Chechnya - Mountain Men and Holy Wars

May 2003 - 55 min 30 sec

Wicklow Films Presents

A Taran Davies Film

When shall blood cease to flow in the mountains?
When sugar cane grows in the snow
Chechen Proverb

In the fall of 1832 a young man called Shamil lay close to death, cut through the chest by a bayonet, his homeland conquered by Russia.

In a mountain hideaway Shamil’s’s wife nursed him back to health. This was his happiest time until she asked: “How can you rest here when your people seek your guidance”.

Shamil reluctantly came down from the mountain and soon became one of Islam’s greatest warriors

The Palace of Culture Theatre
Moscow, Russia
October 23, 2002

24 hours ago a night of entertainment turned into terror; a Moscow theatre under siege. 500 held at gun point by Chechen separatists. 50 armed men and women burst in firing their weapons into the air. The women are the widows of Chechen fighters.

Chechnya’s struggle for independence from Russia is one of history’s longest conflicts

Today some Chechens are turning to terror to fight for their freedom

Many claim this is a new phenomenon & part of Osama Bin Laden’s war against the West, but the Chechen conflict against Russia has been going on for centuries

This film is about Imam Shamil – the warlord who first led the Chechens in a Holy War against Russia 150 years ago. Shamil’s struggle helps to show how history is repeating itself in one of the world’s most deadly conflicts

I set out in the Summer of 1999 to trace Shamil’s life & legacy in his homeland, the mountainous region of the Caucasus

Shamil’s story will show why the Chechens will continue to organize terrorist attacks against Russia in a war the Russians can never win

One of the Chechen women said the Russians have covered our land with our children’s blood; we have decided to die herein Moscow and we will take with us the lives of hundreds of sinners

Title: Mountain Men & Holy Wars

Located at the crossroads of Europe and Asia & locked between the once great empires of Russia, Turkey and Iran, the Caucasus is home to hundreds of ethnic groups including the Chechens.

For centuries many of these ethnicities sought refuge deep in the mountains of the Caucasus where they built isolated and fortified villages.

The Russians invaded the region to build an empire & ever since Imam Shamil rose in rebellion the Chechens have taken up arms against Russian rule no less than 12 times.

Correspondent: The Russian army has seized control of much of central Grozny, but their prize is a wasteland of rubble.

Despite having granted several other countries of the Caucasus their freedom, Russia has killed tens of thousands of Chechens as it fights to keep Chechnya part of the Russian Federation.

Russia strives to maintain access to a large supply of oil and seeks to bring order to a region it has come to think of as its own

On the whole, one cannot talk about a victory here / but only a positive solution / which means a normalization of relations / in the Caucasus as a whole / and Chechnya in particular

The Caucasus is home to a diverse patchwork of Christian and Muslim Countries

I begin my journey just south of the Russian republic of Chechnya in the newly independent country of Azerbaijan and its capital Baku, once the centre of Islam in the region

Following the story of Imam Shamil will be dangerous and difficult so I’ve asked three colleagues to help:

Ilya fled Central Asia as a political refugee, but has agreed to return and work as my translator and guide

Nick is an author who is researching a book about Shamil & Russia’s conflict with Chechnya

John is a photojournalist who lives in Baku and has many contacts here that will help us on our journey

My name is Taran & I’ve made several films in this region about its history. We set out to tell Shamil’s story because we believe that it’s only by going back in the past that can we understand the present.

Our first stop in Baku is with Vafa Guluzade who we have come to ask about Shamil & Chechnya’s struggle for freedom

Vafa Guluzade
I want to say that we don’t have our own history we have distorted Soviet history it’s completely…its lies

To judge chechnya and chechens you must know the history of chechnya, whole history of Chechnya it is a struggle for dignity, it is a struggle for freedom and independence.

Shamil is a hero of all Chechens and all Caucasian people love Shamil because Shamil was fighting for freedom and independence.

