Chechnya: A long Struggle for Re-Independence
By Dr. Abdul Ruff
Even as the Chechen freedom strugglers continue their fight for independence form Russian control, recently, a central avenue in Grozny the capital of Russia’s Chechnya region, seeking sovereignty back from Moscow, was named after Russian premier and former president Vladimir Putin, honouring the man who sent in troops to crush a freedom rebellion there. Currently a pro-Russia regime is ruling Chechnya Republic with instructions from the Kremlin. Previously called Victory Avenue, a common Soviet-era name, it is now called ‘Prospekt Putina’, or Putin Avenue. Footage broadcast on Russian television showed bands of teenagers carrying the Chechen green, white and red flag along the avenue, which was lined with large portraits of Putin. Grozny mayor Khuchiyev was quoted as saying by Interfax news agency: “This act is in recognition of Putin’s outstanding contribution to the fight against terrorism, and to the economic and social restoration in the Chechen republic”. Like USA & many other powers so in the world, Russia has indeed has made a lot pro-Moscow agents among the Chechens. Like the US-led west, Russia has used terrorism plank to silence majority of Chechens.
Belongling to SE European Russia in the N Caucasus, Chechnya declared independence from Russia after the break-up of the Soviet Union in 1991. In 1994 Boris Yeltsin dispatched Russian troops to the republic in the north Caucasus to restore Moscow’s control, but after two years of fighting predominantly Islamist rebels defeated them, establishing a de facto independent state. In 1999, however, the “enrgetic” prime minister, Vladimir Putin, sent troops in again to recapture the separatist region, laying siege to the capital Grozny. The offensive succeeded, with the Kremlin installing a former rebel leader, but who agreed to be pro-Russia, Akhmed Kadyrov, to head a pro-Moscow administration. His son, Ramzan, took over after Kadyrov was assassinated in May 2004, with Putin making him Chechnya’s president in February 2007. Estimates of the number of civilians killed or missing in both Chechen wars range from tens of thousands to hundreds of thousands.
The mountainous region has important oil deposits, as well as natural gas, limestone, gypsum, sulfur, and other minerals. Its mineral waters have made it a spa center. Agriculture is concentrated in the Terek and Sunzha river valleys. Oil, petrochemicals, oil-field equipment, foods, wines, and fruit are produced. The population, which is concentrated in the foothills, is predominantly Chechen, or Nokhchi. The Chechen, like the neighboring Ingush, are Sunni Muslim, and speak a Caucasian language.
According to the 2004 estimates, the population of Chechnya is approximately 1.1 million. Most Chechens are Sunni Muslim, the country having converted to that religion between the 16th and the 19th centuries. Most of the population follows either the Shafi’i, Hanafi, or Maliki schools of jurisprudence.The Chechen attempts to achieve independence is never ending and are pretty hopeful of their exit from the Kremlin fold with or without support from the so-called democratic world led by USA. Their independence struggle led Russia to invade Chechnya and defeat the breakaway republic, while imposing a government favored by Russia, but unwanted by the Chechen people. Indeed, it was partly the Islamic upsurge of Chechen society that was considered by Moscow as a threat and led to the Second Chechen War. Patriotic Nationalists are still convinced about the righteousness of their cause and are unwilling to submit to Moscow. Their strongholds in the mountainous areas of Chechnya have not been defeated. As expected by the Kremlin, the so-called patriotic nationalists may be down, but are only waiting for their chance to come back and may become more radical as their isolation worsens.
Brief History of Chechnya
Chechnya has been a thorn in Russia’s mountainous southern border for nearly two centuries. The Russians finally overcame the resistance of Imam Shamil in 1859, claiming the Caucasus region for the empire after a long and bloody campaign that caught the imagination of many 19th Century Russian writers from Lermontov to Tolstoy.
Chechnya has a long history of struggle for independence and violence against Russia. Rich in oil, its economy and infrastructure were reduced to ruins by years of war between local freedom activists and Russian forces. Chechnya has been under virtual siege for all practical purposes from Moscow for decades now. The southern Russian republic of Chechnya is surrounded on nearly all sides by Russian territory but also shares with neighboring Georgia a remote border high in the Caucasus Mountains.
Recognized as a distinct people since the 17th cent., the Chechens were the most active opponents of Russia’s conquest (1818-1917) of the Caucasus. From 1824 to 1859, Russian Czar Nicholas I and Caucasian leader Imam Shamil fought a bloody war, with Russians finally occupying and annexing Caucasus only due to their greater numbers. They fought bitterly during an unsuccessful 1850s rebellion led by Imam Shamyl. The Chechens had to wait for more than 60 years before they briefly escaped Russian dominion again in the chaos following the October revolution. However, that period of independence was short-lived and by 1922 the republic had been forced back into the Russian fold. World War II and the Nazi invasion presented another glimpse of freedom from Moscow’s rule. When the war ended, Stalin sought vengeance. He accused the Chechens of collaborating. Their punishment was mass deportation to Siberia and Central Asia. They were allowed to return only in 1957 when Khrushchev was in power in the Kremlin.
