Chechen traditional costumes

Source – “The Chechens”  here (pdf format)

On Amazon The Chechens: A Handbook

The Chechens are an ethnic group of the Nakh people; the Nakh  (Chechen, Ingush and Kist) belong to the Northeast Caucasian family.

The Chechen population counts 1.500.000 people; up to 500.000 were displaced to Europe after the second war (in Germany, France, Scandinavia, Poland, Belgium).

Chechens refer to themselves as “Noxchi”.

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1870 Chechen woman

1870 Chechen woman

1870 Chechen woman – traditional Chechen headscarf/ veil was simple, made of cotton. The main materials used were woolen fabrics and animal skin. More sophisticated fabricss appeared after year 1900.

Modern Chechen dress was heavily influenced by Circassian costumes in the XIX century.

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Customs originate in most ancient times. They define “checheness”, very important in the identity of Chechens. Society was not stratified and had no social classes, instead it was organized in tribes. Therefore the code of Chechen morals were the backbone of  Chechen society.

Women were considered for marriage from mid to late teens, whereas men started married later. Men and women met at dance parties and communication was made through family members.

It was taboo for men to touch women in public (available to this day). Touching a woman meant defilement and the culprit was executed by the family of the woman.


North Caucasus Chechnya people chechen girls chechens

North Caucasus Chechnya people chechen men traditional costume

Chechnya chechen men North Caucasus people chechens

Wedding is the way of celebration for the new family acquisition. Only the groom’s family celebrates while the bride and her family stay away from main wedding ceremonies. The bride’s family is considered to have no reason for celebration since they “lose” a member.

Chechens consider pride and affection as weakness and do not openly show joy at the birth of children or show affection in public towards partner or children.

Chechens only marry within their own ethnic group. Chechen women are held in high esteem, however if a woman is raped, she will be considered tainted and no one will marry her. Although during the Soviet period, mixed Russian-Chechen couples were common (between Russian women and Chechen men, never the opposite), the fact that one may be ethnically mixed (especially with Russian) is frowned upon.

North Caucasus Chechnya people chechen men women chechens.

Chechen wedding – the bride and groom make their vows separately. While the groom celebrates at home with his friends, the bride arrives at the main party but doesnt participate. She sits aside quietly in what translates as “modesty” in Chechen customs.

*Numerous youtube videos show sumptuous Chechen weddings which usually belong to Chechen president Kadyrov’s circle. Regular Chechens are modest.


North Caucasus Chechnya people chechen men traditional outfit

Itum Kali Chechnya national costume chechen children dance

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Hospitality was a sacred institution prevalent all over the Caucasus and respect for guests was a source of pride for all Caucasian peoples. A guest was lodged in the best quarters of the house and special provisions were set aside for guests. On the other hand, travelers with no bona fide hosts were considered as hostile and were usually taken as prisoners or slaves.

At social or family gatherings (parties, dinners, weddings etc), men and women never sit together, but at separate tables.

Though women are held in high esteem, they must show a certain respect to men. Women always stand up when a man walks in, and they never speak over a man.

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Chechen woman 1897

Chechen woman 1897

North Caucasus Chechnya men old photo archives

North Caucasus dress Chechnya people chechen men chechens archive photos

North Caucasus outfit Chechnya chechen men Caucasian kama dagger shalt


Chechen Shalt Kama traditional dagger North Caucasus people nakh Vainakh


Nakh towers, typical of Chechnya and Ingushetia. Built to stand as solid refure not only from invaders, but also from each other during their deadly tribal feuds.

Nakh towers, typical of Chechnya and Ingushetia. Built to stand as solid refuge not only from invaders, but also from each other during their deadly tribal feuds.

Nakh towers, typical of Chechnya and Ingushetia. Built to stand as solid refuge not only from invaders, but also from each other during their deadly tribal feuds.


