Sir, Today is World Chechnya Day, commemorating the dignity and resilience of a people who, against all odds, refused to be erased from existence. It was on this day in 1944 that Stalin ordered the deportation of the entire Chechen and Ingush population to Central Asia and Siberia.
More than half the 500,000 people who were to be forcibly transported died in transit or in massacres committed by Soviet troops. Those who survived were left facing starvation and disease in the harsh winters of Siberia. Within days, an entire people had been ejected from the land of their ancestors, and every reference to Chechnya was removed from official maps and records.
It was only after Stalin’s death, in 1957, that the Chechen and Ingush people were allowed to return and rehabitate their native land. By then, half the population had perished.
Today Chechens are facing another tragedy. In 1994 Russian troops entered Chechnya to attack the independence movement. Despite a peace agreement and democratic elections in the Chechen Republic of Ichkeria in 1997, President Putin ordered them to invade again in 1999. Since then, nearly a million Chechens have been displaced and more than 100,000 killed – mostly civilians. Disappearances, torture, rape, extrajudicial killings and the silencing of independent journalists and human rights defenders are commonplace.
In the coming months President Putin’s successor has an opportunity to put an end to the suffering of the Chechen people by holding the first free and fair elections in Chechnya since 1997. I hope that one day Russia will be led by someone who sees the road to peace, not war and degradation, in Chechnya, and urge the next president of Russia to recognise the right to self-determination of the Chechen people – so that they can live free from fear and oppression. This is also a paramount prerequisite for the proper return to civil liberties, democracy and human dignity in Russia.
Ivar AmundsenDirector, Chechnya Peace Forum
Source: Times Online