Chechen resistance to Russian domination dates back to the 17th century, when the Islamic conversion of Caucasian tribes advanced into southern Russian territories. Unlike Orthodoxy, Islamic societies had aspirations for an egalitarian society where each aoul, or village community, was self-governed by the elders.
Eighteenth century wars with Turkey and Persia ultimately drew a large Russian presence into the mountainous, fiercely independent Caucasus region, marking the start of a bitter struggle that lasted into the second half of the 19th century.
In 1944, Stalin accused the Chechen people of collaboration with the Nazis, and exiled them to central Asia and Siberia. Over the following decade, Soviet citizens of numerous ethnic backgrounds came to live in Chechnya, starting a process of integration. It was only in 1957, under Nikita Khrushchev, that the Chechens themselves slowly began to migrate back to their homeland.
With the break-up of the Soviet Union in 1991, Chechnya’s goal to become an independent Islamic state received surprisingly little reaction from the Kremlin. The reply finally came in late 1994, as Boris Yeltsin began to hint at an armed solution to the situation. In December 1994, during a military build-up in Chechnya, Pavel Grachev, Russia’s Defence Minister, boasted that he would need only hours and one division of storm troopers to take the Chechen capital, Grozny. The attack began days later, on New Year’s Eve.