Meditation Focus #74

Fostering Peace in Chechnya


What follows is the 74th Meditation Focus suggested for the two consecutive weeks beginning Sunday, October 27, 2002. Please note the change in Meditation Times below.


1. Summary
2. Meditation times
3. More information on this Focus



As the world stood witness to the high-stake drama that ended with Russian special forces storming a Moscow theater on Saturday in a dawn raid that left up to 90 hostages dead along with most of their Chechen rebel captors, we were suddendly reminded of the bloody and seemingly endless war that opposes the Chechens and the Russians, a bitter conflict which, to be properly understood, requires a look back in time. The Chechens are the children of a nation that has been three times nearly exterminated by Russian genocide: in the 18th, 19th and 20th centuries, the last when Stalin had tens of thousands of Chechens shot and the remainder of the Chechen people deported for 10 years to Siberian concentration camps, killing about one-third of them in the process. They declared independence as the Soviet Union collapsed in 1991 and Russian forces invaded in 1994 to suppress their independence drive, razing most of Chechnya to the ground, conducting wide scale torture, slaughtering 100,000 Chechens, wounding 240,000, and scattering 17 million anti-personnel land mines across the country, according to the Toronto Sun. The rebels carried out bloody hostage-takings in 1995-1996, which helped force Russia first to negotiate, then to withdraw it troops. War broke out again in 1999 after rebels raided nearby Dagestan and Russian authorities blamed rebels for a series of bombings in Russia that killed more than 300 people - allegations later refuted by many who believe Moscow's security forces had a role in those bombings. Human rights organizations say the Russian forces' brutality has contributed to driving young men into rebel groups, some of which have been funded by outside Arab sources. The main political demands of the Chechen hostage-takers this week were a ceasefire, withdrawal of Russian forces and a negotiated peace in Chechnya. The continued presence of up to 80,000 Russian troops within or surrounding Chechnya, including some elite squadrons with a particularly bad reputation, has led to widespread concerns over human rights abuses, with local people claiming to be the regular victims of torture, death or disappearance.

Please dedicate your prayers and meditations, as guided by Spirit, in the coming two weeks, and especially in synchronous attunement at the usual time this and next week Sundays, starting at 16:00 Universal Time (GMT), to contribute in fostering peace in Chechnya and an immediate end to all military operations both by the Chechen rebels and the Russian army. Let us pray for the gradual release of tensions and vizualize the growth of a keen desire in everyone concerned for a peaceful settlement of this conflict and a complete healing of the relationship between these two peoples, as well as a willingness to forgive and co-create a new era of harmonious cooperation, for the Highest Good of All.

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3. More information on this Meditation Focus

This complement of information may help you to better understand the various aspects pertaining to the summary description of the subject of this Meditation Focus. It is recommended to view this information from a positive perspective, and not allow the details to tinge the positive vision we wish to hold in meditation. Since what we focus on grows, the more positive our mindset, the more successful we will be in manifesting a vision of peace and healing. This complementary information is provided so that a greater knowledge of what needs healing and peace-nurturing vibrations may assist us to have an in-depth understanding of what is at stake and thus achieve a greater collective effectiveness.


Bloody Raid Ends Moscow Theater Siege

MOSCOW (Reuters) - Russian special forces, using gas to knock out Chechen guerrillas, stormed a Moscow theater on Saturday in a dawn raid that left up to 90 hostages dead along with most of their rebel captors.

More than 750 people, held since Wednesday by the heavily armed Muslim guerrillas, were rescued, Deputy Interior Minister Vladimir Vasilyev said. He put the initial death toll among the captives at 67. But Russian news agencies later quoted the health ministry as saying more than 90 hostages had died.


Russian officials insisted they had no choice but to launch Saturday's assault after rebels started killing hostages. "We saved more than 750 people," Vasilyev said outside the theater where a popular musical had been brutally interrupted.


The end of the siege, thrusting ordinary Muscovites into the frontline of the distant Chechen war, was a relief to President Vladimir Putin, who owed his rise to power partly to a hard line against the Chechens. His authority had been sorely tested. But it left the chances for peace in the southern frontier region seemingly as distant as ever after eight years of war.

