I NEWS interviews Francesco Benedetti

A few days ago Francesco Benedetti met Inna Kurochkina in Florence. The interview that emerged takes up the speeches addressed in another chat, which took place more or less a year ago, shortly before Russia invaded Ukraine. In the course of this year many things have changed, Francis’ work has moved forward and with it his awareness of how important the history of Chechnya is for the West.

We reproduce the video of the interview, attaching the transcript in English.


First of all I would like to congratulate you from all visitors, subscribers who have already read your first volume. From today it is possible to have this second volume. How is it possible to have it?

First of all thanks to you, and thanks to all those who appreciated the first volume, and who gave me this consideration. The book is currently available in Italian, on Amazon, but will soon be available in English, thanks to the collaboration of Orts Akhmadov, son of Ilyas Akhmadov, who is working with me on the English version, and will soon also be available in Russian and Chechen, as for the first volume.

The other time we met and talked about your book was December 2021 and perhaps we were expecting war, this tragedy. Then we met in Brussels on the first day of the war, when both we and you met Akhmed Zakayev for the first time. With your help we attended some Radicali Italiani events, these very good people who organized Akhmed Zakayev’s visit to Italy, so somehow you are involved in our activities and in Ichkeria’s. How has your life changed during this year?

I have certainly had more real experiences with respect to this theme. I was a simple student of the history of the Chechen Republic of Ichkeria, but my experience was purely theoretical, abstract, not concrete, material. Since that day I have had the opportunity to speak with many people, and this second book is also written thanks to the memoirs of about a hundred people with whom I have spoken. Thus, my knowledge of that historical experience and of the human experience of the Chechens has grown enormously. From February to today I have given faces, names and lives to an experience that for me until then had only been theoretical.

You and I are working on the history of the Chechen Republic of Ichkeria, because I am also doing a cycle of chronicles. Do you understand the expression “in your skin”? How did you feel firsthand how the war was coming to Chechnya?

One of the questions I ask myself while studying the history of Chechnya, and in particular when studying this period, was “how would I have felt if I had found myself in that situation?” And I ask myself this question almost every day, because my study is based on the memories of the people I interview, and my interviews focus precisely on this aspect of every historical event: naturally I ask for information, names, dates, etc., but the first question I asked in almost every interview was “how did you feel at that moment?” “How did you spend the period between 26 November and 11 December (the time between the storming of Grozny by the pro-Russian opposition and the invasion). Personally, I try every day to imagine what the feelings of the people waiting for the war were, what they were thinking: their children, their families, how to save their families, how to save their things, their money, their cars, their homes. An event like this can completely destroy life, change people’s lives forever. I think I’m quite an empathic person, and I assure you that writing this book I suffered a lot. Like any author, I often re-read the book I’ve read, and every time I have the same feeling of tragedy on the one hand, and admiration on the other for those people who survived the war, in this case managing to win it, against their invaders .

I would like to understand how you frame the nature of the Chechen people. I was born in Georgia, I’m Ukrainian. I would like to work for the Georgian people, or for the Chechen people, but my whole heart now belongs to the Chechen people, I don’t know why. How could you describe your feeling towards the Chechen people? Because if you fell in love with this people, you did it because you have a passion in you.

I understand what you think because, when I think about it, what happened to me is really strange. I live in Tuscany, and I have no family, economic or any other connection with Chechnya. Yet ever since I was a child, something happened the first time I heard the name “Chechnya”. I don’t know exactly what, an elective affinity that has grown inside me, and I don’t know exactly why.

What I love about the Chechen people about this story is their ability to show happiness in tragedy. In them I have seen people who don’t want to be considered victims, but people who manage to find the beauty of life in everything. They have shown the world how to laugh in the face of death, and how to preserve humanity even in a situation which, if I imagine myself in their place, would strip humanity away from me as well. If a war destroyed my life maybe I’d go crazy. I have spoken to many people who have fought a war and have not gone mad, but rather have kept their kindness, their being good people. I don’t know if I would be able to keep these qualities in myself, fighting a war. I think this character trait of the Chechens is beautiful: the fact that they have managed to keep their happiness and will to live despite going through such bitter experiences.

Knowing this special character trait of this people, let’s think about how much Russia has gone to destroy them. It’s a biblical story for me. What do you think about it?

When a bully tries to hit a victim, and the victim smiles at him, the bully will become even more angry, but will ultimately be defeated by his victim’s resilience. In this sense I loved the struggle of the Chechens who showed the Russians that their spirit would never break.

In this last year we realized that the Ukrainians didn’t understand what the war in Chechnya was, just like the Russians they didn’t care about it. Now they have understood, and the Ukrainian parliament has recognized the independence, the state of occupation and the genocide of the Chechen people. What needs to happen for even Russian liberals to understand this tragedy? In their view of life there is no Chechen war and no Chechen tragedy, and of course there is no Ichkeria. What do you think?

I think Russian liberals are also part of the Russian empire. Maybe they want a “liberal empire”? Maybe it’s nonsense. I don’t think that in this sense there is much difference between the radical parties and the moderate or liberal ones. Everyone wants the same thing: to strengthen the empire, in one form or another. Maybe Russian liberals don’t want to fight the war in Ukraine, but they also don’t want to lose the integrity of their empire. I don’t see anything strange in this. I’m more used to studying and reading the news of another empire, the American one, and the liberals of the American empire are no less angry and aggressive than the nationalists. Citizens of an empire grow up thinking the only way to preserve the country is to stick together and squash any dissonant voices.

