The Chechen ethical system arranges moral values in three levels, each of them determined by various aspects of the personality.
Adamallah, a system of moral values that includes universal norms the Chechen shares as Everyman, is connected the closest with Chechen religious and ethical convictions. It is inherent in all humans irrespective of ethnicity, religion, race and social status. As Chechens see it, that system is what tells man from animal. They counterpoise Adamallah as humanity to Akharallah, savagery. Adamallah comprises the basic commandments of the Koran and the Bible, which man is bound to follow if he is not to degenerate into beast.
Nokhchallah is a system of moral values intrinsic to a Chechen due to his ethnicity. It tells him from people of other ethnic communities. Nokhchallah,“Chechen-ness”, does not imply Chechens’ moral superiority to others. While comprising all Adamallah moral categories, it advances more rigorous ethical demands on man and his social conduct. It is a system of supplementary moral obligations of Chechens toward each other and people of other ethnicity.
Konakhallah, the quintessence of Chechen ethics, is a messianic system of moral values, which determines the morals of the “noble man” who shoulders the responsibility for his people and land to sacrifice his all without any retribution. The Konakhallah ethical code had emerged long before Chechen conversion into Islam. It is rooted in the hoary antiquity and, doubtless, had been established before the Alanian era. It bears a notable impact of the tragic time when Mongols and Tamerlane invaded the Caucasus, and warfare was the usual Nakh-Alanian routine. Testifying to its oldness are numerous parallels of the moral charter of the Konakh (worthy, heroic man) to the earliest layers of the Nart epic.
Konakhallah took final shape in the later mediaevality, when the free community waged war on feudal lords, and teip (clan) democracy was at its peak. That was a time when liberty and personal freedom were regarded as the supreme social value. Later on, the spiritual aspect of the code came under the influence of Sufism, which regarded spiritual improvement as the main human goal.
The code bases on the conduct and convictions of the Konakh, who places service to his community and native land above everything else in his life. The literal meaning of the word Konakh is “son of the people”. The moral and behavioural content of this social category was rooted deep in history and conditioned by it. According to history and folk tradition, the Konakhi Order was one of the most influential martial communities, prominent in Nakh politics. Its members, coming solely from the oldest and noblest families, dedicated their life to service to their Motherland and people. Rigorous regulations determined the conduct, mode of life, and social contacts of the Konakh. Even the smallest deviation from the code deprived the culprit of that sublime title. It was not for nothing that the word Konakh was synonymic to “honour”, “courage” and “chivalry” even so early in history.
Even after the Konakhi Order was disbanded, Chechens used the word Konakh for men of sublime morals and sacrificial service to their native land. Konakhallah evolved from a martial code into a moral code based on the ideal of human perfection and nobility.
Its later version retained the original basis prescribing the Konakh’s conduct at war, and attitudes to the enemy, weaponry and death. Konakhallah has much in common with the European code of chivalry and the Bushido code of samurai honour.
Later on, Konakhallah came under the influence of world religious and ethical systems, mainly Sufism. Parallels can also be drawn between the cult of the Konakh as worthy man and Confucianism, the ancient ethical system that gives a precise and explicit wording to the idea of perfect man.
Kong Qiu, or Confucius in the Latinised form — Chinese philosopher of the 6th century B.C. – advanced a doctrine according to which the junzi (translated as “noble man”, “perfect man”, “superior man” or “gentleman”) epitomised all virtues. Two properties mutually stemming from each other — aristocratism and human perfection — dominate his character. It is hard to become a junzi, for high birth is not an earnest of human perfection.
The junzi as ideal man embarks the road of virtue, and strives to be humane, follow the rituals faithfully, be frank in speech and honest in conduct, demanding of himself and just to others. The junzi obeys Divine will piously and unconditionally, and is always guided by justice and duty. He discerns the deed in the word, and is true to his pledges.
The junzi is true to the golden mean in everything, be it behaviour, costume or attitudes to others. Confucius holds that when a man’s spontaneity overcomes his good manners, he is uncultivated. When good manners overcome spontaneity, he is a bookworm. He will not make the junzi before spontaneity and good manners balance each other.