During the Communist Revolution of 1917, Dagestan – which included Chechnya at the time – declared its independence as a North Caucasian Republic. After Soviet rule was reestablished, the area was included in 1921 in the Mountain People’s Republic. The Chechen Autonomous Region was created in 1922, and when de facto independence ended in 1923, the republic was again split in three parts within the Russian Federation – Dagestan, Chechnya and Ingushetia. In 1934 it became part of the Chechen-Ingush Region, made a republic in 1936. After Chechen and Ingush units collaborated with the invading Germans during World War II, many residents were deported (1944) to Central Asia. Deportees were repatriated in 1956, and the republic was reestablished in 1957. In 1991, as the Soviet Union disintegrated, the Chechen-dominated parliament of the republic declared independence as the Republic of Ichkeria, soon better known as Chechnya. In June, 1992, Russia granted Ingush inhabitants their own republic (Ingushetia) in the western fifth of the territory.
Soviet Russia tried all tricks to keep Chechnya under its control and thus Chechnya always presented a problem for Russia. “The Chechens and Ingush presented a special problem.. Inhabiting the nearly inaccessible mountain ranges bordering on Dagestan, they were always, from the Russian point of view, a troublesome element. Inassimilable and warlike, they created so much difficulty for the Russian forces trying to subdue the North Caucasus that, after conquering the area, the government felt compelled to employ Cossack forces to expel them from the valleys and lowlands into the bare mountain regions. Less than a generation later in 1944, practically all Chechen nation was exiled to Kazakhstan on vague suspicion of support for the invading German army, resulting in mass deaths on the way to Kazakhstan and in the exile itself. At least 30% of Chechens died as a result.
The Soviet policy at the time also eliminated the Chechen-Ingush Republic. Yet, the Chechens did not submit to oppression and stood proud, unrelenting in their desire for self-determination. Upon returning to Chechnya in 1957, when the Chechen-Ingush Republic was reconstituted, they found that their homes had been given to Russian settlers, and part of their land has been taken away and given by the Soviet authorities to a Dagestani nation. Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn wrote in “The Gulag Archipelago”: “there was one nation that would not give in, would not acquire the mental habits of submission — and not just individual rebels among them, but the whole nation to a man. These were the Chechens. “The regime which had ruled the land for thirty years could not force them to respect it and its laws.”
Tensions between the Russian government and that of Chechen president Dzhokhar Dudayev escalated into warfare in late 1994, as Russian troops arrived to crush the separatist movement. Grozny was devastated in the fighting, and tens of thousands died. Russian forces regained control of many areas in 1995, but separatist guerrillas controlled much of the mountainous south and committed spectacular terrorist actions in other parts of Russia. Fighting continued through 1996, when Dudayev was killed and succeeded by Zelimkhan Yandarbiyev. The Russians withdrew, essentially admitting defeat, following a cease-fire that left Chechnya with de facto autonomy. Aslan Maskhadov, chief of staff of the Chechen forces, was elected president early in 1997 but appeared to have little control over the republic.. In 1999, Islamic law was established. A series of bombings in Moscow, erupted again, and after Islamic militants invaded neighboring Dagestan from Chechnya, Russian forces bombed and invaded Chechnya, capturing Grozny and forcing the rebels into mountain strongholds. The rebels have continued to mount guerrilla attacks on Russian forces, as well as terror attacks in Moscow and other Russian cities outside Chechnya. Both sides have been accused of brutality and terrorizing noncombatants.
In 2003 voters approved a new constitution for Chechnya, and Akhmad Kadyrov was subsequently elected president, but the election was generally regarded as neither free nor fair. Both the constitution and the president were backed by Russian government. Kadyrov was assassinated in 2004; Alu Alkhanov was elected to succeed him. Russian forces killed Maskhadov, who was considered a moderate Chechen rebel leader, in 2005 and Shamil Baseyev, a notorious and significant rebel commander, in 2006. Alkhanov resigned as president in 2007 after a power struggle with Prime Minister Ramzan Kadyrov, son of the former president. Ramzan Kadyrov was then appointed president by Russian president Putin.
When then president Putin made a historic visit to the Gulf States, including Saudi Arabia in 2007 his as agenda included to gain their support for silencing the freedom seeking Chechens. Putin sent Russian soldiers into Chechnya in 1999 to seize control from separatists who had forced out Russia forces in an earlier war. The second Chechen war killed thousands, destroyed swathes of Grozny and created a new wave of refugees. Rights groups accused Russian troops of using indiscriminate force in Chechnya but the second campaign was popular with voters angered by a series of attacks on civilians that were blamed on Chechen rebels.
Chechnya: A long Struggle for re-Independence
When the Soviet Union collapsed in 1991, Dzhokhar Dudayev, a former senior officer in the Soviet air force, declared independence from Russia. Yeltsin responded by sending a few hundred Interior Ministry servicemen to the republic. They were met at the airport by Chechen fighters and sent back home on buses, the first in a series of humiliations for Moscow. This was followed by three years during which armed groups gained an increasing hold on Chechnya and Dudayev became more outspoken in his defiance of Moscow.
