Sunday, August 29, 2010

Russia / Chechnya

In Chechnya, A Blood Feud Ends -- and a Despot Digs In
By Simon Shuster, August 28, 2010
Photo: "Russian President Dmitry Medvedev (center), Chechen President Ramzan Kadyrov (right) and Head of the North Caucasus Federal District Alexander Khloponin (left) visit the Chechen settlement of Tsentoroy, June 14, 2010." (RIA Novosti / Kremlin / Mikhail Klimentyev / Reuters)
"The men of gun-loving Chechnya, long Russia's most rebellious province, are not known for turning the other cheek. When a member of a Chechen clan is killed, even in a street brawl the vendetta can pass through the generations, obliging the men on both sides to take revenge until their elders have reconciled, or one of the clans is wiped out. So many observers were baffled last week when the region's most notorious feud ended without a fight. ... This is the culmination of a long drive to force all of the Chechen clans -- there are more than a hundred -- into line behind [Ramzan] Kadyrov, who appears to have the unflinching support of the Kremlin. Over the years, the violent separatist insurgency has been pushed out of Chechnya into neighboring Russian republics, a development that human rights groups say involved widespread torture and summary executions committed by Kadyrov's men. Last year, Kadyrov also managed to turn the head of the separatist Chechen government in exile, Akhmed Zakayev, who announced last February that he was ready to return to Chechnya from London 'contribute to a long-term peace.' ... Now, the only possible challenge to Kadyrov's reign will come from Moscow. But this seems hard to imagine, says Pavel Baev, an expert on the region for the International Peace Research Institute in Oslo. 'He's totally defended himself from being removed by the Kremlin, because no one else can maintain order in Chechnya.' As a further defense of his rule, Kadyrov has made sure that the Chechen security apparatus answers to him.
The only battalions independent of his rule were run by the Yamadayev clan, and they were disbanded a few months after that unlucky gunfight in Gudermes. At the same time, Kadyrov, a devout Muslim, has increasingly started to rule the republic as his own caliphate, with his personal militia of around 5,000 men at times acting like a Taliban-style religious police, harassing women for smoking or failing to wear headscarves. Kadyrov has even insisted that Islamic Shari'a law supersedes the laws of Moscow, even though he frequently pledges his loyalty to the Kremlin. This means that for the foreseeable future, Kadyrov is likely to rule unchallenged, and Chechnya will remain a black hole of human rights abuses inside of Russia's borders. Even the international community has largely given up its criticism of Kadyrov's police state, seeing it as a lost cause, says Helen Krag, a European rights activist and sociologist who has studied Chechnya since the early 1990s. 'Politicians are constantly telling me to forget it. To stop bothering with this place,' she says. 'And now the Yamadayevs have given up. I understand them. They don't want to get annihilated.'"

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