Religious Liberty Prayer Bulletin | RLPB 193 | Wed 16 Jan 2013
CHECHNYA: THE LONG-SUFFERING LAND
by guest writer, Anneta Vyssotskaia
Chechnya (or Chechen Republic) is part of the Southern Federal District of the Russian Federation. It is located in the Northern Caucasus mountains and borders several other Russian republics and regions: Ingushetia, Northern Ossetia, Dagestan and Stavropolskii. It borders Georgia on the south. The population of Chechnya is now about 1.4 million, over 95 percent of whom are Chechen. Its Russian population was almost 50 percent in 1960s but is now less than two percent. Chechnya became part of the Russian Empire in the mid-16th Century. By the early 19th Century a large community of Russian Cossacks had formed on the territory of modern Chechnya.
Since becoming part of the Russian Empire the Chechen people were almost constantly fighting for their independence, continuing into the Soviet period. In 1944, by Stalin's decree, over half-a-million Chechen and Ingush people were deported forcefully from their land to Central Asia and Kazakhstan under most severe conditions and many perished during deportation. In 1957-58, during the time of Nikita Khrushchev, the Chechen people were allowed to return to their homeland. However, conflict started between the returning Chechen and the Russian population, especially in the area of the capital city, Grozny. Tensions grew after the collapse of the Soviet Union. This resulted in a series of armed conflicts and two wars, leaving behind multitudes of victims and refugees of different nationalities amongst the civilian population. In 2007 Ramzan Kadyrov became the President of the Chechen Republic with the support of the Russian government. In 2009 the Russian troops were withdrawn leaving Kadyrov in charge of Chechnya.
President Kadyrov supports traditional Sunni Islam, the main religion in Chechnya. This includes Sharia law, women wearing traditional Muslim clothes, polygamy and honour killings. Starting in the early 1990s many Chechen people and especially the youth were influenced greatly by radical Islam.
During the Chechen wars many church buildings of different denominations were destroyed, the believers were kidnapped, killed, raped, beaten, tortured or had to flee the country for the sake of their lives. The Baptist church in Grozny once had 300 members but by 2001 there was only a tiny group of elderly widows, others who survived having left the country.
Amongst Chechens, Christianity is considered the religion of the Russian people. It is totally unacceptable for a Chechen to become a Christian or a follower of any other religion. If one family member chooses another religion it is a disgrace for the whole family and brings a lot of persecution on the new convert. Converts are considered to be 'murtad' or traitors of their own religion and people. There are some reports about Chechen people becoming Christians and even pastors and evangelists but they are mainly amongst those who live outside Chechnya. The individual Chechens who become Christians in Chechnya have to remain secret believers because of the threat to their lives.
It is very difficult to obtain reliable information on the overall number of believers and churches in Chechnya. Information is available on the situation with Russian Orthodox churches of which there are several in Chechnya. During the last few years the Chechen government financed restoration of the Russian Orthodox churches destroyed during the Chechen wars. In 2011 the Russian Orthodox church performed a mass baptism of 35 people in the waters of the Terek River. In October 2012 there was a remarkable and significant event: the first full translation of the Bible into the Chechen language was presented to the participants of the Second Peacemaking conference in Grozny. This resulted from 15 years' translation work by the Institute of Bible Translation. Ominously, however, these advances are provoking escalating criticism and ruthless violence from radicalised Islamic extremists.
PLEASE THANK GOD SPECIFICALLY FOR --
* people who continue to seek truth and become followers of Jesus Christ in Chechnya despite all the persecution, asking him to provide his miraculous protection and cover for all his people in Chechnya.
* the individual faithful believers in Chechnya, praying for complete restoration of his Church there.
* the full translation of the Bible into the Chechen language, praying that he will reveal himself to many people in Chechnya through the Bible.
PLEASE PRAY SPECIFICALLY --
* for peace and restoration of the country and God's healing for all who have been wounded physically and emotionally and that feelings of hatred and revenge will give way to forgiveness and a desire to live in peace.
* that God will raise up a new generation of children and young people who will wish and be able to build a new foundation for all people to live in peace and harmony in Chechnya, and see the importance of religious freedom and respect for people of different nationalities and religious views.
'My God, whom I praise, do not remain silent, for people who are wicked and deceitful have opened their mouths against me . . . with words of hatred they surround me; they attack me without cause.' (Psalm 109:1-3 NIV)
SUMMARY FOR BULLETINS UNABLE TO RUN WHOLE ARTICLE:
CHECHNYA, THE LONG-SUFFERING LAND
The people of Chechnya have a long history of fighting for independence. The collapse of the Soviet Union was followed by several armed conflicts and wars. President Ramzan Kadyrov strongly supports Sunni Islam, the country's main religion. However, many younger people have been strongly radicalised by violent Islamist extremists. Christianity is considered the religion for Russians and any Chechen becoming a Christian would be treated as 'murtad' -- a traitor of Islam and Chechnya who should be killed. However, despite threats and difficulties, there are Christians amongst Chechen people, mostly secret believers or living outside Chechnya. Significantly, the first full Chechen translation of the Bible was introduced at a conference in Grozny, the capital, in October 2012. Please pray for God's protection of believers and the growth of his Church.
The author of this RLPB, Anneta Vyssotskaia, is a religious liberty advocate with a particular concern for and involvement in Russia and the former USSR.