Muslims of Chechnya continue their lonesome struggle for freedom, keeping Russian might in a bear trap.
Struggling to find an exit from the increasingly unpopular military campaign to subdue the republic of Chechnya, President Vladimir Putin has hit upon a strategy that is eerily reminiscent of the U.S. experience in Vietnam.
Starting mid-February, the Russian military presence in the north Caucasus republic is being reduced from the current 80,000 troops to a permanent garrison of just 22,000. However, the task of destroying the Chechens has been handed over to the Federal Security Service (FSB), successor to the Soviet-era KGB.
In order to “Chechenize” the conflict, quisling Akhmad Kadyrov, the Kremlin-appointed head of Chechnya’s administration, has been asked to expand the armed Chechen police forces under his command from 5,000 to 15,000 men. Kadyrov, a warlord from Gudermes, who claims to have been elected Chechnya’s first Mufti in 1995, has only revived the tradition of another quisling, Bokov, who in fact justified the Stalinist deportation and was awarded with the republic’s presidency.
Putin, who is employing an old colonial tactic to get local forces to do your fighting for you, seems to overlook the disastrous outcome that met American attempts to give South Vietnamese forces “the tools to do the job” of defeating a Communist insurrection in the early 1970’s, or the USSR’s hopes that a pro-Moscow regime in Afghanistan could hold out after Soviet troops withdrew in 1989.
Or it may be just a propaganda gambit to convince Russians and the world that the war is over in Chechnya, and that civil conditions there are normalizing despite the deadly clashes that take place on an almost daily basis.
Putin’s announcement coincided with the Council of Europe’s hearings on Moscow’s human rights record in the conflict that was also to consider whether Russia’s voting rights in the body - taken away amid a wave of criticism last year - should be restored.
A repetitive study by the independent Institute for Public Opinion Research in Moscow has found that public backing for continuing the military campaign has fallen from a high of 70% in February 2000 to 38% in January 2001.
Russia claims that it is no longer a totalitarian state, but the emphasis on using the FSB in Chechnya suggests that these methods will now take the foreground in this struggle. Whatever the motives, Putin has grudgingly accepted that the war is hopelessly bogged down and clearly unwinnable. Ultimately, the Kremlin would be driven to the same conclusion that most of the world’s imperial powers have had to face in their day: that there may be no solution to the Chechnyan problem under the Russian flag.
Another Chechen Holocaust
February 24th is a dark day in Chechen history - a day when Stalin deported the entire population to Siberia.
The deportation was cruel and calculated - prepared for through the use of news stories such as the one that appeared in the “Groznenskaya Pravda” after the liquidation of the Chechen-Ingush Republic that reported that, since the establishment of the Soviet government, the Chechen-Ingush had killed nearly 20,000 Red Army troops and Communist Party members.
At the end of 1943, there were rumors about the impending deportation of Chechens and Ingush. In the second half of January and the first half of February 1944, special detachments of the NKVD began to arrive in American-made Studebaker trucks, ostensibly to build roads and bridges. The troops occupied the mountains and each village was put under a garrison.
Then came February 23, 1944 - the day of the Red Army. In the evening, the soldiers built blazing fires in the village squares and there was singing and dancing. The unsuspecting villagers came to see the festivities. When they were assembled in the squares, all the men were arrested. Some of the Chechens had weapons and there was some shooting. However, resistance was rapidly eliminated. The men were locked up in barns followed by a hunt began for those who had not come out. The entire operation was effected in 2 or 3 hours. The women were not arrested, but were told to pack to leave the next day with the children.
On the evening of February 24th, the trucks were filled with the men who had been arrested the previous day, the women and children. They were transferred to freight cars in Grozny, bound for special camps in Kazakhstan. All Chechens and Ingush, without exception, were taken away.
Russian students were mobilized to feed the livestock, store the grain, take care of stocks, and so on. Things were different in the mountains where, after the livestock were evacuated, villages were set afire to deprive the Muslims - branded as ‘bandits’ - of their means of subsistence. For days, one could see villages burning in the mountains.
At the same time, an amnesty was promised to those who had escaped to the mountains if they returned. Some did, but they were also deported.
According to eyewitnesses, groups of Chechens and Ingush were shot on sight. Only women were allowed to take hand luggage with them.
Their journey was no less tragic. The men, transported in prison freight cars, were deprived for days of not only food but also water. Because of these conditions and the lack of medical care (the freight-cars were so full that people were sitting on top of each other), there were mass epidemics.
The authorities tried to localize the epidemic to the Chechens and Ingush in order to get rid of them ‘naturally.’ The local population was strictly forbidden to help those who were dying by giving them food, water or medicine. Even simple displays of humanity were forbidden under the threat of arrest. Eyewitnesses stated that some 50% of the deportees died en route.
The motive given by the Soviets to justify the deportation as collaboration with the Germans during the War was ridiculous. The Germans never penetrated the Chechen-Ingush Republic, and since the Chechen-Ingush were never enlisted in the Red Army, they could not serve in Vlassov’s army.
The Soviet government was well aware, from the experience of the Russian empire, that armed resistance against foreign conquerors was an established tradition in those parts long before Hitler or Stalin appeared. Indeed, the Imamate of Shamil fell only sixty-three years before the installation of the Soviet regime.
Exile and return
In Soviet minds, the history of Chechnia-Ingushetia was written off. But, how did the Chechens and Ingush behave during their 13-year exile?
According to Solzhenitsyn, the Chechen “refused to accept the psychology of submission.” Not even Stalin could force them to obey his laws.
In the course of the 20th Congress, Khrushchev rehabilitated the Chechens, and on January 9, 1957, the autonomy of Chechen-Ingush ASSR was reestablished.
