by Hajira Qureshi (Islamic Movement, Crescent International Vol. 34, No. 8, Sha'ban, 1426)
On September 4 the Save Chechnya Campaign (SCC) hosted an exhibition of award-winning photographs of Chechnya by Stanley Greene at the Islamic Cultural Centre in London, UK. The photographs are of wartorn Chechnya and the effects of war on the Chechen people.
As well as the exhibition and documentaries on Chechnya, which were shown throughout the day, SCC had invited prominent speakers to address the large audience of Muslims and non-Muslims. Among the speakers were Vanessa Redgrave and Dr Khassan Baiev. Many of us have heard of Vanessa Redgrave before. She is a well-known actress and an advocate for the Chechen cause. Dr Khassan Baiev, on the other hand, is as yet an unknown treasure in our midst. He spoke about Chechnya, his life and his book, The Oath, referring to the Hippocratic oath he took in 1985, in which he tells his readers what it means to be Chechen through the story of his life.
Dr Khassan Baiev trained as a surgeon in Krasnoyarsk, Russia, before the first war Russia waged againstChechyna began in 1994. He practised as a surgeon in Johar-Gala (Grozny), the capital of Chechnya, and in his home town of Alkhan Kala under fire from the Russian army and, often, as the only surgeon for 100,000 Chechens. Many doctors and nurses fled, but he felt it was his duty to stay and care for his family, his patients and his countrymen.
During the second war, in 2000, having performed outstanding feats of surgery and having escaped death many times in the previous six years, he fled to America: the Russians were after him for treating Chechen ‘terrorists', and Chechen hardliners were after him for treating Russian soldiers, when in fact it was mostly civilians whom he treated. In America, where he lives with his wife, children, nephews and nieces, he cannot practise medicine.
At the age of 38, in America in 2001, he finally got the chance to compete in the World Sombo Championship and win it (sombo is a self-defence sport invented in Russia in the 1930s): a chance the Russians had denied him in 1993 because of his being a Chechen. He took the title under the Chechen flag. Since then he has set up a charity, International Committee for the Children of Chechnya, and highlights the plight of the Chechens whenever possible. (Please visit www.chechenchildren.org for more details of this charity.)
The event was very well attended; the speaker's hall was full to overflowing. The speeches were very well received; all the available copies of The Oath were bought. The exhibition was very popular; it is also available in book form, entitled Open Wound. As the first main event of the Save Chechnya Campaign, it was a great success. This shows that there is still much sympathy for the Chechens' plight; the question is how to channel it in order to achieve something beneficial and useful for them. We hope SCC will succeed in doing just that. The event was also a chance for people who are interested in Chechnya, people who have done work for Chechnya before, to network. It was a chance for SCC to recruit new members, as it certainly did. There was also a fair amount of emphasis on fundraising, which is a necessary requisite for the work to go on. All donations are welcome. All in all we hope to see a lot more work of the same calibre in the future from the SCC.
Save Chechnya Campaign is a UK-incorporated non-profit organisation dedicated to highlighting the plight of Chechnya and the Chechen people. It was founded in February 2005 with Lord Rea as its patron. It was started by a small group of people who realised that little was being done about Chechnya in the UK. Why, they wondered, is there so much silence when a quarter of the Chechen population have been killed since 1994, and a like number displaced? Why is there no outrage that 80 percent of Chechen children are suffering from psychological trauma and a third of them are born with birth defects? Why is there no outcry against the 109 (on average) extrajudicial executions in Chechnya each month? Why is nothing being done although 70 percent of Chechnya is officially classified as "a zone of ecological disaster" by the Russians themselves? Why are people not aware of the killing fields of present-day Europe? More than ever there is a moral and humanitarian imperative to speak out and demand an immediate end to the genocide of the Chechen people.
Thus Save Chechnya Campaign UK was born. It calls for an immediate end to all abuses of human rights, promotes public awareness of the conflict, encourages and promotes initiatives for an immediate, just and lasting end to the war, and campaigns for these policies to be adopted by the UK and EU. Its immediate aim is to establish a dedicated advocacy centre in order to raise awareness of this humanitarian catastrophe. (Please visit www.savechechyna.org for more details of the campaign.)
Today the second war, which began in 1999, continues in Chechnya while Russia tries to impose a puppet government, whose strings are pulled by Moscow, on the Chechen people. The Chechens want the Russians to leave. Today disappearances, killings, abductions, kidnappings and executions are common. There are many people with roles in, or affected by, this crime against humanity: the Chechen civilians and Chechen fighters who bear the brunt of the war, and the brutal Russian kontraktnik (the Russian boy-soldiers who are also victims of this war). The Russians continue to bomb Chechnya intermittently. Chechnya is a devastated land; the Chechens are a traumatised people, with at least half of the population dead or displaced and a third of all newborn babies deformed. Even if the Russians decide to retreat and give the Chechens their independence tomorrow, the Chechens will be recovering for decades. As things stand the Russians are in Chechnya and there does not seem to be any sign of their leaving any time soon. It is clear that SCC and other organisations and charities working for Chechnya and the Chechens have their work cut out for the immediate future: certainly many years; probably many decades.