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Home » Famous Chechens

Akhmad Khalidovich Zakayev

Submitted by on Sunday, 18 May 2008.    1,039 views No Comment
Akhmad Khalidovich Zakayev

Akhmad Zakayev was born in Urus-Martan in 1959 and belongs to the influential Chinkho taip (clan). He graduated from the College of Acting in Voronezh in 1981 and played many leading roles at the state Theatre in Grozny.

Akhmad Zakayev was made Minister of Culture under Chechnya’s first President Dzhokhar Dudaev in 1994. After the Russian forces invaded Chechnya, starting of the First Russian – Chechen War, Zakayev left his job and took up weapons. He took part in the battle of Grozny in 1994-1995 while serving as a minor commander under the command of Ruslan (Khamzat) Gelayev and then led the defence of the village Goyskoye in 1995. After this, the armed group under his command operated in the south-west part of Chechnya, with its headquarters in the town of Urus-Martan. He was eventually promoted to the rank of Brigadier General and appointed the commander of the Urus-Martan Front. In February 1996, he became commander of the entire Western Group of Defense of Ichkeria. In August 1996, Zakayev’s forces took part in the decisive raid on Grozny, where he personally led the attack on the city’s central railway station and then the siege of a major Russian military site. His war merits paved Zakayev’s way to Chechen high politics. He became the acting president Zelimkhan Yandarbiyev’s advisor for the security matters and the secretary of the Chechen Security Council and represented Chechnya at the peace talks in Khasav-Yurt, which brought a peaceful end to the first armed conflict between Moscow and Grozny.

After the war, Zakayev became the Chechen Deputy Prime Minister (in charge of education and culture) and a special envoy of the elected President of Ichkeria Aslan Maskhadov in relations with Moscow, taking part in the delegation that signed the official Chechen-Russian peace treaty at the Kremlin in 1997.

In 1999 he was invited to Germany by the parliamentary party of Alliance 90/The Greens and the German-Caucasian Society.

During the early phases of the Second Chechen War in 1999-2000, Zakayev commanded Maskhadov’s presidential guard; he was also involved in negotiations with Russian representatives before and during the resumed hostilities. In 2000, after having been wounded in a car accident during the new siege of Grozny, he left Chechnya for treatment. After this he stayed abroad, he turned into the most prominent representative of President Maskhadov in Western Europe, with Ilyas Akhmadov being the Chechen emissary to the United States.

On November 18, 2001, Zakayev, officially internationally wanted by Russia, flew from Turkey to the Sheremetyevo International Airport near Moscow to meet the Kremlin’s envoy, General Viktor Kazantsev for the high-level talks since the start of the war. Unfortunately, these negotiations were fruitless because Kazantsev demanded a complete capitulation of the Chechen side, with the only acceptable topic for the Russian side being the disarmament of Chechen fighters and their re-integration into civilian life. On July 18, 2002, Zakayev also met with the former Secretary of Security Council of Russia Ivan Rybkin in Zürich, Switzerland.

In October 2002, Zakayev organized the World Chechen Congress in Copenhagen, Denmark (which was attended among others by the former first speaker of the State Duma, Ruslan Khasbulatov). During the congress, Zakayev was accused by Russia of involvement in planning of the Moscow theater hostage crisis. He was detained there on October 30, 2002, under an Interpol warrant filed by Russia, which named him a suspect in the theater siege. Zakayev denied involvement in the theater capture. He was held in Denmark for five weeks and then released due to lack of evidence, as Russia’s formal extradition request did not include any evidence linking him to the siege.

On December 7, 2002, Zakayev returned to the UK but the British authorities arrested him briefly on the London Heathrow Airport; he was released on 50,000 GBP bail, which was paid British actress Vanessa Redgrave. He was accused by Russian authorities of 13 criminal acts Zakayev welcomed the British deportation hearings as an opportunity to put his case before an international public. All accusations were proven to be false. One accusation, cutting fingers of a suspected FSB informer Ivan Solovyov, was based on a written testimony by the former Zakayev’s bodyguard Duk-Vakha Dushuyev provided by Russian authorities; however, it appeared that Solovyev had lost his fingers much earlier to frostbite. Dushuyev himself has escaped from Russia and then in a dramatic statement told the court that he was tortured at a Russian army base with electric shocks to extort the false testimony to be used against Zakayev. In another accusation, Father Sergei, one of two Russian Orthodox Church priests allegedly murdered by Zakayev, turned out to be in fact still alive. The witness Reverend Filipp, allegedly kidnapped by Zakayev in 1996, also refuted his supposed testimony and even denounced Russian authorities for “implicating the Church in politics”.

Leading Russian human rights activist Sergei Kovalev told the court Zakayev would be at risk of death in Russian captivity (Kovalev spoke about two high-profile Chechen prisoners, field commanders Salman Raduyev and Turpal-Ali Atgeriyev, who died soon after being jailed in Russia, and of another, parliamentary speaker Ruslan Alikhadzhiyev, who has “disappeared” without trace after his arrest in 2000).

According to Alexander Goldfarb, one of the defence’s most important arguments was the 2001 meeting between Zakayev and General Kazantsev, since this meeting took place when the Chechen envoy had already been put by Russia on the international wanted list. At the time of the meeting Kremlin’s spokesman on Chechnya Sergei Yastrzhembsky said on television that Russian government had no grievances against Zakayev. Therefore, on November 13, 2003, Judge Timothy Workman rejected the Russian request, deciding that Zakayev would be at risk of torture in the case of “unjust and oppressive” extradition. The judge also said the crimes which involved Zakayev allegedly using armed force against combatants were not extraditable because they took place in the situation of internal armed conflict. Russian authorities in turn responded by accusing the court of double standards. On November 29, 2003, it was announced that Zakayev had been granted political asylum in the UK.

In London, Zakayev became a close friend to the Russian dissident and former FSB officer Alexander Litvinenko, later murdered by radioactive poisoning in November 2006; Zakayev accused the Russian President Putin of ordering the death of Litvinenko. According Oleg Gordievsky in 2008, Zakayev was placed #2 on the FSB assassination list, under Litvinenko.

In October 2005 he was reconfirmed as Minister of Culture and in May 2006 he became Foreign Minister. After the declaration of Caucasus Emirates, Chechen Republic Ichkeria Parlament dissmised to President Dokka Umarov and appointed to Akhmad Zakaev as the Chairman of Ministery Cabinets of Chechen Republic Ichkeria Government in December 16, 2007.

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