The Chechen Republic of Ichkeria (; Chechen: Nóxçiyn Respublik Içkeri; Russian: Чеченская Республика Ичкерия; abbreviated as "ChRI" or "CRI") was a partially recognized secessionist government of the Checheno-Ingush ASSR. On 30 November 1991, Ingushetia would have a referendum in which the results dictated its separation from the Chechen Republic of Ichkeria, joining the Russian Federation instead as a constituent republic.
The First Chechen War of 1994–96 resulted in the victory of the separatist forces. After achieving de facto independence from Russia in 1996, the Chechen government failed to establish order. In November 1997 Chechnya was proclaimed an Islamic republic. A Second Chechen War began in August 1999 and ended in May 2000, with Chechen rebels continuing attacks as an insurgency.
Declaration of Independence
In November 1990 Dzhokhar Dudayev was elected head of the Executive Committee of the unofficial opposition Chechen National Congress (NCChP), which advocated sovereignty for Chechnya as a separate republic within the Soviet Union.
On 8 June 1991, at the initiative of Dzhokhar Dudayev, a part of the delegates of the First Chechen National Congress gathered in Grozny, which proclaimed itself the All-National Congress of the Chechen People (OKChN). Following this, was proclaimed the Chechen Republic (Nokhchi-cho). A month later, the self-proclaimed republic was declared an independent state.
The Soviet coup d'état attempt on 19 August 1991 became the spark for the so-called Chechen revolution. On 21 August the OKChN called for the overthrow of the Supreme Soviet of the Chechen-Ingush ASSR. On 6 September 1991, OKChN squads seized the local KGB headquarters, and took over the building of the Supreme Soviet. The OKChN declared itself the only legitimate authority in the region. On 27 October 1991, Dudayev was elected president of the Chechen Republic. Dudayev, in his new position as president, issued a unilateral declaration of independence on 1 November 1991. Initially, his stated objective was for Checheno-Ingushetia to become a union republic within Russia.
The separatist Interior Minister promised amnesty to any prison inmates who would join pro-independence rallies. Among the prisoners was Ruslan Labazanov, who was serving a sentence for armed robbery and murder in Grozny and later headed a pro-Dudayev militia. As crowds of armed separatists gathered in Grozny, President Yeltsin sought to declare a state of emergency in the region, but his efforts were thwarted by the Russian parliament. An early attempt by Russian authorities to confront the pro-independence forces in November 1991 ended after just three days.
In early 1992 Dudayev signed a decree outlawing the extradition of criminals to any country which did not recognize Chechnya. After being informed that the Russian government would not recognize Chechnya's independence, he declared that he would not recognize Russia. Grozny became an organized crime haven, as the government proved unable or unwilling to curb criminal activities.
Dudayev's government created the constitution of the Chechen Republic, which was introduced on March 1992. In the same month, armed clashes occurred between pro and anti-Dudayev factions, leading Dudayev to declare a state of emergency. Chechnya and Ingushetia separated on 4 June 1992. Relationship between Dudayev and the parliament deteriorated, and in June 1992 he dissolved the parliament, establishing direct presidential rule.
In late October 1992, federal forces were dispatched to end the Ossetian-Ingush conflict. As Russian troops sealed the border between Chechnya and Ingushetia to prevent arms shipments, Dudayev threatened to take action unless the Russians withdrew. Russian and Chechen forces mutually agreed to a withdrawal, and the incident ended peacefully.
Clashes between supporters and opponents of Dudayev occurred in April 1993. The President fired Interior Minister Sharpudin Larsanov after he refused to disperse the protesters. The opposition planned a no-confidence referendum against Dudayev for 5 June 1993. The government deployed army and riot police to prevent the vote from taking place, leading to bloodshed.
After staging another coup attempt in December 1993, the opposition organized a Provisional Council as a potential alternative government for Chechnya, calling on Moscow for assistance.
On 14 January 1994, by Dudaev's decree, the Chechen Republic (Nokhchi-cho) was renamed the Chechen Republic of Ichkeria.
The general feeling of lawlessness in Chechnya increased during the first seven months in 1994, when four hijacking accidents occurred, involving people trying to flee the country. In May 1994 Labazanov changed sides, establishing the anti-Dudayev Niyso Movement. In July 1994, 41 passengers aboard a bus near Mineralniye Vody were held by kidnappers demanding $15 million and helicopters. After this incident, the Russian government started to openly support opposition forces in Chechnya.
In August 1994 Umar Avturkhanov, leader of the pro-Russian Provisional Council, launched an attack against pro-Dudayev forces. Dudayev ordered the mobilization of the Chechen military, threatening a jihad against Russia as a response to Russian support for his political opponents.
