Shahman Akbulatov was born in 1961 in Kazakhstan , from a family of “special settlers”, Chechens deported to Central Asia by Stalin in 1944. After returning to his homeland in 1993, he took part in the resistance from the first Russian invasion in the form of assistance to fighters and civilians (before the occupation of Grozny) and subsequently in social and political activity. Member of the Central Electoral Commission in the 1997 elections, he was a specialist of the Foreign Relations Commission of the Parliament. Invited to the Memorial Human Rights Center, he worked in this organization until 2009, when he was forced to leave Chechnya. Shahman has lived in exile for 13 years in France as a political refugee.
Let me start with a question about your childhood. What was it like growing up as a “special settler”? How did you live your daily life? And how did you perceive yourself as a Chechen in exile?
I was born in the seventeenth year of my people’s exile. When I was little I didn’t feel like a “special settler”. In my village [Shubarkuduk , Aktobe region] people of different nationalities lived (as, indeed, throughout Kazakhstan): Kazakhs, Russians, Ukrainians, Tatars, Germans, Chechens and others. I played with the neighbors’ children (mostly Kazakhs), attended a Russian school and kept in touch with my Chechen peers. We lived in the center of the village, and next to us there was only one Chechen family. At home we spoke our national language, while at school we spoke Russian. With the neighbors, I spoke Kazakh. From childhood I always knew that I was Chechen. Our elders told us Chechen fairy tales, legends and stories, taught us national customs and traditions.
Over time, as awareness grew, I began to wonder why we Chechens ended up in Kazakhstan, why we don’t live in our homeland. Once I quarreled with the boys in the neighborhood and one of them told me that I was “a Chechen who sold himself to the Germans”. Angry with him, I threatened to hit him, and he ran away. When I got home, I told my parents what had happened and asked why they had called me a “traitor.” It was then that I first heard of the tragedy that struck our people on February 23 , 1944. I was seven or eight years old. As I grew up, my interest in our history grew, and I tried to find answers to my own questions. It was not easy, because the subject of the deportation of peoples was a taboo in the USSR.
What did you know about your homeland Chechnya when you lived in Kazakhstan? What did the elders and parents tell you about the history of your land? And what did they answer to the question “why can’t we go back to our land?”
From my parents, as well as my maternal grandmother and my father’s older sister, I learned that our homeland was the Caucasus, a beautiful and wonderful place. Our ancestors came from the southern part of the republic (present-day Shatoi and Itum-Khale regions) covered with forests and mountains, with clean air and fresh springs. I imagined Chechnya as a paradise, with sown fields and orchards, and high towers on the mountains. Like everyone, I too dreamed of returning “home”.
My father told me that our large family lived in the village of Sanoi , a few kilometers from Khal – Kiloy . My grandfather was wealthy, he was involved in agriculture and livestock, he also had a production of handcrafted tiles, and extracted lime. He had 13 children, from two wives: eight boys and five girls. My father was the penultimate child. In the late 1930s my grandfather was arrested on the pretext of complicity with the Abreks , people who had problems with the law and were hiding from the authorities. He never came home. It just disappeared. This happened to most of our relatives during the years of Stalinist repressions and during deportation to Kazakhstan and Kyrgyzstan. They died, or disappeared. My father went to the front as a volunteer in May 1943, when he wasn’t even 16 yet. He fought in the present territory of Ukraine, in Seversky Donets and in Krivoy Rog . Demobilized in 1946, he returned to Kazakhstan and found a surviving brother and sister there. He could never find the others.
You said your father volunteered to fight in 1943. Why did he do it?
In the spring of 1943, the last “voluntary” mobilization took place on the territory of Chechen-Ingushetia. On instructions from above, the local authorities compiled lists of large families in advance, in order to select one of the adult males as a “volunteer”. My father volunteered not for love of country, but to save his brothers, who were already adults and had families. The elders hoped that as a teenager he would be reformed. He and 25 other people from the surrounding settlements were taken to the Shatoy regional center, and from there to Grozny, they were found fit for service and sent to the front by train. At one of the stations in the Stavropol Territory, two of their group deserted, declaring to their comrades: “this is not our war, let the Russians and Germans deal with each other.” My father spent eight months on the front lines, serving in a mortar battery. During this time, he twice ended up in a German encirclement , receiving a slight wound in the leg. Later, part of them was sent to the rear and placed on the Karelian-Finnish border, where they remained until the end of the war. My father often remembered his comrades in arms, spoke highly of US aid under Lend-Lease , praised American Studebakers and corned beef.
My Mother was also deported. He was 12 years old, judging by the documents. He went into exile with his mother and three brothers.
Why, even though you wanted to return to your homeland, did you stay in Kazakhstan for a long time?
As long as I remember my childhood, we lived the dream of returning to our native lands. The transfer has been delayed for various reasons. At first, my father didn’t want to leave without his only surviving older sister, who had two grown children who had families of their own. Then, when the children (that is, us) went to school, he didn’t want to jeopardize our education. And so time passed: the older ones finished school and entered other educational institutions, followed by the younger ones. All of this required considerable effort and expense on the part of our parents. Meanwhile, house prices in Chechnya were growing every year, and it was difficult for a large family to buy their own home. Time flew by quickly, we matured, we raised our families and the return to our homeland proceeded slowly. Our parents had seven (children): four daughters and three sons. We lived modestly at that time, but our parents tried to give us an education: five of us graduated from higher and secondary specialized educational institutions.
What was the return of the Chechens to their homeland like?
According to my older relatives, the local population welcomed the displaced with caution: the authorities were worried. Rumors spread that the Chechens were traitors who fought on the side of Germany, who gave Hitler “a white horse and a golden saddle.” They were said to be wild people and even ate human flesh!
Among the refugees, initially, there was a high mortality due to disease and malnutrition. They lived in barracks and other poorly heated premises. The dead were buried, or rather, buried near their places of residence. In the spring, when the snow melted, the remains came out. Some families hid the deaths of their dead for several days to receive bread rations for them and divide them among others. Over time, the situation began to change for the better: adults began to work, children began to study. Relations with the local population became more friendly.
In 1993 you returned to Chechnya with your family. Where did you go to live? How did you find your country? What was the mood of the people?
After the collapse of the USSR and the beginning of political processes in Chechnya, we decided that we could no longer delay returning to our historical homeland. On October 30, 1993, my father, my wife, my two children and I arrived by train in Grozny. My brothers were already in Chechnya, they had moved before us. At first we lived in my father’s house bought in the suburbs, but then I rented a separate apartment for my family.
The situation in Chechnya at that moment made a double impression on me. In my opinion, many people were satisfied with having freed themselves from the hated communist regime. They saw a real prospect of building the independent state that many generations of Chechens had dreamed of. On the other hand, there was the anxiety, the worry that things weren’t going to go as planned. The mood of society was changeable, and in many respects it depended on the relationship between the Chechen Republic and the Russian Federation. People hoped that the problems could be resolved peacefully. The division of Chechen society was of particular concern. In addition to the opposition, supported by the Kremlin, there was a certain fragmentation between the religious covenants and the teips which, in my opinion, was artificially constructed.
The attitude towards the government, accordingly, was not unambiguous. Those who were staunchly pro-independence supported Dudayev’s policy, while those who harbored doubts and were influenced by Russian propaganda were sceptical. It is important to specify the context: the totalitarian regime that had dominated until then had been replaced by freedom, interpreted by some as anarchy. The bureaucracy had been replaced by people lacking the appropriate skills and training. The intelligentsia, by and large, had remained aloof from these processes. The new government, with this staff at its disposal, could not and was not able to quickly resolve the problems inherited from the communist past: corruption, extortion, clan interests and so on. Especially in the state of political and economic bloc in which Chechnya was forced by the Russian Federation. After the emigration of Russian-speaking skilled workers and the severing of ties with Moscow, many enterprises found themselves in a difficult situation. There were fewer and fewer jobs, social benefits were paid constantly late. A certain part of the population developed a strong discontent. Many others, however, understood that the path to freedom would be long and treacherous, so they resisted and continued to support Dzhokhar Dudayev.
