Alla Fyodorovna Dudayeva is the widow of the first President of the Chechen Republic of Ichkeria. Dudaev’s life partner, she lived with him until his assassination, which occurred on April 21, 1996 by the Russian army. Despite being of Russian origin, Alla Dudaeva linked her personal destiny to the cause of Chechen independence, continuing after her husband’s death to plead the reasons for a free Chechnya. Among her qualities, her passion for drawing certainly stands out. For this reason, in addition to her words, we have collected and published, with her permission, her pictorial works. What follows, therefore, is a double story, in words and images: the story of a wife, a mother, an artist, a political activist, a woman united with Chechnya by love and destiny.
The death of Dzhokhar Dudayev has deprived the Chechens of both a human and a political point of reference. From your point of view, this may be even more true: has the loss of a person so important to you as a life partner, as a mother, and at the same time as a supporter of a free Chechnya, changed your existential point of view?
The entire Chechen people wept when they learned of Dzhokhar’s death, as well as the Muslim world. But not only Muslims: the whole world appreciated Dzhokhar’s life and work, the Chechen people’s resistance to Russian aggression, and dedicated dozens of streets, squares and cities in different countries to him. Dzhokhar showed how to “take cities” and in 3 days (March 7,8,9) the capital of Ichkeria was taken by Chechens. Russian military units and bases were surrounded, but the Chechens did not shoot at the Russians so that the planes could not bomb the attackers. This ingenious plan was conceived by Dzhokhar, and when journalists asked him “why did you leave Grozny?” He replied “We have shown the whole world how to take cities!” In exactly the same way, the invaders were surrounded three months after the death of Dzhokhar on August 6, 1996. It was called: “dying, embracing the enemy.” And it happened only thanks to the unparalleled courage and courage of the Chechen people. For the first time in the world, a small Chechen people defeated the huge Russian empire of evil and violence, which the whole world has been afraid of for decades!
And the people called it a miracle! This victory gave hope to all occupied peoples for their future liberation and breathed new strength into those who bowed and surrendered! A nation is invincible when it fights on its own land for its freedom, if it has such a leader! When the president and the people are one, they are invincible!
Has his death changed anything in you regarding the care of your family and regarding the idea of an independent Chechnya?
After the death of Dzhokhar, nothing has changed in me in relation to our family or in relation to the idea of the independence of Ichkeria. But my personal feeling changed, I could not imagine myself without Dzhokhar, it was as if I was unexpectedly hit in the chest. Then we were secretly taken to the second home of a brave and wise man, Dayan, and I sat by his body for three days. Dayan asked me not to mention that Dzhokhar was dead when I was at her house for dinner. He asked me to say that there was one wounded, but not that it was Dzhokhar. “My wife Leila” he said “She couldn’t bear it. He has a weak heart. No need to mourn it in front of them, there would be such a noise that everyone in the village would understand immediately. Instead we have to hide. After her words, I understood that there were still those who loved Dzhokhar, albeit weaker than me in health. And I learned to hide, even as my heart was torn apart by pain. Therefore, when it was necessary to declare Dzhokhar’s death on April 24 in front of journalists from all over the world, I learned to hide my tears and did not cry, I thought about hundreds of sick old women like Leila, what would happen to them when they heard the sad news. And about our enemies, how they would rejoice at Dzhokhar’s death … That’s why I decided to leave the doubt, to Dzhokhar’s enemies who feared him, that he might return.
That very night we snuck him out and buried him. And I witnessed such miracles, when Dzhokhar was raised and carried to the cemetery, that it seemed to me that I had new strength. We left at three in the morning. When we arrived at the cemetery it was still dark which was scary. There was a wall of fog. While the grave was being dug, I sat next to Dzhokhar’s body, behind the fence. And when they came for him and brought him, suddenly the fog cleared, pink-gold rays of the sun appeared, under which everything around shone. And in the blue sky above his grave, flocks of birds were circling, as if they had come to greet or meet him. And they sang!!! Most likely, the Almighty himself met him! I understood that Dzhokhar would not be in the grave, his soul was immediately taken to heaven!
