The National Museum
The National Museum of the Chechen Republic was established in 1924 as a regional museum of history and religion, with three departments—general and local history, and numismatics. It possessed 150 storage units on the opening day. In 1926, the museum made a major acquisition—a collection of Caucasian pistols, sabres and daggers. Paintings, pottery, china and weapons were donated from the State Museum Fund, and from Moscow and Leningrad collections and depositories. Franz Roubaud’s paintings The Seizure of Gunib and the Capture of Imam Shamil and The Death of General Sleptsov in the Gekha Forest were brought from Tbilisi alongside a collection of portraits of Russian generals who had taken part in the Caucasian War, and a number of engravings and lithographs. The Tretyakov Gallery donated Chechen artist Pyotr Zakharov’s self-portrait—a landmark acquisition from the point of Chechen history and art.
The Chechen Regional Museum was renamed Chechen-Ingush Local History Museum after the Chechen and Ingush autonomous areas were merged in 1936. It possessed 3,356 storage units in 1946, and 80,000 twenty years after. Original works accounted for more than a half of those exhibits.
The Pyotr Zakharov Fine Arts Museum was established in 1961 with paintings and archaeological finds made in Chechnya-Ingushetia. Its exhibits were removed from the Local History Museum depository.
The United Chechen State Museum, as was its new name after Ingushetia and Chechnya separated, had approximately 230,000 storage units by the start of the 1990s. The central depository accounted for 86,000 of these, and the Pyotr Zakharov Fine Arts Museum 4,000.
Both museums had moved by that time into common premises—an architectural and historical monument from the turn of the 20th century. The museums were steadily replenished with antiquarian dishes, household utensils, garments, weapons and jewels purchased from the local population. The Fine Arts Museum acquired local artists’ and craftsmen’s works. The museum research library regularly received all science books and journals published in Grozny, Moscow and other Russian cities.
The United Chechen Museum became the republic’s cultural and academic heart. It arranged and hosted research conferences, and published a bulletin comprising materials on historical, cultural, ethnological and linguistic studies.
The museum had branches—the Aslanbek Sheripov Memorial History Museum in Shatoi, the Arbi Mamakayev Memorial Literature Museum in the village of Lower Naur, the Leo Tolstoy Literature and Ethnography Museum in the village of Starogladovskaya, the Makhety Local History Museum, and the Mikhail Lermontov Literature Museum.
Chechen museums were the largest in the North Caucasus at the end of the 20th century. They possessed unique articles, valuable paintings and precious rarities. Of the greatest value, from the historical, cultural and ethnological point, were the following exhibits: Roubaud’s paintings The Seizure of Gunib and the Capture of Imam Shamil and The Death of General Sleptsov in the Gekha Forest, Tropinin’s The Portrait of a Boy with a Book, Vereshchagin’s Landscape and The Caucasus, Aivazovsky’s A Moonlit Landscape and Alkhan Yurt, Repin’s Famine Victims, Pyotr Zakharov’s The Portrait of Lev Volkov, The Portrait of Maximilian the Duke of Lichtenberg, The Portrait of an Unknown Gentleman with a Cane and a Hat, The Portrait of Alexandra Postnikova, Male Portrait, Young Man’s Portrait, and The Portrait of an Unknown Lady on Her Deathbed. Of no smaller value was the ethnographic collection, which included 68 istang carpets, rare samples of 17th-19th century cold steel and firearms, Imam Shamil’s signet and a sabre he gave his naib Uma Duyev; possessions of Aslanbek Sheripov, an outstanding political and military leader of Chechnya and the North Caucasus; and ample archaeological finds. There was a memorable exhibit: an inimitable three-tier shoon wooden vessel for the zhizhag-galnash Chechen dish, out of which prominent Soviet statesman Sergo Orjonikidze ate it during his visit to Chechnya. Of no smaller value were mountaineers’ sabres decorated in silver and gold; collections of men’s and women’s folk costumes—plastrons, cartridge pockets and ornate belts—and of horse harness of precious metals; and a European, Russian and Oriental applied art collection of the 18th and 19th centuries.
Museum rarities included gold and platinum Orders of Lenin; 19th and early 20th century daggers decorated with precious metals—abrek Zelimkhan’s and Hajji Murat’s daggers among them; 18th-19th century flint pistols; awards of Shamil’s Imamate; 18th-19th century flint guns inlaid with precious metals and mother-of-pearl; cutlery that belonged to Imam Shamil’s family during their exile to Kaluga; and, last but not least, a fabulously rich 17th-19th century numismatic collection.
The Chechen wars of 1994-1996 and 1999-2001 destroyed or scattered many exhibits of Chechen museums.
The Local History Museum and the Pyotr Zakharov Fine Arts Museum were united into the National Museum of the Chechen Republic in 1996. It possesses more than 30,000 storage units at present, and is regularly replenished as valuables lost during the war are regained.
The museum passed about a hundred first-rate paintings to the Igor Grabar All-Russia Art Research and Restoration Centre in 1995. Another four canvases were passed there for restoration in 1999-2002—an unknown 18th century artist’s portraits of Count and Countess Zubov, Constantine Makovsky’s Portrait of Baron Rokasovsky (19th century) and Roubaud’s The Seizure of Gunib and the Capture of Imam Shamil. A majority of paintings have been restored for now, and will return to the museum soon.
The construction of a new republican museum complex has been planned for 2008-2011 to facilitate acquisition, exposition, research and popularisation of Chechen history and culture.
