On April 21, Chechen leader Dzokhar Dudayev - a formidable leader with mythical qualities - passed into history as one of the most courageous Muslim leaders of the twentieth century.
His struggle for Chechen independence from centuries of Russian oppression earned him the respect of every segment of society, including his enemies. Even the commander-in-chief of the Russian air force paid tribute to Dudayev as a ‘highly moral person’. ‘When there was an affront to the dignity of the Chechen people, he became their protector,’ he said.
Dudayev was born on April 15, 1944, the year Josef Stalin deported tens of thousands of Chechen and Ingush people to Kazakhstan, accusing them, falsely, of collaborating with the nazis. The infant Dudayev and his family were among those deported in cattlecarts. Most of them perished on the way. Those who survived the journey succumbed to illnesses later. Dudayev miraculously survived. The Chechens were allowed to return to their homeland in 1957, four years after the death of the Georgian peasant, Stalin.
Dudayev was educated at the Tambov Aviation School in southern Russia and later at the Yuri Gagarin Aviation Academy in Moscow. His rise through military ranks was meteoric becoming the first air force general of Chechen origins. He was a karate champion and was always immaculately dressed~
From 1987 to 1990, he commanded a nuclear bomber division at the Tartu air force base in Estonia. Dudayev gained international fame when he refused an order to attack pro-independence demonstrators in the Baltic State. Instead, he allowed Estonia’ s flag to fly over the base, earning the eternal gratitude of the Estonian people.
Dudayev was transferred with his unit to Grozny in 1990 where he resigned his air force rank despite being offered the position of commander of Soviet Army Aviation. The following year, he ran for the Chechen presidency as head of the Pan-National Congress of Chechen Peoples. He won more than two-thirds of the popular vote against a discredited communist leadership that had failed to condemn the abortive communist coup against Boris Yeltsin the Russian President, in August 1991.
Ironically, while Dudayev stood against the coup-plotters, Yeltsin sent in the troops two weeks after Dudayev took over as president to crush Chechenya’s bid for independence (Yeltsin has now embraced Doku Zavgayev, the Chechen communist hardliner who had supported the abortive 1991 coup attempt and installed him as head of a pro-Moscow puppet government in Grozny!).
Russia’ s bid in November 1991 to crush Chechenya’s independence ended in disaster when the Chechens blockaded the Russian army in their barracks. They were sent packing home from Grozny minus their weapons. Dudayev renamed his Republic the ‘Chechen Republic of Ichkeriya’ and declared it ‘outside the Russian Federation.’
In an attempt to strangle the move towards independence, Yeltsin imposed an economic blockade and Russian forces supported an armed uprising of former communists led by Umar Avturkhanov in Chechenya. These were repeatedly beaten back and hundreds of Russian soldiers captured to expose to the world the direct involvement of Moscow’s troops in the assault on Chechenya.
In December 1994 Moscow was forced to come out into the open and launched a massive assault on Grozny, with defence minister Pavel Grachev boasting that it will all be over in ‘two weeks’. Sixteen months later and with thousands of Russians killed as well as an estimated 80,000 Chechen civilians slaughtered, the fighting still rages on in the Caucasus mountains.
The courage of Dudayev’s troops is borne out by the string of spectacular successes they have achieved against the massively- armed Russian troops. On April 16, five days before his death, Dudayev’s men destroyed a Russian battalion killing 53 soldiers and prompting emergency hearings in the Russian Duma (parliament). Yet Dudayev led only 5,000 highly-trained men with about 30,000 volunteers against Russia’s 400,000 in Chechenya today.
What is most tragic about Dudayev’s death is how he was lured by Russian ‘negotiators’ into a death trap. Following Yeltsin’s March 31 announcement of a ‘peace plan’ and call for direct negotiations with Dudayev, the Chechen leader was begged to attend a Russian satellite phone call for the sake of ‘peace’.
As soon as he began the conversation, Dudayev was reportedly killed by a missile fired from the air, guided by emissions from his satellite telephone. The missile attack also obliterated much of Gekhi-Chu village, 35 kms southeast of Grozny.
The technology to pinpoint emissions from satellite phones has been supplied to Russia by the US. Last month British papers carried a small news item confirming this. The west led by the US has not only financed Moscow’ s genocidal war by giving it US$10 billion loans through the international monetary fund but is also supplying state of the art technology.
Yet the Chechen struggle for independence will outlive Dudayev. His final words, as he lay in the arms of his bodyguard, were, ‘Do not give up the work begun, See it through the end. Allah will grant you victory.’
Such men never die.
[Zelimkhan Yandarbiyev, Dudayev’s deputy, was immediately sworn in as president.]
Muslimedia - April 1996-August 1996