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The land occupied by the fledgling state of Chechnya is strategically, and somewhat remotely located between the Black and Caspian seas. Lying in a natural land corridor which is a land bridge between the northern Russian and Russian federation nations, and the countries of Iraq and Turkey, although the terrain is hilly with little to offer in the way of natural resources, Chechnya holds a strategic position for travel to or from Russia, Turkey, and Iraq. As for the peoples groups in this part of the world, freedom has been only a fleeting experience. When the Tzars of Russia weren't conquering the land, the Soviet Republic was. The area has tried to put together a stable existence while living on the boarder of two world wars, so the concept of self rule, and the responsibilities which come with it have only been ideas in the minds of generations of Chechnens.
Originally, the Chechens were part of the multi-cultural state from the 8th century until its destruction by the Mongols in the 13th century. The hilly terrain has created a nomadic, yet resolute people who are organized in clans. As was the fate of most of Europe during the Dark ages, most of the Chechnen 10th through 18th century was spent conquering, or being conquered. In the decades that followed, the Caucasian Mountaineers (mountain peoples) slowly forged ties with the Russians, but continued to oppose political domination by the Russian leaders. In the 1840s, a resistance movement formed in Chechnya and Dagestan under the leadership of Imam Shamil. Shamil's rebellion successfully held off the Russians for more than a decade, but in 1859 the rebellion collapsed and Chechnya was annexed by the Russian Empire. (Encarta.com, online)
During the next 6 or 7 decades, the control of Chechnya changed hands a number of times, until the ascension of the Soviet Union to between the world wars. At different periods during these 7 years, the state's citizens were forced onto collective farms and Russia made efforts to restrict their religious practices. The Chechens suffered under these policies and fought fiercely for their beliefs, and their cultural heritage. Just before WWII, Soviet leader
Joseph Stalin accused the Chechen's of collaboration with the Nazis and deported them (again) to Central Asia. The republic was abolished and was not restored until 957, when its former inhabitants were allowed to return from exile.
The following is a short outline of these events:
1858 Chechnya conquered by Russia after defeat of its Islamic leader, Imam Shamil.
1922 Chechen autonomous region established within Russian Federation.
1944 Mass deportation of Chechens to Soviet central Asia, along with other Caucasus peoples accused of supporting Nazi Germany.
1957 The Soviet leader, Nikita Khrushchev, allows Chechens to return home.
1991 Soviet Union collapses; Dzhokhar Dudayev proclaims Chechnya's independence. (Reeves, 2002)
When these details are woven into the history and culture of a determined and self sufficient people, only two things can happen. Either the people surrender, and become a part of the social order, or they continue to fight, and ultimately develop a cultural identity of militant peoples. The latter has become the identity of the Chechnen's. This people refused to become part of an oppressive conglomerate empire again at the cost of their personal heritage. The ongoing military conflict has left much of the countries infrastructure in rubble. As a result, the nation of Russia has a small; 200-mile wide pocket toward its southern border which is increasingly a thorn in the side of Russian progress, and may be on it's way to becoming a breeding ground for hostility around the world.
The current condition of Chechnya must be understood in three stages. The abbreviated history detailed in the previous paragraphs constitutes the first stage. The people of Chechnya have lived under revolution and threat of the same for almost 10 centuries. The inhabitants have garnered a reputation for themselves, as described recently by Boris Yeltsin. "Chechnya can only solve its problems through the use of force." (Charlton, 2002) The following is a popular folk song of the Chechen people that further illustrates the Chechnen culture from their one perspective.
We're the children of the mountains,
We have been here for years.
The wind frightens the heart of any stranger here.
