Chechnya refugees caught in crossfire

REFUGEES FLEEING Chechnya yesterday expressed in graphic terms how they are caught between the two factions fighting for control of the republic. Russian artillery and warplanes continued their bombardment of towns and villages around the capital, Grozny, forcing hundreds more refugees towards the border with Ingushetia. But those fleeing told how the "terrorists", whom the Russians say they are battling, are visiting misery on the population in roughly equal measure.

Lisa Miaeba, a middle-aged Chechen woman from the village of Achkoi-Martan, was visibly angry. Her fury was directed first against the Russians. She said: "My cousin was killed in his car when he was going to sell firewood. The next day the Russian airforce said it had destroyed two carloads of terrorists."

The second cause of Mrs Miaeba's anger was less predictable. She said: "There is a bandit who controls my village called Ruslan Madiev. He has 300 men who kidnap people and do what they want. But the Russians have never bombed his home."

Mrs Miaeba went on to explain that Madiev whose nickname is "Kus", claimed to be a Wahhabi, an Islamic fundamentalist. "They pray but they are not real believers. They violate Muslim law, which says you should not kill or kidnap."

In public Chechens are reluctant to admit to divisions within their own people, while privately the hatred of the Wahhabis comes a close second to that expressed against the Russian army. "No," said Artskho Karimov, a driver also from Achkoi-Martan, when asked about Madiev. "His home has not been hit and none of his gangsters are suffering any problems."

Asked why the Wahhabis are so disliked in Chechnya, Usam Baisaev, a young Chechen journalist, said that it is not merely because they are associated with banditry. "We are Muslims, but people see them as belonging to the Arabic rather than the Chechen tradition," he said. "The Wahhabis advocate the submission of one person to another and we do not. They want our women to wear veils and that is outrageous to us."

Ever since the war started six weeks ago, Russian spokesmen have said that they are in Chechnya to root out Islamic fundamentalist terrorism. The Russians claim frequently - though without producing any evidence - that reinforcements for the Wahhabis from the Taliban in Afghanistan are pouring into Chechnya. In fact pure Islamic fundamentalism has never been strong in Chechnya; its real base is Dagestan and its best known proponent is Khatab, a native of northern Saudi Arabia, who is reputed to command 250 men.

There are two reasons why Wahhabis in Chechnya have a notoriety well beyond their strength; firstly, local bandits like Arbi Barayev based in the villages of Urus-Martan and Alkhan-Yurt, have adopted the name as an ideological cover for their activities; secondly, it is a term of abuse, used by both Chechens and Russians, to describe more significant figures like Shamil Basayev, the Chechen warlord, though his beliefs are much closer to traditional Chechen nationalism.

There is a real division in Chechen ranks. Basayev was a battle leader in the last war, commanding a unit of about 2000 men. Along with Khatab, he launched the invasion of Dagestan last August, which ignited the present war. He may receive money from the Arab world, but he has also admitted to being paid by Boris Berezovsky, the multi-millionaire oligarch in Moscow.

Since the end of the last war president Aslan Maskhadov, the Chechen leader, has tried to unite the Chechen warlords under his sway. So far, he has largely failed. His recent letter to President Clinton appealing for US help in ending the "genocide of the Chechens" has so far brought only expressions of concern from the White House, and an insistence that the Russians must get involved in dialogue.

Soon after the start of the present war President Maskhadov and Basayev agreed to co-operate. But the understanding fell apart almost immediately.

The Chechens are divided, but not by religion. Many of their military commanders have the mentality of a guerrilla leader who takes no orders from anybody. In the three years of de facto Chechen independence its political and criminal elite grew closer.

The same, as Chechens are quick to point out, applies to Russia. "Neither Maskhadov nor [Russian president Boris] Yeltsin really control their commanders," said Mrs Miaeba gloomily as she trudged across the border to see if her house in was still standing.