In November 1994 Avturkanov's forces attempted to storm the city of Grozny, but they were defeated by Dudayev's forces. Dudayev declared his intention to turn Chechnya into an Islamic state, stating that the recognition of sharia was a way to fight Russian 'aggression'. He also vowed to punish the captured Chechen rebels under Islamic law, and threatened to execute Russian prisoners.
The First Chechen War began in December 1994, when Russian troops were sent to Chechnya to fight the separatist forces. During the Battle of Grozny (1994–95), the city's population dropped from 400,000 to 140,000. Most of the civilians stranded in the city were elderly ethnic Russians, as many Chechens had support networks of relatives living in villages who took them in.
Former Minister of the Chemical and Oil Refining Industry of the USSR Salambek Khadzhiyev was appointed leader of the officially recognized Chechen government in November 1994. The conflict ended after the Russian defeat in the Battle of Grozny of August 1996.
Interwar period (1996–1999)
After the Russian withdrawal crime became rampant, with kidnappings and murders multiplying as rival rebel factions fought for territory. In December 1996 six Red Cross workers were killed, leading most foreign aid workers to leave the country.
Parliamentary and presidential elections took place in January 1997 in Chechnya and brought to power Aslan Maskhadov. The elections were deemed free and fair, but no government recognized Chechnya's independence, except for the Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan. Ethnic Russian refugees were prevented from returning to vote by threats and intimidation, and Chechen authorities refused to set up polling booths outside the republic.
Maskhadov sought to maintain Chechen sovereignty while pressing Moscow to help rebuild the republic, whose formal economy and infrastructure were virtually destroyed.
In May 1997 the Russia–Chechen Peace Treaty was signed by Maskhadov and Yeltsin. Russia continued to send money for the rehabilitation of the republic; it also provided pensions and funds for schools and hospitals. Most of these transfers were stolen by corrupt Chechen authorities and divided between themselves and favoured warlords. Nearly half a million people (40% of Chechnya's prewar population) have been internally displaced and lived in refugee camps or overcrowded villages. The economy was destroyed. Two Russian brigades were stationed in Chechnya and did not leave. Maskhadov made efforts to rebuild the country and its devastated capital Grozny by trading oil in countries such as the United Kingdom.
Chechnya had been badly damaged by the war and the economy was in shambles. Aslan Maskhadov tried to concentrate power in his hands to establish authority, but had trouble creating an effective state or a functioning economy. As part of the peace negotiations, Maskhadov demanded $260 billion in reparations from Russia, an amount equivalent to 60% of the Russian GDP.
The war ravages and lack of economic opportunities left numbers of armed former guerrillas with no occupation but further violence. Machine guns and grenades were sold openly and legally in Grozny's central bazaar. The years of independence had some political violence as well. On 10 December Mansur Tagirov, Chechnya's top prosecutor, disappeared while returning to Grozny. On 21 June the Chechen security chief and a guerrilla commander fatally shot each other in an argument. The internal violence in Chechnya peaked on 16 July 1998, when fighting broke out between Maskhadov's National Guard force led by Sulim Yamadayev (who joined pro-Moscow forces in the second war) and militants in the town of Gudermes; over 50 people were reported killed and the state of emergency was declared in Chechnya.
Maskhadov proved unable to guarantee the security of the oil pipeline running across Chechnya from the Caspian Sea, and illegal oil tapping and acts of sabotage deprived his regime of crucial revenues and agitated his allies in Moscow. In 1998 and 1999 Maskhadov survived several assassination attempts, which he blamed on foreign intelligence services. The attacks were seen as more likely to originate from within Chechnya, as the Kremlin deemed Maskhadov an acceptable negotiating partner for the Chechen conflict.
In December 1998, the supreme Islamic court of Chechnya suspended the Chechen Parliament, asserting that it did not conform to the standards of sharia. After the Chechen Vice-President Vakha Arsanov defected to the opposition, Maskhadov abolished his post, leading to a power struggle. In February 1999 President Maskhadov removed legislative powers from the parliament and convened an Islamic State Council. At the same time several prominent former warlords established the Mehk-Shura, a rival Islamic government. The Shura advocated the creation of an Islamic confederation in the North Caucasus, including the Chechen, Dagestani and Ingush peoples.
On 9 August 1999, Islamist fighters from Chechnya infiltrated Russia's Dagestan region, declaring it an independent state and calling for a jihad until "all unbelievers had been driven out". This event prompted Russian intervention, and the beginning of the Second Chechen War. As more people escaped the war zones of Chechnya, President Maskhadov threatened to impose sharia punishment on all civil servants who moved their families out of the republic.