I was very surprised by your “hobby”. I’m going to show snippets from one of your band’s videos, which is called “Inner Code”. Tell me about this song about empire. I’m so surprised because you’re from Florence, we can’t relate the concept of “empire” with the city of Rome, which is so beautiful.

Rome in this song is the archetype of the empire. When we think of the Roman Empire we think of the empire by definition. The Russian Empire itself is inspired by the Roman Empire. The word “Tsar” is the translation of the Latin “Caesar”, the Kaiser of the German Empire is the Germanic translation of “Caesar”, and so on. “He will burn Rome” speaks of the fall of Rome, but by extension it speaks of the fall of all empires. No matter how big and strong, every empire will fall sooner or later. When I listen to this song I find a connection with the story we are talking about, being a story that can work with any empire, even the Russian one. However, I recommend listening to the song at a low volume!


Basically, everything we are talking about revolves around the word “Freedom”. You are a free person in all respects, as I see. Do you see the freedom of Ichkeria under attack? Do you think the imperial forces, the FSB , want to cancel this goal of freedom? We perceive these attacks, for example those that are being carried out against Akhmed Zakayev, a person who is a symbol of freedom of Ichkeria. Do you perceive these attacks from Italy?

I guess this behavior is consistent with the situation. I have an indirect perception of this, because unfortunately Italian newspapers don’t report much on what is happening in Chechnya or in the Chechen diaspora. However, having some contact with members of the Chechen diaspora due to my studies, I imagine that these people are talking about present and future plans to achieve independence and freedom for Chechnya and sometimes they do it in heated discussions, or getting angry. I speak as an Italian, I don’t think I have the right to tell the Chechens what they have to do. Only, seeing what is happening in the Chechen diaspora from the outside, I notice that there are “unresolved issues” and it is possible that the FSB , or anyone who does not want an independent Chechnya, could emphasize these divisions on the pro-independence front to weaken it. I hope people don’t fall into this trap. I don’t know if Chechnya’s independence is far or near, but it is important that at every step we find ourselves in the best condition to gather all our strength together to win freedom.

In recent months, also thanks to you and to the Italian Radicals (I am thinking of the meeting in Rome between Zakayev and Benedetto della Vedova, the speech to the Italian parliament, the recognition of Ichkeria by the Ukrainian parliament, the just finished speech by Zakayev at the European Parliament etc.) we have seen an evolution in the proposal of the government of Ichkeria. In Brussels, Zakayev presented a project for the reconstitution of the Republic of the Mountain, established in 1918 and dissolved by the Bolsheviks, and which Zviad Gamsakhurdia and Dzhokhar Dudaev at the time wanted to reconstitute in the 1990s. Now Zakayev is carrying out this idea, this project, and the Minister of Foreign Affairs, Inal Sharip has gone to Washington DC and is presenting it there. As a historian, do you think this project of the Mountain Republic is safer, more feasible than independent Chechnya? Do you think Chechnya alone could survive its monstrous neighbors?

I think creating a confederation is very difficult, but if it is led by a strong center, it can multiply the strength of every single member. If the confederation is a simple sum of subjects I don’t think it will last long. An example can be that of the European Union: a sum of countries, but its strength is not equivalent to the sum of the forces that compose it. Because each country defends its interests, and this is a problem because a state built like this cannot resist the forces of countries like the United States, Russia, China. The problem with our confederation is that we don’t have a center, a nation that holds all the others together. And every time one of the European nations takes supremacy, the others fight against it. So our European confederation is politically weak. If the Chechens want to lead a confederation they don’t have to do it like the Europeans did. If they are credible enough to attract other nations into a confederation of which they are the centre, not as an imperial centre, but as the place of those who believe most of all in this project, and who are ready to sacrifice themselves for it more than the others to keep everyone together, then I think this is a political project that can last. Like, for example, the United States, which is a confederacy that, after some major problems, has become the most powerful nation on earth. A confederation, therefore, can last, but you need a center that has the credibility and strength to hold all the others together, not by force but by setting an example. I think the Chechens have shown the world great examples more than once.

In 1997 Russia and Chechnya signed a peace treaty which was later betrayed. What do you think about the desire of the world community to persuade Ukraine to sign a similar treaty with Russia?

Looking at history, it is perfectly understood that the real value of documents depends on whether or not they reflect the real situation. In 1997 Russia signed a peace treaty, but while it was signing it was preparing its second invasion. In my opinion, if he now accepts a compromise with Russia, this compromise will in no case fix any situation, because I don’t think the Russians would be satisfied, and neither would the Ukrainians. I believe that a compromise now would only be a way of moving the war forward by three or four years. I believe that this is a moment in which it is necessary to solve a problem that was born in Chechnya. In a wonderful review by Adriano Sofri, an Italian who knows Chechnya well, and who wrote a wonderful article on this book, he says that what happened in Ukraine is a remake of what happened in Chechnya and Georgia, and that Ukraine is the end of a line that starts in Chechnya. It is time to break this line once and for all, otherwise we will have to add another point to this line in four or five years. As a European I reflect on the fact that this line does not go away from Europe, but from Chechnya towards Europe. The next point will be even closer to our home, not further away. I think Europe should think about this. If they don’t stop this process now, they will face it again even closer to home.

