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Testimony of M.Shashani for Helsinki Comission (1995)

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Testimony of M.Shashani for Helsinki Comission (1995)

We present you Professor Mohammad Shashani’s testimony in front of the U.S. Helsinki Commission (Commission on Security and Cooperation in Europe) in 1995.

The hearing of the US Congress Commission of Security and Cooperation in Europe (better known as “Helsinki Committee”) hold at the Rayburn House Office Building in Washington DC, between 2 pm-5pm. It was chaired by Congressman C. Smith and co-chaired by Senator A. D’Amato (both of two are “Republicans”). There were a few other Senators and Congressmen, too.

Russia’s Military Assault on Secessionist Chechnya

Thursday, January 19, 1995

Commission on Security and Cooperation in Europe, Washington DC.

The hearing was held in room 2172, Rayburn House Office Building, Washington, DC, at 2 p.m., Hon.  Christopher H. Smith (Chairman), presiding.


Hon. Christopher H. Smith, Chairman; Hon. Alfonse D’Amato Co-Chairman; Hon. Steny H. Hoyer; Hon. Harry Reid; Hon. Bill Richardson; and Hon. Frank R. Wolf.


Hon. Edward R. Royce and Hon. Matt Salmon.


Dr. Elena Bonner, president, Sakharov Foundation; Maryam Elahi, Program Officer, Amnesty International; Charles Fairbanks, Research Professor, Johns Hopkins Foreign Policy Institute; Paul Goble, senior associate, Carnegie Endowment for International Peace; Mohammad Shashani, President, Chechen-Ingush Society of America.


Mr. Shashani. Chairman Smith, Ladies and Gentlemen: Thank you for arranging this timely hearing to discuss the human right violations conducted by the Russian government against the innocent civilians of the Chechen Republic.

Let me first describe the Chechen people.  The Chechens are an old ethnic group that are not Slavic and have lived in Chechnya for thousand of years.  They have a unique language that is different from the Slavic and Turkic languages prevalent in that area.  Their culture, traditions and religion is different from that of the Russians.  They have nothing in common with the Russian people.

The human rights violations of the Russians against the Chechen people goes back to the eighteenth and nineteenth century when czarist Russia started moving southward to conquer the Caucasus.  The Chechen and other North Caucasian people rose to defend their homeland.  The Chechens fought against the Russians from 1785 to 1859 when Imam Shamil was captured and exiled.  During that period of time Russian forces used inhuman methods in conquering the Chechens.  They used to go to villages inhabited by women and children, because the men were in the mountains carrying on guerrilla warfare against the Russian forces, and kill all people and their stock and then burn the houses, poison the water wells and burn the crops.  Killing the fighters’ families and denying them food, water, and shelter were tactics used by the Russian forces to crush the resistance of the Chechens to Russian occupation.  Russia occupied all of North Caucasus by 1864.

Many uprisings against Russian occupation occurred after 1864 but in each case they were crushed brutally and people were forced to flee their homeland because of the inhuman treatment by Russians.  My grandfather wan one of those who left his homeland in 1902 and settled in Jordan.  Thus, my father and I were denied the right of birth in our native land and my father died without ever seeing Chechnya and I saw it for the first time in May 1994.

During the Bolshevik revolution in Russia, the North Caucasian people convened a Congress of the Union of peoples of the North Caucasus and proclaimed their Independence on May 11, 1918 and elected Abdulmajeed Tchermoy (a Chechen) as their first president.  Lenin, the leader of the communist revolution, Germany, Turkey and Bulgaria recognized the federation of the North Caucasus.  In 1921, the Red army invaded North Caucasus and annexed it to Communist Russia.

On January 15, 1934 the soviets formed the autonomous province of the Chechen-Ingush.  On December 5, 1936 this province was converted into an Autonomous Soviet Socialist Republic.

On the night of July 31, 1937 a mass attack was made on the leading cadres of the Chechen-Ingush Republic, and about 14,000 were arrested of whom a large number was executed, and the rest were deported to labor camps.  The charge against these people was that they formed a Bourgeois Nationalist center that conducted terrorist actions against the people.  In 1939 and 1940 the Chechen rose again against the soviets, but they were suppressed with massive force.