"I see no change in Russian policy in Chechnya, maybe even it will be more tragic," said Pavel Felgenhauer, an independent political and military analyst. "The rebels will get more entrenched, that means there will be new terrorist attacks, maybe much bloodier than this one, maybe also in Moscow."


The guerrillas' daring raid had set Putin the toughest test of his two and a half years in the Kremlin. It was his decision to send troops back into Chechnya in 1999 that helped propel him into the presidency and won him the reputation as a tough, effective leader able to save Russia from looming anarchy. He went on national television on Friday evening to say he was open to talks with the Chechen guerrillas, but on his terms, insisting the separatists lay down their arms.

Moscow rejects full independence for Chechnya, which Russian troops first invaded in December 1994. Then President Boris Yeltsin accused Chechens of banditry and destabilizing a region close to potentially rich transit routes for Caspian Sea oil. The Kremlin also fears giving sovereignty for the Chechens, a fierce mountain people who have chafed under Moscow rule for two centuries, could push other ethnic minorities to break away.


French Foreign Minister Dominique de Villepin said a negotiated settlement was still needed. But Russia underlined its view of the Chechen leadership as "terrorists" by telling Denmark that Putin might call off a state visit in protest at it letting Chechen exiles hold a meeting in Copenhagen next week. Many Russians also question whether Putin's tough approach is succeeding and point to recent successes for the rebels.

One problem, though, is whom he could talk to. Maskhadov was elected in an internationally monitored poll in 1997 after his guerrilla army forced Yeltsin to pull out Russian troops. But his authority was undermined by warlords and Islamist radicals.



Chechnya and Russia: A History of Conflict

After fighting in 1994 and 1995, the situation in Chechnya had calmed. But Putin has vowed to tromp the separatist movement, and this has fueled the discontent in Chechyna that led up to this week's Moscow hostage drama.

The conflict between the Chechens and the Russians is a centuries-old clash. When Chechnya's southern neighbor, Christian Georgia, agreed to a union with Moscow in 1783, the Muslim north Caucasus were encircled and a holy war ensued. Decades later, the Caucasus War stretched out for 47 years, finally ending in 1864.

Josef Stalin, who accused Chechens of helping Germans during World War II, sent the entire nation into exile, killing about one-third of them on the trek to Kazakhstan.

"When they came back, they never stopped thinking of separatism, but it was impossible during Soviet times," said Gasan Gusejnov, an expert on ethnic conflicts in the former Soviet Union who has taught about Chechen history and politics at the Heinrich Heine University in Dusseldorf.

The separatist movement took off with the collapse of the Soviet Union and resulted in bloody battles in 1994 and 1995. Before the fighting began, the population was 1.1 million - two-thirds ethnic Chechens and a quarter of them Russians. Nearly 400,000 people lived in the capital, Grozny, which is now in ruins.

Tens of thousands of civilians died in the fighting, though accurate figures on the exact death toll are not available. Many Chechens live in refugee camps.

Anti-separatism a main cause

The situation calmed somewhat after a kidnapping in January 1996 prompted the Yeltsin regime to make moves toward allowing the creation of a separate state. That never materialized, however, and Putin has made anti-separatism a main cause.

"When Putin came to power in 1999, his main message to the population was, "there is a wounded place on the territory of the former Soviet Union and I will heal this wounded place. I will stop the separatists once and forever", Gusejnov said.

While this message was hugely popular among Russians, it was a tougher sell in the outside world. Until the attacks on September 11, 2001.

"Immediately after September 11, Putin decided he could get support for this position because it looks very similar (to terrorism) and it is very similar," said Gusejnov. "And no doubt there are contacts between Chechens and Arab groups or the Taliban or al Qaeda Because it is a shadow world. And it is a world with huge amounts of weapons."



