Wednesday, October 17, 2012

Window on Eurasia: Taips Playing Ever Smaller Role in Chechnya and Ingushetia, Interviews Show

Paul Goble

            Staunton, October 17 – Taips, the word for “clans” in many parts of the North Caucasus and groups that many have seen as a source of resistance to Russian rule and modernization, are playing an ever less important role in the social, economic and political lives of Chechnya and Ingushetia, according to a Russian analyst.

            In the current issue of “Nepriknosnovennyy zapas,” Ekaterina Sokryanskaya, the director of the North Caucasus program at the International Crisis Group, says that the interviews she has conducted with taip members in those two North Caucasus republics show that these groups no longer play the role that they did in the past (

            As she points out, “in the opinion of many experts, the fragmentation and traditionalism of Chechen and Ingush society … are essential factors of the destabilization of the political process” there. Moreover, these experts say, the existence of taips “not infrequently is one of the main reasons for the inability of the republic authorities to create effective state administration.

            But despite this insistence, “in practice there do not exist [any] contemporary studies of the situation of [these] traditional structures in the North Caucasus. And as a result, Sokryanskaya says, there is a tendency to assume a continuity with the past that may or may not exist.

            To fill this gap, the researcher writes, she carried out extensive interviews with members of 10 Chechen and 10 Ingush taips about the role of these clans as “a factor of sub-national integration and social organization capable of influencing public life in Ingushetia and Chechnya.

            What she found can be summarized briefly: “Not a single taip lives in a compact settlement, controls communally land and property, and the institute of elders is degenerating.” Indeed, “councils of elders [in the traditional taip sense] do not exist at the present time in Ingushetia or Chechnya.”

            Moreover, “even the obligations of blood feuds have shifted to the sphere of individual families … And although particular segments of taips can still ‘create the background’ and ‘express support’ in cases of blood feud, the act of revenge itself is exercised by close relatives” rather than by the taips as such.

            Traditional practices and institutions “as before play a not unimportant role in society,” Sokryanskaya continues, “the taip as a social organization no longer exists” in either place.  In Ingushetia, some “small and mid-sized taips” continue to function in part, but in Chechnya, she insists, they have almost completely disintegrated and remain “only” a small part of identity.

            In earlier times, she writes, Chechen and Ingush taips were based on the belief of the existence of a specific common ancestor and the principle of patrilineal succession. Today, however, taip members know that the idea of a common ancestor is a myth. But they continue to insist that “no one can choose to become a member of a taip.”

            Chechen ethnographers say, Sokryanskaya continues, there are between 134 and 164 taips, some of which are limited to a single village and have their own dialect, but others of which are quite large with one, the Bena including some 15 percent of the entire population of the Chechen Republic.

            It is “a great misconception,” she argues, that taips consist only of relatives.  Certain taips are based on ethnic differences such as Kabardinian taip Cherkzi, the Cossack type Guna or thee Mountain Jewish Jutkti whose members are partially assimilated to the Chechen nation as well as others based on a particular social-economic stratum.

            Chechen taips are not exogamous but Ingush ones typically are with marriages inside the type taking place but “not welcomed.”  One interesting development in post-Soviet times is the impact of the growth of genealogy studies, something that has allowed at least some in both republics to talk about “’the rebirth of roots.’”

            Sokryanskaya devotes most of her article to a discussion of what she identifies as “the five mechanism which allowed the preservation of the taip communities in the past” and discusses what her interviews suggest is the case at the present time.

            First, a population living together.  At present, she notes, “geographic compactness of living no longer is a mechanism of integration” in either republic. Second, joint ownership of land and property. In some rural areas, that remains true but in most places Soviet and Russian law has undermined this tradition.

            One interesting “survival” she reports concerns Ingushetia. There many people believe that “Nazran cannot be the republic capital because in this city all the land belongs to someone.” Some Ingushetians say that is a taip, but her interview subjects could not ever identify just which taip it was. Instead, they pointed to “extended families.”

            Third, collective defense and conduct of blood feuds.  Many in both Chechnya and Ingushetia recall that “the taip never ignored those in trouble.” Instead, that social organization defended them. But that is no longer the case. Indeed, even in blood feuds, the participants are families rather than taips, Sokryanskaya writes.

            Fourth, the institute of elders.  Respect for the elderly remains “one of the important cultural characteristics of Chechen and Ingush society,” but elders no longer play the social role that they did.  And this shift is especially noteworthy regarding religious authority.

            According to Sokryanskaya, “older people are losing their religious authorities. ‘The popular Islam of the fathers’ is losing popularity among the young who are seriously interested in religious issues.  Young people,” she continues, “more willingly turn not to elders but to those knowledgeable about Islam who have received their education in Muslim countries.”

            “The majority of rural imams, who in recent years are playing an ever more significant role are quite young people, below the age of 40.  In all villages where I conducted fieldwork,” Sokryanskaya notes, “the functions of the councils of elders are being filled by rural imams.” Indeed, there are no councils of elders in the villages of either republic.

            And fifth, religious rituals and holidays.  Because of the shift in patterns of authority, the taips play an ever less important role in the lives of Chechens and Ingushetians as well.

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