Chechnya: Its War, Oil, and People
Chechnya, located in the south of Russia and to the north of the Republic of Georgia, has been at war for five long years. We are told very few facts about the country by the mainstream press, other than the Chechens are fighting for their freedom from Russian rule. Unfortunately, civilians on both sides are being killed. The Chechen Mujahideen estimates that around 60,000 people have already been died as a result of the fighting, and that figure is climbing. They state that for every Chechen or Ingushetian child killed, a Russian will die. This tiny civil war has extended not only to Russia, but also to Northern Georgia, and continues to spread throughout the whole Caucus region. As it grows, more people die.
This war, like all wars, is devastating. This is a war where no one is innocent, just as Israel and Palestine are both guilty of human rights abuses (Is there a war where one side is innocent of human rights abuses?). Russian military and anti-Russian Chechens have been accused of various abuses by several human rights organizations such as Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch, the Medical Foundation for the Care of Victims of Torture, and the Memorial Human Rights Center. These abuse charges include kidnaping, torture, rape, and execution. The need for humanitarian aid is crucial in Chechnya, as well as Ingushetia and Northern Georgia. Russian authorities, however, have shut down several humanitarian groups in the area. The Danish Refugee Council was recently told to close down its operations in both Chechnya and Russia. All of the aforementioned organizations are calling for an international resolution for Russia to deal directly with the problem at hand and allow such groups to work freely in Chechnya.
The international community has been slow to reacting to the problems of the country, problems that are worsening every day. The United States government, like others, has simply stated that there should be peace in the region. Well of course! But how are they going to help? The international community must persuade Russia to pull out its troops and negotiate politically with Chechnya. But none of this has gone on. While many resolutions have been proposed, they have all been ignored. While Russians and Chechens are dying, while millions of people in Eastern Europe and Central Asia oppose this war, they are all being ignored.
A Brief History of Chechnya
The Chechens call themselves Nokchi. The word “Chechen” came from the Russian language, an ethnonym named after a village in the region. Chechens are the largest of the Northern Caucus groups, and second largest of all Caucus groups together, just behind the Georgians. Each Caucus group has their own language, but all are very similar. In fact, most Ingushetians and Chechens can easily learn both languages.
The Chechens have been living in the Caucus Mountains for about 6,000 years, possibly longer. From the middle ages up until the 19th century, the Chechens prospered and their population grew rapidly, as did other Caucus groups. During the 19th century, Russia repeatedly invaded Chechnya, in an attempt to drive Chechens and other Caucus people out of their homelands and replace them with Russians and Cossacks. Every single Russian government, Czarist and Soviet, has been guilty of this.
The Chechen Mujahideen has always fought a holy war against Russian invaders. However, struggles against the Russians in the region were repeatedly hijacked by people who only wanted power of their own. For instance, the Chechens have in their past been indoctrinated in Islam and the Georgians have their own orthodox religion, Georgian Orthodox. The actual religions have nothing to do with war and violence, but religious fundamentalists on both sides were able take over the countries for themselves and even fight amongst each other. This continued until after the Bolshevik Revolution when the Soviets successfully invaded Chechnya.
During WWII, Stalin believed that the Chechens would revolt and turn to some kind of nationalism related to Nazism. Stalin decided that the best solution would be to get rid of the mosques and Islamic religious leaders in Chechnya, institute genocide against the Chechen people, and organize mass deportations of Chechens to Siberia and Central Asia. This fueled the Mujahideen’s holy war waged against Russia and also created strong nationalism within Chechnya, leading many to support fundamentalist tactics to driving Russia out. Many of the Mujahideen claimed peace for Chechens, but only for them. Often times, Russians who were forced to leave their country by Soviet leaders were murdered in Chechnya.
Today, most Russian Orthodox and Sunni Moslems live side by side peacefully, and many Chechens have stated that if the war would only stop, a solution could be found where all sides were in agreement. Of course, the Russian and Chechen people are the majority, but are rarely heard by their petty leaders.
Russia’s Current Invasion
It is strange to see that Chechnya is so widely talked of in the American press, when the Republic of Georgia was hardly even mentioned in the American media during their so-called “Velvet Revolution.” The best place to get information was through the BBC or news networks throughout Europe, but in America it was merely a footnote in newspapers and almost nothing was said of it on TV. Why is the U.S. currently not interested in Georgia and yet very interested in Chechnya? Why would the U.S. not be equally interested in Sudan or Northern Ireland? It is strange to see that Chechnya is in the spotlight in the U.S., not just as another war that is going on in the world, but a problem of great interest.
To understand the reasons for Russia’s interest in Chechnya, is to understand the United State’s interest in the small country. Russia’s invasion of Chechnya is mainly for economic reasons. They want the oil from the land. The U.S. wants Russia out. When Chechnya was a part of the U.S.S.R., the nation produced around 4 million tons of oil a year. Although these figures have now dropped, there are always talks of pipelines running through Chechnya. No matter where a pipeline may start or finish, it always seems to reach Chechnya. Over the years Chechen oil production has fallen, but in 1992 oil production raised to about 50 percent. Since Chechnya declared independence, and the revolt has gone on, oil production has dropped. The oil fields are at times sitting untouched. Workers that know the pipelines well have fled either to Western Europe or to the Middle East. Therefore, the work that needs to be done probably won’t happen for a long time to come. Russia is trying to hold onto one of very few things that brings in any kind of economic growth to their country, however fast the oil drops in the Caucuses.