Raid Illustrates Chechen Desperation (Oct 24)

MOSCOW (AP) - As the war in Chechnya drags on, acts of desperation committed by Chechen rebels furious at the destruction of their homeland have grown even more brutal, pushing them closer to extremist Islam and creating a new generation ready to kill innocent civilians for their cause.


A pro-rebel Web site,, described the hostage takers as "smertniki," a word that in Russian refers to fighters who die for a cause — and echoes the terminology used by suicide bombers in the Middle East, who call themselves "martyrs."

The Web site said the group was led by Movsar Barayev, the 25-year-old nephew of warlord Arbi Barayev, who reportedly was killed last year. It said some of the women hostage-takers were the widows of Chechen rebels and that they attacked the theater to avenge their losses.

However, Dzhafar Zufarov, an influential mufti in southern Russia, said Barayev was paid to take over the theater, and the money could possibly have come from sources in Saudi Arabia.

Increasingly, Chechen rebels have found a bulwark in Islam and a source of funding and political support in Arab nations, which helps explain the growing influence of outside Islamic groups in Chechnya.

The Russians, meanwhile, have insisted on a military solution for Chechnya, saying they will never negotiate with the rebels, whom they say have links to international terrorism.

"Now the positions have hardened. With whom should Russia negotiate?" asked Alexander Rahr, one of Germany's leading specialists on Russia in an interview on Germany's n-tv channel.

Non-native Islamic influence was evident Thursday when the Qatar-based Al-Jazeera television network broadcast the demands of the hostage-takers. The tape apparently was made before the hostage-taking began Wednesday night and delivered to the network Thursday morning.

In the footage, one of the rebels who carried out the attack had a laptop in front of him and a copy of the Quran at his right hand.

"We came to the Russian capital to stop the war or gain martyrdom ... Each one of us is willing to sacrifice himself for the sake of God and the independence of Chechnya," one of the hostage-takers said.

Khakamada, the lawmaker, said she didn't think the hostage-takers were acting of their own accord. "Someone is standing behind them. They are not free in their actions," she said.



Moscow reaps the Chechen whirlwind (October 24)

Theatre attack brings home failure of Kremlin strategy.

(...) It is eleven years since Chechnya's leaders caught the spirit of defiance which was prompting the Baltic and other Soviet republics to go their separate ways. But Chechnya was unusual in that it was not a Soviet republic but part of Russia itself. Although the last Soviet president, Mikhail Gorbachev, accepted the end of the empire, Boris Yeltsin, the first president of the new Russia, was not willing to see his own multi-ethnic Russian Federation disintegrate in the same way.


Aslan Maskhadov, the chief of staff of the Chechen forces, was elected president early in 1997. War and isolation had turned Chechnya into a "failed state" in which armed groups vied for control, using banditry and hostage-taking of other Chechens as well as foreigners.

A new crisis erupted in August 1999 when a small group of Islamic militants invaded the neighbouring republic of Dagestan from Chechnya. Russian forces again used artillery and air power to try to dislodge them.

Then came a series of terrorist bombings of blocks of flats in southern Russia and later in Moscow itself. More than 300 people died and the political temperature soared. Chechens were never proved to have planted the bombs, and many Russians suspected the Kremlin's security forces were responsible.

Vladimir Putin, newly appointed as prime minister by Mr Yeltsin, decided to send troops into Chechnya again. In spite of Russia's defeat two years earlier, the move was popular among Russians who were reeling from the wave of terrorist acts.

The Chechen crisis became the dominant theme in the parliamentary election in December 1999, knocking Mr Yeltsin's poor economic record off the headlines and allowing Mr Putin's allies to become the main political force. He easily won election to the presidency three months later.

While Mr Putin benefited politically from the Chechen crisis, his troops fared as badly as they had in the first war. Almost three years after the re-invasion of 1999, they are still bogged down in the republic.

Although Mr Putin has repeatedly claimed the war is over, the fighting has been intense in recent weeks. In August, the rebels shot down a Russian military helicopter, killing 116 people. Tens of thousands of Chechens have been forced to flee into the neighbouring republic of Ingushetia where they live in appalling conditions. The large Russian population has also fled.

