In March 2019, strongman Chechen leader Ramzan Kadyrov's speech marking Constitution Day in the North Caucasus region took an unusual turn: He compared the region's turbulent history in the 1990s and early 2000s to the popular television series Game Of Thrones.
He described Chechnya as riven by "bands" and "kingdoms" that were at each other's throats during its brief period of de facto independence from Russia and praised his father, Akhmad Kadyrov, who he said managed to bring order out of the chaos. The younger Kadyrov also said schoolchildren should study his father's life and exploits.
"If teachers from the beginning, from kindergarten, spent one or two or three or even five minutes on describing the path by which we arrived at what we have now, then they would understand," Kadyrov said.
With the current school year, Kadyrov's vision has been realized. A biography of Akhmad Kadyrov titled A Path Bathed In Light is now required reading for Chechen high-school students as "supplementary material to the study of Russian history," according to a report on Chechen state television. The book presents "the political and spiritual heritage of Akhmad Kadyrov."
The new textbook is the latest manifestation of an intense cult of personality celebrating the Kadyrov family that dominates public discourse in the republic.
More than 300 streets in Chechnya are named after Akhmad Kadyrov, as well as the main square and mosque in the capital, Grozny, Chechnya's state university, schools, institutes, kindergartens, a National Guard regiment, a town, a soccer team, and martial-arts clubs. The Akhmad Kadyrov charitable foundation has been described as a slush fund for the Kadyrov family that citizens of the republic are pressured to support financially. In 2020, Ramzan Kadyrov ordered that images of American comic-book superheroes be removed from Chechen children's centers and playgrounds and be replaced with portraits of his father and other "real heroes" of the region.
Akhmad Kadyrov was a separatist fighter against Russia during the first Chechen war, in the mid-1990s, who served as the republic's chief mufti during the de facto independence period between the wars. During the second Chechen war, which began in 1999, he switched sides and supported Moscow. He became the de facto head of the region in July 2000 and officially became president of Chechnya on October 5, 2003.
Less than a year later, however, on May 9, 2004, he was assassinated in a terrorist bombing while marking Victory Day in Grozny. Ramzan Kadyrov, who was 28 at the time, was his father's chief of security. Russian President Vladimir Putin installed the younger Kadyrov as president in 2007, shortly after he attained the required age of 30, and he has run the region with Putin's support ever since.
The primary author of A Path Bathed In Light is police Major Amrudi Edilov. Co-authors include Tamara Elbuzdukayeva, director of the National Museum in Grozny, and Ruslan Alkhanov, the republic's interior minister.
Edilov is a native of the same settlement from which Kadyrov himself hails -- Tsentoroi, which was renamed Akhmad-Yurt in 2019 in honor of Akhmad Kadyrov. He began his meteoric career with the police in 2018, rising from the rank of lieutenant in December 2020 to major last month.
Edilov's father served as regional deputy property minister from 2015 until earlier this year, overseeing construction in the region. He now serves as a deputy in the Chechen parliament and as chairman of its Construction and Housing Committee. Edilov's cousin, Abdul-Kerim Edilov, a former mixed-martial-arts fighter, is currently Ramzan Kadyrov's chief of staff and previously spent 10 years as the private tutor of Kadyrov's sons.
Other Edilov relatives include the general director of the Akhmat athletic club (who is also head of the Chechen Boxing Federation), a traffic-police lieutenant colonel, a deputy health minister, and a senior staffer at the Chechen Security Council.
Speaking on condition of anonymity for fear of reprisals, the director of educational programs at a school in Gudermes told RFE/RL that the government had long been insinuating aspects of the Kadyrov "personality cult" into the school system, and A Path Bathed In Light is just the latest milestone in this effort.
He said schools were required to organize regular essay and poster contests on themes revolving around Kadyrov and his family. Teachers and school administrators are required to leave comments on social-media posts by Kadyrov and his inner circle.
"It isn't enough just to write comments, but we have to take screenshots and send them to the administration to show the results of our work," the source said.
In September, the government announced a competition for portraits of Akhmad Kadyrov; his wife and Ramzan's mother, Aimana Kadyrova; and Ramzan Kadyrov. The winners were offered 500,000 rubles ($6,800) each, paid for by the Akhmad Kadyrov Foundation.
Mukhammad Abdurakhmanov, a spokesman for the Sweden-based Vayfond Chechen human rights group, says that Ramzan Kadyrov has created a cult of personality around himself and his family in order "to frighten people."
"They can't rely on facts, so they rely on power," Abdurakhmanov said. "Just like in the days of [Soviet founder Vladimir] Lenin and [Soviet dictator Josef] Stalin."
Aslan Murtazaliyev, head of the Assembly of Chechens in Europe, says the cult of the Kadyrovs is an attempt "to justify themselves and to cover up their crimes."
Ramzan Kadyrov has been widely criticized both in Russia and abroad for alleged human rights abuses including abductions, torture, extrajudicial killings, the assassination of political and personal enemies, and the persecution of homosexuals and other minorities.