As if the atrocities inflicted upon the Chechen people were not enough, the worst was yet to come in the form of the Genocide of 1944.  The decision to deport the Chechen people was taken on February 11, 1943.  They planned carefully for one year, the deportation procedure.  The population was assembled in all the villages on the evening of February 23, 1944 to celebrate the “Red Army Day.”  They were surrounded by troops and the deportation decree was read to them by security officers accusing the whole nation of collaborating with the Germans.  Stormy scenes ensued in which many weaponless Chechens were shot down.  In the march towards deportation centers, some people were unable to keep up with the rest and those people falling behind were gathered, doused with gasoline and burnt alive.  Near one village alone 700 people between men, women, and children perished by burning.  Hitler and Stalin were one of a kind with no regard to human life.  During the journey of the deportees in cattle-trucks that lasted for several weeks, deaths were reported to have run as high as 50%, mainly old people, but including many Typhus victims of all ages.  Most of the deportees were sent to Kazakhstan and Kirgizstan.

On January 9, 1957 the Presidium of the supreme soviet of the USSR, decreed the re-establishment of the Chechen-Ingush ASSR. When the people came back they found their homes occupied by ethnic Russians and Cossacks.

It is clear from the history of the Chechen people that Czarist and Communist Russia have subjugated the Chechen people by using brutal force, and methods of Genocide to keep them part of their empire.  They longed for the day when they could be free from Russian domination and be able to exercise their God given right of self-determination.  When Communist Russia collapsed, they saw a window of opportunity to fulfill their long awaited dream of independence.  On October 27, 1990, over one thousand delegates from all over Chechnya and from Chechens in Diaspora declared the Independence of the Chechen Republic.

On October 27, 1991 democratic elections were held in Chechnya and Dzhokhar Dudayev was elected president with an overwhelming majority of 85 percent of the vote.  On March 31, 1992 the Russian Federation was formed when 18 of the 20 main subdivisions signed a federal treaty that formed the basis of a new post soviet state.  One of the two republics that did not sign the treaty was the Chechen Republic and the other was the Tatarstan Republic.  Thus, the Chechen Republic has not joined the new Russian Federation.

In 1992 and 1993 the Russian government was preoccupied by their own internal problems and was content in stirring up problems inside Chechnya by bank rolling groups of people to oppose and destabilize the government of President Dudayev.  In 1994 the Russian government started covert activities to topple the government.  In August 1994, Russia sealed off the borders of Chechnya and enforced air and land blockade on the Republic.

In November 26, 1994 the Russians led a tank and air attack on the Capital city of Grozny, but were defeated, and about 100 Russian officers and soldiers were taken prisoners.  The Russian government denied categorically any involvement of their soldiers in the attack, but subsequent events proved them to be lying.

On December 11, 1994, Russia invaded Chechnya with over 40,000 troops and hundreds of tanks on the pretext of restoring constitutional order in Chechnya.  They have orchestrated the communist style propaganda of vilifying and dehumanizing their opposition, such as calling the Chechen people criminals, Mafia, bandits, gangs and the like to justify whatever actions they take against the Chechen people.  This strategy worked at the beginning of the invasion, and even some western news media were echoing Moscow’s dehumanizing propaganda, and the world community did not react to the invasion and called it an internal affair of Russian Federation.  Russia interpreted this indifference as an approval of their action and wanted a fast victory and end to the problem.  It unleashed its massive fire power and started bombing the city of Grozny indiscriminately terrorizing the civilian population and leveling complete blocks of apartment buildings and knocking out power and Gas lines and leaving the residents of Grozny with bombed out homes, and no food or heat in the snow covered city. ‘Carey Goldberg of Los Angeles Times wrote on December 29, 1994 in the Pittsburgh Gazette the following:” Hours after President Yeltsin vowed to halt bombings that could cause civilian casualties, Russian warplanes yesterday morning devastated Chechnya’s biggest Orphanage, where about 60 children and 100 adults cowered in the basement, witnesses said.  Russia denied it had bombed the orphanage or any other area of Grozny.”  “We did not work in Grozny today” said Valentin M. Sergeyev of the Russian government press center in Moscow.  “We obeyed the president’s order, which is the law for us.”  He called any report of the bombing “Propaganda and provocation.”  Russian air commanders claimed that not even reconnaissance flights had been made in the area.” Even Yeltsin is on record for lying on this bombing raid.  In the January 16, 1995 issue of Time Magazine and article by George J. Church reports that Yeltsin told his human-rights advisor, Sergei Kovalyov that Grozny was not bombed after a Dec.27 order that it stop, but Kovalyov who had just returned from Grozny, pointed out that he had eye witnessed subsequent air raids.  How can we assume that a president is in control when his orders are not carried out?

