Difference between revisions of "Chechnya"
Revision as of 13:12, 25 April 2012
Nominally part of Russia since the early 19th century, fiercely independent Chechnya has been in a near constant state of rebellion ever since the approach of Russian power. At times throughout the history of this conflict, including very recent times, Chechen rebellion has spread to neighboring regions and threatened the specter of a multi ethnic Muslim rebellion across the entire northern Caucasus. What is most important for the traveler is that the anti-Russian violence as well as the Russian military response have been spectacularly brutal, purposely victimizing whomever is most vulnerable: the everyday Russian Federation citizens (Russian and Chechen alike) unfortunate enough to live here and, yes, outsiders who are foolish enough to walk into this danger zone. The region is desperately poor, plagued by enough problems already.
One of the most traumatic episodes of violence took place following the Second World War, when Stalin accused Chechens of collaborating with the Nazis and mass deported the entire ethnic Chechen populace to the cold steppe of northern Kazakhstan. Needless to say, provisions were not made to ensure that the deported Chechens had a good chance of surviving the deportation. Survivors were allowed to return under Khruschev. In one of the most horrific events of recent times, the radical Chechen rebel leader Shamil Basayev ordered his commandos to take an elementary school in Beslan, North Ossetia hostage, resulting in a shocking massacre of innocent schoolchildren.
Chechnya was safe for travel during the Soviet rule, but travelers, don't hold your breath. Wide-scale violence and barbarism have become the norm of this tragic region.
On a lighter note, Chechnya is a country of extraordinary beauty, full of majestic mountains with lush vegetation and auls (mountaintop villages) rising above the tree lines; rapid rivers have cut spectacular gorges throughout the region. Chechen culture is distinctly romantic and chivalric. It is at once steeped in Islamic Sufi mysticism and in the macho codes of hardy mountain tribes. The Chechens have a distinct culture of Caucasian music and dance. The Chechens traditionally follow a strict code of honor and hospitality to accepted guests; unyielding hostility and violence towards enemies. All this could make Chechnya an intoxicating destination for the truly adventurous, but the present security situation should rule out this destination to all but the hardiest of travellers.
The present situation is taking an improvement, however on a light scale. The region is headed by the autocratic Kadyrov family. More recently, the government has allowed foreign companies to develop, if neglected rich oil resources, which have brought wealth to the country. Yet, the money falls in the hands of a few people. While Grozny is full of new construction and a rising middle-class, much of the region remains poor. Corruption is considerably ubiquitous compared to some of it's neighbors.
Chechnya's airport is finally open again for the first time since the start of the war. Planes to Grozny leave 3 times a week from Moscow's Vnukovo airport. Estimated flying time is 2 hours and 30 minutes.
A train leaves from/to Moscow once every 2 days. This train is under heavy security by the Russian military so expect long delays and possibly other hassles. Caution must be exercised when traveling by rail in Chechnya due to potential terrorist attacks. In 2005 a train traveling from Moscow to Chechnya was derailed during a bombing.
A daily bus leaves from/to Nazran. Small buses leave from/to many caucasian,south-russians cities.
Chechen and Russian are the two main languages spoken in Chechnya. Remember that the political situation is very tense — a foreigner speaking Chechen may attract unwanted attention from the authorities. English on the other hand is spoken by almost nobody, even in the capital.
Chechnya is famous for its traditional swords and daggers.
Due to the economic consequences of the war, things in Chechnya are very cheap. But do not expect to find everything you are looking for. There's not much to find in Chechnya except for carpets, daggers, etc. Supplies are also somewhat limited.
There are presently not many shops in Chechnya. However, restaurants and cafès are slowly re-opening and new ones are being built.
There are no night clubs or discos in Chechnya. However beer is sold on the street in Grozny. Common sense should be used when drinking alcohol, especially in danger zones. Sales of alcohol legally only from 8.00 to 10.00 AM and prohibited for all other times.
Currently, there is one new hotel, the Arena City Hotel, a small five-star hotel that opened in Grozny in late 2009. There is another minor motel, but separatists are said to watch it like a hawk so if you do not blend in with the local population, you're taking a risk. The only other option is to stay with a family member or trustworthy friend. The capital of Chechnya, Grozny, is under heavy re-construction.
As of 2007, independent analysts said were no more than 2,000 separatist combatants still fighting. By traveling to Chechnya you are taking a serious risk. Kidnappings and unexploded mines and munitions are widespread, while terrorist activity and shootings still occur on a lesser scale. Throughout the region, local criminal gangs routinely kidnap foreigners, including Americans, Canadians, and UK nationals, for ransom. Close contacts within the local population does not guarantee safety. Before visiting, consider watching the Russian popular film Война (War), which may help inform your final decision.
Many foreign governments, including the UK, Canadian and US governments, strongly warn their citizens not to travel to Chechnya under any circumstances. They report that there have been many incidents of their citizens visiting there as well as Russian citizens being missing,killed, or kidnapped for ransom.
If you still feel determined to experience the beauty of Chechnya despite the accompanying dangers, you may want to consider visiting the Pankisi area of Georgia instead. The security situation there has stabilized enough for reasonably safe travel, it looks very similar to Chechnya, and it is full of Chechen refugees who may be much more approachable than in Chechnya.
The civil war may be over in Chechnya, but the situation is far from secure and basic necessities are often relatively scarce. It would be wise for one to assume that some necessities may not be available there, so get everything you really need before traveling to the region.
Working plumbing, heat, and electricity are commodities in parts of Chechnya due to a failing infrastructure that is the result of years of conflict. Be sure to sanitize all water or bring bottled water.
Remember that Chechnya is a strongly patriarchal Sunni Muslim society, so try to behave accordingly. Women travellers are advised to exercise particular caution, and should seriously consider bringing a male escort for their own protection.
In Chechnya there are two russian federal GSM operators (Beeline,Megafon) and they often have offers that give you a SIM card for free or at least very cheap. If you are planning to stay a while and to keep in touch with locals, you should consider buying a local SIM card instead of going on roaming. If you buy a SIM card from a shop you'll need your passport for identification.