Sunday, April 17, 2011

Chechnya Conflict Part 1: Expansion, Resistance and Destruction

Map of Chechnya region [1]

Since the early 1990s, the Russian government has been dealing with Chechen rebels who have launched terrorist attacks on the Russian people and have fought two wars with the Russian military. The origin of this conflict are, for the most part, unknown as the media only reports on the terrorist attacks and gives no background information. The purpose of this series is to give in-depth background information on the Chechnya conflict and recommend a peaceful way to end the standoff between Chechen rebels and the Russian government.

Before the conflict is explored, there must first be a brief overview of the Chechen people themselves.

Chechens were “geographically concentrated at the intersection of the Russian and Ottoman empires' respective spheres of influence,” [2] this made for quite a difficult life as there was conflict between the Ottomans and Tsarist Russia regimes from the 17th to 19th centuries. Specifically, the Chechen people have lived “just to the east of the principal road crossing the central Caucasus (via the Darial Pass), extending from the foothills and plains into alpine highlands” [3] for the past 6,000 years. 

Islam was introduced into the Caucus region during the 7th and 8th centuries AD, yet this occurred quite slowly due to the formidable terrain and thus even though Islam today survives and is the major religion of the Chechens, Islam has never been formally institutionalized with the exception of “a number of religious brotherhoods and societies or various ‘Muslim committees’ created by St. Petersburg and, later, by Moscow” [4] which have never been very popular with the people.

Russian involvement in the Caucus region, culminating in the Caucasian War, began when Georgia volunteered to join the Russian empire in the early 1800s as they “had been the only Christian island in the Moslem ocean in Asia and for ages remained the object of aggression on the part of Persia” [5] since the fall of Constantinople in 1453. This Georgian proposal had happened before and the Russians were weary to accept it, however, once Russia made the decision to absorb Georgia, it would change the lives of the Chechen people forever.
Up until then, the Russians “had only sporadic clashes with Chechen tribes,” yet when Russia decided to absorb Georgia, “the North Caucasian people, and in particular Chechnya, found themselves surrounded by the Russian Empire, living as they were on the vital road leading from Central Russia to Georgia.”[6] Once Russia became involved in the Caucus, one could say that “the Russian conquest of the Caucasus can be compared to the British conquest of India, or the Spanish conquest of America” [7] in which the Russian government “used force to suppress the mountain groups, or lured the local elite over to its side with presents and posts” [8] as they sought to take over the Caucus for its own material gain as well as to access the large resources in that region, mainly oil.
On the topic of oil in the Caucus, it had been known for centuries that there were oil reserves in the northern Caucus region. Marco Polo made reference to a small 13th century trade export of what seems to be tar sands and Tsar Peter the Great even attempted to transport oil from the northern Caucus to Russia. [9] This is further proven by the fact that once Russia had overtaken the Chechen region, they immediately went about establishing oil refineries in the town of Grozny. [10]
When the Russians sent military forces into Chechnya, there was resistance. The Chechens were led by several rebels, most notably a man named Sheikh Mansur. Mansur was a Chechen freedom fighter who “became the first great leader of resistance against the Russians in the name of both Islam and the cause of freedom for the so-called mountain people” and “brought about Islamic unity among many diverse tribes by declaring holy war on the infidels (Russians) in 1785.” [11] Mansur eventually led forces that defeated 600 Russian troops at the Battle of Sunja River, yet he was captured by Russian forces in 1785 and died 10 years later.
With the resistance defeated, the people of Chechnya were left hopeless and at the mercy of a foreign entity. Things were bad, however, they would get much worse when the 1920s came about and with it the formation of the Soviet Union.


6: Ibid

7: Ibid

8: Ibid

10: Ibid

11: Ibid

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