Already, 200,000 to 250,000 refugees have fled to neighboring Ingushetia, which is ill equipped to handle them. Frigid weather is setting in and the suffering of people is great. There is almost no humanitarian assistance, other than by Russian agencies, since the security situation has forced the withdrawal of nearly all international organizations over the last two years.
Many Russian citizens support this military action. A series of recent explosions in Moscow that killed around 300 people were widely attributed to Chechens. The disastrous defeat Russia suffered in Chechnya in 1994-96, in which approximately 80,000 people were killed, left the country feeling insecure and humiliated.
Quaker agencies are concerned about the situation not only for the current humanitarian disaster but also because the war has the potential to spread to other areas of the Caucasus and could well have impact on the stability of the former Yugoslavia and other countries in the Balkans.
QUAKER EXPERIENCE IN RUSSIA
Connections with Russia began more than 80 years ago, when the American Friends Service Committee and other Quakers responded to a devastating famine, distributing milk, food, and medicine. Throughout the Cold War, AFSC sought and maintained opportunities for connections between the Soviet Union and the United States through its East-West Program. It organized reciprocal seminars for Soviet journalists, academics, and their U.S. counterparts from the 1950s through the fall of the Berlin War. Since 1991, London-based Quaker Peace and Service (QPS) has provided support for Friends House Moscow, a center for peace and humanitarian concerns. Swedish Friends Service Committee has been assisting environmental programs and people who are homeless or who have disabilities in St. Petersburg.
A seminar organized by the AFSC in 1992, which included participants from Uzbekistan, Kirghizastan, and Kazakhstan, focused on the political, economic, and social problems of transition being experienced by the Central Asian republics. Many of the issues discussed in this seminar were harbingers of the post-communist, low intensity conflicts in the Caucasus and included discussion of Islam as a political force, the issues of autonomy vs. independence, and the militarism of the region.
In 1997, after the first round of fighting in Chechnya, AFSC's Emergency Material Assistance Program sent material relief to Russia and to Chechnya and supported attempts to bring the war to a negotiated settlement. QPS staff worked with the conscientious objector movement in Russia, led by the mothers of Russian solders, to bring an end to the hostilities.
WHAT WE ARE DOING NOW
The AFSC has allocated $5,000 from its Crisis Fund for the purchase of emergency food baskets for refugees. Because of their long-standing work in the region, Quakers have experience and an excellent local network by which they can ensure that aid gets to the most seriously affected. Consistent with religious principles, Quakers provide aid to people suffering on all sides-Chechens as well as Russians. As there are ample supplies of most goods locally, we purchase as much as possible on the local market, thus supporting local enterprise, as well as reducing transport costs and shipping time.
Quakers will continue to follow the situation closely, seeking opportunities for further relief, for longer term rehabilitation, and for reconciliation.
=A9 American Friends Service Committee
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