Chechen journalist says “little” changes in Azerbaijan under Ilham

Chechen journalist says “little” changes in Azerbaijan under new leader

BBC Monitoring Caucasus
25 August 2004

Source: Kavkazskiy Vestnik web site, in Russian 22 Aug 04

A leading Chechen journalist Mayrbek Taramov says “little” has changed
in Azerbaijan since Ilham Aliyev became president; the West and
especially the US demands stability whereas Russia is hoping for
another conflict in Karabakh. Neither the Azerbaijani nor the Georgian
authorities has paid much heed to the problems of the Chechen refugees
in the country, which number up to 7,000, as they do not want to
offend Russia, he says, although he praises the work of international
human-rights organizations and Georgian NGOs in this respect. Taramov
is not optimistic about the Caucasians ever owning their own national
wealth and it would be “naive” to suggest that an “elder brother” will
come along to protect their interests.

The following is the text of the interview with journalist Mekka
Khangoshvili of the Kavkazskiy Aktsent newspaper entitled: “Mayrbek
Taramov: Building a Caucasian Home is the sacred goal of any
Caucasian!”, posted on the Kavkazskiy Vestnik web site on 22 August;
subheadings have been inserted editorially:

[Kavkazskiy Vestnik correspondent Mekka Khangoshvili] Describe the
socio-political situation in Azerbaijan under [President] Ilham

West looking to strengthen position in Azerbaijan

[Mayrbek Taramov] Since Ilham Aliyev arrived at the top post the
socio-political situation in Azerbaijan has not substantially
altered. The opposition very much hoped that with the help of the west
positive changes would happen in Azerbaijan. Their hopes have not been
justified, and there was little chance of this happening. I will
explain why. I don’t think that the ruling power, the high level of
corruption and the absence of democracy and human rights were to the
west’s liking, but they did not and will not try to change
anything. Why? Mainly because the west has invested in the Azerbaijani
economy, especially in the Baku-Tbilisi-Ceyhan pipeline. And we know
that no financial infusions are possible to a country with an unstable
socio-political situation. The west knows how to count its money and
it values every cent. Therefore, stability in Azerbaijan is very
important to today’s bourgeoisie.

I am also certain that the west will make every effort to ensure that
another conflict does not flare up in Karabakh, although it is not so
much Armenia as Russia who will be hoping for this conflict to explode
again. Thus, the west will be trying to preserve stability to get the
pipeline up and running, whereas Russia will be trying to destabilize
the situation so that the project fails. But however strong Russian
influence might be in Azerbaijan, “Mr dollar”, and now the euro are
squeezing out the Russian rouble. I believe that the west, especially
the US, will be strengthening their position still more in Azerbaijan
and in the Caucasus as a whole.

Chechen refugee situation

[Khangoshvili] What is the situation of the Chechen refugees in

[Taramov] As far as the Chechen refugees are concerned, in the great
Caucasian game of the world’s “sharks”, this problem is not so evident
or important. Nor was it under Heydar Aliyev. Every one has been
giving the impression that there is no problem of Chechen refugees in
Azerbaijan, especially Russia. The Russian embassy in Azerbaijan
literally gets up on its hind legs at the very mention of the Chechen
refugees. Its pained reaction can be easily explained, because Moscow
is shouting for all to hear that there is no war in Chechnya, and that
the fighting ended a long time ago. If this is the case, then what are
the Chechen refugees doing here in Azerbaijan? That’s the problem. The
very fact that there are Chechen refugees in Azerbaijan speaks for
itself, and makes it apparent that there is a full-scale war going on
in the Chechen Republic. Unfortunately, Azerbaijan is yielding to
Russian pressure. There is no mention of Chechen refugees on the local
television or in the press, except the opposition press, and this is
very rare.

The authorities in Azerbaijan are being oversensitive regarding the
press-conferences which are being given by the Chechen Human Rights
Centre (CHRC) and the Council of Non-governmental Organizations (CNGO)
in Azerbaijan, at which the problems of our refugees are raised. That
is why those of us who are working closely with the CNGO, are trying
to solve the problem of our refugees. It would seem that the
Azerbaijani authorities should be welcoming our initiatives, after all
we are not asking them for anything, but, alas, the reverse is

