by Jaan Sepp (email@example.com)
May 1999, Europafokus
Too few people remember the most dreadful part of the background of the recent Caucasian wars. Sometimes the news reports mention deportations of whole nations, atrocities and ethnic cleansings committed by Russia against Chechens, Ingushes, Circassians, Balkars and Karachais – to mention some. The horror of all this has, however, not become quite clear for the audience that gets every day an overdose of the Kremlin's disinformation, obediently repeated by Reuters, AP, AFP, TT, Itar-Tass, Interfax etc. So it is time to tell the story of the Chechen nation during Russian occupation.
It all began two hundred years ago. All the 1800s was just war and devastation of the Caucasus. Still it took hundred years from the Russians to conquer and oppress all the Caucasian nations north from the present borders of Turkey and Iran. Especially the Circassians in the west and the mountain peoples of Dagestan in the east continued active armed resistance far into the Soviet era. The Russians could never wipe away all the resistance, which continued in the forests and on the mountains of the Caucasian countries.
Shamil, who was Avarian, and spoke Turkish in the meetings of the Murids, but who is the national hero for the Chechens, was leading the resistance of the mountain nations of Vainakh – that is, present Chechenia, Ingushetia and Dagestan – against the Russian oppressor, aiming at an union of the North Caucasus. Traditionally the North Caucasian nations have, despite their linguistic and religious heterogeneity, shared a common Caucasian cultural heritage, and only the later Russian divide et impera policy has attempted to create a picture of quarrelsome mixture of ethnicities that "cannot cope together" without Russian colonialism. However, Imam Shamil was finally captured and imprisoned by the Russians in 1859, and it was then when the Chechen independence is usually supposed to have ended, although the resistance continued in other regions and in the mountains.
That year of misery was followed by 132 years of hell and Russian occupation of Chechenia, until Dzoxar Dudayev finally in 1991 won the presidential election and declared independence in the Chechen Republic of Ichkeria. At the same time several other republics within the present borders of Russian Federation declared independence, but in all of them Russia managed to crush the freedom movements and replace the leaders with pro-Kremlin old communists, or, like happened in Tatarstan, Tuva and Kalmukia, the republics were persuaded to accept greater autonomy for the time being.
Three peaceful and proportionally happy years of the Chechen de facto independence were passed under the statesmanship of President Dudayev, until Russia in 1994 started a massive and disastrous invasion against Chechenia by Boris Yeltsin's order. Besides Yeltsin, the greatest war criminals in the Chechen War I were Pavel Grachev and Sergei Stepashin. However, the three years of freedom, even without international recognition, had given much hope of better life for the Chechens. Resistance against Russia's invasion was total, and majority of the Russian minority in Chechenia joined the Chechens to condemn Russian bombings and the invasion. The Russians lost the war and removed their troops in 1996, when General Aleksandr Lebed had managed to sign the Hasavyurt treaty with the forthcoming president of Ichkeria, Aslan Maskhadov (Dudayev had been killed in a Russian rocket attack in same April, and Maskhadov was preceded as the temporary president by Zelimkhan Yandarbiyev).
Russia's removal was a great victory for the Chechen people. But the price was terrible: The country was totally destroyed. Over hundred thousand civilians were massacred by the Russian troops – who were even themselves victims of this insane war of Yeltsin. The Russian "Mothers of Soldiers" applied in vain on the Kremlin regents for their sons who were sent to fight for Russian imperialism to a non-Russian soil. According to all the eye-witnesses, even the Russians, the Chechen war was far more dreadful than the one in Bosnia. And there were no UN to interfere. Even the Red Cross left Chechenia due to the mysterious assassination of nine of their workers in a field hospital – the Russian intelligence FSB has been the main suspect of this terror act.
