Akhmed Zakayev Appeals to the International Community to Help Resolve the Chechen Conflict
Opening remarks at the Press Conference at the House of Lords. London,14 September 2004
Ladies and Gentlemen,
First of all I want to emphasize that the democratically elected Chechen government can only express horror and abhorrence in the face of the terrorist act perpetrated against the North Ossetian school in Beslan on 1- 3 September. President Maskhadov has declared that there can be no justification for terrorism, and he has called on the Chechen people to mourn those who died in this tragedy.
I categorically refute all accusations by the Russian government that President Maskhadov had any involvement in the Beslan events. Moreover, President Putin's subsequent linking of Aslan Maskhadov, a democratically elected president, to Shamil Basayev, who has accepted responsibility for a number of terrorist acts in the past, is a deliberate attempt to confuse international public opinion as to the real issues in the Chechen conflict. The accusation, as well as the call for a reward for President's Maskhadov's head as if he were but a common criminal, is nothing more than deliberate disinformation, part of the propaganda war conducted along the best traditions of the Soviet KGB, with the sole aim of discrediting those in Russia and the rest of the world who insist on dialogue with President Maskhadov.
Before answering your questions I would like to make a few important remarks. Who carried out the terrorist act? I believe that those responsible for the hostage taking in the school belonged to a local radical group, unlinked to any political forces or actors in the North Caucasus, and that this group was able to recruit volunteers amongst a population imbued with a desire for personal revenge for the death of their close ones in the hands of the Russian military. Let me remind you that more than 200 000 people have lost their lives in the hands of the Russian military, including more than 35 000 children. This does not mean that I condone the acts of those who, out of grief and despair, have lost all reason. I simply want to underline the circumstances which have lead to such madness.
The terrorist act of Beslan must also be placed in a particular context: that of the bloody conflict between the Ingush and the Ossetians, which started before the first Chechen war of 1994. In the autumn of 1992 hundreds of Ingush people were massacred in the Prigorodny region of North Ossetia. The scale of violence incurred then, in particular the massacre of children, far exceeded what we have just witnessed in Beslan. I am convinced that some of the participants in the attack on the Beslan school were also motivated by a desire for vengeance for the 1992 massacre, which explains the reported presence of many Ingush amongst the hostage takers.
Russian officials assert that persons of Arab, African and Korean origin were amongst the hostage takers. Following eyewitness accounts of surviving hostages, this has turned out to be not true. Russia also claims to have identified a number of individual Chechens amongst the dead hostage takers. These named Chechens are indeed real individuals, however they have been in prison in Russia for many years.
Faced with this barrage of lies from the Russian side, and in an effort to shed some truth on the events surrounding the attack on the school and the subsequent siege, President Maskhadov has ordered the head of the anti terrorist center of Chechnya to conduct an official enquiry into the Beslan events. He has also declared his willingness to cooperate with all interested parties in the investigation, and to share any information in his possession on individuals suspected of participating in this heinous crime.
International Terrorism and role of the international community Following the tragic events of 11 September 2001, the West realized that it needed Russian cooperation in the fight against international terrorism. In order to secure this cooperation, Western leaders have deliberately and consistently avoided the issue of the human rights abuses and war crimes in Chechnya, in their public and private dealings with President Putin. This line has been maintained in spite of the widely reported abuses of human rights perpetrated against the Chechen population, confirmed by the most respected and internationally recognized human rights organizations.
My question therefore to Prime Minister Blair, President Bush, Chancellor Schroeder, to name but a few, is "why are you not prepared to insist that your partner in the fight against terrorism espouses the standards of freedom, respect for human rights and civil liberties that you purport to defend?" Your silence has de facto given Putin carte blanche in his attempts to solve the Chechen conflict by force. This evidence of double standards by the West, which does not seem to hesitate to issue condemnation, or at times intervene, in other parts of the world that are suffering similar or even less extreme forms of state sponsored violence, is pushing many peaceful Chechens into carrying extremist acts out of desperation.
International terrorism and Islamic fundamentalism play only a minor role in the Chechen conflict and in Chechnya itself. However the Chechen tragedy is being hijacked by those who fuel the ideologies of both international terrorism and Islamic fundamentalism, who see in the conflict further evidence of the oppression of Muslims at the hands of the so called great powers. The West's reluctance to denounce Putin's approach to the Chechen problem is partly responsible for the fact that the cause of our people is now being manipulated by radical extremists who are at war with the West.
I understand that most political leaders in democratic countries are very sensitive to public opinion, and realistically I do not expect any changes in attitudes in the West until the public begins to exert pressure on governments to change. Yet without objective reporting on the situation in Chechnya, Western public opinion will continue to be inadequately informed on the real situation in the Republic. I therefore welcome and join the call by Reporters sans Frontiers in their open address to President Putin, to allow free movement for all journalists in Chechnya. Unless Western leaders are prepared to support this initiative, I fear that President Putin will be allowed to continue his disinformation campaign on Chechnya unimpeded.
Proposals for a peaceful resolution Putin's policy has not only not stabilized Chechnya, but has brought about a worsening of the situation. If Putin's policy towards Chechnya continues in the same vein, the Caucasus will radicalize even further, and I am gravely concerned that more Beslans will be inevitable. Therefore I call on Western governments to reconsider their strategy towards Russia, and make peace talks between Russia and the democratically elected government of Chechnya, under the auspices of international mediators, a non negotiable condition of Russia's continued status as a privileged interlocutor of the West, in both trade and political forums.
Aslan Maskhadov and his representatives once again declare their readiness to come to the negotiating table. In 2001 Putin stated that for Russia "Chechnya's status was not the most important issue. The most important issue was for Chechnya not to become a platform from which violence and aggression is directed against Russia". For our part, we declare that for us independence is not our main goal. It is simply one possible guarantee for the safety of the Chechen people. With good will and flexibility on both sides, the political aims of both parties should be achievable. However, following all that has happened, I fear that we can no longer find a solution without the participation of the international community, and guarantees that the interests of both parties will be acknowledged and respected.
Today, Aslan Maskhadov remains the only democratically elected leader in Chechnya, and the only one who can guarantee peace in the Caucasus if the war ends. As his official representative I confirm that we are ready to take this responsibility. But we cannot wage a war on two fronts: with the Russian army on one side and with international terrorism on the other. We need help from the international community.
If the world continues to ignore the Chechen problem, the responsibility for the ensuing Caucasus catastrophe will fall at the feet of Vladimir Putin and his Western apologists.