Wednesday, 14 January 2009

Chechnya: A long Struggle for re-Independence - Part 1 of 4

Ramzan Kadyrov, center, is the president of Chechnya. (Reuters)

Part 1 of 4

Kashmir Watch, Jan 12, By Dr. Abdul Ruff Colachal

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.

The author is Delhi based Research Scholar in International Studies and can be reached at

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