A lot of water has flowed under the bridge since 2000 when Putin assumed office at Kremlin. USA and many European nations supported Chechen freedom movement and their media spoke against the human Rights evasions there by Russian forces. “We could cut off IMF aid and export/import loans to Russia until they heard the message loud and clear, and we should do that until they understand the need to resolve the dispute peacefully and not be bombing women and children and causing huge numbers of refugees to flee Chechnya,” said Governor George W. Bush on February 16, 2000. Now neither Bush nor his foes in Washington speak about Chechnya independence.
In 1994 Russia sent its forces in a bid to bring the rebellious region back to heel. Early promises of a quick victory were soon silent as the Chechens put up fierce resistance to the Russian assault and the death toll mounted. Amid growing public outcry over rising losses in the Russian army, Moscow withdrew its forces under a 1996 peace agreement. The deal gave Chechnya substantial autonomy but not full independence. The Chechen chief of staff, Aslan Maskhadov, was elected president. However, Russia failed to invest in reconstruction.
State terrorism began working n Russia as a ploy to deal with freedom seeking Chechens. Many of the explosions that rocked several parts of Russia have been done by the Russian agencies to discredit the Chechens in Chechnya, Russia and abroad. The late summer of the same year saw several explosions in Russia in which hundreds died. But the Russian authorities did not hesitate to blame the Chechens. Putin sent the army back to subdue the republic by force in a second brutal campaign which, despite Russian claims of victory, has yet to reach a conclusion.
Western criticism of Russian tactics and human rights violations in Chechnya was all but silenced following the 11 September attacks on the US. Russia has since portrayed Chechen rebel forces as part of the global terror network and uses this to vindicate its methods.
Russia was looking for right opportunity to support the USA and become a close ally to gain membership in several financial and economic institutions and forums. Terrorism and Islamic resurgence came in handy. Putin did promise independence if the Chechens behaved well. A controversial referendum in March 2003 approved a new constitution, giving Chechnya more autonomy but stipulating that it remained firmly part of Russia. Moscow ruled out participation by the armed opposition and there were widespread concerns that the republic was far too unstable to ensure a valid outcome. Parliamentary elections in Chechnya in November 2005 saw the pro-Kremlin United Russia party win over half the seats. Separatist rebels dismissed the election as a charade but President Putin said that the legal process of restoring constitutional order had been completed. Since then there has been increased investment in reconstruction projects and the shattered city of Groznyy is being rebuilt. While Russia is keen to highlight these signs of rebirth, sporadic violence continues.
The Kremlin unleashed state terror on freedom leaders and schemed to eliminate them from the scene once for all, rather successfully. Along side, Moscow has been targeting the main freedom leaders and made them either pro-Russia or ineffective or “disappear’. (2005 March – Separatist leader Aslan Maskhadov killed by Russian forces, succeeded by Abdul-Khalim Saydullayev; 2006 March – Ramzan Kadyrov, son of assassinated president Akhmad Kadyrov, becomes PM; 2006 June – Government forces kill separatist leader Abdul-Khalim Saydullayev. Warlord Dokka Umarov takes over; 2006 July – Shamil Basayev, Russia’s most wanted man, dies in explosion in neighbouring Ingushetia; 2007 March – Ramzan Kadyrov becomes president)
The assassination of Maskhadov by Russia on March 8, 2005 was widely criticized since it left no legitimate Chechen separatist leader to conduct peace talks with. Human Rights Watch reports that pro-Moscow Chechen forces under the effective command of President Ramzan Kadyrov, as well as federal police personnel, used torture to get information about greedom activists.The Internal Displacement Monitoring Centre reports that after hundreds of thousands fled their homes following inter-ethnic and separatist conflicts in Chechnya in 1994 and 1999, more than 150,000 people still remain displaced in Russia today..
However, Chechnya’s bearded 32-year-old pro-Moscow president Ramzan Kadyrov insists, in Soviet style, Chechnya is flourishing, fully recovered from two Kremlin-led wars – the first under Boris Yeltsin, from 1994-96, and the second under Putin, between 1999 and 2006. Chechens had given up their centuries-long struggle to escape Russian domination, he said, and now wanted to be part of the Russian Federation. “We are with Russia forever and we will protect Russian interests,” he says. Asked whether his destiny was inextricably linked to that of Putin – who appointed him Moscow’s de facto emissary in Chechnya after his president-father Akhmed Kadyrov was blown up in 2004 – he replies: “My fate depends on the Almighty.”
In 2007 December 99% of Chechens apparently voted for Putin and his United Russia party in State Duma elections – a miraculous result that prompted widespread derision. Local election officials had promised to deliver a similar thumping landslide for Putin’s anointed successor, Dmitry Medvedev which they did. In reality, however, it is clear that the official Soviet Union-style turnout in December’s parliamentary elections was the result of administrative fraud.. The vast majority of Chechens didn’t go to the elections,” says Natasha Estemirova, of the Memorial Human Rights Centre in Grozny. “Unlike in previous elections here nobody was forced to vote. The administration arranged everything.” Chechnya’s unemployment rate is 80%, says Estemirova, with most of the showpiece apartment blocks in central Grozny empty despite the acute accommodation problem caused by the closure last summer of temporary hostels for returning Chechen refugees. Estemirova agrees that the number of extra-judicial killings, kidnappings, rapes, tortures and disappearances that characterised the Russian forces’ methods during both Chechen wars has dropped off.
