Oppression as the whole world watches
After the collapse of the Soviet Union over a decade ago now, a difficult
period was, and still is being experienced in many of the countries that
formerly comprised it. The effects of Russian expansionist policy in Kazakhstan,
Turkmenistan, Azerbaijan, Uzbekistan, Kyrgyzstan and Dagestan have never
been erased. These countries, which believed that they would be able to
establish an order of peace and brotherhood after being liberated from
the oppression of the Soviet regime, then found themselves confronted
by an altered form of Russian oppression. On the other hand, there is
also one nation which has never abandoned its 400-year struggle for freedom
from Russia. That country is Chechnya, whose courage and yearning for
independence has gone down in history.
origins of the Muslim Chechens' great struggle against the Russians go
back to the late eighteenth century with the capture and subsequent death
of Imam Mansur, the legendary resistance fighter, in 1791, at the Russians'
hands. In 1816, after the Czar appointed General Yermolov to lead the
Russian army, the Chechen people in the northern Caucasus were subjected
to terrible slaughter. When the Chechen Muslim leader Imam Hamzat was
killed, Sheikh Shamil took over the leadership of the Chechen army, and
began the struggle for independence, the details of which have come down
from generation to generation right down to the present day.
Sheikh Shamil's armies heroically resisted Russian expansionism for
fully a quarter century, from 1834 to 1859. In the end, however, Russia
conquered the region, and never again left it. The fight for independence
the Chechens are waging today is a continuation of the movement initiated
by Sheikh Shamil.
How Was the Present Situation Reached?
There are a number of reasons, historical and economic ones in particular,
behind the violent oppression and cruelty meted out to the Chechen people
by the Russian administration. Chechnya is in fact of far greater importance
to Russia than the other Caucasian republics. The region contains considerable
energy reserves, especially oil and natural gas. During the Cold War,
communist Russia met all its raw material needs very cheaply from that
country, and used them to serve itself. After the collapse of the Soviet
Union, however, declarations of independence issued by Chechnya - a huge
source of raw materials - and the other ex-Soviet republics placed Russia
in a terrible quandary.
forces heroically resisted the Russian armies and were the
predecessors of the Chechen resistance fighters of today.
In addition to the economic factor, Russia's centuries-old policy of
expansionism is a historical cause for the chaos currently being experienced
in Central Asia and the Caucasus. After the collapse of the Soviet Union,
Moscow experienced a short period of uncertainty, but then pulled itself
together, and took a number of wide-ranging initiatives to re-establish
its dominion over the former republics. The first sign of what Russia
is at present doing in these republics was given in 1993 in a speech by
then President Boris Yeltsin. In this speech, he said that Russia will
again win the status of a superpower by regaining all the positions it
has lost. 6 In other words, Russia
refuses to accept these countries' declarations of independence, their
winning back their freedom, and their being able to stand on their own
two feet. Instead it sees them as "positions to be won back."
On the other hand, some Muslim communities were unable to win their freedom
and remained within the Russian federation. One of these, Chechnya, was
the main target for that pressure, and for that reason was exposed to
In order to have a correct grasp of what is going on in Chechnya, we
need to concentrate on certain points. The war in Chechnya is not the
kind of conflict where two sides resort to arms because the conflict between
them has reached such a scale that it cannot be resolved by peaceful means,
the kind of war that can be encountered anywhere in the world. The justice
of the Chechens' demands for independence is being debated in various
international circles, and different views are being expressed. Each one
of these views is debatable. The matter that everyone is agreed on, however,
is that the Russians are behaving with absolutely no restraint and targeting
innocent civilians, turning the war from one involving solely the soldiers
at the front into an attempt to wipe out the whole population of Chechnya.
This is unacceptable, and one of the matters we shall be particularly
concentrating on in this chapter.
In order to portray itself as in the right in the international arena,
Russia suggests that the war in Chechnya is a "domestic matter," believing
that it can thus keep the truth of the savagery going on there from the
public. Yet that pretext is totally insufficient to account for the way
Chechen men are rounded up in the streets and sent off to torture centers,
captured prisoners are tied to tanks by their feet and dragged along the
ground, babies of cradle age are fired upon and all the people's assets
plundered. A great many political scientists and experts are agreed that
Russia is engaged upon a genocide in the region and employing the kind
of savagery that has seldom before been seen, all in order to keep Chechnya
within its own borders.
On the other hand, the attacks by some Chechen circles aimed at Russian
civilians also need to be unequivocally condemned. The Chechen people
are naturally justified in wishing to live free and honourable lives.