Imam Shamil was born an Avar, which was one of the most fierce tribes of the Caucasus

He grew up fighting the Russians as they invaded his homeland in the 19th century

At an early age Shamil was elected the Islamic leader of a region that today includes the Russian Federation of Chechnya & Daghestan & Northern Azerbaijan

Shamil established the first Islamic state in the Caucasus which he defended by welding his followers into a fanatic fighting force that terrorized Russia with deadly ambushes, kidnappings and suicide missions

When Shamil finally surrendered in 1859, after 40 years of ceaseless struggle, the London Times called him the greatest chieftan of any age

Nick: Shamil was an Avar and we’re in the Avar capital of Azerbaijan
John: We’re camped pretty close to the border with Daghestan, in the middle of nowhere & its just the four of us, you, me, Nick and Ilya & Ilya has been telling us that we’re in a very dangerous region, that we could be kidnapped here
Ilya: I don’t want to sleep this night, if you want to sleep – goodnight, I not sleeping this night. This not New York, Chechens kidnapping everybody over here. Why I’m a little nervous, Nicholas, I want to see you tomorrow

Our first effort to reach Shamil’s ancestral home shows how difficult it will be for us to push further into Chechnya and Daghestan

Ever since the collapse of the Soviet Union, Chechnya has descended into anarchy and some believe that Daghestan will soon follow. The Chechen mafia and the warlords feud between themselves or fight the Russians. The region is becoming a hotbed of Islamic fundamentalism & hundreds of foreign journalists and aid workers have been kidnapped and killed.

Kidnapped Hungarian man (Titles on Tape): Tell them in Hungarian: If you don’t pay we are finished here.

If there’s a safe way into Chechnya it’s with the Chechen representative to Azerbaijan: Ali Asaev is one of only a handful of Chechen Ambassadors:

Ali Asaev:
We’re not well received in other countries these days / because we are presented as terrorists, as bandits / Nobody presents us these days as normal people

Taran (filmmaker):
We’re very concerned about going to Chechnya and Daghestan although we very much want to go. Is there a way you see for us to be able to go in which our safety can be guaranteed.

Ali Asaev:
If they are our guests, we give them a 100% guarantee / Of course a 100% guarantee can only be given in a morgue

We’ve spoken with the Chechen ambassador today who basically said in no uncertain terms there is no way you’re going to Chechnya. It’s very dangerous, he said even having six or seven armed guards is ludicrous. He said you’d have to have a minimum of twenty armed guards. He cannot guarantee anyone’s security

With our plan to go to Chechnya clearly out of the question, Ilya volunteers to go to Daghestan to tell our story of Shamil – of all of us he is the most likely to get there and back safely

It’s easy for me because I have passport, Uzbekistan passport & know very well this language

You know you don’t have to do this. You don’t have to do this for me, for us.

Why are we here? We need this, you know. This guy make book, this guy make picture, and you make movie and I want to do something, you know.

But you don’t have to do this; you know that right

I know, I know…I want to do this, I need this

Ilya will visit Gounib – the famous village in Daghestan where Shamil’s holy war was crushed in 1859 when he surrendered to the Russians. Ilya will find out what the people there think of Shamil today.

The story of Shamil’s surrender at Gounib has become legendary. Vafa remembers a poem about it:

Vafa Guluzade:
It will be like this…/ Gounib is a granite stronghold and Shamil defended it / People still wonder how the mountain peak was taken / A rope was thrown they climbed up / Over Gounib, instead of the sun Russian bayonets flashed.

We set out to drive Ilya to the Azerbaijani border with the Russian Federation of Daghestan, where Ilya will then make his way to Gounib

We’ve hired a jeep and driver, Mr. Ramiz, for this and the next leg of our journey following in the footsteps of Shamil

We’ve also been joined by Ilgar, a local cameraman, who will film Ilya in my place

At the border Ilya and Ilgar meet a man who has agreed to drive them to Gounib

Ilya and Ilgar cross the border into Shamil’s homeland

So our expedition continues / we are now in the heart of the Caucasus in Daghestan / at present Daghestan is part of Russia

Due in part to Shamil’s vigorous resistance to Russian rule, the Soviets closed Daghestan to all foreigners

Ilya therefore joins a small group who’ve traveled to Daghestan in the last century
One of them was a British ambassador who made a similar journey in the 1870’s. He took these photographs on the road to Gounib only ten years after Shamil’s defeat

The ambassador photographed the old village of Gounib, which the Russians destroyed as they killed the last 400 of Shamil’s men and forced his surrender

It is this still ruined village that Ilya reaches, thankfully without incident

Our people worship him

Ilya meets a local school teacher called Hadji who he asks about Shamil:

We’ve always wanted freedom like the eagles that fly here / That’s why we keep Shamil’s memory alive / He defended his land and the freedom of its people