Ren, humanity, is the junzi’a supreme ethical law. This profound and multivalent moral category determines the essence of human relations. Man strives toward nobility and wealth. The junzi rejects them when they are obtained by illicit means. Man shuns poverty and humiliation but the junzi does not scorn them when they are undeserved. How can the perfect man earn a good name when he discards humanity, Confucius asks.
Ren, the summation of human virtues, demands equality and reciprocity in human contacts. Reciprocity and justice are a moral law that Confucius was the first to formulate. European ethics knows it as the Golden Rule. “Adept Kung asked: ‘Is there any one word that could guide a person throughout life?’ The Master replied: ‘How about shu [reciprocity]: never impose on others what you would not choose for yourself?’”
This world rules out equality in ancestry and social position, yet men can achieve equality in their contacts through the harmony of the ritual, li, and humaneness through filial piety, xiao.
To Confucius, the junzi is a sublime ideal only few are destined to attain. When asked whether he considered himself a junzi, the sage said he might be as learned as the others but he had not yet attained the practical perfection of the superior man.
Parallels between Confucian ethics and Konakhallah can be drawn in plenty, especially in the treatment of the perfect man’s personal qualities. As the junzi, the Konakh is honest and well-behaved. He reveres his elders and parents, shuns calumny and slanderers, and dares judge only himself. Justice in human contacts is his goal. He is kind to others and charitable to the poor and the weak. He is not afraid of death but avoids headlong action. His duty is the yardstick he applies to everything. He is modest of speech and truthful in his conduct.
There is a thorough difference between Confucian ethics and the Konakhallah code. That is the social stratification accepted by Confucius. His doctrine arranges the scale of ethical values in conformity with Chinese social hierarchy of his time. Heaven is the supreme power and the moral ideal. The state is arranged according to Divine will, predetermining man’s social place and role. The statesmen’s wisdom lies in humaneness and “rectification of names” (zhengming), i.e., giving each his proper place in society and the ritual, while the latter is the basis of peace and social harmony.
The ritual loses its moral core unless ren, humanity, underlies it. The purposeful man and the humane man brave death when ren is endangered. They sacrifice their life but stay true to ren, Confucius said.
It takes an aristocrat born and bred to make a junzi. That is an ideal not to be attained by the commoner, even if he attains an extent of moral perfection.
Unlike Confucianism, Konakhallah is a democratic ethical system, which does not know discrimination according to social class, the property status or ancestry. It does not take a Chechen, either, to be a Konakh or behave as one. Thus, “The Illi [epic heroic ballad] of Ahmad of Avtury” tells about a Cossack who persuades valiant Ahmad not to fight an unnecessary duel.
Anyone who attains a particular moral ideal and dedicates his life to his people and Motherland can become a Konakh.
Another salient feature differs the Konakh from the junzi — personal honour and dignity, which is the Konakh’s absolute value.
In that respect, Konakhallah has much in common with the code of chivalry of mediaeval Europe.
Knighthood emerged in Europe in the 11th and 12th centuries as an insular social group with its own system of moral values and behavioural norms.
The code of chivalry appeared in its canonical form in the Late Middle Ages as reaction to commoners’ social and political advance. The ethical norms of chivalry were extremely rigorous, just as Konakhallah, and made excessive demands on the personality and conduct. This excess made the social group a walled-off caste, putting it above the rest of society in the ethical and martial aspects alike.
The accolade became widespread in the early 12th century. To be knighted meant a mystical promotion to a select, privileged caste. At the same time, it implied the acceptance of a hard duty, awareness of the ethical mission of service to God, the sovereign and the suzerain’s aristocratic family and, last but not least, protection of the weak.
The ideal of chivalry was not unalterable. An uncouth, anarchic war dog was the ideal warrior of the Dark Ages. Fairly soon, however, the ideal image of the knight appeared — the valiant man whose vehicle was Christian charity, protection of the weak, and intercession for the downtrodden. Evolution enriched the ideal with the code of chivalrous manners and the ideology of courtly love. The exemplary knight was thus extolled not for valour and victories but for sublime morals.
The knight is, above all, a stalwart cavalryman excelling in martial arts. Of noble descent, he has an appealing appearance and possesses inner harmony. He permanently strives for glory, so valour is his principal merit. The knight is proud but not vain. To avoid suspicion of cowardice, he willingly sacrifices not only his own life but the life of his comrades-in-arms.
