A History Written In Chechen Blood

By Khassan Baiev

Tuesday, February 24, 2004; Page A21


Yesterday was Armed Services Day in Russia, so, of

course, there were observances in Moscow. But

yesterday also was the 60th anniversary of a Soviet

crime perpetrated against the Chechen people -- and,

of course, there was no official observance in Moscow.

In fact, a proposed ceremony was banned, and the small

number of people who nevertheless gathered to

solemnize the event were dispersed by the police. But

the past will not be so easily dispersed -- it must be

dealt with if there is to be a political settlement of

the cruel Chechen conflict.

The crime was Joseph Stalin's deportation of the

Chechens on Feb. 23, 1944. This event is to Chechens

what the Holocaust is to the Jews or the genocide is

to the Armenians. That day, when Stalin packed the

Chechen population of 1 million into cattle cars and

shipped them to the wastes of Siberia and Central

Asia, lies in our collective memory. One-third of the

population died on the journey. Many others perished

under the harsh conditions of exile.

During Soviet times, the deportation was a taboo

subject, talked about behind closed doors. As a small

boy, most of what I learned was from old women

gathered in our kitchen. Once, when they thought I

wasn't listening, I heard my mother tell my sisters

how women were so ashamed to relieve themselves in the

railroad cars in front of men that they held on until

their bladders burst. Only when I was 14 years old did

I understand the true horror of what had happened.

That summer my father showed my twin brother and me

the cliff near our ancestral village of Makazhoi, over

which troops of the NKVD (the secret police of the

time) pushed resisters, including some of our


Stalin claimed that the Chechens were Nazi

sympathizers. This was an insult to most Chechens,

including my father, who fought on the northeastern

front and was wounded during World War II. In spite of

his wounds, my father was ordered deported. He

returned to Chechnya from Kazakhstan in 1959 after

Nikita Khrushchev allowed the Chechens to go home.

Only after Mikhail Gorbachev came to power were my

father and other Chechens who fought in the war

recognized as veterans and given pensions. He wore his

medals with pride.

Chechnya has been struggling for independence for 400

years. The 1944 deportation is not the only one we

have suffered. Chechens were pressured to leave for

Turkey, Jordan and Syria in the 19th century. In view

of our history and what is going on in Chechnya today,

it is not surprising that we believe Russia wants to

liquidate us.

About one-quarter of our population has been killed

since 1994. Fifty percent of the Chechen nation now

lives outside Chechnya. Ethnographers say that when

this happens, a nation ceases to exist. Estimates

claim that 75 percent of the Chechen environment is

contaminated. I recall a physician from Doctors

Without Borders telling me, "The Russians don't need

to bomb you, the environment will kill you." I didn't

believe it at the time. But now as a doctor I can

testify that Chechnya is a medical disaster area.

Pediatricians report that one-third of children are

born with birth defects. Drug-resistant tuberculosis

is rampant. The population is suffering from

post-traumatic stress. Depression and insomnia are

widespread. Young men are having heart attacks.

As in all modern wars, including Iraq, the main

victims are civilians. In Chechnya, the human rights

violations, documented by Human Rights Watch, Amnesty

International, Physicians for Human Rights and

Russia's Memorial, are horrendous. Chechnya has become

a lucrative business operated by the Russian military

and its Chechen criminal collaborators. Their trade is

kidnapping young men, selling corpses back to

relatives, looting property, stealing oil and selling


In August 2000, Russian soldiers burst into my

sister's house and removed my 20-year-old nephew Ali.

He was tortured and held in a pit for 39 days until

his release was negotiated. It cost our family $10,000

and eight rifles to get his freedom.

The Kremlin has done a brilliant job of convincing the

world that Chechens are bandits and terrorists. Yes,

horrible acts of violence are committed in Chechnya,

not only by Russians but by some criminal Chechens.

But Chechen killings, including the suicide bombings,

are largely motivated by a desire to take revenge for

a family member killed by the Russians. People who

have lost everything think they have nothing more to

live for. They are desperate. Blood revenge, rather

than religious extremism imported from the Middle

East, governs the violence. And I believe it will

continue as long as 100,000 Russian troops remain in


Acts of terrorism are also being committed outside

Chechnya, such as the recent subway bombing in Moscow.

The Chechens are immediately blamed for these barbaric

acts before any investigation takes place. Repression

follows. Meanwhile, Russian newspaper articles and two

recent books suggest that the Russian secret police

played a role in earlier bombings.

Unlike my generation, which lived in comparative peace

with Russia, today's young Chechens are growing up

full of hatred for Russians. The younger generation is

ignoring our traditions. They no longer obey their

elders. If world nations do nothing to support a peace

settlement in Chechnya, there is no guarantee that

these young people won't be radicalized or forced into

the arms of religious fanatics. Then Russia will have

a far more serious problem with history and terrorism

than it has today.

The writer, a Chechen physician, received political

asylum in the United States in 2000. He is the author

of "The Oath: A Surgeon Under Fire." 


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