1911 Encyclopædia Britannica/Chechenzes

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CHECHENZES, Tchetchen, or Khists (Kisti), the last being the name by which they are known to the Georgians, a people of the eastern Caucasus occupying the whole of west Daghestan. They call themselves Nakhtche, “people.” A wild, fierce people, they fought desperately against Russian aggression in the 18th century under Daûd Beg and Oman Khan and Shamyl, and in the 19th under Khazi-Mollah, and even now some are independent in the mountain districts. On the surrender of the chieftain Shamyl to Russia in 1859 numbers of them migrated into Armenia. In physique the Chechenzes resemble the Circassians, and have the same haughtiness of carriage. They are of a generous temperament, very hospitable, but quick to revenge. They are fond of fine clothes, the women wearing rich robes with wide, pink silk trousers, silver bracelets and yellow sandals. Their houses, however, are mere hovels, some dug out of the ground, others formed of boughs and stones. Before their subjection to Russia they were remarkable for their independence of spirit and love of freedom. Everybody was equal, and they had no slaves except prisoners of war. Government in each commune was by popular assembly, and the administration of justice was in the hands of the wronged. Murder and robbery with violence could be expiated only by death, unless the criminal allowed his hair to grow and the injured man consented to shave it himself and take an oath of brotherhood on the Koran. Otherwise the law of vendetta was fully carried out with curious details. The wronged man, wrapped in a white woollen shroud, and carrying a coin to serve as payment to a priest for saying the prayers for the dead, started out in search of his enemy. When the offender was found he must fight to a finish. A remarkable custom among one tribe is that if a betrothed man or woman dies on the eve of her wedding, the marriage ceremony is still performed, the dead being formally united to the living before witnesses, the father, in case it is the girl who dies, never failing to pay her dowry. The religion of the Chechenzes is Mahommedanism, mixed, however, with Christian doctrines and observances. Three churches near Kistin in honour of St George and the Virgin are visited as places of pilgrimage, and rams are there offered as sacrifices. The Chechenzes number upwards of 200,000. They speak a distinct language, of which there are said to be twenty separate dialects.

See Ernest Chanter, Recherches anthropologiques dans le Caucase (Lyon, 1885–1887); D. G. Brinton, Races of Man (1890); Hutchinson, Living Races of Mankind (London, 1901).