Chechnya

I am  not sure the grade I received on this paper, but the professor was polite and respectful, I hope I did well, if not thats okay too. I was admitted into “the oldest hospital in Hungary” before I could find out the results. References available upon request.

Secession Dilemma in the North Caucasus

Still 20 years after the fall of the Soviet Union, debate lingers as to why Chechnya and not Ingushetia opted to secede from Russia.  In particular what seems to puzzle scholars is how small nations can insert such strong influence over larger powers. Furthermore, a legal framework has been introduced by some and allowed for greater leverage into the matter as it relates to international law; notwithstanding the geopolitical resources evident in this particular region creating additional bargaining chips. “Chechnya’s geographic position on the Caucasus frontier – bordering Georgia and at one remove Azerbaijan, newly independent states that were also keen to distance themselves from Russia – was a key factor in its capacity to assert secession.”[i] Other scholars have been quick to compare religious cleavages existing in the region and infer this may have played the most vital factor on the part of Chechnya’s decision to opt for secession.  The comparison between Wahhabism and Sunni branches of Islam is a complex endeavor in and of itself. Furthermore, and rightly to do so, certain scholars have done their history homework to identify the factors leading up to the decision for Chechnya, and not Ingushetia, to choose secession and will be argued against this 20th century historical framework that the deportation of Chechens, who adopted a Wahhabi brand of Islam, was the causal mechanism that led to the decision for Chechen secession.

Widely understood, both in academia and policymaking circles that the deportations which took place under the Stalinist regime for a number of ethnic groups, had a profound impact on what we see today. Nonetheless, each ethnic group has reacted in their own unique way. To that end, what becomes unclear is why exactly Chechens, as opposed to the Ingush, decided not to become a part of Russia after the fall of the Soviet Union, and fight for independent statehood. “In exile the Chechen and Ingush revealed anew the importance of their ‘traditional institutions and national customs’ and resuscitated stories of their distant past and national heroes, which tied them to their historic lands.”[ii]  Before inferring that the telling of stories is what produced a feeling of nationalism during time in exile, it should not go unconsidered that other ethnic groups were not doing the same; however, what is striking are the figures. Aside from the number of German deportations, “about 600,000 deportees from the North Caucasus (362,000 Chechen, 134,000 Ingush, 68,000 Karachai and 37,000 Balkars)”[iii], having a Chechen majority allows for a greater collective recollection of past events, as compared with smaller exiled populations from larger countries.

What has taken place since the collapse of the former Soviet Union, as well as the former Yugoslavia, offers a compelling parallel to why Chechnya felt it had good reason to opt for secession. Bosnia, too, like Chechnya shares a common religious tie within Islam, Wahhabism, commonly known throughout the literature, to be the beneficiary of Saudi financial support and the originator of this strand of Islam. “Bosnia and the North Caucasus region of Russia are each ethnically diverse, post communist societies, where different ethnic groups at times have coexisted peacefully and at other times have found themselves at odds.”[iv]  While opposing arguments in defense of Russia’s legal right for reasons such as, “Independence would not have led to peace and stability for Chechnya, and it was likely to further destabilize the Caucasus region.”[v], often come into conflict with recent events over the last several years; indicating that withholding independence can be just as likely to destabilize it as well. Other scholars rightly point out that another cleavage exists within Chechnya and should not be overlooked. “The common view of the conflict as a straightforward war of secession has been increasingly eroded by a dual radicalization of the protagonists as the conflict has become more protracted.”[vi] This radicalization can be witnessed anytime a history of a religiously repressed population take on the form of a rebels and are willing to die for independence.

Religion’s Role

To overlook the religious make-up of a nation in its attempt for independence can be potentially disastrous. Wahhabism, a spin-off branch of Sunni Islam, originating in Saudi Arabia has increasingly exerted its influence in political matters as many followers have sought the establishment of a caliphate in replace of secularism. As a result, the North Caucasus has been on the receiving end of a deep religious cleavage difficult to maneuver in when settling disputes. “Resumed Islamization has become a fact of life in the entire North Caucasus region. Islam is regaining status primarily among the peoples who suffered from deportations during the Second World War.”[vii] Fundamental to the question, why Ingushetia decided to not secede with Russia and Chechnya did, has its roots in religion. “The Ingush and neighboring Chechens are ethnically and linguistically similar. However, their religious cultures vary. The Ingush embraced Islam later and with less intensity than the Chechens.”[viii]  The term “religious intensity” is quite ambiguous, but some empirical evidence can be found throughout a historical build up of suppression, fused with violent acts.

