On Friday 23 February, after the Muslim community of Britain will have prayed jumu'ah, Save Chechnya Campaign and its friends will gather at the Yalta Memorial, South Kensington, London, at 3pm to remember the quarter of a million victims of 1944 and the subsequent years spent in exile. The speakers will include Chechens, long-time activists and friends. Messages of support from around the world will be read, along with memories of the Day of Deportations of those who are now long dead.
Stanley Greene's award-winning exhibition of photographs of war-torn Chechnya will be on display for the public to view on the same day at the School of Oriental and African Studies (SOAS), University of London. In the evening, the Islamic Society of SOAS will, insha’Allah, be hosting Tony Wood, author of the forthcoming Chechnya - The Case for Independence. He will be doing a book-signing and delivering a talk on his recent trip to the North Caucasus. Satanay Dorken, chief executive of MARCCH (Medical Aid and Relief for the Children of Chechnya), and Professor George Hewitt, Professor of Caucasian languages at SOAS, will also be speaking. (This issue features an exclusive interview with Satanay Dorken about her recent trip to Chechnya).
The deportations and subsequent exile resulted in the death of over half of the 500,000 deportees. This crime was recognised as an act of genocide by the European Parliament on January 26, 2004. It is remarkable how little things have changed for the Chechens in the last seven decades. At least half of Chechnya's pre-war (1991) population of one million is either dead or displaced. The earliest deportations of the North Caucasian people date back to 1856-64 when, by the orders of the then Tsar, Alexander II, a total of 600,000 Muslims, including 100,000 Chechens, were forcibly sent to the Ottoman Empire. Starvation and disease claimed the lives of tens of thousands of those deportees.
In London World Chechnya Day will be followed by a film festival on Saturday 10 March. It will bring together footage, films and documentaries on the current crisis in Chechnya. It has been very hard, for the last decade or so, to get photographs or film footage of the ongoing war and daily life of the Chechens under occupation, out of Chechnya for the world to view and inform itself about the North Caucasian corner of the world. Many young people have lost their lives to the Russian army attempting to do just that. This film festival is intended to combat this trend by giving air-time and space to unknown directors documenting history in this part of the world. The film festival will, insha'Allah, be held at the Clore Management Centre, Birkbeck College, University ofLondon, from 1 to 5pm. The Save Chechnya Campaign hopes that the public will do their part and attend any or all of these events so that our efforts to educate and inform are not in vain.
On a national level, events will be held to commemorate World Chechnya Day in universities across the UK. Events will take place inBrighton, Bradford, Cambridge, Lancaster, Leeds and London. Across the globe Chechen-friendly organisations, as well as the Chechens themselves (in the Diaspora and those still living in Chechnya today) will be commemorating World Chechnya Day as the Russians celebrate Defenders of the Fatherland (or Red Army) Day. Save Chechnya Campaign has encouraged communities within and without Britain to hold local events to mark World Chechnya Day, helping them with the provision of speakers, documentaries, literature and merchandise.
The last year has seen Chechnya in the news several times. The murder of Anna Politkovskaya, a reporter on the Moscow-basedNovaya Gazeta, on October 7, 2006, and the death by poisoning of former FSB Lieutenant Colonel Aleksandr Litvinenko onNovember 24, 2006, show us to what lengths the Russian government will go to silence opposition. The deaths of leading resistance fighters and high-ranking commanders of the resistance movement (Abdul-Khalim Sadulaev on June 17, 2006, and ShamilBasaev on July 9-10, 2006, being just two of them) have resulted in the leadership of the old guard famous from the victory of the first war being replaced by new leaders, young and unknown, in the movement. Medecins Sans Frontieres has reported thatChechnya is one of the top ten most-underreported humanitarian stories in 2006 (January 9, 2007). The liquidation of a Russian NGO, the Russian-Chechen Friendship Society, which worked tirelessly to report the abuses of human rights perpetrated by the Russian authorities on the Chechen people, was upheld by the Supreme Court of the Russian Federation (January 23, 2007). Yes,Chechnya has had something for everyone this past year.
As we prepare for World Chechnya Day, Ramzan Kadyrov, prime minister of Chechnya, is aggressively rebuilding Chechnya with money from the FSB (Russian Secret Service) for "security". As one enters Grozny, there is a large poster of Kadyrov and Putinshaking hands. Thereafter, Kadyrov's face appears on posters all over Chechnya. He is establishing a cult in Chechnya with himself as the main man. Chechnya is in the hands of Kadyrov, its prime minister. Ali Alkhanov, president of Chechnya, has announced that he will not be standing for the presidency in the next elections; the way seems paved for Kadyrov to become president.
Punitive raids on Chechen villages by the Russian army and the kadyrovtsy continue. The resistance is both alive and active, despite the huge psychological blow it has faced in the last year from the death of many of its heroes of the first war (1994-96). The Chechens are attempting to recover from 15 years of war as best they can. Kadyrov claims to have returned 7,000 guerrillas to civilian life; it seems they have decided to wait out the current situation. They know they are in for a long haul. The prime minister of Chechnya is an unpopular puppet, and the country is in the clutches of the FSB. The main rackets are construction and kidnapping. Yes, the Chechens are in for a long haul: the Russians will not be expelled soon or easily.
What is certain, however, is that the Chechens need and deserve the support of Muslims all over the world, in terms of both political support and humanitarian aid.
For more information on World Chechnya Day events in the UK and elsewhere, see www.worldchechnyaday.org.
For more information on the Save Chechnya Campaign, or to make a donation, see www.savechechnya.org.