Various international efforts to persuade Mr Putin to accept Mr Maskhadov's call for negotiations have come to nothing, further increasing Chechen determination to fight on. The Russian president was quick to try to exploit President Bush's "war on terrorism", saying they were the first victims of Islamic fundamentalism. Officials described the Moscow bombings as their own September 11. Western criticism of Russian tactics in Chechnya became muted, and the Kremlin felt strengthened in its refusal to negotiate.



The Smashing of Chechnya An International Irrelevance

A Case Study of the Role of Human Rights in Western Foreign Policy

(...) the Chechens are “the children of a nation that has three times nearly been exterminated by Russian genocide: in the 18th, 19th and 20th centuries, the last when Stalin had tens of thousands of Chechens shot and the remainder of the Chechen people deported to Siberian concentration camps. (...) In 1957, when the Chechens and other exiled Caucasian groups were proclaimed ‘rehabilitated’ and returned to their republics, they found that their land had been ‘Russified’. Hundreds of thousands of Russian farmers brought in to work the land during their absence had become permanent residents and now comprised a quarter of the region’s population. (...) From 1994-96, the Russians waged yet another war to crush the Chechens’ popular plea for self-determination. Though the Chechens eventually managed to drive Russia out, Russian forces still succeeded in slaughtering 100,000 Chechens, wounding 240,000, and scattering 17 million anti-personnel land mines across the country. Russia had used “mass artillery, rocket barrages, and airstrikes to smash Chechen villages and towns”, “conducted wide scale torture, and razed most of Chechnya to the ground”, reports the Toronto Sun.



The History of Chechnya explained

War with Chechnya -- 1994-96

The Chechens are an indigenous people of the North Caucasian Mountains. After a long struggle, Chechnya was conquered by Russia in the 19th century. At the end of the second world war, Russia deported the entire Chechen population - men, women and children - to Siberia. Many died and none were allowed back for a decade.

Glasnost, the new openness in Russian society under Gorbachev, initiated a period of renewed unrest in Chechnya and other Soviet republics. After a long period of struggle between different Chechen groups, elections were held on 27 October 1991 and Jokhar Dubayev, a former Soviet Air Force General, won, claimin 90% of the votes. The result was contested by the Chechen opposition and by Russia. In Novermber 1991, President Yeltsin dclared a state of emergency in Chechnya sending Russian troops to the airport near Grozny. Dunayev ordered martial law and mobilized the national guard. The Russian Supreme Soviet refused to back Yeltsin and the Russian troops left Chechnya.

Dubayev refused to sign a treaty in March 1992 granting Chechnya substantial autonomy - demanding instead total independence. Stalemate followed during which thousands of ethnic Russians fled the republic partly under pressure from the Chechens. In 1994 civil war broke out between Dubayev and the Provisional Chechen Council - disaffected Chechens backed by Russia.

On November 25, an abortive attack on Grozny was backed by Russian helicopters and tanks. On December 9, 1994 Yeltsin ordered the Russian military to retake Chechnya. On 11 december, 40,000 Russian troops invaded. Russia bombed Grozny and other towns. It took from 31 December until 19 January, 1995 for the Russians to secure Grozny. The center of the city was totally destroyed in the process.

Dubayev's forces regrouped while Russia heavily bombed alleged Chechen strongholds. Casualties were great. Russia installed a 'Government of National Revival' in March 1995. A peace accord was signed on 30 July 1995 only to collapse that October. A Russian-approved candidate was elected head of state on 17 December and signed an autonomy deal with Russia. The rebels rejected the accord and attacked Grozny in March 1996.

Yeltsin's National Security Adviser, General Lebed, negotiated a deal in August 1996. A decision on Chechnya's final status was postponed until 2001. The last Russian troops withdrew in January 1997. An estimated 60,000 to 100,000 people had lost their lives during the war. The Chechen military leader, Aslan Mashkadov was elected Chechnya's new president but was unable to establish law and order or begin rebuilding the territory.



