When the United Nations Commission on Human Rights begins its meetings on March 19 it is likely that the Chechen issue will come up, but unlikely that meaningful action will take place. Since the 1800s when predominately Muslim Chechnya was taken over by Czarist Russia the people of that distant land struggled for independence. This struggle has continued through 20th century and found its way into conflicts that still arise today. The poor people of Chechnya continue their resistance against oppressive Russians without international help or recognition. Over these centuries the people of Chechnya have not been allowed to demonstrate their culture or practice their religion–contrary to popular belief that this “democratic” government has been open and forthcoming to minorities. The story of Chechens is surprisingly similar to that of Slavic minorities. The national minorities (in this case Slavic Muslims) constitute a majority in their enclave, and of course they face constant persecution for such. Its is also this struggle that has found its way into the news with a high-jacking of a plane in Russia.
Chechens are a defiant and resistant group of people, and over the course of several hundreds of years of oppression they have always held true to their heritage and fought for their rights. And for their bulldog like defiance the Russian people and government have grown to hate Chechens with a bitter passion. A group of people so arrogant as to stand up to Russia and even fight for their independence is a slap on the face of the fading pride of the Russian people who have viewed their mighty super power degenerate into a meek third world country. Russians are stilled brainwashed by their government-controlled media that teaches them of “Muslim savages” and other archaic views. The Russian psyche is one that still grasps at the old glories of the mighty Soviet Union. If nothing else, it is the imperialism, ethnocentrism, and racism of old Soviet Russia that has made the transition into the current Russian Federation. It is these motives that shredded apart human lives in the 20th and still continues to oppress indigenous people.
The level of barbarity the Russian army has shown only parallels that of Serbia during its civil war and struggle with Kosovo. Numerous human rights groups have fought for the rights of the Chechen people to be restored. But as usual their desperate pleas have fallen on almost completely deaf ears. Even though it is a weak power, no nation or international body seems willing to stand up to Russia as they so reluctantly did for Kosovo. Where NATO planes could strike at a lame duck in Serbia, they would never dare do such a thing to a nation that could actually fight back. Boris Yeltsin himself told the world, when pressure started to amount about Chechnya, not to forget that Russia “éstill had nuclear weapons.” Among the most shocking of events to arise from this long drawn out conflict is the US officially taking notice of the Humanitarian crises in Chechnya. In a recent state department report the government stated,
Russian security forces demonstrated little respect for basic human rights. The indiscriminate use of force by government troops in the Chechen conflict resulted in widespread civilian casualties and the displacement of hundreds of thousands of personsé[there are] credible reports that military forces engaged in extra judicial killingséDuring the conflict in Chechnya in February, there were credible reports that the military used indiscriminate force in areas of significant civilian populations, resulting in numerous deathsé[Russian forces]éreportedly beat, raped, tortured, and killed numerous detainees.
Russia has yet to comply with a UN Commission on Human Rights’ resolution, and alas the paper tigers of human rights observation of the United States and the United Nations stand by and do nothing but throw about meek words that will not save any lives. Something that only makes you shake your head is the fact that supposedly Muslim states that preached a global Islamic state and freedom for all Muslims, have for the most part abandoned their Chechen brothers in favor of lucrative defense contracts.
Naturally the Russian government prevents all but a few non-government run agencies into Chechnya, fearing that their actions will be even more exposed to the public eye. The number of outside media outlets is increasingly falling, as they are one-by-one being expelled from the country. The humanitarian situation, contrary to Russian reports, is only getting worse. Approximately 260,000 [approx. 33% of the total population] civilians have found themselves displaced within Chechnya and another 170,000 [approx. 22% of the total population, making a total of 55% of the population refugees] are refugees in neighboring countries which are teeming with the influx of population and to which and to which aid is difficult to get [Note: statistics courtesy of Human Rights Watch]. This is not to say that the Chechen rebels have not undertaken inappropriate actions such as capturing and abusing civilians. However, this is only in response to the far greater oppressions ! manifested through institutional racist, autocratic, and tyrannical actions of the Russian government for centuries. When you back an animal up against a wall, it will either back down or strike back, and the Chechen people have never had a reputation of backing down. The Russian government has broken 22 of the 30 articles of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (Articles 1-5,7-12,15-23, 25-27). Among the most shocking and blatant violations include article 5 (“No one shall be subjected to torture or to cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment”), article 9 (“No one shall be subjected to arbitrary arrest, detention or exile.”), and article 15 (Everyone has the right to nationalityéNo one shall be arbitrarily deprived of his nationality nor denied the right to change his nationality.) While the shattered and smoldering remains of cities and lives remain throughout the Chechen landscape nothing rings of more truth and irony than the indictment at the Nuremberg t! rails:
Ill treatmentéof civilian populationsémurder or ill treatment of prisoners of waréwanton destruction of cities, towns or villageséinhumane acts committed against any civilian population.
There should be no doubt that Chechens have never fully had the rights of Russians, and have for centuries lived under the repressive Russian government.
No matter how hard the Russian people or government may try, they will never be able to justify any of their actions in Chechnya. They are violating the fundamental right of every human to have self-determination within themselves and their government. There are many arguments to why Russia should maintain Chechnya. Among the most troubling is that Russians built Chechnya to what it is today and also that there are great economic interest in the region. Pardon if I didn’t get the memo, but economic reasons have never been a moral justification of declining people their rights. Furthermore, Chechnya was built on the backs and hard labor of the Chechen people. Even the former speaker of the Russian parliament and staunch opponent of Chechen independence, Ruslan Khasbultov, has gone so far as to criticize the government. He wrote in an editorial in Nezavisimaya Gazeta that Chechnya “no longer exist” after the unjustifiable destruction that the central government has d! one to the region. He even called for new peace talks and disapproves of the behavior of the military. Even if one doesn’t agree with Chechen independence or autonomy, they must sympathize with the struggles of the people and disapprove of the actions of the Russian army.
Who is going to help these civilians? Certainly not the US. Certainly not the UN.
But If the Russian government or people think they can subdue the resilient Chechen spirit by massacring their civilians and destroying their homeséthey are sorely mistaken. Some time their time will come.
For Chechens are like the Caucus landscape they have defended for so long.
Cold, hard, and enduring.
Mr. Bobeck Modjtahedi is a student and humanitarian activist from California and currently the President of the International Student Action Committee.