The knight earns glory not so much with victories as with his conduct on the battlefield and in the tilt-yard. Just as the Konakh, he respects his enemy and wants victory in an honest fight. He never benefits from the opponent’s weakness, and never smites an unarmed man.
Magnanimity is the knight’s inalienable feature. It implies all the best qualities of the knight — power, valour, honour, generosity, learning and enlightenment. Magnanimity in wartime is expressed mainly through his behaviour toward the vanquished. He spares not merely the smitten enemy’s life but his dignity. He displays respect toward the enemy as a worthy opponent. In this, the ethical norms of chivalry are fully identical to the Konakh’s moral code.
The knight is generous to the point of extravagance, for he belongs to the higher social estate and orients on its values. War trophies, the landowner’s income, and reward for loyal service are his means of sustenance. He views trade and farming as unworthy pursuits.
The knight is “loyal to his pledges toward his equals”. He is grateful for a good turn done him. The knight cherishes comradely duty. He is solicitous toward the widow and orphaned children of his fallen friends, and helps the impoverished members of his social estate.
The ideal knight is frank and truthful. He never conceals his likes and dislikes. He never flatters and never denounces.
The knight is not liable to corporal punishment. He is tried by the court of honour, and his responsibility is mainly moral. Complete non-admittance of corporal punishment is part and parcel not only of the Konakh’s code but of the entire Chechen mentality. “A whipped wolf turns into a dog,” a Chechen proverb says.
The knight and the Konakh regard personal honour as their supreme value, and prefer death to debasement. Both proceed from duty and honour in everything they do. The profound difference between the ethics of chivalry and the Konakh’s code lies in the interpretation of those categories.
The knight’s duty is a social norm determined by his relations with his suzerain, which is essentially a form of coercion. The knight is in duty bound to share whatever fate that befalls his suzerain. If need be, he rejects moral obligations to others, turns a deaf ear to the voice of common sense, and tramples on his own friendships and attachments.
However, he might choose another suzerain if his present one is not generous enough toward him. To the Konakh, duty is an act of goodwill resting on the awareness of service to his people and Motherland as a sacral mission. It matters not merely to follow one’s duty but to be morally worthy of this sublime mission—or he is no Konakh.
In samurai ethics, the vassal’s duty to the suzerain was determined not only, and not so much by payment for the service. There was a spiritual link between them. The suzerain-vassal and lord-servant relations were complemented and sanctified by master-disciple and fatherson relations. Here, we discern a certain influence of Confucianism, which was widespread in mediaeval Japan. Demands made on the samurai were incomparably greater and more stringent than on the European knight, and only one price was paid for trespasses — death.
In the broader sense, the word samurai implied the entire mediaeval Japanese nobility, making it synonymous to bushi, “warrior”. In the narrow sense, the samurai were a military estate of noblemen of modest means, who became active in Japanese politics in the 12th century. A majority of samurais were vassals of powerful daimyo landholding magnates. Many samurais possessed their own land. Warfare was considered the only pastime worthy of a samurai, though they occasionally took up farming.
A samurai could not become a trader or a usurer under any circumstances. The samurai started preparations for a lifetime of battles in tender age. He needed physical strength, hardiness, perfection in martial arts, and knowledge of military strategy and tactics. The ideal samurai excelled in riding, manners, calligraphy, and knowledge of literature and history. As a famous bushi wrote, “The samurai must read and write. If he is unlearned, he cannot see the reasons of things past and present and, however wise and experienced he might be, he will find himself in a bad predicament someday unless he possesses sufficient learning”.
Bushido, an unwritten code of regulations, determined the samurai’s life, conduct and relations with his suzerain. These regulations were passed from mouth to mouth until recorded in the 17th century. Bushido has a striking likeness to the Chechen Konakhallah ethical code in the treatment of basic moral principles and categories.
Samurai ethics based on rectitude and justice, which was, to an extent, analogous to the Confucian ren, humanity, and Chechen adamallah, which had the same meaning. In Bushido: The Soul of Japan, Nitobe Inazo defined rectitude as the ability to make a reasonable decision without hesitation, proceeding from a certain code of conduct, <…> die when the time comes, and deliver a blow when the time comes. Neither gifts nor learning can make one a real samurai if he has no rectitude.