The National Museum has the following branches:
- Arbi Mamakayev Memorial Literature Museum in Nadterechnoye;
- Leo Tolstoy Literature and Ethnography Museum in Starogladovskaya;
- Makhety Local History Museum;
- Mikhail Lermontov Literature Museum in Poraboch;
- Abuzar Aidamirov Memorial Literature Museum in Meskety.
The Arbi Mamakayev Memorial Literature Museum
The museum of classic Chechen writer Arbi Mamakayev was established in the village of Nadterechnoye in 1989.
It comprises the late 19th century house, where Mamakayev was born and spent his childhood, a yard with household outbuildings, and a memorial orchard whose trees were planted by prominent Chechen writers, scholars and community activists.
The writer’s bust stands in front of the house on a marble pedestal, with a replica of a combat tower in the background.
The museum possesses more that 2,000 exhibits—the writer’s private belongings, books, manuscripts and materials on Chechen history.
The rooms and Mamakayev’s study have regained the look they had in his lifetime.
The writer’s son Eduard Mamakayev, President of the Chechen Writers’ Union, is the museum founding director.
The Leo Tolstoy Museum
The Leo Tolstoy Literature and Ethnography Museum was established in the Cossack village of Starogladovskaya in 1980 on the premises of the village school—the first school in Russia to be named after Tolstoy in 1914.
The museum consists of showrooms and an ethnographic yard.
Its exposition divides in five parts, each in a room of its own. The first is dedicated to Tolstoy’s first steps in literature, and his life in Starogladovskaya, where he wrote the novella The Cossacks, his literary debut.
The second part exhibits materials illustrating its prototypes and Cossack rural life of the writer’s time.
The third concerns Tolstoy’s military service in the Caucasus, and shows that, though he took part in the hostilities, he denounced war as cruel and pointless violence.
The fourth part is dedicated to the novella Hajji Murat, one of Tolstoy’s best works, and to the last years of his life.
The exhibition “Leo Tolstoy and Chechnya” is in the corridor. The ethnographic exposition of the archetypal yard of a mid-19th century Cossack and mountaineer household consists of stylised buildings, tools and household utensils.
The museum is not only a memorial house and a period piece but also a major centre of Chechen research and culture.
The Makhety Local History Museum
The Local History Museum was established in Makhety, Vedeno District, on an initiative of village school teachers in 1962. It exhibits archaeological finds made in the vicinity of the village—ancient weaponry, tools and coins, alongside herbariums and mineral samples collected by pupils. The museum was affiliated to the National Museum of the Chechen Republic in 1989.
The Mikhail Lermontov Literature Museum
The Mikhail Lermontov Literature Museum was established in Poraboch village, Shelkovsky District, in a two-storey house that previously belonged to landlord Akim Khastatov, a retired Major-General and the poet’s distant maternal cousin. Lermontov visited the Khastatov estate on many occasions as a child and later, during his exile to the Caucasus. It was here that he first heard stories of Cossack and Chechen life, customs and traditions—in particular, the story of Bela, a Kumyk girl Khastatov abducted when a young officer. Their romance was at the core of Bela, a brilliant novella he wrote later.
A memorial plaque was installed on the house wall in 1964 to commemorate the classic poet’s sojourns of 1818, 1837 and 1840.
The 175th anniversary of Lermontov’s birth was marked on October 15, 1989, by establishing an annual literature and folklore festival.
The museum was established by the Culture Ministry of Chechnya on October 8, 2004, and officially opened on June 3, 2006.
The Argun History, Architecture and Nature Museum Reserve
The Argun State History, Architecture and Nature Museum Reserve was established in 1988 to protect unique historical and architectural monuments, and endangered animal and plant species.
The reserve occupies 240,000 hectares in the highest and most inaccessible part of Chechnya. It comprises the Itum Kala and Sharoi districts entirely, and spreads to parts of the Vedeno, Shatoi and Achkhoi Martan districts.
The reserve possesses numerous unique monuments—caves, camps, sepulchres, settlements, earth tombs, under- and above-ground family vaults, combat and dwelling towers, and castle complexes.
The chronology of Argun immovable historical and cultural monuments stretches from the 3rd millennium B.C. through the 19th century A.D.
A majority of its several thousand historical, cultural, archaeological, architectural and natural monuments have the federal status.
Landscapes are of breathtaking beauty with snowy mountain peaks, forest-grown slopes below them, deep valleys, beech, oak and birch groves, and crystal-clear streams, brooks and mineral springs.
Kezenoi-Am, situated 1,869 metres above sea level, and Galanchozh are the largest of numerous local mountain lakes.
Wildlife is extremely diverse. The Caucasian tur (Capra caucasica) has its habitat higher in the mountains than any other animal to be found in the reserve. Chamois are met occasionally on steep rocky slopes grown with sparse wood. Roe deer roam forest edges and glades. There are large predators—bears, wolves, leopards and lynx. Wild boars live in mountain gorges and venture into villages in search of food in winter. Gullies are the abode of wild forest cats the nighttime hunters. There are foxes, hares, martens, badgers and weasels.
The reserve abounds in birds. Eagles, falcons, hawks and vultures are high in the mountains, while forests on the slopes are the home of woodpeckers, tomtits, bullfinches, blackbirds, jays and owls.
The Argun Museum Reserve acquired the status of federal heritage by Decree No. 176 of the President of the Russian Federation, of February 20, 1995.
In 2007, I joined a team of Argun Reserve researchers to monitor the state of architectural monuments in the Sharoi District with UNESCO financial support.