Before Russian rule

The Vainakh (Chechens and Ingush) are believed to have lived in the north-central Caucasus since prehistoric times. According to their oral tradition, they once lived under Kabard overlords, but rose up and expelled them. To defend their lands against invaders they then erected stone towers that still dot the landscape. The Vainakh were organized on the basis of descent into clans called teips, and made decisions through a Council of Elders.

Russian encroachment

Russians first settled in the Caucasus in the 16th century, but there was no conflict between them and the native people until Russia began to incorporate the Caucasus into its empire. The first armed clash occurred in 1722, when Peter the Great sent cavalry to occupy a Chechen village. In the late 18th century, intensifying Russian military encroachment provoked the first large-scale Chechen rebellion, led by Sheikh Mansur.

War with Czarist Russia

Between 1817 and 1864 Chechens and Dagestanis fought the Russian army under the leadership of Imam Shamil, a Dagestani cleric who created the first state that the Chechens had ever known. The war resulted in the destruction of many Chechen villages and the death or deportation—to the plains of European Russia, Siberia, or Turkey—of at least a third of the Chechen population. Even after Shamil surrendered in 1864, some Chechens fought on as guerrillas.