Traditional Law System Threatened, Chechens Say In Russia's war-torn region of Chechnya, locals rely on a centuries-old system of traditional law to settle many disputes. Chechens say it helped provide some measure of security during the last decade of war. But that's now under threat.
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Traditional Law System Threatened, Chechens Say

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Traditional Law System Threatened, Chechens Say

Traditional Law System Threatened, Chechens Say

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RENEE MONTAGNE, host:

In the Russian region of Chechnya, locals rely on a centuries-old system of traditional law to settle many disputes. Chechens say it helped provide some measure of security during the last decade of war. But that tradition is now under threat, as NPR's Gregory Feifer reports in this second report of three stories from Chechnya.

GREGORY FEIFER reporting:

Throughout Chechnya's turbulent past, traditional kinship clans called teips have functioned as the most basic unit of society. They led Chechens' resistance to Russian campaigns to conquer the Caucasus Mountains, as far back as the 18th century. It was also the clan system that sustained them during the repression they suffered under Soviet dictator Joseph Stalin. In 1944, Stalin exiled all Chechens for allegedly collaborating with the Nazis.

Chechen historian, Sayyed Saratoff(ph) says he remembers the day Soviet troops forced his family from their house and sent them to Kazakhstan.

Mr. SAYYED SARATOFF (Chechen Historian): (Through Translator) I saw people dying and corpses being dumped out of train cars. I remember walking endlessly in the Steppes. I don't need history books, I suffered enough to understand our history.

FEIFER: The Chechens are still suffering, having endured two horrific wars in the past 12 years. And allegiance to one's clan or teip is still the most important form of self-identification for many. Shamil Tangiev of the Memorial Human Rights Group says teips mediate disputes according to a system of traditional law.

Mr. SHAMIL TANGIEV (Memorial Human Rights Group): (Through Translator) That's a natural course to take because official lawsuits are complicated and take a long time. If elders from two teips agree on a solution, then both sides must carry out their decision.

FEIFER: The traditional law system rules every day life, everything from stealing sheep to disputes between neighbors. It also helps regulate blood feuds, in which relatives of murder victims exact revenge by killing the accused perpetrators or members of their families. But many Chechens now say such rules are being undermined by Prime Minister Ramzan Kadyroff. They say members of his private militia act outside traditional and state laws, depriving locals of any protections against crime.

One night last October, Ifsaj Jibikajioff(ph) was abducted by armed men in masks and fatigues who came to his house in the village of Kurchaloi in eastern Chechnya. His brother, Najmudi(ph) says his many appeals to the authorities to investigate the abduction remain unanswered. He says that's because Kadyroff derives his power from a criminal network and his lieutenants operate with impunity.

Mr. JIBIKAJIOFF (Brother Abducted): (Through Translator) Most of our lawlessness come from them. They beat, kill, kidnap, demand ransoms, do whatever they want and they're not punished.

FEIFER: Jibikajioff says he learned his brother was kidnapped by the head of a local antiterrorist unit. Jibikajioff said the commander and two subordinates took his brother to one Prime Minister Kadyroff's spaces before beating him to death. Jibikajioff says they killed his brother because he'd loaned them a truck and later wanted it back. He says he'll take his own revenge through the traditional law system.

Mr. JIBIKAJIOFF: (Through Translator) The most important thing is that I know who all those people are, but I'm waiting for the moment they're no longer in their positions. When they lay down their arms then I'll deal with them.

FEIFER: Locals say kidnappings are growing. Last April, 25-year-old Bulat Chulayoff(ph) was abducted near Chechnya's western border. His father Sutan, a well-connected former lawyer, says he found an officer's dog tag at the scene and traced his son to a government compound. Chulayoff says he's doing everything he can within state law to get his son back because traditional law can no longer help him.

Mr. SUTAN CHULAYOFF (Son Kidnapped): (Through Translator) Now, after the war and 15 years of disintegration and lawlessness, it's become very weak and ineffective.

FEIFER: Tatiana Lokshina of Moscow's Dumas Human Rights Group says what's happening to traditional law is criminal, chaotic, and very frightening.

Ms. TATIANA LOKSHINA (Dumas Human Rights Group): There was in a sense nothing scarier than a deteriorating traditional society, because that brings people to a totally new degree of lawlessness.

FEIFER: Moscow says peace is returning to Chechnya, but many here believe the government of Prime Minister Kadyroff is actually harming long-term stability by undermining a system central to their national identity.

Gregory Feifer, NPR News.

MONTAGNE: Tomorrow, why Chechens believe the violence is continuing.

This is NPR News.

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