But the security forces were still fighting a high altitude battle with hundreds of radical militants in the mountains – a relatively big number given that Chechnya has a population of just 1.2 million, and is the size of an English county.
The Chechen population is paying the price of Russia’s reassertion. The president of the Russian republic of Chechnya seems to be pleased with Moscow. During a press conference with Western journalists in Dec 2008 Ramzan Kadyrov said that Chechens have no desire to seek independence. However the freedom leaders have rededicated to their resolve.
A latest decision by a Russian court Dmitrovgrad city court in Ulyanovsk oblast in December 2008 to grant conditional early release to a Russian colonel convicted of kidnapping and killing an 18-year-old Chechen girl in 2000 has sparked a wave of protests in Chechnya and cast doubt on Moscow’s ability to maintain order there by relying on Ramzan Kadyrov alone. Many Chechens and human rights activists say the outcome “spits in the face” of justice and the Chechen people.
Chechnya: A long Struggle for re-Independence
The Rise of Chechen Freedom Movement
Disintegration of the USSR strengthened the urge of the Chechens to enhance their struggle for freedom. In 1988, the Soviet authorities proposed to build a biochemical plant in Gudermes Chechnya, sparking wide-spread protests. In opposition to the plant, the Chechen-Ingush Popular Front was organized. The organizations aims quickly changed from environmentalism to nationalism. In 1989, for the first time a Chechen – Doku Zavgayev – was elected the first secretary of the Communist party of the Chechen-Ingush Republic. On November 23, 1990, the Chechen National Congress was formed with consent of Zavgayev and demanded sovereignty. Four days later, CNC declared independence as a Chechen-Ingush Republic. On September 15, 1991, Ingushetia separated from Chechnya, their decision accepted by both Chechen and Russian authorities. In the spring of 1991, Chechen President Jokhar Dudayev declared the Soviet/Russian rule to be colonialist. Meanwhile, Zavgayev lost control of Chechnya due to this support for the putschists who were trying to overthrow Soviet President Mikhail Gorbachev, while Dudayev came out strongly against the attempted overthrow.
In 1991, as the USSR was collapsing, Chechen President Dudayev declared Chechnya an independent nation, following the example of the 14 Republics (Baltic States, Central Asian states, etc.) that gained independence from Moscow around the same time. Russian President Boris Yeltsin and Soviet President Mikhail Gorbachev refused to recognize Chechen independence. Indeed, no country in the world recognized independent Chechnya.
The main reason for the discriminative treatment of different independence declarations lied in the Soviet hierarchy of different regions: the international community decided to recognize those who had the Socialist Soviet Republic (SSR) status in the USSR (including Russia itself), while those with Autonomous Socialist Soviet Republic (ASSR) status were not recognized. While the SSR’s were theoretically (but not practically) semi-sovereign under the Soviet rule, the ASSR’s were part of SSR’s. The result was that some Central Asian republics became independent with reluctance, while some smaller but eagerly independence-minded republics (mainly Chechnya and Dagestan, but also Tatarstan and Tuva) had to choose between surrendering their nationhood or starting active resistance.
Only the Chechens chose the latter to fight for re-independence. From 1991 to 1994, Russia did not assert de facto rule over Chechnya, with RF authorities still busy trying to develop a new form of government, a new economy and a capable military and intelligence. Russian President Boris Yeltsin played double role, both encouraging the Chechens to seek independence with more and more autonomy and send in terror forces to kill the Chechens.
Moscow authorities were afraid that a moderate, legitimately elected Chechen leader may win de jure recognition and hoped that by getting Maskhadov to join with Islamic “fundamentalists”, they could get him into so much trouble that he would find himself unable to govern, much less acquire de jure recognition. The plan largely worked. After leaving office in disagreement with Maskhadov, Basayev joined forces with Yandarbiyev in attacking Dagestan in 1999. His attempts to suppress Islamic extremism and to prevent Basayev and Yandarbiev from invading Dagestan were unsuccessful. Russia claimed he organized a number of “terrorist” attacks, including the siege of Moscow Theater in October 2002. However, later, after the School Drama where several children were killed by military, the role of Russian agencies including intelligence was revealed.
President Maskhadov found himself a victim of multiple assassination attempts by unknown “militants”. The circumstances and encounters were enacted as per Moscow designs that led to the fall of Chechen independence and submission to Russian rule.
The Chechen Wars
There two major wars of Russia with Chechnya on in 1994 under Boris Yeltsin and another in 1999 as Putin was rising to power. Russia resorted to severe repressive methods to split up the movement and kill the freedom fighters. In 1996, President Dudayev was killed by Russian authorities and was replaced by his Vice-President, Zelimkhan Yanderbiyev. In May 1996, Yanderbiyev initiated peace talks with President Yeltsin. Subsequent elections in February 1997 when16 candidates participated, Chechen military leader Aslan Maskhadov, who actually led negotiations with Russia, was elected President of Chechnya. All 16 candidates for Chechen Presidency supported the breakaway republic’s independence. Maskhadov was widely viewed as a moderate politician who was fairly, legitimately elected in free and democratic elections. Yet, he immediately blundered and on January 1, 1998 – at the urging of Moscow authorities — appointed Shamil Basayev the Prime Minister of Chechnya for a term of 6 months, following which he resigned. Basayev wanted to rule over Chechnya and after Maskhadov’s overwhelming victory in fair, free and democratic elections, he felt the need to do something to both undermine Maskhadov and gain support among the Chechen populace, which wanted independence.