So finally our expedition has reached a sacred place / where Imam Shamil surrendered / We’ve reached this place which is sacred to all Muslims

Ever since Shamil’s defeat in Gounib the Russians have worked hard to keep control of Chechnya. Accusing them of conspiring with the Nazis, Stalin deported the entire Chechen nation in 1944. Approximately 100,000 Chechens died on their journey to the deserts of Central Asia. It was not until the 1960’s that the survivors were allowed to return. Chechnya’s bid for independence in the last decade has resulted in the death of over 150,000 of its civilians. Some groups claim that now dozens of Chechens are tortured, raped & killed every day as the Russians police the region. But the Chechens still fight for their independence. Islamic militants kill on average 25 Russian soldiers a week in Chechnya and are responsible for a series of deadly kidnappings and bombings. It’s as if Shamil’s holy war never ended.

History repeats itself / The Caucasus is again heading towards war / It’s unfortunate, people don’t want it / But it’s fate / The law of philosophy says everything repeats itself

With Ilya safely back from Daghestan we set out to follow Shamil’s story in other parts of the Caucasus

We head for a remote village in Azerbaijan called Xinaliq, a town similar to Shamil’s childhood home just across the border in Daghestan

Born in 1796, it’s written that even as a boy Shamil was considered extraordinary
Because they found him arrogant, the kids in his village once tried to knife him to death

Severely wounded, Shamil dragged himself into the mountains where shepherds nursed him back to health

He joined a growing resistance to the Russians and was soon renown for cleaving a Russian soldier in two with one blow of his Kindjal

Shamil also studied the Koran in which he first saw value in Islam as an ideology of resistance to Russia.

These kids have told us that you can’t go across this road, so now we’re going to try to find a road around over the mountains or blast through this river.

This is where it really starts isn’t it, I mean look at that

We arrive at Xinaliq. We all feel like we’ve stepped back a hundred years in time into the age of Shamil

I don’t believe it, like dream, you know like a dream, I don’t believe it…

Xinaliq is a mountain fortress that’s so remote its inhabitants speak a unique language

There are many diverse tribes in this region that before the Russian occupation shared little but the Islamic faith and a fierce tradition of independence

During the time of Shamil, boys of this age would be studying the Koran and competing in sports like wrestling and horseracing

Today these kids spend most of their time helping their families put food on the table

We wonder if Shamil is remembered in this remote corner of Azerbaijan. Ilya asks our host Avis who tells us about a time he was once sick and had a vision of the Imam

In my dream I saw the name “Sheik Shamil” all around me / I was given water with special herbs in it / And when I awoke in the morning I could walk again.

As the Russians sought to build an empire, Shamil fought to maintain his homeland’s independence. While Russia attacked with an unlimited supply of men and advanced weaponry, Shamil used Islam to unite his people and harden their resolve.

In 1834, when he was elected the third Imam of Daghestan, the region’s supreme religious leader and warrior, Shamil preached: “Your prayers are worth nothing, your marriages are unlawful, your children are bastards, while there is one Russian left in your land”

01: 20:10:
We set out to follow Shamil’s Holy War in a Christian country that was once allied with Russia against the Imam

For decades Georgia sought Russia’s protection from its Muslim neighbors and welcomed Russia’s direct rule in 1800

Having conquered much of the Caucasus by this time, the Russians used Tiblisi, Georgia’s capital, as its key base to try to defeat Imam Shamil

Located on the banks of the Kura river, we arrive in the newly independent country of Georgia & its capital Tiblisi

We have come to ask the adviser to the President on Foreign Affairs, Gela Charkviani, how Shamil is remembered by his former enemy

I think he’s an example, he’s a precedent…Now you know there are many different views on history and how useful history is, there are some views saying that history should not be taught at all because it encourages hero worshipping, Shamil is a hero. Shamil was a towering figure capable of rallying the entire Northern Caucasus around you know his towering personality, but certainly we should not probably exaggerate, exaggerate in historical thinking, because historical thinking at some junctures of history you know becomes dangerous, forward looking is sometimes better than looking backwards.

While some believe Shamil’s story should be told and others that it should be kept quiet – all agree, so far, that he is a hero. We wonder what life must be like growing up as his descendant in this region?

