The current Chechen crisis began either in 1991, when the Chechens declared their independence from Russia, or in 1994, when Russian President Boris Yeltsin decided to put the separatists down. The roots of the conflict are very deep. In the nineteenth century, Chechen opposition to Russian imperial expansion led to a series of wars and uprisings, which were brutally suppressed; where an estimated 1,500,000 Chechens lived in Chechnya at the start of the nineteenth century, the 1926 Soviet census listed just 400,000.

This sequence of revolt and repression continued into the “second” Russian empire, the Soviet Union. During the civil war that followed the Revolution, the Chechens fought against “white” forces. The Bolsheviks initially promised the Chechens self-government according to Islamic law, and promoted Chechen culture and the development of the nation. However, the bureaucratic and totalitarian character of the Soviet state was at odds with Chechen values and traditions, and uprisings continued during the Soviet period. Under Stalin in 1944, Chechens were deported to Central Asian concentration camps, and Chechnya ceased to exist as an entity within the Soviet Union. Up to a quarter died during the “resettlement”, or were murdered. Under Khruschev, Chechnya was reconstituted as an “autonomous republic” or “independence within dependence” within the Russian Federation, and surviving deportees returned. For the Chechens, the deportation represents not only an episode of great suffering, but also a humiliation – a trauma which has made it impossible for Chechens to live within Russia as a national minority

As the Soviet Union broke up in 1991, Chechnya declared independence from the Russian Federation. However, unlike the Union republics such as Georgia and Moldova, Chechnya’s status as an autonomous republic within Russia placed it in a different position under international law. The Union republics, whatever their position in practice, were legally considered to be sovereign states within the Soviet Union. Chechnya, by contrast, did not have sovereign status, and its declaration of independence has not been recognized internationally

This has meant that Union republics that never attempted secession, such as Belarus, were in effect forced into independence, while a region like Chechnya, the Russian and then Soviet and now again Russian state had striven and are striving to wipe out, was compelled to remain within a political framework that it rejected.

Post-Soviet Russia is the third incarnation of Russian statehood with which the Chechens have had to deal. The experience had turned out to be no batter than the previous two. In fact, it was much worse because neither in the 19th nor in the 20th centuries Chechnya was levelled to the ground, nor entire population were killed and tortured in such scale. While the Western world celebrated Christmas in 1994, Russian forces used heavy artillery, massed rocket batteries, and carpet-bombing to grind Groznyy, the capital of Chechnya, and any Chechen village that resisted. During this war, the Russians have killed at least 100,000 Chechens, mainly civilians. Human rights groups continuously accused the Russians of widespread torture, mass executions, reprisals, and collective punishment in Chechnya.

Following his victory in elections in 1996, Yeltsin decided to end the war in Chechnya. Under the Khasavyurt agreements, Russian troops withdrew from Chechnya. But the issue of Chechnya’s status was deferred.

After three years of relative calm, the second phase in the Chechen conflict began in late 1999, and it is linked with the emergence of Yeltsin’s successor, Vladimir Putin, who became acting president when Yeltsin stepped down in December. Following the incursions by Chechen fighters into the neighboring republic of Dagestan, and a series of bomb blasts in Moscow and other Russian cities which left 300 dead, and which have never been fully explained, Russian troops re-entered Chechnya in September 1999 under the well constructed slogan “anti-terrorists operation”. These blasts in Russia, which the Russian government blamed on Chechens, still remain an “unsolved mystery”. However, there is evidence that at least in one Russian city, Ryazan, where a blast was prevented on September 23, FSB agents participated.

The two wars have devastated Chechnya. The capital, Groznyy, is as ruined as Stalingrad after the great battles of the Second World War. No one knows exactly how many people live in Chechnya now, but it is clear that the majority of the pre-conflict population is now refugees in Russia, Azerbaijan, Georgia, and Ingushetia – a Russian republic with no attempt of secession. It is also clear that the Russian government commits the crime of genocide in Chechnya.

The Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide defines genocide as killing, injuring, or use of force with the intention to destroy, in whole or in part, a national, ethnical, racial, or religious group. The world can no longer pretend that Russia doesn’t intend to destroy in whole or in part the Chechen nation. Hundreds of thousands are dead (more than 100,000 since 1999, and more than 250,000 since 1994), more than half of the nation is displaced, nothing has been rebuilt in Chechnya, the war is at a stalemate, but Russia continues to fight its “dirty war” against the Chechen civilians with no desire to even discuss a political solution or improve civilian conditions.

But the saddest thing is that the world turns its eyes away from the worst crime of our time – the genocide in Chechnya. The Chechens’ sense of injustice lies, not only in their treatment at the hands of successive Russian regimes, but also in the attitude of the outside world to the extremely bloody and amoral conflict.

In Kosovo, Serb suppression of Kosovar Albanian separatism, which was much less cruel than Russian suppression of Chechen opposition, prompted a full-scale military response and significant Western action. Even though no one has been prepared to grant Kosovo legal independence or condone its integration into Albania, Kosovo is de facto independent from Belgrade, and under NATO protection. Macedonian Albanians have also achieved the most that they could in a unified Macedonian state. By contrast, pressure on Russia from the world community during the Chechen conflict has always been and is exceptionally weak.

Why is the international attitude to the Chechen conflict so strikingly different from the attitude to the Kosovan war? First, the Kosovan conflict is in Europe, and directly affects the major European powers. The Chechen conflict, on the other hand, is taking place in the world’s backyard; refugees from Chechnya are not heading so much for Germany, but Georgia and Ingushetia.

Second, Russia is still a nuclear power, and remains a large and powerful nation despite the changes that have taken place since the Soviet Union’s collapse. To offend it by, for instance, raising the issue of human rights abuse against Chechens by Russian forces would be dangerous. And third, Russia has successfully presented the conflict not as a political contest for power or intentional destruction of the Chechen nation, but as a fight against Islam and the forces of “global terrorism”.

Russia’s position has become virtually unchallengeable in the wake of September 11 attacks, and Moscow’s support for the US-led war on terrorism. However, the picture is more complex. At the start, Chechens were just separatists, now they are “terrorists” and “bandits”. But in reality, Chechens are nothing more than freedom fighters – people who fight for the independence of their homeland and who want to live in peace and justice. Chechens are the people who have suffered and are suffering a lot in the hands of Russian “democratic” government. Everything else is just an ugly myth constructed by the Russians to denounce and exterminated all Chechens. Another myth is that the Russian system of government is democracy. Democracy isn’t about humiliating, degrading, discriminating against, and killing innocent people. Democracy is about equality and respect for each other.

But it doesn’t really matter why the world stays indifferent to the Chechen tragedy. The only thing that matters is that the world is silent, and this silence kills innocent people. Chechens “living” in almost destroyed Chechnya are undergoing severe genocide. Their beautiful culture is being uprooted, and their wonderful hearts are being filled with unimaginable pain and horror. Their screams are not heard and their tears are not seen. So can silence kill? Yes, it can! The world’s silence, in this case, is the worst murderer imagined. Russia commits the most horrible crimes in Chechnya, and the rest of the world is silent.

Thus, I urge the whole world not to turn its back on Chechnya, not to turn its eyes away from the tragedy of the Chechen people. The world must hear their screams and see their tears. It must imagine the pain that all Chechens are forced to bear. Everyone must understand that Chechens are our fellow human beings who are being severely exterminated by the Russian bloody state forces, and who need our urgent help. Only in that case we will be able to say that all of us have contributed to the world civilization and to the prosperity of our humanity!



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