By Paul Goble
In his latest bid to boost his power in Grozny and his influence in Moscow, Chechen President Ramzan Kadyrov is seeking closer ties with the 600,000 ethnic Chechens outside the republic, about half of whom have fled the violence there during the last 20 years and about half consist of communities that have existed for more than a century.
On the one hand, Kadyrov’s efforts are likely to be welcomed in Moscow as a way of reducing the anti-Moscow rhetoric of many in the Chechen diaspora. But on the other, his moves in that direction may inspire other non-Russian groups in Russia to develop similar programs, a trend that could force the powers that be to change the compatriots program.
Indeed, there is some evidence that this may already be happening. Even as Kadyrov made his announcement, government officials and ethnic activists in Mari El have announced plans to reach out to Finno-Ugric groups abroad, something Moscow may be significantly less happy about (gov.mari.ru/main/news/rep/gov/2010/2105_1.phtml).
At a meeting at the end of last week with Chechen Foreign Minister Shamsail Saraliyev and Presidential press secretary Alvi Karimov, Kadyrov said that “it is necessary to establish close ties with the Chechen diaspora,” a group evenly divided between those in other regions of Russia and those further afield (chechnya.gov.ru/page.php?r=126&id=7476).
Of the 600,000 Chechens living outside the republic, 300,000 live in Russian regions, the Chechen president said, with the remainder living in Europe, Syria, Jordan, Turkey, Saudi Arabia, Iraq, Kazakhstan and Kyrgyzstan. As far as the total number of Chechens in Chechnya, Kadyrov continued, that remains to be established by a census he plans there.
“During my recent visit to Turkey and Syria,” the Chechen leader said, “I met with people who came from the Chechen Republic. This people sincerely worry about their Motherland, have been pleased by the changes which have taken place there, and are proud of their origin, even though many of them do not speak their native language.”
“I consider it necessary to organize for them cultural measures,” Kadyrov continued, including exhibits, concerts, and visits. These events, he said, “must be directed at the popularization of the Chechen language and culture. “In Syria, Chechens said that since we launched the Grozny satellite television channel, their children had begun to learn the language.”
According to Kadyrov, “in certain countries, there exist entirely population points in which a large share of the population consists of Chechens.” While in Turkey, he continued, he said he “found out by accident that in one of the population points live more than 7,000 Chechens and the head of their village is also a Chechen. In such places, we must send our representatives so that people will understand that their link with the Motherland is unbroken.”
According to the Chechen Presidential news portal, Karimov said that work in this direction is “already being carried out.” Indeed, he said, “for that part of the diaspora which does not know its native language, [Grozny] intends to prepare books in two language, Arabic and Turkic, in which will be included translations of the works of Chechen writers and poets.”
A significant fraction of the Chechen communities formed more than a century ago are in the Middle East, and it is often from them that Chechens returned to fight against the Russians in the 1990s, leading to the suggestion that there were a large number of Arabs in the Chechen resistance.
In fact, there were Arabs, but they were never as numerous as Moscow claimed; and at least some of the Arabic speakers were ethnic Chechens whose ancestors had left the Russian Empire for the Ottoman Empire and then moved from Anatolia to countries in the Arab world (belfercenter.ksg.harvard.edu/publication/12785/chechens_in_the_middle_east.html).
Chechens who have fled since 1991 are more often to be found in Europe or the United States, and it is unclear whether Kadyrov’s program will extend to them, all the more so since they typically have been far more antagonistic to his regime than have Chechens living in the Middle East.