Filmmaker Taran Davies sets out to trace the life and legacy of Imam Shamil, the legendary warrior who led Chechnya's first rebellion against Russia and who is today the muse of Chechnya's struggle for freedom. Imam Shamil's story shows how history is repeating itself in a conflict the Russians can never win and explains why the Chechens will continue to organize terrorist strikes against Russia.
150 years after his death everyone in the Caucasus still knows and reveres Imam Shamil. For nearly 40 years, the commander and spiritual leader of the Chechen mountain men fought a bitter war of independence against the Russians. He was a charismatic and influential leader, inspiring his people to rise up against their Russian occupiers. "Your prayers are worth nothing, your marriages are unlawful, your children are bastards, while there is one Russian left in your land."
In 1839, Russians kidnapped Imam Shamil's son. He waited ten years to exact his revenge. In a daring bid, he stormed the house of Princess Anna, one of the largest landowners in Georgia and a former confidante to the Tsar's wife. She was abducted and taken prisoner, losing her baby in the process. Anna's kidnapping seized Russia's imagination, resulting in several bestsellers and securing Shamil's international renown. "Shamil is a hero of all Chechens," states Azeri Muslim Vafa Guluzade: "All Caucasian people love him because he was fighting for freedom and independence."
It was considered the most daring abduction on Russian soil until his namesake, Shamil Basayev, eclipsed this feat. In 1995, with Russia having killed tens of thousands of Chechen civilians including 11 members of Basayev's family, Basayev kidnapped over 1,000 inhabitants of a Russian village and marched them into a hospital. For ten days he withstood the efforts of the Russian military to free them, over 120 hostages died in the process and this forced the Russian Prime Minister to negotiate live on prime time television. Eventually securing a promise to withdraw all Russian troops from Chechnya. The deal in part allowed Chechnya to win its independence in 1996.
In October 2002 Chechen militants armed with machine guns and rocket launchers seized a theatre in Moscow, threatening to execute 800 hostages and passing on a message from Shamil Basayev, demanding the end of the Russian occupation of Chechnya. After three days the Chechen kidnappers and 129 hostages lay dead, the latest casualties in the on-going, bloody civil war.
The tale of both Shamils shows how years of bloody conflict increasingly radicalise the leaders involved. President Putin claims that Chechen extremism is a new phenomenon and part of Osama Bin Laden's war against the West. The truth is that the Chechens have used radical Islam and terror in their fight with Russia ever since their conquest in the 19th century and they are unlikely to change their objectives or style anytime soon.
Director: Taran Davies
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Produced by Wicklow Films.