What’s New in Putin’s Russia?

Human rights abuse is nothing new in Russia. It is worse than a perennial thing there. It has its highs and lows, but never quite disappears.

In the year 1860, shortly after the Czarist Army moved into the Caucasus, more than 400,000 Muslims were killed. So, in the 19th century Muslims of the Caucasus were singled out for there refusal to bow down to Czarist Russia and took the brunt of Russian abuses against the ‘other’ people. Then the target of abuse moved to the Jews since the assassination of Czar Alexander in 1881 and lasted for nearly four decades until the Bolsheviks came to power in 1917.

During Stalin’s period, Muslim population of the Caucasus, Chechnya, Ingushetia, and all Muslim Republics in Central Asia became the easy targets. Millions of Muslims were displaced and 300,000 killed just in the Caucasus. The people of Chechnya along with their fellow co-religionists in the neighboring Ingushetia were dragged from their homes in 1944 on Stalin’s whims to wastelands of Kazakhstan on a cooked-up charge of collaborating with the Germans. Both these peoples were sentenced to penal servitude and subjected to systematic genocide, worse than those of the Siberian Gulag. For a time being they were declared an extinct people, who did not exist in Stalin’s time. Thirteen years later, under Khrushchev, both these peoples were reinstated, told it was a mistake and invited to return to their homelands. Many did so on the foot. While Chechens still had a home to return to, the Ingush Muslims found their lands and houses occupied by Christian Ossetians.

After Stalin’s fall, a period marked by relatively lull or less hostility against the ‘other’ people ushered in. Shortly thereafter, however, the Jews became the new victims as they opted to find refuge in the prosperous western world.

With the war in Afghanistan and the body bags of Russian soldiers arriving home in the 1980s, the wave of hatred turned against the darker skinned (compared to Russians) Muslims from Central Asia. And the situation worsened after the collapse of the Soviet Union. Lithuania, Latvia, Estonia, Ukraine, Belarus, Armenia could secede, but why the Muslim Republics? And with the election of (now martyred) Dzhokhor Dudayev in Chechnya, hatred simply escalated. Dudayev was popularly elected on the strength of his promise to free Chechnya from Russia. Yeltsin demolished Grozny and killed nearly a hundred of thousand Chechens.

Then came the Apartment bombing in 1999 in Moscow. Chechens were blamed for the death of civilian Russians. In a BBC and NPR news heard later, more than two years after the blast that it was Vladimir Putin, now the Russian President, then the FSS Chief, who master-minded the Moscow Apartment bombing, to stir up hatred against Chechen Muslims, so that the Russian government could launch its second savage campaign in Chechnya, and facilitate Putin’s winning the Presidential election. (NPR News, All Things Considered, Feb. 21, ’02; BBC News, March 5, 2002) It worked for him. He killed tens of thousands of Chechens after his election, but still the Chechens have refused to bow down to Russian savagery. Their struggle for freedom continues, while the world watches unperturbed and unashamed of its appalling indifference to the suffering there. Out of such apathy from the world body, the freedom movement is becoming radicalized with splinter groups where widows and orphans of the murdered victims are now willing to fight and get killed. That is the ultimate consequence of what dehumanization of a once-proud nationality could do.

When the Chechen rebels took over a Moscow theater and threatened to kill everyone in it if their friends were not released from Russian prisons, the Russians finally ran gas into the theater, killing over 100 hostages and the rebels. Shortly after that the Russian Duma ordered the bodies of the dead Chechens in the theater covered and wrapped in pigskin and buried in secret locations.[1] The Muslim families cannot find the bodies to give them a proper burial. Imagine the magnitude of abuse orchestrated by the Russian government.[2]

Two weeks ago, Zeliman Yandarbiyev, the exiled ex-President of Chechnya, died in a car blast in Qatar. It is believe that Russia’s intelligence services were responsible for the assassination, as it emerged that his Toyota Landcruiser was torn to shreds in Qatar by a sophisticated booby trap operated by remote control. Local media in Doha reported that Yandarbiyev’s jeep had been booby-trapped before it drove him, his two bodyguards and 13-year-old son, Daud, home after Friday prayers. The bomb was detonated 300 metres away from the mosque. Yandarbiyev died from his wounds in hospital on Feb. 13, ’04, Friday.[3]

There are many Muslims who still live in Moscow and St. Petersburg. Because of their darker skin, they are quite often abused as Chechens. Racial discrimination and violence against them are quite common. The Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch and other human rights organizations have reported and pleaded with the Russian authorities to stop such abuses, however to no avail.

Just few days ago, a Muslim lady (from a Central Asian Republic), with permits to live in Moscow, was attacked by skinheads when she was returning home with her 8-year old daughter. The daughter was beaten to death while she was knocked out unconscious. Hate crimes of this nature against Muslims have become quite common in recent days after the recent Moscow subway bomb-blast, where the Chechens are being blamed (while they deny any such involvement) for causing it. Unfortunately, in Putin’s Russia such abuses are routinely overlooked. There is no condemnation from ‘civilized’ west either, once again exposing its monumental hypocrisy.


[1]. (Pork and pigskin are considered an anathema to Muslims.)

[2]. The International League for Human Rights compiled a report in December of 2002 on reports of racial and other forms of discrimination that is so pervasive in Putin’s Russia. You may view the report by clicking in the weblink: http://www.ilhr.org/ilhr/regional/russia/CERD_Russia_2003.htm

[3]. http://www.guardian.co.uk/chechnya/Story/0,2763,1148091,00.html