Anyone who dives into the background and history of chetki will quite quickly encounter references to the Russian underworld, the mafia, and the prison system. We've touched on this briefly elsewhere on the site. Chetki has become more widespread in recent years, and has begun shed these underworld associations, yet this background has persisted until recent history and remains not far off in the distance.
As most of our customers quickly realize, Aroundsquare makes an earnest effort to understand, respect, and communicate what we can about the backgroud of the products we carry. Many of the most intriguing items we carry have meaningful histories which contribute a lot to the story of the products themselves.
Little is written in English about most of these items, and simple online searching seldom yields anything new or useful. But as the community grows, we're always connecting with new players and collectors around the world, and when we find someone in the know, our interest is sincere, and occasionally, we're graced with some arcane knowledge about these intriguing objects.
In a recent exchange, I found myself in conversation with a Londoner of Uzbek roots--one who had spent time in the prison system. This individual is very much in the know. I shared photos of my personal collection of chetki, and he immediately singled out one piece in particular--a set of Armenian chetki gifted to me by a friend. This set is full of symbolism, with esoteric images resembling tattoos. He offered to decrypt the imagery for me, and I obviously jumped at the chance.
Be forwarned, it's dark stuff--not endorsed or glamorized in any way. I'm sharing this this because it speaks to the very real and not too distant background of the modern and minimalist flipping chetki we know and love.
Here it is, direct from the source:
- So the big link with the Rose of Winds symbolises the highest authority in criminal hierarchy. The title is called “Vor v zakone” which translates as “Thief in Law.” If you see someone with 2 of these Roses of Winds on their chest, knees or elbows, it means they’re either the real mad criminal authority or just some dumbfuck that thinks doing these tattoos is “embracing” this dark culture.
- Second one is 3 cards - hearts, clubs and diamonds symbolize the “Shooter” which is a card sharpie. It’s a separate caste of criminals that specialize in living off the money/ goods that they win in card games. Sometimes they win lives, sometimes they loose everything they have.
- 3rd one is Nomads - usually homeless people that live off the money/goods that they stole on the streets. The symbols for this caste are different but since you have a ship, it means it’s not just just some nomad, but one thats very respected in prison.
- 4th is a skull with a sign “death is near.” All criminals in prisons have this romance - “life is short.”
- 5th one symbol is a scorpion which says “I am your enemy.” Scorpions and spades suit usually represents violence. It prolly means the inmate is in for armed robbery/ murder or smth to deal with violence.
- 6th one is basically Christian church with the sign “bless and save.”
- 7th is a crowned eagle which represents the “suit” which is criminal authority.
- 8th one says “Freedom” with hands free of handcuffs. Roses usually symbolize freedom as well tho.
- 9th one says “killer” which basically means the inmate is in for murder.
- 10th is hand with a cross saying “For The Suit” which symbolizes the will of criminal to stand on his truth and for his caste.
- 11th with a sun says “North” under the sun which is something I'm not sure about, I think it’s an abbreviation.
So the 2nd side goes like this
- Money bag pierced by knife - inmate is in for armed robbery. The sign says - “bandit.”
- 2nd is the bell - “from the ringing to the ringing” meaning the inmate is in for the same charges for 3+ time and he’s going to stay in jail for his whole sentence without any chance for amnesty or anything else.
- 3rd one says “homebody” meaning the criminal is on the home arrest. Not sure about the symbol.
- 4th is a cat in a hat. Sign says “native prison inhabitant.” Meaning that the inmate moved to the adult prison from the underage prison and spends most of his life in. Scary caste, met some.
- 5th is a spider, not sure why it says “schipach” which means pickpocketer, because usually spider represents drug addicts or highly respected criminals (depending on the prison).
- 6th says - Equality. Not sure about the symbols there.
- 7th says “Death to the enemy” (which usually is law and any sort of law enforcers - so police, 12, cia, fbi and everything else). Not quite sure about the symbolism there as well.
- 8th says “Peace to the thieves.” Symbols are unclear to me.
- 9th one is a very scary and dangerous caste, I'd even prefer avoiding any contact with these by any means. Says “in from 13” (years old)
- And the last one with the knife and needle shot says “ruins/kills us” meaning the inmate either has been a drug addict or lost friend/family member to drugs.