I NEWS intervista Francesco Benedetti

Alcuni giorni fa Francesco Benedetti ha incontrato a Firenze Inna Kurochkina di I NEWS. L’intervista che ne è uscita fuori riprende i discorsi affrontati in un’altra chiacchierata, svoltasi più o meno un anno fa, poco prima che la Russia invadesse l’Ucraina. Nel corso di questo anno molte cose sono cambiate, il lavoro di Francesco è andato avanti e con esso la sua consapevolezza di quanto sia importante per l’Occidente la storia della Cecenia.

Riproponiamo il video dell’intervista, allegandone la trascrizione in lingua italiana.


Prima di tutto vorrei congratularmi con te da parte di tutti i visitatori, gli abbonati che hanno già letto il tuo primo volume. Da oggi è possibile avere questo secondo volume. Com’è possibile averlo?

Prima di tutto grazie a te, e grazie a tutti coloro che hanno apprezzato il primo volume, e che mi hanno dato questa considerazione. Il libro in questo momento è disponibile in italiano, su Amazon, ma sarà presto disponibile in inglese, grazie alla collaborazione di Orts Akhmadov, figlio di Ilyas Akhmadov, che sta lavorando con me alla versione inglese, e presto sarà disponibile anche in lingua russa e cecena, come per il primo volume.

L’altra volta che ci siamo visti ed abbiamo parlato del tuo libro era il Dicembre del 2021 e forse ci aspettavamo la guerra, questa tragedia. Poi ci siamo incontrati a Bruxelles nel primo giorno della guerra, quando sia noi che tu incontrammo per la prima volta Akhmed Zakayev. Con il tuo aiuto partecipammo ad alcuni eventi di Radicali Italiani, queste ottime persone che organizzarono la visita di Akhmed Zakayev in Italia, quindi in qualche modo sei coinvolto nelle nostre attività ed in quelle di Ichkeria. Com’è cambiata la tua vita durante questo anno?

Sicuramente ho avuto esperienze più reali rispetto a questo tema. Ero un semplice studente della storia della Repubblica Cecena di Ichkeria, ma la mia esperienza era puramente teorica, astratta, non concreta, materiale. Da quel giorno ho avuto modo di parlare con molte persone, e questo secondo libro è scritto anche grazie alle memorie di circa un centinaio di persone con le quali ho parlato. Così, la mia conoscenza di quella esperienza storica e dell’esperienza umana dei ceceni è cresciuta enormemente. Da Febbraio ad oggi ho dato volti, nomi ed vite ad un’esperienza che per me fino ad allora era stata soltanto teoretica.

Io e te stiamo lavorando alla storia della Repubblica Cecena di Ichkeria, perché anch’io sto facendo un ciclo di cronache. Capisci l’espressione “nella tua pelle”? Come hai sentito sulla tua pelle come la guerra stesse arrivando in Cecenia?

Una delle domande che mi faccio studiando la storia della Cecenia, e in particolare studiando questo periodo è stata proprio “come mi sarei sentito se mi fossi trovato in quella situazione?” E mi faccio questa domanda quasi tutti i giorni, perché il mio studio si basa sulle memorie delle persone che intervisto, e le mie interviste si focalizzano proprio si questo aspetto di ogni evento storico: naturalmente chiedo informazioni, nomi, date eccetera, ma la prima domanda che ho fatto in quasi tutte le interviste è stata “come ti sentivi in quel momento?” “Come passasti il periodo tra il 26 Novembre e l’11 Dicembre (il lasso di tempo tra l’assalto a Grozny da parte dell’opposizione filorussa e l’invasione). Personalmente provo ogni giorno ad immaginarmi quali fossero i sentimenti delle persone che aspettavano la guerra, cosa pensavano: i loro figli, le loro famiglie, come mettere in salvo le loro famiglie, come mettere in salvo le loro cose, i loro soldi, le loro auto, le loro case. Un evento come questo può distruggere completamente la vita, cambia per sempre la vita della gente. Credo di essere una persona abbastanza empatica, e ti assicuro che scrivendo questo libro ho sofferto molto. Come ogni autore rileggo molto spesso il libro che ho letto, ed ogni volta ho la stessa sensazione da una parte di tragedia, dall’altra di ammirazione per quelle persone che sono sopravvissute alla guerra, in questo caso riuscendo a vincerla, contro i loro invasori.

Vorrei comprendere come inquadri la natura del popolo ceceno. Io sono nata in Georgia, sono ucraina. Vorrei lavorare per il popolo georgiano, o per quello ceceno, ma tutto il mio cuore ora appartiene al popolo ceceno, non so perché. Come potresti descrivere il tuo sentimento verso il popolo ceceno? Perché se ti sei innamorato per questo popolo, lo hai fatto perché hai in te una passione.

Capisco quello che pensi perché, se ci penso, è veramente strano ciò che mi è capitato. Vivo in Toscana, e non ho alcun collegamento familiare, economico o di qualsiasi altro genere con la Cecenia. Eppure fin da quando ero bambino, la prima volta in cui ho ascoltato il nome “Cecenia” è successo qualcosa. Non so cosa precisamente, un’affinità elettiva che è cresciuta dentro di me, e non so precisamente perché.