Positive changes in relation to the Chechen refugees were only
observed after Bohdan Nahaylo, [head of the UN High Commissioner for
Refugees’ office in Baku] from Great Britain took up the office of
High Commissar for Refugees and brought with him a number of
colleagues who began to show concern for the Chechen problem. Whereas
the financial and humanitarian problems showed little change, a
greater number of Chechen refugees given international status have
been on the move to third countries. Meanwhile, the overall number of
our refugees has not reduced of late and varies from 6,000 to
7,000. Whilst more and more Chechens have been leaving Azerbaijan for
Europe “by their own steam”, practically the same number has arrived
in Azerbaijan from Chechnya and Ingushetia. The reason for this is
that the wave of refugees from these regions is growing rapidly as the
fighting and the reparations intensify. People are fleeing, trying to
save themselves, although they know how difficult life is in Baku. In
other words, only those refugees who have at least some money can
survive here. But where can those refugees who have been living in a
state of war in a ravaged country for five years hope to get any

No help from Azeri authorities

The Azerbaijani authorities are giving no help whatsoever to the
Chechen refugees. They say this is because there are almost one
million of their own refugees from Karabakh and Armenia, but I am sure
that even if this wasn’t a problem, the present Azerbaijani
authorities would still not respond to the Chechens for the simple
reason that they do not want a conflict with Russia. And therefore the
oversensitive reaction of the Azerbaijani authorities to the work of
the Chechen NGOs is understandable.

The director of the Azerbaijani human rights centre, Eldar Zeynalov,
made a typical remark on this subject at a seminar on the rights of
ethnic minorities in Azerbaijan: “Yes, to some extent the rights of
ethnic minorities in Azerbaijan are being infringed, but there are
minorities in Azerbaijan deprived of any kind of human rights, and
these are the Chechen refugees. How can one speak about the rights of
Chechen refugees if marriages between them are nor registered, and
Chechen children, born in Azerbaijan, are refused birth certificates?”
We would point out that this lawlessness is in violation of article 52
of the Azerbaijani constitution, where it says in black and white that
a person born on the territory of Azerbaijan is a citizen of
Azerbaijan. And the terrible thing is that the first to violate the
fundamental law of Azerbaijan are those officials who drew up this
constitution, i.e. the Ministry of Justice, of whose structural units
the boards of the registries of births, marriages and deaths are

UNHCR giving some help to refugees

[Khangoshvili] Tell us about the relations between the Chechen
refugees and the board of the UNHCR [UN High Commission for Refugees]
and the Norwegian Council for Refugees and the extent of their help.

[Taramov] We have already touched upon this question earlier, so I
will continue with it. There has been a certain positive trend in
relation to the education of the children of Chechen refugees. The
situation of the Chechen refugees deteriorated a great deal following
the tragedy in America on 11 September 2001. They stopped taking
Chechen children into Azerbaijani schools and higher educational
establishments, and they started to take down those students who were
being taught before, despite the fact that their education had been
paid for. In September 2002 there was one scandalous instance in one
of Baku schools when a school director said when entering a year-one
class: “Are there any Chechen children here? Stand up! Leave the
class!” What kind of heart can a person have, never mind a woman or a
teacher, to say such cruel words to young children who by a miracle
had escaped the hell of war in the hope of finding peace, shelter and
human compassion?

The situation has improved a little now, thanks to the joint efforts
of the Chechen non-governmental organizations and international
humanitarian organizations. Probably, many people in the west have
begun to understand that uneducated children turn to crime quicker
than anyone, and that this is needed by Russia which goes on and on
about “Chechen banditry and terrorism”. It has long become clear to
the ideologists in the Kremlin and the Lubyanka that a lack of
education feeds terrorism and extremism. The Norwegian Committee for
Refugees and the board of the UNHCR have played a big part in
rendering aid in setting up schools in Chechnya. There are also a
number of private individuals who have been and are still helping
Chechen schools. At the same time, it has to be emphasized that senior
classes are still not functioning, because there are no conditions for
them, not to mention higher education. Here, the director of the
Chechen training centre, Ruslan Zelimkhanov, who still intends to
carry out a higher education programme for the children of Chechen
refugees, is doing a great deal. He will, of course, need great
support and financial help in this undertaking.

The Red Cross has cut itself off altogether from the Chechen refugees,
and it seems to me that all it is doing is looking after itself. It is
a similar situation with the UN Human Rights mission. Evidently, the
human rights situation, or rather the lack of it, among the Chechen
refugees suits them.

Refugees meet PACE officials

[Khangoshvili] How would you comment on the meeting between the PACE
[Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe] corapporteurs
Andreas Gross and Andres Herkel and the representatives of the Chechen
refugees? What was behind the invitation to the Georgian delegation to
this meeting?

