Akhmed Zakayev: Subjugate or Exterminate! A Memoir of Russia’s Wars against Chechnya

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EVENT TRANSCRIPT: Akhmed Zakayev: Subjugate or Exterminate! A Memoir of Russia’s Wars against Chechnya

DATE: 6 pm, 17 October 2019

VENUE: Boothroyd Room, Portcullis House, 1 Parliament St, Westminster, SW1A 2JR United Kingdom

SPEAKERS: Akhmed Zakayev, Dr Arch Tait, Dr Paul du Quenoy, Luke Harding

EVENT CHAIR: Dr Andrew Foxall

 

Dr Andrew Foxall: Good evening, ladies and gentlemen. Welcome to today’s Henry Jackson Society event. My name is Andrew Foxall and I oversee the Russia and Eurasia Programme at HJS. I should like to start initially by thanking Ian Austin MP who has booked the room for us this evening and whose generosity in doing so is made it possible for us to host the event here. I should also like to thank Ian’s parliamentary staff who have generously made themselves available should anything go awry at the event. It gives me an extraordinary pleasure to chair this evening’s event, the title of which is ‘Subjugate or Exterminate! A Memoir of Russia’s Wars in Chechnya. The title of the event is the title of the book written by the gentleman to my immediate left, Akhmed Zakayev. Akhmed will be known to some of you, maybe known to most of you. Akhmed is a London-based Chechen leader who fought on both sides, sorry, fought in both of the Chechen wars. Not on both sides [laughter], perhaps that’s a [inaudible] reveal in the book.

[Laughter]

Dr Andrew Foxall: Forgive me. Fought in both Chechen wars, was variously a minister, a military commander, a negotiator and a presidential candidate as well. And Akhmed will be talking about his book. We’re joined as well up here by, to my immediate right, Arch Tait who translated the text from Russian into English. Arch has a PhD from the University of Cambridge and has been translating texts since the 1980s. To my far left, to Akhmed’s immediate left, is Paul Du Quenoy, who is president and publisher of Academica Press, the publisher of the book. He is, well, the publisher is the leading independent publisher, and he is a professor of history at the American University of Beirut. And then, to Arch’s immediate right, my far right, is Luke Harding, the award-winning foreign correspondent for the Guardian Newspaper, author of several books, most recently ‘Collusion: Secret Meetings, Dirty Money, and how Russia Helped Donald Trump Win’. Without any further ado, I [inaudible] to speak in the first instance for about 10 minutes or so, and then we’ll then move through the fellow speakers in the order in which I’ve introduced them. So, Akhmed, seriously, it’s a great pleasure to have you here.

Akhmed Zakayev: Thank you, Mr Chairman, thank you. Good evening, everybody. I would like to thank you all for being on this occasion. I would also like to thank the organisers [inaudible] Henry Jackson Society: Andrew, Viktorija, Jamila, everybody, thank you very much. Before I start talking about my book, I would like to thank those who helped me publish this book. First of all, Arch Tait. A wonderful translator who not only translated my text, but did initial work necessary for this book to be published. Thank you very much, Arch, thank you. It happens because of you, I’m very grateful to you, honestly. And I also want to thank Paul Du Quenoy, my publisher, President [of the] Academica Press for high, very high quality work, and I think everybody who has bought this book will agree with me. Thank you, Paul, thank you, and also, David [inaudible], my friend, who introduced me to Paul and why we have this book now. And of course, Luke Harding. Luke Harding, journalist, writer who wrote preface to my book and praised my work. Thank you, thank you very much. But my special gratitude to you, it is what that you’ve done [inaudible] case of murder [of] Alexander Litvinenko in your book, very expansive [inaudible]. Thank you very much, Luke, thank you.

Now about my book. Firstly, how and when the idea arose to write this book? Since 2004 Alexander Litvinenko and I, we lived as neighbours, and we talk every day, almost every day we talk, and one morning he came to my place, to me, and very emotionally began to tell me about the dream he had. It was if we were back in the war, during a brutal battle, and suddenly he heard the rumble of an airplane [inaudible]. This was Russian aviation, Sasha described that he was very happy and thought ‘well, this Russian aviation came to bomb Chechen position on front line’. And Sasha said ‘well, now you Chehs, you are done’. He said [to] me he was very happy, and what Russians, ‘Chehs’ it’s what Russians called Chechens during the First war, ‘Chehs’, they called Chechens ‘Chehs’. And Sasha told me ‘Chehs, you are done now’. At that moment, Sasha realised that now he was on the side of the Chechens. In this war, those bombs from Russian airplane were going to be dropped on him as well, and that’s when he woke up in horror from nightmare. And this morning, we have idea to write a book together, together to write a book. Main idea was that we will write different, the same events from different positions. I would cite Chechen side, Chechen position, from Chechen position, Alexander Litvinenko would cite from Russian, but this idea was not destined to materialise. Unfortunately, Putin got Sasha, and several years after this, after his death, I began to write this book.