Stanislovas Buskevichius was a member of Lithuanian Seimas , the Lithuanian legislative assembly between 1996 and 2004. As a member he supported many initiatives in support of the Chechen Republic of Ichkeria, even presenting a legal act for its recognition by Lithuania. Francesco Benedetti interviewed him for Ichkeria.net
Born in Kaunas on September 14, 1958, since his adolescence he took part the national and democratic movement against the Soviet dictatorship, participating in demonstrations and distributing anti-Soviet literature. After graduating from Vilnius University with a degree in economics (1985), he began teaching Western politicaleconomy at the Kaunas Medical Institute. Because of his pro-Lithuanian independence ideas, his course was closed. In November 1988, he signed the Young Lithuania manifesto, which called for the restoration of an independent and democratic Lithuanian state. Between 1989 and 1990 he was one of the promoters of the boycott of the Red Army, through which thousands of military draft cards were sent back to Moscow, and promoted the demolition of Soviet monuments in Kaunas. After his visit in Paris at the invitation of the French Human Rights Association, between 1993 and 1996 he worked as a consultant to the Lithuanian Government for youth policies.
Was elected a member to Kaunas City Council (later Deputy Mayor) between 1995 and 1997, and between 2007 and 2015, in 1996 he was elected a member of the Seimas , the Lithuanian Parliament. As a member he registered 20 legal acts, regulations and drafts. Among its main activities Buskevicius indicates the promotion of physical activity, sport and a healthy lifestyle, support for Ukrainians, Chechens and other peoples who are fighting against the Russian occupation, the protection of animals.
His hobbies are culture, sport, international politics, reading. He is the father of three children.
Buskevicius calls himself aLithuanian, a believer, a democrat.
In 1991 Chechnya proclaimed independence. How did Lithuanian public opinion experience this news? And how did you experience it? What political measures have been taken to support Chechen independence?
In 1991 Lithuanians supported the independence of Chechnya. Our common enemy was and is Russian chauvinism and imperialism. Yes, we Lithuanians demanded Chechnya’s independence to be recognized.
In 1994 the Russian Federation invaded Chechnya. How did the Lithuanian institutions express themselves towards this invasion? What was your point of view regarding this crisis?
In 1994, our newly formed Young Lithuania party and I, as well as all Lithuanian patriots, condemned the Russian invasion and the war against Chechnya. We protested. In 1995, as a member of the Kaunas city council, I demanded the assembly to recognize Chechnya's independence. The Kaunas city council, as well as many other city and district governments, recognized Chechnya’s independence.
In August 1996 the ChRI armed forces retook Grozny and forced the Russian leadership to sign the Khasavyurt Accords. What were the reactions in the Lithuanian parliament? And in general, how did public opinion react to this unexpected victory?
In 1996 I was elected member of the Lithuanian Seimas (Parliament). In 1997, I submitted to the Seimas a legal act on the recognition of the independence of the Chechen Republic of Ichkeria. 23 members voted in favour, 45voted against. All of Lithuania rejoiced at the Chechen victory.
As a result of the war, Chechnya found itself free, but badly destroyed. Have the Lithuanian government and civil society taken measures to support the Chechen people?
Civil society supported and sympathized with Chechnya. Lithuanian parliamentarians went to Chechnya, and the Seimas established a parliamentary group for relations with the Chechen parliament. Lithuania provided humanitarian assistance to the Chechen people. My idea was to start international recognition of Chechnya through sport. In 1997 In Kaunas, together with the athletes, I organized a unique kickboxing tournament to win the cup of Dzhokhar Dudayev, the first president of the Chechen Republic of Ichkeria. Athletes from Lithuania, Latvia and Ichkeria participated in the tournament, Ichkeria’s national anthem was played, and the flag was raised. In 1998 we invited athletes from Chechen Republic of Ichkeria to the official European Kickboxing Championship, therefore protesting athletes from Russia and Belarus refused to participate in it. With this project I came to the Titanas martial arts club directed by Maries Misunas. He gladly agreed to help organize these tournaments. On May 17, 1998 kickboxers from the Chechen Republic of Ichkeria took part at our invitation at the European championship in Kaunas, as representatives of an independent state. The fights in the ring were tense, and the audience was thrilled. Many Lithuanian patriots, especially General Sergejus Madalovas , provided great assistance. Between 8 and 9 April 1997, a bill concerning the recognition of the independence of the Chechen Republic of Ichkeria was presented to the Sejmas by two parties: the Young Lithuania party and the Lithuanian Labor Party. The bill was indeed scheduled, but ultimately failed to win a majority of votes.
Why, in your opinion, did the Lithuanian Parliament choose not to recognize Ichkeria?
April 3, 1997, I presented in my personal capacity (not on behalf of the party) a resolution on the independence of Chechnya. The authorities, in their hearts, sympathized and supported Chechnya, but did not dare to make any actions. Vytautas Landsbergis supported me ideologically, but personally he told me that since Lithuania is not a member of NATO, there was a risk of a response from Russia. I urged him not to be afraid.
The president of the Seimas , Vytautas Landsbergis, spoke publicly on June 16, 1997. His response to Ichkeria was this: Lithuania’s decision to recognize the independence of the Chechen Republic is not the most important thing now. The chairman of the interparliamentary group for relations with Chechnya, Rytas Kupchinskas, told a Kommersant Daily correspondent that the issue of recognizing independence will be resolved very gradually. In your opinion, do these statements mean that there was actually a negotiation between the Chechen and Lithuanian delegations for the recognition of the ChRI?
I think there could have been talk of recognizing Chechnya's independence. I knew Landsbergis and I knew Kupcinska. They supported the independence of Chechnya in their hearts, but did not dare to recognize it. I personally stood up against the Russians even during the occupation, I hadn’t been a pioneer, nor a member of the Communist Youth , nor a communist. I had the KGB on my tail, so I was more determined.
As regards the inter-parliamentary group for relations with Chechnya, do you recall what activities this group has carried out to strengthen political relations with the ChRI?
The Chechen Liaison Group held meetings and made public statements. His work was helpful.
As a deputy of the Lithuanian Seimas , do you remember whether there were any further legislative proposals or other public initiatives in support of Chechnya during your mandate?
I don’t remember anyone else officially proposing to recognize Chechnya, other than me. Civil society and many politicians support the struggle of Chechens and Ukrainians against Russia. As a former member of Seimas , I proposed to recognize the genocide of the Chechen people, following the example of what the Ukrainian parliament did (LINK). But the chairman of the Seimas Foreign Affairs Committee , Zygimantas Pavilionis , is blocking this resolution. I suggested to Aminat Sayeva (former Foreign Minister of ChRI) to establish as soon as possible an Olympic Committee of the Chechen Republic of Ichkeria in Brussels or Kiev, and to request participation in the Paris Olympics in 2024, instead of the Russians. I think this would be very important in Chechnya’s struggle for independence!
As is known, the right of peoples to self-determination is one of the basic principles of international law, which means the right of each people to independently decide on the form of their state existence, freely determine their political status without outside interference and carry out their economic and cultural development.
He received recognition in the process of the collapse of the colonial system , and was enshrined in the Declaration on the Granting of Independence to Colonial Countries and Peoples (adopted by Resolution No. 1514 of the XVth UN General Assembly of December 14, 1960) and subsequent international pacts and UN declarations.
This principle, along with other principles, is proclaimed in the UN Charter, which aims to “develop friendly relations among nations based on respect for the principle of equal rights and self-determination of peoples.” The same goal is set in the UN Charter in connection with the development of economic and social cooperation between states.
Further, the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights and the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights of December 19, 1966 (Article 1) state: “All peoples have the right to self-determination. By virtue of this right, they freely determine their political status and freely pursue their economic, social and cultural development … All States Parties to the present Covenant … must, in accordance with the provisions of the Charter of the United Nations, promote the exercise of the right to self-determination and respect this right.
The Declaration on the Principles of International Law (October 24, 1970) also states: “By virtue of the principle of equal rights and self-determination of peoples, enshrined in the UN Charter, all peoples have the right to freely determine their political status without outside interference and to carry out their economic, social and cultural development and every State has an obligation to respect that right in accordance with the provisions of the Charter.”