As the Chechen code, Bushido regards courage mainly as reserve and sangfroid displayed in any adversity. “It is easy to rush into the thick of battle and be killed <…> yet real courage lies in the ability to live in the time to live, and die in the time to die,” Prince Kito wrote.
The true samurai must be always reserved. Nothing is to upset his balance of mind. He remains cool in battle and in revelry, and retains coldness and lucidity of mind, come what may.
That is why composure is one of the principal virtues of the samurai and the Konakh. The samurai is considered to lose his courage once his countenance betrays his emotions. Whatever he might feel, neither joy nor sorrow is to appear on his face.
However great his reserve should be, the samurai must be charitable and compassionate — mainly to the weak and helpless. He must display magnanimity toward the vanquished enemy. “He will make no hunter who kills a bird hiding in his bosom,” a samurai saying goes.
A valiant and ferocious warrior, the true samurai must be amicable and benevolent: “Though much might pain your heart, you shall forgive three things — the wind rumpling your flowers, the cloud hiding the moon from you, and the man seeking pretext to quarrel with you”.
Benevolence and compassion find outward expression in reverent politeness. That, too, should be limited by reserve, for decency crossing the limits of convention is sheer lie.
All this is a mere mask unless the samurai is frank and truthful. His high social and moral status demanded the utmost responsibility for his promises. A samurai’s word did not need an oath or written recording. As the Konakh, he considered oaths degrading as they put to doubt the inviolacy of his pledge. When forced into making an oath of his boundless dedication to an idea, a known samurai said: “The samurai’s word is harder than steel. My word stays in my mind. Do I need an oath?” After that, the oath was found redundant.
The attitude to death also brings the Konakh and the samurai together. The Konakh is ready to die any instant if his duty and fate demand it. “Bushido is in being crazy to die,” a famous warlord said. The samurai must be ready to lay down his life any instant, whether in battle or peacetime. Yet he must not sacrifice his or another’s life rashly. The Konakh is also constantly aware of the inevitability of death. That is how he overcomes fear of death and is ready to meet it with dignity. An old Chechen song conveys the acceptance of doom in words of inimitable tragic power:
I expect no miracle,
no rescue, and no help:
No one is immortal
but the Almighty.
Do not throb in anguish,
my brave heart!
I was born into the world
to die someday.
Honour is the only treasure for which the samurai and the Konakh sacrifice their life without a moment’s hesitation. While Bushido denounces short temper and the morbid perception of whatever awkward step or word as an insult, every samurai knew that “disgrace is as a scar on the bark of a tree — it would not fade with time but, on the contrary, become ever worse,” as Nitobe Inazo said.
The samurai ethical code had one pronounced difference from the Chechen. That was its social purport, which limited it to one social estate. Bushido pointed out three virtues as cardinal — fealty, the right conduct and courage. Loyalty to the suzerain was the cornerstone of the samurai code.
It was the duty of a disgraced samurai to perform seppuku, ritual suicide, doing it bravely, in cold blood and thoroughly true to the rite. Seppuku, one of the essential parts of Bushido, is what determines its national specific the strongest, and bestows tragic power on it.
The Chechen mentality and religion, on the contrary, have always resolutely denounced suicide. The man who committed it was doomed to eternal disgrace. Unlike the samurai, the Konakh regained his honour only by dying a valiant death in a just war. Otherwise, he had to flee forever and lead the life of an outlawed wanderer.
Though Bushido was the ethical code of military aristocracy, it exercised tremendous moral influence on Japan eventually to become its national code, valid for all social estates. In the most tragic periods of Japanese history, it was the only moral pillar, resting on which the sublime national spirit arose literally from ashes.
Unlike Bushido, Konakhallah is not universal. It is the code of the spiritual elite which is reviving in the depth of the Chechen community. Still, it is the moral absolute to attain which is every Chechen’s cherished dream.
