History of Chechnya

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Early history

Chechen society has traditionally been organized around many autonomous local clans, called teips. Even today, many Chechens consider themselves loyal to their teip above all, this is one reason why it has been difficult to forge a united political front against Russia.

From the 7th century through the 16th century Chechens and Ingushes were Christians, but then the influence of Islam spread until Sunnites became the majority.

Russian influence started as early as the 16th century when Ivan the Terrible founded Tarki in 1559 where the first Cossack army was stationed 1587. Until the late 18th century the area was protected from Russian occupation by the khanate of Crimea. Only after it was annexed by the Russian Empire in 1783 the Russian colonization of the Caucasus began, met with fierce resistance by the mountain tribes. In 1785 they started waging a holy war against the Russians under Sheikh Mansur who was captured in 1791 and died a few years later.

Imperial Russian forces began moving into Chechnya in 1830 to secure Russia's borders with the Ottoman Empire. The Chechens, along with many peoples of the Eastern Caucasus, resisted fiercely, led by the Dagestani hero Imam Shamil, but Chechnya was finally incorporated into the Russian Empire in 1859 after Shamil's capture.

Russian occupation caused a prolonged wave of emigration until the end of the 19th century. Thousands of Caucasians moved to Turkey and other countries of the Middle East, while Cossacks and Armenians settled in Chechnya.

During the Russo-Turkish War, 1877-78 the Caucasians rose against Russia once more, but were defeated again.

The Chechnya-Ingushetia region received status of an autonomous republic within the Soviet Union in 1936. During World War II, despite the fact that about 40 thousand Chechens and Ingushes fought in the Red Army (fifty of them received the highest recognition of the Hero of the Soviet Union), the Soviet government accused them of cooperating with the Nazi invaders, who had controlled the western parts of Chechnya-Ingushetia for several months of the 1942/1943 winter. On orders from Stalin the entire population of the republic was exiled to Kazakhstan. Over a quarter died. The Chechens were allowed to return only in 1957, four years after Stalin's death in 1953. In 1949 Soviet authorities erected a statue of 19th century Russian general Aleksey Yermolov in Grozny. The inscription read, "There is no people under the sun more vile and deceitful than this one." Yermolov had also persecuted the Chechens.

Post-Soviet Chechnya

After the demise of the Soviet Union, the situation in Chechnya became unclear. Below is the chronology of that time:

  • During the Soviet era, there was the Checheno-Ingushkaya ASSR, consisting of Chechnja and Ingushetija. In 1990 it was renamed to the Checheno-Ingushkaja Respublika (Chechen-Ingush Republic).
  • On September 1, 1991 some Chechen politicians formed the "National Congress of Chechen People", declared that part of the Chechen-Ingush Republic became an independent state of the Chechen Republic and stated that supreme power is given to the Executive Committee lead by Dzhokhar Dudayev.
  • On September 2, 1991 a group of religious and public figures made a petition, claiming that the Executive Committee was not legitimate and that actions of the Committee might inevitably lead to bloodshed.
  • On September 6, 1991 the building of the Supreme Soviet was occupied by Dzhokhar Dudayev's guards.
  • On September 15, 1991, a last session of the Supreme Soviet of the Chechen-Ingush Republic took place, and it decided to dissolve itself (under the request of Dudayev's guards).
  • On October 1, 1991 some of the ex-deputies decided to divide the republic into the Chechen Republic and the Ingush Republic.
  • On October 27, 1991, an unofficial election was held. Less than 20% (probably 12%) of the population participated, and Dzhokhar Dudayev was elected. Many false ballots were made, so the number of ballots significantly exceeded number of registered voters.
  • On November 1, 1991 Dudayev issued a decree of Chechen independence (Указ об "Об объявлении суверенитета Чеченской Республики с 1 ноября 1991 г.")
  • On November 2, 1991, the 5th Assembly of People's Deputies of RSFSR (the Russian parliament of that time) took place. A resolution was issued stating that the Chechen Supreme Soviet and President were not legitimate.
  • On May, 1993 Chechen parliament and Muftiat (Islamic high council) made an appeal to the Chechen people to defend the old constitution and restore legitimate power. The decision of the Chechen constitutional court was that Dudayev's actions were illegal.

