12th anniversary of Basayev's raid on Budyonnovsk
By Umalt Chadayev
CHECHNYA - June 14 marked the 12th anniversary of the capture of Budyonnovsk by a group of guerrillas under the leadership of Shamil Basayev. Budyonnovsk is a city located more than a hundred kilometres to the north-west of the Chechen border, in Stavropol Krai.
Today, the events of that time are assessed from differing points of view. Some consider that this raid at least enabled Basayev to bring the war to a temporary halt, thus saving the lives of hundreds and possibly thousands of people. For others, the hostage-taking at Budyonnovsk led to Chechens being viewed as terrorists rather than as fighters for the cause of independence.
Either way, both camps acknowledge that Shamil Basayev was perceived by the republic’s inhabitants as a national hero at the time. "I think the taking of hostages and the seizure of Budyonnovsk hospital were forced on Basayev. He himself has spoken of this, and I believe he even apologized to the residents of Budyonnovsk after the end of the ‘first’ war. While the taking of hostages is certainly something to be condemned, it should also be remembered that at that time virtually all residents of Chechnya were hostages of the Russian military," Chechen State University student Salam Akhyadov said in an interview with Prague Watchdog’s correspondent.
"Any village could be subjected to bombing and shelling at any moment, punitive ‘mop-ups’ could be carried out, and so on. Vivid testimony to that is what happened in the village of Samashki in the spring of 1995, when the federal forces – which, incidentally, were commanded by General Romanov (the commander of the Russian military group in Chechnya who is still in hospital after the serious wounds he received in Grozny in October 1995) – committed a bloody massacre. It may sound blasphemous, but hostage-taking at Budyonnovsk was a response to military atrocities," he says. “Basayev let them know that their homes and loved ones were as vulnerable to the armed forces the population of Chechnya. What’s more, it was thanks to this raid that negotiations began in Chechnya for a political settlement of the crisis – but unfortunately they came to nothing."
“The Chechens never waged war on unarmed civilians, they didn’t take hostages, didn’t trample the bodies of dead soldiers as the Russian military did. Basayev violated that tradition, presenting Chechens as terrorists and bandits. Yes, in Chechnya he was considered a hero at the time, because everyone thought he’d brought the war to an end, but after Budyonnovsk the war didn’t end. There was the simulation of a negotiating process, and then it all started again. All Basayev achieved by his attack was notoriety – he didn’t bring any benefit to the people of the republic," says Salavdi, a government employee.
“Basayev’s attempts during the war to repeat Budyonnovsk led to the hostage-taking at Nord-Ost Moscow and Beslan. We know very well how it ended. With the deaths of hundreds of people, including children. And these actions played against the interests of the residents of the Chechen Republic. I think it was Chernomyrdin who said, referring to the beginning of the war in Chechnya, that the federal authorities ‘wanted it to go better, but it turned out as always.’ The same thing happened here. The raid on Budyonnovsk, and other actions of that kind. They didn’t lead to anything good," he says with conviction.
On June 14 1995, a group of guerrillas under the command of Shamil Basayev seized several administrative buildings in the city of Budyonnovsk. Taking about two thousand residents hostage, Basayev’s men took refuge in the city hospital and demanded an immediate cessation of hostilities in Chechnya and the beginning of peace negotiations.
Russian riot police made several attempts to storm the hospital building, but all of these ended in total failure. Six days later, after receiving assurances from Russia’s prime minister, Viktor Chernomyrdin, Basayev released most of the captives and left for Chechnya with his fighters and a small group of hostages.
After Budyonnovsk, OSCE-assisted talks began in Grozny between President Dzhokhar Dudayev and the Russian leadership for a political settlement of the armed conflict. In the autumn of that year, the negotiations were terminated on the initiative of the Russian side after the attempt on the life of General Romanov. The first military campaign ended a year later, in August 1996, when guerrilla units captured the city of Grozny.
After the cessation of hostilities, Shamil Basayev and his men were awarded the highest military honours of the Ichkerian republic. Today, of the several commanders who took part in the Budyonnovsk raid, there are no survivors. Basayev was killed in Ingushetia during the summer of last year. His closest collaborators, Brigadier Aslambek Ismailov (Little Aslambek), Aslambek Abdulkhadzhiyev (Big Aslambek) and Abu Movsayev were killed in the early years of the "counter-terrorist operation". Several dozen men who took part in the Budyonnovsk events were arrested at different times and sentenced to various terms of imprisonment. Some were killed in combat during the second military campaign in Chechnya.