One of the worst crimes of our time continues in the Caucasus mountains - while the world turns its eyes away.
While China is rightly condemned worldwide for its brutal repression of Tibet, and jailing of dissidents, Russia's savagery in Chechnya is utterly ignored.
A year ago this month, the Russian Army invaded the tiny mountain republic to crush the attempt by the 1.2 million, mainly Muslim, Chechens to regain their independence after a century and a half of savage Russian colonial rule.
At the time, Russian Defense Pavel Grachev boasted he would `liquidate' the uprising in a few days. What could a few thousand irregular Chechen fighters do against 50,000 Russian troops, backed by armor, artillery, helicopter gunships and aircraft? Hadn't the rebellious Caucasian mountaineers learned their lesson when Stalin deported 80% of all Chechens to Siberian concentration camps in 1944?
Evidently not. Showing all their legendary courage, ferocity, and tenacity, lightly armed Chechen fighters stopped the Russian Army, troops of the Interior Ministry, and KGB units, in their tracks. Proclaiming a Jihad, or holy war, the Chechen mujihadin defeated Russian tanks and armored fighting vehicles in the streets of the capitol, Grozny, with only Molotov cocktails and hand-held RPG anti- tank rockets.
While the western world celebrated Christmas,1994, Russian forces used heavy artillery, massed rocket batteries, and carpet bombing, to grind Grozny and any Chechen village that resisted, to rubble. Over the past year, at least 45,000 Chechens, mainly civilians, have been killed by the Russians. Moscow admits to losing 2,300 soldiers; the true figure is likely above 6,000. Human rights groups accuse the Russians of widespread torture, mass executions, reprisals, and collective punishment in Chechnya.
This week, Chechen mujihadin launched fierce attacks on their Russian occupiers aimed at disrupted phony elections staged by Moscow to install a Chechen puppet communist regime, led by Quisling named Zavgayev. Chechen still strongly support their elected president, Gen. Dzhokar Dudayev, who leads the national resistance from the nation's wild southern mountains.
Dudayev ousted the communist regime in 1991 in a free‘ the decomposing Soviet Union. Though other republics, like Ukraine, Uzbekistan or Lithuania, successfully quit the USSR, not a single nation recognized free Chechnya. It was too remote, too unimportant.
Russia was determined to hold on to Chechnya: it controls important oil pipeline running from Azerbaijan. Freedom for Chechnya could break Moscow's hold on the entire strategic Caucasus region. The KGB tried three times to assassinate Gen. Dudayev. When these attempts failed, KGB mounted a covert invasion of Chechnya in summer, 1994, using regular Russian troops masquerading as Chechen. The Russians were humiliatingly routed. Yeltsin's `Bay of Pigs' cost US $650 million - some of it supplied by western aid donors. Six months later, Moscow openly invaded Chechnya.
Chechens are used to Russian invasions. Tsarist Russia first began conquering the Muslim emirates of the Caucasus in the 1830's. The great Chechen leader, Imam Shamil, lead a magnificent, 29-year resistance to Russia's armies. The Chechen were finally overwhelmed by Russian numbers. But they rebelled anew in 1863, during the Polish revolt. In 1877, after which Russia slaughtered 60% of the total population. In 1917, and in 1920.
No people anywhere on earth fought so long or hard against tyranny and colonialism as the Chechen - and none has suffered so much. Stalin attempted genocide by sending almost the entire Chechen nation to the Gulag, including the parents of the current leader, Dzhokar Dudayev, and those of the renowned mujihadin commander, Shamil Basaev, a true `saif ul-Islam' (sword of Islam). A few Chechen survived.
Their offspring, the children of the concentration camps, are now fighting Russian rule.
Bloody battles raged in Chechnya all this week. Chechen mujihadin seized two major cities and held them against the full might of massed Russian firepower. Moscow poured more troops, tanks, guns and aircraft into Chechnya - so far, to no avail. But how long can a few mountaineers, no matter how valiant and fearless, fight mighty Russia, with 149 million people and the world's second largest ground forces?
The world turns its back on Chechnya. President Clinton gave Moscow a free hand in Chechnya, in exchange for Russian acquiescing to the farcical American invasion of Haiti. No one wants to anger Moscow by supporting tiny Chechnya. Not even Islamic nations, who have totally ignored the Jihad in Chechnya. The nearby Turks and Iranians are so frightened by Moscow they dare not supply the Chechen even a few bullets. The Chechen's sole source of arms and supplies are those captured from Russian forces.‘ `independent' Georgia and Azerbaijan, to cut off any potential supplies for the mujihadin. Anti-insurgent techniques perfected in Afghanistan, where the Soviets slaughtered 1.5 million people, are being used again in Chechnya.
What can the world do? Cut off all financial and technical aid to Moscow. Boycott Russian exports of oil, vodka, and raw materials. Arm the Chechens. Keep denouncing Russian atrocities until Moscow is compelled by world outrage to leave Chechnya -just as it was finally forced to quit Afghanistan.
In Chechnya, `democratic' Boris Yeltsin and his generals are committing crimes worthy of Josef Stalin. The world's silence is shameful and sickening.
copyright Eric Margolis 1995