The Chechens in Turkey

The Google Map shows only Chechen villages and not other centres of Chechen population in Turkey. For instance, there are many Chechens in cities such as Istanbul, Kayseri and Sivas – these are not marked on the map.

The Chechens in the big cities have mostly arrived as a consequence of the recent conflicts of 1994-1996 and 1999-2009, in which the Russian state has tried repeatedly and violently to crush Chechen nationalism. Chechens have been displaced across Europe as well as Russia and Turkey and a significant percentage of the total Chechen population now lives in diaspora.

However, a proportion of the city-dwellers in Turkey are migrants from the villages which are the main subject of the map.

The Chechen villages in Turkey date from the C19th (many from the 1860s) and were settled by refugees – generally known as muhajir or muhacir – from the Russian conquest of the north Caucasus (the Caucasian War). The villages are mostly small (with typical populations of 100 to 300 persons), traditional and agricultural, with only basic facilities. This is the background to the rural-to-urban drift, as the younger generation is pulled out of the native communities by economic want and lack of opportunity. The villagers are Chechen-speaking as well as being Turkophone (schooling in Turkey being in Turkish) and, of course, are Sunni Muslim.


The Kists of Georgia

This Google Map shows the heartland of the Kist people in the Pankisi Gorge in Georgia. The Kisti are ethnic Chechens and speak the Kistian dialect of Chechen (as well as, these days, Georgian).

They migrated to the Pankisi valley from Chechnya in the mid-C19th, probably to avoid pressure to convert to Islam. At that time, they professed their own Vainakh faith, which contained syncretic beliefs with pre-monotheistic roots and an admixture of Christianity. The location of a pre-Christian Anatori Jvari shrine sacred to the Kists is shown, with a blue pin, on the map.

Kist villages are shown with green pins on the map. A high proportion of the Kists of the village of Birkiani are Christian. At Jokolo, there is a church dedicated to St George and there was formerly a chapel in Omalo. Kists attend the annual Alaverdobi harvest festival at the Georgian Orthodox monastery of Alaverdi each September. Those Kists who have left the Pankisi valley and settled in Georgian towns such as Telavi tend to assimilate as Georgian Orthodox Christians.

For the most part, however, today the Kists are Sunni Muslim, albeit with an unorthodox colouring. The Kists’ main place of worship is the Sunni mosque in Duisi. There are three other modern mosques, constructed from 1996-2001 with outside finance. Duisi also has a shariat court. In these circumstances, it is likely that there will be tensions within the Kist community between those wanting to apply a strict interpretation of Islam and those with syncretic leanings or who are Christian.