North Caucasus Chechnya chechen men traditional outfit chechens

North Caucasus Chechnya people chechens

North Caucasus dancers Chechnya chechen women

North Caucasus dance Chechnya chechen men women traditional outfit

Chechnya chechen dancer North Caucasus

Chechen men traditional dance North Caucasus people nakh Vainakh

Chechnya chechen dancers North Caucasus people

North Caucasus Chechnya dance chechen men women chechens

Chechnya chechen men dance North Caucasus people nakh Vainakh

Chechnya chechen men traditional North Caucasus people nakh Vainakh

Chechnya chechen men traditional costume North Caucasus people nakh Vainakh

Caucasus Chechnya national costume chechen boys Itum Kali chechens

Chechen men traditional dressing North Caucasus people nakh Vainakh


North Caucasus Chechnya national costume chechens


Chechnya chechen men drummer traditional music North Caucasus people Vainakh

Chechnya chechen men traditional drums music North Caucasus people nakh




North Caucasus chechen men traditional dance chechens

North Caucasus people Chechnya chechen dancers Vainakh

Children dressed in national costumes dance in central Grozny during celebrations of the lifting of security regime

Chechen girls traditional dressing North Caucasus people nakh Vainakh

Chechen girl traditional dressing North Caucasus people nakh Vainakh


Chechen men traditional dressing North Caucasus people nakh



Chechen men women traditional dance North Caucasus people nakh Vainakh chechens

Chechnya chechen men women traditional costumes North Caucasus people nakh Vainakh chechens

Shamkhan Hadji Khamadov, 56, the Kharachoi clan, Grozny, Chechnya


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Chechnya chechen men traditional costumes North Caucasus people nakh Vainakh chechens

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Lezginka Chechnya chechen men women dancers painting


“Secular” women are becoming more ad more Islamic in their customs and dressing. While the Chechen leader Kadyrov is allegedly forcing certain women to wear Hijab, more and more young people are willingly adopting it was a way of life, as Sunni Islam is seducing the youth (as opposed to Sufi Islam, practiced by old people).

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Regular dressing involved long dress (short dresses are forbidden and see as degrading), and the traditional chechen scarf (which covers head only partially).

Chechnya, Russia, Chechen insurgents’ wife arrangers her scarf on a mountain base. Chechen women fighting in war was common until radical Islam took over and they were excluded from all activities.

Chechen insurgents’ wife arrangers her scarf on a mountain base. Chechen women fighting in war was common until radical Islam took over and they were excluded from all activities.

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The Hijab (covers all hair) is becoming a normal occurrence, included even in traditional full costume

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Chechen girls in front of central Grozny mosque.

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Chechen women walking in downtown Grozny.


Caucasus culture – Vainakh architecture

A detailed description of Nakh architecture which includes both Chechen and Ingush structures



Chechnya watchtower

Hundreds of stone towers, some nearly 1000 years old, are spread across the Caucasus mountains. However, what we see today is only a fraction of the thousands of edifices that had existed well into the XVIII century, which stretched all the way to (today’s) Grozny and beyond. The craftsmanship of the builders reached its peak in the XIII to XVI centuries after the devastating Mongol invasion. The last towers were built in the early XIX century.

A (combat) tower was one of the symbols of the taip (clan). The towers also functioned as dwellings and sanctuaries. Traditional tower settlements in the mountains were located on slopes or in deep gorges.

The first known mention of the towers is in an Arabic manuscript dating from the Xth century AD. Pre-Islamic edifices have pagan markings which make them important sources in the reconstruction of ancient Chechen culture. The most intact collection of towers is located in the Argun Valley or the ‘Tower Gorge’, as it is also known. Two military towers stood at the entrance and many hundreds more stood along its perimeter up to the Georgian border.


