Chechnya: Life in a War-Torn Society

Chechnya: Life in a War-Torn Society

Chechnya: Life in a War-Torn Society

Chechnya: Life in a War-Torn Society


This book illuminates one of the world's most troubled regions from a unique perspective—that of a prominent Russian intellectual. Valery Tishkov, a leading ethnographer who has also served in several important political posts, examines the evolution of the war in Chechnya that erupted in 1994, untangling the myths, the long-held resentments, and the ideological manipulations that have fueled the crisis. In particular, he explores the key themes of nationalism and violence that feed the turmoil there. Forceful, original, and timely, his study combines extensive interview material, historical perspectives, and deep local knowledge. Tishkov sheds light on Chechnya in particular and on how secessionist conflicts can escalate into violent conflagrations in general. With its balanced assessments of both Russian and Chechen perspectives, this book will be essential reading for people seeking to understand the role of Islamic fundamentalist nationalism in the contemporary world.


The war in Chechnya is a difficult trial for the new Russian state and for all its citizens, especially the Chechen people. The reasonable desire of the population of this former autonomous region of the Soviet Union to enjoy democratization and to correct the historical injustices done to the Chechen and Ingush peoples—the Stalin-era deportation and subsequent discrimination—have been misused to fuel nationalist hysteria and anti-Russian feeling.

In the prewar years, the socioeconomic and political situation in Checheno-Ingushetia was difficult. Many young men were without work, especially in the hill country. The leadership of the republic suffered deep corruption along clan lines. Murky ideas of creating an independent Islamic state in Chechnya spread among part of the intelligentsia and the Islamic religious leadership, although the religious issue was used from the very start primarily as a political slogan in support of a break with Russia.

The collapse of the Soviet Union had a particularly negative effect on Chechnya. Not content with the breakup of the fifteen former Soviet republics, which in and of itself was a huge historical shock, leaders and activists in several autonomous regions undertook the much more dangerous project of further disintegration of the country. In response, leaders of the fifteen republics who were involved in dismantling the central authority and the common state were setting a dangerous and often irresponsible course in regard to their own internal autonomous regions. Some promised the autonomous regions unlimited sovereignty, others tried to abolish them. Both approaches led to armed conflicts that resulted in ethnic cleansing and numerous casualties.

There was a chance to prevent violence and war in Chechnya. The thirst for power among those at the center and the lack of attention to what was . . .

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