February 14th 2009 · Prague Watchdog / Valentin Tudan · PRINTER FRIENDLY FORMAT · E-MAIL THIS · ALSO AVAILABLE IN: RUSSIAN 

“Every conflict always has a father”

By Valentin Tudan, special to Prague Watchdog

NAZRAN, Ingushetia – “The problem is not even the people who were killed,” says my old friend Alkhazur. “It’s not the miseries the Chechens had to endure. On the contrary, those miseries may in some ways even have strengthened their spirit, hardened their will. And on the other hand they reminded people of the meaning of active compassion, and once again, as in the exile of the Stalin era, taught them to respond instantly to the misfortunes of others and hurry to their aid.”

“All that is in the past now,” Alkhazur says. He thinks that the Chechens are turning into a completely different people, right before his eyes. The problem is that the qualities that make up their national character and form the source of their cultural and ethnic identity are being wiped out.

Alkhazur sometimes wonders whether there is a program of violence aimed at destroying the Chechens’ moral and ethical standards, their traditions, a specially devised systematic plan. “No, of course there isn’t,” he tells himself. “It’s just the natural consequence of the repressive policies which were summed up in Putin’s phrase ‘flushed down the toilet’. In order to be put into practice successfully, that policy requires the worst of human instincts, the dregs, the qualities that are the lowest of the low.”

At the start of the “second” Chechen war, the federal centre had to choose between several groups of Chechens who were offering their services to Moscow in the campaign to pacify the rebel republic. President Akhmat-Khadzhi Kadyrov’s principal rival was the politician Beslan Gantamirov, who in the early stages of the war appeared to be the figure preferred by the federal government because the men under his command were actively involved in combat operations. Kadyrov, on the other hand, had only just begun to put his law enforcement divisions together.

It very quickly became clear, however, that Gantamirov was acting within clearly-marked boundaries defined by the unofficial rules of Chechen behaviour. His men not only fought, but in some cases prevented the federals from harassing civilians. Moreover, it is still rumoured that during the blockade of Grozny they helped to transport wounded fighters from the city to hospitals outside it.

Alkhazur is convinced that the strategy of unrestrained brutal repression which Putin selected for Chechnya could not be made to harmonize with Chechen etiquette in any form, no matter how rudimentary. A choice was therefore made in favour of those who demonstrated willingness to cleanse their souls and memories of any trace of the unofficial Chechen code of conduct. This was the path on which Akhmat-Khadzhi Kadyrov embarked.

It did not all work out for him right away. The tradition Gantamirov had established continued to hold sway for a long time. For example, in Vedeno, Shatoy and other villages the militias made up of local residents not only helped the federals combat the guerrillas but also put a stop to the military’s attempts at brutal repression during “mop-ups”. Those militias met a sad end. The groups were not simply disbanded: the federals took their revenge on the fighters for their intransigence and their desire to protect the interests of the population. Many of the fighters in Supyan Taramov’s unit, which had been helping to “restore Soviet power” in Vedeno, were abducted and killed. In Shatoy the soldiers simply blew up the militias as they moved about the village by car.

In 2004 “mop-ups” [zachistki] were unleashed by the Chechens. This caused widespread shock among the population. The village of Starye Atagi was subjected to a large number of special operations. It is enough to say that there were almost no men left there who had not been detained and beaten at least once. When Musa Gazimagomadov’s OMON detachment appeared there, people took the slightest bit of rudeness on the part of his fighters as a gross insult. And this in spite of the fact that the Chechen OMON behaved with no more restraint than the federals. But they were “theirs”, and from them people would accept no violence, justified or not.

“Those were the last days of the Gantamirov period,” Alkhazur considers. He says that by then Kadyrov’s new policies had already gained the upper hand among the Chechen law enforcement bodies, to the detriment of all intra-Chechen norms. All kinds of dubious people were being drafted into Kadyrov’s police squads. Whereas in the early years of the war Chechens still considered it beneath them to serve with the federal forces, the first echelon of recruits was created from some of the most criminalized elements in the gang formations of the pre-war era. Kidnappers, murderers – this marginal, anti-social rabble formed the backbone of the future army of Chechnya’s present leader, Ramzan Kadyrov.

Alkhazur says that nowadays no one is surprised when an armed teenager beats up an old man, when a woman is insulted, when things take place that used to be impossible for Chechens. The code of honour which implied that a man must defend his dignity, protect his loved ones, relatives and friends, is now no longer valid, and not only because of the fear of violence. People have grown accustomed to doing without the code, and the general deterioration of morals has spread to relations between people.

Men are not afraid to show their fear and do not try to avoid the experience of humiliation. “People have become worse – look at us, every day we’re forced to abandon more of our identity,” says Alkhazur.

“Recently there was a case where a police officer shot a man for no apparent reason. First, as usual, they sent the old folk, who asked the family to forgive the murderer. But that’s only the beginning of the obligatory procedure of conciliation. Next, the guilty party should utter words of remorse. However, at that point the police officer decided to take advantage of his connections and official status. The parents began to receive visits from members of the security forces, who threatened them with trouble if they did not go to conciliation.

Ramzan Kadyrov, on whom the burdens of the past apparently also weigh, once said on television: “One shouldn’t talk about what was. Let’s just talk on the basis of what is.“

“That’s impossible,” Alkhazur says. “The guilt must be atoned for. The offender must truly realize the seriousness of what he has done. Only then will there be any guarantee that he won’t commit another crime. Our law is not simply made to reconcile and provide a sense of moral satisfaction – it’s primarily designed to protect the whole of society.“

“But,” he adds after brief reflection, “there’s a Chechen proverb: ‘Every conflict always has a father‘ (mu’lokhchu devnan shen da vu), which means that among Chechens there are certain types of crime for which there are no limitations. In ten or twenty years’ time, when the opportunity arises, the criminals will be taken to task for what they are doing now. And that means that honour and dignity may possibly start to return to us.”

Photo: TOP

(Translation by DM)




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