The Speech of Akhmad Zakayev in Oslo Freedom Forum
We share with you to the speech of Akhmad Zakayev, ex-Foreign Minister of Chechen Republic Ichkeria in Oslo Freedom Forum.
“Ladies and gentlemen!
I would like to begin my speech by thanking the organizers of this conference for inviting me and giving me the opportunity to welcome all its participants. It is indeed a great honor for me to speak before you. In the audience today we have, without exaggeration, some of the greatest human rights activists and campaigners of our time. They are people who have not simply managed to preserve and tirelessly defend their commitment to human rights in the most difficult circumstances in different parts of the world, they have also become real heroes and role models for those for whom freedom of speech, human rights and democracy are not just empty words. Before you all today I would like to express my deepest conviction that it is impossible to achieve real freedom and defend the rights of individuals when the rights and freedoms of a whole nation are violated.
The events of the past decade in the Chechen Republic have served as a test for all human rights activists and human rights organizations. In the 1990s the Chechen people restored their statehood in accordance with the ‘Declaration on the Granting of Independence to Colonial Countries and Peoples’ of 14 December 1960, the UN General Assembly Resolution 1514, article 2 of which states that ‘all peoples have the right to self-determination; by virtue of that right they freely determine their political status and freely pursue their economic, social and cultural development as well as have a legal right to their own sovereign state.»
The Declaration of National Independence of 27 November 1990 adopted by the Supreme Soviet of the Chechen-Ingush Republic did not contradict international law or USSR’s national legislation. Yet it has proved a tragedy for the entire Chechen nation. In the past 15 years there have been 250 000 civilian deaths in Chechnya, 40 000 of them children, 20 000 missing persons. Over 300 000 have been forced to leave Chechnya saving themselves and their children from certain death and to look for asylum in other countries. Behind these dry statistics, ladies and gentlemen, is immense heartache and profound suffering of individual people.
Unfortunately, some Russian human rights activists and many Western politicians considered the carpet bombing of town and villages, ethnic cleansing, extrajudicial executions, abductions and persecution on ethnic and religious grounds ‘an internal affair of the Russian state.’ But how can mass murders and tortures be ‘an internal affair’ of the executioners? Is it really possible to view the centuries old genocide of the Chechen people as ‘Russia’s internal affair’? I consider this totally unacceptable under any circumstances!
You probably know about the deportation of the Chechen people to Siberia and Kazakhstan in 1944, which cost the lives of over a half of the Chechen nation. In 2004 the European Parliament condemned the deportation and recognised it as an act of genocide. The trials and tribulations which our fathers and mothers had to go through were truly terrible. But that was not the only tragic chapter in the history of the Chechen people. Against the background of the persecution of the Chechens in Chechnya and Russia in the past 15 years it is simply not possible to talk about the horrors and crimes in the past tense. Even today over 20 000 Chechen citizens are held in appaling conditions in Russian concentration camps and according to numerous accounts by Russian human rights activists they are subjected to dreadful tortures and humiliation on ethnic grounds.
Unfortunately, if any tradition is held sacred in Russia it is the tradition of humiliating pride and self-esteem coupled with the most ruthless oppression of the rights and freedoms of individuals and of entire nations. In my opinion there are a lot of parallels between the crimes against the Chechen people committed by Soviet Russia under Stalin and the crimes against the Chechen people which were committed and are still being committed by the so-called ‘democratic Russia’ under Yeltsin, Putin and Medvedev.
At the same time I would like to draw your attention to the fact that the Russian leadership, politicians and the military, overcome by imperial arrogance do not even try to hide their brutal and barbaric attitude towards the Chechen nation.
Thus when introducing Putin as his Prime Minister in 1999 Yeltsin talked about the ‘final resolution of the Chechen issue’, quite deliberately drawing comparisons between Russia’s policies towards the Chechens and Nazi Germany’s policies towards the Jews.
In spring 2000 the former Prime Minister of Russia Victor Chernomyrdin said, when speaking about the Chechen issue, that Putin had undertaken to complete what Stalin himself had failed to accomplish. If, according to Chernomyrdin’s words, the wholesale deportation of the Chechens and the physical annihilation of half of the population did not mean the ultimate solution of the Chechen issue, one can only imagine what the Russian government’s game plan is in the present and ongoing war.
