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Traditional Law System Threatened, Chechens Say

Last July, Maierbek Gabayev's 24-year-old son Rustam was kidnapped from his house at night by men in masks.
Last July, Maierbek Gabayev's 24-year-old son Rustam was kidnapped from his house at night by men in masks.
Pro-Moscow forces continue to abduct people from houses like these in the village of Kurchaloi in eastern Chechnya.
Gregory Feifer, NPR /
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Pro-Moscow forces continue to abduct people from houses like these in the village of Kurchaloi in eastern Chechnya.

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.

Throughout Chechnya's turbulent past, traditional kinship clans called teips have functioned as the most basic unit of society. They led Chechen resistance to the Russians as far back as the 18th century. The clan system also sustained them during the repression they suffered under Soviet dictator Joseph Stalin.

In 1944, Stalin decided to exile all Chechens for allegedly collaborating with the Nazis. 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 who still feel bound to the groups' collective decisions.

The traditional law system rules everyday 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 accused perpetrators or members of their families.

But many Chechens now say such rules are being undermined by Prime Minister Ramzan Kadyrov. They say members of his private militia act outside both traditional and state laws, depriving locals of any protection against crime.

Copyright 2022 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

Gregory Feifer
Gregory Feifer reports for NPR from Moscow, covering Russia's resurgence under President Vladimir Putin and the country's transition to the post-Putin era. He files from other former Soviet republics and across Russia, where he's observed the effects of the country's vast new oil wealth on an increasingly nationalistic society as well as Moscow's rekindling of a new Cold War-style opposition to the West.

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