Strong religious fervor produces an inability to remove memories of prior injustices, and does not view legal frameworks as grounds for reason. This can also be coupled with more recent developments. “By the Middle of the 1990s the conflict in Chechnya became part of the ensemble of cases that involved Muslim communities who were perceived by Islamists to be under attack from Christendom and the “West”. [ix] Furthermore, any response from the center to a nation on the periphery, which offers little sympathy from past misconduct, does not bode well for peace. “Although this right [secession] was never tested until the late 1980s, the Soviet Union did ultimately divide along Union Republic lines in December 1991 … but would logically be opposed to any further subdivisions.”[x] It is appropriate to address the highly complex nature of drawing lines of independence according to the ‘nations’, as any map of the world would look entirely different then we see it today. As religion plays a significant role in this matter, consideration must be taken into account whether this factors into a decision by some states, such as Ingushetia to not secede and for Chechnya to do the opposite. If we take into account that Chechnya is one of the most ethnically homogenous regions of the North Caucasus, coupled with a Wahhabi ideology, we begin to see the development of an argument for arriving at secession based on a common identity.

Realizing that the official state religion during the Soviet era was atheism, and arriving at the opposite end of the religious spectrum once it collapsed, it must be taken into account the opportunities for nations now to openly express themselves via religion.  “Islamization in these republics occurred as radical Islamic organizations worked to fill the vacuum created by the disappearance of Communist ideology.”[xi] Continuing along this same line of argument, a rebirth of religious practices once banned, can shift a nations self determination and official statehood. “For nationalists, it is a matter of principle – each nation has a right to its own state.”[xii]  If this is the case, then why do you we not see more of this occurring and such cause for concern amongst big state actors? “It may be true that the international position legitimized Russian military action directly, but there is no reason to suppose that independence would have brought peace and stability to Chechnya and the North Caucasus region.”[xiii] Understandably so, the fear of instability which usually accompanies independence, provokes one to consider why this may be the case.

History of Hell

What makes the Chechnya-Ingushetia case so compelling is that significant portions of the population (along with several others) were deported during the Second World War, similar in ethnic makeup, but differing in amount of peoples deported. A closer look is now turned to the kind of effect this can have on such groups with high religious fever. “In the case of the Chechen and Ingush, the cruelty of the action of their expulsion was unlimited: the inhabitants of a number of auls (villages) that were virtually inaccessible were simply burned alive in their homes.”[xiv]  The level of brutality imposed on the Chechen and Ingush populations are not what we are after here, but the effects that it can have on more recent, as well as current events such as the issue of secession. “Constant Russian pressure on Chechnya is reflected in the many tensions and riots brutally repressed by the occupants. Moreover, Russia has created true genocide in the Caucasus, many ethnicities simply being decimated or occupied.”[xv]

To disregard this, and suggest that economic reasons such as an oil pipeline running from the Caspian to the Black Sea as a factor in Chechnya’s decision would be premature. “Many Chechen families still have living memories of relatives who were arrested and ‘disappeared’ during that time.”[xvi]  Moreover,  to overlook that “during the Stalinist period, when almost 500,000 Chechens and Ingush were herded into cattle trucks and deported to Central Asia for their alleged support of Nazis.”[xvii], is overlooking the root cause by focusing only on the current situation.  “The Chechen and some of the other punished peoples, moreover, had resisted Soviet policies throughout the interwar period, and the war may have provided the opportunity to root them out of their historical surroundings and disperse them.[xviii]

Regarding Chechnya and Ingushetia, it would be extremely difficult to determine the level of abuse inflicted on each and conclude that because it was more, Chechnya then decided to secede; however, it appears the inability to forget dominates the Chechen mentality more so than others. “In Chechnya it was yet another variable that was primary, and called by Hale ‘historical symbolical resources’. These resources were not ‘system integrative’, as it pertains to when there is a shared memory of former statehood, but instead Chechnya focused overwhelmingly on shared memories of armed resistance, oppression and deportation.”[xix]  Nevertheless, to say a Chechen remembers more, or less than another oppressed nation, is highly ambiguous. The numbers available to us; however, show that there were just more of them.  Against historical evidence, we are afforded the knowledge that the Ingush often found difficulties in handling spillovers from Wahhabism reviving in Chechnya.  As some authors have suggested, “Unlike Chechnya, there is no tradition of militant Islam in Ingushetia – a factor that has been favorable in relations with Russians.”[xx] Consequently, this has also played a role at the government level. “Unlike in Chechnya, the spiritual leaders of Ingushetia do not claim direct participation in the state governance and have not demanded the introduction of Shariat law.”[xxi] Pinned against a historical framework we begin to better understand how a less extreme form of religion provides a sound reason for not seceding, while on the other hand, a more extreme form seeks to enforce its ideology on the state. Now that the argument has been presented against a historical framework, “which can actually be rooted back to 1918 as Chechens fought inclusion into the Soviet Union”[xxii], discussion on the effects of opting for secession is appropriate for both actors in the center and periphery.

