AIG's First American Muslim Martyr In Chechnya
7 June, 1995
We are deeply honored and proud to report to all Muslims the Martyrdom (Shahadah) InshaAllah of one of our own faithful people in the land of Chechnya: Brother Mohammad Zaki.
Brother Mohammad Zaki was the head of our Chechnya Relief effort which was started in November 1994. He is believed to be the first American Muslim to be killed in Chechnya. May Allah count him as Martyr and accept his Jihad.
Brother Mohammad Zaki established contacts and relief routes inside Chechnya along with others, due to his extensive relief experiences in Afghanistan and Bosnia. Brother Mohammad Zaki worked through our sister organization "American Worldwide Relief," based in San Diego with divisions in other states.
Throughout his life, our brother was active in Da'wa in North and South America. Born in Washington DC, he spoke fluent Spanish, Italian, French, English and Arabic. He established the "Islamic Information Center of the Americas" and "Save Bosnia Now" organizations. His life was full of Jihad and hard work, and many people accepted Islam through his Da'wa.
Brother Zaki is survived by his wife and four children here in San Diego. The American Islamic Group has set up a special fund for the family: Please send contributions payable to :
"The American Islamic Group" Note on check that donation is for brother Mohammad's family
CHECHNYA JIHAD NEWS .... CHECHNYA JIHAD NEWS
NOTE: WE APOLOGIZE FOR THE DELAY IN RELAYING THE NEWS. THANK YOU FOR YOUR PATIENCE.
RUSSIAN ENEMY TROOPS FLEEING MUSLIM CITIES:
Enemy units have withdrawn to more protected open areas outside the cities of Schali and Gudermes. Enemy units in the plain regions of Chechnya are attacked by special Mujahideen units.
TWO RUSSIAN PLANES DOWNED
50 ENEMY SPECIAL FORCES KILLED
120 ENEMY OFFICERS AND SOLDIERS COMMIT SUICIDE
ARGUN RIVER, A RUSSIAN GRAVE-YARD
100,000 MUSLIM CIVILIANS KILLED BY RUSSIAN CRUSADE
ANOTHER MASSACRE IN BAMUT
RUSSIAN ENEMY USES CHEMICAL WEAPONS
St. Louis Post-Dispatch January 29, 1995, Sunday
By E.F. Porter (Post-Dispatch Staff Writer)
Spat out by a general in the Russian army to a rebellious tribal chieftain in the Caucasus two centuries ago, these words and others like them pretty well define the attitude that echoes, along with the gunfire, in Chechnya today.
For underlying the determination of the Chechens to pursue a separate destiny apart the Russian federation, and the determination of the Kremlin not to let them get away with it, is nearly 400 years of hatred, savage warfare, brutal oppression and sporadic attempts at genocide.
The Russian conquest of Chechnya and its neighboring districts on the north slopes of the Caucasus is one of those bloodstained backwaters of history, full of confusing events and unpronounceable names in a corner of the world about a third the size of New Hampshire that until this year most Americans could not point out on a map. It has gone virtually untold by English-speaking historians. The last scholarly study of the subject was published in 1908.
Throughout that period, the Russians regarded the Chechens as pagan barbarians while the Chechens looked on the Russians as infidel interlopers. They never trusted each other and, apparently, they still do not.
Like the winning of the American West, the conquest of the Caucasus is cacophony of small skirmishes and pitched battles, punctuated by broken promises, shifting alliances, and hideous atrocities by both sides.
In fact, according to Firuz Kazemzadeh, emeritus professor of history at Yale and one of the handful of American scholars familiar with the story, the Russian campaign in the Caucasus and the American westward expansion constitute one of the closest comparisons in history.
In both cases, a centralized, relatively advanced, society armed with up-to-date weapons rolled ruthlessly over a disunited group of fiercely independent, primitive tribal people more adept to making war on one other than joining forces against a common enemy.
There, however, the parallel ends. In America, westward expansion was animated by an irresistible tide of individual pioneers and settlers in quest of land and riches that the government probably could not have stemmed had it wanted to. The conquest of the Caucasus was motivated by raw imperialism in envious imitation of the colonial powers of western Europe such as France and Great Britain.