It is well known that three Russian generals – Kazantsev, Troshev and Shamanov – headed the military operations in Chechnya. Having openly declared that the ‘ruthless destruction of terrorists’ was the purpose of their intervention in Chechnya, they made the following public statements in front of TV cameras: «They should be hanged in public in order to teach the rest a lesson» (General Kazantsev); «All Chechen males, from age 10, are terrorists» (General Troshev); «Wives, sisters and mothers of Chechen terrorists are themselves terrorists » (General Shamanov).
So what was the reaction of Russian democrats to these statements of the criminal generals who drowned Chechnya in blood? Against the background of Grozny lying in ruins in February 2000 one of the most prominent public figures in the Russian democratic camp Anatoliy Chubais urged Russian human rights defenders to refrain from criticising the Russian miliatry for their genocide in Chechnya because, in his own words, ‘the Russian army was being reborn in Chechnya’.
Hardly anyone in the world heeded these statements by Russian politicians and generals, and we have all been witnesses of the Russian army, ‘reborn in Chechnya’, unleashing an aggression against Georgia in August 2008 and cynically occupying part of its territory.
Today our Russian colleagues have told us about the negative processes which have taken place and are still taking place in Russia. I am deeply convinced that what Putin’s regime has done in Russia is the consequence and a reflection of things that happened, and continue to happen, in Chechnya. Of course the FSB’s Chekism is not derived from Chechnya, but the revival of Dzerzhinsky-style Chekism was made possible by anti-Chechen hysteria whipped up by the Kremlin which enjoys the support of an absolute majority of Russian society, including the Democrats. Inflamed by Great Power propaganda, Russian society readily acquiesced in the obvious, evil means used against the Chechens, and when those began to be used against the Russians themselves it was already too late to change anything.
The predictable consequences of a criminal war unleashed against Chechnya, which is now in its tenth year, have been a restriction of democratic freedoms in Russia, including the abolition of free speech, of freedom for private business activity, and of freedom for minority religions. Politically motivated criminal prosecutions, harassment of civil rights organizations, violation of citizens’ electoral rights, ever-strengthening fascism, and gross interference in the internal affairs of neighbouring states, instead, have all been very much in evidence.
As a Chechen I can give you first hand testimony that any terror campaign against a small nation has huge ramifications, destroying the fundamentals of civil society – democratic freedoms, human rights and the rule of law.
Dear friends, after 15 years of attempts to settle by force the Russo-Chechen conflict, which started as a purely political conflict, Russia has only succeeded in making that conflict worse. The 1992 Federation Treaty, has been the first occasion EVER in the history of the Russian empire when dozens of ethnic republics willingly signed up to be part of the Russian state, has been completely and unilaterally denounced by Russia itself. Over the last few years the Russian leadership refused those ethnic republics the right to enjoy their civil and religious rights, in the best traditions of colonial conquest. Today the ethnic republics do not have the right to elect their leaders, they do not have the right to their own religion, and they do not even have the right to their own alphabets.
It is my profoundly held conviction that the violence in Chechnya and in the North Caucasus can be stopped only by a political settlement. A political farce in Chechnya, which you may have seen in the news coverage such as the Decree of Russian President ‘On the conclusion of the anti-terrorist operation in Chechnya’, the new modern airport and the glossy facades of a so-called extensive rebuilding programme in Grozny and that all is back to how it was. The Kremlin claims there is now peace and stability in Chechnya, but the reality for Chechens is that the intensive bombing has been replaced with a regime of fear and oppression.
So why am I telling you these things here in the forum? Only because I am convinced that you can in your own capacity influence politicians in your countries and they can in turn urge Russia to find a peaceful and lasting political solution to the Russian-Chechen conflict. As for Chechnya specifically, my own view is that peace and human rights can only be achieved if the Chechen’s right to self-determination is recognised through free and fair elections.
I thank you for your attention.”
