Creating new states (Chechnya and some similarities to Afghanistan, Baltics)

From: Amara Graps (
Date: Tue Jan 11 2000 - 17:32:12 MST

From: (Christian Weisgerber) 9 Jan 2000:

>All I know about that situation I got from the popular press--which
>means I effectively know zilch.
>If you actually understand what's going on in Chechnia, I'd love
>to have it explained to me. Or rather, can anybody recommend any
>pointers on where to read up on this "conflict"?

I'm interested in the Chechen Independence Fight for several
reasons, and while I'm far from expert, perhaps I can give a
synopsis. I found a good source of articles at:

The Andrei Sakharov Foundation website:
(look in "Archive", and then "Chechnya Brief")

And since I was interested in seeing photos of the Chechnya area (I
wanted to see how similar the terrain was to the terrain in
Afghanistan), I found some pics and more articles at:

Take a look at some of the mountainous areas. (Pretty spectacular
scenery, I might add.)

These Chechnya pics:

do remind me a bit of the pictures I've seen of the mountainous
areas (not the desert) of Afghanistan.

I should say, up front, that I'm hardly un-biased, as I carry a
passport from one of those little countries (Latvija) that was
forcibly occupied by the former Soviet Union for half of last

The Chechens are indigenous to the North Caucasus area for several
thousand years. They are not a Slavic people, as near as I can tell.
The Chechen language is a non-Slavic, non-Turkish, non-Persian
language, and it is supposed to be closely related to Ingush language,
and probably to nothing else (similar to the situation with Latvian
and Lithuanian languages) but I can't find the Chechen branch in my
language books. (Maybe it's not an Indo-European language. Does
anyone know?)

The Chechens' ties to the Russian Empire go back a few hundred years
(to the 16th century). Before the 16th century, Iranian Alans and
and a group called the Golden Horde (don't know who that is) overran
their territory.

Fighting between the two (Chechens and Russians) has been an ongoing
thing for the last few centuries. One long battle lasted from 1824
until 1859, when a (Muslim) man led his peoples of the North
Caucasus against the Russian invaders. The Russians won by sheer
force of numbers, and by carrying out a policy of a destructive
total war from fortress towns such as Grozny. The "Caucasian War"
continued on a reduced scale until 1864, and there continued to be
intermittent outbreaks of armed resistance to Russian rule in the
late 19th and early 20th centuries.

In the early 1900s through the years until 1944, Chechnya was given
the status of Autonomous Oblast of the Russian Federation and then a
short time later, given status of Chechen-Ingush Autonomous Soviet
Socialist Republic (ASSR). But Stalin's forced collectivisation
efforts and purges of 1936-38 (where thousands of Chechens were
killed or imprisoned) increased anti-Soviet sentiment. And in 1944
the Soviets really stomped on the Chechens by deporting 400,000
Chechens and Ingush to Soviet Central Asia. There, about 30% or more
died during their detention and transport from the Caucasus or
within the first year of their forcible resettlement. The bitter
feelings that the Chechens carry towards the Russians are pretty

[Note, in the years 1941, 1945-8, Stalin's guys also deported,
displaced, or executed at least half-million Baltic (Estonian,
Latvian, Lithuanian) folks, reducing their population in the Baltics
by at least 30%. This pattern holds for other ethnic groups
of other countries under Stalin's realm of influence, as well.]

On November 27, 1990, the Supreme Soviet of the Chechen-Ingush ASSR
adopted a "Declaration on the State Sovereignty of the
Chechen-Ingush Republic." Since "sovereignty" was also proclaimed at
this time by other Soviet Republics, the Chechen-Ingush declaration
did not cause particular concern, despite the implicit upgrade in
status from that of Autonomous Republic within the Russian
Federation. In spring 1991, the Chechen leaders called for the
unconditional recognition of the Chechen nation's right to
independence, compensation for crimes committed against the Chechen
nation, trials of the guilty, and establishment of a government
based on democratic principles. The Ingush leaders however, did not
follow suit because their chief concern was to regain ancestral
territory to the west, and the Ingush leaders believed that their
claims to Prigorodny raion could best be achieved by remaining
within the Russian Federation.

