An analysis of a collection of twenty four folk melodies as transcribed by Soviet musicologist A. Davidenko (compiled in 1926 and published in 1935) helps demonstrate how the policy of cultural nativization may have been applied in Chechnya during the first two decades of Soviet rule.10 The introduction to Davidenko's collection offers insightful commentary regarding the intent and purpose of this folklore-gathering experiment. The publisher claimed the compilation was an accurate record of Chechen folk music, although he acknowledged that their traditions were changing as this culture became modernized through socialism. This comment reiterates that the ultimate goal of the Soviet nativization policy was not to foster awareness of traditional practices, but rather to assist “backward peoples” in the process of assimilation into a Soviet socialist culture.
The only commercially available recording of Chechen folk music, made by the Gramophone Company in 1909, provides the only known example of what a performance of Chechen folk music may have sounded like on original instruments. This particular selection entitled Lezghinka refers to a popular dance performed by men in the Northern Caucasus (listening example 1).11 The melody which uses a harmonic minor scale, is performed on a four-stringed fiddle-like instrument called the Kamancha. The accompaniment, improvised on plucked lute known as the Tar, outlines intervals of a fifth and minor third below than the top voice while a drum provides the dance rhythm in a eighth note triplet pattern. It is difficult to imagine how a piano transcription of this piece might convey the impression of string and percussion instruments.
According to the introduction, most songs do not include words because the lyrics vary from village to village. While this explanation may be accurate, one could also argue that the exclusion of lyrics might have been intentional, possibly because they contained subversive content. The songs in Davidenko's collection are listed under general names such as "romance" (songs 1-14), "laments," (songs 15-17), "dances" (songs 18-22), and "work songs" (songs 23-24). The lack of any reference to resistance or Islamic themes in this collection suggests these may have been concealed by Chechen-Ingush musicians, intentionally overlooked by the folklore gatherers, or edited out by Soviet censors. Evidence strongly suggests that the music rituals of Islamic Sufi orders continued during Soviet rule, yet it is puzzling that this type of performance would have completely escaped mention by Soviet musicologists.12
Lament no. 15, "Song of a Shepherd Killed in the Mountains," (score example 1,13 listening example 2) provides an idiomatic example of the style of folk music in Davidenko's collection. The score indicates neither lyrics nor original instrumentation for the song. The harmonization of the lament melody seems to be based in the F Dorian mode rather than on a sequence of clearly identified chord changes. The intervals of harmonization found in this example are predominantly thirds, fourths, and fifths, although the use of a dissonant major second stands out in measure 12.
The piece is notated in 2/4 time and begins with a short, two-measure introduction (restated in measure 17 before the repeat). The melody is based on a simple quarter note and two eighth note motive. Often, the first eighth note of each phrase in the melody is ornamented. The texture of this short piece is relatively consistent throughout, with modal arpeggios in the bass and the harmonized melody in the treble clef. The only significant variation occurs in measure 14, when a second melody is introduced and performed in unison by three voices. The other two laments in this collection are very similar in style to "Song of a Shepherd Killed in the Mountains." Song no.16, called simply “lament,” follows the same format of a brief introduction followed by a simple melody and harmonization in the treble clef and arpeggios in the bass. Song no.17, “A widow whose husband has left her,” varies only slightly from the other two, as it is notated in 6/8 time and employs a repeated rhythmic pattern (chaconne) in the bass.
Another curious fact which suggests the influence of the hand of Soviet editors is the comparative abundance of folk poetry which praises Stalin's regime. Robert Conquest suggests that Soviet authorities intentionally selected folk poetry which praised the Stalin and omitted those critical of the regime.14 Conquest cites one poem purportedly by a Chechen author whose text is so flattering of Stalin, it seems sarcastic: "Who could express with faltering pen our love for you, Desired one? Too small are the heavens and the oceans to reveal the thoughts we hold...Long life to you beloved Stalin."15 Chechen attitudes toward Stalin's regime would have been contemptuous given Stalin's increasingly brutal treatment of the Chechen and Ingush population in the 1930s and 40s. Therefore the inclusion of this extreme example is most likely a product of Soviet selective censorship. Despite the best efforts of Soviet authorities to downplay ethnic nationalism and encourage cultural assimilation, uprisings and armed revolts continued in Chechnya-Dagestan throughout the 1930s. Stalin responded with a large-scale crackdown against ethnic nationalists in 1937, during which thousands of Chechens were killed by Stalin's secret police.16
The suppression and persecution of Chechens under Soviet rule culminated in the mass deportations ordered by Stalin during the height of the Second World War. Accused of collaboration with the Nazis, the entire Chechen and Ingush population was forcibly deported to Siberia and Kazakhstan in 1944. Although there continued to be armed resistance to Stalin's authority within Chechnya during the Second World War, it was most likely inspired by the aims of Chechen nationalists rather than Nazi sympathizers. Historian Anatol Lieven suggests that Stalin's motive for the deportations may have been his desire to prevent Islamic groups in the Northern Caucasus from aiding Turkey in the event of a future war with the Soviet Union.17 Whatever the motivation, the deportations provided one of the gravest challenges to the survival of Chechen culture. Successfully finding ways to continue their traditions in the face of brutal persecution helped solidify an anti-Russian national identity among many Chechens.
The history of Russo-Chechen relations would be forever marred by the experience of the deportations, the humanitarian cost of which was staggering. Beginning on 23 February, 1944 ("Red Army Day"), approximately 800,000 Chechens and Ingush were deported by train to Siberia and Kazakhstan by members of the Soviet secret police. Conditions during the journey were such that over 78,000 died on the way.18 During the process of the deportation, Soviet security forces often found it more convenient to murder their victims outright, rounding up the populations of entire villages and burning them alive in mosques and barns. Burning victims in a place of worship is a characteristic act of genocide, which is also symbolic of the intent to destroy a particular group's religious and cultural traditions along with the people themselves.