Second war and postwar period
After the fall of Grozny in 2000 some of the Ichkerian government was based in exile, including in Poland and the United Kingdom. On 23 January 2000, a diplomatic representation of Ichkeria was based in Kabul during the Taliban regime in Afghanistan. In June 2000, Akhmed Kadyrov was appointed as head of the official administration of Chechnya.
On 31 October 2007, the separatist news agency Chechenpress reported that Dokka Umarov had announced the Caucasus Emirate and declared himself its Emir. He integrated the Chechen Republic of Ichkeria as Vilayat Nokhchicho. This change of status was rejected by some Chechen politicians and military leaders who continue to support the existence of the republic. Since November 2007, Akhmed Zakayev was proclaimed to be the Prime Minister of Ichkeria's government in exile.
Cadets of the Ichkeria Chechen National Guard in 1999
Dudayev spent the years from 1991 to 1994 preparing for war, mobilizing men aged 15–55 and seizing Russian weapons depots. The Chechen National Guard counted 10,000 troops in December 1994, rising to 40,000 soldiers by early 1996.
Major weapons systems were seized from the Russian military in 1992, and on the eve of the First Chechen War they included 23 air defense guns, 108 APC/tanks, 24 artillery pieces, 5 MiG-17/15, 2 Mi-8 helicopters, 24 multiple rocket launchers, 17 surface to air missile launchers, 94 L-29 trainer aircraft, 52 L-39 trainer aircraft, 6 An-22 transport aircraft, 5 Tu-134 transport aircraft.
Since the declaration of independence in 1991, there has been an ongoing battle between secessionist officials and federally appointed officials. Both claim authority over the same territory.
In late 2007, the President of Ichkeria, Dokka Umarov, declared that he had renamed the republic to Noxçiyc̈ó and converted it into a province of the much larger Caucasus Emirate, with himself as Emir. This change was rejected by some members of the former Chechen government-in-exile.
Ichkeria was a member of the Unrepresented Nations and Peoples Organization. Former president of Georgia, Zviad Gamsakhurdia, deposed in a military coup of 1991 and a leading participant in the Georgian Civil War, recognised the independence of the Chechen Republic of Ichkeria in 1993.
Diplomatic relations with Ichkeria were also established by the partially recognized Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan under the Taliban government on 16 January 2000. This recognition ceased with the fall of the Taliban in 2001. However, despite Taliban recognition, there were no friendly relations between the Taliban and Ichkeria—Maskhadov rejected their recognition, stating that the Taliban were illegitimate. In June 2000, the Russian government claimed that Maskhadov had met with Osama bin Laden, and that the Taliban supported the Chechens with arms and troops. In the aftermath of the 11 September attacks, the Bush administration called on Maskhadov to cut all links with the Taliban.
Ichkeria also received vocal support from the Baltic countries, a group of Ukrainian nationalists and Poland; Estonia once voted to recognize, but the act never was consummated due to pressure applied by both Russia and the pro-Russian elements within the EU. Dudayev also had contacts with Islamist movements and guerrillas in the United Arab Emirates, Afghanistan and Saudi Arabia.
Throughout the span of the First Chechen War war crimes were committed. One of the more known among them was the Samashki massacre, which the United Nations Commission on Human Rights had this to say regarding the massacre:
It is reported that a massacre of over 100 people, mainly civilians, occurred between 7 and 8 April 1995 in the village of Samashki, in the west of Chechnya. According to the accounts of 128 eye-witnesses, Federal soldiers deliberately and arbitrarily attacked civilians and civilian dwellings in Samashki by shooting residents and burning houses with flame-throwers. The majority of the witnesses reported that many OMON troops were drunk or under the influence of drugs. They wantonly opened fire or threw grenades into basements where residents, mostly women, elderly persons and children, had been hiding.
Chechen militants took hundreds of civilians hostage in Budyonnovsk and Kizlyar, the United Nations Commission on Human Rights had this to report on the former incident:
Although the conduct of Chechen fighters has scarcely been documented in non-governmental reports, information indicates that they indiscriminately fired on, and killed, civilians. For example, on 14 June 1995, Chechen commandos took some 2,000 people hostage in the town of Budennovsk in the Stavropol region and barricaded themselves in the town's hospital. The hostage-takers allegedly shot to death in the hospital four civilian men. In this incident, over 100 hostages were reportedly killed when Federal forces attempted to take over the hospital.
