Thursday, January 31, 2008

Window on Eurasia: Chechen Writer Calls On His People Not to Be ‘Gendarmes of the Caucasus’

Paul Goble

Baku, January 31 – German Sadulayev, a Chechen writer, has issued an appeal to his co-nationals not to serve as the gendarmes of the Caucasus and allow themselves to be used against other communities even if Moscow is willing to give them de facto independence in return.
In a long article on the website yesterday, Sadulayev, author of the widely praised book “I am a Chechen” (in Russian, Moscow, 2006), says he is forced to make this appeal because Chechen President Ramzan Kadyrov, in collusion with Moscow, had sent troops to suppress the Ingush (
“I do not know who is right in the details,” he writes. “I do not know the situation in Ingushetia. But I am certain that the citizens of Ingushetia know it. And if Zyazikov as the servant of the people is no longer acceptable to his people, the Ingush have the right to show him the door.”
“This is their affair,” he adds. “Not ours and not even Moscow’s. A secret and perhaps unspoken agreement between the Chechen Republic’s leadership and the federal authorities has emerged. In exchange for carte blanche in the running of Chechnya, de facto semi-independence, Chechnya must become the gendarme of the Caucasus.”
To accept this, Sadulayev continues, is “a great sin and an unjust mission laid on my people. But I call upon simple Chechens not to take place in such adventures” even if they feel bound to do so because of the positions they occupy in Chechnya’s force structures.”
“If we are still Chechens,” he concludes, then we must remember: A Chechen man cannot follow the formula: I did what they ordered me to do. Every man answers for his own actions. Before the customs of the mountains, before history and his descendents so that they will not be ashamed of their ancestor even after many centuries.”
Sadulayev’s words, which echo those of Boris Yeltsin in January 1991 when the Russian leader called on Russian officers and men not to obey Mikhail Gorbachev’s illegal orders to fire on unarmed demonstrators peacefully assembled and democratically elected governments representing the will of their nations.
And it is not impossible that with all the differences between that January and this, Sadulayev’s appeal may have some of the same consequences Yeltsin’s did at the time. But even if not, Moscow’s use of the Chechens as gendarmes in Ingushetia and elsewhere has already had an impact on the analysis of the situation in that region.
In a commentary in Tuesday’s “Yezhednevniy zhurnal,” Andrei Soldatov, one of Moscow’s most thoughtful analysts of developments in the North Caucasus, says that this latest Moscow policy has led him to recognize that what Russia is doing there now resembles what the British and French did in their empires between the two world wars.
These parallels are obvious, he writes, after one reads carefully a new book by historian Thomas Martin entitled Empires of Intelligence: Security Services and Colonial Disorder after 1914(University of California, 2007) about how the British and French ran and then lost their imperial possessions (
According to Martin, Soldatov writes, the British were more flamboyant and thus won and lost in dramatic ways. The French in contrast were “more pragmatic” and thus provide more of the ideas that are behind Moscow’s current effort to hold its possessions in the North Caucasus.
It was the French, Martin concluded, who came up with the idea of “a broad police action,” using artillery to shell Berber tribes in Morocco. Even more, it was the French who came up with a plan to use one group of colonials against another in the same way that the Russians are using the Chechens against the Ingush.
Indeed, Soldatov argues, the Chechens used in this way are very much the Senegalese of the 21st century.
And finally it was the French who came up with what Soldatov suggests is “a discovery of doubtful value” – the division of Islam into “traditional” and “non-traditional” branches, supporting one in order to contain the other in Algeria and elsewhere.
But Soldatov continues, the British also came up with some “useful finds.” “During the Arab uprising in Palestine in 1936-39,” he notes, the British employed in addition to local police Circassian troops from the Transjordan Frontier Force in order to give the conflict an ethnic dimension.
Like the British and French, the Russians also have had difficulty coming up with a consistent image of the enemy because like the earlier imperial masters, many of them find much to admire in the culture and courage of their opponents even while hating them at the same time.
And also like the earlier imperial powers, Soldatov notes, the Russians have generally neglected doing anything about the economic causes of the revolt against them even though their politicians like those in London and Paris nearly a century ago talk a lot about the need to do so.
Beyond any doubt, the Moscow analyst concludes, this experience of earlier empires “can be very useful.” But there is one obvious lesson from this past that few in Moscow are inclined to draw: the approaches the British and French employed and that Moscow now is copying did not allow either of them to retain their colonies.

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