Tuesday, April 30, 2013

Renewed Interest

On Monday April 15, 2013, explosions near the finish line of the Boston Marathon shocked people around the world. The following week saw an intense investigation resulting in the dramatic death of one suspect and capture of the other.

Tamerlan died in a firefight with police officers.
Dzhokhar fled and was later captured.

Identified as Tamerlan and Dzhokhar Tsarnaev, the motivations of these two young men of Chechen origin are still unclear. However, they have turned a spotlight on their native land.

Currently classified as a “Republic within the Russian Federation,” Chechnya has had a troubled history. Decades of violent resistance to Russian rule, followed by a period as an autonomous region, Stalin decided in 1944 that the Chechens had collaborated with the Nazis in WWII and should therefore all be deported to Kazakhstan. Thousands died as a result.

After Nikita Kruschev came to power following the death of Stalin the Chechens were invited to return back to the Caucasus and form an autonomous region within the Soviet Union once again.

The 1991 collapse of the Soviet Union presented an opportunity for the Chechens. Separatists claimed independence for Chechnya.  Russian troops entered Chechnya in 1994 in an effort to squelch this movement, resulting in a bitter 20-month-long war in which an estimated 100,000 people were killed. 

Though previous attempts had been made, Russian President Boris Yeltsin and Chechen leader Aslan Maskhadov sign a formal peace treaty in 1997. This, however, does not solve the issue of Chechen independence.

In the (anything but peaceful) years that followed, the nationalist movement that had previously motivated Chechen leaders took on a decidedly more religious theme. 

Maskhadov announces in 1999 that Shari'ah law would be phased in over the next three years. 
Chechen rebels also enter into neighboring Dagestan in an attempt to form an Islamic state there. 

The new Russian prime minister, Vladimir Putin, blames Chechen rebels for a series of apartment bombings across Russia that kill 300 people. He cites this as justification for a new crackdown in Chechnya. In 2000 Russia troops capture and decimate the city of Grozny. Putin declares direct rule a few months later and then appoints Akhmat Kadyrov, a former Chechen cleric, as the head of his administration there. Kadyrov is elected president in 2003. He is killed in a bombing attack shortly thereafter and succeeded by his son, Ramzan.

Meanwhile, the bloody conflict continued. Vicious attacks from both sides prompt human rights organizations to cite numerous violations. Though the rebel forces are not without blame, most of the citations focus on the conduct of the Russian forces. This hampers Putin's requests for international assistance with his campaign. He claims that the Chechen rebels have ties to international terrorist organizations, though there is no hard evidence to prove this.

Putin's successor, Dmitry Medvedev, declares an end to this "counter-terrorism operation" in 2009, claiming the situation in the republic to be "normalized."However, the violence continued. When Putin resumed the presidency in 2012, he reinstated his campaign. The upcoming winter Olympics in Sochi provide a powerful incentive to clean house.

He has received criticism from human rights groups world-over, but if the Tsarnaev brothers are proven to have ties to a terrorist group with bases in the Caucasus, this could change. If this proves to be the case, Mr. Putin will undoubtedly be the epitome of graciousness whilst delivering his "I told you so" speech.


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