Ex-Foreign Minister of Chechen Republic Ichkeria
*The Oslo Freedom Forum was held in May 18-20, 2009, in Oslo, Norway. This conference brought together some of the world’s leading minds to honor heroic survivors of political oppression and persecution—men and women who risked their lives for freedom. Others joined these former prisoners of conscience on stage include human rights defenders, best-selling authors, former heads of state, and pioneers from the worlds of business, culture, and politics. Based conceptually on the World Economic Forum and the TED conference, this event was focused not only on the content of the speakers’ remarks but also on the ample opportunities for attendees to exchange opinions, and build relations. The following individuals participated in Oslo:
Mohammed Ahmed Abdalla, Professor of Medicine at el-Fasher University in Darfur, Sudan; physician specializing in the treatment of torture survivors
Maliha Alshehab, Saudi women’s rights activist; columnist, Al-Watan
Zainab Al-Suwaij, Executive Director, American Islamic Congress
Marta Altolaguirre, former Vice Minister for Foreign Relations, Guatemala
Pedro Pablo Alvarez, former Cuban political prisoner
Bruce Bawer, literary critic, poet, and author of While Europe Slept
Peter Berkowitz, political scientist; Senior Fellow, Hoover Institution, Stanford University
Antoine Bernard, Executive Director, International Federation for Human Rights
Aliaksandr Bialiatski, Belarusian human rights advocate and founder of Viasna; recipient of the Sakharov Prize
Kjell Magne Bondevik, President, Oslo Centre for Peace and Human Rights; former Prime Minister, Norway
Elena Bonner, author, widow of Andrei Sakharov; survivor, Soviet exile and persecution
Tammy Bruce, talk radio host, author, and political commentator
Vladimir Bukovsky, author and professor; survivor, 12 years of Soviet imprisonment
Victor Hugo Cardenas, former Vice President, Bolivia; indigenous rights activist and politician
Marcos Carmona, Director, Nicaragua’s Permanent Commission on Human Rights
Jung Chang, author of the autobiography Wild Swans and biography Mao: The Unknown Story
Kristin Clemet, Director, Civita; former Minister of Education and Research, Norway
Emil Constantinescu, former President, Romania; former President, University of Bucharest
Maria Dahle, Executive Director, Human Rights House Foundation Oslo
Sarah Ferguson, Duchess of York
Jonathan Foreman, writer-at-large, Standpoint; former Iraq correspondent, New York Post
John Fund, political journalist; columnist, Wall Street Journal
Ahmad Ghashmari, Jordanian human rights activist; founder, LaHa initiative
Susan Glasser, Executive Editor, Foreign Policy; former editor and foreign correspondent (Moscow, Iraq, Afghanistan), Washington Post
Robert Granieri, founder, Jane Street Capital
Palden Gyatso, Tibetan monk; author of Fire Under the Snow; survivor, 33 years of imprisonment and torture
Roar Hagen, internationally syndicated cartoonist, Verdens Gang
Olaf Halvorssen, Founder and Director, Authentix technologies
Thor Halvorssen, President, Human Rights Foundation
Charles Harper, Jr., Senior Executive Vice President and Chief Strategist, John Templeton Foundation
Vaclav Havel, playwright; leader of the of the Velvet Revolution; last President of Czechoslovakia and first President of the Czech Republic
Jack Healey, former Executive Director of Amnesty International USA; currently Director of Human Rights Action Center
Jan Erik Helgesen, President, Venice Commission to the Council of Europe; Professor, University of Oslo
Per Egil Hegge, columnist, Aftenposten
Therese Jebsen, Executive Director, Rafto Foundation
Craig Johnstone, UN Deputy High Commissioner for Refugees
Jean-Francois Julliard, Secretary General, Reporters Sans Frontieres
James Kirchick, political commentator; Assistant Editor, The New Republic
Chungdak Koren, former European representative of His Holiness the Dalai Lama
Vytautas Landsbergis, first head of state, Republic of Lithuania; Member, European parliament
Alexander Lloyd, founder and managing partner, Accelerator Ventures
