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Chechen Social Structure Being Destroyed

(Washington, DC--December 11, 2000) Russian military attacks on Chechnya have destroyed so much of the basic cultural infrastructure of that society that it will be difficult if not impossible for it to recover and resume a normal life.

That was the message two Chechen NGO representatives delivered to an RFE/RL press briefing this morning in Washington. Lecha Ilyasov, the director of the Chechen Center for Pluralism (LAM), and Edilbek Khasmagomadov, a founder of LAM and director of Chechnya's National Library, outlined the mounting toll Russian attacks are having on Chechens both in the republic itself and in the refugee camps in neighboring Ingushetia.

Ilyasov and Khasmagomadov added that unless these Russian attacks stop soon, unless there is greater international involvement, and unless there is a political settlement to the conflict which both sides can accept, there will be little chance that Chechnya will be able to avoid an Afghan scenario, one in which young people will have little choice but to get involved in criminal activity or join armed resistance groups.

Such an outcome will be especially unfortunate, Ilyasov said, because Chechens are "part of Europe" and "by virtue of their culture" are inclined to the kind of society that could allow for the rise of democracy. They are not, he said, the "savages" that they are portrayed in the Russian and international media.

Both speakers bemoaned the fact that there appears to be less and less international attention to and concern about Chechnya. They complained that many international groups that do come to inspect either ignore the facts on the ground or rely entirely on Russian sources in their reporting. This is all the more likely, Ilyasov said, because Chechen culture discourages people from complaining about their situation no matter how desperate it may be or otherwise asking for help.

Ilyasov and Khasmagomadov are in Washington, DC, as guests of the Institute for Democracy in Eastern Europe to draw attention to the plight of the Chechen people. The organization they represent, LAM, which means "mountain" in Chechen, is a non-governmental organization promoting humanitarian assistance to Chechnya, documenting human rights violations and war crimes, and seeking to bring an end to the military conflict.