Neighboring Dagestan was also fighting for freedom from Moscow. Yandarbiev and Basayev organized Chechen operations in Dagestan. Russia wanted to break any collaboration between Chechnya and Dagestan on independence moves. Inevitably, Russia responded. Basayev wanted to engage in a war with Moscow, thinking they can defeat the Russian military and establish an Islamist Caucasian Republic consisting of Chechnya, Ingushetia, and Dagestan.
In 2000, Vladimir Putin had emerged from the KGB, via the politics of St Petersburg, to become the natural candidate for the top job in the Kremlin. His rise to power, and the making of his early reputation as a strong leader, had come from his determination to crush those Chechens who dared to defy Moscow’s authority. New Premier Vladimir Putin sent Russian soldiers into Chechnya in 1999 to seize control from freedom fighters that the Kremlin calls as “separatists”, who had forced out Russia forces in an earlier war. In August 1999, Chechen fighters crossed into the neighboring Russian Republic of Dagestan (also was against Russia in a holy war) to support a declaration by an Islamic body based there of an independent Islamic state in parts of Dagestan and Chechnya.. By now Vladimir Putin was Russian prime minister and Moscow was fast and firm in its reaction. Russian military ruthlessly ran over the Chechens killing thousands. Within a couple of weeks the rebellion was over. Russia claimed complete victory over Chechnya, but later it came out that the “victory” was not final and struggle still continues.
The “victory” over Chechen Muslims whom Russian hate made Putin the most sought after Russian leaders after Boris Yeltsin. However, the second Chechen war killed thousands, destroyed swathes of Grozny and created a new wave of refugees. The Council of Europe says that as many as 4,000 people are estimated still to be missing. Human Rights groups accused Russian troops of using indiscriminate force in Chechnya but the second campaign was popular with voters angered by a series of attacks on civilians that were blamed on Chechen rebels.
Russia was deeply annoyed with support given to Chechnya by USA and European states and was keen to stop that altogether so that the Chechens could be dealt with easily and totally silenced. In the late summer of 1999, Russia was still stunned by the aftermath of the economic disaster which had struck 12 months before. Putin has presided over the transformation. Few foresaw a Russia as rich and influential as the one we witness today. Putin’s critics would add that this has become a country where riot police have beaten the Kremlin’s political opponents. There are huge economic and security challenges. Then there’s inflation. Last year, it was 11.9%.
Chechnya: A long Struggle for re-Independence
The Chechen Dilemma
Russia has taken drastic, cruel steps to make the freedom strugglers fall in line. The new Chechen government is widely seen as a puppet of the Moscow administration, and acts as such. It has foresworn any attempts to break away from the Russian Federation. The Kadyrov government saw Russia as its main protector and ally, and conducted all business through Kremlin. Whatever contacts the Chechen President had with the outside world had to be approved by Putin.
Russia hatched a plan to woo as many Chechens as possible to pro-Russia band and divide the movement and strike it at the opportune time. USA-led western powers play dirty politics. War was used a powerful instrument to achieve the Moscow goal. As a result of the 1994 war, Chechens found themselves in complete isolation and destruction. They had expected Western support for their independence, much the same way that the West supported the 14 Republics that gained independence from Moscow. That did not occur. The only support Chechens could muster came from Shamil Basayev’s contacts with Islamic world, predominantly in the Arab world. While most Chechen leaders saw the West as their best hope, Basayev engaged in Islamist, anti-American, anti-Western, anti-Semitic rhetoric. Local Islamist figure Salman Raduyev popped onto the scene in 1996 and led a force of about 100 fighters into Kizlyar, Dagestan, where he blew up Russian helicopters and took people hostage.
Maskhadov’s ally of choice would have been the USA, Europe and the rest of the West. Additionally, Maskhadov’s forces included more ethnic Russians and Ukrainians than Arabs. Thus, the freedom President was not against Russians per se. Maskhadov was willing to cooperate with Russia on anything – trade, crime, anti-terrorism: anything, except Chechen independence. On May 12, 1997, President Maskhadov signed a treaty of peace and friendship with then Russian President Boris Yeltsin, which rejected ‘forever the use of force or threat of force in resolving all matters of dispute’ between Russia and Chechnya and declared that the two countries would ‘develop their relations on generally recognized principles and norms of international law.’”