The same Declaration states that the means of exercising the right to self-determination can be “the creation of a sovereign and independent state, free accession to or association with an independent state, or the establishment of any other political status.”
Similar principles are enshrined in the documents of the Conference on Security and Cooperation in Europe: the Helsinki Final Act of 1975, the Final Document of the Vienna Meeting of 1986, the document of the Copenhagen Meeting of the OSCE Human Dimension Conference of 1990 and other international legal acts .
These international principles and the right to self-determination are directly related to the formation of the Chechen state. Without going into a historical digression about the existence of state formations among the Chechens since ancient times, we will dwell on the subject of the formation of the national statehood of the Chechens during the collapse of the USSR and after its liquidation.
According to Article 72 of the Constitution of the USSR, which was a amended by the Law of April 3, 1990, the right to secede from the Soviet Union was provided for only to the republics of the Union. It was also provided there, in the second and third parts of the said law, that “the decision to change the status and secession of an autonomous republic or an autonomous region from the USSR is possible only by a referendum. “
The first of the republics to use this right Russian Federation and on June 12, 1990, it proclaimed its sovereignty outside the USSR.
This initiative for self-determination was also supported on the territory of the Chechen Republic of China , where on November 23-25, 1990, the 1st Chechen National Congress was convened and a decision was made on behalf of the Chechen people to declare the sovereignty of the Chechen Republic of Nokhchicho . In fact, this was an act of a referendum, since the representatives of the congress, on behalf of the Chechen people, decided to choose a free path of development within the framework of the current legislation of the USSR and the RSFSR. It was precisely this path that the RSFSR chose when it convened its next congress of people’s deputies and proclaimed its sovereignty outside the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics.
So, the decision of the congress of the Chechen people was and legally fixed by the legally existing Supreme Council of the Chechen-Ingush Republic, which on November 27, 1990 issued a Resolution declaring the state sovereignty of the Chechen-Ingush Republic.
In a word, the Chechen people (taking into account that later the people of Ingushetia also wished to live as part of the RSFSR), in accordance with the generally recognized principles and norms of international law, while observing domestic law, expressed their will to self-determination at a new stage of their development. This corresponds to the legal establishment of the Declaration on the Principles of International Law (October 24, 1970 ) , which states that every people can freely determine its political status and carry out its economic, social and cultural development without outside interference.
Also, the said Declaration on State Sovereignty of the CHIR allowed to obtain an equal legal status, like the RSFSR, i.e. the status of a union republic.
This legal status did not change even after August 19, 1991 , when an attempt was made in Moscow against the president of the USSR , from which a wave of protests began throughout the entire territory of the union state.
Did not become an exception, which ultimately lost power in the republic and transferred powers again formed by the Provisional The Supreme Soviet is from among the deputies of the highest authority of the republic. The task of this Council was to prepare and conduct democratic elections to the state authorities of the republic, which it failed to cope with, and the election commission, created by the National Congress of the Chechen People, took over the preparation of the elections.
As a result, on October 27, 1991, parliamentary and presidential elections were held. Based on the will of the people, the President and the Parliament of the Republic were elected, thereby once again securing the right of the Chechen people to self-determination.
It follows from this that the inalienable right of the people to self-determination is connected with its national sovereignty and is the basis of its international legal personality. If peoples have the right to self-determination, then all other states have the duty to respect this right. This obligation also covers the recognition of those international legal relations in which the people themselves are the subject.
The will of the people, which elected the bodies of state power and administration , was once again enshrined in the Decree of the President of the Chechen Republic of November 1, 1991, proclaiming state sovereignty, thereby continuing the will of the Chechen people, expressed at the first congress on November 23-25, 1990.
Then, on March 12, 1992, the Constitution of the Chechen Republic was adopted and entered into force. And on June 12, 1992, all units of the former Soviet Army stationed on sovereign territory left the republics and, thereby de facto recognizing the sovereignty of the Chechen people.
It should be noted that since the declaration of the sovereignty and territorial integrity of the Chechen Republic, the latter has not taken part in all the ongoing activities to create authorities in the Russian statehood. Thus, the Chechen Republic did not sign federative agreements and did not participate in the formation of the state power of Russia, as well as when voting for the Constitution of the Russian Federation, which was adopted on December 12, 1993, i.e. almost more than a year and a half after the declaration of sovereignty and the adoption of the Constitution of the Chechen state
Thus, the Chechen Republic of Ichkeria , which received a change in name in 1993, in terms of compliance with domestic and international requirements for self-determination, quite legally and reasonably established its legal personality, created its own institutions of state power and administration within the country , while creating representative offices in other states of the Caucasus and the world. That is, from the point of view of international law, we are talking about the activities of sovereign states a , with its inherent features of a subject of international law.
By the way, it will be said that in this period of time, before the start of the conflict with Russia, it was precisely as a subject of international law that CRI was recognized by states such as Georgia and Afghanistan, and our countries were already ready to open official representative offices of the state with the right to present credentials by ambassadors mutually. But, as you know, these intentions were frustrated due to the change in the format of power in Georgia and the beginning of the second Russian aggression against our republic.
Direct relations between the Chechen Republic of Ichkeria and the Russian Federation also testify that there was compliance with the rules and protocol when interacting as subjects of international law.
While launching various Protocols and Agreements signed by these two states, both on the territory of Russia and in The Hague (Netherlands), when resolving the issue of resolving the military conflict, it should be recognized that the election of the President of the CRI on January 27, 1997 put a legal end to the issue on the status of the Chechen Republic of Ichkeria. In the presence of international observers from the OSCE member states, on the basis of the Constitution of the CRI and in accordance with international law, the result of the election of state bodies of the republic was recognized: the President and the Parliament of the CRI.
Recognizing the sovereignty and territorial integrity of the CRI, the President, the Chairman of the Federation Council and the Prime Minister of the Russian Federation officially congratulated the leadership of the Chechen Republic of Ichkeria on democratic elections, that is, de jure recognized the CRI as a subject of international law. The latter is confirmed by such a signed interstate document as the “Treaty on Peace and Principles of Relations between the Russian Federation and the Chechen Republic of Ichkeria” , where it was unequivocally stated that “ bilateral relations will be considered in the light of generally accepted norms and principles of international law”.
It follows from this that the Chechen Republic of Ichkeria, in accordance with domestic and international law, established its authority on sovereign territory, and this fact was legally recognized by the subject of international law as the Russian Federation, from which, observing as currently in force domestic law , and the basic principles and norms of international law, the Chechen Republic of Ichkeria separated as an independent state, and therefore as a subject of international law.
In relation to the current situation, the Russian armed forces occupied and even annexed the sovereign territory of the CRI, which is a violation of international legal obligations and principles of interaction between subjects of international law, in accordance with the Geneva Convention of August 12, 1949.
It is indisputable that the very fact of occupation and annexation of foreign territory, according to the same Convention, does not acquire the right to sovereignty over this territory, regardless of the time of its occupation and retention by force. Therefore, the legal successor of the legitimate power – the Government of the CRI, located outside the country – continues legal and political work to de-occupy its territory.
The CRI government, repeating the previous statement, as a legitimate successor of a subject of international law, on the basis of the Constitution CRI conducts such diplomatic activities as the work of representative offices abroad and the opening of their own representative offices . Work is also underway to grant CRI citizenship to foreigners who wish and issue passports to citizens of the Chechen Republic of Ichkeria.
Meetings of the leadership of the CRI Governments at the highest level with representatives of the OSCE and other international organizations, as well as various diplomatic initiatives against the Russian occupation of the Chechen Republic and Ichkeria , statements to the International Criminal Court about crimes against humanity and war crimes by the political and military leadership of Russia, the existence of criminal cases and their investigations within the framework of the instructions of the Prosecutor General of the CRI and the statement of the Minister of Foreign Affairs of the CRI on political issues, this is not a complete list of the real activities of the Government of the CRI, which intends to wage a legal and political struggle until the complete de-occupation of its country from the aggressor.
History shows that similar situations were in the recent past in European countries. Thus, during the Second World War, the Polish government in exile continued its work in France and England for decades and was recognized by the world community as a legitimate representative of the Polish people.