The battle for Chechens' independence has simply continued from that
time. Neither the Chechens or the Russians are recognizing each
other as holding any valid claim for anything in that region. Russia
has been expanding southwards for centuries. Nothing new there. The
Chechens are fighting for their freedom: for themselves, their
families, their villages, and their religion.

I wouldn't be surprised if some of the Russian propaganda for why
the Russians are fighting in Chechnya is to "free their women",
"modernize their country" (these are what they told the world about
invading Afghanistan), or to "protect them against the threat of
incursion" (what they told the world in 1939 for why they were
occupying Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania). Oh.. those invisible
"bandits" are such troublemakers, aren't they?

To the Russians, the Chechens present a special problem because of
their characteristics of fierceness and because of their living in
inaccessible mountainous terrain. I believe that it was also these
reasons that the Afghanis (who are a hard, proud, mountain people)
presented such a problem to the Soviets during that 1979-1989 war.
On the other hand, the Baltic people, by their nature, are
relatively passive people, and their country is easily accessible:
the Baltic countries are mostly flat with a lot of nearby waterways.

Who's arming the Chechens, and are the Chechens capturing their
weapons in a similar way from the Russians, as the Afghanis did, 20
years ago? It looks like 'yes'. I found this text in one of the
articles at the Sakharov Web site:

"The Chechen forces are made up of the National Guard and other
regular army units, including many soldiers with Afghan war
experience; the volunteer militia, subject also to central command
and discipline, in which a great proportion of able-bodied Chechen
males participate, some on a part-time basis; and "the avengers,"
individuals or small groups, whose relatives have been killed, and
who, acting on their own, seek blood vengeance in accord with
Chechen custom. The Chechens' weapons, which include some artillery
and armor and plentiful supplies of sophisticated anti-tank weapons,
Kalashnikov automatic rifles, ammunition, and grenades, are Russian
in origin. They were handed over to the Chechens in 1991, seized
during raids on Russian arms depots in 1992, or bought at various
times from corrupt Russian officers and other arms dealers. "

Both Chechnya and Afghanistan are primarily Moslem countries. I
think that it is unfortunate that the West associates the words
"Islam" and "Moslem" with "terrorist" because there are different
Moslem countries that differ in their practices. I don't know the
"brand" of Islam that the Chechens practice, but in Afghanistan,
before "The Catastrophe" (as the 1979 invasion of Afghanistan by the
Soviets was called), their brand of Islam was very temperate. Women
were going to college, walking unveiled, holding government
positions. An atmosphere of tolerance existed for differing
interpretations of Islam. Their Sunnis and Shias worked together,
and some in that country felt that Afghanistan was providing a model
for a liberal Islamic state. Of course, that's not true in
Afghanistan now.

In hard times, the extremists in any kind of religious system
prevail, so it's not surprising to me that the hard-core
Fundamentalist Moslems are in control now in Afghanistan. Also the
best fighters were the most hard-core Fundamentalist Moslems, and
Afghanistan needed its best fighters for those 10 years of war.
Maybe what will emerge from the Chechnya war will be a similar
hard-core Fundamentalist Islam (I hope not).

[Maybe I should add here, that one evening, 7 years ago, I was
accidently (oops!) initiated as a Moslem (in a Mosque in middle-Palo
Alto, California). Oh, don't worry, I'm a hard-core atheist, but I
learned quite a lot in that evening, observing/participating in a
very old and hours-long Moslem prayer ritual with several hundred
Moslems, with me segregated in the back, behind the wall, with the
other women. It was a fascinating experience.]

