Sunday, April 21, 2013


My curiosity was aroused this week about Chechnya. I guess it’s a natural reaction, but I needed quite specially to satisfy my interest because people with whom I chatted were confusing the land with the Czech Republic (from which I have heritage ties). In the last few days the Ambassador to the U.S. from the Czech Republic had to come out and make it clear to Americans that his nation and Chechnya are 2,000 miles apart and differ vastly from each other in countless ways. That’s an understatement, indeed!
by Charlie Leck

The ambassador to the United States from the Czech Republic had to speak out to the press in the last few days. People on social media were confusing his nation with Chechnya, the land that was receiving so much attention as a result of the Marathon Bombing in Boston.

“The Czech Republic and Chechnya are two different entities,” Ambassador Petr Gandalovic said. “Chechnya is a part of the Russian Federation.”

Dzhokhar and Tamerlan Tasmarev, apparently the Boston Marathon bombers, came to America from Chechnya in 2002. They were raised near Kyrgzstan.

I needed to know more
and I soon discovered there is plenty of information available about this war-torn region in Russia’s Caucasus Mountains. The area is known mainly for its very violent struggles for independence from its neighbor, Georgia, and from Russia itself. Quite interestingly, Chechnya is a republic and more or less makes the system work. Its history, however, is certainly violent.

The North Caucasus region is on the southern edge of Russia and in the southeastern portion of Europe. Its capital city is Grozny. In the 2010 census the population of the nations was listed at about 1.3 million.

Chechnya’s relationship with Russia has always been shaky. Chechens rebelled against Russian control during the period of the Russo-Turkish War in 1905 and again during the Russian Revolution of 1917. They again rose up against Russian rule in 1940. After World War Two, Stalin severely punished many Chechens for the aid he claimed they provided Germany and sent many of them off to the Gulags of Siberia. Many of them remained there right up to the time of de-Stalinization after 1956.

Even after 1956, the Soviet Union continued a policy of the Russification of the Chechens, including an insistence that only the Russian language be used there.

It has always been a land ripe for militants.

After the Soviet Union fell (1991), Chechens initiated several attempts to establish their nation’s independence, best known as the First Chechen War of 1994 and the Second Chechen War in 1999. This second war has never really been settled and was used by very radical Jihadists as cover for its more terroristic activities.

Interestingly, the majority of Chechens are Muslim. It is thought that the conversion of the people there to Sunni Islam was encouraged by the help they received from the Ottoman Empire against the threat of Russian dominance from the north.  It is generally conceded that today there are strong ties between Chechen militants and Al Qaeda. The U.S. State Department has charged that Chechen rebels are financed by the same donors who finance other terrorist forces around the world.

There is barely any American presence in Grozny. It may amount to no more than a few families. Nearly all those people of non-Chechen nationality (Armenians, Russians and Ukrainians), who did live there, fled as strong militant Jihadist groups took control of government and began an “ethnic cleansing” at the end of the Soviet era (1991-1994). Today, there is a significant controversy as to how many non-Chechens remain in the nation. Many scholars believe that figures released by the national government are significantly skewed and falsified.

We need to recognize that the Tasmarev brothers not only left their homeland, but they supposedly fled from it. The land is recognized as a hotbed of Jihadist activity. The radicals of Chechnya have caused significant problems for Russia and Moscow, including a 2002 attack against a Moscow theater when more than 700 people in the audience were held hostage. Chechen rebels also claimed credit for bombing two metro stations in Moscow in 2010. Chechnya has been exasperated by ethnic tensions and incredible corruption. The father of the two boys still lives near Chechnya, in the Russian province of Dagestan.

Dissidents in Chechnya are normally handled by “disappearing” them. A 2009 article in the New York Times reported on the number of political kidnappings that happen there. [“…the republic is in the throes of an epidemic of kidnappings…”]

I traveled to Prague, in the Czech Republic, two years ago. I have no intention to travel to Chechnya.

If I’ve made Chechnya sound exciting enough to you that you want to travel there, well…… planes leave Moscow for Grozny three times each week….. or, trains, under heavy security, leave Moscow once every two days….. or, you may take a bus to Nazran…… or, I suppose, you may drive there. Interestingly, souvenir shops in Grozny are famous for the sale of swords and daggers. There are very few restaurants and cafes and there are no night clubs or discos. The 5-star Hotel Grozny City has an English speaking staff. It is near the presidential palace. Wikitravel says: “By traveling to Chechnya you are taking a serious risk. Kidnappings and unexploded mines and munitions are widespread, while terrorist activity and shootings still occur on a lesser scale. Thoughout the region, local criminal gangs routinely kidnap foreigners, including Americans, Canadians and UK nationals, for ransom.”  Bon voyage et bon chance!


P.S. I strongly recommend Tony Rugare's blog concerning the "cherry picking of legal and human rights" as it comes to providing constitutional protections for Jahar Tasmarev, arrested suspect in the Marathon Bombings. You'll find it at: 

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1 comment:

  1. Thanks for an excellent picture of Chechnya and thanks for the shout.