Dwelling (residential) towers

The dwelling tower was a residential structure where families lived. It consisted of 2 to 3 floors, reached heights of up to 12 meters and usually had rectangular bases of 8–10-m sides. The thickness of the wall at the base was about 1 meter. Their walls are made of rough stone blocks with a small amount of mortar. The flat earthen roof was stacked with stones for reinforcement. A central column of large stone blocks served to anchor the inter-floor ceilings. The central pillar, also of thoroughly dressed stone, supported the ceiling rafters.
Each floor of the residential tower had a separate door. A ladder was used to reach to the second or third floor.

Residential towers

The two lower stories were intended for livestock. The floor was made of boards or stone slabs.
The family lived in the second floor, where they also kept their possessions in tin-plated wooden chests (carpets, dishes, clothes, etc). Dishes and kitchen utensils were arranged on wooden shelves along the walls. There was usually an arrangement of weaponry on the wall above the master’s bed. It was a necessity in wartime, and mere custom in times of peace.
Household utensils and food stock were kept in the top floor, which also had the guestroom and the nuptial chamber. The top was the family citadel when the tower was attacked. The latter residential towers became wider and had more rooms.

There were outside stairs for access to the upper floors, and inner ladders made of tree trunks with jutting branches or notched footholds for use in emergencies. First floor usually had no windows, but only small air holes which served for good ventilation. The vaults always remained cool even during summer. Heating was done by fireplace. Shelves were built to store different things. The center of life was the fireplace which was surrounded by wooden benches covered with carvings, where the family and their guests would sit.


Pagan symbols

There were engravings on door-posts and sometimes on the walls. Doors and windows were made of stone and had a semicircular arched form. These arched stones were often decorated with carved petroglyphs, which were decorative or reflected religious beliefs. The swastika was a widely used symbol in the Caucasus and the rest of the world, as it represented eternal life. Other symbols reflected beliefs in the cult of the sun which the Nakh shared for centuries.


Combat towers

The first combat towers to be built were usually 4 stories high, had heights of 12–17 meters and had a base of 4 meters sides. They had roofs in the shape of step-pyramids with protruding sharpened white stones. The entrance on the second floor, which had a single stone block (kor-kkheera=window-stone) as a keystone, was accessed by a ladder. The inter floor ceilings were made from stone and wood. Top floors had protected loop-holes and overhanging floorless balconies (mashikul) for shooting and for pouring noxious materials on the attackers. The Golgotha cross found on towers, served as a protection sign.


Built on mountain slopes, in inaccessible locations

Classical combat towers of the XIV- XVII centuries had 5 or 6 floors, reached heights of 25–30 meters and had square bases of 6 meter sides. In general, combat towers were built among a number of residence towers. According to B.Plaetschke (1929), combat towers were not inhabited in normal conditions but were only used during an attack. While dwelling towers were private properties, combat towers belonged to the whole community.

An elaborate warning system was set in place in the mountains. As soon as invaders made their appearance in the valleys, fires were lit on top of the towers which were at visible distances from one another, and the danger signal was transmitted from one watchtower to the next. The cry ‘Ortsa daala’ (literally: ‘raise the alarm’) alerted people to the impending danger and exhorted women, children and old men to seek shelter and able-bodied men to take up arms in defense of the land.


During Russia’s colonial wars in the Caucasus, tsarist soldiers willfully destroyed hundreds of towers and dismantled many more in order to use the stones to build forts. During and after the 1944 Chechen-Ingush deportation, the secret police blew up towers and carted away many priceless tower artifacts. More damage was brought upon the towers in the last decade. These symbols of Chechen identity and culture remain under real threat of obliteration.


Sadly, various Russian sources have tried to discredit the merit of the Natives in their architectural mastership . Alexander Ippolitov wrote in his “Ethnographic Sketches of the Argun District” that the towers of the Argun Gorge were built by a nation much more civilized than the indigenous population. P. Golovinsky makes a similar assumption in his essay “The Mountain Chechens”, where he ascribes tower construction to so-called “forebears”. Proceeding from genealogical legends, he considered them strangers – Georgians, Greeks, Jews or West Europeans.