I just finished reading a book that describes some of the 1979-1989
Soviet-Afghan war: _The Wind Blows Away Our Words: A Firsthand
Account of the Afghan Resistance_, by Doris Lessing. One reason the
book opened my eyes was that very little of what really happened in
Afghanistan (especially the magnitude) made it into U.S. mainstream
media. It's probably safe to say that there were ten million Afghan
refugees (I doubt that they all returned to Afghanistan after the
War). A whole generation of intellectuals vanished (into prisons,
etc). Perhaps some Americans in influential positions didn't like
the picture of a group of poor, dirty, ragged muhjahidin
successively fighting against a huge Communist power, instead of
Americans succeeding.

I was already impressed with many of the actions of the Afghan
people, and that book increased my respect 100 times. Here are some
of the reasons that I admire the Afghan people, from what I read in
that book (this touches on some extropian topics):

* The Soviet had many agents inside the Kabul governments to watch
and control the Afghanis, and the Afghanis had just as many, or
more, watching the Soviets. The Afghans were aware of almost every
Soviet move.

* The Afghanis had almost none of their own weapons: what they used
to win that war were captured from the Soviets whom they killed.

* In the refugee camps in Pakistan (where most of the refugee
Afghans fled), one had to be registered with one of the political
parties to get food rations. This means that people who were not
members of a political party who were unregistered did not get
rations, and so, those who were the most independent-minded, who did
not want to be defined by a party, had an extremely difficult time
keeping themselves and their families fed. I think that there were
hundreds or thousands of such folk.

* The Pakistan refugee camps were full of Afghans who started every
kind of little business- they were far from "passive recipients" of
aid and food. They were selling food, Afghan hangings, carpets,
brassware, clothes, mementos of the dead Russian soldiers, etc. The
Pakistanis complained that the Afghans were taking their jobs, and
the Afghanis' reply was: "We are not taking your jobs, we start our
own businesses."

* Women were deeply involved in the Afghan-Soviet war.

        - One woman was a commander with directing 3000 muhjahidin.
        - Young women carried arms, ammunition, and information
        under their veils. The prettier ones attracted Russians
        or Kabul agents and led them to houses where muhjahidin were
        - Women obtained information about those collaborating with the
        Soviets from their connection in administration jobs, and passed
        that information on to the urban Resistance groups or for the
        use of commanders in the countryside.
        - The majority of cases of Russian agents who disappeared or were
        killed were due to the initiative of women. The women were also
        responsible for the majority of the bomb explosions.
        - Women were caught, imprisoned and tortured (as were the men).

From: Robert Bradbury <> Sun, 9 Jan 2000

>When they [Chechens] resorted to kidnapping foreigners, they probably
>killed chances they might have had for getting foreign recognition.

Yes, not a smart move. Maybe the Chechens should have adopted a
symbolic resistance strategy for the outside world to see, that the
Balts used.

In Winter 1991, the locals in Vilnius, Tallinn, and Riga constructed
barricades around their government buildings, to protect the
buildings and people, with cement blocks, brick, barbed wire, piles
of stones, anything, and then created human barricades of people
around that, those people armed mostly with sticks (most didn't own
weapons anyway). It made quite a picture! Of course they knew that a
tank would flatten them (and some in Vilnius in those human
barricades did get shot by the Soviet OMON), so their resistance was
mostly symbolic. And if you saw the graffiti painted on those
barricades (I took photos when I was in Tallinn and Riga a few
months later), 50% of the graffiti was written in English, aimed at
the Western journalists. The "show" was really successful though, both
for fostering more unity and strength among the Baltic people
themselves (people from all areas of life participated in those
vigils), and for showing the rest of the world that they were quite
determined and serious after 50 years of being stomped on, that
they were going to be free.


Amara Graps | Max-Planck-Institut fuer Kernphysik
Interplanetary Dust Group | Saupfercheckweg 1
+49-6221-516-543 | 69117 Heidelberg, GERMANY *
        "Never fight an inanimate object." - P. J. O'Rourke

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