The Chechen-Russian Conflict

Picture Time: Hold your rifles and say cheese

The international media have made a rule regarding the Russia-Chechnya conflict. For the media, only if the Chechens are willing to do something big and bloody in Russia will they get their international spotlight. In the other hand, Human Right Watch groups cant figure out why they receive cold shoulder and a deaf ear from the media when ask to report the crimes committed by Russian soldiers and Pro-Moscow officials in Chechnya.

Since the 15th century, Chechnya has been fighting against foreign domination. Thou, tensions quite down when the natives converted to Islam under the Turkish rule, the blood shed eventually remerge when the Russians came to town in the18th century. During the next two centuries, Chechen rebels took advantage of every Russian war to fight for their own independence. Even Stalin’s brutal policies weren’t strong enough to perish the resistance ideology in this Northern Caucasus region.

However, the international media is not obligated to give seniority to a conflict no matter how much historical background it might have. This fact is well known by the Chechens insurgents who, at the same time, have found the way to exploit the media big and bloody rule. There are two memorable examples worth analyzing: The Moscow theatre hostage crisis (2003) and the Beslan school hostage crisis (2004).

Their first true chance to make the most out of media’s big and bloody rule came on October 23, 2002. That cold night, 40 armed Chechen rebels-almost half of them were women-led by Mosvar Barayev, nephew of a slain Chechen commander, siege the Dubrovka Theater taking 900 hostages. Just as the Budyonnovsk hospital takeover, seven years prior, the rebels threaten to blow up the building if there demands for immediate withdrawal of Russian forces from Chechnya went unheard. In addition, in order to release children, the rebels demanded to speak to journalists.

Besides the strong efforts of the Russian government to censor the press, the television media was able to show to the world images of the militants posing with machine-guns and a dozen female rebels dressed in black hijabs, covering their faces, except their eyes, and strapped with explosives around their bodies. The Chechens had the opportunity to explain their actions in a videotaped statement: “”Every nation has the right to their fate. Russia has taken away this right from the Chechens and today we want to reclaim these rights, which God has given us, in the same way he has given it to other nations. God has given us the right of freedom and the right to choose our destiny. And the Russian occupiers have flooded our land with our children’s blood. And we have longed for a just solution. People are unaware of the innocent who are dying in Chechnya: the sheikhs, the women, the children and the weak ones. And therefore, we have chosen this approach.”

This action seems to be more of a desperate maneuver for global recognition rather then a mere public relations strategy. After 3 days of seizure, the Russian authorities stormed in the theatre using a secret sleeping gas that immobilizes. All the rebels were killed among 130 hostages. In spite of this, when the phenomenon died down so did the international media interest leaving the Russian-Chechnya conflict in a fourth category of global discussion.
This lack of interest quickly disappeared on September 1, 2004 when a group around 40 men and women found another way to exploit the media’s big and bloody rule by raiding a children school in Beslan. Similar to the Moscow theatre seizure, a year earlier, the rebels threaten to blow up the building if demands for unconditional withdrawal of Russian troops from Chechnya went unheard again. This time, the media coverage was handicap by strong censorship imposed by the government after the theatre ignominy.

Three days later, the school seizure ended up with large explosions, heavy gun-fire exchange and the streets became an open battlefield when rebels tried to escape. 344 civilians were killed, at least 172 were children. Yet again, the international journalists simply picked up their bags and left after this drama died slowly.

Seeing journalists abandon a conflict is nothing new. Worse yet, a conflict’s unending calamity make it become victim of boredom. Furthermore, the less the international media covers the situation the less pressure the politicians feel to find a resolution and, shamefully, the global public turns out to be more ignorant. Thanks to the underrated Russian state-controlled media, the images of the Beslan seizure came distorted and the coverage, overall, was considered “light” by many media critics.

Although Russian efforts to prevent journalists in reporting inside Chechnya are well known, there are seldom assignments worth mentioning. America’s ABC, for example, was criticized by the Russian Foreign Ministry for interviewing Chechen warlord and Russia’s most wanted terrorist, Shamil Basayev, alleged mastermind of the Beslan school seizure. Paradoxically, Basayev was only one that fit ABC corporate standards for interviewing in the whole brutalized region. Another case was CNN documentary “Russia forgotten war”. One should ask: Who forgotten about it to begin with? Did the CNN decision-makers forgot about it? Were they the average American that can’t find Chechnya in a map simply because he or she does not care?

Certainly, the Human Right Watch group has not. According to this group, Russian soldiers have been raping and murdering women on a continuous basis in the town of Shali and the village of Alkhan-Yurt. One witness named Malika heard screams coming from her neighbor’s house. After the soldiers left, she went to find her friend Fira. “On her breasts, there were dark blue bruises. There was a strangely square bruise on her shoulder. Near her liver, there were also dark bruises. On her neck, there were teeth marks, and her lips also had teeth marks, like someone had bitten her. She had a little [bullet] hole on the right side of her head, and a big wound on the left side of her head”, she said. The victim received a quite Muslim burial.
Another report indicates that on March 27, 2000, Russian soldiers abducted 18 year old Kheda Kungaeva from her house. She was beaten, brutally raped with objects and strangled to death. Amnesty International, another organization in Chechnya, reported a group a soldiers entering a village house where a suspected militant lived with his pregnant wife and cousin. Soldiers weren’t able to find the alleged rebel and started threaten the two women.
The soldiers forced the female cousin into a room and ordered her to undress in front of them. They beat her with the butts of their rifles, and gang raped her. When the pregnant women tried to intervene, a couple of soldiers forced her to perform oral sex on each of them.
Besides rape crimes, there reports from Human Rights Watch concluding that Russian soldiers are torturing men in their private parts with electrical wire. Others Chechens are being beat with hammers until they loose conscious. Many of the detainees don’t come out alive and are buried in unknown locations. United Nations has condemned Russian brutality in Chechnya. At the same time, UN continues to pressure Kremlin to permit international observers in the military detention camps. But to no avail.
These are only few examples of Russian brutality in Chechnya. In spite of all the evidence of rape crimes, torture and slaughter, the media prefers to wait until the Chechen rebels enter Russia to do something big and bloody. Why? Probably Saudi Professor and media critic Khaled Bartafi holds the answer: “People get used to repeated bad news. They become numbed and started to care and feel less about them. The first murder crime in a neighborhood might get people talking for a long while. But in a dangerous neighborhood were crimes are daily affairs, no one talks about them as much. This is basic human nature.”
Perhaps people showed more interest in 1994 when the Russians forces were humiliated by Chechen rebels led by Aslan Maskhadov. Somehow, the assassination of Aslan Maskhadov – -whom also became president of the independent Chechen Republic of Ichkeria – – by Russian Special Forces, received little importance in the media and the western leaders didn’t bother to mention Maskhadov death when they meet Vladimir Putin a few days later.
Human Rights Watch groups keep demonstrating the barbarities acts by Russian forces and Chechen security forces. The abductions and killing, thanks to some Chechen “marionettes”, far exceed the number of victims taken by Chechen insurgents in the Beslan and Moscow theatre seizure. While this information continues to be ignored, the media’s big and bloody rule continues to wait patiently for the Chechens. Time is running out.

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