A more striking example is the activity of the Baltic Governments, which achieved the return of the occupied territories, first by Nazi Germany, then by the Soviet Union, continuing the political struggle in exile until the final establishment of the independence of their countries.
Military occupation, like annexation, as international practice shows, ends with the cessation of control by the aggressor. It makes no difference whether this will be done in a year or decades. Today, it must be recognized that the CRI is de facto under occupation by the Russian Federation, but this is not a fact of the loss of sovereignty, which was proclaimed by the legitimate power of the CRI on the basis of its Constitution and recognized by the participation of representatives of more than fifty and European states as international observers .
Summing up, we can state the following: The Chechen Republic of Ichkeria, having proclaimed, at the will of the Chechen people, its independence and sovereignty, on the basis of the domestic law in force at that time, in compliance with the basic principles and norms of international law, and also defending its right to free development in the struggle with the aggressor in two bloody wars, which have no analogues in world history , continues the de-occupation of its territory through representatives of the CRI state authorities, while maintaining and protecting the status of the Chechen Republic of Ichkeria as a subject of international law.
Dr. IKHVAN B. GERIKHANOV,
First Chairman of the Constitutional Court of the CRI, President of the National Tribunal on war crimes in the CRI Doctor of Law, specialist in international law, expert on human and civil rights.
One of the main difficulties encountered in reconstructing the history of the Chechen Republic of Ichkeria is the lack of reliable historical sources. The destruction of all the main archives, and the seizure of those that have survived by the Russian authorities, means that anyone who approaches the study of this matter has to reconstruct the events day by day, as if assembling a jigsaw puzzle. For this reason the collection of the memories of the protagonists of this story is so important.
Aslanbek Dadaev is the last Chechen journalist to have worked for foreign media in Chechnya. Deputy director of Chechenpress , the independent Chechen news agency, from 1992 to 1995, collaborated with many international and Russian media such as WTN, CNN, Reuter, Al – Jazeera. From 2002 to 2020, he worked as a correspondent for the North Caucasian newsroom of Radio Liberty in the Caucasus. Awarded the David Burke Award by the US Global Media Agency “For taking enormous risks to cover the region and the Beslan tragedy”, he is the author of the documentary “Dada”. As of 2020 he lives in the UK.
Our conversation covered the entire history of ChRI, starting in 1990. Then, as if “the curse of the archives” was haunting us, the first part was lost. This time not because of the Russian bombs, but only because of our “technological seniority”. When I set about setting up the interview, the first snippet of conversation I came across was this joke:
“A Russian soldier returned from Chechnya and went to the hairdresser. He starts combing his hair and asks him to talk about the war in Chechnya. The soldier asks: “Why are you asking me to tell you about it?” The hairdresser replies: “When you talk about the war in Chechnya, your hair stands on end, and I can cut it easier!”
ABOUT WARS WON AND PEACES LOST – FIRST PART
On April 21, Dudayev was killed. Do you remember how the Chechens reacted to the news of his death? What did they say in Grozny? And what did you think?
People were very sad and confused. However, due to the rumors that Dzhokhar was not killed, but hid on purpose so that the Russians could not find him, many calmed down. in the center of Grozny, in front of the presidential palace, independence supporters often held rallies, where one of the slogans was that Dzhokhar would return, things like that. Dzhokhar exuded some kind of strong energy, he calmed people with his mere existence. He knew how to approach the Chechens when he put himself below any Chechen, like his statement that every Chechen is a general and he is the million first. It seemed to come from the recent past of the Chechens, when our traditions were still strong and dignity was valued.
Dudayev ‘s death , Yandarbiev became acting president. What do you think about him? And what did ordinary people think?
Yandarbiev was an ardent patriot, and a supporter of the idea of independence. He didn’t have the resourcefulness needed by real politicians. He has never managed to win public opinion. He was against presidential elections (he believed they would divide Chechen society, which had managed to rally around the idea of independence), and wanted to keep his position as president. When his powers ended, he began actively handing out state awards. And so, in my opinion, he was one of the brightest patriots of Chechnya. And he was a good poet. Even now, in Chechnya, the current authorities don’t forbid his words about a song about his mother.
Do you think Yandarbiev and Dudayev had two different views on the state?
No, they had the same vision of independence. It’s just that at some point the Islamist radicals managed to win Yandarbiev to their side, and his activities went beyond the traditional struggle for independence of the Chechens.
August 6, 1996. Operation Jihad. What do you remember of those days?
I knew in advance about the date when the operation would start and stayed overnight in the center of Grozny. Early in the morning we heard the sounds of a firefight, and on stepping out onto the balcony we saw several of our soldiers under a large tree. They were waiting for a Russian helicopter to fly away, which hovered at a height above this place. It was a detachment of Brigadier General Khizir Khachukaev . I spent 3-4 days in this place, recording videos. With us, among other things, in that position was Sebastian Smith, who then worked for francepress .
At the end of August 1996, Chechnya was free again, but under very difficult conditions. Do you remember what life was like in Grozny at that time? What was the mood of the people? What did they expect from the end of the war?
Life in Chechnya at that time was difficult. However, even in those troubled times, people were much freer. Pro-independence demonstrations often took place in the center of Grozny. The flag of Ichkeria could be seen everywhere. The pro-Moscow authorities sat in fortified buildings lined with concrete blocks. I remember once we accompanied Andrei Babitsky to Moscow. We arrived at the airport and when we got out of the car seeing a Russian tank go by, Andrei ran up to it and shouted at the top of his lungs: ” Alahu Akbar!”. In response, the soldiers laughed and replied “Really Akbar!”. But they got scared and quickly left. In everyday life, people were in critical condition. Problems with water, electricity, work were serious. The pro-Moscow authorities understood that they were temporary…
From September 1996 to January 1997, a provisional government subordinate to Maskhadov operated in Chechnya. How did Chechnya experience during this period? Did you have the opportunity to collaborate with Maskhadov’s government or cover it as a journalist?
Little has changed at that time. The problems remained the same. The people had no money, but they got by as best they could. The main income of the common people was trading in the market. I have always been in contact with the representatives of the government of Ichkeria, even before the August 1996 operation. WTN often needed comments from them and I found them in different locations in the republic. Then, when the Chechens took over the republic, of course I often attended press conferences and other events with the participation of Aslan and others. They had no problems communicating with reporters.
How did you manage to contact Chechen army commanders during the war?
It wasn’t a problem for any reporter. It was enough to come, for example, to the village and anyone could tell you who was there and where he was. The late Kazbek Makhashev was a member of the Chechen government. He was hiding on the territory of an abandoned cattle farm in the village of Novye Atagi, on the roof. That’s where I interviewed him.
Let’s move on to the 1997 election. Do you think it helped that there were so many candidates? And that the anti-independence candidates have been excluded?
I think the electoral race and the election and the election of Maskhadov showed that we really wanted peace. I think Basayev had a higher “score”, but people still chose Maskhadov, yearning for peace and tranquility. Aslan was not a “war hawk” while Shamil, on the contrary, believed that it was necessary to arm oneself and not relax. There were no candidates against independence, because they themselves would not run and would not have any support.
Don’t you think it would have been better if Yandarbiev, Maskhadov and Basayev had agreed on a single candidate?
It would have been better, of course, but people would still have chosen Maskhadov. Yandarbiyev fell under the influence of Islamic radicals, Basayev only knew how to fight. when we won the first war, i began to realize that the real “war” was right in front of us and that we should be united even after the victory over the russians. And so, it turned out we won the war, but lost the peace.
Do you think Maskhadov and Basayev should have cooperated and not fought for power?
Yes. Of course I think. And many thought so. However, I understand why you ask. The fact is that in Chechnya, bombed by war and disoriented, this was impossible. We are democrats from birth, but the level of freedom in those years went off scale, the concepts of freedom and order got confused. Many have interpreted freedom as anarchy. However, if Shamil and Aslan were together, they could have tried to restore order. Again, both Shamil and Aslan knew about the deception of the Russians and understood that the war would not end there. We all understood that. Therefore, we have prepared.
So since January 1997 it was clear to you that the second war is just a matter of time?