Inge Lonning, Member, Norwegian Parliament; President, Lagting (Norway’s upper house)
Leopoldo Lopez, former Mayor, Chacao-Caracas, Venezuela; democracy and human rights activist
Edward Lucas, Central and Eastern Europe correspondent, The Economist
Peder Lunde, National Director, Oslo Freedom Forum
Arne Liljedahl Lynngard, Chairman, Rafto Foundation (on behalf of Uyghur leader Ms. Rebiya Kadeer)
Aidan McQuade, Director, Anti-Slavery International
Doug Mellgren, correspondent, Associated Press
Richard Miniter, Editorial Editor and Vice President of opinion, The Washington Times
Peter Molnar, former Member, Hungarian Parliament; recipient of the Rafto Prize
Greg Mortenson, co-founder and director of the Central Asia Institute; author of the bestselling novel, Three Cups of Tea: One Man’s Mission to Promote Peace… One School at a Time
Jacqueline Moudeina, Chadian civil rights attorney; victim, government violence
Man Yan Ng, Executive Director and Treasurer, International Society for Human Rights
William Nygaard, CEO, Aschehoug publishing company
Birgitta Ohlsson, Member, Swedish Parliament; foreign affairs spokesperson, Liberal Party
Abdel Nasser Ould Ethmane, leading Mauritanian anti-slavery activist
Tom Palmer, senior fellow, Cato Institute; director, Cato University
Park Sang Hak, North Korean defector; human rights activist
Blasco Penaherrera, former Vice President, Ecuador
Steve Richards, British television host; chief political commentator, The Independent
Hans Rosling, statistician; founder of the Gapminder Foundation
Hilde Sandvik, Editor, Bergens Tidende
Jan Tore Sanner, Member, Norwegian Parliament
Pierre Sarkozy, music producer, Paris, France
David Satter, former Financial Times correspondent, Moscow; Senior Fellow, Hudson Institute; visiting scholar, Johns Hopkins University School of Advanced International Studies
Fabian Stang, Mayor of Oslo, Norway
Peter Thiel, co-founder and former CEO, PayPal; President of Clarium Capital Management LLC; managing partner, The Founders Fund; angel investor, Facebook
Pedro Trujillo, Director, Institute of Political Studies and International Relations, Universidad Francisco Marroquin, Guatemala
Marc Wachtenheim, Director, Cuba Development Initiative, Pan American Development Foundation
Armando Valladares, author of Against All Hope; survivor, 22 years in Cuban prisons; former US ambassador, United Nations Commission on Human Rights
Tom Varghese, Norwegian Ministry of Foreign Affairs
Ramon Jose Velasquez, former President, Venezuela; political prisoner of the 1950s dictatorship of General Marcos Perez Jimenez; co-author of Black Book of the Dictatorship
Nathalie Vogel, Eastern Europe Director, World Security Network
Vo Van Ai, President, Vietnam Committee on Human Rights; International Spokesman, Unified Buddhist Church of Vietnam
Elie Wiesel, author of Night; Holocaust survivor; Nobel Laureate
Harry Wu, author of Bitter Winds; survivor, 19 years in Chinese labor camps; Executive Director, Laogai Research Foundation
Tatiana Yankelevich, Director, Sakharov Program on Human Rights, Harvard University
Leyla Zana, first ever Kurdish female politician, imprisoned for uttering a Kurdish phrase in the Turkish parliament; recipient, Rafto and Sakharov Prizes
The Oslo Freedom Forum has been organized by the Human Rights Foundation, with the help of partnerships with Civita, Human Rights Action Center, International Society for Human Rights, Laogai Research Foundation, and Reporters Without Borders. During a three-day series of discussions and speeches, this event celebrated what our speakers have done for humanity, inspire leaders from all walks of life with their narratives, and add valuable insight to the human rights movement.
THE HUMAN RIGHTS FOUNDATION
The Human Rights Foundation unites people—regardless of their political, cultural, and ideological orientations—in the common cause of defending human rights. Since our inception in 2005, HRF has focused on exposing violations of human rights and breaches of international law in areas of the world which, prior to our attention, had attracted minimal coverage and triggered negligible governmental response.