Upon deeper study it was revealed that the architectural style was unique and couldn’t be found anywhere else, therefore it was undoubtedly a merit of the Caucasus native populations.


Europe and refugees

source:, Humanity in Action, European Commissioner of Human Rights
Chechen woman in Grozny Chechnya 1994 war civilian victims Russia

Grozny Chechnya 1994

After the second Chechen war, the number of Chechen refugees in Europe sky-rocketed. Dozens of thousands of Chechens fleeing the war found refuge in Europe. In 2003 a new regulation was introduced by the European Union called Dublin II Regulation, according to which asylum seekers are heavily restricted once they enter European Union’s borders. The regulation forbids them to apply for refugee status in any other country than the first one they entered – which in most cases is a Southern or Eastern European country.


Lack of EU solidarity

Countries situated at the EU border have been flooded by asylum seekers. The repercussions were felt directly by both host countries and by the refugees themselves.

No appropriate financial or material support was offered once the EU countries were given this legal responsibility.

Children play outside an asylum-seekers' center in Bialystok.

Children play outside an asylum-seekers’ center

Norway was criticized for its abuses during the deportation process –  Norway To Asylum Seekers: Go Home.


Chechen refugees

There are 2 types of refugees: those who escape oppression and violence and those who seek a better life.

According to international law, a country has the obligation to accept asylum requests when there is proof that a person fears torture or death in their country (war, political oppression etc).

After the end of the second Chechen war, Russia has gone to great lengths to convince the rest of the world that violence has subsided and peace was fully restored in Chechnya. It went as far as trying to convince refugees to return to Chechnya and even blocking the access of those trying to flee.

Read more – Russia blocks Chechen refugees (BBC)

Forced Return of Displaced People to Chechnya (Human Rights Watch)

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RUSSIAN FEDERATION: Chechen refugees in a formely chicken factory camp. The conflict in Chechnya has forced some 30,000 people, the majority of them women and children to flee their homes. Many are living in camps that are overcrowded and in sanitary (source: DJIGIT).

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RUSSIAN FEDERATION: Chechen refugees in a formely chicken factory camp. The conflict in Chechnya has forced some 30,000 people, the majority of them women and children to flee their homes. Many are living in camps that are overcrowded and in sanitary (source: DJIGIT).

Human Rights organizations have continuously pressed the alarm on human rights violations such as kidnapping (forced disappearances), illegal detention, torture and murder of thousands of civilians since the end of the war.

To read on human rights issues, click the following links 

Chechnya today – “worse than war”

Missing in North Caucasus,

Cleansing operations,

Journalism in N. Caucasus – executions and censorship .

Photo report on Chechen refugees in Poland

Copyright: Swen Connrad / YumeVision

Chechen woman, use to be a lawyer before, in Chechnya, alone, with her two children, outside the URiC Moszna Center. On the background – the former Moszna Workers’ Hotel, rented by URiC for the Center of Asylum Seekers

URiC (Office for Repatriation and Aliens) Moszna Center, Poland – Chechen woman with the picture of her parents in Chechnya. She paid $ 5000 to liberate her husband from jail. He was killed soon after by Russian army force. She came to Poland pregnant, with 3 children – 8, 10, 14 years old. She lost the fourth one on the way to a safer land. For security reasons, the face of the adult asylum seeker is not shown and the name has been changed. © Swen Connrad / YumeVision


URiC Wola Center in Warsaw, Poland – Chechen man with his sejjadeh (pray carpet), his Muslim rosary and a picture of his four brothers killed by the Russian army. The youngest was 18. Those three objects are the only reminder from Chechnya he managed to save. For security reasons, the face and real name are not shown. © Swen Connrad / YumeVision


Chechen Man with a picture of his house in Grozny, destroyed by Russian bombing in 1999. He succeed to survive 10 years of Chechen war, but in September 2005 Russian forces visited him at his place, threatening him and his family life. They arrived in URiC Wola Center in Warsaw in the mid-October. © Swen Connrad / YumeVision

