Islam in the North Caucasus: The Example of Chechnia by Paul B. Henze

Paul Henze was a Resident Consultant at RAND's Washington office 1982-2002, working on projects relating to U.S. foreign policy, Ethiopia and the Horn of Africa, Turkey, Russia, the Caucasus, and Central Asia.  A graduate of the Harvard Soviet Program in 1950, he had a 30-year career in government and government-related organizations.  He was a member of the original team that directed Radio Free Europe and served in Munich from 1952-58.  Subsequently he held positions in the Departments of Defense and State.  He served in the US Embassy in Addis Ababa 1969-72.  He served in the U.S. Embassy in Ankara 1974-77.  During 1977-80 he served with Zbigniew Brzezinski in the U.S. National Security Council.  Among other duties there he chaired the Nationalities Working Group, an interagency task force that focussed on the non-Russian regions of the USSR.  He was a Wilson fellow at the Smithsonian in 1981-82.  During recent years he has made frequent visits to the Caucasus and Central Asia.  In 1992 he headed an international observer team to Chechnya and at the end of the year was a member of a team that went to Abkhazia.  In 1997 he participated in the Shamil bicentenary celebrations in Dagestan.  He was a member of a US NATO Association mission to China, Central and South Asia in 1998.  He has made 8 extensive visits to Georgia since 1991 and is Vice President of the American-Georgian Business Development Council.

The Example of Chechnia
Geography and Demography 
The main Caucasus range, which extends over 600 miles northwestward from the shores of the Caspian to the Black Sea, rises to 18,471 feet in Mount Elbruz in Balkaria.  It represents a formidable barrier to travel and transport, especially at its western end, where the first through road along the coast was constructed after World War II.  The only practical central route through the mountains is up the valley of the Terek into the Daryal Gorge and over the Jvari Pass from where the Georgian Military Highway leads down the valley of the Aragvi to Tbilisi.  The region to the south of the crest of the mountains is termed Transcaucasia and consists today of the three independent republics of Georgia, Armenia, and Azerbaijan.  The lands on the northern side of the mountains--the North Caucasus--have continued after the collapse of the Soviet Union to form part of the Russian Republic.  

Ethnographers classify more than 30 indigenous peoples and languages in the North Caucasus, the boundaries of which are controversial but are sometimes extended northeastward to include the Kalmyk Republic, inhabited by a Buddhist Mongol people who migrated from Chinese territory westward in the 17th century.  Most North Caucasians are of Paleocaucasian (sometimes called Ibero-Caucasian) stock whose ancestors have lived in the region since the dawn of history.  Chechens, of whom almost million were counted in the 1989 census, are the most numerous of these, followed by Kabardans, Avars, and several other Dagestani nationalities as well as the Circassians.  Until the great migrations of the latter half of the 19th century,
Circassian peoples dominated the western portion of the North Caucasus.  They were decimated in Russian offensives against them which continued from the 1830s into the 1860s and over million were killed or emigrated to the Ottoman Empire after they were defeated.

Soviet ethnographers stressed subdivisions among the Circassians who remained: Adygei, Kabardan, and Cherkess.  The Abkhaz, who live on the south side of the mountains along the Black Sea coast and have been historically linked to Georgia, are sometimes classified as Circassians, but are actually a separate Paleocaucasian people.  A hundred thousand of them--well over half of their population at the time--migrated to the Ottoman Empire after Russian conquest.  Four major North Caucasian nationalities (Kumyks, Nogays, Karachays, & Balkars) are Turkic, descendants of waves of migration from the Central Asiam steppes extending back 1500 years, and one, the Ossetes, who number more than half a million, are an ancient Iranian people. 

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