'Nokhchiin' the new, cheerful name for Chechnya?

By Andrew Osborn

MOSCOW - Chechnya is trying to shed its image as a smouldering post-apocalyptic war zone by giving itself a more cheerful-sounding name.

In what must be one of the trickiest "rebranding exercises" in modern history, Alu Alkhanov, the Russian republic's pro-Moscow president, wants a name change to exorcise the demons of two brutal wars of secession.

He believes the name "Chechnya" has negative connotations and that the internal republic's alleged renaissance should be accompanied by a complete linguistic break with the past.

If he gets his way, Chechnya will be deleted from maps and replaced with the more wholesome sounding "the Nokhchiin Republic".

Chechens already call themselves "Nokhchii" in the Chechen language.

"The name Chechnya has negative overtones, evokes negative feelings, and has no legal grounds," Mr Alkhanov said.

Mr Alkhanov has instructed his ministers to draw up plans for a name change, which would require a referendum in Chechnya and the approval of the Russian federal Duma (parliament).

He and the Kremlin are eager for Chechnya to be seen to be getting back to normal.

They claim that the region's bombed-out capital Grozny (which means "terrible" in Russian) is being rebuilt and that the republic is on the cusp of a peaceful era.

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