A few months ago, as the Russian Premier League took its annual summer hiatus, one club in Russia’s North Caucasian region was rebranding itself after six decades. Terek Grozny, which had been named after the river which runs through Northeastern Chechnya, replaced its first name with that of its former president: Akhmat Kadyrov. FC Akhmat Grozny, as it is now called, has been a constant through an otherwise turbulent period in the republic; it now joins a variety of landmarks and national treasures named after the republic’s former leader.
Known to the outside world as a republic beset by violence and extremism, Chechnya has attempted a rebrand in the past decade under the auspices of Akhmat’s son, the Instagram phenomenon President Ramzan Kadyrov. Some readers may have first heard of the warlord when John Oliver covered a story about him losing his cat, but his name and actions have been relevant for far longer.
Most recently, the Chechen state has been accused of widespread brutality against homosexuals, which it vehemently denies, and its long-standing Islamic and Nakh traditions make it a unique actor on the Russian fringes. From 1994-2009, two separate wars were fought over Chechen independence, both of which resulted in destruction throughout the republic. As it appeared on Western radars, the political and military situation in Chechnya became more widely discussed, and President Kadyrov has become a de facto state actor on Russia’s behalf, becoming a diplomatic envoy to the Middle East. But just how has Kadyrov achieved a position of such prominence?
His father’s son
When he was killed in the spring of 2004, Akhmat Kadyrov left behind a fledgling republic which was slowly but surely emerging from a centuries-long conflict with the Russian behemoth to the North. His son, Ramzan, would take the reigns to lead Chechnya into one of its most peaceful and authoritarian periods in that three-hundred year history, but not before being groomed to follow directly in his footsteps. Though Ramzan was a former rebel fighter himself, he has upheld the Kadyrov legacy of loyalty to the Kremlin, and it has resulted in the North Caucasian republic thriving. To understand the transfer of power and the modus operandi of leadership within Chechnya, it is important to first understand the historical constructs of the state.
The Benoy Teip
The construct of a teip (which roughly translates as “clan”) has played a significant role in Chechen life for centuries. Each teip is made up of families that have come together to work towards the goal of honour within Chechen society. Branching out, the tukkhum is an alliance of teips which work to control a specific geographic area within Chechnya and Inigushetia, and it is generally the most powerful tukkhum which tends to command the loyalty of Chechens. The Kadyrovs belong to the Benoy teip, which currently comprises around 35,000 people of Chechnya’s population of 1.4 million.
The Benoy teip has long held a reputation for courage and honour in fighting Russian oppression. In the late 1990s and early 2000s, the rebel fighter and insurgent commander, Shamil Basayev, conducted countless raids on Russian troops. Although distancing themselves from Basayev’s Islamist ideology, the Delimkhanov and Kadyrov families also gained respect in their fight against the Russian Federation. This included Ramzan himself and Alimbek Delimkhanov, who currently commands the Kadyrovtsy – Chechnya’s feared security forces who have sworn a personal oath of loyalty to Ramzan Kadyrov.
Intra-teip favours and exchanges have led to the clan becoming the most powerful in both Chechnya and Ingushetia. While Ramzan was still Prime Minister in 2006, his appointment of Alimbek’s brother, Adam, to the role of Deputy Prime Minister of Security Forces was viewed internally as a move to increase the influence that the Benoy teip had within the Chechen government. Nevertheless Russian officials refuse to acknowledge the link between the two families. Meanwhile, the teip‘s influence continues to strengthen, and Ramzan’s close relationship with Russian President Vladimir Putin has ensured that will remain the case for some time into the future.
Akhmat’s Death and the Kadyrov Dynasty
On May 9th, 2004, an explosion ripped through a stadium in Grozny killing six individuals, one of whom was identified as then Chechen President Akhmat Kadyrov. His son Ramzan, only 27 years-old at the time, would be tasked with inheriting his father’s legacy: that of close relations with the Russian Federation and even closer ties to his Chechen roots. In the immediate aftermath, Ramzan sought, through his iron-fisted style of leadership, to secure a state which had suffered from insurgency since the start of the Second Chechen War in 1999.
However, since being appointed president in 2007 (30 is the minimum age requirement for presidency in Chechnya), Ramzan was has sought to rebuild the country through investment. This has come not only from the Russian Federation, whose massive subsidies are largely responsible for Chechnya’s reconstruction, but from the Middle East as well. The deep Islamic tradition of Chechnya, dating back to Ghazi Mollah and Imam Shamil who were two of the first resistance leaders in the republic’s history, meant that money has flowed in from the oil-rich Gulf States.
As well as construction, Kadyrov has used this money to shape a sense of national identity, ploughing critical investment of this money into sport. In particular, football has been targeted as an area in which Chechnya can show the world that it is again stable and ready to be a voice on the world stage. The local team, formerly called Terek Grozny, was relocated to its eponymous home in 2008 following a hiatus during the Second Chechen War, during which time they played in nearby the nearby Russian republic of Stavropol Krai.
This relocation was facilitated by Kadyrov and considered a step forward for Chechen society in the aftermath of two drawn out conflicts. The new stadium which they would play in was named the “Akhmat-Arena” after Ramzan’s father. In 2011, in a move which shocked world football, former Netherlands international footballer Ruud Gullit joined Terek Grozny as manager, but was sacked after only 15 months in the job.
This is not the only public institution or landmark to bear Akhmat’s name. Sanctioned by Ramzan Kadyrov in 2016 and breaking ground soon after, the “Akhmat Tower” will, upon completion, become the tallest tower in Europe. Inside of its Nakh and Islamic inspired architecture of over 100 stories, shops, restaurants and hotel rooms will be just some of the amenities offered in the revitalised downtown Grozny in 2020.
With the stadium, club and tallest tower bearing the family name, Ramzan has established what his father had not managed in his time in office: an all-important status for himself and his clan amongst Chechen society. The construction of a Kadyrov dynasty has long been underway, but with recent developments, it has truly been solidified.