Comment: Chechnya - Land without future

Originally published
A Chechen human rights advocate offers a bleak perspective on his peoples' fate within the Russian Federation.
By Kharon Deniev in Stavropol (CRS No. 13, 7-Jan-00)

Recent events in Chechnya lead one to conclude that the Chechen people, bewildered by propaganda emanating from all sides in the conflict, crave an end to this nightmare at the earliest opportunity. It is clear that neither the Russian federal forces nor the Chechen rebels are greatly concerned by the mounting civilian casualties.

One the eve of elections to the Russian Federal Duma, only one factor played on the minds of the politicians - protecting the lives of Russian soldiers: "our children". Not much was said about these "children" killing their fellow Russian citizens daily. The fact is that little consideration is given to the Russian citizenship of Chechen people.

Chechens are on the receiving end of appalling treatment, and no one will be held to account for mass murder in Chechnya today. The prerogative of the "unity of the state" takes precedence over everything else. The human rights of Chechen people are violated throughout Russia on a daily basis. Access to justice, representation at all levels of government and equal opportunities in the job market are denied the Chechen people.

A younger generation has emerged in Russia over the last ten years, which sees Chechens as enemies or aliens at best. Russia has abandoned the Soviet Union's internationalist tradition which ensured respect for ethnic minorities. This is the frame of mind of the Russian soldiers' fighting in Chechnya today. It is believed that these young people, filled with hatred towards Chechens, can restore order in Chechnya.

It is not difficult to imagine how peaceful Chechen villagers feel under the merciless bombardments - the inevitable Russian retaliation to even an isolated rebel shot. Conscious of the Russian military's preparedness to annihilate all civilians if necessary in their pursuit of rebel fighters, Chechen inhabitants try to persuade the rebels to leave their villages. Occasionally they succeed, but when dialogue fails, thousands of civilians leave their homes cursing all involved - the Russian army, former Russian President Boris Yeltsin, Chechen President Aslan Maskhadov and the rebel fighters.

Chechens face the difficult problem of either forcing the rebels from their villages or dying in their homes. Human rights and humanitarian conditions are not a consideration. Russia operates a policy of state terrorism and the rebels care only for themselves.

Meanwhile we all ask the same question - where will it all end? The answer seems clear, Russia will annihilate the rebels irrespective of civilian casualties. And Maskhadov will probably spend the rest of his life as a president in exile.

The Chechens will never forgive Maskhadov for one thing - his failure to realise a unique historical opportunity to create a Chechen state.

The Chechens have missed the chance to live in their own country free of Moscow's bidding. For a considerable part of the Chechen population their idea of freedom failed to materialise as the country descended into lawlessness, where every dispute was resolved by force of arms and criminals flourished.

The Chechens will never become full citizens of Russia enjoying equal rights and Russians likewise will never be welcomed in Chechnya. Hatred and mutual suspicion between the two nations will persist.

Dr Kharon Deniev is a human rights advocate and senior member of the Chechen-Ingush community of Stavropol.