When the Chechen people gathered all their strength and managed to defeat the huge Russian empire, many believed that Dzhokhar was alive and would certainly return. But our enemies have claimed that Dzhokhar, a symbol of independence, fled, leaving his people behind. And then I had to refute these dirty rumors and we made a documentary about the place of his death. In it, I detailed where he was, when it happened and from which side two rockets came, one after the other. The military prosecutor, Magomed Zhaniev, and our former representative in Moscow, Khamad Kurbanov, they died with him. They were immediately taken away by relatives and buried the next day. But many Chechens still didn’t believe me and so I had to write the book “Million First” which became a documentary about the birth, childhood, life and death of Dzhokhar Dudayev .
It was first published in Baku in 2002. Then in six other countries in different languages. By the way, immediately after the book was published, a video was mounted in Chechnya, someone spoke in my voice against the background of my photograph. “I apologize to the Chechen people, I am getting married. I searched for a long time and finally found someone similar to Dzhokhar, only the mustache is different.” This was done intentionally so that my book would not be believed, and some still think that I again married Dzhokhar, who in reality was allegedly wounded, secretly taken out of Chechnya, and then healed. Only many years later the Chechen people finally convinced themselves and stopped waiting for Dzhokhar.
After the liberation of Grozny in August, Chechnya found itself free, but in constant danger. From April 1996 to February 1997, Dzhokhar’s inheritance passed to Zelimkhan Yandarbiev. He was an old friend of your husband’s. What do you remember about him? What kind of person was he?
Zelimkhan Yandarbiev was a poet and leader of the Vainakh Democratic Party , one of the pioneers of Chechen People’s Freedom. He visited us in Tartu, Estonia and invited Dzhokhar to the first Congress. Dzhokhar made such a brilliant speech that he was elected chairman of the Chechen People’s Executive Committee. Zelimkhan was always next to Dzhokhar and supported him in everything. He was distinguished by great courage and loyalty to the idea of independence, and therefore Dzhokhar, after a series of unsuccessful attempts on his life, instructed him to replace him as president of the CRI in the event of his death. Zelimkhan’s courage can be judged by the famous video in which he did not surrender to President Yeltsin during peace talks in the Kremlin. And he insisted that he move to the place assigned to him, opposite Zelimkhan Yandarbiev. Because the war of 1994-1996 was with the Russian aggressor, who started the war with independent Ichkeria. This was not the “internal conflict” that the Russian media were talking about. And it was not about “restoring constitutional order on the territory of the Chechen Republic of Ichkeria”, but about a full-scale war, during which the capital was burned to the ground by Russian bombs, the entire Chechen land was burned and mined ! Zelimkhan in 1997 held the election of a new president of the CRI, although he could have continued to hold office, but he wanted the Chechen people to choose their own president. Although then some blamed him for it. He has always been on the side of legality and democracy.
After the 1997 elections, the post of president of the republic passed to Aslan Maskhadov. What was your opinion of him? And how did this opinion change during your political tenure before the second Russian invasion?
Aslan Maskhadov inherited a country destroyed by the Russian-Chechen war and thousands wounded, tens of thousands of people without means of subsistence. Dzhokhar Dudayev forbade taking a ransom for captured Russians. But, immediately after his death on April 21, already in May, the oligarch Berezovsky bought out the Russian journalist Elena Masyuk from Chechen captivity for two million dollars. They returned her to the United States, and Bill Clinton, a friend of Yeltsin, solemnly awarded her a massive gold chain on her chest. All this was shown on television and marked the beginning of the hostage trade conducted by the FSK. They often took hostages from the families of wealthy businessmen to the border of the CRI and handed them over to the Chechens, and then divided the ransom through intermediaries, the main one being Berezovsky. The authorities could do nothing about the rampant crimes of the Russian special services. They killed 8 people from the International Red Cross, blaming the Chechens. And they cut off the heads of three foreigners who allegedly provided the republic with telephone communications with the whole world. They tried to show the Chechens as criminals and bandits to the whole world. In 1999, on Putin’s orders, they blew up two houses in Moscow and one in Volgodonsk, accused the Chechens of this crime and started the second Russo-Chechen war. The fate of Aslan Maskhadov was tragic, but he honorably fulfilled his duty and died as a result of a long guerrilla war. I think it was easier for him to live in a tent and fight in the forest alongside his faithful comrades than during his presidency.
