Recognized as a distinct people since the 17th cent., the Chechens were the most active opponents of Russia's conquest (1818–1917) of the Caucasus. They fought bitterly during an unsuccessful 1850s rebellion led by Imam Shamyl. The Bolsheviks seized the region in 1918 but were dislodged in 1919 by counterrevolutionary forces under Gen. A. I. Denikin.
After Soviet rule was reestablished, the area was included in 1921 in the Mountain People's Republic. The Chechen Autonomous Region was created in 1922, and in 1934 it became part of the Chechen-Ingush Region, made a republic in 1936. After Chechen and Ingush units collaborated with the invading Germans during World War II, many residents were deported (1944) to Central Asia. Deportees were repatriated in 1956, and the republic was reestablished in 1957.
In 1991, as the Soviet Union disintegrated, the Chechen-dominated parliament of the republic declared independence as the Republic of Ichkeria, soon better known as Chechnya. In June, 1992, Russia granted Ingush inhabitants their own republic (Ingushetia) in the western fifth of the territory; in subsequent years there have been disputes and tension between the two republics over territory.
Tensions between the Russian government and that of Chechen president Dzhokhar Dudayev escalated into warfare in late 1994, as Russian troops arrived to crush the separatist movement. Grozny was devastated in the fighting, and tens of thousands died. Russian forces regained control of many areas in 1995, but separatist guerrillas controlled much of the mountainous south and committed spectacular terrorist actions in other parts of Russia. Fighting continued through 1996, when Dudayev was killed and succeeded by Zelimkhan Yandarbiyev. The Russians withdrew, essentially admitting defeat, following a cease-fire that left Chechnya with de facto autonomy.
Aslan Maskhadov, chief of staff of the Chechen forces, was elected president early in 1997 but appeared to have little control over the republic. In 1999, Islamic law was established. Terrorism, including a series of bombings in Moscow, erupted again, and after Islamic militants invaded neighboring Dagestan from Chechnya, Russian forces bombed and invaded Chechnya, capturing Grozny and forcing the rebels into mountain strongholds. The rebels continued to mount occasional guerrilla attacks on Russian forces, as well as terror attacks in Moscow and other Russian cities outside Chechnya, but there have been no significant rebel attacks in Chechnya since 2004. Both sides were accused of brutality and terrorizing noncombatants.
In 2003 voters approved a new constitution for Chechnya, and Akhmad Kadyrov was subsequently elected president, but the election was generally regarded as neither free nor fair. Both the constitution and the president were backed by Russian government. Kadyrov was assassinated in 2004; Alu Alkhanov was elected to succeed him. Russian forces killed Maskhadov, who was considered a moderate Chechen rebel leader, in 2005 and Shamil Baseyev, a notorious and significant rebel commander, in 2006.
Alkhanov resigned as president in 2007 after a power struggle with Prime Minister Ramzan Kadyrov, son of the former president, and Kadyrov was then appointed president (the post was renamed imam in 2010) by Russian president Putin. Kadyrov has been accused of terroristic and sadistic brutality; a number of his rivals and critics have been assassinated, and there also has been an increase in antigovernment terrorist attacks.