The civil war then started. The Russian Federal government refused to recognize Chechen independence and made several attempts to take full control of the territory of the Chechen Republic. The Federal government supported a failed coup designed to overthrow Dudayev in 1994. There were two armed conflicts involving the Federal army known as the two Chechen Wars.

As a background, many ethnic minorities exist in the Russian Federation alongside a predominantly Russian culture, and commentators speculate that if Russia permits Chechen independence, then other groups might also push for independence.

First Chechen War (1994-1996)

Main article: First Chechen War

Russian federal forces overran Grozny in November, 1994. Although the forces achieved some initial successes, the federal military made a number of critical strategic blunders during the Chechnya campaign and was widely perceived as incompetent. Led by Aslan Maskhadov, separatists conducted successful guerrilla operations from the mountainous terrain.

By March 1995, Amir Khattab became leader of the Chechen resistance, yet Russian President Boris Yeltsin declared a unilateral cease-fire in April 1995.

In June, 1995, Chechen guerrillas occupied a hospital in the southern Russian town of Budyonnovsk (in Stavropol Krai), taking over 1,000 hostages. Federal forces attempted to storm the hospital twice and failed. The guerrillas were allowed to leave after freeing their hostages.

This incident, televised accounts of Chechen soldiers torturing and executing captured federal soldiers and pro-federal Chechens, and the resulting widespread demoralization of the federal army, led to a federal withdrawal and the beginning of negotiations on March 21, 1996.

Separatist President Dudayev was supposedly killed in a Russian rocket attack on April 21, 1996; there are versions that he was killed by his rivals in a fight for local power. Vice-president Zelimkhan Yandarbiyev became president. Negotiations on Chechen independence were repeatedly postponed by the federal government due to alleged terrorist attacks, and finally tabled in August, 1996.

Maskhadov was elected President in 1997 (only a minority of the population participated), but was unable to consolidate control as the country devolved into regional bickering among local teip leaders and organized criminal factions.

Second Chechen War (1999-2002) and its consequences

Main article: Second Chechen War

Renegade separatist Chechen army commanders allegedly financed by Osama bin Laden led a band of soldiers into Dagestan in August, 1999. Headed by Shamil Basayev and Amir Khattab, the insurgents fought Russian forces in Dagestan for a week before being driven back into Chechnya proper. On September 9, 1999, Chechens were blamed for the bombing of an apartment complex in Moscow and several other explosions in Russia (see:Russian Apartment Bombings). Many of these explosions were carried out using hexogen, or RDX, which is an explosive often used by guerilla groups. Its low volatility allows for ease of transport while its tremendous explosive power means that a small amount can do enormous damage.

Russia's new prime minister Vladimir Putin, ordered forces back into Chechen territory on pretexts of Dagestan raid and the bombings. Currently, most of Chechnya is controlled by the federal military and republican police. In 2002, federals installed a government of pro-federal Chechens into local government offices. In 2003, referendum on constitution and presidential election were held and a government formed. Chechens who work in government jobs are very often assassinated by the Chechen separatist forces.

Many Chechen separatists have retreated into Kerigo Gorge in Georgia. Russia accuses the Georgian government of willingly harboring militants and demands that the Georgian government take action against the separatists - and Georgia refused this. Several separatists have been detained by Georgian authorities, but Russia claims that these are empty gestures, and has repeatedly warned Georgia that if real measures are not taken soon to control the Chechen separatists, it will invade and control them itself.

Vladimir Putin announced that the Chechen war had ended in early 2002, but separatist forces still control a large portion of the mountainous southern regions of the country and regularly skirmish with federal troops and pro-federal Chechens. However, in according with the announcement, the federal army releases power to the republican police.

