Chechen president backed by Kremlin proposed a name change for the war-torn region in southern Russia, suggesting that its current name not only has a negative connotation but also is foreign, Russian news agencies reported Monday.
Alu Alkhanov said he had instructed the region's information and press minister to begin meeting with experts and representatives of public organizations to research the name change, Interfax and RIA-Novosti reported.
"The name Chechnya has a negative color, evokes negative feelings and has no legal grounds," Alkhanov was quoted as saying.
"The Chechens and peoples of other ethnic origins who live in Chechnya never call their republic this way," Alkhanov said, according to Interfax. "The Republic of Nokhchiin is an option."
"This is the way Chechens called their republic previously. I think it would be reasonable to give this name sole legitimate status," he was quoted as saying by RIA-Novosti.
"Nokhchii" is the term used by Chechens to describe themselves in the Chechen language. Ethnographers also use the term "Vainakh" to collectively describe Chechens and their close ethnic and linguistic kin, the Ingush. During the short period of de-facto independence in the 1990s, separatist leaders gave the North Caucasus region the name "The Chechen Republic of Ichkeria," AP reports.
Some linguists theorize that the name "Chechnya" - a Russian term - derives from a village in the North Caucasus where soldiers from the czarist-era military first encountered local inhabitants.
Last year, Chechnya's parliament - comprised largely of Moscow-backed lawmakers - proposed renaming the provincial capital Akhmad-Kala in honor of the region's assassinated president, Akhmad Kadyrov. The idea, however, was later shot down by President Vladimir Putin and Kadyrov's son, Ramzan, who said the capital should keep its name, Grozny.
After two devastating wars that pitted Russian forces against separatist rebels over the past 12 years, large-scale fighting has now become relatively rare in Chechnya, though rebel fighters continue to carry out small-scale, hit-and-run attacks. Violence has increasingly spilled over into neighboring regions of Russia's poor, troubled North Caucasus.
Also Monday, Chechen law enforcement an explosive device detonated at a Russian military base, killing one official and injuring at least 13 more. The blast occurred Sunday on the Khankala military base outside the capital Grozny, in a building used by prison guards, Chechnya's Interior Ministry said. One guard was killed and 18 others were injured.
The head of Russia's federal prison agency was quoted as saying that terrorism was not suspected in the blast.
"Careless handling of ammunition or explosives is the most likely cause of the blast," Yury Kalinin was quoted by Interfax as saying. "Unfortunately, incidents involving fatalities do occur in places where large amounts of weapons and explosives are stored."