16 October 2003, 14:38

Chechnya's population in July 1999 (beginning of new Caucasian conflict)

In the last few months, the official government assessment of the numbers of Chechnya's population before the new conflict began was actually 0.35 million (with 0.3 million of the Chechen and 0.05 million of other ethnicities). Representatives of the Russian leadership have made more than one statement that most Chechnya's Chechens presently reside beyond the republic.

Thus, in one of his November interviews Shabdurasulov, deputy head of the presidential administration, said, "More than 0.75 million Chechens presently reside in Russia beyond the republic. The number of those in the republic are estimated at 0.15-0.2 million and those whom we call "forced migrants" are also about 0.1-0.15 million." It turns out there were about 0.3 million Chechens in Chechnya by August 1999, while 0.5-0.55 million Chechens had moved in the 1990s to 1999 from the republic to other Russian regions (because census figures indicate less than 0.18 million Chechens had resided beyond Chechnya in the RSFSR in 1989).

Prime Minister Putin recently made this statement: "We are ready for political cooperation also with those citizens of Chechnya who have moved in the last few years beyond the Chechen Republic and I remind they number 0.22 million Russians and 0.55 million Chechens." The 0.55 million apparently don't include those who have become refugees since August 1999 (because the word "moved" cannot be applied to this exodus).

Presently the Chechen community in Moscow is sometimes estimated at 0.1 million (cf. the 1989 census registered 2,100 Chechens permanently residing in Moscow).

These assessments of the number of emigrants from Chechnya and those who stayed in the republic are currently not only used by senior Kremlin and government officials. They have "penetrated" a lower level; they now influence decision making on specific matters and are even used in political struggle in Russia.

Thus, military leaders and "Chechnya's chief" Koshman made statements maintaining the number of refugees in Ingushetia was significantly overstated. At a press conference on November 12 Koshman said the current figures indicated Chechnya's population did not exceed 0.35 million; the three recovered districts (Naursky, Shelkovsky and Nadterechny) numbered 0.12 million residents; this means there could hardly be more than 0.2 million refugees in Ingushetia, because in that case it would turn out almost no one stayed in the gunmen-controlled part of Chechnya. Various propagandists claim certain opponents of the government or representatives of the "fifth column" of Russia's enemies are making up an "illusion of humanitarian disaster" artificially overestimating the number of Chechen refugees (however, while accusing someone of "artificial overestimation" of the number of refugees to 0.2 million, some of these propagandists simultaneously reported on how efficiently the problems of at least 0.17 million, if not 0.2 million, refugees were solved by Emergencies Minister Shoigu).

Based on official data, the figures below allow one to come to the conclusion Chechnya's population before the start of the new war numbered much more than 0.35 million. It is quite possible it exceeded 0.75 million (so estimating the number of refugees at 0.2 million doesn't seem surprising). This fact should be taken into account in specific decision making. One wouldn't like Russian leaders again to face problems ensuing from their wrong assessments. After all, even if the new refugees from Chechnya so far number less than 0.2 million, they all the same even now number several times more than the Russian leaders supposed.

Census figures on the Checheno-Ingush ASSR population in 1989

The 1989 census indicates the Checheno-Ingush Autonomous Soviet Socialist Republic (CIASSR) numbered 1.2755 million of available population and 1.2704 of permanent population. Russian statistical yearbooks do not publish figures on how many of them lived in present-day Chechnya and how many in Ingushetia. This is quite understandable considering that the Chechen-Ingush border has not officially been demarcated up to now. However, some figures the State Statistics Committee published in the 1990s enable estimating that Chechnya's permanent population in 1989 was officially around 1.084 million, while that of Ingushetia numbered 0.186 million. This means apart from the Nazran and Malgobek districts the Committee also referred to the entire Sunzha district of the CIASSR as Ingushetia. However, a significant part of the former Sunzha district of the CIASSR actually belongs to Chechnya; in particular this goes for its two large settlements, Sernovodsk (8,000 residents in 1989) and Assinovskaya (6,900). It may be assumed the population of the CIASSR districts presently belonging to Ingushetia in 1989 did not exceed 0.17 million, while that of present-day Chechnya's districts was a bit more than 1.1 million.