There is another difference, Kazemzadeh points out. The loss of life in the Caucasus was far greater. Where American Indians died by the thousands, the Caucasians died by the hundreds of thousands.
An Independent Mountain People
When the Russians arrived, the Caucasus, a mountain range higher than the Alps, at the interface of Europe and Asia, was the homeland of dozens of tribes. They were hunters, herdsmen, shepherds, bee keepers and fruit growers who lived in windowless stone and wattle huts in the mountain valleys. Many were semi-migratory, moving with their flocks and herds to the high pastures in summer and down to the plains in winter.
Their handicrafts were limited to weaving, leatherwork and making knives and swords. When firearms were introduced, they became addicts. To deprive a Chechen of his gun today is an offense second only to cutting off his hands. If the National Rifle Association opened a branch in Russia, the Chechens would be devout supporters.
The mountain people of the north Caucasus, alone among the people of southeast Europe, apparently escaped being overrun by the waves of invaders such as the Turks, the Mongols and the Tatars who swept out of central Asia over the centuries. The reason was that the invaders were able to outflank the mountains by keeping to the lowlands along the shores of the Black and Caspian seas.
They Gave No Quarter
The Russians, too, adopted this maneuver and were able to subdue the lands south of the mountains many years before confronting the Chechens and their neighbors.
Except for the Arab missionaries who began converting the Chechens to Islam about the year 1000 and the beginning of Russian encroachment, roughly 600 years later, Chechens had scant contact with the rest of the world. When the Russians arrived, Chechens were primitive, mostly illiterate, fiercely independent and warlike. Their only government was the village council in which every adult male had an equal voice. The only unifying influence was their religion.
The best evidence of the region's isolation is the Chechen language, Nakh, which, along with its sister tongues of the north Caucasian tribes, seems to be a linguistic fossil surviving from the Stone Age. These tongues are unrelated to the other great language groups of Europe and Asia today and are apparently descended from the language spoken before the invasion of the Indo-European mother tongue between 3,000 and 4,000 years ago. kt
When they weren't occupied with tribal warfare, the Chechens would make forays down on the steppe that sweeps away to the north to engage in cattle rustling, highway robbery and group burglary. According to Kremlin propaganda not much has changed. The activities have only been updated to include carjacking, kidnapping, drug smuggling and stealing farm machinery.
But the Chechens were always incredibly tough fighters who gave no quarter and asked none. Several times, when a Chechen village, or aoul, was hopelessly surrounded, the Chechens cut the throats of their wives and their children before shooting themselves, rather let them be taken prisoner.
In one incident, when the Russians were unable to dislodge a group of Chechens barricaded in row of huts, they set them afire, then invited the Chechens to give themselves up.
Not until the buildings were blazing briskly did a lone Chechen emerge, black from the smoke, bearing a white flag. He told the Russians that he and his comrades preferred death to surrender, but had one request: Would the Russians kindly inform their families that they had died bravely? He then turned and strode back into the flames.
Oppression And Tears
The Russians first cast covetous eyes on the Caucasus during the reign of Ivan the Terrible (1533-1584), the first Grand Duke of Muscovy to proclaim himself czar.
But the campaign didn't shift into high until after the the defeat of Napoleon and then there were frequent interruptions as the Russians turned their attentions to wars with the British, the French and the Turks.
When they could devote the resources, the Russians went after the Chechens with a vengeance. Even so, it took them until 1859 before they could say they had the region finally under control.
After the pacification, the czars pursued a policy of cultural assimiliation and suppression of native ethnicity, not unlike the policy of the U.S. Bureau of Indian Affairs, but sometimes more successful. A number of Chechens rose in the ranks of the Russian army and civil service. One rebellion in the 1970s was quickly put down.
The Bolshevik revolution of 1918 changed all that, at least briefly. To curry allegiance from the Russian empire's vast numbers of ethnic minorities - 169 of them by some counts - Lenin granted many of them their own semi-independent republics. Chechnya was combined with neighboring Ingushetia into the Chechen -Ingush Autonomous Soviet Socialist Republic.