It has been since the end of 1996, as the negotiations went. By that time the Chechens had already learned to think like their enemies.
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!
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.
In April 21, 1996, President Dudayev was killed, and Vice-President Yandarbiev assumed his interim powers. How did your relationship with him develop?
After the treasonous assassination of the President, I returned to Grozny and actively participated in the preparation of the new elections. I returned to my duties when President Yandarbiev accepted my condition that the Constitutional Court could begin its work only after the annulment of the unconstitutional decree concerning its dissolution in April 1993. This happened with the Decree from these promulgated on November 12, 1996, in which it was clarified that the dissolution order issued by Dudaev was to be considered devoid of any legal effect. At that point I started forming a new team of judges for the court, having to make up for the expressed refusal of some of the old members to collaborate with the new government, as well as the defections of others, who had left the territory of the Republic.
During his mandate, Yandarbiev initiated a series of legislative interventions aimed at establishing an Islamic republic, such as, for example, the creation of Sharia courts. Were these measures constitutionally correct? Has the Constitutional Court sanctioned them?
To take a specific decision on the introduction of Sharia courts, the Constitutional Court did not yet have the necessary quorum for a vote and the approval of the judges was and is the prerogative of the Parliament of the Chechen Republic, which during this period had not yet been renewed. Actions aimed at introducing Sharia courts directly contradict the Constitution of the Chechen Republic, which I have repeatedly expressed in the media and personally to Yandarbiev.
Following the January 1997 presidential elections, Aslan Maskhadov became president. How was your work under his tenure?
After the election of President and of the Parliament, I have actively collaborated with the institutions and have looked for candidates to complete the ranks of the Constitutional Court , and obtain their nomination by the Parliament. However I failed to complete this task, due to the situation in the Republic and the introduction of Sharia courts. However, as head of the highest judicial authority, I have actively participated in all legal activities of national importance.
By Presidential Decree of May 6 , 1996, I was appointed an expert in the process of negotiating and drafting documents on relations between the Chechen Republic of Ichkeria and the Russian Federation, and also headed the office of the State Legal Commission to develop and improve the constitutional principles , with the creation of a code of Islamic law CHRI. This order was presented to the President on May 20, 1997. This code of laws was personally prepared by me and delivered to President Maskhadov under the name ” Korta Nizam “, meaning “main consensus”: this project included the combination of Muslim and secular law, without radical deviations from the mentality and customs ( adat ) of the Chechen people, but taking into account the rules of conduct for a Muslim according to the Koran and the Sunnah of our Prophet (SAS). This law should have been voted on in a referendum and subsequently should have been adopted by the Parliament. If the Chechen people had approved this bill, after it was adopted by its legislative body, it would have acquired the status of Constitution as Basic Law of the country.However, once again, the crisis of the institutions has not allowed this to be discussed, and possibly integrated into the Fundamental Law of the State.
In addition to this, I was involved in the work as a member of the State Commission for the Development of the National Security Doctrine of the CRI, according to the Resolution of the Cabinet of Ministers of July 31, 1997. Basically, we worked on guarantees for the country’s national security and so that the invasion of our country would not be repeated over the decades. We have tried to establish ChRI in the world community as a subject of international law and find protection through international institutions. In addition, we have worked on consolidating our statehood through the Charter of the United Nations, which should be the document guaranteeing our security, both as a state and as a whole and as an ethnic group in communion with the whole civilized world. Constitutional Court member Seda Khalidova worked actively with me. In 1997 we met with the new Chairman of the Constitutional Court of the Russian Federation M. Baglai and even prepared an agreement on the interaction of the two highest state judicial bodies. This draft agreement was not approved by the parties, for the well-known reasons we have already mentioned.
As the radical forces consolidated in the country, the possibility of creating an Islamic state was increasingly discussed. How could this idea fit into the 1992 Constitution?
In no way. The Constitution of the CRI and its norms are mandatory, i.e. mandatory, regardless of the situation, if changes to individual articles of the Constitution have not been made in accordance with the requirements of this Basic Law.
At the end of 1998, Maskhadov was tried by the Sharia court. Was this court constitutionally legal? Do you remember this process?
By that time I had left the republic and worked at the International Arbitration Tribunal, but as one of the authors of the 1992 Constitution of the Chechen Republic, I can state that such a decision grossly violates the requirements of the Constitution of the Chechen Republic!
How did your experience as President of the Constitutional Court ended?
I resigned in March 1998, after an unconstitutional vote of no confidence in the President of the Constitutional Court of the Chechen Republic, ie in me, for my position against the introduction of Sharia courts and the use of public executions. In the Parliament of the CRI on the second convocation there were deputies who had their own candidates for the post of President of the Tribunal and, frankly, had their own mercantile interests, which under my leadership they could not have realized. Moreover, the very discussion regarding the issue of mistrust of me is an unconstitutional process, if I have not committed a crime or if, for health reasons, I cannot fulfill my duties, or I have committed other actions contrary to the ideas of the sovereignty and territorial integrity of the state, prescribed by the law “On the activities of the Constitutional Court of the Chechen Republic”, adopted in 1992.
This question was initiated by two deputies, one of whom, as it was later established, worked for the FSB of Russia. The second deputy brought his name into disrepute during the proceedings of the first convocation Parliament. Their names are known and they, being refugees in Europe, continue to harm the legitimate authorities of the CRI.
After the start of the Second Russo-Chechen War and Russia’s second invasion of the country, martial law was introduced in the CRI. Aslan Maskhadov’s mandate would have expired in February 2002, but he remained in office until his assassination in 2005. If you recall, what measure extended his mandate up to this point?
First of all, we must proceed from the fact that the President of the CRI, in accordance with the requirements of the Constitution of the CRI, declared martial law in connection with the invasion of the aggressor into the sovereign territory of the country.
Secondly, in connection with martial law and the purpose of centralized government, the chairman of the CRI, Aslan Maskhadov, issued a decree on October 5, 1999 on the introduction of martial law on the territory of the republic and the adoption of Annex No . 1 to it, according to which all state structures were subordinated to the established State Defense Committee (GKO), with the wording that ” all authorities stop their work of norm-setting “. Furthermore, the State Defense Committee, since martial law was declared, has been approved as ” the highest collegial body of state power…”. And with resolution no. 217, adopted at the same time, by decision of the GKO, the President of the CRI was endowed with additional powers corresponding to the highest legislative and executive power!
Thus, the chairman of the CRI, Aslan Maskhadov, as the commander-in-chief of the armed forces of the CRI and the head of the country’s State Defense Committee, during this wartime period could not and had no legal right to leave this post and remained in place until his treasonous assassination by Russian punishers.
After Maskhadov’s assassination, power passed to Vice President Abdul Khalim Sadulayev. Was such a transfer of power constitutionally acceptable?
Of course, and this right is enshrined in art. 75 of the Constitution of the Chechen Republic, which provides that in case of removal from office of the President or in other cases in which the President cannot perform his duties, the Vice-President is required to assume full powers.
After the assassination of Sadulaev , power passed to Dokku Umarov , who proclaimed himself President. There appear to be differences between the Maskhadov-Sadulayev succession and the Sadulayev- Umarov power . What do you think is the difference between these two phenomena?
I don’t see much difference, since CRI president Abdul- Khalim Sadulaev , by decree dated June 2, 2005, appointed Umarov Doku as Vice President of the CRI. As it was indicated above, the State Defense Committee is the only state authority for the period of martial law in the country, and such actions to transfer powers do not go beyond the legislation of the CRI, although they are of a temporary nature, until the end of war and the lifting of the state of emergency.
In October 2007, Umarov announced the dissolution of the CRI as part of the Caucasus Emirate. Is this process unconstitutional?
These actions grossly violate the requirements of the Constitution of the CRI and are criminally punishable as liquidation of the state system and its power structures!
A few months after the birth of the Caucasus Emirate, the current Chairman of the Cabinet of Ministers, Akhmed Zakayev, was elected to his current position by still capable deputies. How did this nomination come about? Was it constitutionally correct?
