Russia: Caucasus Hatreds, and Peace

Global Voices Online
Wednesday, December 13, 2006

The First Chechen War began twelve years ago, in December 1994; the Second Chechen War followed five years later. Still, Chechnya remains part of the Russian Federation.

Timur Aliev - LJ user timur_aliev, a native of Grozny, an ethnic Chechen, a journalist, editor-in-chief of The Chechen Society newspaper, the Chechnya editor of the Institute for War and Peace Reporting (IWPR) - muses (RUS) on why it is possible that after all the suffering and bloodshed of the recent years, Chechens and Russians manage to continue to co-exist; in his musings, timur_aliev reaches well beyond the issue of the Russo-Chechen relationship and, among other things, touches upon a largely ignored issue of the Ingush-Ossetian confrontation:

Why Chechens and Russians do not hate each other

Went to [the capital of the Republic of North Ossetia-Alania] [Vladikavkaz] the other day. Stayed there [...] till it got dark - till 5:30 pm. Came to the bus station - turned out there were neither marshrutkas [mini-buses], now taxis left. Asked one of my local friends to order a taxi for me, but only to the checkpoint at the border with [Ingushetia] - no taxi driver agrees to go further.

The taxi arrived, we set out [to the border]. I got to know the driver - an ethnic Georgian from Kazbeg district, works in Ossetia, as there's nothing to do in the mountains in winter. I offered him to take me to [Ingushetia's former capital Nazran]. He agreed, called the headquarters on his portable radio transmitter, to find out how much he should charge for this trip. They asked him if he was sick of being alive that he was going to Ingushetia. One of the taxi drivers from that company must've heard the conversation and offered advice: they were taking 5,000 rubles [about $200] for a trip like this yesterday (a totally inappropriate price - normally, cab drivers from the bus station charge 350-400 rubles [about $15] for this trip, and a marshrutka ride would have cost 20 rubles [less than a dollar]). My driver smiles and comments: "Ossetians are scared to take this trip, and me, I don't care."

He ended up getting me off [...] at the border with Ingushetia, though - the company's bosses categorically refused to let him cross, fearing that the cops in Ingushetia would take away his unregistered radio transmitter.

Same situation with cab drivers in Ingushetia, when you're trying to go to Ossetia. All cab companies refuse to take you to the airport outside Beslan, for example. So one has to get to that same checkpoint [...], pass it on foot, and hitchhike from there. [...] Every time a trip to the Beslan airport turns into a big headache. Taxi drivers from Ingushetia either refuse to go there [...] - "we don't go there after the events" (meaning the Beslan school siege) - or ask too much money.

Having visited [Armenia's capital Yerevan] recently, I learned that they have the same situation there. As a rule, Armenians don't go to Azerbaijan, and Azeris don't go to Armenia. One Azeri friend from [Azerbaijan's capital Baku] told me that when he was visiting Yerevan, they were giving him bodyguards, one or two special services agents who are following him everywhere.

I've been thinking it all over: these people have a really long negative memory. [...] It would seem that Chechens, after the last two wars, should be [avoiding] Russia completely, and Russians should be [staying away] from Chechnya. But this isn't the case. Quite the opposite. You could run into a Chechen at the most unexpected places in Russia, and many Russians are going to [Chechnya's capital Grozny], either with pleasure, or with curiousity.

Why is this happening? Have the cultures become too common after years of Soviet cohabitation? I don't think so. For example, Ingushs and Ossetians share a lot of last names, and I often notice many similarities in their behaviour. But the confrontation between them does exist.

Or is it because Chechnya - and, above all, Grozny - used to be multinational? Again, I'm not sure - before the conflict, there were plenty of Armenians living in Baku and quite a number of Azeris in Yerevan. And what do they have now?

I think it has to do with the mentalities of Chechens and Russians. They probably share some mildness of character, we can't remember the evil done to us for too long. Peacefulness and good-neighbourliness - this, no matter how overused the terms are, is what allows us to live next to each other and visit each other.

Many might not agree with me. And explain it some other way. Along the lines of "it's profitable to people, that's why they behave the way they do." Like, Chechens go to Russia to make money, and Russians go to Chechnya for the same reason, only they have orders to do so. And that on the surface, we pretend to be cordial towards one another, but inside, there is hatred. Perhaps, it is true to some extent. But I know many people of different ethnicities all over the world, and more than anyone else, I know Russians and Chechens. I interact with people and I can tell the truth from hypocrisy. And I see - there is no hatred inside us, but a desire to live, live [life to its fullest] - openly, lightly, joyfully, generously. And this aspiration isn't giving us time [...] to hate and fear. We're too busy with other things.

