Maskhadov’s Open Letter to the Leaders of G-7 Nations (2002)
I, Aslan Maskhadov, the democratically elected President of the Chechen Republic of Ichkeria, write this desperate appeal in the name of my people, the victims of a genocidal war whose daily murder has yet to awaken the conscience of the world you lead. We are as wretched, bloody and enslaved as you are rich, mighty and free. You will soon gather in Genoa amidst the splendor and ceremony that befits your place in the front rank of nations. Guards of honour will salute you, you will meet in palaces and the world will listen to your every word. But I write you from a killing ground putrid with slaughter and like my brethren I remain a hunted man in my own country. I too won the privilege and responsibility of leading my nation from the ballot box, but Moscow calls me a bandit, a terrorist and a criminal. Beyond the confines of my tiny country, my words seem to count for little, just as the anguished cry of my people still astonishingly leaves you mute and deaf. So I will continue to write until the silence is pierced.
You will join in your summit to consider debt relief for the impoverished developing world. This is a laudable aim, and it is the hope no doubt of countless millions that humanitarian concern motivates the strong to seek an end to indentured misery for the weak. But if you acknowledge the quiet violence of poverty upon the destitute and the hungry why do you turn away from us? We who die in the flames of the Kremlin’s dirty war, are we less worthy of compassion? What has made us invisible to you? I fear I know the answer. I fear the cold exigencies of realpolitik ensure your inaction and seal our fate. Lest you damage an uncertain relationship with a fragile and volatile new Russia, you are willing to overlook the annihilation of my people. In your eyes, for the sake of larger interests we are an expendable nation. So you grant a seat at the table to an honoured guest, Russian President Vladimir Putin, and shake his hand as the leader of a great democracy, applauding him as a reformer who shares your values.
If you could stand to see the true face of Chechnya under the agony of Russian occupation, could you sincerely continue to offer such praise? Out of a population that once numbered a million, one in seven Chechens is now dead. 250,000 of our civilians are refugees. Bereft of the most basic necessities, many are ravaged by disease and malnutrition, especially the elderly and the young. More than 20,000 civilians and resistance members endure imprisonment in the new Gulags, the so-called filtration camps. Held in dehumanizingly foul and primitive conditions with little or no medical care that far exceed the worst standards of the Russian penal system, life in the improvised camps sees the sadistic and systematic use of torture. Burning with cigarettes, crippling beatings, suffocation, drowning in human excrement, mutilation with knives, high voltage electric shock and sexual abuses are only some of the common practices. Many prisoners are ultimately killed. Surely for some this must be a welcome deliverance from hell.
Our women are often rounded up at random and gang raped. In a common scorched earth policy villages are looted then razed and the able bodied males including boys 15 and under are swept up and disappeared. Any Chechen can be arrested without charge or receive capital punishment without trial. Summary executions are an everyday occurrence for men, women and children of all ages. The bodies of the dead are often deliberately mutilated and left on display, their burial forbidden. Our dead also serve as a new form of currency, with Russian soldiers forcing relatives to pay large ransoms before they can obtain the remains of their loved ones. Countless mass graves lie hidden in a landscape dotted by flattened villages and burning ruins. Our infrastructure no longer exists. Only in the last two weeks a dozen villages in south eastern and western Chechnya were again terrorised, over 300 civilians murdered in a systematic sweep and thousands more imprisoned, tortured and raped. We informed the Council of Europe but to no avail. This is the darker truth of realpolitik. Terror, butchery and madness is the price we pay to ensure the pragmatism of international diplomacy.
In 1945 you defeated the evils of militarism, fascism and Nazism. Those nations among you that had given birth to the monstrous juggernaut and holocaust of world war, vowed never to repeat the same fatal errors and forged yourselves in a new spirit to stand proudly among the elder democracies. Over half a century of progress together you built new institutions for the community of nations, the UN, NATO, the EU, and the OSCE, among other regional and global bodies, aimed towards a more equitable and safer future. You prevented the doomsday of a nuclear conflict and your example brought down the Berlin Wall, lifting the yoke of communism and ending a long cold war. You dismantled your colonial empires and allowed former subject peoples to be themselves. You fought racism at home and abroad and your voices helped to vanquish the stain of apartheid. Time and again you fostered the virtues of democracy to triumph over dictatorship. Perhaps above all, at Nuremberg you responded to your most noble instincts establishing the rule of law and human rights as inviolable, universal principles that would forever hold barbarism accountable to a civilised code of conduct.
So how is it that you celebrate Slobodan Milosevic at last facing judgement at the Hague but embrace Putin as a credible partner? How is it possible that you mobilised to confront naked aggression during the Gulf War, intervened when you witnessed ethnic cleansing and savagery in Bosnia, Kosovo, Timor and Sierra Leone and now seldom even utter the word Chechnya? You condemn and isolate the SLORC regime in Myanmar and the Taliban in Afghanistan. You pressure China over its abuses in Tibet and its persecution of dissident intellectuals and religious followers, but you say nothing about the mass murder of Chechen civilians. You practice tireless diplomacy trying to secure peace in the Middle East, Northern Ireland, Macedonia, Kashmir, the Congo, even the Sudan, where is your Chechen peace initiative?
In the name of a dying nation I beg you not to forsake us any longer. I ask that you collectively take steps to foster the resumption of peace negotiations and the enactment of an immediate cease-fire guaranteed and monitored by neutral parties. I beseech you further to demand in accordance with international law the deployment of desperately needed humanitarian aid, health and medical personnel. I further implore you to seek the return without hindrance of NGO human rights investigators, observers from international institutions and all members of the global press currently being barred from entering Chechnya. I appeal to you as leaders of the free world to muster the moral courage in keeping with the democratic traditions you represent and have sworn to uphold to pressure Russia to cease its extermination of my country, to hold it accountable for genocide, and to impose sanctions if Moscow will not desist.
The savagery we must bear is not new. We remember Stalin’s salt mines, his guard towers, barbed wire and unmarked graves. The pain of exodus and genocide we have known before. So we recognise the others with whom we share a terrible kinship of horror. The skeletal Jews and Romany in the ovens of Dachau and Auschwitz. The bayonet fodder of Nanjing. The ancient, wide-eyed children of Biafra. The pleading mother and baby facing the rifles at My Lai. The marsh Arabs of Iraq choked by the clouds of mustard gas. The Tutsi of Rwanda butchered on the Kigali road by the knives of the Interhamwe. They are all our martyred brothers and sisters in the legacy of senseless murder. Only our slaughter, our death is not yesterday’s, it belongs in the living nightmare of the present. How many Chechens will have died in the time you take to read this letter? How many more must we bury by the time your summit is over? Do not fail to speak, for the sake of humanity and justice act now upon your conscience or in time history will also mark you with a page of shame. If you continue to stand idly by while my people vanish in a bloodbath, if you fail to act with conviction and resolve as you did in Rwanda, Chechen ghosts will stain your honour as surely as they do Russia’s.
May God grant you the wisdom and vision to serve the cause of peace and justice.
President of the Chechen Republic of Ichkeria