Maskhadov’s goal was not to fight with Russia. Indeed, that was the opposite of what he wanted. Maskhadov wanted a peaceful, secular, independent Chechnya in peace with Russia and the West. The Chechen Congress of Prefects condemned attempts to impose the Sharia (Islamic law) on the republic. He associated the Islamism with Russia’s global pro-terrorist policy during the Soviet era, and the Kremlin’s support for radical dictatorships in the Islamic world, like Syria, Iraq, Iran, and Libya. But Moscow was not interested in merely getting rid of Chechen hairline freedom fighters and preferred to invade to re-integrate Chechnya into Russian Federation. Indeed, the Islamists were useful to Russia.
Meanwhile, Yandarbiev, persecuted by Russian agencies and their clients in Chechnya and fearing the wrath of the Russian army that he brought upon the breakaway republic, fled to Pakistan, then to United Arab Emirates, before finally settling in Qatar. On February 13, 2004, Yandarbiev was killed in a targeted killing by Vladimir Putin’s administration. Chechnya’s fate has already been long sealed. In response to Chechen attacks on Dagestan, 100,000 Russian troops were sent to Caucasus, freeing Dagestan and destroying much of Grozny. By 2000, 250,000 people became refugees and militants escaped to the villages in the mountains.
Russia engineered local Chechen resistance to Dudayev under the leadership of the Communist leader Umar Avturkhanov in 1993. The opposition took control of the Nadterek region in northern Chechnya, and set up Provisional Council with Moscow support as an alternative government to Dudayev’s rule. Most of President Yeltsin’s advisors at the time indeed advised against military adventurism in regard to Chechnya. But Yeltsin did send the military to Chechnya on August 10, 1994 and clashed with Dudayev’s military. Despite denials by the Yeltsin administration, many of the Avturkhanov’s soldiers were Russian. In the November 1994 fighting, the Chechens captured 70 Avturkhanov troops – 21 of whom turned out to be Russian.
More than three years after Chechens declared independence, on November 25, 1994, Russian helicopters attacked Chechens, with Avturkhanov’s men launching a tank attack and reaching all the way to the palace of the President of Chechnya by the next day. On December 11, Boris Yeltsin officially sent the Russian military into Chechnya, engaging in a bloody war. By 1995, 10,000 Russian soldiers took control of Grozny, the capital of the breakaway republic, and 35,000 more federal troops occupied Chechnya. Chechen President Dudayev was killed in a targeted killing by a missile. Thus Russian tried to silence the Chechens.
It has been usual tactic of any imperialist or colonial power to divide the people under their occupation. Russia did it by effectively dividing the Chechens into antagonistic factions like nationalists and “fundamentalists” and by putting in place a 100% pro-Russia regime in Grozny. Thus, while Chechen freedom leaders looked to Eastern and Central European intellectuals as their role models, the religious Chechens chose to go with the pro-Soviet Islamic Renaissance Party, calling for preservation of the Soviet Union and then to be part of the Russian Federation. Shamil Basayev, the leader of Chechen “fundamentalists”, served in the Interior Ministry troops (OMON) in the Soviet times and fought alongside with the Russian military intelligence GRU against Georgia in the Abkhaz War in the early 1990′s. Chechnya thus also embraced Islamic internationalism and anti-Westernism.
Yet, the federal forces could not defeat the Chechens. The rebels were committed to their cause and many were trained in the Soviet Army during the Soviet war in Afghanistan. (Hence Russia is taking revenge on Afghans by supporting the ongoing US-led terror war there now).
The Kremlin makes systematic efforts to make Chechnya a 100% pro-Russia state completely in tune with Moscow policies both in theory and practice. Russia has been making efforts to make Russian (Christian) the Chechen chief. In 2001, Stanislav Ilyasov was appointed the Prime Minister of Chechnya by the Russian authorities. In March 2003, Chechens voted on a new Constitution granting them greater self-determination rights, but foreswearing any further attempts to declare independence. Sensing the angry mood of Chechens, Russia hurried with a poll and in September of the same year, Akhmad Kadyrov was officially elected President of Chechnya. Kadyrov has served as a Sufi Mufti of Chechnya since 1995. He claims that he began to support Russians in late 1999 because he joined Russians only out of political expediency.
Most analysts questioned the fairness of Chechen elections. Nonetheless, Kadyrov’s election as President, whether fair or not, has been seen as a final nail in the coffin of Chechen sovereignty for the foreseeable future. Any person who would be elected President of Chechnya to replace the assassinated President Kadyrov would have been completely dependent on Moscow for power, military and political, and, thus, remains staunchly loyal to Putin.
Indeed, it is said Chechnya under the pro-Moscow government became less democratic. The new government’s policy is to suppress freedom movement leaders and Islamists by any means necessary – unfair elections, restrictions on the freedom of speech of even the President’s press secretary, massive attacks on “suspected separatists”.
Rise of Islam
Against the wish and will of the Kremlin that promotes Christianity in a big way, Chechnya wants to revitalize Islamic faith in true spirits but Russians oppose it and think Islam is a threat to them as Christians now. Struggle of Chechens for independence is also a struggle to assert their religious faith in their nation. Gradually, as an international trend, Russia began using the terns like fundamentalism and Islamic terrorism etc to ward off the rise of Islam currently in one of its Republics.
