From Die Presse, Austria (my translation from German):
Zakayev: "Putin wants to annihilate us"
By our correspondent AXEL REISERER (Die Presse) 12.07.2006
Interview. Chechen leader Zakayev accuses Russian president of genocide.
Step by step, the Russian security forces are hunting down one Chechen resistance leader after another. At last it came to the notorious field commander Shamil Basayev, Russia’s "public enemy number one". Back in March 2005, Moscow’s secret service assassinated Chechen president Aslan Makhadov, who had been elected in 1997 under the supervision of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE). Today his culture minister Akhmed Zakayev (46) is the last high-ranking representative of the Chechen resistance. Since 2003 he has lived in London, where, despite Moscow’s violent protests. he was granted the status of political refugee. "Die Presse" got hold of him for an interview.
Die Presse: What does the death of rebel leader Basayev mean?
Akhmed Zakayev: The situation in Chechnya will not change as long as there are no universally accepted relations between Chechens and Russians. Basayev’s death changes nothing at all. Before the recent deaths (one month ago rebel leader Abdul-Khalim Sadulayev was assassinated, Ed.), Chechnya had become calm. After a visit, the Council of Europe’s Human Rights Commissioner Alvaro Gil Robles even talked of “a positive dynamic in the area of the human rights ". Nothing could be more mistaken.
Even according to official figures, 15 to 20 people “disappear” every week, dozens are killed, and the situation of the more than 300,000 refugees is desperate. Only Russia’s President Putin, whose aim is to annihilate us, could see a positive development in that.
Do you accuse Putin of genocide?
Zakayev: Yes. That is also the view of all human right organizations. More than 250,000 people have been killed, including 40,000 children. Our cities, towns and villages have been destroyed. To this very day, Chechens are being killed because of their nationality. If that is not genocide, I don’t know what genocide is.
But Chechens also commit crimes.
Zakayev: In the Nazi concentration camps Jews were appointed Kapos. Today we have three groups in Chechen society: underground fighters, refugees and collaborators. Putin and his government are trying to shift the responsibility for their war crimes onto the criminal elements in Chechen society.
Your analogy with the Kapos is only convincing if one views Chechnya as a concentration camp.
Zakayev: Absolutely. Today Chechnya is a concentration camp.
What are you fighting for after nearly 15 years of defeats?
Zakayev: For survival. Putin says that South Ossetia, Abkhazia and Transnistria have a right to self-determination. And we? Are we less worthy? I wish the West would ask Putin that question. Why are we discriminated against in this way, not only by Putin, but also by the international community?
Could it have something to do with the fact that Chechens like Basayev have committed terrible crimes?
Zakayev: Putin portrays Chechnya as a question of international terrorism, but it’s a terrorism which he and his government created. Hamas, Hezbollah and Al-Qaida are creations of the KGB. There will be many more Beslans, because all of that is useful to Putin.
You still haven’t said a word about Chechen terrorism.
Zakayev: When the decision for the second Chechen war was taken in Russia in 1998, criminality and violence increased in our country. Those were provocations, but it happened under our government, and so we bore the responsibility for it.
Later our republic was infiltrated by Islamic extremists who are opposed to everything we believe and think. Strangely, all those extremists spoke very good Russian. And this was at a time when Moscow wanted nothing better than to brand us as terrorists.
Do you at least dissociate yourself from Basayev, who among other things admitted responsibility for Beslan?
Zakayev: Categorically. Russia has caused us less harm all round than Basayev with his actions.
Then why didn’t you stop him and his men?
Zakayev: Who do they recruit as fighters? Orphans, widows, women who have been raped: desperate people who have lost everything and are out for revenge. Putin is lying when he says that the terrorism comes from outside.
But what have you and your fellow guerrillas brought the Chechens except war and misery?
Zakayev: Our struggle has a long history. If we didn’t believe in our independence, our people would not exist any more. Stalin wanted to annihilate us, and Putin wants it again. What we give are human beings who are ready to die for our independence. One cannot do more than that.
It caused a stir in Austria when Chechen refugees who tried to enter the country via the Czech Republic were sent back at the border.
Zakayev: I know that. It was easier for us before the enlargement of the EU. But I must say that Chechen refugees in Austria are better off than in most countries of Europe.