Chechen Man with his 5-years old daughter. He use to live in the bombed house in Grozny for 6 years together with is wife, daughter and aunt. He succeed to survive over 10 years of Chechen war, but in September 2005 the raids of Russian forces put him on a flight to Poland. They arrived in URiC Wola Center in Warsaw in the middle of October. © Swen Connrad / YumeVision


A mother holding the picture of her husband, killed at the age of 36 by Russian forces. When her oldest son turned 15, she decided to run away in order to protect her family. In Chechnya, boys from the age of 16 disappear daily, detained by Russian forces. © Swen Connrad / YumeVision


Chechen man with a picture of his brother, killed by Russian force at the age of 34. In the background, his daughter in the URiC Radom centre.

Young Chechen boy, praying at the midday Ramadan pray, in the former workers hotel room transformed into a mosque at the URiC Bielany refugee centre

Polish doctor checking a 5 months old chechen baby in the medical clinic of the URiC Bielany Refugee Centre, in Poland

Meeting of Chechens in the Palace of Science and Culture in Warsaw, built at Stalin’s order 50 years ago. The Man talking is Usman Ferzauli, Deputy Foreign Minister of the Chechen Republic of Ichkeria, who lives in exile in Denmark. The man next to him right is Ali Ramzan Ampukayev, Poland Representative of the Chechen Republic of Ichkeria (ChRI). Second from the right is Adam Borowski, the Head of the Poland-Chechnya Committee. Others present are Polish sympathizers, NGO workers, lawyers, journalists. Three portraits of Chechen presidents are standing on the wall: Zelimkhan Yandarbiyev, Dzhokhar Dudayev, Aslan Maskhadov.


A classroom made up of 2 boys and 5 girls who are learning polish language in URiC Radom center.


Piotr Bystrianin, coordinator at the Ocalenie Foundation, a Polish-based nongovernmental organization:

“We are just losing time and money,” he says, “and these people are losing their lives.”

Under the European Union’s Dublin Regulation, the first EU country of entry is responsible for evaluating the claims of an asylum seeker. For Chechens, whose route typically takes them north to Moscow and then west through Belarus, this usually means Poland.


The deportation machine in Europe


The French office of the Education Without Borders Network (Réseau Éducation Sans Frontières) has initiated a petition for the Dzhanaralievs, a Chechen family that is facing deportation from France to Poland, the first EU member country that they entered after fleeing the Russian backed oppression that is rampant in their native Chechnya. France’s decision is in accordance with the Dublin II Regulation, a piece of legislation from 2003 that claims to prevent refugees from being shipped around Europe but in reality, is a protection for EU member states against “asylum shopping.”


According to the EU, the Dublin II Regulation:

establishes the principle that only one Member State is responsible for examining an asylum application. The objective is to avoid asylum seekers from being sent from one country to another, and also to prevent abuse of the system by the submission of several applications for asylum by one person.

The regulation has been criticized, namely by Thomas Hammarberg, the Swedish diplomat and former Commissioner for Human Rights for the Council of Europe in Strasbourg:

This has not been successful in practice. Countries such as Greece and Malta have, during recent years, been unable to provide adequate protection because the numbers of asylum seekers have exceeded their capacity. This is simply not fair and has, in extreme cases, even put lives at risk. It is now high time to revise the Dublin Regulation.

States in northern Europe, far from the borders in the south and the east, have so far not been co-operative in discussions about resolving this mess. In fact, they have not even been willing to use the possibility under the ‘sovereignty clause’ of the present regulation to avoid transfers to Greece, whose asylum system is clearly experiencing a total collapse.


Europe as a whole is not overburdened by asylum applications, at least not in comparison with other parts of the world. In 2009, South Africa alone received almost as many asylum requests as all 27 EU members put together. Some countries in Asia and the Middle East have received even more.



