Thursday, September 6, 2018

27 Years Ago Today, Chechens Declared Their Independence from the Soviet Union

Paul Goble

            Staunton, September 6 – Today is the 27th anniversary of Chechnya’s declaration of independence not from Russia as Moscow always insists and many in the West unfortunately accept but from the Soviet Union. Chechnya’s leaders at that time viewed the Baltic countries, which had recovered their de facto independence two weeks earlier, as a model for themselves.

            Dzhokhar Dudayev, who became the first president of Chechnya-Ichkeria, had brought that idea back with him after his service as commander of the Soviet air base in Tartu, Estonia. He saw no reason that the Chechens who at that time numbered about as many as the Estonians could not be free and independent in the same way.

            Tragically, Moscow was not prepared to tolerate that; and the West, although horrified by Russian brutality in the two post-Soviet Chechen wars, did not take steps to block the suppression of the Chechen drive for independence or recognize the ways in which Moscow and no one else changed the conflict there from a national one to an Islamist cause.

            Had the Russian government been pressured to accept Chechnya’s declaration, Chechnya today would be a very different place and so too would be the Russian Federation, far freer, less Islamist, and less violent than the thuggish regime now in power in Grozny and, using massive Russian subsidies, engaged in the violation of the rights and lives of Chechens and others. 

            The Russian government does not want anyone to remember Ichkeria or the ideas that inspired its leaders and its people. Moscow has even sponsored the creation of a competing holiday, the Day of Civic Accord and Unity, established in 2002, to promote Chechen-Russian ties.  The ideas of independence are now outlawed.

            But as Ruslan Isayev points out in an article on the Kavkazr portal, many Chechens in Chechnya and even more in the diaspora communities in the West are pausing today to “remember their lost independence” and to recommit themselves to recovering it when that becomes possible (

            “In Chechnya itself,” the Radio Svoboda journalist says, “which is considered one of the most subsidized regions of Russia, [any commemoration of the ideas of Ichkeria and independence] are prohibited as are all the symbols of Ichkeria,” just one of the ways in which Chechens under Ramzan Kadyrov and Vladimir Putin have “more prohibitions than rights.”

            “However,” Isayev says, “many residents with nostalgia remember those years when Chechnya was independent,” before the murderous wars, the mass expulsions and Moscow’s failure to live up to the peace accord it signed in Khasavyurt in 1996 and its imposition of a dictatorship far worse than Chechens had experienced since the death of Stalin.

            One Chechen in Grozny told the journalist that “only before the first war were we independent because we could travel where we wanted. To be sure, not on Ichkerian passports, but all the same. The main market of the North Caucasus was in Grozny … the people were not poor and most important felt themselves free.”

            That desire for freedom has never left the Chechen people despite the trials they have faced over the last two decades. “Every living being, man or animal, cannot live in unfreedom,” a Chechen activist in Europe says. “Allah gave them this and no one can block it.  I am certain that Chechnya will be free and we will live in peace and justice with all, including the Russians.”

            “We have no other path,” he continues. 

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