Open Season on Chechnya


Chechen women mourn at home while the men bury the dead, in Goity, 30 miles south of Grozny.

Watching the rapidly escalating pressure on Israel from the safe distance of Moscow -- the hostile delegations of U.N. investigators, the demands for an international conference, the talk of European sanctions -- Vladimir Putin might afford himself a secret smile. Even as Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon is pilloried for using a campaign against terrorism to assault Palestinian civilians and their self-government, Putin is quietly getting away with almost exactly the same crime.

Ever since Sept. 11, Putin and Sharon have tried to convince the world that the Muslim national movements seeking to end the military occupations by Russia of Chechnya, and by Israel of the West Bank and Gaza, are indistinguishable from the terrorists of Osama bin Laden and deserve the same treatment. Both have had some luck -- Sharon seems to have persuaded most of Congress and half of the Bush administration. But as a season of summits among Russia, the United States and Europe approaches, only Putin seems to have successfully merged the war on terrorism with his own scorched-earth assault on national sovereignty.

Sharon's armored invasion of West Bank cities this month increasingly looks like a military and political disaster. Israel's killing of a few score -- perhaps -- fighters and civilians in the refugee camp of Jenin has attracted the outraged attention of U.N. Secretary General Kofi Annan, not to mention sensational saturation coverage from the world's media. Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat is far stronger both at home and abroad than he was before the operation, and Sharon's attempt to foreclose further negotiations with him seems doomed. Once-strong relations with the Bush administration have been strained, and Israel's own intelligence chiefs are predicting that Palestinian militias and suicide bombers will bounce back quickly.

Putin's parallel campaign against what was once a secular and democratic Chechen independence movement, meanwhile, keeps getting politically easier. Though brutal and bloody military cleansings of villages also have been underway in Chechnya since the beginning of the year, they have been almost ignored both inside and outside of Russia. More than 1,000 foreign journalists were in Israel last week, but at most one or two in Chechnya. While Annan publicly fumed over Israeli behavior in Jenin, the U.N. Human Rights Commission in Geneva voted down a resolution calling for a low-level investigation of Chechnya. Amid the talk of an international conference on the Mideast, Putin recently scrapped his token offer of negotiations with the Chechen rebel leadership. There was no reaction.

Things are going so well that Putin felt able, for the second year in a row, to deliver a speech this month declaring the war in Chechnya over. "The military phase of the conflict may be considered closed," he declared. It was a lie, of course, just as it was last year -- that same day, 17 of the 70,000 Russian troops still in Chechnya were killed in an ambush inside Grozny, the capital. But Putin needn't worry about such contradictions -- after all, Kofi Annan has no intention of sending a delegation to Chechnya.

Why is Sharon singled out while Putin is spared? The reasons are pretty straightforward: Chechnya has no special holy places, no Jerusalem; Muslim governments mostly ignore Chechnya while diverting restive populations with fiery defenses of the Palestinians; European elites have an enduring strain of anti-Semitism, an interest in appeasing Arab opinion and an equal incentive to be soft on Putin.

What's more interesting is the less obvious question -- does the political free pass mean that Putin will succeed where Sharon is failing?

Russia, after all, is doing everything in Chechnya that Sharon would do in the West Bank and Gaza, if only the world would let him. The secular and civilian Chechen leadership was long ago killed, exiled or driven underground, its administration destroyed, and a new pro-Kremlin leadership installed in its place. The republic is saturated with security forces, both Russian and loyal Chechen. Most of the civilian population has been driven out of the cities. Israel has carried out one sweep in the Jenin camp during the past eight years; the Russians have conducted 33 such operations in the village of Tsotsan-Yurt since September 1999, and 20 in Starye Atagi, with far bloodier results. According to the Russian human rights group Memorial, some 2,000 Chechens have disappeared in Russian sweeps, at least 12,000 have been killed outright and thousands more have been tortured, robbed or raped.

Putin, however, is no closer than Sharon to winning his conflict. The Chechen resistance now has decentralized into small but potent fragments, spread across the republic; even if Moscow struck a deal with the remains of the former leadership, it might be impossible to implement. The puppet government finds itself unable to rule, as money for restoring services and resettling refugees disappears without a trace. The war grinds brutally on, week after week, killing one to two Russian soldiers a day on average. With the world's acquiescence, it will likely go on that way for years -- unless Russia gives up and unilaterally withdraws.

For many of the wrong reasons, the world has checked the hand of Ariel Sharon while giving Vladimir Putin a free pass. But it has not done Russia a favor.


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  16 Comments   Comment

  1. kazi from usa

    only comment i have we muslims are very ignorent avout our islam, which came to uplift the mankind from depth of darkness to light. our 24 hours life should be based on only islam nothing else, and this is the only way to have peac and harmony in this universe and hareafter.

  2. Fisa from India

    To the Editor..i think u r anti-muslim, given that no body shud hurt any other's belief then y did u post the views of Romesh..?.is it not hurting..u shud be knowing it man...

  3. M.F. from USA

    The UN should end this...these troops are just ordered to slaughter Muslims at will. I dont understand why we muslims sit quiet about this topic..and not get it more attention.

    My heart goes out when i see pictures and hear stories about these killings, or any killings by anyone in general. THIS WAR SHIT has got to stop...yeah right....it's too bad we have so much hatred in this world. Muhammed....peace...

  4. mariah

    everything has been planned for by Allah(SWA) and inshallah chechny will rise above russian brutality and be independent

  5. nasir saeed from britian

    i would like to say that if unite non of this can happen, the prophet pbuh has said that five fingers seperate can do nothing though five fingers together can make a fist. So please hold fast on to the rope of islam and unite as one ummah, one nation.