The main accusation leveled against Ichkeria between 1996 and 1999 is that it became an Islamic state and abandoned the path started by the 1992 Constitution and which Dzhokhar intended to maintain. What do you think about this topic?
Ichkeria hasn’t become an Islamic state over the years because it was ruled by President Aslan Maskhadov and had a parliament, but Foreign Minister Movladi Udugov created a two-story so-called “Wahhabi” center in the city of Grozny with security and behind a wall. People from Saudi Arabia came to him, who presented themselves to the Chechen people as the most correct Muslims. They stopped cars on the street and checked people’s IDs to see if relatives or women were traveling with unfamiliar men. To then punish them with whips, as well as for drunkenness. Udugov tried to install his emirs in each village to create parallel systems of state administration. In Urus-Martan, the only village not destroyed by bombing because its inhabitants did not take part in the resistance to Russian troops in the first Russo-Chechen war, a “Wahhabi” center was organized and hijabs were brought for women. In addition, small booklets with extracts from the Koran were brought, published in Moscow. There was a Jamaat school in Baku, where our wounded were taken in, and they were taught to pray differently, but they didn’t leave to react. They were subsidized by Moscow. But, I repeat, from 1992 to 1999, Ichkeria did not become an Islamic state and retained its constitution. Much later, already during the partisan war phase, in 2002, Aslan Maskhadov made a statement and changed the constitution by introducing an Islamic one, but only the parliament has the right to make such legislative decisions if there is a quorum and the modification of the constitution by all the people during a referendum.
After Maskhadov’s death, Abdul- Khalim Sadulayev became the successor to the leadership of independent Ichkeria. He stated:
“With the beginning of the Second War, work continued on the drafting of the Constitution in full accordance with the norms of Islam, […] And now article 1 of the Constitution of the CRI accounting: “The Chechen Republic of Ichkeria is a sovereign and independent Islamic state of law, created as a result of the self-determination of the Chechen people. The sources of all decisions are the Koran and the Sunnah.” Thus, we have come to the logical conclusion of the legal reforms initiated by Dzhokhar Dudayev . Do you think these arguments are correct? What do you think about Sadulaev ?
Indeed, Abdul- Khalim Saidulaev , appointed by Maskhadov in case of his death, became Aslan Maskhadov’s successor. But, like Aslan Maskhadov, he was a partisan in the forest and did not have a parliament to change the constitution. Only the parliament has the ability to engage in legislative activities, and only the people have the right to decide such important issues as changing the constitution during a referendum on this issue. The president has the right only to sign the laws passed by the parliament or the decisions of the people during a referendum.
Do you think the Chechen diaspora in Europe and the West as a whole will be able to influence governments to intervene decisively in the rebirth of an independent Chechnya? What actions, in your opinion, should be taken by its representatives?
There are now 160,000 Russian troops in Ichkeria. As soon as the changes in Russia begin, the Russian troops left in a foreign country, surrounded by a foreign people, will slowly leave by themselves. Just as Kadyrov and his accomplices will run away, fearing a feud. Our activities, like all past years, took place in the information struggle with those who want to take advantage of the seizure of power in the republic to declare Sharia and themselves at the head of Sharia without the democratic choice of the people in accordance with our constitution. We are the only legitimate authority, the Presidium and its members have never proclaimed themselves illegal “prime ministers” or cabinet presidents. We were approved in our offices by the last president and we have continued our work. And we exist to organize democratic elections for new leaders who will undoubtedly appear among the Chechen people in the course of all these events. We must ensure the continuity of democratic power of the people. Only the people have the right to elect a leader and other structures. In recent years, many educated young Chechens have grown up, who studied at the best universities in Europe. Surely the most active of them will show up and be ready, on a competitive basis, not only to lead the republic, but also the cabinet of ministers.
