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RUSSIA: Chechnya

From Moscow, Cameron Sawyer protests: "In this conversation thread, there have been several mentions of Chechnya as an example of one country (Russia) interfering militarily in the affairs of another (Chechnya). Chechnya has been an integral part of Russia for about 150 years, and the war, however brutal and badly managed, is in all respects the suppression of an armed rebellion, and in no way resembles one country invading another. Grozny, the capital of Chechnya, was founded by Russians in 1817 as a military outpost, and has been populated by a majority of Russians during most of its history. An interesting fact about the Chechen war is the following echo of the Great Caucasus War of the early 19th century. In one phase of the war, the Russian imperial forces were under the command of Ermolov, who had been one of the heroes of the Russian defeat of Napoleon. This phase of the war was marked by unusual brutality, for which Ermolov was actually dismissed by the Tsar.

Another historical irony: The Chechens, a distinct people as far back as 3200 B.C., have been pagans for most of their millennia-long history. Under the influence of Georgian missionaries, they went through a brief Christian phase in the 10th through 13th centuries, during which they never quite gave up their traditional gods and practices. But the Chechens were still primarily pagans at the time the Great Caucasus War began (unlike the Dagestanis who had accepted Islam centuries before). Paganism is still practiced in some remote areas. But the war against the Russians was lead by Imam Shamil, who used Islam as a way to unite the Chechens for the struggle. By the end of the war, most Chechens had converted to Sunni Islam. It is evident today, however, that Islam still does not have deep roots in Chechnya. Many practices from paganism remain, and many of the dictates of Islam are ignored. The clan system (complete with blood feuds) is the dominant motif, and religious prejudice is practically non-existent (the clan system and blood feuds provide plenty of outlets for hatred and mayhem)".

Ronald Hilton - 8/9/03