Russian rail bombs a reminder of tragic Chechen plight

The bomb attack on the Russian busy rail metro inflicting casualties, allegedly by Chechen “Black Widows”, have elicited an outcry of shock and horror throughout the Western capitals. Messages of support for President Dmitry Medvedev from Binyamin Netanyahu, Barack Obama and Gordon Brown quickly followed, with the customary condemnation of “Muslim” terrorism.

If two women are indeed responsible, since there is no legitimate claim of responsibility or any evidence that Chechen resistance fighters are responsible for the attack, it is obligatory to look beyond the horror and try to comprehend the perpetrators and the circumstances which led to this devastating act.

The war in the Caucuses began 200 years ago, with atrocities and "ethnic cleansing" committed by the Russians against the Chechens, Ingushes, Circassians, Balkans and Karachais. The Muslim peoples of this multiethnic region claim a remarkably resilient tradition of opposition to rule from Moscow.

In the late eighteenth century Catherine the Great attempted to forcibly annex this mountainous territory between the Black and Caspian Seas. But the Russian invaders inspired fierce, unexpected resistance from a broad ethnic coalition of Caucasian Muslims who had united in loyalty to one spiritual leader –” a Chechen Muslim mystic warrior named Sheikh Mansur Ushurma.

Declaring the struggle a jihad, Sheikh Mansur and his Muslim mountaineers inflicted a crushing defeat on Czarist forces at the Sunzha River in 1785 and were briefly able to unite much of what is modern Dhagestan and Chechnya under their rule. He died in prison in 1793.

Other Muslim leaders have proven to be formidable adversaries for whoever has tried to rule the Caucuses. Full scaled armed revolts against the Russian occupation of Daghestan and Chechnya resumed in1824 with a bitter guerilla war that lasted 30 years. A Sufi warrior, Sheikh Imam Shamil actually established a short-lived Islamic state before his capitulation in 1859. Muslims rose up against the Romanovs in 1865, 1877, 1879 and 1890’s and plagued Czarist rule in the Caucuses through the Bolshevik Revolution.

During the Second World War, when disturbances occurred in Chechnya in 1940 and again in 1943, Stalin responded with astonishing brutality that bordered on genocide. Accusing the Muslims with still unproven collaboration with Nazi Germany, in 1944 he forcibly relocated six entire Caucasian nationalities, including the whole Chechen and Ingush populations, to special camps in Central Asia.

All told, more than a million Muslims from the Caucuses were deported, with tremendous loss of life. By some estimates one- third to one- half of the population of Chechnya-Ingushetia alone –” well over 250 000 people –” disappeared after the republic was liquidated in February 1944.

The Chechens and other groups spent more than a decade in isolated work camps in Kazakhstan. By all accounts the forced resettlements failed to break their religious and national spirit. In 1957 when the Chechens and the other Caucasian groups were proclaimed "rehabilitated" and returned to the republics, they found their lands "Russified" and scoured of Islam. Soviet authorities had experimented with the near total suppression of Islam in the region, closing over 800 mosques and 400 religious colleges. Only after more than 30 years, in 1978, Soviet authorities in the Caucuses allowed under 40 mosques to reopen and staffed them with less than 300 registered ulema.

Vladamir Putin was elected President promising to eradicate the Chechen Resistance, but like his predecessor Boris Yeltsin and others, the imposition of harsh, repressive rule and even abortive genocide have failed. When the Soviet Union broke up and Chechnya declared independence, Yeltsin, following a 200-year old Russian tradition, resorted to brutal savagery. It invaded Chechnya in 1994 and used mass artillery, rocket barrages and air strikes, to smash Chechen villages and towns, rape and maim and kidnap and kill innocent civilians with impunity.

The Russians, very cleverly, played the Islamic bogeyman card by branding the Caucasian “rebels” as dangerous Islamic terrorists. As Obama “Americanises” Iraq and Afghanistan; Netanyahu “judaises” Jerusalem, Medvedev can “Russify” the Caucuses without fear of recrimination or censure.

The metro attack is a reminder of the tragic plight of this tiny nation. Installing puppet leaders such as Allawi, Abbas or Karzai is fruitless. The Chechens indomitable will and spirit, like that of the Palestinians, Somali’s, Iraqi’s and Afghani’s, to remain proud, independent and unconquered, will continue to challenge Russia.