We're still learning about the suspects in the Boston Marathon bombing, and aside from knowing that that they traded fire with police, there's not much else we can be sure about. There are indications — unconfirmed — that the two brothers sought by law enforcement may have ties to Chechnya. With the troubled Russian region in the news, here's a primer on a violent region that has long struggled against Russian hegemony.
Where is Chechnya? Who are the Chechens?
Chechnya, or the Chechen Republic, is a small republic of Russia in the country's southwestern region. Located in the northern part of the Caucasus mountain range, Chechnya's 1.3 million population is 95.3 percent Chechen, an ethnic minority originating in the North Caucasus region, according to the 2010 Russian census. Between the 16th and 19th centuries, most of the country's residents converted to Sunni Islam, siding with the Ottoman Empire against ongoing annexation by the Russian Empire. Grozny, a city of roughly 270,000 on the Sunzha River, is the republic's capital.
What is Chechnya's history with Russia? Why is it important?
For two centuries, Chechnya and Russia have been constantly intertwined, often erupting in violence and oppression. The Russian Empire expanded into the Caucasus region during the the 19th century, annexing Chechnya against its will. Today, Russia continues to maintain a vital interest in the region for economic reasons: Access routes from Russia to the Black Sea and Caspian Sea go through Chechnya, as do oil and gas pipelines connecting Russia with Kazakhstan and Azerbaijan.