[Taramov] The fact is that the problem of the Chechen refugees in
Azerbaijan has been raised more than once in the media. The situation
in Azerbaijan is unique inasmuch as, side by side with the well-known
problems of the Chechen refugees in Ingushetia and Georgia, to whom
various international organizations have access because they live
closely together, the living conditions of the Chechen refugees in
Azerbaijan are quite different. Here they are scattered in different
apartments, especially in Baku. This suits the Azerbaijani and Russian
authorities very well. Therefore, the problem of the Chechen refugees
here is less evident, and one gets the impression that there aren’t
any Chechen refugees here at all. It was only thanks to the Chechen
NGOs that this problem has been raised time and again. When the
Chechen human rights centre more than once sent worried letters and
appeals to Strasbourg, Geneva, the UN and other international
organizations, and especially to the media, calling for attention to
be drawn to the plight of the Chechen refugees, it was only then that
people started talking about our problem. There was a powerful
response to our statements that because of the lack of funds for their
well-being, young Chechen returning to Chechnya instantly fall victim
to targeted “cleansing operations” and then disappear without trace.

I would like to take this opportunity to issue a warning that those
who are in greatest danger are those young Chechens returning to
Chechnya from Azerbaijan and Georgia, whom the Russian special
services single out and are first to be wiped out. Therefore, when
the Chechen refugees are returning home it is best not to point out
that they have come from Azerbaijan and Georgia, but to say they have
arrived from Ingushetia. One of the first to draw attention to the
problem of the Chechen refugees in Azerbaijan was Olivier Dupuy, a
member of the European Parliament and the Transnational Radical Party,
who started raising our problem in the European Parliament and other
international forums. He also tabled a special request to the European
Parliament on the lack of education of the children of Chechen
refugees and birth certificates for new-born babies.

It should be added that despite the fact that the problem of documents
for new-born babies was raised at such a high level, at the PACE, and
that top officials of the Azerbaijani Ministry of Justice promised
PACE and the Chechen human rights centre two years ago that they would
settle this problem, it remains unresolved. It is strange, but it is
a fact. The situation is unique because Azerbaijan remains the only
country in the world which refuses to accept citizens born on its
territory as their own. Incidentally, the Chechens are of absolutely
no use to Russia, which is worse than a stepmother – they are only
needed in a document for their children whereby they would be able to
leave Azerbaijan without hindrance. At times, the Chechens are accused
not only of banditry and terrorism, but even of abducting
children. This is what this bureaucratic tyranny leads to. This is
probably also the cherished dream of the wise men of the Kremlin,
whose orders are being carried out by Azerbaijani officials with
particular satisfaction.

All these issues were raised at the meeting with Parliamentary
Assembly of the Council of Europe [PACE] rapporteurs on Azerbaijan
[Andreas] Gross and [Andres] Herkel who listened to what the
representatives of the Chechen refugees had to say with particular
attention. The absolutely hopeless situation of the disabled Chechen
people and tuberculosis sufferers was raised by representatives of
these organizations. Andreas Gross’s reaction to the speech by Raisa
Khamzayeva, chairman of the Chechen disabled society, was
remarkable. Gross said that he was an artist by profession, and an
exhibition of his work was due to be held soon. He promised to
allocate the money obtained from the sale of his pictures to the
account of the Chechen disabled society. Of course, all the
representatives of the Chechen refugees who were at the meeting highly
praised this noble gesture on the part of the PACE member.

As far as the second part of your question is concerned, I would like
to point out that it does not pay to separate the Chechen refugees in
Azerbaijan and Georgia, because we have virtually one and the same
problem. It has to be said with regret that our contacts are very
rare. Probably, some of our “well-wishers” have an interest in such a
state of affairs. We always have to remember that our strength is in
unity, and many problems are solved jointly. That is why I have
become convinced of the need for a delegation of Chechen refugees from
Georgia to be here. Both they and we understood the great benefit of
such contacts. Your report was a very full one and the PACE lecturers
learnt a great deal from it.

Even if there had not been a meeting with the PACE corapporteurs, we
would have had to arrange mutual meetings. After all, many problems
can only be solved at the level of personal contact. But if you take
into consideration the fact that your delegation included the
well-known Kavkaz-Tsentr journalist, Data Tutashkhiya, then one needs
to think that they will not ignore this meeting and will cover it in
their agency. I personally have received a whole amount of useful
information from Umar, who is a member of the OSCE. I believe that if
we, Chechen refugees, will work more closely with the OSCE, an
organization which is geared towards resolving the conflict in
Chechnya, then we shall achieve a great deal.

Future of Caucasus region

[Khangoshvili] How do you see events developing in the Caucasus as a
whole in the near future, and what is your view from Azerbaijan of the
events in Georgia?