Chechens were killed en masse in Russian "filtration camps" (concentration camps). The bones were collected in great ammunition boxes, crushed and burn so that there would be no evidence – yet there is enough photo evidence and witness stories to verify the horrors that exceeded those of the Bosnian war. Also Ingushes were cleansed by Russia, and Ingushetia was bombed, although they had not even declared independence. Nobody can tell the amounts of people who died in hunger, coldness etc. as an overwhelming majority of Chechenia's houses was destroyed.
After the war, despite the Chechen victory, the country has stayed in total isolation, as nobody in outer world cared to recognise their independence. There is no electricity, nor telephones, and all the infrastructure had been destroyed. When British Telecom was installing cellular phone system for the Chechen government, three of their workers were murdered and beheaded – it is largely suspected that it was work of the Russian FSB, although there was of course no certainty of anything. All considering the Caucasus was myths, lies, and disinformation from Moscow. The absence of Western reporters (since bandit activity was increased by Russian purposeful sabotage and even financing the bandits by powers inside Yeltsin's clique) sealed the propaganda monopoly of the Russian news agencies.
The whole North Caucasus was being "Afghanised" by Russian colonialism – also in Afghanistan the Soviet occupation led finally to the victory of extremist Taliban, although we must remember that the freedom fighters of Ahmed Shah Massoud are still continuing resistance against the Taliban, like they resisted the Soviets throughout the occupation. The vague borderlands had become partly also really realms of gunmen and bandits, as the Chechen government had no means to control its region in a destroyed and isolated country. And resistance in neighbouring republics was quickly being monopolised into ever more fundamentalist hands, as the isolation and Russian sabotage continued. E.g. Dagestan was purposefully driven into ultimate poverty and 70 per cent unemployment at the same time as Russia cut off means of communication.
But there has been worse than the present. The worst times had been those of Stalin's, yet it began with the Bolshevik revolution of Lenin. The real Stalinist inferno for the Chechens began in 1944 when Stalin decided to destroy the whole Chechen population.
In the cold February 1944 the unsuspecting Chechens had gathered in their villages to celebrate the official Red Army memorial day of the Soviet Union, when the troops of the secret police suddenly surrounded the crowds of people, shot all those who resisted, and closed the whole population of half million Chechens into freezing freight-cars of the hollow deportation trains. The destination was Kazakhstan's cold and desolate periphery where survivors were to be deported. The sick, the old, and pregnant women, who could not have survived the long railway deportations, taking weeks, were shot, burn, or buried alive.
Communism's ultimate legitimacy had always been a lie - everything that did not suit the ideology, had to be destroyed. So, the Soviet Union wanted to destroy also the memory of the homeland and everything there that reminded of the age-old Caucasian history. The villages were burn – in the village of Haibah 700 inhabitants were burn alive in their barns. Burial stones were dug up from old cemeteries, and used for building roads, to manifest the communists' maximal disrespect at everything that was sacred and emotional. Lots of ancient guard-towers on the mountains of the Chechen Highland were blown up, and Russians were imported to inhabit the denied land.
The sacred national animal of the Chechens is the wolf. It is admired especially because of its perseverance and unyieldingness. A native legend of the Chechen folklore tells about the wolf, who, at the times of the end, is the last living creature to stand unyielding against a death-wind rising from the north, and wiping across the world, destroying everything. With its perseverance the wolf makes God relent and decide that the world is after all worth of saving. This old legend was remembered during the deportation years far away in Kazakhstan. So many times the Russian death-wind has already wiped across Chechenia, and yet the wolf's nation has endured.
But in Kazakhstan the death rate was extremely high among those deportees who had survived. Why? After the second world war Russia founded a special laboratory in Moscow to produce poisons to be used for deportees to eliminate more of them silently. Especially this was planned for the Chechens, as Stalin really wanted to destroy the whole people, but the Soviet Union did not have as efficient concentration camp system as Nazi Germany did. In the Soviet camps people were dying slowly, of hunger, disease and things like that. Perhaps Stalin and Beria thought the Chechens were dying too slowly - and as known, they remained unyielding even in the concentration camps.
