Independence and autonomy are
two words used to describe Chechnya. Recognized
as a distinct people since the 17th cent., the
Chechens were the most active opponents of Russia's
conquest (18181917) of the Caucasus. They
fought bitterly during an unsuccessful 1850s
rebellion led by Imam Shamyl. After Soviet rule
was reestablished, the area was included in
1921 in the Mountain People's Republic.
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.
Tensions between the Russian government and
that of Chechen president Dzhokhar Dudayev escalated
into warfare in late 1994, as Russian troops
arrived to crush the separatist movement. Grozny
was devastated in the fighting, and tens of
The mountainous region has important
oil deposits, as well as natural gas, limestone,
gypsum, sulfur, and other minerals. The population,
which is concentrated in the foothills, is predominantly
Chechen. The Chechen, like the neighboring Ingush,
are Sunni Muslim, and speak a Caucasian language.