URUS-MARTAN, Russia (Reuters Life!) - Clad in a shaggy white ram’s wool hat and sporting a matching beard, museum founder Adam Satuyev says tiny Chechnya is undergoing a cultural revival after decades of war.
Perched in a clay-covered 18th century watchtower with a 100-year-old rifle, Satuyev says he opened “Donde-Yurt,” Chechnya’s only ethnographic museum, last year to enormous success in a country devastated by two wars but now rebuilding.
“After the wars and all the horrors that we went through, it’s important to preserve our cultural heritage, which we are so proud of, now that we have finally achieved peace,” the 52-year-old retired policeman told Reuters.
Chechen leader Ramzan Kadyrov, who fought against the Russians in the first separatist war but then switched sides, has called Satuyev’s museum a “national treasure,” given him 1 million roubles ($33,314) for its upkeep and demanded more museums celebrating the region’s rich cultural legacy be built.
Showing off a collection of 400-year-old jugs and rusty accordions, Satuyev remarked: “Chechens now know what a museum is, they had no clue 10 years ago, as we had nothing.”
Satuyev spent years collecting over 2,000 items from all over Chechnya — from bayonets used in battle to paintings to string instruments — for the open-air museum in the town of Urus-Martan, 24 km (15 miles) southwest of regional capital Grozny.
After two bloody separatist wars with Moscow since the mid-1990s, mainly Muslim Chechnya now rests on a shaky peace. Kadyrov is largely credited by the Kremlin for rebuilding the republic over the last two years.
Using a fund Kadyrov set up in honor of his father and predecessor, Akhmad, who was assassinated in a bomb blast in 2004, Chechen authorities opened two other museums on Thursday in the name of 19th century Russian writers Leo Tolstoy and Mikhail Lermontov.
The two famously wrote about their adventures in Chechnya, endearingly describing its raw beauty, seductive women and violent, sword-wielding culture.
Tolstoy’s great-grandson Vladimir, who jetted in to Chechnya for the museum’s unveiling, told Chechen reporters: “You, like no other, have the right to call him (Tolstoy) a brother.”
Tolstoy gave some of his great-grandfather’s furniture and clothing to the museum, in the village of Starogladovskaya, not far from Grozny, where the writer served in the Tsar’s army for three years in the 1850s.
Though Tolstoy fought against the Chechens, his later novel “The Cossacks” describes much of what he saw in the Caucasus, of a strong-willed people who made a deep impression on him.
Chechnya’s minister of culture, Dikalu Muzikayev, described Tolstoy when opening the museum as “a fellow countryman” whose life was “a key part of Chechen people’s history.”
The small museum for Lermontov, whose novel “A Hero of Our Time” cemented his fame and painted Chechnya as a place of freedom, was also opened in Poraboch, a village near Starogladovskaya. (Reporting by Amie Ferris-Rotman, editing by Paul Casciato)