Yet actions of that type cast a stain on that justified demand and make
it more difficult to defend the Chechen cause. In addition, it must not
be forgotten that targeting innocent civilians is a complete violation
of Islamic principles. Throughout his life, the Prophet Muhammad, may
Allah bless him and grant him peace, always defended the rights of civilians,
even during the fiercest fighting, and ordered all Muslims to be moderate
and to avoid all forms of fanaticism. That is what the morality of the
Qur'an requires. In the Qur'an, Allah has commanded Muslims to be forgiving
and tolerant and to behave justly, even in war. A Muslim must be someone
who first feeds his prisoner even if he himself is hungry, always behaves
with moderation even in the middle of a war, defends the rights of the
oppressed and never deviates from the path of honesty and justice. For
that reason, the Chechen people must never forget Our Lord's stricture
"You who believe! Show integrity for the sake of Allah, bearing witness
with justice. Do not let hatred for a people incite you into not being
just. Be just. That is closer to heedfulness. Allah is aware of what you
do." (Qur'an, 5: 8), even when fighting Russian oppression, and
must never, ever target the guiltless and defenceless public.
Our hope is to see a search for a solution to the differences between
the Chechens and the Russian administration based on a moderate and peaceful
framework, as should also be the case in other regions of the Islamic
Moscow's Concerns Over a "United Caucasus"
Chechnya, which has been on the world's agenda for the last decade, is
a very small country of some 16,000 square kilometers. Within the Russian
Federation, there are presently 19 autonomous republics in the same position
as Chechnya. These republics make up 28 percent, over one-fourth, of Russian
territory. Moscow still has a very strong influence on them, and is very
keen that that influence should never be diminished. The loss of Chechnya
would mean breaking the stranglehold of Russian power over the other republics,
and would result in this nation setting an example to them. If the Chechens,
whose total numbers are only that of the troops in the Russian army, break
away from Russia, that could spark off independence movements in the other
autonomous republics. The most noteworthy characteristic of the republics
within the Russian Federation is the way they greatly influence one another,
and how a change in one affects all the others.
Alongside all this, there is another element that makes Chechnya important
for Russia. Moscow's real fear, as in the examples of Bosnia and Kosovo,
is the establishment of a Muslim state right on its borders. That is the
most important reason for the inhuman war waged against Chechnya by the
Russian administration, which has tried for years to eliminate the Chechens'
religious identity and so inflicted violent oppression on them, demolished
mosques, banned worship and prohibited religious education.
The Chechen people are known for their loyalty to their religion, their
determination to struggle to be allowed to live by that religion, and
for their Islamic identity with its powerful effect on other Islamic states
in the Caucasus. The idea of a "United Caucasus," put forward by the aforementioned
Imam Mansur in the 1780s, which aimed at uniting the whole of the Caucasus,
greatly alarms Russia. That is because the outstanding feature of such
a union would be its Islamic nature, and that represents a serious threat
to Moscow's interests.
These fears give rise to the Russian desire to see a "Chechnya without
Chechens." With its current policy, Russia wants to eliminate the Chechens
to the last man, prevent any possible Islamic union, and bring the lands
it has lost under its domination once again. Whereas even if a "United
Caucasus" is established, there is no need to regard this as an anti-Russian
development. If the Russian administration enters into good relations
with the Muslim peoples of the Caucasus, then there will be no need for
these peoples, whether independent or not, to adopt an attitude opposed
The Continuing Struggle of the Defenseless Chechen People
There are many examples of Russian policies in favour of violence instead
of peace rebounding on it. Russia has worked up some secret plans in Chechnya,
especially at the start of the 1990s. It thought that it could never destroy
the Chechens, with their unbreakable unity, by force of arms alone, and
so resorted to undermining them from within and tried a number of means
of doing so. It worked to destroy that popular solidarity and create chaos
in Chechnya by interfering in elections, buying politicians, kidnapping
and committing acts of terrorism, using pro-Russian clerics to try and
stir up religious differences, as well as through economic and political
However, these methods failed to lead to the success they had expected.
Russia's occupation of Chechnya in 1991 was ended by Dzhokhar Dudayev.
Then the serious harassment in November 1994 turned into war on December
11 of that year. More than 100,000 Chechens lost their lives in that war,
and tens of thousands were forced to flee. The use of banned chemical
weapons resulted in a kind of genocide. Furthermore, because Russia had
portrayed Chechnya as an "internal matter," no serious reaction
came from the outside world. No helping hand except a few European countries
was extended to the Chechen people.