Ciò che amo del popolo ceceno, riguardo a questa storia, è la sua capacità di mostrare la felicità nella tragedia. In loro ho visto persone che non vogliono essere considerate vittime, ma persone che riescono a trovare la bellezza della vita in ogni cosa. Loro hanno mostrato al mondo come si ride di fronte alla morte, e come si conserva l’umanità anche in una situazione che, se mi immagino di essere al loro posto, strapperebbe via l’umanità anche da me. Se una guerra distruggesse la mia vita forse diventerei pazzo. Ho parlato con molte persone che hanno combattuto una guerra e non sono impazzite, ma anzi hanno conservato la loro gentilezza, il loro essere persone buone. Non so se sarei in grado di conservare in me queste qualità, combattendo una guerra. Penso che questo tratto caratteriale dei ceceni sia bellissimo: il fatto che siano riusciti a conservare felicità e voglia di vivere nonostante abbiano dovuto affrontare esperienze così amare.

Conoscendo questo tratto caratteriale speciale di questo popolo, pensiamo a quanto la Russia si sia impegnata a distruggerli. E’ una storia biblica per me. Tu che ne pensi?

Quando un bullo prova a picchiare una vittima, e questa gli sorride, il bullo diventerà ancora più rabbioso, ma alla fine sarà sconfitto dalla resilienza della sua vittima. In questo senso ho amato la lotta dei ceceni, i quali hanno mostrato ai russi che il loro spirito non si sarebbe mai spezzato.

In quest’ultimo anno ci siamo resi conto che gli ucraini non avevano capito cosa fosse stata la guerra in Cecenia, perché esattamente come i russi non se ne erano preoccupati. Adesso hanno capito, ed il parlamento ucraino ha riconosciuto l’indipendenza, lo stato di occupazione ed il genocidio del popolo ceceno. Cosa deve succedere perché anche i liberali russi capiscano questa tragedia? Nella loro visione della vita non c’è nessuna guerra cecena e nessuna tragedia cecena, e ovviamente non c’è nessuna Ichkeria. Cosa ne pensi?

Penso che i liberali russi siano anche loro parte dell’impero russo. Forse vogliono un “impero liberale”? Forse è un non – senso. Non credo che in questo senso ci sia tanta differenza tra i partiti radicali e quelli moderati, o liberali. Tutti vogliono la stessa cosa: rafforzare l’impero, in una forma o nell’altra. Forse i liberali russi, non vogliono combattere la guerra in Ucraina, ma non vogliono neanche perdere l’integrità del loro impero. Non vedo niente di strano in questo. Sono più abituato a studiare ed a leggere le notizie di un altro impero, quello americano, ed i liberali dell’impero americano non sono meno arrabbiati ed aggressivi rispetto ai nazionalisti. I cittadini di un impero crescono pensando che l’unico modo per preservare il paese sia tenero unito e schiacciare ogni voce dissonante.

Sono stata molto sorpresa dal tuo “hobby”. Mostrerò dei pezzi di uno dei video della tua band, che si chiama “Inner Code”. Parlami di questa canzone che parla dell’impero. Sono così sorpresa perché sei di Firenze, noi non riusciamo a mettere in relazione il concetto di “impero” con la città di Roma,  che è così bella.

Roma in questa canzone è l’archetipo dell’impero. Quando pensiamo all’impero romano pensiamo all’impero per definizione. Lo stesso impero russo si ispira all’impero romano. La parola “Zar” è la traduzione del latino “Caesar”, il Kaiser dell’impero tedesco è la traduzione germanica di “Caesar”, e così via. “Brucerà Roma” parla della caduta di Roma, ma per estensione parla della caduta di tutti gli imperi. Per quanto grande e forte, ogni impero prima o poi cadrà. Quando ascolto questa canzone trovo un collegamento con la storia di cui stiamo parlando, essendo una storia che può funzionare con qualsiasi impero, anche per quello russo. Consiglio comunque di ascoltare la canzone a volume basso!


Fondamentalmente, tutto ciò di cui stiamo parlando gira intorno alla parola “Libertà”. Tu sei una persona libera sotto tutti i punti di vista, come vedo. Vedi la libertà di Ichkeria sotto attacco? Pensi che le forze imperiali, l’Fsb, vogliano cancellare questo obiettivo di libertà? Noi percepiamo questi attacchi, per esempio quelli che stanno venendo portati contro Akhmed Zakayev, una persona che è un simbolo della libertà di Ichkeria. Percepisci questi attacchi dall’Italia?

Immagino che questo comportamento sia coerente con la situazione. Ho una percezione indiretta di questo, perché sfortunatamente i giornali italiani non raccontano molto ciò che succede in Cecenia o nella diaspora cecena. Tuttavia avendo alcuni contatti con i membri della diaspora cecena per via dei miei studi, immagino che queste persone stiano parlando di progetti  presenti e futuri per raggiungere l’indipendenza e la libertà della Cecenia e che talvolta lo facciano discutendo animatamente, o arrabbiandosi. Parlo da italiano, non penso di avere il diritto di dire ai ceceni ciò che devono fare. Solo, vedendo da fuori ciò che succede nella diaspora cecena, noto che ci sono delle “questioni irrisolte” ed è possibile che l’Fsb, o chiunque non voglia una Cecenia indipendente possa enfatizzare queste divisioni del fronte indipendentista per indebolirlo. Spero che le persone non cadano in questa trappola. Non so se l’indipendenza della Cecenia è lontana o vicina, ma è importante che ad ogni passo ci si trovi nella migliore condizione per raccogliere insieme tutte le forze per conquistare la libertà.

