Today I have this post by reporter Petr Akopov, commemorating the 20 years that have passed since Russia’s last Chechnya War. Akopov is not exaggerating, when he claims that this war marked a milestone in modern Russian history; was, in fact, the “crucial decision point” deciding the final death or rebirth of Russian statehood. Had Russia lost this war, she would have lost her sovereignty and statehood as well, for sure. And all of Russia’s mortal enemies knew this as well, which is why they were keenly betting on the other side. But in the end, SPOILER ALERT, Russia won, they lost.
This war, in fact, marked the absolute bottom for Russia, a new Time of Troubles, this was about as bad as it could get, short of a bevey of False Dmitries. But this was a bottom, from which it was not possible to go down any further, therefore the only possible trajectory was up! That moment when, in the utter darkness, a single dot of light marks the end of despair.
On 7 August 1999 the rebel commander Shamil Basaev, with his group called “Hattab”, invaded Chechnya from neighboring Dagestan. Speaking in the language and rhetoric of Wahhabites, this “Islamic Peacekeeping Brigade” had arrived to assist the “Islamic Shura of Dagestan”.
This so-called Shura, or consultative council, created by the Wahhabites in Dagestan had invited Basaev in; and had declared the “State Soviet of the Republic of Dagestan” (the existing body of government as a subject of the Russian Federation) to be null and void. In its place, these Islamist revolutionaries formed an “Islamic Government”, and an “Islamic State”* of Dagestan. [In the VZGLIAD piece the reporter denotes “Islamic State of Dagestan” with an asterisk. The asterisk footnote informs us that this organization is banned in Russia as a terrorist organization. Also, by the way, according to Russian law, any mention of these organizations in the media has to be accompanied by that sort of asterisk. I don’t have to follow that rule, I’m just mentioning it.]
And this is how the war began. It goes down in history as the so-called Second Chechnya War. In the course of which the Dagestani and Chechen Wahhabites fought to split their republics away from Russia. And not just Chechnya, with its population of around a million; and Dagestan, with its population of around 3 million; but in fact, their intent was to split off the whole of the Northern Caucasus and built a Salafist Emirate based on the harshest type of Sharia law. These revolutionaries saw that Russia was at its weakest spot, the odds looked very good that Russia would fall apart and dissolve into a multiplicity of statelets; therefore this seemed to them (quite logically) the optimal time to act to ensure Wahhabite dominance over their chunk of the carcass. It was a bold move, but the odds were actually in their favor… And it all would have worked out for them too, if not for that pesky…
Ten Years Earlier…
The war for the Caucasus actually began ten years prior to this, in 1989. The first crack in the ice was April 1989, when demonstrators in Tbilisi, Gruzia began to chant “Down with Russian Imperialism!”
The rule is: When Gruzians get feisty, Abkhazians start to worry. The Abkhazians (who are mostly Muslim, by the way) were (sort of) okay with their status as an autonomy within Gruzia, so long as they all reported up the same chain of command to the same boss. But with Gruzian nationalists pushing for independence from the Soviet Union, the Abkhazians started to militate for a change of their status as well: They wanted a promotion to become a direct Republic of the Soviet Union, an autonomy at the Federal level. That way, in worst-case scenario, if the Gruzians actually achieved independence, then they (the Abkhazians) would not be left in the intolerable position of being bossed around by the Gruzians. They would rather be bossed around by Russians, as a lesser evil!
Even though it did not look likely that the soporific Soviet authorities would listen to Abkhazian concerns, nor did the Abkhazians officially present their request for the promotion; — the Gruzian nationalists still became enraged that Abkhazians were even having such thoughts in their heads. See, Gruzian nationalism is based on the hegemonic notion that the “pure” Gruzians, or Kartvelians, deserve to rule over this entire territory, including chunks occupied by ethnic Abkhazians, Ossetians, Armenians, and others. As an ancient Christian civilization, it is Gruzia’s imperial right and destiny to rule here!
Hence the Gruzian nationalists used Abkhazian unrest as an excuse for fomenting their own unrest in Tbilisi. As Gruzian nationalism became ever more fervent and fanatical, Abkhazians and Ossetians were ever further repulsed and recoiled in horror. In Tbilisi, Gruzian mobs were calling for rowdy boys to march into Sukhum and “deal with” the Abkhazian separatists. And so they did, attacking cops and preparing to storm the HQ of the Communist Party Central Committee.
Big Brother in Moscow passively watched the proceedings for a few days, while trying to decide what to do. Finally a decision was made; and on 9 April the Tbilisi demonstration was violently dispersed. Nineteen Gruzian demonstrators (future martyrs) died in the crush, and this became known as the “first blood” of the Soviet counter-revolution: The beginning of the end of the USSR.
[to be continued]