Modernity transformed the European code of chivalry into gentlemanly ethics. The ideal gentleman certainly has much in common with the Konakh, though his code, like the knight’s, concerned a narrow social stratum limited mainly by noble birth. In the early 18th century, Sir Richard Steele said that he who was able to serve society well and protect its interests was the true gentleman. A gentleman possessed all the dignity and grandeur man could possess, and was endowed with a lucid mind free of prejudice, and with vast knowledge. A gentleman was sensitive but free of immoderate passions, full of compassion and benevolence, truthful and persevering in attaining his goals.
A gentleman was also notable for courage and generosity. He was terse and sceptical toward emotional evaluations, and possessed sangfroid and composure even in the most entangled situations. He was modest and scrupulous in problems involving honour, and marked by refined manners and simplicity in companionship.
In the 20th century, Bertrand Russell was tracing the ethical heritage of chivalry in European morals. He concluded that the belief in the principle of personal honour had major deserts, even though its fruit was often absurd and at times tragic. The decline of that principle was not always pure acquisition. If we clean the idea of honour from aristocratic hubris and violence, what is left of it helps man to retain integrity and promote the principle of confidence in social relations. The philosopher said that he would not like to see this heritage of the age of chivalry discarded completely.
The aristocracy inherited the ethics of chivalry, while petty bourgeoisie and the lower middle class created an ethical philosophy of its own in Europe— a philosophy based on quite different values.
Petty bourgeois ethics cultivated the person whose basic virtues were moderation, accuracy, thrift, industry, down-to-earthness, sober mind and orderliness. Parsimony was made an absolute, and boiled down to abnegation of all joys of life. A higher social status was to be obtained not through lineage but by personal merits, dominated by industry, tenacity and method. Courage, nobility, generosity and magnanimity were unaffordable luxuries to people who used money as their universal yardstick, and regarded the mediocrity attaining a high social status through moderation and reverential attitude to social hierarchy as the ideal man. Capital determined the personal value. In that, petty bourgeois ethics was extremely utilitarian in its attitudes toward religion and everything spiritual. It underwent an extent of axiological evolution with time under the impact of other ethical systems and the changing social and economic situation. Still, its core remains unchanged. It denies the determinant value of sublime morals and ideals just as before.
That is the state in which it is present, to an extent, in the contemporary Chechen community, which is undergoing a profound moral crisis. The situation is all the worse as the collapse of the USSR found Chechnya in transition from the traditional system to civil society—a transition transforming social structures and institutions, shattering the customary mode of life, and devaluing traditional morals. It has not only brought a thorough change of public mentality but led the community to moral degradation, to an extent.
The Chechen warfare at the end of the 20th century and in the beginning of the 21st sped up the disintegration of traditional society. On the other hand, it was an insurmountable obstacle to emergent civil society. The Chechen community is utterly unstructured and marginalised. Not a single institution — traditional, state or public — can influence and organise it. A majority of Chechens have lost interest in traditional values without accepting the values of open civil society. True, many have turned to religion. However, too many embrace it in a profane form — which ads religious schism to moral crisis.
We Chechens are groping for a way out of our moral deadlock. Our ethical quest is not conscious enough as yet. We resemble a blind and deaf man lost in a labyrinth. Our resort to religion is largely formal, while the innermost esence and message of religion is ignored. Such conversions cannot promote moral renascence. On the contrary, they threaten to lead the public into yet another deadlock, out of which there is no exit because the loss of ethnic identity spells death to any ethnos.
However, we have inherited a precious spiritual and moral legacy. Its acceptance might help us in our quest, and lead the Chechen people to moral and cultural revival. The Konakhallah ethical code is an inalienable part of our heritage.
Though Konakhallah does not exhaust Chechen ethics, which is an extremely complicated, versatile and multilevel system, the code is its peak and quintessence.
Konakhallah rests on patriotic duty, which the Konakh accepts of his own free will. In this, the Konakh’s concept of dekkhar, duty, is fully analogous to the Kantian: duty is the necessity of action out of respect for moral law.
The Konakh follows the path of duty to his people and his land because he is aware of that duty in his heart and mind. He does not expect retribution in this world and the afterlife. Not fear of punishment from the hand of God or man but solely his own goodwill determines his conduct. To do his duty is, to the Konakh, a sublime mission that demands great moral effort. According to Ian Chesnov, messianism is intrinsic in the very structure of the personality centred by the Konakh. This and his social role make the Konakh’s situation close to that of the Saviour.
