"Declaration on the Hostage-Taking in Moscow"
By: Society for Russian-Chechen Friendship
Date: October 25, 2002
Source: Available online from the International Society for Human Rights in Frankfurt, Germany, at <http://www.ishr.org/> (accessed June 30, 2005).
About the Author: The Society for Russian-Chechen Friendship was founded on April 17, 2000, by a branch of the International Society for Human Rights in Russia. Its main objectives are to monitor human rights in Chechnya, defend the rights of Chechen refugees, and search for kidnapped civilians and Russian soldiers.
First recognized as a distinct ethnic group in the seventeenth century, the Chechens occupy the Caucasus Mountain region that divides southern Russia from Turkey to the southwest and Iran to the southeast.
Relations between Russia and Chechnya have long been troubled. The Chechens were forcibly annexed into the Russian empire in the early nineteenth century, but they resisted Russian rule. During the Russian Revolution in 1917, Chechnya declared its independence, but the Red Army put down the independence movement in 1920. During World War II, many Chechen units collaborated with German invaders in the Soviet Union.
After the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991, Chechnya, under the leadership of former Soviet bomber pilot Dzhokar Dudayev, declared independence from the Russian Federation. The Russians, however, were not willing to let go of Chechnya. The area is of strategic importance to Russia because of its position on a narrow strip of land between the Black Sea to the west and the Caspian Sea to the east. Further, oil and gas pipelines between Russia and former Soviet republics Kazakhstan and Azerbaijan run through Chechnya.
Tensions between Chechnya and Russia grew until the First Chechnya War erupted in 1994. For two years, Russia backed armed opposition groups within Chechnya that attempted repeatedly to overthrow Dudayev's government. When these efforts failed, Russia responded with massive military force, including an air bombing campaign over the capital city of Grozny that produced thousands of casualties and refugees and destroyed much of the city.
Although the Russians installed a pro-Russian government, guerrilla warfare in Chechnya's rural regions continued into 1996 at a cost of some 25,000 civilian lives. While Russian troops were accused of the use of indiscriminant force, both sides in the conflict were guilty of torture, kidnapping, mistreatment of prisoners of war, and execution of prisoners. Chechen rebels carried out spectacular acts of terrorism in other parts of Russia, including seizure of a hospital in Budyenovsk in 1995. Russian public opinion turned against the war, and the Russians withdrew.
In the years that followed, Chechnya remained chaotic. Reports surfaced of numerous kidnappings, and Russia and Chechnya traded repeated charges that the other side was using chemical weapons. Then in March 1999, Russia's leading envoy to Chechnya, Gennady Shpigun, was kidnapped, and when Islamic militants invaded neighboring Dagestan, Russia again launched an air campaign over the Grozny to begin what has been called the Second Chechnya War.
In the new century, the Russia-Chechnya conflict remained an ongoing cycle of action and reaction, reprisal and counter reprisal. In 2002, Chechen terrorists seized a Moscow theater and, in 2004, they seized a school in Beslan, North Ossetia. These and other terrorist acts cost numerous civilian lives. In response, the Russian government launched new offensives against the rebels.
Attempting to break the cycle of violence is the Society for Russian-Chechen Friendship, which issued a statement in response to the Moscow theater crisis in 2002.
The interregional organisation "Society for Russian-Chechen Friendship." categorically condemns the action of the terrorists who took hostages in the Moscow theatre "Dubrovka" on 24 October 2002. The large-scale crimes of Russian soldiers against the peaceful population in the Republic of Chechnya must not serve as a justification for those who threaten the lives of innocent people and thus degenerate themselves to the level of their executioners.
Terror—regardless of its form—is a crime against humanity, for which there is no justification. This goes for both Russian state terrorism and the terrorism of individuals who fight against this state terrorism. Because the basis of terror is the principle of collective responsibility, it cannot be acceptable to a civilised individual and a civilised society. General Shamonov and Movsar Barayev abuse peaceful people as a human shield and are thus, both equally offensive.