Negli ultimi mesi, anche grazie a te ed ai Radicali Italiani (penso all’incontro a Roma tra Zakayev e Benedetto della Vedova, al discorso al parlamento italiano, al riconoscimento di Ichkeria da parte del parlamento ucraino, all’appena terminato intervento di Zakayev al parlamento europeo ecc..) abbiamo visto un’evoluzione nella proposta del governo di Ichkeria. A Bruxelles Zakayev ha presentato un progetto di ricostituzione della Repubblica della Montagna, costituita nel 1918 e dissolta dai Bolscevichi, e che a suo tempo Zviad Gamsakhurdia e Dzhokhar Dudaev volevano ricostituire negli anni ’90.  Adesso Zakayev sta portando avanti quest’idea, questo progetto, ed il Ministro degli Affari Esteri, Inal Sharip è andato a Washington DC e lo sta presentando là. Da storico, pensi che questo progetto della Repubblica della Montagna sia più sicuro, più realizzabile rispetto alla Cecenia indipendente? Pensi che da sola la Cecenia riuscirebbe a sopravvivere ai suoi vicini così “mostruosi”?

Penso che creare una confederazione sia molto difficile, ma se questa è guidata da un centro forte, può moltiplicare la forza di ogni suo singolo membro. Se la confederazione è una semplice somma di soggetti non credo che durerà a lungo. Un esempio può essere quello dell’Unione Europea: una somma di paesi, ma la sua forza non è equivalente alla somma delle forze che la compongono. Perché ogni paese difende i suoi interessi, e questo è un problema perché uno stato costruito in questo modo non può resistere a forze di paesi come Stati Uniti, Russia, Cina. Il problema della nostra confederazione  è che non abbiamo un centro, una nazione che tiene unite tutte le altre. E ogni volta che una delle nazioni europee prende la supremazia le altre la combattono. Così la nostra confederazione europea è politicamente debole. Se i ceceni vogliono guidare una confederazione non devono farlo come lo hanno fatto gli europei. Se saranno abbastanza credibili da attrarre le altre nazioni in una confederazione della quale loro siano il centro, non come un centro imperiale, ma come il luogo di coloro che credono più di tutti gli altri a questo progetto,  e che per questo sono pronti a sacrificarsi più degli altri per tenere tutti insieme, allora credo che questo sia un progetto politico che può durare. Come, per esempio, gli Stati Uniti, i quali sono una confederazione che, dopo alcuni grossi problemi, è diventata la più potente nazione della terra. Una confederazione, quindi, può durare, ma ti serve un centro che abbia la credibilità e la forza per tenere insieme tutti gli altri, non con la forza ma dando l’esempio. Penso che i ceceni abbiano mostrato più di una volta al mondo grandi esempi.

Nel 1997 Russia e Cecenia firmarono un trattato di pace che poi fu tradito. Cosa pensi del desiderio da parte della comunità mondiale di convincere l’Ucraina a firmare un trattato simile con la Russia?

Guardando alla storia si capisce perfettamente che il reale valore dei documenti dipende dal fatto che questi riflettano o meno la situazione reale. Nel 1997 la Russia firmò un trattato di pace, ma mentre lo firmava stava preparando la seconda invasione. Secondo me se adesso accettasse un compromesso con la Russia, questo compromesso in nessun caso potrebbe sistemare alcuna situazione, perché non credo che i russi sarebbero soddisfatti, e neanche gli ucraini lo sarebbero. Credo che adesso un compromesso sarebbe soltanto un modo per spostare in avanti la guerra di tre o quattro anni. Credo che questo sia un momento nel quale è necessario risolvere un problema che è nato proprio in Cecenia. In una bellissima recensione di Adriano Sofri, un italiano che conosce bene la Cecenia, e che ha scritto un bellissimo articolo su questo libro, lui dice che quello che è successo in Ucraina è un remake di quello che è successo in Cecenia e in Georgia, e che l’Ucraina è la fine di una linea che inizia in Cecenia. E’ il momento di interrompere questa linea una volta per tutte, altrimenti dovremo aggiungere un altro punto a questa linea, tra quattro o cinque anni. Come europeo rifletto sul fatto che questa linea non si dirige lontano dall’Europa, ma dalla Cecenia verso l’Europa. Il punto successivo sarà ancora più vicino a casa nostra, non più lontano. Credo che l’Europa dovrebbe pensare a questo. Se non interrompono questo processo adesso, lo affronteranno di nuovo ancora più vicino a casa.

Memories of Budennovsk: Francesco Benedetti interviews Ikhvan Gerikhanov

Mr. Gerikhanov , your intervention in the Budennovsk hostage crisis begins on the evening of June 15, 1995, when you reach the city hospital, occupied by Basayev’s men, with the intention of starting negotiations. The task had been assigned to her by the Minister for Nationalities of the Russian Federation, Mikhailov. Do you remember how you responded to his request? Were you able to communicate with ChRI authorities from the time you were called to the hospital until you entered the hospital?

That’s essentially how it went. As chairman of the Constitutional Court , I had no contact with the leadership of the Chechen Republic, and was busy reporting on the war crimes that were taking place on the territory of our republic. I have personally held dozens of international conferences and roundtables, in which I have called for the intervention of the world community to stop the destruction of the Chechen people as an ethnic group!

At the time I was in Moscow, as an expert in the session of the International Tribunal for war crimes and crimes against humanity in the Chechen Republic, headed by State Duma Deputy Galina Starovoitova, later killed due to her civil engagement on the events in Chechnya. While I was at work, I was approached by one of my compatriots who held a responsible position in the presidential administration of the Russian Federation. He was looking for me at the request of the Minister for Nationalities, Mikhailov, who asked for my assistance in freeing the hostages held in Budennovsk. Naturally, I accepted the assignment, aware of the moral responsibility I had for these facts, as a senior official of the republic.

