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This article was first published in The eXile on August 10, 2007.

I am one of 100,000 Chechens in Moscow. There are another 30,000 Ingush living here. Together, we belong to the “Vainakh” ethnolinguistic group and make up roughly one per cent of Moscow’s population.

Yet very few Muscovites have any idea what we look like, or what makes us different from other “chernozhopye” (“black-asses,” a pejorative used by Russians when referring to peoples from the Northern and Southern Caucasus, as well as those from Central Asia).

With a total population of 1.5 million, Vainakhs form one percent of Russia’s total population of 145 million, and so would seem a natural presence in the capital. Still, a lot of people think, “What the fuck are they doing here! Let them go back to their Chechnya and die under our bombs!”

Who is that average, one-in-a-hundred Vainakh lurking among you, and how can you spot him or her? I will help you answer that question. Because it’s important that you should be able to spot in a crowd the very species that’s survived a grinding 15-year war.

The truth is there is no average when we talk about Chechens. Not that I mean each Chechen is so unique, or that the very word “average” grates on our ears. It’s just that Chechens are, well, “different.” Different from each other and different from you. And long live different. Fuck average.

In the late 1990s and the early 2000s, when the level of persecution and harassment against Vainakhs was particularly high, many Vainakhs living in Moscow and other Russian cities did their best not to look Vainakh – to blend in. They wore “futsinsky” clothing (from the word “futsin,” meaning innocent and stupid weakling), practiced the difficult-to-imitate gait of a typical botanik, (“walks like botanik,” meaning a guy who has an unassertive, non-proud and non-aggressive walk and stance – what you call a “twerp”), purchased fake prescription glasses, and did a lot of other things to fool the militsia’s Vainakh-radar. And you know what? They soon gave up. It almost never worked against Petrovka 38’s operatives, who knew their Vainakhs well. The reason was simple: Chechen pride always remained in their eyes, in their expressions, and in their every move.

I remember being stopped once in a bank in the center of Moscow in 1997 by a group of six police operatives. I’m fair-complexioned; at the time I had a Belarusian passport; and I speak Russian without an accent. They took a quick look at me and my passport, asked a couple of questions, and were about to leave me alone when one operative, who was clearly the most experienced with Chechens, almost screamed, “Guys, don’t let him go! Let’s bring him to Petrovka and study him and his docs well! I’ve got a hunch that he is a Chechen – look in his eyes! Look in his cold insolent eyes! It’s a purely Chechen type of expression!”

Unfortunately for him, I was too hard a target. I shouted back in my special “nachalnichesky” (big boss) deep-voiced bass-tone, which I use on special occasions like these. “Are you fucking crazy!? I will turn your lives into misery, idiots!” And they slinked off.

But that taught me a good lesson. We are very easy to spot, indeed. One just needs to grasp the profound pride in our eyes, because we cannot get rid of it, not like we can change our clothing or the way we walk. We can’t hide, not even behind fake prescription glasses.

This pride is present in the way we walk and in the way we talk, especially in the way we look; but mostly in the way we live and understand the universe. This makes us a nation and this holds us together.

Ours is not a haughty pride, not the pride of a medieval Spanish Baron. It’s the pride of a free man, of one who has earned that pride and is continuing to earn it. And every generation of our ancestors has done so by their blood and sweat. It’s not easy to describe, but once you spot and study the outward manifestations of Chechen pride, you will be able to spot us without doing headcounts or asking for passports. It’s the kind of pride that only dies with its bearer. It’s not paraded about arrogantly, but you always feel it. It’s totally different from the display of pride you find in peoples from other southern nations, including the Caucasus. The Vainakhs’ pride is cold, not boastful and full of vanity. It’s not for show; it’s kept inside.

What are we proud of? Chechens are one of the most culturally self-sufficient nations in the world. Some may get closer to other peoples’ cultures and even enjoy it, but the complex Chechen system of moral codes doesn’t really allow for any alien ideas and values. The Chechen perception of the world is dominated by a philosophical category of beauty known as hozal. Everything we do is judged according to this standard. If you record even a very casual conversation between Vainakhs (any Vainakhs) in their language, do a word-for-word translation, and put it on paper, you will be shocked at the number of words which have “beauty” as the root-word. Being morally subdued or broken is the ugliest thing a Vainakh can think of. And pride in oneself is the most beautiful thing that any Vainakh can ever achieve.

Think you can spot a Vainakh? Take this photo. This whole crew shown above is made up of Chechens. But do they look like they all belong to the same tiny ethnic group? That’s where your vigilance is required. As my babushka would say: “Nothing worth doing is easy in this world!” Or as a Chechen saying goes: “It’s a hard work to be a Vainakh.” So if it’s hard work to be a Chechen, why should it be easy for you to be able to recognize one?

These crafty Chechen females are camouflaging themselves as innocent graduating students from a Russian vocational school. Even the one at the far end would easily pass for, let’s say, an Armenian. But they are all Chechens, believe me. Scared yet?

And this Chechen girl? If you were a Moscow metro policeman, would you approach her and demand to see her passport? I always say that the best investment in security is through public education.

How about this guy? If you were a Russian skinheads or soccer hooligan, would you attack him with metal pipes from behind? No, you’d walk right past him, totally ignorant that you’d just missed a good opportunity.

How to tell these Chechen gopniki apart from other black-assed gopniks?

The body language and the expression can be different, depending on background and education but pride exudes from every Vainakh, as it exudes from these two masons from rural Chechnya.

I am pretty sure that you would suspect this group of guys. But how do you really know that they are Chechens, and not, let’s say, Georgians, or Armenians?

And what about this Ruslan Baisarov-type?

This article was first published in The eXile on August 10, 2007.

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