Cynical Russians turn on Putin (October 26),2763,819718,00.html
Leadership unable to stifle wave of protests. A wave of popular disgust and disillusion was enveloping President Vladimir Putin yesterday over his handling of the Moscow hostage emergency. Relatives of some of the estimated 600 hostages defied an official ban on protests to demonstrate next to Red Square and outside the suburban theatre where the hostages are being held. The authorities threatened to crack down on dissent and close down Red Square to prevent further protests. But a barrage of media criticism was remarkable for the bitterness it directed at the Russian leadership. CLIP

The Chechen War Comes Home (October 26)
Democracy cannot protect against all manifestations of terrorism, but an authoritarian regime clearly can do no better. (...) The second war in Chechnya turned into another brutal, bloody, corrupted and shameful military campaign that quickly became a dead-end story. Many thousands of Russian soldiers died. Tens if not hundreds of thousands of Chechens, both guerrillas and civilians, have been killed. Three years of the military campaign has turned into an endless and horrific story of rapes, murders and torture of civilians by Russian troops. As a result, Chechen civilians, who were almost ready three years ago to give up on independence in exchange for reinstating some order in their land, are turning their backs on Moscow forever. They have nothing more to lose: women lost their children and husbands, countless parents have lost their daughters and sons. The survivors have no means of livelihood left. Meanwhile, in Russia the desire for order and security has given birth to authoritarian politics that have nurtured a closed, unaccountable regime. In the name of stability, unity, patriotism and, of course, security, any information from Chechnya has been severely censored. Journalists are not allowed to report from Chechnya without special permission from the military authorities. No wonder: in early 2000, I managed to fly over the entire area of Chechnya in a helicopter; with only a few exceptions, I saw villages and towns burned to the ground, agricultural land completely destroyed from huge holes left by heavy bombs. CLIP

Chechen theatre of terror (October 26),2763,819603,00.html
(...) Chechnya has always been a reluctant and coerced member of the Russian empire, which never fully dissolved with the fall of the Soviet Union. Today, the war is rarely talked about, except for a few token references by publications such as the Guardian. The Chechens have been abandoned by the international community and have virtually no Russian allies. CLIP

Analysis: Al-Qaida at the fringe of a bloody national struggle (October 26),2763,819665,00.html
(...) President Vladimir Putin has hinted that the Moscow hostage-taking has al-Qaida backing. This suggestion should be neither blindly accepted nor dismissed. The reality is that while links between al-Qaida and the Chechen conflict do exist, they are not nearly as central to that struggle as Kremlin propaganda maintains. (...) It was above all the brutal, botched and unnecessary Russian military intervention of 1994-96 that drew international Muslim militants to fight in Chechnya and let them create a base there. CLIP

Strong enough for war, but not strong enough for peace (October 25),2763,819028,00.html
The Russian-Chechen conflict is a drama that has no end. (...) If it ends in a bloodbath, there will almost certainly be a dual effect. On the one hand, there will be intense anger against the Chechens, which will give the government even more immunity against criticism of its conduct of the war in Chechnya itself, and may justify various abrogations of liberty within Russia on anti-terrorist grounds. CLIP

Analysis: Chechen danger for Putin (October 24)
The chinks in Russia's armour have been exposed