On New Years Eve when the world was celebrating the coming of the New Year, the Russians took this opportunity to storm the city of Grozny and after a bloody battle the Chechen defenders drove the Russians back and inflicted heavy casualties on them.  Since then the Russians have gone mad in bombing everything in sight.

The continued bombardment of Grozny had reduced it to rubble.  Hundreds of thousands of people have fled Grozny and the surrounding villages to Dagestan and Ingushetia.  The conditions of the refugees are miserable lacking food and medicine.  The people remaining in Grozny have no food or medicine, and water has to be fetched from the frozen Sunzha River which is polluted and not fit for drinking.  Corpses are still in the streets of Grozny and under the rubble of bombed out buildings, and the Russian’s don’t stop bombing long enough to allow both sides to pick up their dead.  At one point, journalists said that bombs were falling on Grozny at the rate of one bomb per second.  In the last ten days journalist have reported that bombing has been extended to mountain villages and farms, and television showed scores of livestock that had been killed by Helicopter gunships.  The Russian government is intent on terrorizing the Chechen people into submission.

Seventy percent of the Russians oppose the war in Chechnya and the majority of the Russian parliament members oppose the invasion.  Yegor Geidar who heads the Russian Choice party was quoted by New York Times as saying that the war in Chechnya “is not the internal business of Russia” contrary to the views of the U.S. administration.  Russia’s “military crimes,” including bombardment of cities in Chechnya, “would not be regarded at the present stage as the internal affairs of any state” he says.  He wants Western governments to speak out against the invasion.

Anatoly Shabad, member of the Russian Parliament, stated on January 3, 1995 in an interview on CNN that Yeltsin, by invading Chechnya, has “initiated a crime against humanity, and from moral point of view we can not support him.  He is not our president anymore.  Former Finance Minister Boris G. Fyodorov and human rights activist Yelena G. Bonner, the widow of Noble Peace Prize – winning dissident Andrei D. Sakharov, have all broken publicly with President Yeltsin over Chechnya.  “A democratic country cannot keep by armed force an ethnic group that does not want to remain in it,” Bonner wrote in a letter to Yeltsin.  Claiming Russia was turning back to totalitarianism, she resigned form the president’s human rights commission.  January 16 issue of Time Magazine reported that the response to graphic footage of the destruction and death in Grozny was that criticism mounted from public figures as wide ranging as Russian Orthodox Patriarch Alexi II, who stated that “no one can remain indifferent to the death of peaceful civilians,” and former president Mikhail Gorbachev, who called the war a “disgraceful, bloody adventure.” Economist Grigori Yavlinski, once a prominent member of Yeltsin’s planning team advised his old boss, “Boris Nikolayevich, resign! Don’t wash Russia with blood.”

Time Magazine January 16, 1995 reported the following story, a Russian woman, Raisa Serzhankova, age 64, who has long lived in Chechnya, cannot hold her tears as she looks at the ruins of her neighbor’s house, set afire by Russian bombs on Tuesday night.  “I live in this street, “she says, “Last night when the bombs were falling, I was composing a letter to Yeltsin, even though I know he’ll never read it.  I wanted to tell him that he had no business sending his army here, that his army is killing us, Russians.”