Deep in the city’s old quarter we track down a member of Imam Shamil’s family

Tamara Shamili is Imam Shamil’s great great granddaughter

This Imam Shamil, this last son Imam Shamil, this last son – son is coming great grandson of Imam Shamil, this – this guy’s son

And I
We ask Tamara what it is like being related to Shamil. She tells us a story about when she applied to university

I came to my exams prepared, ready to answer questions / The examiner picked up my file: “What’s your name?” / “What? Everybody come here!” / And practically the same thing happened at every exam. / My girlfriend told me later / you ride on your name like your grandmother rode in a carriage. / Well it’s not my fault

Despite Shamil’s renown today, the Russian Tsar at first ignored him when he emerged as the resistance leader to his rule in the Caucasus

The Russians generally romanticized the region at this time and so considered Shamil in the same light – a mountain bandit – clearly no match for Imperial Russia

But the Tsar not only failed to recognize the Imam’s determination, but also the complexity of waging a war in the mountains

“You say my roads are bad and my country impassible” Shamil once wrote: “It is well: that is the reason why the powerful white Tzar can still do nothing against me”

While Shamil’s mountains kept the Russians at bay, his strict application of Islamic law kept his people united. Shamil would not approve of the party we attend with our Muslim host during our stay in Tiblisi:

We’re here tonight to attend the grand party of close friends of our host in Taxistan, there son at ten o’clock tomorrow morning has a ritual circumcision which we’ve viewed previous footage and it looks like one of the more painful things that can happen to a four year old in his life.

There were two sounds, it sounded like gun shots they were probably just firecrackers or something, but whatever it was the joke did not go over well & tempers have suddenly gotten a lot hotter.

Watch this

It was two bullets that went off, somebody fired a pistol

In the height of celebration, people were enjoying themselves so much that they pulled out guns

Shamil outlawed liquor, music, and dancing to ensure such decadence wouldn’t corrupt the warrior instinct of his men. Combat of one sort or another was literally the only occupation open to the average Caucasian male.

“Stealing cattle and highway robbery were counted deeds of honor”, one historian wrote, “these together with fighting against the hated Russian, were the only pursuits deemed worthy of a grown man”.

How little life seems to have changed in the Caucasus – We wonder how the Chechens have maintained their will to fight over centuries

One answer, I’m told, can be found in the mountains where signs still exist of one of the most deadly of Caucasian traditions – the blood vendetta.

We head for a village in Georgia called Shatili, which is located within sight of the
Chechen border

One does get the sense that we’re getting pushed deeper and deeper into Chechnya, because this road has been going on for a long time.

To Grozny

To Grozny…To Grozny or bust

If you look over here you’ll see Georgia and then if you take a look up this steep mountain, this is Chechnya. You’ve got the border guards just visible down the valley. That’s about as close as you want to be.”

Taran (filmmaker)
What have we got here?

We have a downed Chechen helicopter, not sure how it got here or what it’s doing on the Georgian side of the border, but we’d hazard a guess that it probably came down sometime in ‘94 or ‘95.

Taran (filmmaker)
There was a story that I read, the Russians during the Chechen war, the fighter pilots would scrape off the serial numbers of their airplanes in case they were downed because of the issue of vendetta in Chechnya. The Chechens would come and see if they could take the serial numbers off the planes and if they could they would trace who was actually flying the plane and then trace who there families were and over time, it could be centuries, they would track down their families and kill them

We arrive at Shatili

Shatili is an ancient fortress where life was once dominated by the blood vendetta

Tales abound in the mountains of century long conflicts that began with the theft of a chicken and end with the death of an entire clan

Stories are told of Abreks – men who renounce all moral accountability to seek vengeance on those who have wronged them

The importance of the hand…The hand is a symbol of vendetta that for every murder you’ve executed in the name of revenge you would have to cut off the man’s hand to prove that you had killed him and you’d bring it back and once you had brought it back you were allowed to put a hand up in your house, or rather the symbol of the hand such as you’ve got up there…

Vendetta came to further ignite Shamil’s Holy War when the Russians kidnapped his seven year old son in 1839

Under siege and near defeat in a fortress close to Shatili, the Imam offered the Russians his child to secure negotiations with them

But upon learning that they secretly sent him to St. Petersburg, Shamil was enraged – His struggle for freedom was now fortified by the abduction of his son

It took Shamil 10 years to exact his revenge & when he did he brought Russia to its knees

We head for a region in Georgia called Tzinondali where Shamil led a hostage strike that until recently was considered the most daring & deadly ever committed on Russian soil.

