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The Chechens of Syria

The Meaning of Their Internal Struggle

Grozny, Chechnya, April 2013.  Maxim Shemetov / REUTERS

Before the Syrian conflict, there was little talk outside of the former Soviet Union about the fighting prowess of Chechens. But with the advent of the Islamic State (ISIS), Chechens, or shishani in Arabic, have developed an international reputation as some of the toughest fighters in the world. The rise of one, Abu Omar al-Shishani, to ISIS’ highest military position reinforced this public image, and according to recent interviews in Mosul, Chechens in ISIS were among the foreign fighters most feared by civilians. But those who fight with ISIS are just one group of Chechen forces currently operating in Syria.

Politically and militarily active Chechens are divided into three groups—all of which have sent foot soldiers to Syria. The first group is made up of supporters of the current head of the Chechen Republic, Ramzan Kadyrov. They are known as the Kadyrovtsy. As the official armed forces in Chechnya,

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