Chechens Move to Cement Ties to World -- From Istanbul
Taking advantage of the current cease-fire in war-ravaged Chechnya, a small cadre of Chechens and "Chechenized" sympathizers are working frantically to set up commercial and political ties with a dozen different countries. With communication from Chechnya's capital city of Grozny completely destroyed by the war, they have turned Istanbul into the de facto seat of government of the breakaway North Caucasus republic. PNS correspondent Thomas Goltz reports from Istanbul. In a follow-up story Goltz interviews the widow of slain Chechen president Djokhar Dudayev whose fate has been shrouded in mystery since April 22 when he was reportedly blown to bits by a Russian rocket. Goltz was a finalist for the Rory Peck Prize for independent camera work for his documentary on the town of Samashki in Chechnya, which was broadcast on PBS in 1996. His book on Azerbaijan, "Requiem for a Would-Be Republic," will be re-issued by ME Sharpe (USA) in early 1997.
In a three-story villa in the wooded heights above the Bosporus, a handful of Chechen or "Chechenized" bureaucrats are working against the clock to cement commercial and political ties between the breakaway North Caucasus republic and the world.
"Qatar is on the phone," shouts a secretary, and Mansour Jachimczyk interrupts a conversation with an American woman in New York who specializes in "negotiation deadlock" to take the call from the Gulf, slipping from English into Russian and then into his native Polish before going back to English again.
Krakow-born but Muslim-convert Jachimczyk is a man of many languages and many titles. His business card reads "Secretary General of the International Roundtable for the Reconstruction of Chechnya, Peace in the Caucasus and Democracy in Russia and Chief Advisor to the Government of the Chechen Republic of Ichkeria on Foreign Affairs and International Relations."
"One of our major projects right now is to create sister-city relationships between Grozny and other Chechen towns with major cities in Europe, the Middle East, Japan and America," Mansour explains. "Thus, if war resumes, there will be a ready network in place to protest to a number of different governments."
"Consulates" have been established in a score of foreign capitals, with most of the "ambassadorships" having been given out of the Istanbul office to devoted supporters of the Chechen cause like Mansour. A series of conferences bringing together scholars, human-rights activists and politicians are also in the works. One was already held in Istanbul; the next is planned for Warsaw in December, then Tokyo, London and Washington in the Spring of 1997.
The curious thing about all this activity is that it is mainly taking place in Istanbul, which has become de facto if not de jure the seat of government of Chechnya.
"To say 'government in exile' is not correct," says Eduard Khachoukaev, whose official title is Chief of Department of Foreign Credit and Investment in the Chechen Republic. "Government ex-territerio is better."
The minister of foreign affairs, Rouslan Chimaev, and the minister of health, Dr. Umar Hambiev, also make Istanbul the main seat of their activities, while other high-ranking officials in the Chechen government come and go with frequency. The equivalent of the head office of the Chechen information and news service is now based in Istanbul as well. The mansion overlooking the Bosporus is also the occasional domicile of Alla Dudayev, the Russian-born widow of the late president of Chechnya, Djokhar Dudayev, who still remains the most resonant symbol of Chechen resistance to Russian rule in the breakaway republic.
"My husband was only one of many, many martyrs who died for Chechen independence," says Mrs. Dudayev. "Our task now is to make sure their deaths were not in vain."
Now that the guns are silent, the best way of doing that is to move as quickly as possible from being a guerrilla movement to becoming a functioning government -- and to do that, working telephones are needed. Istanbul has got them; Grozny does not. Another reason is that Istanbul is a friendly venue for a government not recognized by anyone else in the world. The reason is fairly straightforward: not only is public opinion in mainly Muslim Turkey squarely on the side of the Chechens, but the city is home to a large and very active Diaspora community who emigrated from Chechnya to the Ottoman Empire during the 19th century.
"I think we can be proud of our contribution to the Chechen struggle over the past few years," says Fazil Ozen, chairman of the Chechen Solidarity Committee in Istanbul, which has funneled millions of dollars (and not a few fighting men) into Chechnya since 1994.
Links between Istanbul and Grozny, however, remain problematic. While communication via satellite telephone is possible (the Soviet-era telephone system was bombed to bits during the war), physically getting in and out of Chechnya still requires sneaking in and out, often over the mountains.
"It is pretty tough going sometimes, especially if you are carrying a lot of luggage," says Minister of Health Dr. Hambiev, dressed in a black suit and looking more like a banker than a front-line surgeon, which he was during the war.
Meanwhile, multi-lingual Mansour Jachimczyk is back on the mobile telephone, making last minute arrangements for Foreign Minister Chimaev's trip to France, which, he hopes, will be the first country to officially recognize Chechnya as an independent state. Israel and Poland are the other chief candidates for that honor.
"Someday, I will slow down and be able to go home and build my house, as planned," he says, reaching for his attache case and heading for the Mercedes waiting outside the door.
Where is that?