After the Boston Marathon bombings in April, allegedly perpetrated by two ethnic Chechens living in the United States, a rumor spread in the North Caucasus that a fearful Europe would soon shut its doors to Chechens.

While the rumor was unfounded and the borders have not closed, the attacks did focus unwanted attention on the Chechen community.

“Some of our politicians try to connect the question of Chechen refugees to terrorism,” says Bernd Mesovic, deputy managing director of Pro Asyl, a Frankfurt-based NGO that advocates for migrants. “Some of them believe the information given by Russian officials, who are always connecting Chechens with terrorism.”

The same is often true of the German media.

“Terrorists Seek Asylum In Germany” read an August 8 headline in the German daily “Die Welt,” which connected the sudden increase with a call by leading Chechen militant Doku Umarov to plan attacks at next year’s Winter Olympics in Sochi.

Of the applicants in Germany this year, 82 people have been granted refugee status and 702 have been scheduled for deportation. You can’t just leave [Poland for Germany]. OK, you can get there, but then they’ll just deport you back to Poland,” says Imram Shaptukaev a Chechen refugee.


Imran Shaptukaev spent nine months in Germany with his ailing wife before authorities rejected their asylum request.

 Imran Shaptukaev spent nine months in Germany with his ailing wife before authorities rejected their asylum request

Despite the circumstances, they say the worst-case scenario would be deportation back to Russia.


Seeking a better life

The most difficult thing for Polish authorities is not only having the sole responsibility of dealing with the refugees, but also having to deal with the negative attitude. Discrimination takes place not only from host countries towards refugees but also from refugees towards host countries. Many Chechens are convinced that Dublin II is a simply a Polish concept and that it is Poland which seeks their return from other EU countries. Such misunderstandings, false beliefs and ungrounded suspicions add to tensions between asylum seekers and Polish social welfare staff.

Read more here For Chechens, Poland is not west enough (UNCHR)

Refugees in Austria

Balkar towers

Bezengi tower balkars nothern Caucasus mountains

Bezengi valley

The Balkar people built their own towers up in the high Caucasus mountains, in what is today’s Kabardino-Balkaria republic. The Balkar tower in Bezengi valley is built and furbished in typical Balkar style: the carpets, furniture, pottery, guns etc, while at the same time having modern amenities for tourists.

Other Balkar towers – Upper Balkaria

Click below to take a 3D tour of the beautiful Bezengi valley and to visit the tower


Gunibskaya hydroelectric dam

Gunibskaya dam Dagestan Karakoysu river Caucasus mountainsGunibskaya hydroelectric dam, named Rasul Gamzatov (Dagestani poet) – built on Karakoysu river (“Black river”) in Gunibsky district of Dagestan. It represents a modern facility (built 1995-2005).

On Karakoysu river lies another hydroeletric dam – this time the oldest in Dagestan (built 1930’s) by the name of Gergebilskaya.

Despite having high-capacity and large hydro-plants, Dagestan’s energy is used mostly for exports to other republics/countries. Electricity shortages are common in Dagestan. Read more below

Dagestanis Seize Power Stations to protest electricity shortages

Dagestan in Blackout Crisis

 Electricity cutoffs in the capital of Dagestan and social unrest

“Adygea” by Ahmed Nagoev

Circassians in photo-session made by photographer Ahmed Nagoev, named “Adygea”

Mamison pass/ abandoned settlements

abandoned Lisri in Mamison gorge North Ossetia Caucasus mountains best natural landscapes

Mamison pass (located at 2900 meters altitude) stretches from North Ossetia to South Ossetia and to Georgia.

Due to the political tensions between Russia and Georgia, the pass is closed to tourists.

Several old villages spread along the Mamison gorge (supposedly built between the 15-17 centuries), though not much has been studied about their history and at present they lie abandoned. The architecture is typical of the Caucasus region with residential structures and several watch towers.