Chechen Representative Testifies Before the CSCE
Lyoma Usmanov, Chechen Representative to the United States Testimony on the Commission on Security and Cooperation in Europe
November 3, 1999
THE MILITARY CRISIS IN CHECHNYA: ITS IMPORTANCE AND HUMANITARIAN CONSEQUENCES
Mr. Chairman, Honourable Congressmen. Let me first express you my respect and thank you for this opportunity to speak here about events so tragic for my people.
Your kind letter of invitation to speak asked me to address "the situation in Russia, with a special focus on the situation in Chechnya." I can answer this request brieflythere is a major humanitarian disaster underway in the Caucasus. Hundreds of civilians have already been killed in Russian air and artillery attacks, mostly women and children, and thousands have fled to neighboring regions. As these regions are completely unequipped to cope with this influx of refugees, the scale of the disaster will grow exponentially as colder weather sets in. Neither the Chechen nor the Russian Ingush governments are capable of preventing this unfolding tragedy, affecting those most vulnerable in our society; the elderly, women and children.
Since October 22nd military actions have stepped up the exodus of people out of Chechnya. Yet the Russians have arbitrarily kept the Chechen-Ingush border crossing closed for the most part; because of that the column of refugees at the border at times has stretched more than 10 miles. As a result there is a mass of sick children, deaths of babies caused by exposure have already been recorded, elderly people complain about heart problems from stress and grief, and the first refugee childbirth has occurred - right on the road. (Obshaia Gazeta, # 42, 21-X-1999).
Compounding this cruelty is the fact that Chechens fleeing the fighting don't even have appropriate status of refugees. Russian Prime-Minister Putin does not consider Chechens as refugees; according to Moscow, the Chechen crisis is an "internal Russian problem," as the refugees have not left Russia. But they don't leave Russia only because authorities don't give them travel documents. Chechen refugees have become stateless people within their own state because of Russian military action against them.
In Ingushetia there are now about 200,000 Chechen refugees, nearly one-third of the pre-war population of Chechnya. Their arrival has completely overwhelmed Ingushetia’s 300,000 inhabitants. Despite Moscow’s propaganda, not the most helpless and unprotected have left Chechnya but only those who were able to pay for their trip to Ingushetia or who had a car. Of those who remain, the residents of the capital are in the most critical situation. Grozny is a besieged city where there is no water, gas, electricity, communication with the outside world, and little health care or food. People drink water mostly from rain pools. To make things worse, this humanitarian tragedy is taking place when the winter is approaching, when the death rate from exposure, illness and starvation will soar.
Today the peaceful civilians of Chechnya, according to the radio Liberty (October 29, 1999), are real political prisoners the number of which is gradually decreasing as a result of the use of tactical rockets and other kinds of weapons of non-directed action. The Russian Human Rights Centre "MEMORIAL" describes such acts as war crimes (the newspaper Express-Chronicle, # 40, November 1st, 1999).
Russia officially declares that it wages war against terrorists. The pretext for its military operations in Chechnya has been the terrorist bombings in Russia, which killed hundreds. Moscow blamed terrorists supported by Chechnya for the attacks. I am authorised by our nation’s President and government to tell you first, that our nation not only was in no way involved in these brutal terrorist attacks, but condemns them in the strongest possible terms. Secondly, our government is willing to cooperate completely and totally with the Russian government and other authorities to locate and punish those responsible for these attacks. Thirdly, I am authorized to tell you that the government of Chechnya resolutely and absolutely condemns terrorist acts in all forms, wherever and whenever they may occur.
I can confirm the fact of our government’s commitment to fight criminality in our country. Our position on this question is explained by the fact that it is the Chechen people, and not the population of Russia, who were and continue to be the main victims of their activity. We therefore can not understand why the government of Putin instead of supporting us in this matter started military operations against our people. If, instead of destroying the industrial infrastructure and environment of the Chechen people, its potential had been utilized, the criminals would have been annihilated or forced out of our country. We also want to underline that it is impossible to liquidate criminals and extremists in Chechnya without our government’s involvement. This is exactly the position that Maskhadov wanted to propose to Russian authorities with whom he has consistently seeking negotiations.
Even his representative in Moscow Mayrbek Vachagaev, who was recently arrested and thrown in prison, was commissioned with to lobby on this issue.
I also want to inform you about the extremely negative attitude of the Chechen Parliament and President towards the Islamic fundamentalists who invaded Dagestan in August, triggering the current crisis. Our position on this question is also clear. We categorically condemn these events.
Our rejection of religious extremism is based on the fact that all Chechens are Muslims of the Sufi Nasqbandi and Kadiri schools, which has nothing to do with Islamic fundamentalism. This is very closely linked with our culture, with our mentality, and with the indigenous democratic system of Chechen society itself. Second, Chechens, their Parliament and government in July 1998 sharply condemned Islamic extremism as alien and non-democratic. I will be pleased to supply the relevant documents to anyone at these hearings, especially congressional staffers.
I regret to say that Chechen authorities have been inferior in resources to religious extremists both in arms and finances. With even more regret, I wish to underline that at the same time, more exactly on July 22nd, the special "United Commission at the President of Russia for Counteraction to Political Extremism" composed of the Minister of Justice, Director of FSB, Minister of Internal Affairs and Minister for Nationalities has adopted completely contrary decision (see Vakhid Akaev, "Sufism and Wahhabism in the Northern Caucasus", Russian Academy of Science, Moscow, 1999, page 14). In other words, Islamic fundamentalists acting in the Northern Caucasus have received from Moscow juridical and political support.
