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.

Window on Eurasia: Nearly One-Third of Moscow Newborns are Children of Migrants

Paul Goble

Baku, February 12 – Thirty percent of the 101,344 newborns in Moscow last year were children of migrant parents from the former Soviet republics and other foreign countries, a share far greater than these groups now form in the city’s population and one that means their percentage of its residents will increase even if in-migration slows.
And because this figure includes only those births officially registered, something illegal migrants often do not do, and only those which took place in the city, something this same group sometimes avoids by having the mother travel home before giving birth, it almost certainly understates rather than overstates this trend.
After the city’s statistical office released these data last week -- including a partial ethnic breakdown of the non-Russian births -- there has been an intense discussion about them in the ethnic communities who welcome this development, anti-immigration groups who fear and oppose it, and Moscow officials who are seeking ways to cope.
Among ethnic groups whose leaders saw this as a positive development, especially given recent attacks against their members, are the Azerbaijanis, who many say now form the largest minority there (http://www.day.az/news/society/107225.html and http://www.echo-az.com/zarubej06.shtml).
Those upset by this report included the Movement against Illegal Immigration (DPNI), who yesterday reposted a Lujkovu.net report about this data and the ways in which they believe the city authorities are encouraging this change rather than defending the city’s “Russian” character (http://www.lujkovu.net/news_moscow/news_247.htm).
But the most interesting aspect of this discussion involves the statements of Moscow city officials on what they are doing to protect the growing non-Russian component of the city and to integrate its younger members via the educational system into the city’s life.
Yevgeny Bunimovich, the head of the Moscow City Duma commission on science and education, announced at the end of last week that the city will provide schooling and medical care to these children, regardless of whether their parents are legal or illegal immigrants (http://city-fm.ru/news/?id=272112).
At the same time, Yuri Goryachev, the deputy head of the city’s educational department, said that there are already some 70,000 children of immigrants, who arrived between 2001 and 2006, studying in Moscow’s schools. This new commitment will almost certainly increase their number.
Meanwhile, city officials also announced that they were setting up a special investigative group to track down the murderers of the citizens of other countries living in Moscow, a kind of crime that has increased dramatically over the last several years (http://xeno.sova-center.ru/45A2A1E/A940978).
The report that immigrant children now form such a large share of the city’s newborns also appears likely to exacerbate two broader debates there. On the one hand, it will certainly lead to more discussions as to whether non-Russian enclaves are forming there, something most non-Russians deny but many Russians nonetheless believe in.
And on the other, it will prompt more analysts and politicians to ask whether Russia may soon face the kind of inter-ethnic and inter-confessional violence that has taken place in Paris and other French cities. For a useful discussion on how Russia compares in this regard, see http://www.polit.ru/lectures/2008/02/07/vyshnevsky.html.
While both Russian nationalist groups and politicians have long insisted that such clashes are increasingly likely, most analysts have stressed that Russia’s situation is fundamentally different in that most of its migrants speak Russian before they arrive and quickly integrate, unlike Arabs arriving in France.
But as the number of non-Russians in Moscow increases, the ability of at least some of their communities to retain their distinctiveness does as well, a development their member may be proud of but one that city officials are having to deal with, all the more so because of growing Russian nationalist opposition to immigration.

Window on Eurasia: How Pre-Soviet Independence Bid Helped Azerbaijan

Paul Goble

Baku, February 12 – Many analysts have pointed out that since 1991 Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania have had an easier time of it than many former Soviet republics because the three had had independent statehood within living memory and thus could restore it rather than build from scratch as was the case of the others.
But while the Baltic states certainly have the greatest advantage in this respect, at least a few of the other countries in the region which had succeeded in articulating a state however briefly following the collapse of the Russian Empire in 1917 may now enjoy some similar benefits, albeit not as large or certainly not as much noted.
One of those is Azerbaijan, which existed as an independent if often troubled republic for almost two years after the Russian revolution until the Red Army invaded and whose population now celebrates the fact that its predecessor was, among other things, the first Muslim country to give women the right to vote.
But this current focus on the meaning of the first republic in Azerbaijan has called attention to yet another way that its existence not only affected Soviet arrangements in the southern Caucasus but also predetermined Azerbaijan’s emergence as an independent state in 1991.
In an interview carried in Baku’s Zerkalo newspaper on Saturday, Ramiz Abutalybov, a ethnic Azerbaijani who worked as a Soviet diplomat and served at UNESCO in Paris for 16 years, recounted what the last surviving diplomat of the first republic had told him (http://www.zerkalo.az/print.php?id=30258).
Although Soviet diplomats were not supposed to have contact with “anti-Soviet elements,” a rule perhaps doubly applied to non-Russian ones, Abutalybov described how in the 1970s he had met with Mamed Magerramov, the last surviving member of Baku’s delegation to the Paris Peace Conference of 1919.
Asked by “Zerkalo” how the two of them got on, Abutalybov responded as follows: “I was a communist and Mamed Magerramov was an anti-communist. During one of our conversations, I told him” that he had helped create a country that had lasted only two years and had no impact on succeeding events.
To which Magerramov replied: “No, Ramiz! You do not understand the essence of what took place. If we had not made out country independent, then Azerbaijan in the best of circumstances would have been an autonomous republic within the RSFSR and, of course, without Baku as its capital.
“What we began,” the old √©migr√© diplomat continued, “had reached the point that the Bolsheviks could not fail to take this independence into consideration.” As a result, “Azerbaijan received the status of a union republic, and exactly that is our main contribution.”
Neither Magerramov nor Abutalybov could know then just how long a shadow that achievement was to cast. When the Soviet Union fell apart, the United States took the lead in insisting that only union republics could aspire to independence. Had Azerbaijan not been one, it would thus likely not be independent today.
Abutalybov makes many other fascinating observations about his contacts with other members of the Azerbaijani political immigration in this interview, just as he has done in earlier articles, speeches and a remarkable book (Years and Meetings in Paris (in Russian, Moscow: SJS, 2006).
But his recounting of Magerramov’s observations may be the most important of all. Not only do they help to explain why Azerbaijan owes its independence to the actions of the leaders of the First Republic, but they also direct the attention of Azerbaijanis to a political model they can build on in the future.