Tuesday, September 07, 2004

Chicago Tribune | Why there is no peace in Chechnya

Chicago Tribune | Why there is no peace in Chechnya:
"The Chechen conflict began in December 1994 when the Russian government razed Grozny, the capital of the breakaway republic in southern Russia, to the ground. In a secret decree, the Russian Security Council voted to bomb the city and send in ground troops to suppress the Chechen independence movement. When the measures were implemented, no state of emergency was introduced and no evacuation procedures were implemented for the 400,000 people residing in Grozny. This extraordinary single act of violence has seen no judicial retribution and little compensation for the civilians, Russian or Chechen.

The war in Chechnya may have ended in 1997, but the terms of peace contained one fatal mistake: They did not address Chechnya's independence. The decision was postponed until 2001.

This was the perfect opening for the ex-KGB operative and future president of Russia, Vladimir Putin. His concerns about instability inside the republic were legitimate, but, yet again, the Russian government addressed its problems with its southern neighbor with ground troops and rocket bombs when its forces reentered in 1999. This time, with the help of the Russian Federal Security Bureau, government troops and privately contracted soldiers, we are witnessing a more sinister approach to the suppression of a civilian population."

…In 2000, the Committee on Conscience of the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum in Washington placed Chechnya on its "Genocide Watch List." Since the resumption of the armed conflict, Chechen civilians have become the subjects of a collective punishment campaign. According to Sergei Kovalyov, Russia's most eminent human rights activist, "We are always finding, all across Chechnya, mass graves of civilians. Sometimes it's not even a grave but a heap of dumped bodies." Perhaps the greatest testimony to the situation that reigns in Chechnya is the flight of an estimated 500,000 refugees.

As the U.S. and European governments continue to marginalize massive human rights violations in Chechnya for the sake of Russia's support in the war on terror, we are witnessing one of the most major setbacks for the international human rights movement in the post-Cold War era. It appears that political interests will continue to run roughshod over individual rights and liberties. The traditional diplomatic discourse of "state sovereignty" and "internal affairs" again makes its return to political dialogue.

The deadly hostage-taking tragedy in the primary school in Beslan is just one more testimony to the radicalization of young Chechen adults who have experienced little except armed conflict since 1994. The reluctance of the Russian government to negotiate with the independence leaders and the frequent acts of violence in Russia's major cities by radical Chechen leaders has made this a brutal and interminable conflict.

We are left wondering: Will these altercations set the agenda for a new generation of Chechens? Will not this continued terrorization of the civilian population produce the type of fundamentalism the Russian government fears? And if the fate of Chechen citizens were not enough, what finally does the magnitude of this repression mean for Russian democracy?

The most comprehensive peace proposal so far has been by the former Chechen foreign minister, Ilyas Akhmadov, who resides in exile in the United States. Akhmadov proposes conditional independence for Chechnya under a UN-sponsored temporary government. He acknowledges the divisions and problems within Chechnya but believes the conflict cannot be solved by a Russian government that has caused so much damage, material and psychological, to this small country. Although support for his plan has received more than 30,000 signatures, including the signatures of more than 100 deputies of the European Parliament, the Russian government has been silent.

There is no excuse for the violent hostage-taking campaigns being undertaken by the radical Chechen resistance and the "black widows," Chechen women seeking revenge for the deaths of their fathers, sons and husbands. But there is a reason for it.

con·cept: Chicago Tribune | Why there is no peace in Chechnya