Kidnappings, robberies, and killings of fellow Chechens and outsiders weakened the possibilities of outside investment and Maskhadov's efforts to gain international recognition of its independence effort. Kidnappings became common in Chechnya, procuring over $200 million during the three year independence of the chaotic fledgling state, but victims were rarely killed. Kidnappers would at times mutilate their captives and send video recordings to their families, to encourage the payment of ransoms.Some of the kidnapped were supposedly sold into indentured servitude to Chechen families. They were openly called slaves and had to endure starvation, beating, and often maiming according to Russian sources. In 1998, 176 people had been kidnapped, and 90 of them had been released during the same year according to official accounts. There were several public executions of criminals.
In 1998, four western engineers working for Granger Telecom were abducted and beheaded after a failed rescue attempt. Gennady Shpigun, the Interior Ministry liaison to Chechen officials, was kidnapped in March 1999 as he was leaving Grozny Airport; his remains were found in Chechnya in March 2000.President Maskhadov started a major campaign against hostage-takers, and on 25 October 1998, Shadid Bargishev, Chechnya's top anti-kidnapping official, was killed in a remote controlled car bombing. Bargishev's colleagues then insisted they would not be intimidated by the attack and would go ahead with their offensive. Other anti-kidnapping officials blamed the attack on Bargishev's recent success in securing the release of several hostages, including 24 Russian soldiers and an English couple. Maskhadov blamed the rash of abductions in Chechnya on unidentified "outside forces" and their Chechen henchmen, allegedly those who joined Pro-Moscow forces during the second war.
According to the Chechen government at least part of the kidnappings were orchestrated by the Federal Security Service was behind the kidnappings and financed them.
After the First Chechen War, the country won de facto independence from Russia, and Islamic courts were established. In September 1996 a Sharia-based criminal code was adopted, which included provisions for banning alcohol and punishing adultery with death by stoning. Sharia was supposed to apply to Muslims only, but in fact it was also applied to ethnic Russians who violated Sharia provisions. In one of the first rulings under sharia law, in January 1997 an Islamic court ordered the payment of blood money to the family of a man who was killed in a traffic accident. In November 1997 the Islamic dress code was imposed on all female students and civil servants in the country. In December 1997, the Supreme Sharia Court banned New Year celebrations, considering them "an act of apostasy and falsity".Conceding to an armed and vocal minority movement in the opposition led by Movladi Udugov, in February 1999, Maskhadov declared The Islamic Republic of Ichkeria, and the Sharia system of justice was introduced. Maskhadov hoped that this would discredit the opposition, putting stability before his own ideological affinities. However, according to former Foreign Minister Ilyas Akhmadov, the public primarily supported Maskhadov, his Independence Party, and their secularism. This was exemplified by the much greater numbers in political rallies supporting the government than those supporting the Islamist opposition. Akhmadov notes that the parliament, which was dominated by Maskhadov's own Independence Party, issued a public statement that President Maskhadov did not have the constitutional authority to proclaim sharia law, and also condemning the opposition for "undermining the foundations of the state".
Ethnic Russians made up 29% of the Chechen population before the war, and they generally opposed independence. Due to the mounting anti-Russian sentiment following the declaration of independence and the fear of an upcoming war, by 1994 over 200,000 ethnic Russians decided to leave the independence-striving republic.Ethnic Russians left behind faced constant harassment and violence. The separatist government acknowledged the violence, but did nothing to address it, blaming it on Russian provocateurs. Russians became soft target for criminals, as they knew the Chechen police would not intervene in their defence. The start of the First Chechen War in 1994 and the first bombing of Grozny created a second wave of ethnic Russian refugees. By the end of the conflict in 1996, the Russian community had nearly vanished.
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- ^ Akhmadov, Ilyas. The Chechen Struggle: Independence Won and Lost. Page 144. "The size of the rallies indicated that the public was behind Maskhadov and the secular state... and, in autumn, that they [the opposition] could not summon public support either on the street or in the parliament."
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200,000 ethnic Russians have also fled Chechnya in the three years since it declared a unilateral independence [...] These people, propelled from their homes by growing anti-Russian sentiment, will probably never go back and will require resettlement
- ^ Smith, Sebastian (23 January 1997). "Little Hope in Poll for Ethnic Russians". The Moscow Times. Archived from the original on 10 December 2017. Retrieved 28 April 2018.
- ^ a b c d Smith, Sebastian (2006). Allah's Mountains: The Battle for Chechnya, New Edition. Tauris Parke Paperbacks. pp. 133–134. ISBN 9781850439790.