Some argued, Chechen freedom leaders did not support independence, but rather Islamism – which can be achieved in an independent Chechnya or under Moscow rule. Traditionally, Russian authorities, even prior to the Communist Revolution, allied themselves with conservative Qadimists, while opposing the reformist Djadidists, in order to use the Ulema (religious council) to suppress the Chechen people, whose religious practices were more keen on organizing around families, clans and villages, rather than religious figures. Nationalism is seen by Chechens as a Western conspiracy, imposed on the Middle East by “Ataturk and his Jewish adherents. As far as Chechnya is concerned, it is better to have disorder than a nationalist, democratic government because a non-Islamic government will damage Islam and would serve as an impediment to right path to Islam and humanism.
Traditionally, Chechens subscribed to either the Shafi’i form of Sunni Islam (also practiced in parts of Yemen, Bahrain, Indonesia, Philippines, and parts of Central Asia and India etc. (the Sufi brotherhoods “tariqats”) Islam is a peace mission for the entire humanity and a peaceful religion, but the anti-Islamic forces have engineered strategies to make them go violent, through provocative measures including state terrorism. Neither Shafi’i nor Sufi Islam is extremist. It is a spiritual religion, focused more on tolerance, education and beliefs than actions and revenge. Chechen Sufis accepted women as equal members, so it is not surprising that women took part in fighting during Chechen wars. Additionally, Chechnya is one of the few places in the world where the man is considered the primary caregiver to children in case of divorce, out-of-wedlock birth, etc. As such, despite their reputation, Chechens are not generally an extremist people. But the Kremlin rulers have incited terror on them to make the Muslims radicals. The years of Soviet rule wiped much of the religious knowledge in the Chechen community, as in every other group in the USSR. (In Azerbaijan, for example, the people used to be Shi’ite (the primary difference between Turks and Azeris historically has been that Turks were Sunni and Azeris were Shi’ite). Yet, to prevent the spread of Islam, Azeri President Haidar Aliev prevented Iranians and Arabs from entering his nation and teaching the locals about Islam. A similar process happened in Chechnya. However, instead of the moderate Turkish influence, many Chechens were indoctrinated in the most radical forms of world. The Muslim Brotherhood, the “granddaddy” of Islamic organizations, which has set up bases in Chechnya, is actually dedicated to eradicating Sufi Islam.
While Maskhadov’s main line was saving the independence of Chechnya, he could not run the country properly and was unable to control the country and suppress crime. Although the Islamist organizations had the agenda of spreading Islam as usual practice, they also financed schools, hospitals, and construction of mosques, which made them extremely popular among the Chechens, while Russia created obstacles.. A wealthy Jordanian Islamist and veteran of the Afghan War, Sheikh Muhammad Fatih, founded boarding schools and orphanages in Urus-Martan. Islamist mosques were founded in Urus-Martan and Gudermes to compete with the Sufi mosques,” wrote Anssi Kullberg.
Despite overwhelming electoral victory, Aslan Maskhadov proved to be a weak leader and was trying to wooing the Kremlin leaders against the cause of the Chechens. . The decisive movement came in the summer of 1998 when Islamists rose up in rebellion against Maskhadov. Maskhadov even revised Dudayev’s secular constitution and introduced nominally the Shari’a (Islamic religious law). Russia opposed the Islamic overtones in now essentially a Christian state. Maskhadov may have felt that without the support of the West, he needed Islamists and their Arab friends.
USA stills harps on Human Rights violations around the world, when its own terror forces are committing serious Rights evasions altogether in Afghanistan and Iraq as much as torture horrors in the secret prisons in Europe and else where. As a usual strategy by the colonial powers, Moscow has sought to portray the Chechen life as returning to “normal”. Moscow strategists argue that Russia still has unfinished business in troubled Chechnya – and President Medvedev cannot ignore it. Those who voted for Medvedev are hoping for more of what they’ve had under Putin.
Calling the freedom movement as separatist terrorism, Putin wanted anti-Chechen feelings in Russia so as to enlist their support for future wars in Chechnya. The blasts in Russia, an attack on the Moscow Theater, holding almost a thousand people hostage, etc., were meticulously engineered by state security services, they sparked outrage among the Russia who hate the Chechens even other wise. Putin happily suppressed the Chechens brutally. Under pressure form Putin, In October 2002, Maskhadov tried to organize a Chechen Congress, excluding the “fundamentalists”. The main purpose of the meeting was to condemn terror against Russia and anyone else. The Moscow Theater terrorist act, though engineered by Russian agencies, sabotaged Maskhadov’s attempt to organize a Chechen anti-terrorist congress. It also sabotaged the secular independence movement, in favor of Russian occupation. The Chechens do not want Chechnya to become another pro-Western Islamic nation – they wanted an Islamic state, and if they couldn’t get independence as Islamists, they would live under the permanent disorder of Russian occupation. Struggle is still living.
Chechnya: A long Struggle for re-Independence
One of the most important issues affecting world peace today is the refusal by the imperialist and colonial powers to grant independence to the nations under their brute custody. The so-called great or big powers had invaded weak nations and annexed them and continue to ruin the people and resources in those colonies. Chechnya, among other nations, had been annexed by imperial Russia centuries back after the fall of Golden Horde that ruled over Russia.