Those who persecute men and women of
the believers, and then do not repent, will have the punishment
of Hell, will have the punishment of the Burning.
(Qur'an, 85: 10)
In the 1990s,
Russia attempted to tear down Chechnya from the inside. When they
realized they would be unable to do so, they then turned to a
policy of savage violence. Methods no less terrible than those
employed by Stalin and Lenin, which themselves cost millions of
lives, were employed.
The war ended in August 1996 when the Russians admitted defeat. This
Chechen success against the Russians deeply affected their fellow republics
in the Caucasus. In 1998, the peoples of the northern Caucasus met in
the "Northern Caucasus Peoples' Convention" in the Chechen capital, Grozny.
All the participating countries agreed on a common position in order to
avoid any conflict breaking out between the peoples of the northern Caucasus,
and to support each other in the event of a Russian attack. This unity
meant the nightmare the Russians had feared for so long actually becoming
a reality. If Russia allowed it to happen, the Islamic union that had
been dreaded for years would emerge. This was one of the main reasons
why the Russian administration embarked on a second operation against
Chechnya. This time, even more ruthless methods were employed, and inhuman
tortures inflicted on defenceless people before the eyes of the world.
Yet for some reason, the savagery was generally regarded as a Russian
second full-scale war between the Chechens and the Russians started when
the latter surrounded and bombed a number of villages in Dagestan in the
early months of 1999. The 1,500 or so people of these villages asked for
help from Chechnya, which they regarded as their natural leader. Shamil
Basayev, who had become popular due to his success in war, began to offer
assistance to the people of Dagestan in the summer of 1999. Only two of
the villages being pounded by the Russians could be saved. There was terrible
slaughter in those villages, and innocent people had been viciously murdered.
The war between Russia and Chechnya, that is still going on today, was
sparked off yet again by this incident.
forces entered Chechnya on October 2, 1999 and began to ruthlessly kill
anyone they came across, making no exceptions for women, children or the
elderly. They began to attack civilian targets. Chemical weapons, scud
missiles and napalm were used in the attacks, and hospitals, maternity
wards, public shopping areas and refugee camps were deliberately selected
One of the ways the Russians ruthlessly attacked civilian targets was
to poison the Argun River, a source of water for the populations of a
number of Chechen villages. Most of the women and children who drank from
the river died, and hundreds of others were left to suffer long-term ill
effects. Chechnya lost three-quarters of its population in just two years.
Even now, some of the native Chechens are still trying to survive in neighboring
countries under the most difficult conditions.
of the Chechen people by the Russian government, which still retains the
same old communist mentality, resembled the one carried out millennia
ago by the Pharaoh. In his own time, he also attacked the weak and defenseless
(in that case, the tribe of Israel), and brutally slew them. Allah states
Pharaoh's cruelty in these terms:
Remember when Musa said to his people, "Remember
Allah's blessing to you when He rescued you from the people of Pharaoh.
They were inflicting an evil punishment on you, slaughtering your sons
and letting your women live. In that there was a terrible trial from your
Lord." And when your Lord announced: "If you are grateful, I will certainly
give you increase, but if you are ungrateful, My punishment is severe."
(Qur'an, 14: 6-7)
Pharaoh exalted himself arrogantly in the land
and divided its people into camps, oppressing one group of them by slaughtering
their sons and letting their women live. He was one of the corrupters.
(Qur'an, 28: 4)
campaign waged by Russians against the defenseless people of Chechnya
was reported in the foreign press, yet Western nations did no
more than issue toothless condemnations of these actions.
The mentality that permits the murder of children, the slitting open of
pregnant women's bellies, the crushing old people under tanks and many
other atrocities, is far removed from any moral sensitivity, human feelings,
compassion, love or sympathy. Many of these people do not even know the
reason for the atrocities they carry out, but because of the dark state
of the soul that atheism brings with it, they can easily perform all kinds
of evil acts. What is expected of Russia is that it should put an end
to this dark mentality, left over from the time of the Red Army, which
directs its Chechen policy, and for it to adopt a moderate policy that
will bring peace and security to both the Russian and Chechen peoples.
Those who were expelled from their homes
without any right, merely for saying, "Our Lord is Allah."
If Allah had not driven some people back by means of others,
monasteries, churches, synagogues and mosques, where Allah's
name is mentioned much, would have been pulled down and
destroyed. Allah will certainly helpthose who help Him.
