children (the average for women in the reproductive age is three children). Divorces are quite often in Chechnya. If there were children in the marriage, they usually remain with the father and the woman may see them or take them to her home for some time. She is also trying to get married again as soon as possible, often also with a divorcee or a widower.

 

 Cuisine

The Chechen cuisine is based mostly on flour and meat meals. Cheeses are also popular. These meals derive from the mountains where it was more difficult to obtain vegetables and fruit due to the climate. Migrations and resettlements to the flatlands resulted in the fact that the Chechens included vegetables as well in their "mountain" menu. The following salads became popular within the entire empire in the age of the USSR: the szuba salad (salad with herring, beet and carrot), or the Moscow salad (similar to the Polish vegetable salad but without carrot, often with ham). The most popular meals in the Chechen cuisine include, on the other hand: siskał czurek (pancakes from corn flour), żiżig-czorpa (meat with tomatoes and potatoes), czepałgasz (blini). One of the more important meals in the Chechen cuisine is żiżik gałnysz - dumplings boiled on meat brew with meat and garlic coating. This meal in different versions is prepared in everyday life as well as for holidays.

 

  Associations with Poland

 The Poles and the Chechens met on both sides of the barricades during the Caucasian War in the years 1817-1864. Poles were sent to the Caucasus because of their anti-state activities and enlisted in the tsar's army. Some of them managed to escape and join the highlanders in their struggle against tsarist Russia. You may read memories from that period in the memoirs of Mateusz Gralewski who was sent to twelve years of military service to the Caucasus in 1848. He fought on the tsar's side but sympathized with the highlanders which may be seen in his memoirs. Karol Kalinowski is also an author of valuable memoirs. During the war he was taken hostage by the Chechens where he spent several years, describing the Caucasian highlanders in a less romantic manner than Gralewski.  The Chechens also reached areas of the present Republic of Poland as recruits of the tsar's army. Many of them were killed in combat on the territory of the present Poland. Graves of the Muslim inhabitants of the Caucasus, including the Chechens, may be found, e.g. on the so-called Caucasian Cemetery in the Wola district in Warsaw. However, the Chechens (and other Muslims from North Caucasus) were often buried in the war zone with crosses on their graves. The local population or Christian brothers in arms did not know another form of burial. 1944 was the year of the deportation of Caucasian nations, in particular the Chechens, to Kazakhstan. They were transported in the winter in freight wagons and reached the same villages as Poles, Ukrainians and Germans sent there. Although their daily customs and religious celebrations differed significantly, both the Chechens and the Poles have good memories of their neighbors in poverty. Just like them, they experienced hunger, deaths of their relatives, their children went to school together and participated in the life of Soviet youth organizations. In the age of the USSR, single persons came to Poland as part of trips or business trips from the USSR. In the 1990s, on the other hand, the Chechens, apart from Ukrainians, Belarussians, Armenians or Russians, traded on Polish bazaars, earning the nickname "Ruscy" along with others. The Chechens started arriving in Poland as refugees during the First Chechen War in the years 1994-1996. However, there were so few of them that not many Poles were even aware of their existence. The greatest wave of refugees took place during the Second Chechen War which began in December 1999. For many of them, Poland was a transit country on their way to the West. Not many of them planned to settle in the Republic of Poland due to difficulties in finding jobs and little support from the state not only for refugees, but also for the Poles. Subsequent waves of coming Chechens (which were usually directly related to the escalation of the military conflict) were better informed about the standard of life, conditions in centers in particular countries, the scale of aid from the state. Poland was not seen as a "western" country by the refugees from Chechnya. For them, Europe started behind the Odra River. Nevertheless, some of them decided to start a life in Poland. Difficulties in finding permanent employment make the Chechens either illegally leave Poland for their relatives in Western Europe after several years of trying or return to Chechnya or another place in the Russian Federation where it is easier to find jobs.

 

 Integration in Poland – successes and difficulties

The fate of Chechen migrants is varied. Depending on individual capacities, help from their countrymen, education and adaptation capabilities, refugees from Chechnya organize their lives in our country better or worse. It is hard to speak about one model of integration for Chechen refugees. However, in a certain simplification, we may find some schemes and adaptive strategies characteristic for this group.  In big cities, where it is easier to find jobs, we may meet many Chechens who work, send their children to universities, benefit from the possibilities of additional education offered both by various kinds of organizations and volunteers who teach them, e.g. foreign languages in their free time, help Chechen children in homework. The wide range of possibilities results in the fact that even young Chechens from poorer families are able to avoid poverty through education, integrate with their Polish peers and search for jobs just like them. As far as possible, the Chechens are also involved in organizing events promoting the Chechen culture, they establish associations, foundations and cultural initiatives. Emigration groups value people who became successful in the new country, people who may be a positive example for others, be a support for them. Mamed Khalidov - a successful mixed martial arts fighter, is an important person for the Chechen diaspora in Poland. Adaptation and integration processes in smaller towns such as Białystok, Łomża, Lublin are different than in cities. The adaptation of many Chechens to the Polish reality may be identified as "adaptation to poverty" which manifests itself, among others, by the lack of permanent employment, low incomes and resembles "the Polish poverty". Many families find it hard to survival without additional aid from the Chechen diaspora in Poland, families in the West or in Chechnya, a number of people also use welfare services. Finding a job is very difficult not only due to the fact that employers prefer to employ Polish citizens with good knowledge of Polish, but also because of the fact that it is simply hard to find jobs in these regions. Due to the lack of regular incomes, entire Chechen families, often six or seven persons, often live in very small, single-room apartments. To pay the rent they need to reduce their own needs by saving water, gas or electricity. In such conditions, it is very hard to achieve trouble-free existence. An additional problem are deepening difficulties in the education of Chechen children who, apart from language problems (which are usually overcome quite quickly), do not have conditions for learning at home, their parents are not able to help them with homework because they sometimes know Polish worse than them. Personal capacities and cultural competences are not the only significant role in the integration process. The previous experience and integration policy of the host country are also important. Non-governmental organizations (e.g. Association for Legal Intervention) emphasize the lack of integration programs adapted to particular groups. They partly take the role of the state and try to help the Chechens in integration often in irregular time intervals (one project to another).  It is difficult to comprehensively assess the integration process of the Chechens with the Polish society - positive experience of the integration of many Chechens as well as efforts undertaken by state institutions and non-governmental organizations result in the fact that there may be hope for a better integration of the Chechens, in particular the young staying in Poland for a longer period of time. However, negative experience is equally abundant and it places a question mark over the effectiveness of integration policies in our country.