For the Chechens there was a tragic sequel. When, in 1942, the German army penetrated almost to the gates of Grozny, the Chechen capital, it found many of the Caucasians ready to collaborate.
In 1944, with the Germans in wild retreat, Stalin took his revenge, dissolving several of the local republics in the north Caucasus and deporting as many as he could round up to internment camps in central Asia.
In a trail of tears, the Caucasians were herded into box cars and cattle cars with only belongings they could carry. For the next 14 years, they lived in prison camp conditions and toiled in the forests, factories and mines.
Thirteen years later, with Stalin dead, Nikita Khrushev re-established the Chechen republic and allowed the Chechens to go home. How many survived out of the aboutm one million who were deported is not known; Kazemzadeh estimates it about 500,000.
A Soldier's Soldier
Like the Indian wars in the American West, the Russian struggle to subjugate the Chechens at the same time produced some legendary figures.
Of the scores of Russian leaders the one who stands out as most admired by the Russians and most hated by the Chechens was Gen. Alexei Yermolov, a hero of the Napoleonic wars, who was military governor of Chechnya between 1816 and 1826.
Yarmoul, as the Chechens called him, was a soldier's soldier, a huge, fearless, brutal, plain-spoken bear of a man, who fraternized with his troops, shared their privations and disdained military ceremony.
He despised the effete snobbery of the imperial court in St. Petersburg where everything Russian was considered low-class, and French, German and English were fashionably spoken. He led an army of adoring raggamuffins.
A cunning tactician, Yermolov played tricks on the foe such as leaving a field gun unattended overnight in a clearing. When the Chechen guerrillas crept out of the woods to try to capture it, as he knew they would, he mowed them down with grape shot. When more Chechens came to recover their dead and wounded, he killed them too.
Yermolov adopted a policy of terror and genocide against the Chechens and neighboring tribes. His troops and soldiers burned villages and crops, leveled vineyards and orchards, felled forests, slaughtered the livestock and butchered old people, women and children.
When he took prisoners, which wasn't often, he sometimes ordered them flogged to death in front of the surviving villagers. He employed a method widespread in Russia in those days which was to force the victim to run a gantlet between two rows of soldiers, each of whom administered one blow with the butt of a rifle or the flat of his sword. A gantlet of more 50 men was difficult to survive.
Yermolov was nothing if not frank. "I desire that the terror of my name should guard our frontiers more potently than chains or fortresses, and that my word for the natives should be more inevitable than death," he declared.
"Condescension in the eyes of Asiatics is a sign of weakness, and out of pure humanity I am inexorably severe. One execution saves a hundred Russians from destruction, and a thousand Moslems from treason."
Yermolov reckoned that destroying the Chechens' food supply five years in succession would either starve them out or drive them to seek refuge in Turkey or Iran and the vacated land could be be settled by Russians. The policy was partly effective: About 30 per cent of the population of Chechnya today is ethnic Russian.
Yermoloff's material monument was a chain of forts across Chechnya the largest of which he called Fearsome - in Russian, Grozny, sometimes translated dreadful or terrible, as in epithet of the czar Ivan Grozny.
In the pattern of Pittsburgh and Chicago, Grozny the fort became the nucleus of Grozny the city, the regional capital. But Grozny owes its eminence less to Yermolov's fort than the pure accident of its location adjacent to an oil and natural gas deposit second in Russia only to the Baku fields on the Caspian coast. That oil lurks in the background of the conflict today.
While Yermolov gained some ground, and certainly killed many Chechens, his excesses stiffened their resistance.
As often happens when a people see their cherished traditions in peril, the Chechens began to take a quickened interest in their religion. Thus there arose among them and their neighbors a fierce, revivalist cult called muridism, dedicated in equal measure to the strict observance of the Sharia (Islamic law) and ridding their country of the Russian infidels.