First of all, I interpreted my mission as that of allowing the hostages to understand the reason for this armed incursion, and to explain to them that they were not “militants”, as reported by all the world’s media, but defenders of their homeland.

Two or three days after I received the request, I was on a plane bound for Grozny, on which was also a delegation from the Russian Liberal Democratic Party, headed by Zhirinovsky. We had no contact with them, but the departure of the plane from Moscow was delayed for several hours.

Ikhvan Gerikhanov waits in front of an entrance to the Budennovsk hospital manned by one of Basayev’s men

Together with her were other Chechen officials. Who were they? And why did you choose them?

With me . were Paskushev and D. Khangoshvili . The second is a Georgian Chechen. Neither was an official of the state structure of the republic. I didn’t choose them, we just happened to be together. In fact I was not the head of the delegation. The other two simply knew my position among the authorities of the republic, and they recognized me as a sort of “primacy” in relation to the responsibility of my work. Unfortunately Khangoshvili passed away a week ago. Paskushev remained at headquarters in the Ministry of Internal Affairs building to ensure our safety.

I take this opportunity to express my special gratitude to my comrades for their courage and perseverance in these events. We were exposed to mortal danger of being shot in the rear by the Russian army, or by a sniper, or of being shot by our own if the military’s provocations ended with the assault on the hospital.

Did you personally know Basayev before Budennovsk? What opinion did you have of him? And how has it changed after the seizure of the hospital?

Before these events I had never had personal contact with him, as a Member of Parliament on first call and President of the Constitutional Court I was busy with my duties.

My opinion on this raid is still ambiguous today, I am against violence against civilians, although dozens of times we Chechens have seen how Russian troops put groups of civilians in front of them and went on the attack. But war is war , there are no rules of engagement and no one chooses the methods. This was mutually evident when civilians were killed by carpet bombing on the territory of the republic and filter camps were set up, where ordinary civilians, both women and men, were tortured, raped and killed.

The indifference of the absolute majority of Russian citizens and the world community gave the following result: our soldiers were forced to attract everyone’s attention in this way, to stop the destruction of the Chechens on a national basis. By the way, to this day the participants of Basayev’s raid are “found guilty” and sentenced to the maximum sentence, while not a single officer or soldier of the Russian army, except for the freak and rapist Budanov, has been held responsible for the criminal acts made on the territory of our republic.

This raid, with its pitiable innocent victims, produced results: the war was stopped and the Khasavyurt Accords on the cessation of hostilities and the beginning of peace negotiations were signed.

After landing in Budennovsk and reaching the hospital, you made contact with the Chechen units barricaded in the facility. Your first request to talk to Basayev, however, was turned down. Aslambek Ismailov, clarified that there would be no negotiations. Why do you think Basayev reacted so harshly? Didn’t he recognize you as a senior ChRI official? And speaking of Ismailov, did you know him before the Budennovsk events?

Before our arrival in Budennovsk, Basayev made it clear to everyone that there would be no negotiations before the withdrawal of the Russian army from the territory of our republic and that negotiations with Dudayev for the recognition of independence should begin. To all delegations, including one composed of Basayev’s relatives, he made it clear that he would not speak to anyone, and that any attempt to force the situation would lead to the death of the hostages.

After arriving at the Headquarters, headed by Russian Deputy Prime Minister Egorov, I informed everyone about the purpose of my visit and after long discussions I called the hospital directly to explain that my intention was to visit the building where the hostages were being held. Since it was night, I resolved to enter the building the next morning. Ismailov, Basayev’s deputy, answered me. I had never met him before. He knew me, he knew I was a high official of the republic. He promised to tell Basayev what I was proposing, and to give me an answer within a few hours.

To get an affirmative answer, I had to declare that I was willing to remain inside the hospital together with the hostages and Basayev’s men if my efforts to resolve the crisis were unsuccessful.

June 18 , you finally managed to enter the hospital, leading two different groups inside the facility and starting negotiations to open an exit corridor for Basayev’s men, in exchange for the release of a certain number of hostages. How did these negotiations take place? Why do you think Basayev changed his attitude towards you?

My first contact was on June 16 , when Khangoshvili and Ismailov met at the hospital entrance. Before our arrival a sniper had shot one of Basayev’s men, and his corpse was still lying in plain sight, covered in blood, at a distance of 1.5 – 2 meters. To avoid risking the same end, we met on the entrance stairway, sheltered from snipers. After a short conversation with Ismailov, we parted. On the same day he contacted the General Headquarters informing those present that Basayev was available to meet the President of the Constitutional Court of the Chechen Republic.

Women and children hostages are freed during the negotiations.

What situation did you find in the hospital? Do you remember the conditions of the hostages and militants during your stay in the facility?

The situation was very tense, there were many women and children, some wounded, mothers who had just given birth. With respect to this, the Russian media presented a distorted version of reality: with the exception of military pilots and police officers, the hostages were shown respect and care, relative to the conditions in which they found themselves. The hostages themselves had spread white scarves and sheets outside the windows to prevent an assault by the Russian army. I saw a woman, a doctor from the hospital, slap a police lieutenant general who was saying that Basayev’s team was putting women and children against the windows!

Khangoshvili and I have been to the hospital 5-6 times until June 18th , and each time we came back with several children, who we returned to their mothers. They persuaded me to take the children with me, referring to the fact that Basayev would not object and that the children would be saved. On our next visit, we heard the voices of the women talking to each other saying that there was a “mustachioed prosecutor” and that another group of children needed to be rounded up.