This process can be explained at length and it is impossible to complete it in this interview due to its large volume in the description. There is my October 10, 2020 Expert Opinion [attached at the bottom of this interview, NDR], made at the request of the Council of Elders of Europe, which has done a great job of consolidating disparate structures, as each of them it is declared a legitimate authority in accordance with the Constitution of the CRI. During this period, I was not a member of any diaspora or power group, so I conducted a thorough analysis and evaluation of the requirements of the Constitution of the CRI, as one of its authors and a scientist in the field of jurisprudence, and concluded that the CRI government in exile is a legitimate state authority of the CRI.
Is it true that in 2002 all powers were transferred to the GKO and that so far the institutional power of the CRI derives from the decisions of this committee, now renamed the State Deoccupation Commitee?
Yes, it is this structure that continues to have the status of the only state authority of the CRI, as the successor to the State Defense Committee, represented by the State Deoccupation Commitee of the annexed territory by the Russian Armed Forces and their protégés.
From the point of view of constitutional law, can the current CRI authorities represented by the Cabinet of Ministers, chaired by Akhmed Zakaev , recognize themselves as legitimate?
Yes, and this does not contradict the requirements of the Constitution of the CRI, and proof of this is the fact that it was approved by the legal successor of the state power of the CRI – the State Deoccupation Commitee. A detailed analysis of the legitimacy of the Cabinet of Ministers of the CRI is contained in the opinion of 10.10.2020.
The sharp deterioration of Russian-Chechen relations and the intensification of activities by the Russian special services in Ichkeria and neighboring territories began with Putin’s appointment as Secretary of the Security Council of the Russian Federation. Armed provocations were staged on the Russian-Chechen border. In April 1999, for example, Russian forces attacked a Chechen border post along the Kizlyar section of the border at night, killing one guard and wounding several others. This was evidently an attempt to draw the Chechens into an armed conflict in Dagestan. However Maskhadov, realizing what the Russians wanted to achieve, forbade any retaliatory action across the border. The Russian provocation, therefore, was not followed up. The next action was staged in the Herzel section of the border in May 1999. Fierce fighting took place here for several days, during which even field artillery was used. The Russians’ plan was the same – to lure the Dagestanis to their side. Once again, however, the President of Ichkeria managed to preserve the peace between the Chechen and Dagestani peoples. Even this cowardly enterprise failed, the Russians began to threaten the country with all kinds of ultimatums.
President Yeltsin’s second term was coming to an end, and to save themselves from prison this drunkard’s entourage began frantically looking for a replacement. However, this group did not have a candidate who could validly oppose Primakov, and with the latter’s coming to power, all this mess would end: everything they plundered would be confiscated from them. In an attempt to find a good man they first turned to Stephasin, who refused. After these appeared Putin, like a devil from a snuffbox. He was ready to accept all the conditions stipulated by the Yeltsin clique. However , he was not yet popular enough to oppose Primakov. Thus it was that the public relations specialists, led by Berezovsky, Voloshin and Pavlovsky played the “Chechen card” in favor of Putin.
Every presidential campaign in modern “democratic” Russia is shrouded in tragedy and blood. At that time the GRU and the FSB flooded Chechnya with their agents. The services were infiltrated into the restricted circle of Chechen political-military leaders, taking advantage of the latter’s indifference in the selection of their entourage, soon becoming confidants of their godfathers. As the struggle for the presidency intensified in Moscow, Russian agents accelerated their provocative and subversive activities, as was evident from the events that began to occur in Ichkeria. I recall that in the spring of 1997 rumors began to circulate about the imminent unification of Chechnya and Dagestan into a single Islamic state, and that a “cleansing” of Russians would soon begin in preparation for this unification. Various kinds of figures and emissaries began to appear in Chechnya, coming from Dagestan. These men found great hospitality, and the support of those who supported them. Without encountering any significant opposition from the authorities, supporters of the Imamate began to promote the idea of creating a Chechen-Dagestan state “to marry Dagestan to Ichkeria” as one of them put it.
Some time later, a congress of the Chechen and Dagestani peoples was held in Dzhokhar, in the presence of the same leadership of Ichkeria. Shamil Basayev was elected Imam of Chechnya and Dagestan, with the aim of establishing an Imamate. Analyzing everything that was happening, it was obvious that this was being done under the direction of the Lubyanka , but any sober remarks regarding this adventure met with strong opposition from the “advocates of pure Islam”, anyone who dared to say something objective in this matter he would have been branded as an “apostate”, an agent of the Russians, a Jew or belonging to other categories considered hostile to the Chechens.
After using all sorts of provocations against Ichkeria, starting with the financing of slave traders and ending with battles on the Russian-Chechen border, without results, the Russian revanchists used the risk of an Islamic insurrection in the Caucasus as a strong argument for the 1999 presidential campaign. In the summer of 1999, Basayev and his supporters accelerated preparations for the invasion of Dagestan, making no secret of their plans. The leadership of Ichkeria, being in a serious internal crisis, did not have the opportunity to intervene.
At the end of August , more precisely on August 28, 1999, a meeting of the State Defense Committee (GKO) was held in the building of the Presidential Administration. Almost all of the country’s military-political leadership attended this meeting, as well as religious figures and some members of Parliament. The main argument was evidently the invasion of Dagestan. Basayev had shown himself to the whole world in the territory of Dagestan, with a watermelon in his hand. The GKO was expected to make a decision on this issue , and a proposal was made to ask Basayev to immediately leave Dagestan, and return to Chechnya.
The meeting took place in a tense atmosphere: the president assessed the situation as very difficult, and harshly accused Basayev of having exposed the Chechen people to serious consequences. Finally, he urged those present to prepare to repel the invasion of the Russians, as, according to him, another war was inevitable at this point. At the end of his speech, the President asked the members of the State Defense Committee to express their opinion on this issue. On the eve of the GKO meeting, I hoped that a collective statement condemning the actions of Shamil Basayev would be presented: I am sure that Shamil would not have remained indifferent to the GKO’s pronouncement. Yet this did not happen. Without boring the reader with a list of the names of those present, I will say that there were 35/40 people there. For the most part the speakers expressed little, and not very clearly. A clear and unequivocal position on the matter was expressed by no more than 3 – 4 people. Among them was Akhmed Zakayev. In his speech the Minister of Culture supported and approved Basayev’s actions without hesitation. I, in turn, called Basayev’s actions a crime against the Chechen people. Many of those who condemn Basayev’s action today remained silent then. The lack of a unanimous decision on this issue was a mistake on the part of the GKO. The leadership of Ichkeria, with its fragmentation, showed the side of Russian anti-Chechen propaganda. Our short-sightedness was very useful to the Russian revanchists.
The war in Ukraine started in Chechnya. It may seem like a provocation. Yet, this is the reality that the pages of this second volume reveal, entirely dedicated to the First Russo-Chechen War. The genesis, development and unfolding of this bloody conflict seem to be the draft of the script that the world has been witnessing in recent months between the Donbass and the Crimea.
Even then, as now, Russia invaded a free state, disguising the war it was waging behind the label of a “special operation.”
Even then, as now, the enemy of the Russian state had been labeled and demonized: if Zelensky and his government are called “Nazis” today, Dudayev and his ministers were then called “bandits”.
Even then, as today, convinced of their superiority, the military commands marched on the capital, claiming to bend a people to their will, as they had done several times in Soviet times. But even then, as now, they were forced to withdraw, only to unleash a bloody all-out war, the most devastating European war since 1945.
The First Russo-Chechen War was the first tragic product of Russian revanchism: the “zero point” of a parable that from Grozny leads to Kiev, passing through Georgia, Crimea, Belarus and Donbass. With one substantial difference: that the Russians lost that first war against Chechnya. Their imperial ambitions, resting on the worn foundations of a crumbling empire, ended up frustrated by the stubbornness of a nation immensely inferior in number and means, to that of Ukraine, which today defends its land from the war unleashed by Putin.
This story can teach those who have the patience to read it two important lessons: what happens when you indulge the ambitions of an empire, and how do you defeat it. If it is already too late to put the first into practice, we still have time for the second.