The Murids (literally, disciples) were almost able to unify the various tribes in the region and through hit-and-run guerrilla warfare kept the Russian army busy for the next 40 years.
Their fame spread to western Europe where for a brief time they held a romantic reputation as swashbuckling figures accomplishing heroic feats of skill and daring in the style of Douglas Fairbanks Jr. and Errol Flynn.
Russia's greatest novelist, Leo Tolstoy, wrote admiringly about them, as did Mikhail Lermontov, next to Pushkin, Russia's greatest poet.
The Murids' press notices may have been exaggerated, but not by much. Tolstoy and Lermontov, both of whom put in hitches with the army in the Caucasus and were familiar with the subject, credit them with remarkable feats of bravery.
But while the Murids were sometimes successful in unifying the Caucasian tribes against the enemy under the green banner of Islam, the deeply rooted tribalism of the mountain people coupled with their inexperience with political cooperation, doomed the revolt.
Proud and vindictive, and unable to subordinate their jealousies and ambitions to a higher cause, the Murid leaders repeatedly a double-crossed one another and made - and broke - treaties with the enemy.
Furthermore, because the guerrillas were less interested in strategic advantage than in revenge and plunder, their operations were not marked by much long-range planning. To some extent this worked against the Russians. Because there was so little logic in the Murids' maneuvers it was impossible for the Russians to tell where they would strike next.
A Leap For His Life
The most famous Murid chief, and the last, was Shamil - Arabic for Samuel - which is the only name he used. A kind of warrior-prophet, he demanded from his followers both absolute piety and absolute obedience, both in the name of Allah. Like many a charismatic leader, Shamil had a flair for high drama. He affected a green turban and a black and yellow cherkess, the traditional Caucasian coat with pockets for cartridges across the chest.
Early in his career he cut a dashing figure. Once cornered by a four Russian infantrymen at the doorway of a hut, he leapt over their heads and cut down three of them from behind with his sword before they realized what had happened.
When the fourth stabbed him in the chest with his bayonet, Shamil hacked down the owner with one hand while pulling out the bayonet with the other.
He could be appallingly cruel. He traveled with a personal executioner armed with a long-handled axe which he used to lop off hands, or heads, as the occasion, as the Sharia, required. He exacted such exorbitant tribute in food, fodder and fuel from the villages under his sway, that he drove many of his potential followers into the arms of the Russians.
He was extremely tough. When a delegation of Chechens who proposed making peace with the Russians approached Shamil through his aged mother, he ordered her, not them, publicly flogged with 100 strokes of the lash. When she fainted after the first five, he stripped off his cherkess and took the remaining 95 on himself.
The End Of A Rebellion
His principles were difficult to define. Once, to extricate himself from tight spot, he gave his 12-year-old son, Jamalud-din, as hostage to the Russians. The Russians, more diabolical than perhaps they knew, took the lad to St. Petersburg and gave him an aristocratic upbringing.
Sixteen years later, Jamalud-din, by then an officer in the Czar's lancers, was returned to his father in an exchange of prisoners. He had become totally Russianized and was horrified by the primitive life of a mountaineer. He pined away from homesickness and died within three years.
For 30 years, Shamil held out. In the end, his support melted away as more and more villages gave up hope for the rebellion and submitted to the Russians, Shamil's following dwindled to 400. On Sept. 6, 1859, he was surrounded by a force of 4,000 Russians. Shamil capitulated, and the resistance of the Caucasus was over. At least for the time being.
His captors treated Shamil with remarkable compassion. He was allowed to live in internal exile near Moscow and later in Kiev. Ten years after his capture, he was given permission to make his haj, the pilgrimage to Mecca that every good Moslem must attempt once in his life. He died on the way.
It was Haji Murad, one of Shamil's lieutenants until they became enemies, whose nobler end burns more brightly in local legend. Surrounded by the Russians, their ammunition exhausted, Haji Murad and a tiny band of followers hopelessly charged the enemy with their swords swinging and were gunned down.
In a poetic simile, Tolstoy likened the death of Haji Murad to a wild thistle uprooted and crushed in a plowed field.