Amir Khattab, the prominent leader of Islamist forces, was poisoned in Chechnya in March 2002. He was replaced by Amir Abu al-Walid.

The war budget for Chechnya is a tremendous source of personal revenue for various officials, both federal and regional, who skim money designated for equipment and soldiers', teachers', medics, etc. salaries (during both wars, money was being transferred in belief that they would reach civilian population), and most of the separatist soldiers' weapons are Russian made; a major part was left by the federal army in the early 1990s and a significant part supposedly has been illegally purchased from federal soldiers. For their part, the separatists control a lucrative illegal drug and oil smuggling trade, and routinely kidnap foreign aid workers and others for ransom. The Russian government claims that there is also strong evidence that local terrorist activity is supported with money and arms from Islamic militant groups such as Al-Qaeda.

Both the federal and separatist armies have been widely criticized by human rights groups such as Amnesty International for alleged war crimes committed during the two Chechen wars, including well-documented accusations on both sides of rape, torture, looting, and the murder of civilians.

Colonel Yuri Budanov has reportedly been the first Russian to be tried on charges of war crimes committed in Chechnya. He was brought to trial in late 2002 on charges of murder and abduction, after being accused of raping and strangling Heda Kungayeva, an 18 year old Chechen girl whom Budanov claimed was a separatist sniper. In a controversial decision, he was found not guilty by reason of insanity on December 31, 2002 and committed to a psychiatric hospital for further evaluation and treatment. The sentence was appealed. The higher court decided that he was sane, and so was found guilty and sentenced to 10 years prison term.

Recent militant attacks

At about 2:30 PM local time on December 27, 2002, two truck bombs were driven at high speed into the Grozny headquarters of Chechnya's federal-backed government in an apparent suicide attack, killing at least 72 people, injuring at least 500, and destroying the Chechen government administrative building.

The next day, Russian counterterrorism officials accused President Mashkadov of conspiring with Chechen warlord Shamil Basayev and an Arab named Abu al-Walid, said to be a member of a terrorist organization called the Muslim Brotherhood, to plan the attack. Mashkadov issued a statement condemning the attacks and denying any involvement.

According to Russian officials, the vehicles used in the attacks were a large, heavy truck and a smaller Jeep-type vehicle with Russian military license plates. The drivers wore federal military uniforms and carried official passes which allowed them through three successive military checkpoints on their way to the headquarters building. A guard at the fourth and final checkpoint attempted to inspect the vehicles, and began firing on the trucks as they drove through the checkpoint towards the building.

After the bombings of the government headquarters, Chechen militants staged more suicide bombings throughout the region. On May 12, 2003, a truck bomb killed 59 at another government building. Two days later, 2 women bombers killed 16 in an attempt to kill the pro-Moscow future president of Chechnya. On June 4, a female bomber blew herself up near a bus in Chechnya, killing 20.

On July 5, two bombers killed 14 at a rock concert outside Moscow, the first time such an attack has occurred there. On August 1, a truck bomb levelled a Russian military hospital and killed 50. A suicide bombing December 5 killed 44 on a Russian train, and on December 9, a female bomber killed 6 people in Moscow, apparently targeting the Russian parliament. Another attack in Moscow took place on February 6, 2004, when a bomber killed 41 people on a subway.

On May 9, 2004, the pro-Moscow president, Akhmad Kadyrov, was assassinated by a bomb placed under his seat while observing a Victory Day parade. Six others were also killed. Chechen militants were the prime suspects and President Putin vowed revenge on those groups responsible.

Just five days before the Chechen elections on August 24, 2004, two airliners were bombed in southern Russia, killing 90 people. Authorities said two Chechen female bombers were probably responsible. This was hours after a bombing at a Moscow bus stop wounded 4. A week later, on August 31, a suicide bomber killed 10 outside a Moscow subway station. The next day an international group of terrorists seized a school in North Ossetia, holding approximately 1200 people hostage, resulting in over 300 deaths as an effort to retrieve bodies escalated into an unplanned assault on the school.

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