Tuesday, February 12, 2008

Window on Eurasia: Lies, Damn Lies and Statistics about Chechnya

Paul Goble

Baku, February 12 – The new population figures the Kadyrov government has released for Chechnya are so implausible as to be almost certainly false, the latest in a string of such statistical claims that both Grozny and Moscow officials have made over the last eight years.
Chechnya’s Committee on Government Statistics recently announced that the republic’s population as of January 1 this year stood at 1,205,000, some 22,000 more than on the same day a year ago. But if those figures are true, Chechen analysts say, it is “a miracle of statistics”(http://chechenasso.ru/index.html?&show_news=291).
The committee explained the increase by pointing to the a dramatic rise in the number of newborns from 27,989 in 2006 to 33,661 last year, a figure that puts Chechnya in first place on this measure among all the republics of the North Caucasus. And this year, it said, there have been 200 births a day, twice the 2007 rate.
For better or worse, the analysts say, these reported figures are so at odds both with past trends among Chechens and continuing losses from the conflict and outmigration that they cannot be true. Indeed, they say, if the State Committee continues to put out such claims, Chechnya “will soon catch up to India.”
In 1989, there were 734,500 Chechens living in Chechnya out of a total of 958,000 living in the Soviet Union as a whole, the analysts report. Also living in Chechnya were 163,762 Ingush, 293,771 Russians, and 78,394 members of other nationalities.
Because of extraordinarily high birthrates – 32.6 per 1,000 population per year – and despite high infant mortality – 39.3 per 1,000 Chechens aged 0 to 1 – the total number of Chechens between 1959 and 1989 increased by 2.3 times, a rate far greater than for any other large nationality in the Soviet Union.
“Under the most favorable circumstances,” the analysts continue, “without a war and at the same rate of growth, the number of Chechens in the republic itself would be by 2008 on the order of 1,100,000,” nearly 150,000 fewer than the State Committee now claims. (The total figure offered by the Committee includes 50,000 others.)
Given population losses because of the war, including both deaths and outmigration, the Committee’s claim could be true only if virtually all Chechens who had been living in Ingushetia or elsewhere in the Russian Federation returned home and if birthrates stayed as high as they were and infant mortality rates fell rapidly.
Obviously, none of this has happened to the necessary extent, the analysts say, pointing on in conclusion that the Committee’s claim proves the old adage that “there are lies, there are big lies – and then there are statistics.”
Another analysis posted on the Internet this week focuses on the most politicized aspect of population change in Chechnya since 1991: the departure of almost all of the nearly 300,000 ethnic Russians who had been living there at the end of Soviet times and the precise reasons they left.
In an article prepared for a soon-to-be-released Demos Center volume entitled Chechnya. Life in War, Timur Aliyev shows that Russian claims at the start of the second post-Soviet Chechen war that their departure was the result of “ethnic cleansing” or constitute“genocide” are false (http://www.islamcom.ru/material.php?id=561).
There were individual attacks, he acknowledges, but they were not part of a concerted policy and do not explain why so many Russians and Chechens left the republic at the times that they did or why these charges were leveled when they were, often long after the supposed acts took place.
According to Aliyev, charges that Chechens had systematically targeted Russians for expulsion or death were first put on the Internet in 2000 by a former Grozny resident named Yuri Kondratyev, then printed in “Zavtra” and rapidly spread to the mainstream Russian media and many Western outlets as well.
(Kondratyev is a strange and somewhat mysterious figure whose website http://conrad2001.narod.ru/ features anti-Semitic articles as well as attacks on Chechens. He made his charges against the Chechens on the web, in the media and in a book after emigrating to Canada in 1995. Since that time, he has moved on to South Korea.)
The reason these charges got so much attention so quickly, he argues, is that they came at a very “convenient” time as far as President Vladimir Putin was concerned and were consistent with the Kremlin’s explanation of the blowing up of the apartment blocks in 1999.
The Kremlin used these charges, Aliyev suggests, to justify its launching of the second Chechen campaign and to silence any discussion about why Moscow was taking a step that many had opposed earlier.
One should remember, he continues, that during the first Chechen campaign, the Russian media had conducted a lively debate about the reasons then-President Boris Yeltsin had for intervening, discussions that made it more difficult for him to continue to prosecute that war.
But whatever the utility of such charges for the Kremlin, Aliyev says, it is important to examine the evidence, and what evidence there is concerning developments in Chechnya in the 1990s shows that ethnic Russians left Chechnya not so much because they were targets but rather in most cases for the same reasons many Chechens did.
Because of their deportation and because Russians controlled the commanding heights of Chechen institutions, Chechens made it clear even in the last decades of Soviet power that they wanted the Russians to leave, and many Russians did so, just as they did from other non-Russian parts of the USSR.
When Chechnya declared its independence from the Soviet Union, there were virtually no ethnic Russians in the organizations that took that step and consequently almost none in the new government structures that replaced the Soviet ones that had supported the August coup.
Because Chechen independence ended the ethnic hierarchy that the communist system had imposed – in every institution in Soviet times, “the first person was a Russian, the second a Chechen, and the third an Ingush” – Russians and Russian speakers in Chechnya felt themselves isolated.
And while the available data make it difficult to be certain, Aliyev says, it appears that the first non-Chechens to leave the republic were precisely “those Chechens who had occupied such leading posts.”
Their departure in turn contributed to the collapse of the economy, especially in the oil sector, and thus this first wave of departures was quickly followed by a second and larger one made up of the ethnic Russian workers in the refineries from which Chechens had been largely excluded.
Their emigration in turn helped set in train the broader economic contractions in Chechnya during the first half of the 1990s, contradictions that resulted in the layoffs of Russian workers in the first instance and the decision of many of these unemployed and their families to seek jobs elsewhere.
But the Russians were not the only ones to leave, Aliyev points out. Many ethnic Chechens departed at this time as well and for exactly the same reasons, a migration that led to the emergence of significant Chechen communities in Moscow and other major Russian Federation cities.
Moreover, as public order deteriorated in Chechnya, the population, Chechen as well as Russian, found itself “defenseless against criminals.” And while the Chechens may have felt somewhat more secure, criminal elements attacked those who they believed could pay regardless of their ethnicity.
The Russian invasion of Chechnya and Chechen counterstrikes after 1999 again affected both Chechen and Russian civilians, Aliyev says, and large numbers of them left, with the Russians now somewhat more able to do so than the Chechens because of rising anger against “persons of Caucasus nationality” in the Russian Federation.
All these factors taken together meant that Chechnya became a mono-ethnic republic, Aliyev acknowledges, but he suggests that Grozny did not target Russians as such and thus, however much many may want to believe otherwise, did not engage in “ethnic cleansing” or worse.

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