Pipelines are regularly blown up in Chechnya. The Mujahideen believes that Russia wants to control their oil fields, and therefore they destroy them. But just as fast as they destroy them, pipelines are rebuilt. Whether or not Chechnya gains independence, there will always be foreign corporations trying to get in and claim their stake, as new business prospects in the area are to be had. Not only that, it is often said that this puts Russia against the United States, just as it was during the Cold War.
In Georgia, we find a similar situation concerning oil. Last year, when the country ousted President Eduard Shevardnadze, the United States took a great interest at the moment. The American media called it a “Velvet Revolution” (and that was all that was really said of it). Before Shevardnadze was elected president, U.S. businesses owned much of the Georgian oil. During Shevardnadze’s term, a Russian natural gas monopoly, Gazprom, owned about 75 % of the oil business, thus pushing out a majority of U.S. business. In response, the U.S. government cut aid to Georgia by millions. It wasn’t until Shevardnadze resigned that the U.S. started to give what they used to give. From 1992 to 2000 Georgia had received $778 million dollars of aid. This is much more than neighboring Azerbaijan was able to receive. . Deals between Russia and Georgia are now over, and deals with the U.S. are back “on-track.” Pipelines are being built throughout Georgia, and the next target is Chechnya. Ingushetia, Georgia, Chechnya. Just as there is a war in Chechnya, there is a war in Ingushetia and Northern Georgia as well.
When researching this article, I realized that this issue wasn’t as black and white as it first appeared. The war going on down there is much more complicated, much more racial, political, and religious that I originally thought it could possibly be. All three countries, including Russia, are connected in intimate ways. When first reading about Chechnya and Ingushetia, it seemed that foreign countries were more interested in economic prospects. Whereas Chechens and Ingushetians are in the middle of what seem to be ethnic conflicts, a situation that could mirror the Balkans if escalated. In Ingushetia anti-Chechen sentiment is growing. Amongst Chechen refugees in the country there are fundamentalists hiding out. Ingushetians are, to be blunt, pissed off about it. In Ingushetia there have been bombings against pro-Russian Ingushetians, just the same as what is going on in Chechnya. Chechens killing Chechens. 1 Ingushetian authorities have said that amongst the bombers and terrorists are Ingushetians themselves, not just Chechens. But still, Ingushetians believe that it is mainly Chechens doing such things, and that because of such terrorism there hasn’t been any peace.
There are worries from human rights groups about the situation of Chechens in Ingushetia. For not all Chechens are guilty, most of them really are refugees. If the republic doesn’t deal with this quickly, then ethnic problems between the two could possibly flame up and turn into something terrible. Genocide would probably be the worst to come of it. The same concerns have been brought up in Georgia. Fundamentalists feel that the Georgian government is supporting Russia in their aggression against Chechens. Since before the start of the war, Georgian troops had patrolled the border, trying to keep out fleeing terrorists. But just like in Ingushetia, terrorists often hide themselves amongst the refugees.
Anarchists & the Caucuses
In the end, it all comes down to control, whether the fighters be Russian or Mujahideen. Power is what drives such wars. Power of the oil pipelines, power over women, over workers. The ones that suffer, the ones whose voices aren’t heard are the Chechen people, the Ingushetian people, the Russian people, the Georgian people, the people of the Caucuses. For all of them want peace, not only with each other, but within their own lands. For centuries these people, just as all people in the world, have suffered the scorns of power and silly politics that do useless things for them. This is just another example of a war that was started for political and economic gain for the few, while the many wail in their own blood.
During the war there have been many protest rallies organized by anarchists, mainly in Eastern European since it effects their region. In 2000, Polish anarchists staged a protest against the Russian government in front of the Russian consulate, tearing down the Russian tri-color, treading on it, and spray painting swastikas on the building. This later resulted in the firebombing of the Polish Embassy in Moscow by the National Bolshevik Party (a fascist group, at best, from Russia). The two countries asked for apologies, at which time the Polish anarchists stated that no country could ever apologize for them. There also have been several demonstrations in Russia by Russian anarchists opposing the war in Chechnya. Our Russian friends are fighting in the anti-war movement just as we are.
It is hard to find any information on Chechen anarchists or other anarchists from the Caucuses. Amongst the activist groups in the Caucuses is the feminist group Women Aid International. They have a strong presence in the whole region - Armenia, Azerbaijan, Georgia, Chechnya, and other tiny republics and regions regardless of war. They distribute information concerning HIV/AIDS, women’s rights, famine, shortage of water supplies, etc. As for anarchist groups, the best I could find were articles on infoshop.org about Polish anarchists, and a statement by one that said he saw ANARCHAOS spray painted on a building while in Grozny. If any of you out there have any information of anarchist organizations in the Caucuses, let the anarchist community know so that we may support them.