Dr. Ikhvan Gerikhanov has served the Chechen Republic since 1991. Doctor in law and specialist in comparative studies in international law, with the statute od judge of the highest category, Gerikhanov was Member of the Executive Committee of the National Congress of the Chechen People, Deputy of Parliament on first convocation, and President of the Constitutional Court from 1993 to 1998. He was one of the main authors of the Constitution of 1992, which still today represents the Basic Law of the Chechen Republic of Ichkeria.
Today Gerikhanov is the head of the national war crimes tribunal in the Chechen Republic of Ichkeria. About this activity, he said: “The objective of our trinbunal is the collection and evaluation of evidence for the assessment of the presence of signs of genocide and ethnocide of the chechen people, starting from the the time of the Tsar’s autocracy, the communist regime and the modern russian invasion on our territory”.
He currently resides in France. The French government refused him and his family a few weeks ago, political refugee status.
We had a long conversation with him about the Constitution, the legitimacy of ChRI governments, as well as some of the most controversial laws, not forgetting his work as President of the Constitutional Court.
Dr. Gerikhanov, when talk about a constitution started?
The first debates regarding the writing of the Constitution began at the moment of the creation of the Provisional Supreme Soviet, on September 7, 1991. This body was attended by former deputies of the Chechen-Ingush Supreme Soviet and popular representatives, and was headed by the future Speaker of the Parliament of the Chechen Republic, Hussein Akhmadov. Joint commissions were created, including a juridical commission for the elaboration of legislative projects concerning the election of the President and the Parliament of the Republic. As a member of the National Congress of the Chechen People (OKChN) and as the only legal scholar (at that time I was a district court judge of the Leninsky district of Grozny, and had recently defended a dissertation on international law at the University of Kiev) I was included in this legal commission, chaired by the former Second Secretary of the regional party committee, Lechi Magomadov. A wonderful person. Many people from all professional backgrounds participated in the discussion of these projects. The discussion was publicized in the media, including through television. Every citizen of the Republic was able to participate.
In 1994, when the war broke out, Magomadov would have been among the main exponents of the unionist government. Don’t you think that the work he did in the legal commission contradicts the choice to take the side of Russia during the First World War?
Magomadov was first of all a worthy and loyal person. Secondly, he fully supported the decisions of the Chechen People’s Congress. At that time he supported the reasons of the people, and did not participate in any opposition. From his work the Chechen nation only benefited. He died in Mecca during the pilgrimage.
If we had to judge people by the episodes, keep in mind that between 2010 and 2012 I directed the Arbitration Tribunal of the Chechen Republic, which is not part of the power system, but helps all those who turn to it in the resolution of civil cases . Due to conflicts with the local authorities, as well as the fact that I refused to pay the “tribute”, they tried to initiate a criminal case against me. And for this reason I was forced to leave my fatherland and my father’s house once again.
Therefore, one cannot judge people by episodes, as life makes its own adjustments, and sometimes a person is forced to live side by side with the enemy. Some supporters of independence still work in various structures today, while in the republic the protégés of the Kremlin rule. This does not mean that they have betrayed the idea of \u200b\u200bfreedom!
In the elections of 27 October 1991 you were elected deputy. Do you remember how Parliament developed the work on the Constitution?
I was elected in the Nadterechny constituency. Once formed, the Parliament adopted as a basis the draft already developed by the legal commission of the Provisional Supreme Soviet and, after a general discussion which also took place through the media, in the presence of journalists, jurists and simple interested parties, the Parliament adopted the Constitution of the Republic Chechen on March 12, 1991, a year and a half before Russia adopted its own. Personally, I was one of the main co-authors of the Constitution. The deputies did not have much time to adopt the Basic Law, since Russia had already declared the election of the President and Parliament illegal, and it was urgent to consolidate sovereignty by law, as promised to the Chechen National People’s Congress. Within the walls of the parliament of the Chechen Republic, in the body of lawyers’ deputies, there were very few lawyers, only four people out of 41 deputies, and it was not easy to adopt the Constitution when the body of deputies consisted of former farm workers and builders. But we all faced this task, and the Constitution of the Chechen Republic was adopted by the Parliament of the Chechen Republic, and we all rejoiced this holiday, regardless of profession and religion!
There were many opposition supporters in Nadterechny District. They declared that the elections were a farce and that they did not take place in their controlled areas. How do you respond to these accusations?
During the election period, there were opposition supporters in Nadterechny District, but only in one place, not everywhere. The population still did not realize what was happening, and was rather neutral. I have personally met with voters in two large settlements, where they know me well, and the electoral commission received the ballots and prepared the elections. Two representatives were elected in this constituency. Unfortunately my colleague died heroically in the First War!
After the promulgation of the constitution, the institutions foreseen by the Basic Law began to be established. One of these was the Constitutional Court, of which you were elected president in March 1993. How did this constitution process take place?
In early 1992, the Parliament of the Chechen Republic adopted the law “On the activities of the Constitutional Court of the Chechen Republic” and, according to it, the number of judges was determined at seven people. Well-known lawyers from the Republic, from the Ministry of Justice, from the Public Prosecutor’s Office and from the Supreme Court of the Republic took part in the election of the President of the Constitutional Court. Usman Imaev was nominated by the President of the Chechen Republic, while my fellow deputies convinced me to participate in these elections. I can say that all the judges of the Constitutional Court of the Chechen Republic were highly qualified specialists and experienced lawyers. I can be proud of all my colleagues who have had the opportunity to work with them, especially Judge Seda Khalidova, who went through a very difficult path with us and did not become a defector from another government, as some judges have done.
Why did Dudayev want Imaev in that role?
Usman Imaev was a very knowledgeable lawyer and an excellent executor of all orders of Dzhokhar Dudayev. I would have been happy and satisfied if he had been elected head of the Constitutional Court, but the Parliament saw me, probably, not as an executor of someone else’s orders, but as a learned lawyer, and a person of principle. For example, once elected I was the first of the chechen leaders to meet V. Zorkin, President of the Russian Constitutional Court. On that occasion we prepared a joint agreement ready to be signed, but this was not possible due to the current crisis of power in the Republic.
What activities did the Constitutional Court perform?
The Constitutional Court of the Chechen Republic fulfilled its direct duties of protection of the constitutional order and in strict compliance with the provisions of the Constitution, regardless of the origin of the legislative acts, be it the President or the Parliament.
We have repeatedly made decisions on the inconsistency of our Constitution with the Decrees of the President and the Parliament of the Chechen Republic, which at first were taken for granted. Then, when the confrontation between the legislative and executive bodies became an open conflict, the intervention of our court, and that of its president were not fully received correctly and each side wanted to see the Constitutional Court of the Chechen Republic as “partisan ”, which was impossible, because the court was established to protect the constitutional order and not the branches of power.
The Constitution establishes that Parliament holds the legislative power, and this has the right to approve presidential appointments and to control the work of civil servants. President Dudayev’s reluctance to follow these instructions has led to serious tensions between the president and parliament. What was the origin of these tensions?
The main reason for the confrontation between the legislature and the executive was the misunderstanding or non-acceptance of the fact that the Republic was parliamentary. Many members of the government, including the President, could not bear it. At the very beginning of the confrontation between these branches of power, the Constitutional Court and its chairman issued dozens of official statements on the need to follow the requirements of the Constitution of the Chechen Republic and on the fact that such an escalation of tension could lead to consequences unpredictable.
I don’t know the reason behind this non-acceptance of the parliamentary nature of the Republic, but I can say that around Dudayev there were many sycophants who could influence his decision. I myself was dumbfounded by his behavior, when he sent a late night messenger asking me or advice on key legal matters. After agreeing on these matters, Dzhokhar publicly stated the opposite, and when I asked him why he did this, he referred to unknown people who convinced him against our agreement!
Many members of the entourage of the President of the Chechen Republic literally influenced Dzhokhar Dudayev about the negative influence of the parliament of the Chechen Republic in state building, having their own personal and mercantile interests. Issues of a legislative nature were resolved at the household level, ignoring the requirements of the Constitution and other regulatory acts. First of all, it was a confrontation between the forces of order: the Public Prosecutor’s Office and the Ministry of Internal Affairs. Each of them resolved the issue from the point of view of his participation in the process of declaring sovereignty, and not from the legal point of view of fulfilling his direct duties. All this led to chaos and mutual misunderstanding, while those who could not be authorized to manage state bodies also very actively intervened: various parties, organizations of the elderly, athletes and cultural figures, who were assigned positions in based on their popularity in their business field.