Below are some comments and some of timur_aliev's responses - generalizations and attempts to avoid generalizations:


hippy55: [...] In general, the attitude [towards Chechens] is negative. Like the attitude towards cops, actually: in general, they are [scorned], but if you know one closely, he's an ordinary guy, just like you are. [2006 ethnic tensions in the town of Kondopoga] have shown that it's not the specific offender that becomes the enemy, but a whole nation. Or even race. The Germans weren't born fascists, and a Russian person wasn't born Soviet: a leader appeared who [allowed] the disturbances to go ahead, and that's it - a human being disappears.

piligrim: [...] It's hard for me to talk about what and who causes you to hate "in general" and "in particular" - but in my circles, there is no hatred towards cops or Chechens. Neither to the occupation, nor to an ethnic group, nor to any other group. [...] A specific person is judged, not those social groups he belongs to. As for Kondopoga, the enemy there wasn't "a nation in general," but a very specific group of people.

hippy55: [...] I agree on Kondopoga: yes, not a whole nation, but in general ALL Caucasus natives.


piligrim: As for lack of trust toward Chechens, this, I guess, is because they (you) have very strong [tribal] ties. That is, some Aslan may be a decent and law-abiding citizen, but there's always a chance that among his numerous relatives there's a criminal that he will never surrender, and in some cases will have to help him in some illegal business, because of the familial relationship.

By the way, Timur, a while ago, an interview with a [Chechen journalist and former NTV host] Aset Vatsuyeva was being widely discussed here. She said that even when she lived in Moscow, she'd never consider marrying a Russian, because it's a great shame for a Chechen woman. Leaving her personal life aside, how common is this point of view in the Chechen society?

timur_aliev: [...] [not tribal] but familial relationships. There won't be a [preferential] attitude like this towards a relative three times removed, that's for sure. But it depends on a specific person, of course.

I do remember this interview. I remember it being read in Grozny, too. I think that the absolute majority of [Chechens] supports her view. This isn't even something to be discussed [among them].

piligrim: That is, not hatred, but contempt towards Russians is widespread among Chechens?

timur_aliev: No, it's more complex... Men do get married to women of other ethnicities... There used to be cases when men from other ethnic groups were accepted in the Chechen society - they were married to Chechen women... It's more of a fear to lose a member of society - a woman, when she marries someone outside her ethnic group, unlike a man, leaved her society almost completely... while a man draws more members into it...


avrom: Armenians and Azeris, Ingushs and Ossetians - they are fighting as equals. Same weight category.


bratanishe: Your words are made of gold! I have many Chechen friends and there are no problems. But what's happening in Ingushetia and Ossetia is really a nightmare. And it seems to me that it's not Ossetians who take the initiative. Hatred seems to be manic, like some disease. [...]

timur_aliev: I have many friends among Ossetians and even more among Ingushs... This is why this situation is making me very sad...

bratanishe: Maybe it's because people have nothing to do in Ingushetia - there are no jobs. Many aren't used to working in principle. But the situation is horrible. To learn about it, it's enough to read the forum at - any topic, even the weather, concludes with [pronouncing Ossetians bad people]. It's scary to read it, when you stop to think what's going on in people's heads. There's a good recipe for getting rid of [such mental nonsense], although it doesn't sound too politically correct: Arbeit macht frei.


random_2005: It'd be good if this was [the way you described it]. I don't know firsthand what Chechens think of Russians, but it's hard to believe there is no hatred. Maybe I [compare with my own attitudes]. Personally, I have a bad attitude towards Caucasus natives in general, and to Chechens in particular. I admit that some of them may be wonderful people. But in general, when they come to the Russian regions, people from the Caucasus show disrespect and unwillingness to obey local rules and customs. The cult of physical force so popular with the Caucausus people is not accidental and reflects their worldview (the one who is stronger is right). Actually, people from the Caucasus acts like savages here, not like civilized people. There are exceptions, but it doesn't change the general picture. Arrival of the Caucasus natives to the Russian regions is perceived as the aggressive expansion of the criminals - and moreover, the criminals who are ethnically and culturally alien. Chechens seems to me as the people in whom the negative features described above are pronounced to the utmost degree.

timur_aliev: I've come across with quite a few people who acted the way you describe it... but for some reason, I never thought it was because of their ethnicity, but always looked at their age and the certain social groups they belonged to...


conchis: Too generalized [...] and terminology is too loose. You should be more careful when analyzing "hatred" and avoid using ethnographic stereotypes. If one does an adequate statistical research, I'm afraid the results would be quite gloomy. Both Chechens and Russians, it seems to me, are very vindictive nations. But they are both a very far cry from Ingushs :-) About Russians going to Grozny "with either pleasure or curiousity" - that's a joke, right?

timur_aliev: No one's pretending to be doing a sociological research here - it's just a short commentary... [...] [No, it's not a joke], I know plenty of such people - even in the LJ...

conchis: I welcome your optimism, of course. It seems to me that your perceptions are based on wishful thinking. It'd be nice if life were better than it really is.

No comments: