Moscow vs. the Chechens: Long history of hatred

January 18, 1996
Web posted at: 2:40 p.m. EST (1740 GMT)

From Correspondent Siobhan Darrow

MOSCOW (CNN) -- The Russian army assault at Pervomaiskaya and the Chechen rebel hostage-taking raid it ended make up just the latest brutal chapter in a long history of hatred between Chechnya and Russia.


It's been 13 months since Moscow sent troops to put down a rebellion by separatists in Chechnya, a region in the rugged Caucasus area of southern Russia (460K QuickTime movie). But the region's bid to be free of Russian rule extends back to the 19th century, when Chechens fought armies sent by far-away czars.

"The Chechens have every reason not to trust Moscow," political analyst Andrei Kortunov told CNN. "They fought against Russia during the 19th century and they were deported (to Soviet Central Asia in 1944) by Joseph Stalin" after Chechnya sided with the invading Germans in World War II. "It was not just a group of criminals (who were deported) but the whole nation," Kortunov said. Many of the hundreds of thousands of deported Chechens died during the journey or in exile.

Warrior clans

Stalin, himself from the Caucasus, perhaps understood the ruthlessness required to quash the Chechen spirit. Fiercely nationalist, Chechen warriors live in an almost medieval world of clan structure, village elders and traditional dances (330K QuickTime movie). But with the recent hijacking of a ferry in Turkey, the would-be Muslim martyrs have moved their battlefield from Russia's southern flank to the international arena, a move Kortunov thinks could backfire. The West, he says, will be reluctant to recognize the Chechens as freedom fighters; instead, it will think of them as terrorists. (255K AIFF sound or 255K WAV sound)

Many Russians already have that opinion of the Chechens and their neighbors in the Caucasus, including the Dagestanis. In Moscow, some of the Dagestanis who've come to the capital to sell their wares tell CNN they are treated as though they are criminals. "They search and harass us, especially the police," said one Dagestani man.

Yeltsin taking tough stance

The actions of their cousins in the Caucasus have only hardened Russians into accepting President Boris Yeltsin's tougher line on Chechnya. The war Yeltsin started is partly to blame for his unpopularity in Russia, but now that very war could turn out to be his only chance to win another term next June, said Russian military analyst Pavel Felgenhauer: "He needs a war to show his guts." (94K AIFF sound or 94K WAV sound)

"Showing his guts" could mean renewing all-out war on the Chechen rebels, and doing whatever it takes to achieve victory.

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