Stalin disappeared long ago; yet the new thinkers of the Kremlin, perfectly aware that the Chechens and Ingush did not and could not collaborate with the Germans, still encourage the propagation of Stalin’s concepts on “counter-revolutionary nations.” As a result, the younger Russian generation knows nothing about the history of the non-Russian peoples - or for that matter, about its own.
Dr. Mohammad Shashani, formerly a professor at Pennsylvania State University, says, “Since the Czarist times, the Russian people were brainwashed into believing that the Chechen people are barbaric and evil, and must be destroyed to ensure the safety of the Russian people. Likewise, the communist rulers depicted the Chechens as untrustworthy and as agents of the capitalist west trying to destabilize the communist empire.”
In order to justify the massacres, Putin and the Russian ruling class are using Stalinist techniques to criminalize the entire Chechen nation. The anti-Chechen brainwashing by the Russian leadership and the media only finds its parallel in the Muslim bashing by the Western media. In the words of the Chechen poet, Hussein Satuev: “When lies are written about a nation, it dies again.”
The struggle between good and evil, between democracy and totalitarianism, has been enacted in the Caucasus Mountains for decades while the outside world has remained largely indifferent.
A BRIEF CHRONOLOGY
1785: Organized resistance started by Chechen leader Mansur Usherma.
1850’s: Rebellion Led by Imam Shamyl
1859: Chechnya conquered by a colonial power (Russia).
1864: Russia wins the war to control Chechnya and northern Caucasus; all men of fighting age in Chechnya are eliminated.
1859-1944: Uprisings by the Chechen to free their land from imperial Russia and Communist Russia.
1918: Bolsheviks siezed region and were dislodged by freedom fighters in 1919
1936: Chechnya made a republic
1944: Chechen people uprooted from their homes and exiled to Central Asia and Siberia.
Nov. 27, 1990: After the collapse of the Soviet Union, representatives of the Chechen people declare their independence;
Oct.27, 1991: Chechens hold democratic elections with international observers present; Johar Dudayev receives 90% of the vote and is elected President of the Chechen Republic.
Dec.11, 1994: Russia sent into Chechnya over 40,000 troops. Between 30 and 50 thousand civilians were killed during the 13 months of the war of liberation.
Abuses Spread Beyond Chechnya http://www.hrw.org/press/2003/07/russia071603.htm
Call to Put an End to War http://www.islamonline.net/english/Views/2003/10/article02.shtml
Chechnya and the Laws of War http://www.crimesofwar.org/expert/chech-oleg.html
Chechnya Briefing http://hrw.org/english/docs/2004/01/29/russia7248.htm
Chechnya Buries Assassinated President http://aolsvc.news.aol.com/news/article.adp?id=20040509061109990002&_mpc=news%2e6
Chechnya the Never Ending Conflict http://www.islamonline.net/english/views/2002/10/article11.shtml
Chechnya’s Secret Slaughter, http://www.guardian.co.uk/chechnya/Story/0,2763,1106704,00.html
Conditions in Chechnya and Ingushetia Degenerate http://hrw.org/english/docs/2004/04/08/russia8415.htm
Evidence of War Crimes in Chechnya http://www.islamonline.net/iol-english/dowalia/news-26-2-2000/topnews1.asp
Genocide in Chechnya, http://www.geocities.com/zahidtg2/Chechnya/
History of Chechnya http://www.infoplease.com/ce6/world/A0857260.html
International Community and Chechnya http://hrw.org/wr2k4/7.htm#_Toc58744956
Is Russia Really Fighting Terror in Chechnya? http://pinr.com/report.php?ac=view_report&report_id=54&language_id=1
Islam in Russia http://www.themodernreligion.com/convert/russia.html
Nine Civilians Extrajudicially Executed in Chechnya http://hrw.org/english/docs/2004/04/12/russia8424.htm
see also OIL AND POLITICS (a collection of articles) http://www.theamericanmuslim.org/2003nov_comments.php?id=412_0_23_30_C
On the situation of Chechens in Moscow http://www.hrw.org/backgrounder/eca/russia032003.htm
Open Season on Chechnya, Jackson Diehl, http://iviews.com/articles/Articles.asp?ref=WP0307-2028
President Bush’s Statement on Caspian Pipeline Consortium http://www.whitehouse.gov/news/releases/2001/11/20011128-11.html
Rights Groups Condemn Russian Abuses in Chechnya http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/europe/3611629.stm
Russia Accused of War Crimes http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/world/europe/601615.stm
Russia Blamed for Chechnya Abuses http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/europe/3078553.stm
Russia Is Committing War Crimes and Genocide http://www.gfbv.de/gfbv_e/docus/russ_e.htm
Russian Christians Exterminating Chechnyan Muslims http://www.religioustolerance.org/geno_ch.htm
Russian Press slams Putin’s Chechnya Strategy http://www.dailytimes.com.pk/default.asp?page=story_12-5-2004_pg4_6
Soviet Deportation of Chechens to Siberia (1944) http://www.qantara.de/webcom/show_article.php/_c-476/_nr-89/i.html
Statement by the Chechen Resistance http://www.islamonline.net/English/Views/2004/02/article05.shtml
U.N. Refuses to Condemn War Crimes in Chechnya http://www.islamonline.net/English/News/2003-04/16/article13.shtml
Undying Defense, Omer bin Abdullah, http://www.islamonline.net/english/Politics/2001/02/article4.shtml
War Crimes in Chechnya and the Response of the West http://www.hrw.org/campaigns/russia/chechnya/peter-testimony.htm
War Crimes in Chechnya http://www.mcb.org.uk/news100300.html
Who’s Afraid of Putin? http://www.hrw.org/editorials/2003/russia092603.htm