This is a wishing tree / I will tie this ribbon to the tree and wish us all well

Merab Kokoshavili is the great grandson of the woman Shamil kidnapped to negotiate for the return his son

Princess Anna was one of the largest landowners in Georgia and a former lady in waiting to the Tsar’s wife

Merab shows us around Anna’s estate where he explains she received a warning of a possible raid one fateful morning. Without enough time to escape she hid in the attic where Shamil’s men soon found her:

The attackers were merciless. / During the pursuit of the attackers / Anna, on horseback for hours, with her baby in her arms / her hands growing numb / fell off the horse. / They would not allow her to stop and pick up her child. / The child died

Anna’s kidnapping seized Russia’s imagination, resulting in several bestsellers and securing Shamil’s international renown

After a year’s negotiation, Imam Shamil exchanged the Princess for his son and a ransom of 40,000 roubles which he used to fund his war with Russia for another decade

When I think about my family’s captivity, / it is terrible. / A small child died, the whole family lived in terrible conditions. / Think of the trauma they all suffered. / But on the other hand I understand why Shamil did it. / It was a time when they had to act like that / just like today when they have to act as they do. / They are freedom-loving people who cherish their land / and they want to rule over their land as they see fit

We next head to Armenia & its capital Yerevan, where we find an extraordinary example of history repeating itself when we encounter the man some believe is the reincarnation of Imam Shamil

Armenia is the world’s first country to have established Christianity as its state religion. Like Georgia, the Armenians sought Russia’s protection from their Islamic neighbors and helped Russia to fight Imam Shamil.

Located in the shadow of Mt Ararat, we arrive in Yerevan

We have come to meet Vartan Oskanian, the Armenian Minister of Foreign Affairs, who we will ask if, like everyone else in the Caucasus, he thinks of Shamil as a hero.

Do you know of Imam Shamil?


We’re shocked. Why has Vartan not heard of one of this region’s greatest historical figures?

We head to Yerevan University to find out if Shamil is not known here or is too controversial to discuss

Several professors, we’re in the academy of history, several professors have gathered to profess that no one actually knows who on earth Shamil is – which is quite surprising because we’re in the Caucasus. So we’re going to go back in and see if we can maybe we can find one man in this building who will tell us a little bit about Shamil and his connection with Armenia

Screaming and shouting, a couple of stamping feet and that was about the end of the interview with no camera involved

I mean I think we got a real sort of lesson there. It just shows that meeting really shows that we are here at a very politically sensitive time, because when we say tell us what you can about Imam Shamil, it immediately goes to what does that have to do with Shamil Basayev, the Chechen leader. Imam Shamil translates into today’s time as Shamil Basayev.

Born in Chechnya in 1965, Shamil Basayev decided to fight for his homeland’s independence shortly after the collapse of the Soviet Union.

The Russian people like their role as slave / But why should I be a slave?

Like Imam Shamil, Shamil Basayev is Russia’s most wanted terrorist

Like Imam Shamil, Shamil Basayev leads a holy war against Russia and seeks to establish an independent Islamic state in the Caucasus

Like Imam Shamil, Basayev organized a hostage strike that brought Russia to its knees

In 1995, with Russia having killed tens of thousands of Chechen civilians including 11 members of Basayev’s family, Basayev kidnapped over a 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

After the death of over 120 hostages, the Russian Prime Minister agreed to negotiate with Basayev live on prime time television

When the prime minister makes an official statement / that war in Chechnya will end / then I will release 100 women.

The Prime Minister made an extraordinary concession - he promised to withdraw all Russian troops from Chechnya

The deal in part allowed Chechnya to win its independence from Russia in 1996

I am amazed at the similarity between Shamil Basayev and Imam Shamil. Though separated by a hundred years of history they share the same name, tactics and objective

Certainly our comparison seems valid enough to unnerve the Armenian Minister of Foreign Affairs:

Vartan Oskanion:
I don’t want to be the judge of how to define and how to qualify what’s going on in Daghestan or Chechnya. That’s something we want to leave it to those people who are involved in this conflict to qualify it and make their own political judgement. And how to define it was it a move for independence which is pretty much supported by legal and historical you know basis or is it simply an act of terrorism. I truly don’t want to get involved in that and try to make any political judgement as to which side of that fine line that particular conflict stands

For the first time we change course to follow in the steps of Shamil Basayev.

