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Chechens: Neglected Allies in the War on Terrorism

(Washington, DC -- May 5, 2005) The current Russian government has missed an opportunity to cultivate a "potential ally" in the war on terrorism, according to an expert on the peoples of the North Caucasus. Because the Russian government is "indiscriminate" and "treats all Chechens as terrorists," it has fewer allies in its fight against terrorism, Chechen ethnographer Zalpa Bersanova told a recent RFE/RL audience.

According to Bersanova, the "emergence of terrorism" in Russia is "inextricably linked to the war in Chechnya," where Russian troops have engaged in human rights abuses and attacks against civilians. Bersanova, who has surveyed public attitudes among Chechens for a number of years, says her data shows that "over 79 percent of Chechens do not hold the Russian people responsible" for the "tragedy" that has befallen the Chechens, since they have concluded that "Russians don't have influence over the government of Russia."

Chechen society, Bersanova said, is "defined by customary laws and social traditions more than religion" and is opposed to the beliefs and practices of the terrorists. Her survey data shows that the "majority of Chechens say the greatest threat are Wahhabists," because "they contradict Chechen traditions, as well as Islam." In her survey, Bersanova found "no admiration" for the recent phenomenon of "shakhidki" (female suicide bombers) among Chechen women. These women have brought "shame on their families in Chechnya," according to Bersanova.

Although Chechens "are victims themselves, they nevertheless reject terrorism" and "see no justification for terrorist acts," Bersanova said. In her survey, Bersanova noted, "not one survey member approved of the taking of hostages at the Beslan elementary school." Bersanova also said that few media reports have noted that Chechen teachers offered to take the place of the children inside the school during the hostage crisis. Although they live in an area impoverished by war, Bersanova reported that many Chechens offered "one day's salary" to help the victims of Beslan, while many others waited hours to donate blood.

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