Whereas in pre-Revolutionary Russia, Chechnya was suppressed by the Imperial Russia to keep up its regional hegemony, under Soviet period communism was pitted against Islamic Chechnya, in post-Soviet Russia it is once again the global hegemonic ambitions and other economic reasons along with the neo-Christianity that oppose Chechnya and its re-independence. Ideology at time comes in conflict with faith, but Muslims should riase above ideological preferences to defend their religion.
All over the world several nations and peoples are fighting for independence, while some others are just clamoring for it. Chechnya remains one of those nations that fought valiantly for regaining sovereignty form the occupiers. Brought to their knees after years of war, Chechens seem to have temporarily accepted Russian rule. Patriotic Nationalists are still convinced about the righteousness of their cause and are unwilling to submit to Moscow. Their strongholds in the mountainous areas of Chechnya have not been defeated. As expected by the Kremlin, patriotic nationalists may be down, but are only waiting for their chance to come back and may become more radical as their isolation worsens. The debate between Islamists and Nationalists ripped the Chechen society apart. Nationalists wanted independence as a democratic, secular state. Majority of Chechens (the “Islamists” as the anti-Islamic world brand them correctly) seek an Islamic state to coexist with both the Islamic world and Russia and its neighborhoods.
Russia ably employed the colonial toll of “divide & rule” policy in Chechnya too. The Kremlin leaders till argue Russia cannot afford to give up control over Chechnya as it would set a precedent for dozens of other autonomous republics within the Russian Federation that are itching for independence. Corrupt elections and referendum created impression of acceptance of Moscow and surrender of further demands for independence, yet nobody – including the press secretary of the pro-Moscow Chechen President – believes that is the true will of the Chechen people. Freedom fighters and Islamists have engaged in scores of anti-Russian war acts and have aligned themselves with the most extremist elements in the Muslim world.
Moscow’s worry is not exactly the allowing re-independence to the freedom fighting Chechens, but, as the case of many colonial powers today and always, the “disastrous consequences that event might have on the future integration of the country. While many Chechens are tired of war and may be willing to surrender to Moscow, future battles for independence are a matter of when, not if. Just like the Solidarity Movement in Poland led to the breakup of the Communist Warsaw Pact, and the independence of the Baltic States led to the breakup of the Soviet Union, so will Chechen independence lead to breakup of much of Russia. Thus, the region will not know peace for a long time and extremism, nationalism and Islamism are likely to grow and prosper in Chechnya and the rest of the Caucasus.
In the end, it can be said that the biggest losers are the Chechen people from both ends: Russian state terrorism and draconian strategies to split the Chechens and US-cum-western mischief. Most Chechens want independence in a modern, non-extremist sovereign state. Since, the non-Islamist forces have been mostly defeated or exiled, the Chechens now have a choice between Basayev’s Islamic groups and submission to Russian rule. Neither choice is particularly appealing to the vast majority of Chechens. Many think that eventually Chechens will choose to embrace extremism and join forces with Islamist extremists in an attempt to win independence or at least avenge the deaths of their relatives.
Chechens have to gain international recognition and the war is likely to continue and spread. They must seek global support for their genuine cause, while telling the world of their desire for independence in a democratic state practicing Islam. USA hints at the possible backing for their freedom fight once its terror wars end in Islamic world. But the Neocons want the terror wars to continue for some more decades until” final victory” and only then will Chechens have a shot at sovereignty. If so, Russia would think peace in Chechnya seems impossible for the time being.
Essentially, Chechens need international recognition to be an independent state and a member of UN. Russia, a country that lost 22 million people during World War II, would not tolerate loss of life from what it calls terrorist organizations without folding. But international recognition will not come in the foreseeable future. With the so-called “Islamic terrorism” in full use by Russia and others- which in fact means Christian-Jewish-Hindu terrorism globally and region-wise – widely and accurately seen as the number 0ne threat to international security, Chechens will have a hard time winning friends now. But that is not the end of the freedom struggle. Time will change in their favor.
Russia killed 1 in 3 Chechens. More than 1 in 5 Chechens has been killed in the last 10 years, costing lives in almost every family and during the Soviet period many of them just “disappeared” without trace. Thus, whatever good will Chechens may have had towards Russia has been eliminated. Imagine the outrage of the Jewish community if Germany in the 1990′s engaged in an indiscriminate assault on Jewish civilians resulting in the death of 1 in 5 remaining Jews. That is exactly how Chechens feel today. Russia opposes any foreign support for the Chechens, Yet, following September 11, Vladimir Putin became President Bush’s “friend” and ally.
The anti-freedom government in Chechnya has been installed as a puppet of Moscow, only to see the head of the government killed. Because Chechnya is so much calmer now, it is talked about far less. But the Chechen conflict cast a shadow over the presidencies of both Boris Yeltsin and Vladimir Putin and now Medvedev has to address this issue so that its problems are solved to free the Chechens. Any delay would result in, perhaps, even more of state terrorism on Chechen Muslims! Russia could consider surrendering sovereignty back to Chechnya at least now in a peaceful manner and set a new precedence for settling disputed that way internationally.