War without end, amen (September 19)
With death tolls mounting, Russia and Chechen rebels are locked in a conflict neither can win, says correspondent MARK MacKINNON. Five months ago, Russian President Vladimir Putin declared that the "military phase" of the Chechen war was over. He urged Chechen refugees to return home, telling them it was safe to do so. (...) Far from being over, the bloody Chechen conflict has gotten nastier. The refugee exodus continues, as even families who braved three years of brutal fighting in their homeland are finding the recent escalation too much to handle. While Moscow has regained, by day, territorial control over most of Chechnya, it has never been able to restore the sense of normalcy it needs in order to repatriate tens of thousands of refugees who fled the fighting. At night, the countryside becomes lawless and dangerous. (...) Casualty numbers are mind-numbing for a conflict that has accomplished so little. Official Russian figures -- believed to be far lower than the actual totals -- put the number of Russian soldiers killed at 4,500 (since September, 1999), with more than 12,500 wounded. There are no tallies available of the number of Chechen deaths, though human-rights organizations say that number, too, is in the thousands, mostly civilians. Non-combatant casualties are to be expected when populated areas are shelled frequently and indiscriminately. Nervous Russian troops, fearing the locals are aiding the rebels, often treat all Chechens as enemy combatants. Such treatment does little to build trust between the locals and the Russian army, but plenty to swell the rebel ranks. (...) There are two options left to Russians. One is to keep fighting and dying for a rocky patch of land of little value. The other is to sit down with Chechen leaders and make the following offer: In return for Chechen co-operation in Russia's investigation into the 1999 apartment bombings (including handing over suspects Moscow requests), Chechnya gets the status of full-fledged, largely autonomous republic, within the Russian Federation. It isn't what either side wants, and it's not quite land-for-peace. Call it peace-for-peace.

Russia's whistle blower (March 16),2763,667329,00.html
In Chechnya, there is now just one lone Russian voice remaining to chronicle the lives of those embroiled in the killing and corruption that have become the hallmark of President Putin's efforts to bring the province under the control of Moscow. Her name is Anna Politkovskaya, and she is not about to give up the fight. CLIP

Possible theft of Russian weapons-grade plutonium alarms US (July 19),2763,758280,00.html
Chechen rebels have stolen radioactive metals, possibly including plutonium, from a Russian nuclear power station in the southern region of Rostov, according to US nuclear officials. (...) Russia has an estimated 400 tonnes of weapons-grade plutonium considered by western experts to be "at risk" from theft because of poor security.

Russia: Chechen "Disappearances" Continue (April 15)

Russia: Investigate Sexual Violence by Troops in Chechnya (April 10)
Russian forces have raped and sexually assaulted women during winter operations in Chechnya, Human Rights Watch charged today.

"Welcome to Hell": Arbitrary Detention, Torture, and Extortion in Chechnya HRW Report (October 2000)

Terror, torture, death: the Russians are here (July 18, 2001),2763,523320,00.html
Chechen villagers speak of savage security sweeps (...) One by one men were picked out and taken into an army lorry. Wires were fixed to their wrists or genitals and, cranking the handle of a primitive generator like a field telephone, a Russian soldier gave them electric shocks. The massive security sweep, known as a zachistka, in a placid lowland village in western Chechnya which has had almost no guerrilla activity, has prompted the biggest political crisis in the region since the Russians launched their second war against the rebel republic in September 1999. It has also shown that Moscow still has no coherent strategy to win Chechen hearts and minds, no policy of transferring power to the republic's political elite, no readiness for dialogue with its opponents, and no exit strategy short of a misplaced faith in military victory. CLIP

Chechen bomb suspects take the dock (July 12, 2001),7792,520510,00.html
Some think Moscow's security forces had a role in bombings blamed on terrorists from the rebel region. (...) No one has yet been charged with planting the explosives. The four devastating apartment bomb attacks which swept through Russia in September 1999 in rapid succession have left an indelible stamp on the nation's consciousness. CLIP



Full Coverage on the Chechnya Conflict

Full Coverage on Russia

Chechnya Maps

The Chechnya conflict in pictures,6143,196021,00.html

200 articles archived on Chechnya by The Guardian newspaper,3332,196326,00.html

Special reports: Russia,2759,180992,00.html

Special reports: Chechnya,2759,180787,00.html

Chechnya - Samashki : Untold story of Russian Genocide

Interactive guide to Russia's offensive,5860,94836,00.html

Interactive guide to the history of Chechnya,5860,94820,00.html

Chechnya Timeline, 1830s-2000

Chechen news web site

American Committee for Peace in Chechnya

Chechnya - news reports, background information, and analysis.

Conflict in Chechnya

Land Mines - Chechnya - NI Magazine - Empire of Ruin

Chechnya - ethnic history of Chechnya, the descendants of Shem


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