“The terrorists were liquidated”

Posted on October 19, 2010

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There’s been another dose of extreme violence and terrorism in Russia today as separatists fighting for independence within Chechnya unleashed an attack on the Chechen parliament. The suspected four or five militants who launched the attack on the parliament building “were liquidated”, according to Zelim Yakhikhanov, a parliamentary spokesman.

Chechnya seems to be immolating itself, after years of fighting with mainland Russia in an attempt to break free. The Chechnyan government installed in under Ramzan Kadyrov is essentially a puppet to the whim of Moscow, and so rather than take the fight to the Russian mainland, separatists today seemingly decided to attack their own representatives in Grozny– the parliamentarians who they view as traitors for cowing to centralised commands – to make their opinions known.

Very likely this story won’t get much play in the West; many of the skirmishes that frequently occur are overlooked because of their regularity and the fact that violence is taken as a norm there. Only when the scale of violence reaches a tipping point (the 2002 Moscow Theatre siege, which saw hundreds trapped and 100 killed by the end of the standoff) or is seen as particularly brutal (the 2003 Beslan school massacre, where 300 children arrived for their first day at term to be attacked, held hostage and eventually killed in a daring raid by Russian forces) does it gain the media attention that such a problem should really garner. This is a fundamental divide which stretches back years and has irreparably affected generations of Chechens and Russians – but the normality of the horrors means it doesn’t get due attention paid, or a solution proferred.

It’s all Stalin’s fault, essentially. In 1944 he claimed Chechens were Nazi Germany’s footsoldiers, a paid guerrilla army who were traitors to Russia – even though many fought and died for the Red Army in World War II.  Many were cast out of Russia and forced to fend for themselves; those who were let back in in the 1950s now had an axe to grind and became increasingly closed-off and separatist.

The downfall of the Soviet Union on the cusp of the 1990s meant that they were able to claim legitimacy for their desire for independence. Two wars were fought in the decade killing tens of thousands. Vladimir Putin came to the presidency of Russia and promised a hard line on Chechen separatists, blaming them – some believe rightly, others wrongly – for a series of bomb attacks in Russia. As is usually the case, violence begat violence and for every attempt Putin made to quell the rebellions by flooding the area with troops, Chechens began to launch guerrilla attacks and bombing raids on established Russian areas. Eventually, Putin tried an alternative to force, installing the sympathetic regime in Chechnya – but the damage was done. Feeling fobbed off by this silencing by proxy, separatists continue their skirmishes.

The problem is that it’s such a prolonged and complicated conflict, that it’s difficult to take sides. Some try and distil it down to a simple religious conflict: Russians are predominately Christian, while Chechens are mostly Muslim. But that’s too simple: as it is too simple to justify killing children (on either side), or using force to put across your belief in whether Chechnya should establish itself as a separate state or remain subsumed into the rest of Russia. There are, then, another three (at least) names of dead, and 17 injured, to add to the long list of casualties of the Chechen-Russian war. And sadly, it’s likely they won’t be the last.

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