According to press reports, it was you who developed the text of the agreement that led to the resolution of the crisis. Do you remember the genesis of this document? Were there discussions about what should be written on it? Do you keep a copy of this document?

Yes, I wrote that text. At the first meeting with Basayev he recognized my rank as an official, but said that he was accountable to his command, and that without the approval of his bosses he would not take any decision. Basayev insisted that the withdrawal of Russian troops from Chechnya and the republic’s independence could not be negotiated. His detachment would not have left if these two conditions were not met. If necessary they would all have sacrificed their lives for this. I had to talk to all the members of Basayev’s team to explain to them that at this stage of the conflict, fulfilling both conditions would be impossible, even with the sacrifice of all Chechens on earth.

In the end, thanks to the help of the witnesses I brought, and the arguments of my reasoning, I managed to persuade Basayev that the withdrawal of troops and the opening of negotiations would be real steps towards ending the war and recognizing Chechen sovereignty . After another visit to the hospital on June 17 , Basayev finally declared that he was ready to open a dialogue on this basis, and asked me to draft a document. To the above conditions he added the request for a guarantee of safety for his men, so that they could return to Chechnya without incident. Finally, he reminded me that, as a Chechen, I would answer to the people and to Allah if the Russian military and political leadership did not abide by the agreements.

The text was signed by responsible persons. I was asked to sign as head of the Chechen delegation, but I refused because I was a state official. However, having to identify a guarantor among the Chechens, I asked Kanghoshvili to sign, since the Russian government would not accept my signature as an official of the Chechen Republic.

The main concern for me and for Basayev was: who would guarantee the free passage of the buses on which the Chechen fighters and their escorts would leave? Knowing the insidious behavior of the Russian military and leadership, when I returned to the HQ I asked on my own initiative that this guarantee be given by the Russian Prime Minister Chernomyrdin: without his direct intervention, Basayev’s men would not have left the building, and they would have agreed to fight to the death. All those present reacted with anger: Deputy Prime Minister Yegorov , FSB director Stephasin and other military commanders invited me to leave. To which, brusquely, I told them that if they stormed the hospital, the whole world would immediately know about it from me, and the death of the hostages would remain on their conscience!

While returning to Moscow with the Chechen delegation, the human rights activist, S. Kovalev, approached us, and told us that Chernomyrdin was willing to talk with us about the guarantees to be given to Basayev’s men. I replied that this shouldn’t have been behind the scenes, but that it should have been an official statement. I then demanded that the Prime Minister speak to Basayev directly on the phone, and threatened to abandon the negotiations, and to return to my job if the conversation did not take place.

When you left the hospital, you took about a hundred hostages with you. Do you remember any of them? Were you able to exchange a few words between you? What did the hostages think about what was happening?

As I said, after I learned that Chernomyrdin would call Basayev, I returned to the hospital on June 18th . Arriving from Basayev I asked him: if the Prime Minister provides a guarantee of safe passage to Chechnya, will this be a sufficient basis for the release of the hostages? Basayev and his men laughed: they didn’t believe such a guarantee would be possible. However Kovalev and the accompanying State Duma deputies confirmed my words, so we added this clause to the agreement, and signed it. I asked Basayev to give a sign of good will by handing over, together with the request for agreement, at least 100 hostages, including women and children, to be released. Basayev agreed to the request the next day.

Upon your departure, Basayev reportedly warned you: “Remember that you are a Chechen. If even a single hair falls from my fighters’ heads along the way, your whole family will answer for it!” Does this mean you got involved in a family feud to save the Budennovsk hostages?

Naturally this was a provocation on Basayev’s part. After all, I could not vouch for their free passage through Russian territory. Knowing about Yeltsin’s intention to show himself to the world community as a fighter against “terrorists”, I nipped in the bud another provocation thought up by the head of the operation to free the hostages, General Yerin . As soon as I arrived in Moscow, I gave several interviews to Russian and foreign journalists in which I feared a possible military provocation against Basayev’s detachment on the way back.

After signing the agreement, on your way home, you were abruptly called back at Aslambek ‘s explicit request Abdulkhadzhiev . The feds had asked all those who had joined Basayev on the return journey to sign a document that effectively exempted the Russian authorities from any responsibility in the event of accidents on the way back. It was a tacit admission of a willingness to raid Basayev’s convoy as soon as it entered Chechnya. Abdulkhadzhiev stated that without your intervention the negotiations would not have resumed. Did you know him? Why was your presence deemed necessary?

I have already mentioned General Yerin , the author of this receipt stating that such and such a person “voluntarily joins Shamil Basayev’s group…”. Abdulkhadzhiev reacted urgently to this provocation and declared that without a conversation with the President of the Constitutional Court of the Republic, the agreement would not proceed.

A car caught up with us on the way to the airport, and we were asked to come back. Upon arrival in Budennovsk, after reading the text proposed by General Yerin , I asked to speak urgently with Chernomyrdin and, after my explanations, Chernomyrdin slipped through Yerin , scolded him about the receipt and ordered him to cancel it. It later became known that the General was preparing an assault on Basayev’s convoy on orders from President Yeltsin, who was outside Russia at the time. Indeed, an attempted assault took place near the Chechen border, at the height of Kurskaya , when military helicopters began flying over the buses. However, due to the great attention these events caused and the presence of many foreign journalists, the attack did not take place.

