America and the West have overlooked Chechnya for far too long
Chechnya; a land many Americans haven’t heard of. It’s been a while since this small, mainly Muslim territory in the Caucasus Mountains of Russia has come into the spotlight and ironically it’s not Chechnya itself that brought this news about. As we now know, the Tsarnaev brothers who committed the marathon bombings in Boston were from Chechnya. The time has come to discuss Chechnya, so perhaps we can understand why the bombers did what they did, and perhaps why other Muslims feel resentment towards the West.
Chechnya first gained notoriety on the international stage back in the 1990’s. After the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991, the tiny territory of Chechnya broke away from Russia and declared its own independent Republic. In 1994, Russia began its first series of brutal military campaigns against Chechen separatists.
When Russia turned up the heat on Chechen rebels, radical Islam soon came into the fold. The massive bombings and military violence unleashed upon the Chechen people radicalized a good portion of the Muslim population, who turned Chechnya’s struggle for independence into an Islamist one.
After Vladimir Putin came into power in Russia in 1999, the situation in Chechnya took a drastic turn. Unlike his predecessor Yeltsin, Putin had no real interest in maintaining a soft-face when it came to Chechnya. After a series of staged apartment bombings in Moscow, Putin used this as an excuse to stage a new full blown war against Chechnya. This war lasted for nearly ten years and the Russians did not officially end its counter insurgency mission in Chechnya until 2009.
During the Chechen Wars from 1994-2009, nearly 150,000 people were estimated to have been killed, most of them Chechen civilians. Chechnya is now part of Russia again,and the war aspect is over, but even after the end of Russia’s war, brutality still endures.
Chechnya is currently ruled by a pro-Moscow strongman named Ramzan Kadyrov who runs Chechnya as an absolute dictator. He kills or tortures anyone who gets in the way of his regime. Chechnya also still endures the threat of a renewed insurgency by militants, and another possible Russian campaign. All the while Russia’s national strongman Putin continues to prop up this heinous regime in Chechnya, despite the regime commiting crimes that are illegal under Russian national law.
While Chechnya has been suffering for nearly twenty years now, America has yet to pay any real attention to the plight of the tiny country. America and Western Europe love to criticize Putin and his KGB style state in Russia, yet Chechnya is never on the list of criticisms. Why is this? The West roundly condemned Russia for its war against neighboring Georgia in 2008, yet its continued repression in Chechnya goes without a comment. Why is this?
To put it simply; Putin is very good at propaganda. Since 1999, Putin’s Russia has managed to frame the issue of Chechnya not as a republic looking independence or social rights, but of Russia containing Islamic radicals. Islamic radicals did not get involved in Chechnya until Russia started blowing the place up, but that hasn’t stopped Putin from using radical Muslims as a propaganda tool. It’s safe to say, since the 9/11 attacks on the United States, Vladimir Putin has had carte blanche to do what he wills to the Chechen people.
With the conflict in Chechnya defined as a war against radical Islam and western countries involved in its own war against radical Islam, Putin has been able to relate Russia’s actions in Chechnya to the broader global war on terrorism. This has allowed Russia to escape criticism for its policies in Chechnya while also causing advocates of victims in Chechnya to be ignored.
With this context in mind, it is not hard to see why someone of Chechen background would be upset at the United States. Does this justify what the Boston bombers did? Absolutely not. But we must also understand the greater story of Chechnya in order to gain any sense of insight into the bomber’s actions. They both came from a land whose people have suffered greatly. This suffering has largely been either ignored or championed by countries like the United States.
Some will merely blame Islam for their actions, and Islam alone. I’m sure that religion played some motivating role in their actions, but it’s easy to blame it strictly on their religion without looking at some broader context. Perhaps now is the time to bring Chechnya back into the international spotlight. This is an opportunity for people to learn that Chechnya is a tiny land that has been crushed by the Russian Bear for far too long.
I remember what happened in 1991 and was aware there had been social upheavals and violence in the following years. But I don’t recall our media reporting much of anything since then. You must admit – it isn’t easy to follow unrest and wars in all part of the world.
There could be an entire other piece on why the media ignored it as well.