We head to Karabagh and the town of Shusha – Karabagh is a country recently created in a bloody war between Azerbaijan and Armenia.

Shamil Basayev secretly traveled to Shusha in the early 1990’s with dreams of establishing an independent Islamic state, but he and his Islamic brethren, the Azerbaijanis, were defeated here by the Christian Armenians

This is a mosque that was once used by Azeris and today its all burned out on the inside, grass growing all over the grounds & what looks like big holes in the minaret where its been shot at, so it was a beautiful building and now its all been destroyed

Soon after his defeat here, Basayev traveled to Afghanistan to study in a military training camp run by Osama Bin Laden. He shrugged off his loss as an education, one that prepared him for his real struggle against Russia

We visit the government of Karabagh – the administration responsible for Basayev’s defeat – to ask the Minister of Foreign Affairs about the future of Shamils’ Holy War in the Caucasus?

Naira Melkoumian
Imam Shamil was defeated. / Will Shamil Basayev be defeated too? / They should try to modernize the way they fight for freedom. / One shouldn’t use the same tactics / that once already led to defeat. / If the national movement leans only on the radical elements, / it loses the support of the majority of the population. / The majority isn’t ready for a long and bloody war. / This was the weakness of Imam Shamil.

By the time Imam Shamil’s war entered its fourth decade, he had lost much of his following. So the Imam became increasingly extreme as he tried to force his people’s cooperation

He once had his mother publicly whipped for speaking to him on behalf of a group of war weary Chechens who wished to surrender to the Russians. When she fell unconscious after 5 lashes, Shamil cried that Allah would allow him to receive the rest of her punishment – he was whipped 95 times.

The Chechen tribe continued to fight, but their awe of Imam Shamil soon gave way to their horror of constant war

Naira Melkoumian
Shamil reminds me of a character in a novel by Tolstoy. / He is a man / who wanted to free his people / who even chose to sacrifice his own son / but who got ground up in the wheels of the Russian empire

For me, he’s a poetic not a political image. / Politicians are only now being formed in the Caucasus. / I’m afraid there is a great deal of poetry in their struggle / which perhaps isn’t very clear to us.

Soon after Chechnya’s independence in 1996, Shamil Basayev was appointed the country’s first ever Prime Minister.

But maybe in part inspired by the poetry of Imam Shamil, Shamil Basayev’s struggle was not yet over. During the making of this film, on August 15th 1999, Basayev declares war on Russia.

Accusing the Russians of brutally suppressing his Islamic brothers in Daghestan, Basayev leads a small band of men across the border – warriors unified only by Islam and their opposition to Russian rule

The time has come to liberate ourselves from Russian tyranny. / The holy war must go on. / We will accomplish our struggle only when we liberate Daghestan.

While Basayev launches his attack against Daghestan, we race back to Azerbaijan and its capital Baku

Vafa Guluzade, the minister we met at the beginning of our journey, has made a statement that might cost him his job.

Much to Russia’s horror, Vafa has just announced that Basayev is a freedom fighter not a terrorist:

Taran (filmmaker)
Azeri president press office reported that attitude of Vafa Guluzade, adviser to the President for foreign policy, towards the events in the Russian regions of Chechnya and Daghestan, is his personal opinion and does not reflect the official position of the Azeri government.

Vafa has been forced to give up support of his Muslim brothers. We ask him why?

Vafa Guluzade:
It’s very difficult for me to accept them as bandits when they are confronting a huge army, when they are confronting missiles, artillery, very improved new weaponry. Bandits are robbing banks I think, but at the same time Daghestan it is part of Russia and Russia is as I am listening to the statements of Russian politicians that Daghestan was, is and will be Russian territory. I don’t have any right to interfere to it – as a State adviser of the Azerbaijani State.

We’ve just witnessed the effect of Russian diplomacy.

The terrorists and bandits there have terrorized the whole nation / using slogans of national and religious independence / and trying to resurrect the wild middle ages. / It is our duty to protect Russia and its citizens.
In the two years that followed Basayev’s strike into Daghestan, Russia again destroyed Chechnya: “”

The Russians have dropped leaflets over Grozny warning that any people who are still there on Saturday will be killed

In their efforts to eliminate Basayev & a few hundred of his men, the Russians killed 50,000 Chechen civilians & reduced Grozny to rubble.

