Young Chechens don't speak Russian

Harold F. Schiffman haroldfs at
Tue Nov 19 18:53:33 UTC 2002

NYTimes, November 19, 2002

	With Few Bonds to Russia, Young Chechens Join Militants


    GROZNY, Russia Three friends in a Grozny suburb like to talk war. At
night, after the military curfew begins, they gather in their homes to
recount the day's events: Questioning by soldiers at the city's many
checkpoints. The disappearance of an old school friend. Another failed
attempt to find work. The young men Akhmed, Tamerlan and Ibragim are
lucky. Their parents are alive. The father of one serves in the Chechen
police force. Another's is a local government official. But by the rules
of this bitter guerrilla war, their sex and their ages, from 17 to 20,
make them suspect. That has hardened their views and drawn a line between
them and their parents, who worked and lived alongside Russians.

"I go through four checkpoints to get to my institute," said Akhmed, who
like other young men interviewed spoke on condition that his last name not
be used. "It's like chess." "They move," he said, referring to Russian
soldiers, "and you move away." The years of war have embittered and
politicized a generation. The first war began in 1994, when Akhmed was 12,
and ended in 1996 with Chechnya awarded a large measure of autonomy.

For three chaotic years, rival Chechen warlords controlled the small
southern Russian region. Then, after gunmen led by an Islamic fighter made
an incursion into the neighboring region of Dagestan, the Russian Army
invaded a second time, in 1999. Middle-aged Chechens shared a Soviet past
with neighbors in Russia. They were linked in Soviet Young Pioneer camps,
songs, common vacation spots and the Russian language. Chechens were
deported from their homes by Stalin, but so were many other nationalities,
as well as millions of ethnic Russians. Young people have fewer of those
bonds. With schools here in service only sporadically, and many good
teachers gone, even the privileged, like Akhmed, are getting spotty
educations. Many are losing their Russian. The years of war and a new
nationalist mood in Russia in which people from the Caucasus are often
singled out for discrimination have sown a deep distrust of Russia.

"The main problem of Chechnya is the children of war," said Jabrail
Gakayev, a Chechen historian at the Russian Academy of Sciences. "They are
without specialties, sometimes without education. They are the social base
for the separatists." Some characteristics of this tougher generation came
into relief during hostage crisis in Moscow in October, when Chechen
militants took an entire theater audience captive. Negotiators who visited
the theater described the militants as young and fanatic. A legislator who
negotiated with them, Iosif Kobzon, whose ties with Chechnya date back to
the 1960's, said the fighters broke from Chechen tradition and "did not
recognize elders."

"These guys were totally different," said Mr. Kobzon, who is also one of
Russia's most well-known entertainers. "They were made of totally
different stuff" than well-known Chechen rebel leaders like Shamil
Basayev. "I have been associating with the Chechen diaspora for 40 years,"
the lawmaker said. "I have simply not seen such people." The leader of the
hostage takers, thought to be Movsar Barayev, a nephew of an infamous
warlord, looked about 25 years old, Mr. Kobzon said. Chechens in Grozny
described the young Mr. Barayev as spoiled by his uncle and ill prepared
for battle. Mr. Barayev described himself and his team as "the suicide

The older Chechen fighters like Mr. Basayev occasionally refer to a common
Soviet past when communicating with Russians. Maksim Shevchenko, a Russian
journalist who interviewed him frequently during the first war, recalled
one such appeal by Mr. Basayev, who wears the long beard of Islamic
radicals. "He switched off the tape recorder and he said, `You think I was
always this bearded fighter with a machine gun?' " recalled Mr.
Shevchenko, who at the time was writing for the daily Nezavisimaya Gazeta.
" `I also sang the song, "My address is not a home or street; my address
is the Soviet Union." Those were very good times.' " That Soviet glue, it
seems, has dissolved. Mr. Basayev claimed responsibility for the Moscow
hostage taking in a statement posted on a Chechen Web site on Nov. 1.

Among young people who choose to fight for Chechnya these days, the most
willing are those who have lost parents or other adults close to them,
young Chechen men said in interviews. Hussein, 18, was 10 when the war
broke out. He and his siblings saw their parents killed during an attack
on the town of Urus-Martan, where they spent summers. After losing his
family, he lived with a band of boys in Grozny, much of the time in
basements. "They were all cursing the Russians," Hussein said in halting,
broken Russian. "We ran from place to place. Basements were full of
bodies. They can't rest until they get revenge. They began to fight. They
don't care if they die, because Russians don't let them live anyway."

After watching a bombing raid on a central market in Grozny that killed
his friends, Hussein said, he fought the urge to join the rebels. He is
now living in the neighboring region of Ingushetia, away from the
fighting. He was saved by his brother, Khassan, whom he found in Grozny
after two years of separation. "People were screaming, old people, young
people," said Hussein, describing the central market attack, which took
place during the first war. "Now no one would believe it. I saw it. It
wasn't that I wanted to cry. I didn't want to live anymore."

Some young men fight for money. Aslan, 20, recalled that an orphaned
friend had been paid by Chechen fighters to set land mines. The friend, he
said, was maimed by one mine, suffering severe wounds to his abdomen and
legs, and now walks with a limp. Aslan signed up for Chechnya's National
Guard between the wars. He can neither read nor write, and that caused a
problem at a checkpoint in Grozny recently when he was detained by Russian
soldiers and told to read and sign a statement. The soldiers, for their
part, are often scared that they are confronting armed Chechen rebels.
"These soldiers make you want to fight them," Aslan said. "Half of my
friends are running in the forest, fighting. I wanted to take revenge. But
let Allah punish. You kill one or two or three. But where do you stop?"

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