Nobody understands us,
The mountains will protect us,
The wind frightens the heart of any stranger here. (Isaenko and Petshauer, 2000)
The more recent history has followed like the next movement of a symphony. When the Soviet Empire fell in 1991, Dudayev proclaimed the nation's independence, again. However, while the rest of the soviet republics were allowed to secede, this small territory was addressed differently. Maybe it is because of the long history of conflict between Moscow and the Chechnens that Russia refused to recognize the nation's identity. Maybe it is because this nation is one of the smallest, and closest to Moscow that Russia refused to allow the secession. It is quite possible that the Russian military, in an attempt to cave face chose to make an example of this thorny province, and attempt to keep it under the iron boot of communist rule. For whatever reason, the conflict which has evolved in Chechnya since 1991 has become more volatile, and more dangerous for the entire world.
In 1991 Chechen general
Dzhokhar Dudayev renounced the Communist government in Chechnya's capitol Groznyy. Presidential elections were held in that year in October, and Dudayev was elected by a resounding margin. Although Dudayev set up a government in Groznyy, he was unable to persuade any other former soviet republics, or neighboring countries to recognize Chechnya's independence, or to invest in its economy. This lack of strategic allies left the country weak, and vulnerable.
The political skirmishes continued over the new 3 years, until in December 1994 the Russian government under President
Boris Yeltsin launched a full-scale invasion of Chechnya. Their purpose was to halt the republic's movement toward independence. The capitol of Groznyy was almost completely destroyed before it was taken by the Russians in February 1995. Thousands were killed, and the Russians ousted the rebel leaders and installed a puppet government in Groznyy. Russian Federation troops were stationed in the area, and the elected Dudayev was forced into hiding until he was killed in a rocket attack in April 1996.
In late May 1996 President Yeltsin installed an acting president, Yandarbiyev, who was subsequently defeated by the chief of staff of the allied rebel Chechen forces, Aslan Maskhadov. In May 1997 Maskhadov and Yeltsin signed a peace treaty that formalized the terms of a truce. But as the political and social environment continued to devolve, Maskhadov soon lost authority to more radical rebel commanders as the republic descended into a state of total anarchy.
This ends the second stage of recent Chechnen history, and sets the stage for the third. Without money, or political cohesiveness, the republic became breeding ground for groups with a strong political will, and financial resources. The end of the twentieth century watched Chechnya become a breeding ground for Islamic terrorists. Because the Chechen Aslan Maskhadov has been unable to assert his authority by creating any kind of stability in the region, the country has become a hunting ground for criminal and fundamentalist groups that operate with impunity.
The Islamic fundamentalist group Wahhabis is one such example of the militant undercurrent which now thrives in the region. The Wahhabi tradition successfully established itself thanks to the previous wars, which profoundly disrupted Chechen society. Although the Wahhabi tradition remains marginal, it has consolidated its influence by offering at least a consistent and identifiable framework for socialization to the disoriented young people of a devastated country. (Jean, 2000)
Fundamentalism did not progress entirely unopposed. When the war ended in 1994, the Wahhabis were expelled from many areas, sometimes after armed struggles. Although the Wahhabis retreated to their strongholds, they continue to exert tremendous influence because of their economic clout, which is financed freely by the oil rich Islamic states just to the couth. The fundamentalists were aided by the blockade imposed on the region by Moscow because they were able to organize without outside influence. The withdrawal of the few humanitarian organizations present in Chechnya provided additional anonymity for the groups to function. These fundamentalist networks have effectively become the only source of external financing in Chechnya, and therefore have earned, or bought, allies throughout the republic.
One such incursion of the Islamic expansionism occurred in August 1999. Hundreds of Islamic fundamentalists crossed the boarder into Dagestan from Chechnya. They occupied several villages, and claimed to form an additional separate Islamic territory. In the context of an already deteriorating political climate, this effort of a few hundred radicals gave Moscow the reasons it needed to attain a much needed victory. The towns were shelled form the air, and from Russian artillery, and the towns were returned to Russian control. In response for the embarrassing defeat, Islamic militants took a theater in Moscow hostage in 2002. Demanding the creating…[continue]
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