[Taramov] I would like to say again that the Caucasus is an extremely
important region for the destiny of the world. It is a crossroads of
the world, but the significance of the region was strengthened even
more when oil was discovered here. As a strategic raw material, it
has, on the one hand, become a curse for the people of the
Caucasus. The point is the Caucasians themselves have never
exclusively owned their natural resources which have been plundered by
the world imperialist powers, the palm of which belongs to Russia. I
very much doubt that the Caucasians will at any time in the future be
given the opportunity to own their own national wealth. If one
carefully studies the situation, one of the reasons that the war
flared up in Chechnya was the presence of oil there, and it cannot be
ruled out that the war in Karabakh, too, has the whiff of oil about
it. Everyone knows that it was thanks to the oil of Baku and Groznyy
that the USSR won the war against fascism.

What is the situation today? It is not difficult to see that the
interests of the world’s “sharks” are focused on the Caucasus
region. The US, the European Union, Russia, Iran, Turkey, and even far
off China and Japan are making their presence felt here. Thank God
that the Russian bear has finally been squeezed out of here. But then
the struggle for the vacant place of “elder brother” is becoming more
acute. Who will occupy this place, who will be the next “elder
brother”? It would be naive to suggest that some other “elder brother”
– American or European – would protect the common interests of the
Caucasians apart from the Caucasians themselves. And, incidentally,
no-one can be worse than Russia, and I am sure no-one ever will be. It
seems to me that all these “sharks” have agreed between themselves not
to solve any issues here by force, including the Karabakh problem. I
say again, a resumption of combat operations from any of the sides in
Karabakh would jeopardize the “project of the century” – the
Baku-Tbilisi-Ceyhan oil pipeline – which none of the “sharks”
wants. The only ones who are interested in solving the Karabakh
problem are Azerbaijan itself, which has lost 20 per cent of its land,
and the Chechen Republic, which has always supported and will continue
to support the fraternal Azerbaijani people.

Situation in Georgia

The Caucasians are no less disturbed by the situation in Georgia. It
is alarming and explosive. But here again, it is the western
countries, especially the US, who are playing the first
fiddle. Tbilisi has always reckoned to be the geographical centre of
the Caucasus, and the one who owns this centre is in an advantageous
position. The extraordinarily impudent behaviour of [Georgian
President] Mikhail Saakashvili makes me apprehensive. In one article I
wrote I compared him to a young foal who is galloping at full speed to
different sides, holding a stars and stripes rose in its jaws. I
expect everyone understands this comparison. You cannot put the cart
before the horse; in other words, the Georgian president should not
give priority to the interests of the west, in particular the US, and
push the interests of Georgia and the Caucasus into the
background. And I find absolutely bewildering Saakashvili’s almost
hostile attitude to the Chechen refugees and his desire to use the
Chechen “card” for his own interests. And I would like to warn my
fellow countrymen that there has been a desire to use the Chechen
people on the part of many countries, and so the Chechens should first
and foremost act by proceeding from the interests of Chechen
independence in coordination with the interests of the western
countries. For example, recently support for the Chechens, albeit
slight, can be sensed from the United States, whilst France, on the
other hand, has moved towards rapprochement with our eternal enemy,
Russia. Conclusions can be made from this. I believe that a
confrontation between the US and Russia will intensify in the future,
and this is linked, first and foremost, with [Russian President
Vladimir] Putin’s KGB-backed totalitarian regime.

Russian-Chechen relations

[Khangoshvili] What is your own personal view as to what needs to be
done for Russia and Chechnya to depart from a state of war?

[Taramov] This is a very broad question, and much has been said and
written on this. I do not wish to be a pioneer in this respect, and I
have no radical means of resolving this centuries-old problem. And,
indeed, the problem lies not with us Chechens but with those who
invade us with regularity. In other words, the aggressor is always
Russia. And the world community, instead of keeping the aggressor in
check, panders to it, saying that Chechnya is Russia’s internal
affair. Some people will say that the Chechens invaded Dagestan in
the autumn of 1999, and so on. I would like to say to those people
that the legitimate leaders of Chechnya have never declared war on
anyone, neither Russia, nor Dagestan. And as for those volunteers who
went to Dagestan to help their Dagestani brothers, it was their
initiative and their own business. Meanwhile, the Russian leadership
has taken advantage of this event, and what is more, according to
unpublicised Russian sources, Russia had been planning a second
Chechen campaign some time ago. “A new exacerbation of the Chechen
problem was inevitable. At the same time, Russia has proved to have an
object interest in going back to solving this issue as quickly as
possible!” (Russian bulletin “Questions of Security” No 17, October

One wonders how one can qualify the presence of mercenaries and
volunteers from all the Cossacks, Cherkess, residents of Adygeya,
Kabarda-Balkaria and other Russians on the side of the armed bandit
formations of Abkhazia or South Ossetia? As aggression against Georgia
on the part of Russia? But do you recall how many times the Soviet
Union invaded various countries under various pretexts? But for some
reason no-one in the west has been able to find the language to
describe a Soviet invasion as the internal affair of the USSR. Why
does the west now not condemn Russia when in essence it has been the
same aggressor in Chechnya as the USSR was, if not worse? And it will
continue to be so under the Russian fuehrer, Putin.

