Trouble With Chechnya

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On September 1, 2004, the world was shocked and horrified by the terrorist attack of Chechen rebels on a Middle school in the Russian town of Beslan. Nearly 1,200 children, teachers, and parents were taken hostage on the first day of school, and held captive for 53 hours. In the aftermath of the explosions and gunfire, over 360 people were killed, and hundreds more were left injured (Kaplan, 2004). The siege of the school was the latest of a dozen bloody attacks – on targets such as airliners, trains, government buildings, hospitals, and a movie theatre - that have claimed nearly 1,000 lives in Russia over the past two years, and yet another chilling reminder of the festering tensions between Russia and Chechnya (Kaplan, 2004).

The nature of the conflict between Chechnya and Russia is a result of many factors; a tumultuous history between the two neighbours, Islamic fundamentalism, terrorism, Russia’s attempts to dominate the Caucacus regions, oil exploitation, human rights, and international attitudes. The following discussion aims to explain the background and reasons for the perpetuation of the trouble in Chechnya, and explore the reasons for Russia’s military intervention in the region. As well, the discussion will attempt to forecast what the future may hold for Chechnya, and Russia’s relations with it.

“The Chechens are an ethnically distinct, traditionally clan-based group with a long history of resisting Russian expansion in the Northern Caucasus” (Yasin, 2002). The hostility existing between the Chechen people and Russia, however, predates both the Russian republic and the Soviet Union, going back to the late 18th Century, when Russia’s drive to the South, initiated by Peter the Great in 1722, “led to the incorporation first of the Transcaucasus and only later of the rebellious North Caucasus” (Cornell, 1999).

Forced relocations of the Chechens and other peoples have been undertaken at several points in history by the Russian rulers. The deportation of the Chechen, Ingush, Karachai, and Balker peoples took place in three waves between November 1943 and February 1944, during World War II. “The ‘pacification’ was to be final…and the nationalities involved were struck out of all Soviet official documents” (Lieven, 1998, p. 319). This deportation to Central Asi...

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