Maskhadov Interview in Yeni Safak
Date: December 21, 1999
"We Will Fight to the End"
While the Russians' attacks continue at full intensity, Chechen President Aslan Maskhadov, who met with a group of Turkish journalists, sent important messages to Turkey. Maskhadov, who thanks the Turkish people for the sensitivity they have shown in response to the Russian brutality, emphasized that he hopes for the same sensitivity to be shown by official institutions. Maskhadov, who said that the stance Turkey adopted before and after the OSCE Summit did not surprise him, stated, "However, we have a bond of the heart with the Turkish people. We cannot forget the Turkish people's great material and moral support, especially in the first major war." During the interview, which took place in the vicinity of Shali while heavy Russian attacks were continuing, Aslan Maskhadov said that the Red Crescent aid coming from Turkey was being handed over to the Russian military in exchange for official papers and that this situation was hurting morale. Maskhadov answered the questions of a reporter from Yeni Safak.
Let Demirel Get Permission from the Russians First
Q. Have you met with a leader from Turkey, have you met with President Demirel?
A. We have met with and established a dialog with politicians from Turkey, in fact our Foreign Minister is there, I have not met with President Demirel, but in order for Demirel to meet with me he first has to get permission from the Russians. Demirel will not make any political inititiatives in the region without permission from the Russians.
Q. In what state are relations Turkey, was there any initiative made to secure political support?
A. There were some politicians and political leaders who visited us, people who came before the fighting began. The Members of Parliament who went to Georgia tried to get into contact with us, but we cannot establish a continuous phone link to the world. The Russians level [destroy] every place I go. Right now our Foreign Minister and several of our high-ranking officials are in Turkey. Even if we do not have a political tie to the Turkish people, we have a tie of the heart. We always felt the moral support of the Turkish people.
Q. You have been silent in the face of the claims made about Wahhabis. Is the Wahhabi base growing?
A. This issue was constantly exploited by the Russians. World opinion was continuously misled. You know that Hattab and his friends came to our aid during the first war. During the first big war volunteers from a good number of Muslim countries came. We fought together on the same front, shoulder to shoulder. After the war we treated them with traditional Chechen hospitality. As soon as the issue of their returning came up, they said to us, "We can't return to our own countries because we have fought here, our lives are not guaranteed there, it is impossible for us to return, we wish to remain here." And after this request we accepted them. However, the Russian government, and especially those who remain from the former KGB, blamed all of the bombings in Moscow on Hattab or the Wahhabis. If these claims are proven, I myself will try them.
Q. There were many instances of kidnapping in Chechnya. It was claimed that the measures taken in this matter proved insufficient. There are even Turkish citizens among the kidnapped.
A. The kidnappings in peacetime were entirely organized by the Russians. We have in our possession real evidence and official documents on this matter. A good number of Chechens who were rumored to be involved in kidnapping were caught and severely punished. Everyone knows that this was part of a long term Russian plan. The goal was to show the Chechens as terrorists to the whole world. These kinds of events caused the breaking of our relations with friendly countries. That many mistakes were made in peacetime is a fact, but in order to prevent these mistakes the Russians must remove their hands from Chechnya entirely.
We Will Fight to the Last Chechen
Q. What was Moscow's reaction the first time you called for peace talks?
A. Russia is deceiving the whole world on this issue. In the first war the Russians killed 120 thousand of us. If we don't fight they will kill 200 thousand of us and call it a deportation, they will murder 200 thousand of us and call them mujahid, and then they will find a way to kill the rest of us. Our salvation is in fighting, and we will fight to the end. The whole world should know that the Chechens will emerge from this war victorious. In at most a couple of months the Russian soldiers will begin to sell us their arms. They will come and again ask us for food, Russian mothers will ask us to let their children go free. As more time passes, the events we are waiting for will take place. As flying conditions worsen, our combat ability will increase, and the Russians will flee the battlefield. The whole world must know that the Russians want to perpetuate the Communists' power by destroying Chechnya.
Infants Were Murdered
Russia has bared its teeth. By annihilating Chechnya the Communists aim to demonstrate to the whole world that they have restored their former power. In Grozny, in the war's opening days, they bombed a hospital where infants are born. Thousands of our civilians died because of the bombs. But we will continue our struggle. International associations and organizations are not showing Chechnya the sensitivity that they showed to Kosova. They, and Turkey above all, shy from Russia. But the situation here is much worse than in Kosova.
Q. Did you attempt to come to Istanbul before the OSCE Summit?
A. To be honest, I had hoped for an invitation to this summit from Turkey. If I had been able to participate in the OSCE Summit held in Istanbul, I could have explained the facts to the whole world. Moreover, I could have persuaded even Yeltsin. Because Putin and his generals are not telling Yeltsin the truth. Yeltsin called us bandits. We are neither terrorists nor bandits. We are just a people trying to defend their country and population.
Q.Is there a difference of opinions among the Chechen commanders?
A. All of the Chechen commanders are attached to me. The post of commander in chief is mine, and I direct the war from a single center of operations. I prepare the common plans. Our headquarters works in complete harmony. All initiative at the front unfolds in the form we want. Shamil Basaev was in opposition to us before the war, but in every government there are those in power and those in opposition. And Basaev is now with us and there is no difference of opinions among the Chechen commanders.