On April 10 and 17, 1993, President Dudayev issued a series of decrees establishing direct presidential rule and dissolving parliament, decrees which were declared illegal by the Constitutional Court. Do you remember exactly what these decrees contained and why he declared them illegal?
The Constitutional Court has recognized the President’s Decrees regarding the dissolution of the supreme legislative body as illegitimate, as they grossly contradict the provisions of the Constitution. The content of the decree of the President of the Chechen Republic on the dissolution of the supreme legislative body of the country stated that, in order to preserve the sovereignty and political system, and due to the loss of confidence in it, in accordance with Art. 73 of the Constitution of the Chechen Republic the Parliament of the Chechen Republic should have been dissolved. In truth, the art. 73 of the Constitution of the CRI does not guarantee the President these powers, not even in times of war. He could suspend the activities of all authorities by imposing martial law, but this was not done at the time, since there was no reason to do so. The action exercised by Dudayev, in legal language is called “seizure of power”. which is prohibited by art. 2 of the Constitution.
As mentioned above, the Constitutional Court has applied all means to resolve this conflict and, as the head of the highest legislative body, I have personally asked and spoken to the President of the Parliament and almost all the deputies, as well as the President of the Republic, so that this confrontation would not result in a violation of the Constitution of the Chechen Republic and in an armed conflict. However, each side considered itself on the right side, and we are all witnesses and eyewitnesses of what happened next. The Constitutional Court of the Chechen Republic, on the basis of the obligation to control and safeguard the state system, has correctly pronounced the illegitimacy of the acts of dissolution of the supreme legislative body, not being able otherwise by the judicial body, called to respond to violations of the Constitution of the Chechen Republic.
In the same period, the parliament called a referendum on trust in President Dudayev and in Parliament itself, which the Constitutional Court deemed acceptable. Was this referendum legitimate?
When the confrontation between legislative and executive authority reached a critical point, the Parliament made use of its constitutional right, provided for by paragraph 24 of art. 64 of the Constitution of the Chechen Republic on the popular vote, to hold a referendum on the issue of trust in the authorities and regarding the form of government of the state.This decision is the prerogative of the Parliament of the Chechen Republic and only it can take such a decision, if it deems it necessary, without the consent of any branch of power. These days the crisis of power, with the exception of the judiciary, was in full swing and turned into an open confrontation, with the subsequent armed intervention of the police forces during the dissolution of the Parliament of the Chechen Republic.
On June 3, 1993, Dudayev rejected the opinion of the Constitutional Court regarding the legitimacy of the referendum, declaring it a “perversion of the law”. Why, in your opinion, was Dudayev so against the referendum?
We have tried to solve this process with all diplomatic methods, up to involving respected people and elders. A conciliation group was created headed by the president of the Academy of Sciences, doctor of physical and mathematical sciences Khamzat Ibragimov, in which I was also included. I spoke to Dzhokhar repeatedly on this matter, but after every conversation he did not operate as required by the Constitution. He believed, like everyone in his entourage, that the parliament of the Chechen Republic acts in favor of the opposition, and that the parliamentarians themselves are on several “barricades” of this crisis.
After the coup d’état of 4 June 1993, the Constitutional Court remained the only institution recognized by the Constitution on a permanent basis. On 18 June it issued a statement on the illegality of the government’s actions. Do you remember the contents of this court statement? What reactions has it elicited?
The Constitutional Court of the Chechen Republic suspended work on the administration of justice on my initiative, because after the court decision on the illegality of dissolving the Parliament of the Chechen Republic, our judges and staff began to fear retribution from the radicals , who saw in this decision only an opposition to the President of the Chechen Republic and nothing else. In this regard, this opinion still remains rooted in some supporters of sovereignty today, although there was and could not be any conflict between the Constitutional Court and the President, neither at an institutional level, nor at a personal level. The highest judicial body, within its powers, performed the duties assigned to it to protect the Constitution and the constitutional order, revealing violations that ignored the requirements of the Basic Law of the land, regardless of grades and degrees, and the position held in power and in this society.
How did relations develop between you and Dudayev, and between you and the government in general, after June 1993? Are you under pressure, threats or attempts on your life?
There was no, and there could be no public persecution and threats, since even to my detractors it was clear that I was fulfilling my duties, regardless of the roles and positions of violators of the requirements of the Constitution of the Chechen Republic.
With the outbreak of the First Russo-Chechen War the authorities of the Chechen Republic of Ichkeria were placed under martial law. As a lawman, and a senior state official, how did you serve the cause of independence?
Since the beginning of the first war in December 1994, I have been at the forefront of opponents of armed conflict and have organized national and international conferences, as well as roundtables on the cessation of hostilities in my Motherland, condemning Russia’s military and political leadership. Having the moral and institutional responsibility to preserve sovereignty, as well as to stop hostilities on our territory, as president of the Constitutional Court, I have adopted all the methods and means at my disposal to inform the world and the Russian public opinion about the crime of this war and about the existence of the ongoing genocide against my people. To do this, I involved Russian government officials, as well as personally holding press conferences and organizing international conferences, with the participation of world-renowned scientists, conflict specialists and experts from the United Nations.
A number of conferences were held in the building of the international organization “Federation of Peace and Accord”, which has an advisory office at the United Nations. I would like to take this opportunity to express my gratitude to the leadership of this organization, especially to the deputy chairman of the Society, MGIMO professor Andrey Melvil, who impartially helped me and provided every opportunity for the world to hear the voice of the Chechen people, who was being exterminated under carpet bombing by the Russian military forces.
One of the events that saw you protagonist in the period 1994 – 1996 were the negotiations following the Budennovsk hostage crisis. Why were you involved in these negotiations, and how did they unfold?
During this time I was in Moscow and was approached by the Minister of Nationalities of Russia V. Mikhailov, who asked me for help in freeing the hostages, as I was one of the highest officials of the republic. Naturally I could not refuse this request, knowing that the hostages were women and children. Considering myself morally responsible and in general, as a lawyer and also as a simple person, not accepting this way of making war, I went to the place. Upon arrival in Budennovsk, I went to the headquarters for the release of hostages, where N. Yegorov, the Deputy Prime Minister of the Government of the Russian Federation, Stepashin, the director of the FSB and other officials of the Russian side were. Then I went to the hospital, and finally participated in the negotiations and drafting of the documents relating to the conditions for the release of the hostages. At the same time, I had to involve the Prime Minister of the Russian Federation V. Chernomyrdin in this process through Mikhailov in order to have guarantees that the conditions set by Shamil Basaev were met.
My participation in the release of the hostages was decisive, because knowing the situation, I assumed responsibility as an official and as a Chechen: without this happening it would have been impossible to complete this negotiation. I was helped in this by two other compatriots of mine, whom I thank for the courage shown in this situation, in which we were all risking our lives. The important thing was that the result was positive: the hostages were released (over 1200 hostages, mostly women and children) and hostilities on the territory of the republic were stopped, which saved tens and hundreds of civilian lives, and started a dialogue between the warring parties which ended with negotiations peacemakers of Khasavyurt.
Besides that, you worked for the establishment of an international tribunal for Chechnya.
In 1995-1996 I was one of the organizers of the Public International Tribunal for crimes against humanity and war crimes in the Chechen Republic. The presiding judge was Galina Starovoitova, who was killed for her civilian activity by war supporters. The books have been published for some time and are directly accessible via the Internet. The court worked in accordance with the current Russian Criminal Procedure Code, and the collection of materials and evidence took place in the court. The members of the court were former and current deputies of the State Duma of the Russian Federation, as well as well-known world-famous lawyers, both Russian and foreign. Among the observers were well-known specialists and distinguished diplomats. By the way, one of the experts was Olof Palme’s brother Klaus Palme, and among the diplomats – the last USSR Foreign Minister Pankin. We have conducted several phases of the judicial investigation both inside and outside Russia and have examined evidence bordering on the genocide of the Chechen people. These judicial investigation materials are published in three printed books and are available on the Internet.