The publication of 1989 census figures provides data on the ethnic structure of only the permanent population of the USSR and individual regions (the available population of the CIASSR did not greatly exceed the permanent one though). These figures indicate 0.7345 million in 1.2704 million residents of the republic were Chechens, 0.1638 million Ingush, 0.2938 million Russians, 0.0148 million Armenians and 0.0126 million Ukrainians. The number of Eastern Slavs in the CIASSR in the 1970-80s was rapidly declining: the 1970 census indicates Russians and Ukrainians numbered 0.3796 million, while it was 0.3064 million in 1989. This was part of the general process of reduction of the Slavic population in several southern republics caused in particular by factors such as the relative overpopulation of those areas and unkindly attitude of a lot of "natives" to "Europeans."

No figures for 1989 are available on the ethnic structure of the population in the areas actually belonging to present-day Chechnya. Out of the 1.084 million residents the State Statistics Committee referred to Chechnya, about 0.715 million were Chechens, 0.025 million Ingush and 0.269 million Russians. This means, considering the population of the eastern part of the former Sunzha district of the CIASSR and considering the fact that the available population numbered over 4,000 more than the permanent one, the population of present-day Chechnya in 1989 was about 0.755-0.76 million Vainakhs (an ethnicity formed together by the Chechens and the Ingush).

Apart from Vainakhs, some other Muslim peoples in Chechnya in 1989 numbered several tens of thousands. Thus, registered in the CIASSR in 1989 were 0.023 million Kumyks (Kumuks, Khasavs), Nogai and Avars (the overwhelming majority being villagers) and 5,100 Tatars (mostly townsmen). The overwhelming majority of representatives of these peoples lived in Chechnya.

Present-day figures on Chechnya's population

In order to doubt the correctness of figures presently quoted by Russia's top leaders, suffice it to simply have a look at the Russian Statistical Yearbook for 1998. It provides e.g. these figures:

Available population in Chechnya and Ingushetia
(million, as of January 1 each year)


































It should be mentioned there is a lot of vagueness about Ingushetia's population. Meanwhile, the question of the number of Chechnya's dwellers can be directly dependant on the number of Ingushetia's residents. If the Committee's assessments were correct and the population of Chechnya and Ingushetia in 1998 totaled 1.11 million, it would mean Chechnya's population in mid-1999 might have been around 0.9 million. Because presently Ingushetia's population can hardly exceed 0.22-0.23 million, apart form new refugees from Chechnya: the number of permanent residents in the districts actually belonging to Ingushetia cannot exceed 0.19-0.195 million (allowing for the slowdown of natural increase in the 1990s and emigration from the republic); voluntary immigration in Ingushetia from other Russian regions and CIS states in the 1990s did not exceed several thousands (0.041 million Ingush were registered in the USSR beyond the CIASSR and North Ossetia in 1989; some of them returned to their homeland); while the number of refugees from North Ossetia-Alania who are still in Ingushetia and refugees from Chechnya who stayed in Ingushetia after the first Chechen war is estimated to total 0.017-0.035 million.

[According to the Federal Migration Service (FMS), as of January 1, 1999, on record in Ingushetia were 34,983 refugees. At a press conference in Moscow on November 10 Aushev claimed the number of refugees from Chechnya and the Ossetian-Ingush conflict area amounted to 201,258. Among them were 184,430 refugees from Chechnya. According to another interpretation, 184,430 are only those who "arrived in Ingushetia as a result of last Chechen campaign." (Novye Izvestia and Nezavisimaya Gazeta newspapers, November 11). This means Ingushetia hosts about 17,000 either refugees from Ossetia or combined refugees from Ossetia and "old refugees" from Chechnya. Proceeding from the figures Aushev quoted on November 22 participating in The Hero of the Day television program, it must be about the second version].