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Life and Style
Steve Shaw shows Kate how to get wet behind the ears and how to align her neck
healthSteven Shaw - the 'Buddha of Breaststroke' - applies Alexander Technique to the watery sport
Arts and Entertainment
The sight of a bucking bronco in the shape of a pink penis was too much for Hollywood actor and gay rights supporter Martin Sheen, prompting him to boycott a scene in the TV series Grace and Frankie
footballShirt then goes on sale on Gumtree
Terry Sue-Patt as Benny in the BBC children’s soap ‘Grange Hill’
voicesGrace Dent on Grange Hill and Terry Sue-Patt
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebookA unique anthology of reporting and analysis of a crucial period of history
Arts and Entertainment
Performers drink tea at the Glastonbury festival in 2010
Arts and Entertainment
Twin Peaks stars Joan Chen, Michael Ontkean, Kyle Maclachlan and Piper Laurie
tvName confirmed for third series
Cameron Jerome
footballCanaries beat Boro to gain promotion to the Premier League
Arts and Entertainment
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Guru Careers: Software Developer / C# Developer

£40-50K: Guru Careers: We are seeking an experienced Software / C# Developer w...

Guru Careers: Software Developer

£35 - 40k + Benefits: Guru Careers: We are seeking a Software Developer (JavaS...

SThree: Trainee Recruitment Consultant / Resourcer

£18000 - £23000 per annum + Commission: SThree: As a Trainee Recruitment Consu...

Ashdown Group: UI Developer - (UI, HTML, CSS, JavaScript, AngularJS)

£25000 - £40000 per annum: Ashdown Group: UI Developer - (UI, JavaScript, HTML...

Day In a Page

Abuse - and the hell that came afterwards

Abuse - and the hell that follows

James Rhodes on the extraordinary legal battle to publish his memoir
Why we need a 'tranquility map' of England, according to campaigners

It's oh so quiet!

The case for a 'tranquility map' of England
'Timeless fashion': It may be a paradox, but the industry loves it

'Timeless fashion'

It may be a paradox, but the industry loves it
If the West needs a bridge to the 'moderates' inside Isis, maybe we could have done with Osama bin Laden staying alive after all

Could have done with Osama bin Laden staying alive?

Robert Fisk on the Fountainheads of World Evil in 2011 - and 2015
New exhibition celebrates the evolution of swimwear

Evolution of swimwear

From bathing dresses in the twenties to modern bikinis
Sun, sex and an anthropological study: One British academic's summer of hell in Magaluf

Sun, sex and an anthropological study

One academic’s summer of hell in Magaluf
From Shakespeare to Rising Damp... to Vicious

Frances de la Tour's 50-year triumph

'Rising Damp' brought De la Tour such recognition that she could be forgiven if she'd never been able to move on. But at 70, she continues to flourish - and to beguile
'That Whitsun, I was late getting away...'

Ian McMillan on the Whitsun Weddings

This weekend is Whitsun, and while the festival may no longer resonate, Larkin's best-loved poem, lives on - along with the train journey at the heart of it
Kathryn Williams explores the works and influences of Sylvia Plath in a new light

Songs from the bell jar

Kathryn Williams explores the works and influences of Sylvia Plath
How one man's day in high heels showed him that Cannes must change its 'no flats' policy

One man's day in high heels

...showed him that Cannes must change its 'flats' policy
Is a quiet crusade to reform executive pay bearing fruit?

Is a quiet crusade to reform executive pay bearing fruit?

Dominic Rossi of Fidelity says his pressure on business to control rewards is working. But why aren’t other fund managers helping?
The King David Hotel gives precious work to Palestinians - unless peace talks are on

King David Hotel: Palestinians not included

The King David is special to Jerusalem. Nick Kochan checked in and discovered it has some special arrangements, too
More people moving from Australia to New Zealand than in the other direction for first time in 24 years

End of the Aussie brain drain

More people moving from Australia to New Zealand than in the other direction for first time in 24 years
Meditation is touted as a cure for mental instability but can it actually be bad for you?

Can meditation be bad for you?

Researching a mass murder, Dr Miguel Farias discovered that, far from bringing inner peace, meditation can leave devotees in pieces
Eurovision 2015: Australians will be cheering on their first-ever entrant this Saturday

Australia's first-ever Eurovision entrant

Australia, a nation of kitsch-worshippers, has always loved the Eurovision Song Contest. Maggie Alderson says it'll fit in fine