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Chechnya

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Updated: 30.09.2003

Chechnya or Chechen Republic, region (1999 est. pop. 186,000), c.6,100 sq mi (15,800 sq km), South European Russia, in the Northern Caucasus. Grozny is the capital.

The mountainous region has important oil deposits, as well as natural gas, limestone, gypsum, sulphur, and other minerals. Its mineral waters have made it a spa centre. Agriculture is concentrated in the Terek and Sunzha river valleys. Oil, petrochemicals, oil-field equipment, foods, wines, and fruit are produced.

The population, which is concentrated in the foothills, is predominantly Chechen. The Chechen, like the neighbouring Ingush, are Sunni Muslim, and speak a Caucasian language.

History

Recognised as a distinct people since the 17th century, the Chechens were the most active opponents of Russia's conquest (1818-1917) of the Caucasus. They fought bitterly during an unsuccessful 1850s rebellion led by Imam Shamil (see Shamil uprising).

The Bolsheviks seized the region in 1918 but were dislodged in 1919 by counterrevolutionary forces under General Denikin.

After Soviet rule was re-established, the area was included in 1921 in the Mountain People's Republic. The Chechen Autonomous Region was created in 1922, and in 1934 it became part of the Chechen-Ingush Region, made a republic in 1936.

After Chechen and Ingush units collaborated with the invading Germans during World War II, many residents were deported (1944) to Central Asia. Deportees were repatriated in 1956, and the republic was re-established in 1957.

In 1991, as the Soviet Union disintegrated, the Chechen-dominated parliament of the republic declared independence as the Republic of Ichkeria, soon better known as Chechnya. In June, 1992, Russia granted Ingush inhabitants their own republic (Ingushetia) in the western fifth of the territory.

Tensions between the Russian government and former Chechen president Dzhokhar Dudaev escalated into warfare in late 1994, as Russian troops arrived to crush the separatist movement. Grozny was devastated in the fighting, and tens of thousands died (see First Chechen War.

Russian forces regained control of many areas in 1995, but separatist guerrillas controlled much of the mountainous south and committed spectacular terrorist actions in other parts of Russia. Fighting continued through 1996, when Dudayev was killed and succeeded byZelimkhan Yandarbiyev. The Russians withdrew, essentially admitting defeat, following a cease-fire that left Chechnya with de facto autonomy.

Aslan Maskhadov, chief of staff of the Chechen forces, was elected president early in 1997 but appeared to have little control over the republic. In 1999, Islamic law was established. Terrorism, including a series of bombings in Moscow, erupted again, and after Islamic militants invaded neighbouring Dagestan from Chechnya, Russian forces bombed and invaded Chechnya, capturing Grozny and forcing the rebels into mountain strongholds. The rebels, led by notorious Shamil Basaev, continue to mount guerrilla attacks on Russian forces, and both sides are being accused of brutality and terrorising non-combatants.

On 18 January 2001, Akhmad Kadyrov, head of the administration of the Chechen Republic, offered Russian President Vladimir Putin what was in essence a three-step plan to stabilise the situation in his war-torn republic. According to Kadyrov's proposal Moscow would withdraw troops and then appoint a consultative body, subordinate to Kadyrov, to draft a new Chechen constitution and electoral regulations, to be followed by the election of a new Chechen leader on October 5, 2003.

During the past two years events in Chechnya have occurred roughly according to that plan, at least in so far as there have been limited troop withdrawals. The program is now approaching its finale.

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