The Chechen Character: “Nokhchallah”
The word “Nokhchallah” does not lend itself to translation. But it may and must be explained. “Nokhcho” stands for Chechen. “Nokhchallah” brings together all the specific properties of the Chechen character. It implies a whole gamut of moral and ethical norms. It may be described as the Chechen code of honor.
Chivalry, gentility, diplomatic skills, manliness, generosity and reliability are the qualities which a child of a hardline Chechen family imbibes with, as they say, his mother’s milk. And the Chechen code of honor is rooted in the remote days of Chechen history.
In the severe conditions of bygone years a refusal to open the door to a stranger could lead to lethal frostbites. He could succumb to fatigue or famine, fall prey to a wild beast or highway robbers. The ancestral tradition which has been held sacred, demands that a stranger be welcomed in, seated by the fire, offered food and shelter for the night. Hospitality is, thus, “nokhchallah”. The narrow roads and paths of Chechnya zigzag around mountain cliffs and on the brink of precipices. A fight or a heated argument may send one down into the abyss. Politeness and willingness to compromise are “nokhchallah”. The strenuous conditions of their life taught the highlanders to help and support one another, which is also “nokhchallah”. But “nokhchallah” has nothing to do with the Table of Ranks. There have been neither princes nor serfs among the Chechens.
“Nokhchallah” is an ability to deal with people without showing your privileged position. The privileged should be extra polite and accommodating to avert hurting anyone’s feelings. If two men meet and one of them is riding on horseback and the other walking, the one who is riding shall be the first to utter words of greeting. If the one who is walking is older that the one who is riding, the rider shall dismount to greet the older man.
“Nokhchallah” is friendship that lasts all life: in joy and sorrow. Highlanders hold friendship sacred. Inattentiveness or impoliteness shall be forgiven if they are displayed to a brother, but to a friend – never!
“Nokhchallah” is special respect for women. A man dismounts his horse before entering the village where the relatives of his mother or his wife live. And here is a story about a man who asked to spend a night in a house that stood on the outskirts of a Chechen village, without knowing that she was alone. The hostess could not reject his request. She gave him something to eat and made a bed for him. In the morning, the man realized that the woman was alone and that she had spent the night sitting by a lit lantern in the anteroom. As he was hurriedly washing up, he brushed the woman’s hand with his small finger by accodent. The man cut the finger off with his knife before leaving that place. Only a man brought up in the spirit of “nokhchallah” will go to such pains to protect a woman’s honor.
“Nokhchallah” rules out all attempts at subjugation. Male Chechens have, since times immemorial, been brought up as protectors and trained to bear arms. “Come at liberty” is the oldest of the greetings in actual use in Chechnya. The freedom of spirit and readiness to fight to protect it is “nokhchallah.”
“Nokhchallah” demands that Chechens respect all other men, regardless of their social origins, family background and religious beliefs. The bigger the difference between a Chechen and someone else, the more respect the Chechen shall accord that someone. You have a chance to be forgiven for hurting a Moslem’s feelings because, people say, you may meet the person whose feelings you have hurt on Judgement Day. But all is lost if you have hurt the feelings of a person of a different creed, because there is no chance of ever meeting him. The sin will stay with you forever.
“Nokhchallah” is no book of do’s and don’t’s. It is of their own free will that the Chechens obey its rules. It is a condensed formula of a Chechen way of life.