The Chechen question

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The Independent Online

"Do the Chechens belong to the 20th century?"

"Do the Chechens belong to the 20th century?"

In their astrakhan hats, the fierce mountain dwellers of Chechnya look to most Russians as if they belong to an earlier century. The Chechens think the same about the Russians. Only a backward nation, they say, could take as little care of their elderly people as the Russians do. Chechen tribes are less powerful today but the institution of the family remains all-important and respect for elders is sacred. The elders, who may be as young as 40 but must have education if not the wisdom of old age, apply the Chechens' own system of justice. Accidental homicide may be forgiven but premeditated murder always demands revenge.

"Who are the Chechens?"

Closely related to the Ingush of neighbouring Ingushetia, the Chechens are an indigenous people of the north Caucasus. They speak Chechen, a language unrelated to the Slav tongues, Turkish or Arabic. Most are Sunni Muslims. The fundamentalist Wahhabisect was unknown in Chechnya before the 1994-1996 war but is attracting recruits among the young.