Hostages leave the hospital

After resolving this second crisis, you were faced with the frustrated reaction of the Russian military and civilians who had witnessed the kidnapping. Why were they mad at you? What made them so nervous?

The answer in this case is unequivocal. Many soldiers wanted to destroy Basayev’s detachment and gain prestige. They didn’t care about the hostages and their punishments at the time. On our next visit to the hospital we realized that the army’s special units clearly wanted to take advantage of the stalemate in operations due to the negotiation process to storm the hospital. And the police major’s snide comment: You can’t come here, you’re no better than the terrorists you sent home I assumed I never expected the most basic humanity or gratitude from these people.

After Basayev’s return to Chechnya, your mission was over. Were you able to contact Dudayev, or another official of the Chechen Republic of Ichkeria?

Unfortunately no, I was very busy with the international tribunal, and until 1996 I was unable to return to the republic. According to Abdulkhadzhiev , in the presence of Ismailov and Basayev, my actions in this mission were highly appreciated by the President, who said that at the first meeting with me he would present me with the Republic’s highest award, the “Honor of the Nation ”. Unfortunately, the infamous assassination of the President of the Chechen Republic prevented us from meeting on this earth.

Did the Russian authorities give you any credit for ending the Budennovsk hostage crisis?

First of all, I didn’t expect anything from gold and I didn’t work for them. I only accepted the offer to participate in this matter, in good faith, because I was one of the highest officials of the Republic. Secondly, I did what I did out of civic duty, and I am grateful to the Almighty for giving me the opportunity to be of service to my people and to free more than 1200 hostages who were not involved in hostilities, like dozens of thousands of civilians in Chechnya, who suffered the most from the presence of the Russian army.

It was said a long time ago that I was offered an apartment in Moscow. Speculation around this topic was a useless farce of the Russian leadership, just as some newly emerged “patriots” among the Chechens could be accused of treason, who even today cannot understand and evaluate my actions as Chairman of the Constitutional Court of the Republic Chechen. But that’s another topic!

The Budennovsk crisis allowed the Chechen government to conclude a truce which proved useful in winning the war. However, it has cast a shadow of terror on the resistance. How do you think Budennovsk changed the history of independent Chechnya?

Today the whole world has known the face of the Russian Empire and has finally understood that the war of the aggressor, launched against our republic, was the beginning of perfidy and contempt for all norms and principles of international law, so as well as its obligations to the world community. The Budennovsk events forced the Russian leadership to sit down at the negotiating table, and this saved tens of thousands of lives, both on the territory of our republic and in Russia itself.

As for the “shadow of terror”, state terror was declared against the Chechen people by Russia, exclusively on a national basis, and has not stopped to this day, even though the peace treaty with the Chechen Republic of Ichkeria was signed a long time ago! So who is guilty of terrorism? Who is the terrorist?

Thank God the European community has already declared Russia a sponsor of terrorism. This is mine answer at the your last question !

Text of the agreement drawn up by Gerikhanov.

The document, translated for us by Inna Kurochkina, says:

Agreed text for the time 10 hours 40 minutes 18.06.95.

On the release of the hostages, the city of Budyonnovsk.


-On the part of the Government of the Russian Federation represented by the Prime Minister

V.S. Chernomyrdin:

Immediately stop hostilities and bombardments of the territory of Chechnya.

All other issues, including the disengagement of troops, should be resolved exclusively by personal means on the basis of the negotiation process.

The person authorized to negotiate with the Chechen side is Usman Imaev.

-From Shamil Basayev:

Release of hostages, with the exception of the security assurance team.

Time of completion:

Statement by Chairman of the Government of the Russian Federation Chernomyrdin.

The release of the hostages in the amount of one hundred people Sh. Basaev immediately after the speech of Viktor Chernomyrdin.

The rest, with the exception of the security guarantee group, are released during the time for the security of the departure of Sh. Basayev’s group.


10 hours 03 minutes


Viktor Stepanivich Chernomyrdin

Shamil Basaev

From the Government of the Russian Federation on behalf of Viktor Chernomyrdin: Head of

the Delegation Sergey Kovalev

From the Administration of the Stavropol Kraj Member of the delegation Sergey Popov

Deputy of the State Duma of the Russian Federation Yuliy Rybakov

From the side of the Chechen diaspora Khangoshvili Dzhabrail

Federation Council Deputy Viktor Kurochkin

Assistant to Kovalev Oleg Orlov “Memorial”

Amendments to the first document

The document, translated for us by Inna Kurochkina, says:

Additional agreements to the text of the Agreement dated June 18, 1995.

The delegation of the Russian Federation and Shamil Basayev’s group agreed on the following:

All questions of a political settlement, including the question of the status of the Republic of Chechnya, its relations with the federal authorities of the Russian Federation, and the republics of the Russian Federation, and other issues, should be resolved exclusively by peaceful means, on the basis of international legal acts, legislation and agreements reached in the negotiations.

This procedure should be the subject of consideration by authorized officials of the Chechen Republic of Ichkeria and representatives of the Government and the Federal Assembly of

the Russian Federation.


11 hours 03 minutes


Shamil Basaev

From the side of the Chechen diaspora Khangoshvili Dzhabrail

From the delegation of the Russian Federation:

Sergey Kovalev

Juliy Rybakov (Deputy of the State Duma)

Viktor Kurochkin (Member of the Federal Assembly)

Oleg Orlov (“Memorial”)

From the Administration of the Stavropol Kraj Sergey Popov