Prominent Chechen ethnologist Said-Magomed Khasiev discerns three categorial levels in the Chechen value scale:
1 – “delighting the eye” or “visible”, i.e., salient: adamallah (humanity), tsIano, (purity of
the soul), yukh (face), and gillakh (the ethical code);
2 – “thrilling the soul”, i.e., the less spectacular: kinkhetam (charity), niyso (justice), iekh (bekhk, ies) (shame), and ozdangallah (nobility);
3 – “invisible” or “the roots”: laram (respectfulness), bako (truthfulness), sii (honour), and sobar (patience and restraint). The scholar considers the “invisible” virtues basic to the value scale and intrinsic in the Konakh more than in anyone else.
In this, adamallah, humanity, is the principal category of the Chechen ethical value scale and of Konakhallah. Adamallah is not merely the first in the value structure — it is the foundation and the peak of that structure at once. It is transcendental to Chechen ethics, imbues it from top to bottom, and determines the nature and structure of other virtues.
The Chechen ethical system defines adamallah not only through the categories of humanity (charity, compassion, empathy and magnanimity) but also through wisdom. Chechen ethics does not know unambiguous treatment of reason as moral criterion.
Chechens do not believe in reason unless it goes hand in hand with heart and intuition. That is why the Chechen value scale does not single out reason as a separate category — unlike, for instance, Adyg ethics, in which Barasbi Bgazhnokov discerns five permanent principles: humanity, reverence, reason, courage and honour1. Wisdom as the harmony of heart and mind is not merely the basis of humanity but also the general moral criterion.
Of no smaller importance as the yardstick of humanity is magnanimity —mainly to the smitten enemy. Chechens have been constantly waging defensive war, so this moral value was of tremendous importance, reflected in a legend that has come down to this day. S.-M. Khasiev recorded it in the Chechen mountains in the later 1960s. As the legend goes, “God has turned the souls of noble warriors into white swans. That is why white swans are serene and majestic. The Maker cursed the souls of warriors who succumbed to wrath and passed the limits of what was permitted toward the enemy. He placed them under the highest mountains. Yet He promised that the time of their liberation would come someday. If the souls of their victims forgive them, the Almighty will also forgive those merciless souls and turn them into white swans. In the beginning, He turned the souls of those cruel warriors into cranes. That is why cranes weep and implore their victims to forgive them as they fly north every spring. Swans follow cranes’ route voluntarily out of compassion for their sinful comrades-in-arms, and pray for them in the land of shadows.”
Not only Konakhallah but also the entire Chechen ethics considers cruelty toward the vanquished or injured enemy, and toward the weak and defenceless inadmissible under any pretext and in whatever situation.
The protagonist of Alexander Pushkin’s long poem “Tazit”, a young Adyg prince brought up by a Chechen clashes with his father as he refuses to follow ancestral ethics. As he brings the youth back to the old prince, the old Chechen says, proud of his achievements as foster father:
Thirteen years have elapsed
Since you came to my village
And gave me your baby son
For me to bring him up
A valiant Chechen warrior.
You are burying today
your other son,
Who died a premature death.
Bow to fate, Gasub!
I have brought you another son.
There he is! Lean
your bereaved head
On his strong shoulder.
He will replace your lost
And you will value my labour,
Which I will not boast.
But the old prince is dissatisfied with his son:
“Where is the fruit of upbringing?”
“Where is valour, craft, agility,
The artful mind and the strength of hands?
I see nothing but a lazy and obstreperous boy!
Either I misunderstand my son
Or the old man has been telling me lies.”
To his father’s wrath and amazement, the boy refuses to rob an unarmed merchant and pursue a fugitive slave. When his father asks him why he did not kill his brother’s murderer when he encountered him, Tazit explains that the enemy was “alone, wounded and unarmed”.
Many Pushkin scholars think that Tazit is guided in his conduct by Christianity. As things really are, he behaves as a Konakh, who cannot attack the weak and defenceless. Blood feud cannot make him attack a wounded and unarmed man. On the contrary, the Chechen code makes him help the enemy. Pushkin was acquainted with Bei-Bulat Taimiev, a renowned Chechen general, wise politician and brilliant diplomat — a real Konakh. He wrote in his Journey to Arzrum: “I was overjoyed with the arrival of renowned Bei-Bulat, the terror of the Caucasus, to Arzrum: he granted me safe passage across the mountains and Kabarda.” The poet certainly had an idea of Konakhallah, which found reflection in Tazit’s conduct.