The only way to arrive at the high assessment of the number of Ingushetia's residents in 1998 such as 0.313 million is by including residents of the Chechen part of the former Sunzha district of the CIASSR, as well as by "forgetting" to subtract from Ingushetia's population a few tens of thousands of first Chechen war refugees that had gone back to Chechnya after military action had ceased.

The Russian statisticians (proceeding from God knows what) publish very detailed figures on Chechnya's population, e.g. on the gender and age structure of the permanent population as of January 1, 1998.







Younger than able-bodied




Older than able-bodied


Of course, the very precision of the figures (to within 1 person) is unrealistic; it would be not bad if these figures met reality to within 10,000. Yet on the whole, the gender and age structure of Chechnya's population appears to be more or less plausible. The considerable shortage of men in Chechnya (apparently, primarily able-bodied) is of course not so much the result of military casualties as the fact that men far prevail women among Chechens permanently or temporarily living beyond Chechnya.

The fact that Chechnya's population by the start of the new conflict numbered at least 0.75 million in spite of the emigration of the overwhelming majority of "Europeans" appears to be quite probable and can be confirmed with the following arguments.

The 1989 census indicates about 0.755-0.76 million Vainakhs and more than 0.03 representatives of other Muslim people dwelled in present-day Chechnya. Perhaps, the number of Chechnya's Muslim peoples totaled 0.8 million. In the period after World War II, the number of the USSR's southern Muslim peoples was growing at a speed averaging significantly more than 2% (often even 3%) a year. Thus, official census figures show the number of Vainakhs in the USSR increased by 27% from 1979 to 1989.

In the 1990s the Russian Muslim peoples' (especially southern) birth rates and figures of natural increase are also very much different from the Eastern Slavs' figures. The number of the Slavs' deaths is nearly 1 million more than the number of births. Meanwhile, the Muslims show substantial natural increase, although not that high as in former times. The natural increase of Chechnya's Muslim peoples (the surplus of births over deaths that would be but for losses caused by military action) certainly exceeded 15% during 1989-99; it is quite likely to have reached 20%. In absolute figures the natural increase of Chechnya's Muslim peoples was at least 0.12 million; more likely it was close to 0.15 million. Accordingly, but for military casualties and emigration, Chechnya's Muslim peoples in summer 1999 might have numbered around 0.95 million.

Their military casualties certainly did not exceed 0.01-0.012 million killed (including both militants and civilians). The increased death rate among Chechnya's Muslim peoples because of worse living conditions as a result of the 1994-96 war and its consequences is unlikely to have surpassed 0.02-0.03 million.

Of course, with their "insignificance" these assessments can surprise some readers who are used to statements about 0.1 million Chechen residents killed in the 1994-96 war. One should therefore bear in mind that the assessments of 0.08-0.12 million killed used from 1996 are based on nothing and there is an assessment of 0.02 million besides them.

Russian military leaders estimated the number of killed militants at more than 18,000. But one should bear in mind that the Russian army has a longstanding tradition of significant overstatement of the enemy's casualties (thus, during the Russo-Turkish wars the enemy's casualties were sometimes reported to be dozens of times more than in reality). Of course, the Chechen assessments in this case look understated, but the number of killed militants is still quite likely to have not reached 5,000.

In attacks, firings and bombings of settlements and villages, the number of killed civilians (if some) was estimated in unities or dozens in each case. Apparently, Grozny residents accounted for most killed civilians. But firstly, it is not a sure thing casualties there exceeded 0.01-0.015 million; and secondly, the population of Grozny's central districts suffered most during combats in the city, whereas the share of Europeans and representatives of other non-Muslim peoples there in the late 1980s amounted to 70-75% (the share of Chechens and Ingush in Grozny's permanent population in 1989 amounted only to 35.9%, while Eastern Slavs, Armenians and Jews accounted for 60.1%).