From all these stories and statements from Russians, not Chechens; it is clear that the human rights of the Chechen people have been grossly violated.  The Russian ground assault on Grozny had turned the city into a daily meat grinder that consumes bodies, buildings and weapons, says Barry Renfrow from the Associated Press.  So far 18,000 civilians have been killed and hundreds of thousands made homeless.  Another crime perpetrated against the Chechen people, once the Chechens were defeated, was the repeat of the 1944 deportation of the Chechens.  This was outlined in a secret document signed by Chernomyrdin and obtained by the Chechen government and a copy in Russian is attached to this statement.  The Russian military has used cluster bombs, needle bombs (bacteria bombs) and booby-trap bombs against civilians in Chechnya.  The United Nations should enforce the articles of the United Nations Genocide convention adopted by the U.N General Assembly on December 9, 1948 and ratified by the former USSR in 1954.

Article I of the convention states that Genocide is a crime under international law which the contracting parties undertake to prevent and punish.

Article II states the following: in the present convention genocide means any of the following acts committed with intent to destroy, in whole or in part, a national, ethnical, racial, or religious group, as such:

(A)     Killing members of the group;
(B)     Causing grievous bodily or mental harm to members of the group;
(C)     Deliberately inflicting on the group conditions of life calculated to bring about its physical destruction in whole or in part.
(D)     Imposing measures intended to prevent births within the group;
(E)     Forcibly transferring children of the group to another group.

The first three items of the genocide convention has been inflicted on the Chechen people and thus we call on the International Community to enforce the articles of the convention and save the Chechen people from annihilation.  The human rights of Chechens living in Moscow and other Russian cities have been violated.  Chechens have been arrested at random in the streets, beaten and imprisoned just because they are Chechens.  Some have been shot and their bodies disposed of.  The human rights commission should investigate the disappearance of Chechens in Moscow and elsewhere in Russia.

I urge the Helsinki Commission to do all it can to publicize the gross violations by Russia of the human rights of the Chechen people.  Take actions necessary to entice Russia to stop the war immediately and negotiate a peaceful settlement to the conflict, taking into consideration the long struggle of the Chechen people for freedom and independence from Russian domination.  The Chechen people want to live in peace, harmony, and mutual respect with their Russian neighbors.
Thank you Mr. Chairman.

Chairman Smith. Dr. Shashani, thank you for that very eloquent statement. The succinct walk through recent Chechen history is most appreciated. And I think, for all assembled, your statement was very, very powerful. I do thank you for that.

The word is going out that there will be zero tolerance for the continuance of this kind of bloodshed, and the sooner that all Western governments speak with that kind of voice, the better.

Let me at this point, yield to Senator D’Amato, for his questions for the witnesses.

Senator D’Amato. Mr. Chairman, I’m just going to raise two questions. And they are ones that I think many of my colleagues have raised privately. Does Mr. Yeltsin have the ability to bring about a cessation of this military action, one?

No. 2, would there really be negotiations where the status of the Chechen people were to be considered as it relates to independence or the question of sovereignty? There is a fine line. Do you believe that the people would want sovereignty and could settle for that? Or is it total independence? Doctor, you might want to respond as well as Ms. Elahi.

Mr. Shashani. If I may comment, Senator. I think as Dr. Bonner mentioned that it would have been possible to negotiate before this war. Dudayev has been asking Yeltsin to negotiate since 1991, even though the government denies that, and they say that Dudayev did not want to negotiate. He has been begging them, Let us sit down and talk about this situation. But they refused to talk to him unless Dudayev agrees with their condition. And that is, “lay down your arms first, and then we will negotiate.” That is unacceptable. The Chechen people have spoken, and they wanted independence. But after this barbarism that we have seen, this annihilation process that has been undertaken, I don’t think the Chechen people will even settle for less than that.

I think they want complete independence. And I think as freedom loving people up here in the U.S.A, we have to support the independence of Chechnya.

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