Professor Ivan Bilas, a war historian, who was working as an assistant for the Ukrainian parliament, found the documents confirming this dreadful detail of history from the Russian state archives, which are prohibited for ethnic Chechens, of course. In stock No. 9478, case No. 1375, was found the documentation of the Chechen elimination operation by poisons hidden in the so-called humanitarian aid that was sent to the deportees. Arsenic for wheat flour and salt - one gram for one kilo of flour, ten grams for one salt kilo - and hexogen for oils and butter. The documents actually called these things "alimentary surprises".
More than half (60%) of all the Chechens were killed during the deportation or in Kazakhstan. But their pride and the dream of sacred Freedom were impossible to be vanquished by evil and ruthless atrocity of communism. Even in the Gulags, as the Russians remember, too, the Chechens never submitted to tyranny. At any time they were more ready to face death than slavery. This enormous perseverance kept the small nation alive. Also the memory of the holy homeland was preserved, and thus, majority of the survivors and their descendants returned to Chechenia as soon as they got the chance after Stalin's death. This happened in 1956. Also the family of Dudayev was among those who returned.
However, even during the darkest years of Stalinism, the homeland was never destroyed entirely. The mysterious Highland was the very land that stayed mostly untouched by the Russian invaders, hiding many secrets and holy places known as well by Bible's and Islam's mysticism as by ancient tales. Throughout the Soviet era, a small part of the Chechens, who had managed to hide in the mountains, had guarded the Highlands and their sacraments from Russian invaders. The Russians, who had been imported to Chechenia, were afraid of the many avengers guarding the Highlands, and the desolate mountain nature protected this land from the Red Army and the KGB.
When the USSR split up and when the wind of freedom blew to Chechenia, too, many thought that thenightmare would be over. Ichkeria actually had some friends with understanding – the Chechens enjoyed great sympathy among many of the other nations that had been under the Russian yoke, and thus, e.g. Baltic and Georgian leaders supported the Chechen aspirations as much as they could. Only one of them, Zviad Gamsakhurdia's Georgia, actually officially recognised the Chechen independence. Besides, the Estonian Prime Minister Mart Laar and Chief of the Estonian Bank Siim Kallas supported Dudayev and the Chechen government by selling all the rubles that had become obsolete in the Estonian monetary reform, to Ichkeria. The Lithuanian statesman Vytautas Landsbergis has several times caused anger among communists and Russians by defending the Caucasians publicly. Unfortunately none of the Baltic countries, despite their sympathy, could recognise Ichkeria, as they were too hardly pressured by Russia and the West.
If you walk on Toompea, Tallinn's capitol hill, you can see the Chechen flag right opposite to the Estonian parliament. There is the Embassy of the Chechen Republic of Ichkeria, right in the core of Tallinn – among the most important embassies, like those of Finland, Latvia, Lithuania, Russia, the USA...
There is a special reason for the gratitude of the Baltic peoples for the Chechens. Namely, Dzoxar Dudayev, then a Soviet army general, used to be the commander of the Soviet air-base in Tartu, on of the most important strategic bases of the USSR in the Baltics. When the Soviet regime ordered to crush Baltic freedom movements at the end of the eighties, Dudayev refused, and instead, let the Estonian demonstrators enter the base. Then he quitted the army, and moved back to Chechenia where he was elected the president. In Tartu, at the doorway of the Barclay Hotel, you can see a marble plate telling in Estonian, Chechen, and English languages that Dudayev, the first President of the Chechen Republic of Ichkeria, lived and worked in that house in 1987-1991.
Gammer, Moshe: "Muslim Resistance to the Tsar – Shamil and the Conquest of Chechenia and Daghestan", 1994.
Leitzinger, Antero: "Tshetsheenit – Pohjois-Kaukasuksen historiaa ja Groznyin taistelu24.1.1995 saakka", 1995. (in Finnish)
Lieven, Anatol: "Chechnya – Tombstone of Russian Power", 1998.
Tütüncü, Mehmet (ed.): "Caucasus: War and Peace", 1998.