From all that has been said, one draws the conclusion that the
aggressor must leave its occupied territories; in other words, Russia
must withdraw its bandit formations from the Chechen Republic and
conclude a lasting peace. And the west must end its policy of support
for the aggressor by such verbiage as “Russia’s internal affair”, and
to exert pressure to force Russia towards peace. In this respect, I
was impressed by the Chechen Foreign Ministry’s plan entitled
“Chechnya’s conditional independence.” Although it is true that the
role of the Chechen resistance in this plan has been played down.

Georgian NGOs work on Chechnya

[Khangoshvili] What’s your opinion of the work of the Georgian NGOs on
the problems of Chechnya, and in particular, the Georgian centre for
cultural relations “Caucasian Home” and Kavkazskiy Aktsent newspaper?

[Taramov] There is a popular view that everyone acts according to the
amount of information and opportunities at their disposal. I am aware
of the work of the Georgian NGOs on the Chechen problem. It seems to
me that their work is deserving of high appraisal. One could have
described the work of the Georgian NGOs as excellent if they had been
able to influence the Georgian government to achieve a positive
result. Yes, of course, there have been some positives, but not
enough, I think. The fact is the Chechen problem is like a litmus
paper through which one can determine the work of the humanitarian
human-rights organization in the sphere of protecting human rights, in
particular the rights of the Chechen refugees. I have to say,
regretfully, that in this sphere the situation in Azerbaijan is even
worse. No-one, apart from the Azerbaijani human rights centre in the
person of Eldar Zeynalov, is bothering with the problem of the Chechen
refugees. I already spoke earlier about everything connected with this

United Caucasus

Not only in relation to your Caucasian Home organization, but on the
question of a united Caucasus in general, I believe that the building
of a Caucasian Home is the sacred goal of any Caucasian. And
therefore, such Caucasian leaders as [former Georgian leader] Zviad
Gamsakhurdia, [former Azerbaijani President] Abulfaz Elcibay and
[former Chechen rebel leader] Dzhokhar Dudayev, whose lives were taken
prematurely, and who cherished the dream of building a Caucasian Home,
are worthy of being canonized. And if the Georgian cultural relations
centre “Caucasian Home” and Kavkazskiy Aktsent are pursuing the goal
of Caucasian unification, and I do not doubt that for one moment, then
their work, too, is to some extent sacred.

I would like “Caucasian Home” to work more actively for the
unification of the Chechen human rights activists and
journalists. Contacts are necessary between sensible people from all
regions of the Caucasus, and “Caucasian Home” should be dealing with
this, and the aim of these people should be the construction of our
common home. I am confident that if a Caucasian Home is built, then we
Caucasians would be rid of numerous conflicts in the Caucasus, and
there would be no Karabakh, Abkhazian or South Ossetian problem. But
it is our misfortune that not a single leading world state has shown
any interest in our common home, and therefore I describe these states
as “sharks” who are prepared to swallow the Caucasus. These “sharks”
are waging a neo-colonialist policy here.

And now, can you imagine what a powerful state a unified Caucasus
would present? And what influence in the world the Caucasus would
have, bearing in mind its geographical situation, its energy
resources, its unique nature and the Caucasian mentality! Excuse me,
but what can the contemporary Europeans and the Americans teach us,
when we, Caucasians, are their distant forefathers, with our ancient
culture and democracy? My words have been backed up by that eminent
writer and thinker Alexander Dumas: “How can you not give the Caucasus
the name of the birth of mankind? The first-born of the world walked
upon its mountain ridges; its gorges swarmed with tribes who descended
lower and lower down the mountains, and finally scattered across the
virgin face of the earth, whereupon they gazed and conquered the land
from nature.”

Nevertheless, now, after thousands of years, returning to the distant
land of their forefathers from Europe and America, they are starting
to teach us, their distant ancestors. But it is not about our culture
triumphing over the ancient, – such is the way of life on earth –
nevertheless something alien is being imposed on us. Moreover, one
should bear in mind that this new, depraved western culture is not
only harmful to the modern world, but it is dangerous, because it is
capable of destroying modern civilization.