You, of Russian origin, could be represented, if you will allow me an analogy, as a tree with Russian roots and Chechen branches. How do you experience the relationship between these two identities, even after all that has happened?
I am very sorry that the Kremlin has started a war of annihilation with such an amazing people as the Chechens. In the first Russo-Chechen war, at the invitation of the government of Ichkeria, 250 Russian mothers came to Nazran for their captured sons, eighteen-year-old conscripts scattered throughout the republic, finding and taking their sons away from Chechen commanders. This went down in world history, for the first time such a small nation took pity on an army of conquerors and returned the captives without any ransom to their mothers. But, now, almost everyone who opposed the Russian Empire’s aggressive wars has either left Russia or been killed. The Russian people have changed and their army has turned into an army of looters and bandits. However, Russian generals are now taking criminals out of prisons and sending them to fight in Ukraine. And Russia itself evokes completely different feelings among all the peoples of our world. Therefore, everyone is waiting for this last empire of evil and violence to collapse and for its colonial peoples to free themselves and finally become masters of their own land and destiny. And I hope that with the help of Western countries, this will happen much faster than it could be with the Chechen people, who had almost no weapons to defend themselves, most of the machine guns were stolen from the Russian occupiers themselves. And yet he didn’t give up and led the resistance for decades. There were not even a million Chechens, now there are 46 million Ukrainians, and the whole world helps them with weapons and condemnation of Russia’s aggression.
During the war in Chechnya Western politicians declared non-interference in Russia’s internal affairs. Dzhokhar warned that the time might come when the West itself would become Russia’s internal affair. Lo and behold, this moment has come, his words have come true, and they finally woke up! Now Russia is recognized by the West as a terrorist state, although I would call it a terrorist state on an international scale! Because in addition to wars of conquest, it destroys all those who oppose it around the world: Alexander Litvinenko in London, Zelimkhan Yandarbiev in Qatar, Turkey, Austria, Germany, France… it is difficult to list all those killed by name and name the methods of their murder. The Russian government has to answer for its crimes in the same way as Nazi Germany did when the Nuremberg trials took place. Russia is waiting for Nuremberg 2. And I really hope that we will all witness this momentous event and the Russian Empire will sink into oblivion.
How did you live, as mother and wife of the late first president, between the first and second wars? I deliberately ask this question in a very general way. Then you can talk about whatever aspect or experience is most important to you.
Between the wars I lived, like most Chechens, in the belief that there would be no more war. People have restored destroyed houses, planted trees and gardens. Life went on. My kids were there and they too thought all the bad stuff was over. After the outbreak of the second war, when the Chechen people were undeservedly accused of blowing up houses in Moscow, everyone understood that this war would become revanchist. And Moscow’s revenge for the victory of the Chechen people in 1996. I had to leave Ichkeria and move to Ingushetia, then to Georgia, to Baku and, finally, to Istanbul. Our family, like many other Chechens, was forced into exile. Throughout Ichkeria, like mushrooms, Russian filtration fields multiplied, they became more than fifty. They were even in Stavropol, Minvody , Pyatigorsk . In them, tens of thousands of Chechens were tortured and killed. Some of the dying or corpses were sold to relatives for burial. It was a terrible time! The Chechen people paid for their desire to be free with their blood! But, in his soul, he has always remained unconquered, because from time immemorial he welcomed all those who entered his house saying: “be free”! And to this day this greeting remains in effect. I am grateful to fate for giving me the opportunity to get to know this proud and humane people, their customs and traditions. A people who would be admired and taken as an example by humanity if they knew it! And I thank Allah for giving me the opportunity to witness so many miracles that I would never have believed if I hadn’t seen them myself. The Chechen people are busy now, but this is only temporary, they have a bright future ahead of them, and new names and new heroes will certainly appear, about which we still do not know anything. After all, no country in the world has as many enthusiasts as the Chechens. People ready to give their lives for the freedom of the people!