The events in Moscow are another piece of evidence for the fact that the problems between Russia and Chechnya cannot be solved using violent methods. The socalled "anti-terror campaign" is not only inhuman, but also counter-productive. Violence begets violence, brutality begets retaliation. Negotiations are the only way to deliver both peoples from pain and grief. One may concede that the hostage-takers are driven by pain over the fate of their humiliated people, by desperation and grief over the murdered and tormented. But an act of terror is not a solution; it is a dead end. At a time when there were signs of possible negotiations between the Russian government and President Maskhadov, hostage-taking is a sheer provocation, and only serves to bury the chance of a peaceful resolution to the conflict for a long time.
A crime of this kind leads to an escalation of the tense situation in and national hatred by the Russian society, which is a consequence of the biased reporting on events in Chechnya. The ignorance of the Russian society about the real extent of the Chechen tragedy is one of the reasons why this conflict continues. A society which is force-fed the myth of a genetic inclination of the Chechen people towards banditry is easily convinced that it is necessary to lead a war "to the victorious end," that ethnic cleansings and forced deportations are necessary. The terrorists demand an end of the war; however, with their act, they play into the hands of those who are interested in a continuation of the war and their enrichment on the costs of the lives of others.
On the other hand, what happens now is a result of the indifference of the majority of the Russian society, above all the Russian intelligentsia, towards this monstrous war in the Caucasus. People who thought that this far-away war had nothing to do with them were caught by it on their own streets.
We plead to finally forget about our own political and ethnic prejudices, our own claims and ambitions. The lives of people are in our hands—in the hands of the Russian society. We appeal to all politicians and personalities of public life, who have not yet lost a feeling for compassion, responsibility and common sense, to do all they can to prevent the storming of the theatre and not to let human lives once more become the small change of political bargaining. A second Budyenovsk must not be allowed to happen.
We express our sympathy for those who wait for the return of their relatives and close friends. We pray to the Lord for their rescue.
We appeal to those who have taken responsibility for the lives of people who have nothing to do with what is happening in Chechnya today. Not only the bravery of the battlefield is required from you. Another kind of bravery is needed: The bravery to remain human under inhuman circumstances in a war against an inhuman opponent. Even, if you were not able to find another solution, do not forget that you are, just as your victims, human beings.
On behalf of the Society for Russian-Chechen Friendship and its regional sections.
Co-chairman of the Society of Russian-Chechen Friendship
Chairman of the regional section of the Society of Russian-Chechen Friendship in Chechnya and Ingushetia
In 2003, voters in Chechnya elected a new president, Akhmad Kadyrov, and approved a new constitution. Some international observers, however, argued that the voting was not free and fair. The Russian government supported Kadyrov, but he was assassinated in 2004 and replaced by Alu Alkhanov. As of mid-2005, the conflict continues with no resolution in sight.
The story of Chechnya since 1991 can be told from two perspectives. From one point of view, the ongoing conflict is the story of a people fighting for self-determination, using the only weapons at their disposal to resist the heavy hand of Russia, which has used its military might to impose its will on a people who do not see themselves as Russians. In this scenario, Russia has been guilty of massive human rights violations and, under President Vladimir Putin, has seized on the crisis in Chechnya to bolster Russian power and influence in the Caucasus region, as well as to preserve its oil industry.
The opposing point of view characterizes Chechnya as a lawless region of organized crime, gun smuggling, drug smuggling, and, more recently, efforts by radical militants to impose Islamic fundamentalism not only in Chechnya, but in surrounding areas such as Dagestan. In 1999, Islamic law was established in Chechnya, and reports began to surface that Al-Qaeda, the Islamic terrorist network controlled by Osama Bin Laden, operated training facilities in Chechnya and had been sending operatives to the region. The chief of operations under Basayev, for example, was an operative trained in Bin Laden's training camps, and numerous other links have been uncovered between Al-Qaeda and militant terrorists in Chechnya.
Meanwhile, most Chechens support some kind of rapprochement with Russia, but efforts in the fragmented nation to establish a stable government continue to be undermined by extremists.
Meier, Andrew. Chechnya: To the Heart of a Conflict. New York: Norton, 2004.
GlobalSecurity. "First Chechnya War: 1994–1996." <http://www.globalsecurity.org/military/world/war/> (accessed June 30, 2005).
Riebling, Mark, and E. P Eddy. Jihad&Work. National Review Online, October 24, 2002. Available at <http://www.nationalreview.com/comment/comment-riebling102402.asp> (accessed June 30, 2005).