Adamallah rests on humanity, mercy and active compassion. The Konakh is, above all, the protector of the weak and the defenceless, their last hope for justice in an unjust world.
The category of humanity includes a reverential attitude to Nature — to everything that surrounds the Konakh. He feels part of a vast world in which all are equal before the face of Eternity, be it man, ant or tree. The Konakh never does deliberate harm to an animate thing or a plant. He is sparing of the gifts of Nature, and uses them frugally, according to the principle of tempered necessity.
Niyso, justice, is the second in importance of the Konakh’s virtues. It determines his attitudes to humans. Some scholars treat it as equality because Chechen language speakers discern this semantic shade in the word.
Justice, just as humanity, is one of the principal virtues of the Konakh as it raises his world perception to the sublime social and spiritual level one might describe as messianic. Justice, just as freedom, has always been one of the central Chechen ethical values. Freedom is an absolute, while justice limits it at the social level. Lack of freedom in human contacts led to sanguinary internecine strife and civil wars, unleashed not for economic reasons but because of moral disproportions in society. All the more so, justice was to be the vehicle of the one whose sacred mission was to serve his Motherland.
Ts1ano, purity of the soul, is one of the principal characteristics of the Konakh, for one cannot be really just and magnanimous without it. Purity of heart and mind, chastity of thoughts and desires, inner rejection of hope for retribution in this life and in heaven — all that lies at the basis of the Konakh’s sublime mission. His attitude to religion is closely linked with tsIano. The Konakh’s religious culture is determined, above all, by Sufi influences as Chechens profess Islam in its Sufi form. That is why they prefer the innermost content of religion to its outward form. That is why their religious rites are so unassuming, and why they regard faith as profoundly personal and intimate. That is also the root of their utmost religious tolerance.
The Konakh regards human life as supreme value. He reveres human dignity irrespective of social status, ethnicity and religion. That is why man is his etalon of morality — man on whom the Almighty bestowed the opportunity of free moral choice between good and evil, man “able to improve himself on the path of self-cognition, in which he acquires his true self”.
Closely related to ts1ano are other ethical categories: ozdangallah (nobility), and gillakh (etiquette). Ozdangallah is a universal moral category, linked with humanity and justice. Ozdangallah bespeaks noble lineage and sublime personal culture. It refines and purifies humanity. The etiquette is the outer manifestation of nobility. The Chechen etiquette was not a mere code of good manners but a spiritualised ritual, a system of social signs that brought stability to the social structure. Just as the li ritual in Confucianism, traditional Chechen etiquette smoothed out social antagonisms, stressed the formal equality of all community members, and harmonised human contacts. That was why the Konakh could not violate the etiquette under any circumstances.
Laram, reverence or respect, and sii, honour, are also among the basic ethical categories of Konakhallah. The term “laram” stands for the Konakh’s reverence of the world and man. It does not depend on whatever situation but is intrinsic in him. It is there merely because the Konakh, its bearer, exists. Sii, honour, is, on the one hand, the inner realisation of one’s own dignity and, on the other hand, the attitudes of society and particular people to that dignity. Honour is the only treasure the Konakh cherishes more than life. Perhaps, that is because, as Schopenhauer remarked, honour has for its ultimate foundation the conviction of the inviolability of moral character, due to which an ignoble deed vouches for a similar moral character of all subsequent deeds, due to which lost honour can never be retrieved.
