The North Caucasus as a region is unknown to many in the West. It is an area not easily accessible to outsiders partly because of historic Russian domination of the area for such a long time - in fact since the end of the Caucasian Wars (1834-1859) and the collapse of the great rebellion led by the Imam Shamil. While the North Caucasus was virtually cut off from the outside world, no outsider advertised more eloquently the measure of their isolation than Tolstoi and nowhere is this more obvious than in his masterpiece Hadji Murat, set mainly in Chechnya. Sandwiched between Russia in the north and Turkey in the south and flanked by the Caspian and Black Sea, Chechnya and its North Caucasian neighbours straddle the Caucasian chain of mountains that extend 1210 km (750 miles) forming a strategic and natural barrier between East and West.
The Caucasus as a region is inhabited by a great variety of ethnic and linguistic groups. As well as the Chechens there the Abkhazians, Circassians, Daghestanis and many others that continue to live there, unlike the Ubykh who became extinct as a group speaking its own language in the last century. In an article by MARCCH trustee Professor George Hewitt of SOAS, London University, entitled The Caucasus - An Overview he concludes;
"Despite all, the Caucasus survives as a living ethnographical museum, but its balances of languages and cultures is precarious ... In a world where conservation of flora and fauna is so prominent, isn't it time that meaningful protection of endangered species took precedence over arbitrarily drawn lines on a map?".
The Chechens like many of their neighbours enjoy a rich cultural heritage which most of them wish to continue to enjoy in peace. The population of Chechnya is less than a million and in the last decade it has endured two wars, the second of which is still ongoing. As is often the case, it is the civilian population and especially its children that continue to bear the brunt of it.