Chechen ghosts

The uneasy relation between the various interest groups among those, both in the North Caucasus and outside it, who have tried to see a way through the problematic political and social landscape of this troubled part of the world, came to the fore again recently on Norbert Strade’s long-lived Chechnya Short List. Norbert has once again posted one of his periodic  “Chechen ghosts” items, this time a clipping from the Independent newspaper – an article by a British journalist who quoted a Western bomb disposal expert as saying that a new type of IED being used by the Taleban in Afghanistan was based on expertise “coming from foreign fighters from places such as Chechnya”.

According to the received wisdom in a certain section of the Chechnya human rights community, Chechens cannot be found in places such as Afghanistan, Iraq or Pakistan. Even though Chechnya’s Islamic fundamentalists – who act separately from the increasingly out-of-favour nationalists – are as opposed to the U.S., Israel and the West as their Taleban counterparts, by a section of the human rights campaigners  they are thought to be exclusively focused on eliminating Russian control of the region. This approach seemingly ignores the fact that on websites such as Kavkaz Center and Kavkazan Haamash,  Chechen, Dagestani and Ingush Islamists routinely issue anti-Western statements. It would surely not be surprising if one or two Chechens ended up on the Afghan front lines, though the numbers can be disputed. There is also the complicating factor that such participation can be used by the Russian government in its ongoing campaign against Chechnya, which seeks to tar all Chechens with the brush of Islamic extremism.

To point out that it might be kinder and more realistic to treat Chechens as fallible human beings who might fall into political extremism either deliberately or as a result of being duped,   rather than as paragons of national-revolutionary virtue who can do no wrong, is not a popular line to take in Norbert Strade’s forum. I have already been attacked by the recently-reappeared Mikael Storsjö (who has done much in word and deed to support the Islamic fighters and their ideologists in Chechnya and elsewhere in the North Caucasus), and other responses have been equally hostile. In the end one is forced to conclude that what really drives the opinions of these avowed pro-Chechens is an antipathy to Western political and military influence per se – as well as to the Kremlin’s foreign policy. For if sites like Kavkaz Center are really just projects of the unreformed Russian/Soviet KGB, then why give them any support?

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