Chechnya in turmoil
By Mohammad Zahirul Haque
Chechnya is situated in the Caucasus mountains (which is the same legendary "Koh-i-Kaf" and "fairyland" of the story books). It stretches from West to East for about 600 miles between Black Sea and Caspian Sea, and forms a series of parallel ranges rising steadily southward. The highest peak is Mount Elburz (18,481 feet), which stands in the north-west, while Mount Kezbek (16,558 feet) flanks Chechnya and Ingush, the home of ethnically, religiously and linguistically the same people, though their homeland was split into two states by the Soviet Union. The inhabitants of the Caucasian States are predominantly Muslims. Chechens are about 1.2 million and Ingush are about a quater of a million. Chechnya exists about a thousand miles away from Moscow in the south. It is surrounded by Dagestan, Georgia and South Ossetia in the south, Dagestan in the east, again Dagestan and Russia in the north, and North Ossetia in the west.
Chechens are Sunni Muslims (following the Shafi'i maskhab -AD), who love their religion Islam and their homeland Chechnya. But Russian Federation or its predecessor Soviet Union could not make any room in their heart, because it was forcibly captured and after a series of bloody wars, it was annexed at the time of Czar in the last decade of the last century. This is why Russians and Chechens do not have any place in their hearts for each other. Hatred of Russians against Chechens is evident from the books taught to Russian children in schools. We can cite an example from a child syllabus book wherein there is a poem written by one Michael Larmontov, in which he has called them 'evil Chechens' who hover along the sea-side (for loot and plunder), and always keep their knives sharp.
Chechnya is very rich in mineral oil. It produced twenty million ton of oil per year before the disintegrations of Soviet Union. But, during the present regime, its production of oil has gone very low to the level of only four million ton.
The defeat of Soviet Union in Afghanistan, gave a golden opportunity to Georgia, Latvia, Ukraine, Azarbaijan, Tajikistan etc. to secede and declare themselves independent. At that time, Boris Yeltsin, the president of the Russian Federation managed to keep the other states intact. But Chechnya under its president Dzhokhar Dudayev declared its independence. First the independent Chechnya state was limited to the boundaries of its capital Grozny, but soon it expanded to the rural as well as urban areas.
Chechnya was the first after the above told states to declare independence in October, 1991. But President Yeltsin and others did not approve of it, and declared a war against the new-born regime and did invade it. In fact, they were on the horns of a dilemma. Had they not declared war against Chechya, others might have followed the suit. They, therefore, preferred to curb it at the outset. This new country which had no naval or air force and had only a handful of army, was attacked by the Russian demon, which is believed still to be maintaining a colossal army, and huge naval and air forces and possessing ultramodern weapons. Yet the morale of Chechen people was so high that they braced the situation and f ought them back. Perturbed by the odd situation, the Russian wanted to pick and organise a rival Chechen group of those who had a soft corner in their hearts for Russia. Russian had provided them arms and equipments to eradicate the nationalist group. Thus, Chechens had to fight on two fronts at a time - internally with the rival Chechens and externally with the Russians. The aircrafts which nobody except Russians could fly were seen attacking Chechen posts from the pro-Russian Chechen camps. In the last days of November, 1994, the rival group entered into Grozny, the capital of Chechnya with Russian arms and equipments. But the Chechen National Army debouched them out destroying about twenty helicopters and killing more than 350 soldiers. Besides, they arrested a large number of renegades including twenty Russians, who were shown on Chechnya TV and were recognized by their relatives, who admitted that they were employed by the Russian Army. Yeltsin could not endure it, and became out of tune. Soon he gave his first ultimatum on December 6, 1994, in a very strict language, and a harsh tone, which was a litmus proof of the fact that the Russian claim that there was a civil war between two groups of Chechen, which Russia was not at all involved in, came out to be utterly a white lie.
His tone soon became mild and soft, and Kremlin (Russia's Presidential Palace) announced that Yeltsin did not have any bad intention by giving the ultimatum, but what he really meant was to impose emergency. Therefore all Chechens must surrender all of their arms and ammunitions on or before December 15, 1994. Yet again he went back upon his words and said that he neither gave any ultimatum, nor spoke of or signed any paper for clamping any emergency. What he actually meant was a sort of "a limited amnesty" to be granted to those who return their arms. All these utterances were very coldly received by the Chehen nationalists. No arms were surrendered and no talk was held for "limited amnesty". The second ultimatum of Yeltsin given on December 14, also went unheeded not only in the Chechen circle alone, but also in the Russian camps, whose attack on Grozny went on unabated, rather their planes became more active. They dropped various types of bombs including cluster bombs, not only on the strategic points, but also on civil areas, with an average of one bomb in two seconds. It appears as if there was a conspiracy between Boris Yeltsin, the president and Pavel Grachev, the Defence Minister that the president would declare "no war', and the Defence Minister would continue to attack the nationalist Chechens. Russian army made a target, particularly of the Presidential Palace. Yet the army of Russia lacked in courage and fearlessness, and marched forward under the shade of aircrafts. When the presidential palace of Grozny was destroyed and razed to dust, it was surprisingly discovered that Dudayev was not there. Still the unabashed Russians declared that they had won the game and the Chechen president had run away for life, evacuating his palace. But actually Dudayev had vacated the palace and the city of Grozny for strategical reasons with a view to attacking the Russian troops and their Chechen funkeys from outside. In short, Grozny fell, and a pro-Russian government was installed there with Umar Auturkhan and Salambek Khadzhiyev, the president and the prime minister respectively, who issued a warrant of arrest against Dudayev. These pro-Russian leaders offered one third of the cabinet provided they surrender. But they turned down the offer, and started a guerilla war against Russian and pro-Russian troops and government. This attitude showed that they regarded Dudayev as their undisputed sole leader, Dudayev's supporters fought his enemies in hills and valleys and arrested a good number of their troops which made Russian Government nervous. A good number of Dudayev's supporters were also arrested but they were not dismayed. In the meantime, Dudayev declared on August 3, that he was ready to resign the presidency of Chechnya if Russians guarantee the sovereignty of the Chechens.
Nervous as the Russians had been, they offered to negotiate, which was open-heartedly accepted by Dudayev group. Thus the negotiation began amid fighting and shelling. The negotiation went on limpingly, until the Russian prime minister Chernomyrdin backed on July 7, a draft peace settlement produced by the chief of the Russian negotiator, Vyacheslav Michailov. The proposed draft contained a good many point which had been approved by both side. Thus, the draft settlement was approved by both sides on August 4, 1995. The main clauses of the agreement included:-
1) exchange of prisoners 2) surrender of arms and ammunition by the Chechen nationalists 3) general election
Dudayev's force was continuously attacked by the Russians and their supporters during the conversation. Still the nationalists force started surrendering arms. Yet the agreement could not take a final shape, because both sides blamed each other for not giving the correct number of prisoners they held. After some lapses they sat together again, and its hoped that they would come to a settlement. But the fate of Dudayev still hangs in the balance. Perhaps the proposed election to form the new government would decided the matter as well as the type of government and constitution of the country.