The Chechen Wars Essay

3897 words - 16 pages

From Western audiences, Chechnya—whether as an autonomous oblast, a sovereign state, or a war zone—has never received much consideration. Just one of dozens of ethnic groups within Russia who have declared since the end of the Soviet Union their right to self-rule and self-determination, the Chechens’ struggle for independence was drowned out in the cacophony of calls for independence during the 1990s. However, in a world so greatly affected by the events of September 11, 2001 and given the role of Chechen separatist groups in bombings of Russian apartment buildings in 1999 (which killed more than 300) and the hostage-taking of a Russian theater in 2002 (which resulted in the deaths of 130 Russians and 30 rebels), the rhetoric of Islamic fundamentalism and the terminology of terrorism has brought the Chechen people to the forefront of international concern (Trenin & Malashenko, 2004, p. 45). Yet the roots of the conflict in Chechnya, which have spurned two wars with the Russian Federation over the past two decades, are defined neither by terrorist activities or the Islamists who have recently come to typify the most virulent of the separatist rebels; rather, the origin is in the centuries long forging of a group that has faced common persecution from the Russian Empire, the Soviet Union, and the Russian Federation. Ethnicity compounded with a new emphasis on fundamentalist religious ideology has greatly complicated a struggle that has benefited the economic and political interests of groups as disparate as elected officials, crime bosses, business leaders, and international governments (Politkovskaya, 2003). War has wrought the economic and social collapse of Chechnya and simultaneously embarrassed a Russia giant whose participation energizes radicals rebels, mobilizes moderates to further distance themselves from the Russian-installed regime, and is increasingly brought to the realization that Chechen Russia cannot exist in this modern Russia (Tishkov, 2004; Oliker, 2001). Solutions abound but a concerted effort to end this conflict—to end the Second Chechen War and determine the final status of independence for Chechnya proper—has been avoided by both sides. Thus the fighting, oppression, and politicking that have defined Chechen “ethnic separatism” for hundreds of years continue (Trenin & Malashenko, 2004, p. 2).
Since the first conflict between Russians and Chechens nearly four hundred years ago, the common identity of Chechens (and to a large extent Ingush and Dagestanians) has been centered around an opposition to the hostile rule of Russians and their descendants. First entering into war in 1785—the First Gazavat in a series of several conquests that would extend Russian domination as far south as the Turkey and Iran—Chechen forces were able repel the tsarist forces and defend the core principles of their society: freedom and equality (Gammer, 2006, p. 6). Lacking traditional social organization, the notion of a hierarchy of...

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