I want to express openly that we don't understand the true objectives of the present military operation of Russia in Chechnya. I am even afraid to make supposition that Moscow can annihilate the lawful authorities of Chechen Republic because this could mean the transition of political situation into the situation of complete uncontrolled chaos. Aslan Maskhadov is a legally elected president, a former regular officer, patriot of his country. He is realist and responsible person who knows what are both Russia and its army.
This is the only person through whom it is possible to make political settlement, whose opinion has the weight on all the territory of Chechnya. All other military and political figures in Chechnya are those who don't bear any responsibility and who already have nothing to lose.
I have to state that Islamic extremism turned out to be not so much the reason as pretext to the escalation of the present conflict. The true reasons of the conflict, to our view, are the problems of uncertainty of Russian-Chechen relations. After the end of the previous war, on August 30, 1996 the Russian-Chechen agreements have been signed in the town of Khasav-Yurt. Then, on May 12, 1997 a Peace Treaty have been signed, this time on the top level. The principal and substantial element of these documents was that Russian-Chechen relations were supposed to be developed only on the equal rights and peaceful grounds and by taking into consideration the right of Chechen people to self-determination and other norms of international law. Neither Chechen President nor Parliament - the only political structures having right to express the opinion of Chechen Republic - did give and are going to give any occasion for non-respect of those signed documents.
After adopting these political documents, there have also been signed a number of economic agreements, according to which Moscow committed itself to restore destroyed economy and also to give Chechens the rights to conduct independent international trade interrelations. However, nothing has been accomplished in this regard and that has even more contributed to deepening crisis inside Chechnya. As we see now, instead of developing peaceful interrelations the political course was changed to reincorporate Chechnya in the Russian Federation by force.
Passing to conclusion, I would like to emphasize the political goals of the people and government of Chechen Republic. First and the main goal is peace and international guarantees of our security. We can not accept this tragic for us fact that during Russian election campaign Chechnya will further serve as a firing ground for military and political games of politicians from Moscow. It does not seem to us just either when the annihilation of the peaceful population of our small country, under whatever pretext it may be, is declared to be internal matter of Russia. We, Chechens, have never granted such a right to Russia.
Another political goal of the people of Chechen Republic is building the democratic society. Chechens don't accept any other political system. Never! Our people even in previous years did not put up with the communist tyranny of Soviet Union, for which it was deported in 1944. Nor did our people accept the imposed on us in recent years system of religious state. A different issue is that for today we don't have objective conditions to develop democratic institutions. Judge it yourself. Whatever democratic institutes of power Chechens opt for they do not suit Moscow. Moscow was not satisfied with the parliament elected in 1990, to which I bear witness as a former member of that institute of power. Moscow was not satisfied with the president and parliament elected in 1991. In the same way, the democratic institutes of power elected in 1997 in the presence of observers from OSCE don't suit Moscow neither. Add to this that even during the years of communist rule our country was the only one on the territory of the USSR where up to 1989 the head of the region could be only ethnic Russian.
For Chechens today there is no place where they could feel safe. We are persecuted in Moscow and other regions of Russia. We are not left alone in peace even in our motherland. Sincerely, we don't understand what Russia wants from us at all. If they want us to be with Russia, so why to persecute us? If we are so disliked then why not to let us live independently?
In connection with this, our main political task for today is the problem of physical surviving of Chechen people as ethnic unit. And I am addressing you on behalf of Chechen children and women defenceless and deprived, weak and poor, cold and sick - SAVE US FROM EXTERMINATION!
Words cannot express my personal and my government’s gratitude at your invitation to speak to you today.
In closing, I would ask only that you understand how powerful your example is to us. Over two hundred years ago, in seeking redress for an inconsiderate government’s ignorance of American asperations, your Declartion of Independence boldly proclaimed, We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.
We are looking for life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.
We thought at we achieved most of these goals with the Khasavyurt agreements of 1996. Obviously we were wrong, and are now forced into a brutal conflict which we did not seek, which threatens not only our liberty and our pursuit of happiness, but the very lives of our children, wives and elderly.
Our president has repeatedly called for negotiations. Both the pope and President of the United States have also called for discussions, but all appeals have been met with silence. In the absence of any opportunity to discuss the conflict with Russians and the absence of international intervention, we must defend our families, homes and nation from genocidal attacks. We hope and pray that democratic governments will use all their influence to stop the suffering.
And we know, in defending our families and freedoms, our American friends will understand why we struggle in a conflict not of our making. We have not sought strife, which kills and mains our civilians.
In this situation, we are forced to defend our families and freedom. As your president, Thomas Jefferson, said,
"Resistance to tyrants is obedience to God."
We hope that our friends in America will understand and support us in our efforts to achieve peace; as your president, John Adams said,
"Wherever the standard of freedom and independence has been or shall be unfurled, there will be America's heart
If these standards are indeed what motivates, then they have been unfurled on the peaks of the Caucasus, and America’s heart must understand why we can choose no other path except freedom and peace