[To the best of my knowledge, just one attempt has so far been made to estimate the number of Grozny's residents killed there during combats in 1994-95. In first months of 1995 members of the Supervisory mission from public human rights organizations (better known as the Kovalev Group) polled 265 refugee families from Grozny asking those polled to report on cases when they knew for sure their relatives or friends had been killed during combats in the city. Proceeding from the information collected, a conclusion was made that 0.025-0.029 million civilians had been killed in Grozny.

However, the assessment derived using this method cannot be acknowledged any accurate. Suppose having polled 200 people we receive information about 13 their relatives killed; but how can we adequately extrapolate this result to the population of the whole city? After all we don't know for sure: 1) how many their relatives lived in Grozny - 500 or, say, 5,000; meanwhile, members of one Chechen family often have several hundred relatives; 2) how authentic the respondents' information was about the destiny of all these relatives; 3) how truthful the respondents' answers were.

Nevertheless, there were no other assessments - in January 1996 Russia's Deputy Security Council Secretary Rubanov told an Interfax correspondent government institutions did not made such assessments and referred to the Kovalev Group's conclusions. Soon after this interview some of Russia's sociopolitical figures started talking officials were as usual strongly understating the number of killed civilians. This is when assessments of around 0.1 million killed were launched. In spring of 1997 while preparing the Russian-Chechen pact when the possible amount of compensations for damage and casualties to Chechnya was discussed, the State Statistics Committee's demographic statistics department was not able to find any other assessments save the Kovalev Group's figures either. On their basis a conclusion was made about 0.03-0.04 million killed. Many human rights advocates, aware of all the possible inaccuracy of such assessments, preferred formulae like "less than 0.05 million killed."]

Thus, but for emigration Chechnya's Muslim peoples in 1999 would have numbered about 0.9 million. Or a little more. But even using the higher assessments of casualties, the result will change but little.

There are different figures on how many "Russian-speaking population" stayed in Chechnya. Moscow authors give assessments of both 0.02 million and 0.05 million. Maskhadov said Chechnya's "Russian population" (Maskhadov is unlikely to refer to Armenians or Georgians as "Russian population") numbered 0.1 million (Nezavisimaya Gazeta, October 1). In 1989 about 0.285 million Slavs lived in Chechnya. Out of the 14,232 forced migrants from Chechnya registered with the FMS as of January 1, 1999 (those registered in 1998 were 13,007), about 0.11-0.115 million were Slavs. However, a lot of Slavs and people of other ethnicities forced to leave Chechnya (especially those who did it before 1995) were not registered with the FMS. So what remains is only to guess how many representatives of non-Muslim peoples stayed in Chechnya. On the whole though, it turns out but for Muslims' emigration Chechnya's population in summer of 1999 would have numbered about 0.9-1.05 million.

In the 1970-80s not only Europeans, but also Vainakhs emigrated from the CIASSR. Census figures show Vainakhs' net emigration from the CIASSR in 1979-89 might have made around 0.05 million. (In 1970-89 this led to a 3.4-time increase in the permanent Chechen population in the Stavropol territory; a 5.5-time increase in the Astrakhan region; a 6.8-time increase in the Rostov region; a 13.7-time increase in the Volgograd region; and a 33.7-time increase in the Tyumen region. In these five regions the number of the permanent Chechen population in 1970-89 increased from 9,300 to 55,800, i.e. sixfold.)

Meanwhile, how many Vainakhs emigrated from Chechnya in 1989-99 is a big question. Kommersant newspaper (October 2) quotes Mr. Alavdinov, "chairman of the legislative house of the 1996-convocation Chechen parliament," talking about "0.5 million Chechens having left the republic" (it is unclear though for what period; because in 1989 more than 0.23 million Chechens lived in the USSR beyond present-day Chechnya, including 0.17 million in the RSFSR; and considering natural increase and the refugee wave in August-September of 1999 the emigration from Chechnya of 0.1-0.12 million Chechens from 1989 to summer of 1999 would be enough to talk about the "0.5 million Chechens having left the republic"). Putin talks about 0.55 million Chechens having left Chechnya "in the last few years."