Secede and Suffer

Against the backdrop of a historical framework, the argument becomes one of dual complexity, taking the shape of moral and legal ramifications. This need not be limited to Russia and its territories, as mirror images can be seen globally. An accepted understanding of concern on the part of Russia – especially having been humiliated in Afghanistan – is how to prevent any anticipated “blowback” by not recognizing Chechnya as an independent state, because clearly labeling it a “de facto” did little good.  What becomes difficult for Chechens to argue is historical context is also not technically on their side. “The Chechno-Ingush Autonomous Soviet Republic (ASSR) was a small republic, roughly the size of Northern Ireland, with a population of about 1.2 million in 1989, before the start of the current crisis.”[xxiii] Thus we can assume that by Ingushetia not seceding from Russia, and Chechnya not following suit, the role of religious ideology played a significant role, otherwise why wouldn’t they have joined together? In addition, Ingushetia had not forgotten its own history with Russians. “The people of Ingushetia, in contrast, reacted positively to the Bolshevik appeal to redistribute land and property.”[xxiv]  As the current conflict has not seemed to die down, particularly with the recent airport bombings in Moscow, careful considerations should be taken on both sides as each will continue to suffer. As some experts have drawn comparisons to other historical mistakes and how that has serious implications on current decision making. “That fateful choice [assisting Abkhazia in 1992] had important long term implications … but it also turned a blind eye to the military and political mobilization of extremist forces in the North Caucasus and their infiltration across the Caucasus’s porous border.”[xxv]

For policymakers, both in the center and periphery, it becomes increasingly difficult to negotiate terms in which both parties can agree on as acceptable when factoring the methods used by Chechnya in the form of suicide bombers. As extremism has progressed, not only in the former Soviet Union but globally, compromise has digressed.  “One reason for that are the harsh anti-‘Wahabi’ policies in all of the republics of the Northern Caucasus, which are quick to identify and persecute any Islamic activity as ‘Wahabi’.”[xxvi] It is not likely any “truth and reconciliation” will take place anytime soon, which is why the selection of a historical framework is crucial to policy decision making as each stakeholder’s interest must be carefully weighed against historical fact.

To this point data and arguments have been used from some of the existing body of literature as to why Chechnya opted for secession. Consideration is now turned to the idea of statehood and whether Chechnya has a legitimate case for secession. Some scholars have suggested that, “If it can be shown that secession would be likely to limit the liberties of others or even, through certain cultural practices, the liberties of some members of the titular nation, then there may be an a priori case for not supporting ethnorepublic secession.”[xxvii] Russia clearly has observed the events, and it is common knowledge that anything resembling liberty in Chechnya is far from present, then again the same argument could be made for the fledgling democracy inside Russia. On the contrary, a historical argument is logically presented. “On the basis of rectifying a recent past injustice of involuntary incorporation, a criterion generally acknowledged as legitimate ground for secession, only one republic, Tuva, would qualify.”[xxviii] If we remove the “recent past” and just include “past”, Chechnya then has a strong historical claim, void of any extreme religious component.

Conclusion

This essay has put forth within a historical framework the argument that the suppression of a strict form of Islam has led to Chechnya opting for secession from Russia and its own independence. It has been discussed that the different religious ideology between the two North Caucasus republics allows us to determine a significant factor in the decision making process, despite geopolitical advantages in the region afforded to Chechnya by being situated between the two seas. Furthermore, the effect of being able to recall from memory throughout generations of past grievances also takes the form of a significant factor. Finally, consideration has been given to a legal argument based on ethnic lines drawn up slightly less than one hundred years ago. Self-determination of a nation rooted in strict religious endeavors, has been compared to the right Russia has in maintaining its territorial integrity. What has, and continues to limit our progress towards peace, is for each party involved to address problems of the past, because labeling a nation’s status as “de-facto”, or “quasi-independent”, doesn’t do much for the memories of suppressed people.

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2 responses to “Chechnya

  1. In hospital? Do tell!

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