It wasn’t too long ago that the thought of travel into this once very unsettled land seemed absurd and, indeed, impossible. Once a no-go zone for foreigners, Chenchya has a difficult and violent history. However, a few years ago Chechen leader Ramzan Kadyrov announced Chenchya to be “safer than England” in a bid to attract foreigners. Whilst this may be up for debate due to high terrorist risks, Chenchya is indeed one of the safest places in Russia due to its low crime rate. Hopefully, that will help ease the mind of the nervous traveller a little.
Here are a few reasons why travel to Chechnya makes it the perfect destination for alternative off the beaten track locations. You may just have to deal with the constant question of ‘where’s that…?’ when you tell your friends though.
History & Culture
Chechnya’s recent history is incredibly interesting, much still ongoing.
In 1917 Chechnya Chechnya, and Dagestan declared independence from Russia and formed a single state. This was however only short after Russia forced it into the Soviet Union in 1921. The once independent Chechnya has been in a near constant state of rebellion ever since the approach of Russian power. The relationship remains unsettled.
In 1994, despite thousands of Chechens fighting on the front line against Nazi Germany, Stalin falsely accused Chenches of collaborating and supporting the Nazis. This led to the mass deportation of the entire ethnic group of Chechen people, which few survived. Over 60% of the population was lost with this traumatic episode of violence. Travelers specifically should be careful of anti-Russian rebels as well as the Russian military who have been specifically victimizing the most vulnerable.
Since 1990 the Chechens have fought for their independence once again. An independence movement, the Chechen National Congress, was formed following the dissolution of the Soviet Union and campaigned for Chechnya to be recognized as an independent nation. Two wars (1994, 1999) proceeded this and Chechnya remains a state of Russia. In April 2009, Russia ended its counter-terrorism operation and pulled out the bulk of its army.
Chechnyan history has greatly affected the Chechen culture and many aspects of the past can be reflected in its people. The Chechens are tough and extremely nationalistic, yet very friendly and hospitable. Traditional Chechen culture prides in its chivalry and distinct romanticism. Being hospitable to and accepting guests is something deeply rooted even today. Chechen culture loves Caucasian music and dance.
Mountains are Chechnya’s national domain. Here you can enjoy the fantastic unparalleled mountain scenery. See battle towers built at the end of the 10th century, and even experience sulphur springs. There are various routes you can take, each with their own something to offer. Head to the ancient Kezanoi-Am Lake on the Dagestani border and check out where the Soviet national rowing team used to train.
The mountains themselves are full of lush vegetation and traditional auls (mountaintop villages). You can visit and experience these as the last bit of ancient culture leftover in Chechyan. The mountains are cut through by rapid riders and tree lines throughout the region.
To be able to stay and enjoy the mountains, tour operators have to ask permission at least 2 months prior to the visit. Foreigners (as well as Russians) must have their passport on them at all-time.
Gronzy was entirely devastated during the war and had to be almost entirely rebuilt. Leader Ramzan in the past said that tourists coming over “can camp instead” until hotels are rebuilt. This means that there is little traditional architecture left in the capital. That being said, the city has done an incredible job of reforming itself. It is now home to many stunning new projects including extraordinary mosques and towering skyscrapers.
Great sites not to miss whilst you’re there is the informative National Museum of Chechen Republic, the stunning mosque Heart of Chechnya – Akhmad Kadyrov Mosque, and the stadium Britanika-Grozny.
Chechnya’s crime rate is extremely low, so you can walk around the country without having to be constantly on guard or worried. The main threat is of terrorism and the unsettled conflict between the rest of Russia. The Foreign Office advises against all travel to here for that reason.
It is a common tactic to position policemen and armed guards in busy areas to ‘make people feel safe’. At least, they’ve been doing this recently in the UK. If you’re one of the few people who actually does feel safer seeing massive weapons and policemen, then you’ll feel right at home here.
This is, however, only in bigger cities such as Grozny where you’ll certainly stand out as a foreigner. Passing through small villages, it is unlikely that there will be much military presence.
Like anywhere you go, you just have to use common sense and be wise about where you go, and what you do. Make sure to research and go with a reputable tourist organization.