Since the reign of Catherine the Great in the eighteenth century, Russia has considered control of the predominately Islamic republics of the Northern Caucasus a matter of vital national interest. The religious affiliation of the region has served as a basis of resistance to Russian dominance and has proven to be an obstacle to Russian attempts to promote cultural assimilation. Sheltered by the Caucasus Mountains , Islamic guerillas offered ferocious resistance to the Russian Imperial army's initial invasion in 1816, prompting commanding general Yermalov to brutalize the civilian population into submission.1 A full scale revolt in 1824 led by the Sufi warlord and religious leader Imam Shamil was violently subdued in 1859, after more than three decades of fighting. During the outbreak of civil war in 1917, the region once again attempted unsuccessfully to establish its independence. Despite token gestures offered in the early years of Soviet rule, Soviet persecution of the Islamic peoples of the Northern Caucasus continued, culminating in Stalin's mass deportation of the entire Chechen and Ingush populations in 1944. Since the fall of the Soviet Union , the determination of Chechen nationalists to achieve independence has prompted two invasions by the Russian army.2 Widespread guerilla attacks on Russian forces have continued since the Russian army regained control of major Chechen cities in 2000. In response, Russian authorities have resorted to increasingly brutal tactics to suppress armed resistance in Chechnya . This pattern has continued over the course of the conflict, and in recent years has escalated to include alleged human rights abuses by Russian forces and terrorist attacks by Chechen militants and their sympathizers.3

Amidst centuries of occupation and armed conflict, few efforts have been undertaken to document or preserve the indigenous musical traditions of Chechnya and the surrounding republics of the Northern Caucasus . Most of the evidence of for these traditions comes from officially sponsored transcriptions by Soviet musicologists and the personal accounts of authors and journalists. Anecdotal evidence from Leo Tolstoy's novel Hadji Murad , inspired by his experiences as a Russian soldier stationed in the Northern Caucasus , points to the existence of Islamic Sufi music and songs which idealized resistance.4 The principle sources of Chechen folk music currently available are contained in recordings and transcriptions collected by Soviet musicologists under the sponsorship of the Bolshevik government. The principle aim of Soviet-sponsored collections of folk music was not to preserve cultural heritage but to assist in the evolution of what authorities believed to be a "primitive" culture.

In the effort to squelch Islamic resistance in the Northern Caucasus, Soviet authorities subjected the population of Chechnya to deportation, placed severe restrictions on their ability to practice religion, and instituted a policy aimed at assimilating or 'Russifying' Chechen culture. A description of the Soviet ‘nativization' policy, which authorized several folklore gathering expeditions in Chechnya-Ingushetia, will be followed by the analysis of two soviet-era collections of Chechen-Ingush folk music, one compiled in the earlier years of Soviet Rule and one after the death of Stalin. In between the analyses, the history of Soviet persecution of the Islamic peoples of the Northern Caucasus will be discussed. Finally, a third source will demonstrate how Chechen composers trained in Soviet conservatories were expected to apply their folk traditions to the composition of 'progressive' soviet music. A comparison of three sources of Chechen-Ingush music will demonstrate how the Soviet government under the leadership of Joseph Stalin attempted to discourage ethic nationalism while promoting a new Soviet style of music based on an amalgam of folk tradition and Western instrumentation.

Of the many ethnic groups present in the Northern Caucasus , the Chechens united with their neighbors the Dagestanis to make a bid for independence following the collapse of Tsarist rule in 1917.5 The North Caucasus Republic was established in May of 1918 after joint Chechen-Dagestani forces defeated opposing White Russian armies. Determined not to lose Russia 's prized colony, the Red Army occupied Dagestan in April of 1920. To many Chechens and Dagestanis, the Bolsheviks were simply a new regime with the same old imperialist policy, to which they had no intention of submitting quietly. They were able to hold off the Red army until April of 1921, when Bolshevik forces captured the last Chechen and Dagestani strongholds. The fierce resistance of the Islamic mountaineers continued a long tradition of opposition to Russian dominance hearkening back to the thirty-year insurgency of Imam Shamil.6 The efforts of the new Soviet state to subdue Chechnya by force were combined with a new policy regarding the treatment of the nationalities. This provided selective support for the retention of folk traditions, yet continued to undermine cultural practices which encouraged resistance to Russian dominance.

According to historian Terry Martin, Lenin and Stalin collaboratively developed the policy of korenizatsiia “nativization” in order to diffuse feelings of nationalist separatism within the newly formed Soviet Union.7 Having just ended a civil war, the Soviet regime was anxious to minimize the potential for nationalist uprising with the newly unified Soviet Union . They hoped to discourage ethnic nationalism through the superficial promotion of folk culture and language while at the same time encouraging the assimilation of these cultures into a homogenous Soviet mold. The political aspects of the nativization policy included the granting of regional autonomy to areas with high concentrations of non-Russians which resulted in the unification of Chechnya and Ingushetia into an autonomous republic in 1934.8 In addition, a certain percentage of seats in regional government would be reserved for local ethnic elites.9 As part of their plan to encourage the cultural assimilation of potentially rebellious ethnic groups, the Soviets began to sponsor folklore-gathering expeditions in Chechnya and Ingushetia in 1923. The two collections examined in this paper indicate that transcriptions of folk melodies were made from wax cylinder recordings taken in the field.


The Effect of the Soviet Nationalities Policy on Indigenous Musical Traditions in Chechnya