A war with ancestral shades
By Mansur Muratov
CHECHNYA – Having made the reasonable assumption that the external trappings of the new-fangled, "Russian" Chechnya must be brand new and absolutely original, the Kadyrov authorities have not only waged an all-out campaign to replace the state symbols, but have also carried out a surgical removal of all signs of the existence of the state of Ichkeria. Included on the list of those suspected of disloyalty to the current regime was the memorial to the victims of the Stalinist deportations, located in the centre of Grozny. This monument was almost the only site in the republic that remained free of any ideological baggage, and was accepted without demur by virtually all residents of Chechnya, regardless of their political or other orientation.
The memorial complex was built during the presidency of Chechnya’s first post-Soviet leader, Dzhokhar Dudayev, on land formerly occupied by Grozny’s Chelyuskintsy cinema. Its opening was timed to mark the fiftieth anniversary of the deportation of the Vaynakhs (Chechens and Ingush) to Kazakhstan and Central Asia. The memorial was a small area enclosed on three sides by a brick wall. It contained rows of gravestones that had been brought from practically every corner of Chechnya. After the Chechens had been deported, the Soviet authorities made use of the gravestones as building materials. Some of the stones were used to create the foundations of pigsties.
The memorial was located beside the road from the airport, along which flows a steady stream of motorcades escorting distinguished guests who have come to marvel at Kadyrov’s Chechnya. Word has it in the republic that on one occasion a distinguished guest frowned in annoyance when the phrases engraved on the memorial wall were translated for him: "We won't fall apart, we won't cry, and we won't forget." According to the rumours, the official’s irritation was also what decided the monument’s fate. As a matter of fact, however, the local fans of eternal friendship with Russia possess quite enough petty suspicion and manic zeal on their own for them to be able to perceive sedition in such an inscription. And there is really nothing strange in the fact that those who initiated the monument’s dismantling were activists of a political organization called "United Russia".
Staff members of the "Memorial" human rights centre (almost the only people who have come to the monument’s defence) say that the site’s inauguration was accompanied by all the essential religious rites associated with a funeral. In their opinion, from a religious and symbolic point of view the memorial complex is a cemetery. It is logical to suppose that the republic’s religious authorities, led by Mufti Sultan-Hadzhi Mirzayev, would try to prevent the destruction of a cemetery. But they showed scracely a flicker of interest in the blasphemous dismantling. At that time, all of the mullahs’ attention was focused on the distinguished guest from Moscow.
On his arrival in Chechnya, Vladimir Ustinov, the newly appointed Russian presidential envoy to the Southern Federal District, immediately set off for another cemetery whose fate is turning out to be more secure. Paying a visit to the grave of former Chechen President Akhmad-Khadzhi Kadyrov, which is located in Ramzan Kadyrov’s ancestral village Khosi-Yurt, Ustinov made several statements regarding plans for the future. One of these concerned the ecclesiastical aspects of the activity of the federal Russian troops now stationed in Chechnya on a permanent basis. The presidential envoy counselled the generals to receive the blessing of the Mufti of Chechnya and other Muslim clerics before launching military operations against the guerrillas. And then, according to Ustinov’s logic, the republic’s population would not oppose the servicemen’s efforts, but on the contrary shower them with prayers of gratitude.
It is possible that the Russian servicemen really are in need of God’s assistance, for in recent times they have been more and more reluctant to mobilize military units outside their places of deployment. And it has not escaped notice that even Kadyrov himself has lost much of his enthusiasm for the use of force against the armed underground. He now increasingly relies on methods of persuasion.
On May 28 Magomed Khambiyev, who was formerly Ichkeria’s minister of defence but is now a member of Kadyrov’s parliament, appealed to Chechen resistance leaders abroad to return to the republic and disband the armed militias. He was most likely thinking of Akhmed Zakayev, who since the declaration of the Caucasian Emirate has assumed the role of Ichkeria’s new leader. In the text of his message, Magomed Khambiyev says: "It is actually today that we have obtained the very independence for which we have fought all these years." The member of parliament has met with many guerrillas and has realized that it is their commanders stationed abroad who are preventing them from returning to civilian life in their homeland.
According to Khambiyev, the Chechen armed underground has changed its tactics, and is now adopting a wait-and-see attitude. This does not entirely correspond to reality. In recent weeks, the guerrillas have conducted a series of military operations in the Urus-Martanovsky and Achkhoi-Martanovsky districts of southern Chechnya. It is therefore likely that Magomed Khambiyev is alluding to statements made by Akhmed Zakayev that the Chechen guerrillas are doing their utmost to avoid possible armed clashes with the Chechen police.
Magomed Khambiyev is offering the Chechen field commanders who consider themselves the heirs of the cause espoused by Dudayev, Yandarbiyev and Maskhadov. He is trying to persuade the supporters of independence that Kadyrov himself is the independence of which the founding fathers dreamed.
However, Khambiyev’s former comrades at arms have not a moment’s hesitation in calling him a traitor and are not too inclined to conduct negotiations with him, or with anyone else. They want to go on fighting.
(Translation by DM)
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