The Chechen people didn't choose the modern name of their capital. That came from the Russians, a name that encodes much of Chechnya's identity: Grozny -- The Fearsome.
Although physically diminutive -- smaller than New Jersey or Slovenia -- Chechnya has an enormous warrior reputation. Resistance is a consistent thread running through its complicated history: against Mongol hordes, against Turkic fighters, against Russian troops.
Chechens are variously seen as valorous defenders of their beleaguered homeland and as vile terrorists. The Chechen roots of the two Boston Marathon bombing suspects -- one now dead -- has drawn new attention to Chechen identity.
Chechens are one of a bewildering array of ethnic groups originating in the steep and inhospitable Caucasus Mountains. Of the estimated 1.7 million Chechens worldwide, about 1.4 million live in Russia, mostly in Chechnya proper. Their Chechen language is unrelated to Russian or other major tongues, adding to a sense of ethnic unity.
Before the 20th century
Beginning with resistance to Mongol invasions in the 13th century, Chechens became known as formidable warriors. As part of their obdurate determination, Chechens developed their characteristic fortress towers -- tall, thin spires used as residences as well as defensive positions. As czarist Russian forces began offensives to take control of the Caucasus in the 19th century, Chechnya's warlords earned a reputation for being wily, bold and venal. The young Leo Tolstoy, serving in the army in Chechnya, drew on his experiences for his noted story "The Caucasus Prisoner.''
Russian forces gained control of Chechnya in 1859 after about four decades of fighting. The Russian fortress that was a key element of the conquest eventually gave its name to what became Chechnya's capital.
During World War II, Soviet dictator Josef Stalin saw Chechens as likely allies of the Nazis, so he deported them en masse to Siberia and Central Asia in 1944. They weren't allowed to return until 1957, and the suffering of the deportation remains a potent touchstone for Chechens.