|January 23, 2000|
From the burning ruins of Grozny came what may be a final, heartbreaking message from its Chechen defenders: `At a time when the world has left us entirely, we ask Muslims around the world not to forget the ordeal of their brothers in Chechnya fighting the jihad (holy war) against Russian oppression.'
Look at Grozny and you see a second Warsaw Ghetto. Like the valiant Jewish defenders who held off the might of the Nazi SS, Chechen, another forgotten people facing extermination, are fighting to the death against impossible odds.
I've been a combat soldier and have covered twelve high intensity wars from the front, but I have never seen anything that equals the heroism and boundless courage of the Chechen mujihadin. For the past four months, 5,000 lightly-armed Chechen warriors fighting on flat, open terrain that favors air, armor and artillery, have held 160,000 Russian troops, backed by regiments of heavy guns and rockets, helicopter gunships, ground attack aircraft, and thousands of tanks and armored vehicles. Russia's generals have repeatedly vowed to `exterminate' the Chechen. All Chechen males from 6 to 65 are being thrown into concentration camps.
Chechen mujihadin, most without any formal military training, have no heavy weapons and are chronically short of radios, anti-tank rockets and even small-arms ammunition. There is almost no medicine or morphine for their wounded, and no shelter from massive Russian bombardment that includes banned fuel air explosives, toxic gas, and napalm. If taken alive by the Russians, they will be first tortured, then executed. Chechnya is totally cut off from the outside world. Only a handful of Arab, Dagestani and Estonian `ansar,' or volunteers, have managed to slip into Chechnya to aid the struggle for independence. Many have been killed.
The bloody siege of Grozny - which Russian generals vowed to storm by early December, and Putin promised to take by New Year - still holds out at this writing. Mujihadin are defending every ruined building and mined street while some 40,000 civilians cower in cellars under non-stop Russian shelling. Still, overwhelming Russian numbers and fire power must eventually prevail. Losses are high on both sides – about one Chechen for every four Russians. How much longer can the surrounded Chechen, whose supplies are running out, continue their David v. Goliath struggle?
Renowned Chechen field commanders, Sheiks Shamil Basayev and Ibn al-Khattab, admit Grozny has no strategic value, but insist `we want to prove to the world and the Russians that despite the size, power, or technology of any enemy, there is no way they could defeat the people of belief, principal, and land.' Brave words from the world's bravest people.
So 1.5 million Chechen defy 146 million Russians – as these Caucasian mountaineers have done for the past 250 years. The Chechens who today defend Grozny are the children of a nation that has three times nearly been exterminated by Russian genocide: in the 18th, 19th, and 20th centuries, the last when Stalin had tens of thousands of Chechen shot and the remainder of the Chechen people deported to Siberian concentration camps.
In the First Chechen War, 1994-1996, Russia killed 100,000 Chechen civilians, razed much of the small country, and, in an act of monumental terrorism, scattered 17 million anti-personnel land mines across the tiny nation. Russia was driven from Chechnya in 1996, but its hardliners and communists vowed to `exterminate the Chechen bandits.' Their man Putin's first act was to declare a crusade - blessed by the Russian Orthodox Church- against Chechnya. Moscow demanded revenge for 1996 and Afghanistan.
While Russian troops fought their way into Grozny, elite Russian forces were pushing into the southern mountains. Chechen units are battling ferociously, under intense shelling and 2,000lb bombs, to defend the strategic Shatoi and Vedeno gorges. Outnumbered twenty to one, the Chechen's defence of passes vividly recalls the 300 Spartans at Thermopylae.
At least the mountainous terrain gives the mujihadin some cover; in the flat, barren north, mujihadin can only move at night. The Clinton Administration, which is largely financing Russia's genocide in Chechnya, supplied Russian attack helicopters with advanced US night-vision devices, `to combat terrorism,' says the White House. Clinton recently called for the `liberation' of Grozny' by Russia. Yet he cannot understand why so many Muslims see America as their enemy.
If the west's response to Russia's Mongol-like behavior in Chechnya has been shameful and hypocritical, the Islamic world's reaction is yet more disgraceful. Important Muslim nations, like Egypt, Malaysia, and Iran, are negotiating arms and aircraft deals with Russia. No Muslim state has dared challenge Russian brutality or anti-Muslim racism. The only nations to recognize Chechnya's declaration of independence from Russia are brave little Estonia, and Afghanistan, both of whom know full well the terror of Russian occupation. China, which oppresses its own Muslim peoples and Tibetans, loudly applauded Russia's final solution in the Caucasus.
Those who observe a monstrous crime and do nothing share guilt for it. We begin the 21st Century watching silently as a brutish Russia, which knows neither shame nor mercy, crushes the life out of a tiny but heroic people who refuse to bend their knees to Russian tyranny.
Copyright Eric Margolis 2000
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