Allah is All-Strong, Almighty.
(Qur'an, 22: 40)
Russian troops generally
aim at civilian targets, bombing markets, maternity clinics and
The Situation Facing Chechen Refugees
A number of human rights organizations conducted studies into the Chechen
refugees who fled the Russian slaughter, and their reports show violations
on an enormous scale. Some 250,000 Chechens who fled the war are now in
Ingushetia, and the rest can be found in neighboring regions. Chechens
are faced with hunger, thirst and contagious diseases. Women and children,
young people and old who were forced to migrate, now try to survive in
the freezing cold and rain, two or three families in abandoned train carriages,
or in stables in the villages where they have taken refuge.
For example, the Chechens in the Znamenskoye refugee camp to the north
of Chechnya are unable to send their children to school because they have
no winter clothes. Almost half of those taking shelter there have fallen
sick because of the dreadful conditions and freezing cold.
7 Diseases such as tuberculosis
and hepatitis are spreading among Chechen refugees, who have nothing hot
to eat for weeks at a time and whose bodily constitutions are unable to
stand up to the conditions. The death toll is rising. 8
Perhaps the most surprising thing is that the majority of the Western
nations, which claim to be in the vanguard of the protection of human
rights, don't lift a finger to help these people. A significant part of
the world's public opinion is not totally aware of the suffering and sometimes
insists on ignoring the cruelty inflicted on the hundreds of thousands
of Chechens who fled the Russian slaughter. The aid from other countries
in the region keeps being cut, and these people who are fighting hunger,
thirst and bitter cold are hard put to find even a crust of bread. The
terrible plight of these refugees needs to be addressed as a matter of
the greatest urgency.
What reason could
you have for not fighting in the Way of Allah-for those
men, women and children who are oppressed and say, "Our
Lord, take us out of this city whose inhabitants are wrongdoers!
Give us a protector from You! Give us a helper from You!"?
(Qur'an 4: 75)
The world ignores the
deplorable situation as hundreds of thousands of Chechens fleeing
Russian persecution are forced to contend with harsh winter conditions,
hunger, thirst, and infectious diseases.
How Can a Solution be Found?
The path to a solution lies in both Russia and the Chechen resistance
being called to peace, on the basis of the peace-loving and moderate approach
Allah commands. Moscow must abandon regarding the existence and national
aspirations of the Muslim peoples of the Caucasus as a threat, and those
peoples must reduce the conflict and tension to a minimum by adopting
a moderate and peaceful policy. As we have seen in some detail, the Russian
terror in Chechnya is unacceptable savagery. On the other hand, however,
the Chechen fighters who engage in terror attacks on Russian civilians
are also on the wrong path. Both sides must prevent the spilling of any
more blood, and make efforts to establish peace.
Extending a helping hand to the Chechen people in the face of the oppression
they are suffering is a responsibility of all Muslims in the world. It is
clear that nobody with courage who fears Allah and possesses the concept
of justice revealed by Him in the Qur'an can stand idly by in the face of
this cruelty being visited on innocent people. A true believer always helps
the poor, those in need, and those who have been driven from their homes,
and will make any sacrifice for them. The self-sacrificing and tolerant
behavior of believers in the Prophet's time, may Allah bless him and grant
him peace, towards those who had been expelled from or had to leave their
homes is described thus in the Qur'an:
It is for the poor of the emigrants who were driven
from their homes and wealth desiring the favor and the pleasure of Allah
and supporting Allah and His Messenger. Such people are the truly sincere.
Those who were already settled in the abode, and
in belief, before they came, love those who have emigrated to them and
do not find in their hearts any need for what they have been given and
prefer them to themselves even if they themselves are needy. It is the
people who are safe-guarded from the avarice of their own selves who are
successful. (Qur'an, 59: 8-9)
Naturally, the spread of this superior morality among people is only
possible with the dissemination of religion. For that reason, what intelligent
people of good conscience need to do as a matter of priority is to find
the best ways of communicating the morality of the Qur'an and actually
put this into practice. Allah has promised to help those who help His
Those who were expelled from their homes without
any right, merely for saying, "Our Lord is Allah." If Allah had not driven
some people back by means of others, monasteries, churches, synagogues
and mosques, where Allah's name is mentioned much, would have been pulled
down and destroyed. Allah will certainly help those who help Him - Allah
is All-Strong, Almighty, (Qur'an, 22: 40)