Adam Smith wrote in “The Theory of the Moral Sentiments”:
The candidates for fortune too frequently abandon the path of virtue; unhappily, the road which leads to the one, and that which leads to the other, lie sometimes in very opposite directions. But the ambitious man flatters himself that, in the splendid situation to which he advances, he will have so many means of commanding the respect and admiration of mankind, and will be enabled to act with such superior propriety and grace, that the lustre of his future conduct will entirely cover, or efface, the foulness of the steps by which he arrived at that elevation <…>
Though by the profusion of every liberal expence; <…> though by the hurry of public business, or by the prouder and more dazzling tumult of war, he may endeavour to efface, both from his own memory and from that of other people, the remembrance of what he has done; that remembrance never fails to pursue him <…> Amidst all the gaudy pomp of the most ostentatious greatness; amidst the venal and vile adulation of the great and of the learned; amidst the more innocent, though more foolish, acclamations of the common people; amidst all the pride of conquest and the triumph of successful war, he is still secretlypursued by the avenging furies of shame and remorse; and while glory seems to surround him on all sides, he himself, in his own imagination, sees black and foul infamy fast pursuing him” (I.III.35).
The Konakh’s reverence of honour and dignity is rooted not in individualism, let alone selfishness, but in the highness of his social mission, which will be fulfilled only when the end, the means and the maker are worthy of that sublime absolute.
Certain scholars of Chechen ethics mistake “yakh“, rivalry in good works and valiant deeds, for honour. However, yakh is more characteristic of the k1ant, the dashing hero of illi epic songs, than of the Konakh. The k1ant possesses all the makings of the epic hero — he is strong, brave, just and amicable, yet the moral value of his conduct is not as elevated as the Konakh’s mission. The k1ant seeks public approval with far greater zeal than the Konakh. The Konakh need not be aloof to yakh as ethical value, yet it should be concealed. Yakh is conspicuously out of place in contacts with friends and kinsmen. Most probably, it was originally admissible only toward a respectable enemy. An old parable recorded by S.-M. Khasiev in the Chechen highlands reflects the world of difference between the noble Konakh and the jaunty k1ant, as perceived by the public:
A combat tower stood on the top of a cliff. It protected the entrance to a gorge and transmitted danger signals to other parts of the highland. A tsurku, pointed Stone slab, topped its roof. One day, a falcon perched on the slab and looked at the vistas around, very pleased with himself.
“What makes you so contented?” the tsurku asked.
“Can I be otherwise? The Almighty grants us falcons three years of life on earth. I am two years old but I feel as a one-year old, and I have come here after a meal of fresh, warm liver. Strong are my wings, and I am the lord of the sky!”
“I have been standing on the top of this tower for nine centuries to prevent it from crushing. I have seen so much that, even if I recount it starting from the lifetime of your ancestor of a hundred generations ago, your life would be too short to hear my story out. Know the difference between us? You have been made to enjoy your food, strength, agility and courage, while I have been placed here to protect this tower which guards the peace of people around,” the tsurku replied.
Sobar (restraint and patience) is a unique category in the value system of the code. Its importance is reflected in the old saying: “Konakh sobartsa vevza” (You know a Konakh by his restraint). Sobar is a poly-semantic word, whose numerous meanings intercross each other. In the spiritual sense, it stands for self-sacrifice, the ascent to Calvary for the people’s sake.
It also means composure, self-restraint, patience and fortitude. “Konakhchun mairallah—sobar” (The Konakh’s courage is in his patience), an old proverb says. Sobar is the foundation on which the entire value system of Konakhallah rests. The Konakh’s attitude to death and fate is rooted in this moral category. The Konakh accepts all blows of fate with dignity and restraint. Fully aware of his right to choose between good and evil, between truth and lie, between life and vegetable existence, he feels true master of his destiny. The Konakh knows that there is no escape from death but is not afraid of the doom, and so feels superior to fate and death itself. An old Chechen song penetratingly portrays this feeling:
You are fierce and perfidious,
o swift bullet.
Yet weren’t you my slave?
You are merciless, o death.
Yet weren’t you
my obedient servant?
You will give me eternal rest,
Hasn’t my steed trodden
upon your bosom?
You will blanket me forever,
and give me slumber.
Yet you will have my flesh
alone not spirit!
The value scale of Konakhallah rests on humanity, justice, purity of heart, nobility, politeness, honour and restraint. It is an ideal and universal ethical code. The people who made it cannot but have a sublime destiny.
The Chechen ethical code Konakhallah is an inimitable monument of human moral quest. Doubtless, it will play a landmark role in the cultural and moral revival of the Chechen people.
2009 – “The Diversity of the Chechen Culture: From Historical Roots to Present”