It's quite clear why such high assessments are used of the number of Chechens having emigrated from Chechnya in the last few years. This would make it possible to introduce leaders elected at congresses of the Chechen community in Russia as "leaders of all of Russia's Chechens" and try to have them fulfill that very "request of the Chechen people to free Grozny from bandits" which Marshal Sergeyev and others talked about. Or else, those Moscow Chechens who have already agreed to cooperate with the federal government might be introduced as "leaders of all of Russia's Chechens." But what's the basis for these marvelous assessments - 0.5 or 0.55 million Chechens having recently emigrated from Chechnya? It would be not bad if their authors proposed some sensible foundation. For example figures on the number of natives of Chechnya having settled down for permanent residence in other Russian regions - and certainly with figures on their number in specific regions.

For your information: in the 978,426 forced migrants registered with the FMS as of January 1, 1999, Chechens numbered 10,995. Not all of them probably came from Chechnya. In 1998 Chechens registered as forced migrants numbered 2,026.

It is certainly not ruled out these 0.5-0.55 million are not absolutely imaginary assessments, but something like a summary of figures provided by local Chechen communities. So in this case one should allow for the proclivity of representatives of a lot of peoples towards significant overstatement of both the total number of their tribesmen and especially the number of communities across the country. Therefore, all these statements that Chechens living in Russia beyond Chechnya number 0.75 million (without taking the most recent refugee wave into account) and that already 0.1 million Chechens presently live in Moscow and so on don't look too realistic. After all, Chechens' migration from Chechnya to other Russian regions was in the last few years hampered by the fact their governments and local residents viewed them as "foreigners" and quite hostile at that.

On the whole, it can be observed there are no exhaustive figures on the number of migrants from Chechnya to other Russian regions; Russian leaders decided not to conduct the 1999 census that could have provided a basis for estimating the approximate number of migrants. I don't know any documents confirming current assessments by Russian leaders. The maximum possible assessment appears to be 0.15 million Chechens and Ingush having emigrated from Chechnya to other Russian regions from 1989 to August 1999 (emigration from Chechnya to other countries was estimated in but a few tens of thousands). That is why I assume Chechnya's population by August 1999 numbered at least 0.75 million.

By the way, the abovementioned statement by Koshman (that Chechnya's three recovered districts numbered 0.12 million residents) to some extent confirms the assumption that Chechnya's population before the start of the new conflict had numbered at least 0.75 million. Because in 1989 the available population of the Naursky, Shelkovsky and Nadterechny districts numbered 0.1271 million. Refugees of the new war that resided in Ingushetia and other places on November 12 are to be added to the 0.12 million Koshman talked about. Besides, media report thousands or tens of thousands of residents of federally-controlled areas are presently on that side of the frontline. Overall, it turns out the population of the three mentioned districts in early August 1999 could have been more than in 1989.

It should be borne in mind understating the number of Chechnya's dwellers may lead to quite specific negative military and political results (apart from the mentioned understatement of refugee numbers). Thus, military leaders display confidence very few residents stay in Chechnya's areas not controlled by the "federals," with tens of thousands of militants among them. This can lead to pilots and other servicemen of the Russian contingent in Chechnya viewing all people living on the yet uncontrolled territory as militants or their close relatives.

As a result, blows will be struck indiscriminately and thousands of civilians will die, which in turn can cause powerful resistance on the part of Chechens leading to a great number of Russian servicemen and civilians from other Russian regions killed (in terrorists' counterattacks) and eventually destabilizing the situation in Russia overall. And ultimately, this can lead to something like declaring a state of emergency throughout the country.

December 2, 1999

Author: Vladimir Grivenko, independent analyst;

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