Chechnya's warrior tradition
Guerrillas from Russia's longtime nemesis take their fighting skills to Afghanistan.
(Page 2 of 2)
Yermolov conquered Chechnya by burning its forests to deny cover to the guerrillas, and by killing dozens of Chechen captives for every Russian soldier he lost. Later Chechen rebellions against czarist and Soviet rule were put down with equal ferocity. In 1944, Soviet dictator Joseph Stalin accused the Chechens of collaborating with the Nazis and deported the entire nation, half a million people, to Central Asia and Siberia. An estimated 150,000 of them died in the forced winter march.Skip to next paragraph
Subscribe Today to the Monitor
"Deportation and the exile that followed united the Chechens, in bitterness, sorrow, and rage," says Vladimir Dmitriyev, a top expert on the north Caucasus, with Russia's Institute of Ethnology in St. Petersburg. "We are reaping the harvest today, as the Chechens are the only Russian national minority who are absolutely unreconciled to being part of the Russian Federation."
Hoping to restart contact between the Kremlin and Chechen separatists, the Council of Europe's Parliamentary Assembly and the Duma, Russia's lower house of parliament, organized a forum, called the Chechen Consultative Council, which had its first meeting in Moscow last week. The forum has not been endorsed by President Vladimir Putin, nor did the Kremlin-backed civilian Chechen administration or rebel Chechen President Aslan Maskhadov send representatives to the meeting.
Post-Soviet Russia has fought the Chechens twice. In 1994 President Boris Yeltsin sent in troops to squelch a nationalist independence drive. The Russians were defeated by Chechen irregulars in a 20-month war that killed up to 80,000 people, mainly civilians. In 1999, after a string of terrorist bombings in Russian cities blamed on, but never proven to be the work of Chechen rebels the Kremlin invaded again.
Russian officials say that after the first war, Chechnya spiraled into lawlessness and became a staging ground for the global pan-Islamic jihad symbolized by bin Laden. The FSB security service, the domestic successor of the Soviet KGB, has provided evidence that money collected by terrorist-front "charities" around the Islamic world has flowed into Chechnya to underwrite rebel military operations. The FSB also claims that up to 1,500 foreign Muslims, turned out by Al Qaeda terror training camps in Afghanistan, are fighting against Kremlin forces in Chechnya while "hundreds" of Chechen military specialists migrated to Afghanistan in recent years to work for the Taliban and Al Qaeda. These allegations appear to jibe with US forces' reports of violent contact with Chechen fighters there.
But experts say the evidence should be weighed carefully. "Sometimes I wonder if the Americans don't emphasize the presence of Chechens in Afghanistan just to please Moscow," says Pavel Felgenhauer, an independent military expert. "Of course, there are some; there have always been some Chechen volunteers and mercenaries fighting in wars around the Near East and Central Asia.
"But as far as anyone can estimate, the majority of Chechen men are still in Chechnya or the immediate region, and they are continuing to fight the only enemy that has ever mattered to them, which is Russia."