Russia’s fight against terrorism is right, but the methods being used in Chechnya are wrong. Russia will pay a heavy price for those actions, with each passing day sinking deeper into the morass which will intensify extremism while reducing its own standing in the world.

Imam Shamil also failed to gain little but sympathy from the West.

Shamil wrote to Queen Victoria for help. “For years oh honored Queen we have been at war. It is Allah’s will. We beseech you to bring us aid.”

The House of Lords considered financing an expedition led by Sir Richard Burton to support Shamil, but the British had just defeated the Russians in the Crimea and had nothing to gain by financing another war against them.

Although feeling sorry for the Imam, Queen Victoria refused him her help.

Unable to raise money or international support, Imam Shamil would soon face defeat.

We head to Mt. Shamil, a mountain named after the Imam and the site of our final objective

We will climb Mt. Shamil on horseback, a journey that will take us through the burial grounds of Imam Shamil’s ancestors

As we come to the end of our journey, I question why Imam Shamil chose to surrender rather than die fighting
I imagine that Shamil knew that without international support he could never defeat Russia. And how much longer could the Imam rely on his mountains and will to keep a ¼ million Russian soldiers at bay?

After two generations of ceaseless war there wasn’t a single household left in the region that hadn’t lost a family member

Surrounded by the surviving members of his own family, I imagine that Imam Shamil decided he no longer wanted to fight a war he knew he couldn’t win

When Shamil surrendered at Gounib in August 1859, he expected to be put to death

Imagine his confusion when he was received as a hero by the Russians. The Tsar told him: “We will be friends”

Although placed under house arrest in St Petersburg, his attendance was demanded at all the grand parties. An admirer once asked if it was true that he ate his Russian captives. “I am a Muslim”, Shamil replied. ‘I don’t eat pork”

Although two of his sons pledged allegience to the Tsar, its unlikely Shamil was ever satisfied as a living legend in Russia. He died in 1870 on a pilgrimage to Mecca

Gela Charkviani:
We should not forget that today or whatever happens today is always a legacy of the past. And there have been some very serious mistakes made in the Northern Caucasus during the Soviet rule and it is not just a regular place in the world – it is very different because so many forces are at play there. All those deported peoples you know all those borders that are arbitrarily drawn – you know all this mix is a very explosive mix.

Vafa Guluzade:
To tell the truth about chechnya – the history of chechnya – and there today’s life – of course it will change image of chechnya. They’re suffering, suffering from blockade, suffering from damage of all their industry, from all their facilities of life…it is a big problem

Basayev continues fighting a Holy War against Russia, neither willing to surrender, nor capable of winning

Today we will not simply let the Russians withdraw. / Today we will fight to the end. / Today all Chechens face that the question before us is our existence.

Despite repeated claims of victory by the Russians, Basayev continues to organize resistance to their rule from the Caucasus mountains.

Since September 11th President Putin has cast Russia’s war against Chechnya in the same light as the West’s war against Al Qaeda

For the first time the US and Russia are allied against Russia’s ancient foe. US Special Forces are training the Georgian military to hunt down Chechen and Al Qaeda fighters. But the West must be careful; 2 centuries of history teach us that a military solution in Chechnya will fail. And the innocent will continue to suffer

Imam Shamil fought for forty years before his defeat, Shamil Basayev has fought for 20 years. Others are following their lead. Holy War against Russia in the Caucasus is far from over.

The Palace of Culture Theatre
Moscow, Russia
October 26, 2002

Chechen Terrorist:
We are the Suicide Brigade of Islam. / Our task is to stop the war in Chechnya. / We are following the orders of Shamil Basayev.

6.00am at the Russian theatre siege and Russian special forces storm the building, sleeping gas had been pumped into the theatre to overpower the Chechens, nearly 100 out of the 700 hostages were killed in the chaos of the rescue mission

We have survived a terrible experience together. / We have proved it is impossible to bring Russia to its knees.

50 of the hostage takers were killed in the shootout including their leader. The Russian troops treated their bodies with contempt. These have been dark days for Russia and for now this country, its capital and most of those caught up in this drama can only feel relief.

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