  6. Asif from USA

    Asalamu Alaikum

    Why am I so lucky to be living in this country..safe and secure? What did the Chechnyans do to live in such hardship while I live so comfortably. I wish I could be with them in Chechnya, and be adorned as a shaheed.

    aik

  7. Sarwar from United States

    ASAK,

    First of all there is no paricular place where muslim says this is a muslim country the whole universe belongs to ALLAH as a true muslim there is no boundries as our prohpet told if a part of human body is not functioning properly whole body suffer the pains same thing and rule applies if one muslim brother suffer we all suffer and we have to be unite no matter where we are!!! We have one paradise and one hell so forget our internal and regional things and work for the KHILAFAH ,May ALLAH guide us to right path ...

    AMEEN

  8. Fisa from India

    first and the foremost thing i would like to bring to the notice of mr.Romesh Chander. Just b'cos of some ppl u cannot directly blame on muslim community, u shud understand u r hurting somebodies belief. u find many such ppl even in hindus, like the incident of gujarat, shame on whole of hindus.how can u still talk about muslims, u ppl have no ethics it seems. the whole politics supported the gujarat, shame..indeed..!!

  9. Dellyar from P.R.China

    After the eleven , i came to see everything ever clearly , The oppressors revealed their nature without any sham . Their found much reasonable justification for their doings .

    Probably that tendency would gos further till those people who are suffering from occupation had been turned indiffirent " trrorists"

  10. mebrocky from USA

    The plight of the people of Chechnya is indeed a shame. The fact that, "they have been almost ignored both inside and outside of Russia", is true as well. This article spends too much time discussing conflicts in other places. The struggle between Palestinians and Israelis is not at all the same thing, and the author, although well meaning, just proves his own point by spending as much time discussing Sharon as he does Putin. The comments of Hisham Al-Kandari are very poignant. I often wondered why so many Arab Muslims seem only interested in what happens to other Arab Muslims and most particularly why they have not been more outspoken about atrocities committed by leaders in other Muslim countries - including their own Arab neighbors. I know that this is not the case with everyone, because I have Palestinian friends who are very concerned with all Muslims. I believe people of faith need to look outside our own religious, political, or ethnic boundaries, and be ready to help all those in need. Sounds very idealistic, but all the great religions of the world make this a priority.

  11. Romesh Chander from US

    Chechnya and Israel and Kashmir and 9/11 attacks are treated differently because that is how the politics of REALISM is played. US used to castigate Russia for its actions in Chechnya before 9/11; after 9/11, no more, even though the situation remains the same. Before 9/11, Pakistan was the greatest supporter of Taliban; after 9/11, no more. And now Pakistan is thinking of recognizing Israel (after recognizing it, it will not be in much of a popsition to criticise israel for its continuous atrocities in palestine).

    Want more examples of Realpolitik from the muslim side, I will be very happy to provide.

    There is no morality in politics; it is Realpolitk.

  12. Azhar Muhammed from usa

    May Allah reward you !

    I pray to ALLAH to either give guidance or destroy the pharoh's living on earth today, like he destroyed the pharoh of prophet musa's (AS) period, pharoh's of prophet muhammed's (SAW) period, AMEEN.

  13. Jumshaid Ali from U.K

    It is a shame that the the Chechens are amongst the last group of peoples to accept Islam and yet are one of the first ones to suffer in over 150 yrs and what is worse they seem to be forgotten time and time again by their brothers and sisters. Allah does not forget them!

  14. Hisham Al-Kandari from United Arab Emirates

    A'salamu Alykom W'ramat Allah wa Barakatu

    My heart has always shattered at the sight of our Chechen brother and sister that are being slaughtered every day under the hands of the Russians. My antagonism is directed not only at Russia or at the UN but explicitly at the Arab governments who turn a blind eye at their Muslim brethrens in order to continue to trade with Russia and further their wealth in life. For this life they chase is merely a period, and Allah will hold them accountable. The Arab population has been blinded with the sickness of nationalism and wealth. May Allah bless every believer, may Allah guide and protect our sisters and brothers worldwide, and may Allah guide us to the path of piety and truthfulness.

    Please pray for our brothers and sisters world wide.

  15. SyamAz from Singapore

    The world should not ignore of what is happening in Chechnya. I have read a lot of articles like their history, culture and current news from different organizations. It must be noted that the Russian military at "Ichkeria"(Chechnya) is of no different than those of the Zionist. I shall always pray for the Mujahideen.

  16. Akbar Khan from Canada

    This article is an eye-opener for everyone, especially the Muslim population. OH MUSLIM UMMAH, these are our Chechen brothers and sisters, MAY ALLAH PLEASE PROVIDE THEM WITH THE HELP THEY NEED TO DEFEAT THOSE WHO KILL OUR WOMEN AND CHILDREN. We cannot continue our to live in ignorance of what they are going through. We CANNOT continue to NOT do anything anymore. This article is just a starting point for us..until the moment we realize the unspeakable atrocities Muslims are suffering around the world in places we hardly can recognize with? Why...why do we let our brothers and sisters die...why can we not rise...can we not forget the divisions of this duniya and remind ourselves of akhiraa? We need to stand together. Read this article, print it out, show it to everyone you can. Please everyone raise awareness for the suffering people of Chechnya, Insh-Allah, Insh-Allah, Insh-Allah. TAKBIR!!!!!!!!!!!!!