In the centuries old history of the confrontation between Russia and Chechnya, there are very few materials written by the Chechens themselves about these events because all historical documents were deliberately destroyed. And therefore, it was very important for me to describe the events in which I participated and to which I was a witness. When I began to write these memories, I was also sure that we should not allow for future generations to have only one version of recent history, the one written by those who are used to hiding their crimes and lying, but this doesn’t mean that we should be silent about our shortcoming. In this case, what we write will not have [inaudible]. I am deeply convinced that instructive experience can be learned only from the truth, and if at any point my description of our fallen leaders and commanders seem unpleasant to their relatives, they should understand that I had no intention to criticising people close to them, I was just trying to give a political assessment of events, of a historical scale in which these personalities played a huge role. We, the participants and eyewitnesses of these events have duty to our successors to convey to them a true description of the war, not hiding our mistakes and miscalculations, but at the same time, not letting the enemy insult the memory of our heroes and massive achievements of our nation, and only in this case can we be sure that new generations of Chechens will not become [inaudible] that have lost the traditional values of the nation. And this will guarantee the preservation of the Chechen people and therefore guarantee their victory because freedom is only needed for people who show high moral values and [inaudible] memory of the past.

December 11 of this year marks the 25st anniversary of the beginning of the Russian aggression against the Chechen State. At the present time Chechnya is under Russian occupation, and it’s no secret to anyone that over these 25 years the Russian special services managed to split the Chechen society on religious basis by dividing the Chechens into ‘good’ and ‘bad’ Muslims. And they also managed to split those who stood at the origins of the national liberation movement. That’s when [inaudible] come to my mind, maybe all this was in vain, most of our struggle and all this sacrifices, maybe we have not yet taken our place as a nation, but in that moment, I would recall my comrades in arms with whom I went through many difficult days of [inaudible], and many of whom are no longer alive. Then I began to think that God extend my days precisely so that I can make sure the memory of those people who had given their lives for the freedom of Chechen people, was not finally betrayed.

Chechens have had such a fate that the life of each generation is marked by a tragedy. From history we see previous centuries we spent by Chechens in war, defending their freedom, but the tragedy of our entire history lies in the fact that each generation of Chechens who survive their own tragedy, at the end of their lives witness a new tragedy caused by the Russian state against Chechen people. So the generation of my parents who had deportations, survived the deportation to Siberia and central Asia, had to live through two wars in the later years of their lives. And now, my generation has to live with the recollection of these wars and pray to God that the liberation of the Chechens from the Russian empire would interrupt this chain of tragedy. I also want to say a few word about the attitude of the international community towards the Chechen tragedy. [Inaudible], former Soviet dissident and Chechen politician who moved to the Western world in 1943 until his unfortunate death in 1997; by reading his works you are convinced that the attitude of European politicians towards the long Chechen tragedy has not changed at all during this time, although it would seem that they had the opportunity to carefully study our problem. However, the western politicians, just as they did not understand the Chechens one or two hundred years ago, still do not understand us now. Or maybe, they just don’t want to understand because going deep into the tragedy experienced by a whole nation for such a long time would force on people with moral qualities and obligation of sympathy and support, and for many this requirement is imposed not only by morals, but also by professionals on duty. I would like to bring up another shared view which comes from former Soviet dissident, Russian writer and historian Igor Bunich who wrote: ‘by the scale of the persecution, by the methods of genocide, from mass-extermination and deportation to despicable discrimination of entire nation as criminals, the fate of the Chechens can only be compared with the fate of the Jewish of Nazi Germany, but if the Jewish managed to put the matter in the thousand year struggle for survival, so that the whole world reacts painfully and sharply to any manifestation of anti-Semitism wherever it comes from, the Chechens have not succeeded to do it so far, the world did not know anything about them, and worst of all, was completely uninterested in them.” It is no secret that the leaders of Western countries have always made close relations with despotic regimes that ruled in Russia, and on the Chechen issue, they reached cynicism, labelling the murder of a nation as a “internal affair of Russian state”. According to many human rights organisations, in the last 25 years Chechen Republic, 250 000 Chechen civilians have been killed. 40 000 of them – children. Thousands have also been wounded and disabled, and hundreds of thousands of people were left on the streets. 80% of our capital city Grozny was destroyed. Dozens of villages were completely destroyed. 26 000 young Chechens were kept in Russian prisons just for their nationality and potential resistance against the Russian military for their own freedom. More than 500 000 Chechens were forced to run and seek political asylum around the world to save their children and families from the violent treatment from the Russian military, and those who remained are under such oppression and humiliation that people, in order to maintain their honour and dignity are forced to flee Chechnya. Yes, today in Grozny civilians are not bombed, and mass ethnic cleansing are not carried out in villages, but as a Chechen I can assure you, what’s going on in Chechnya now, this is spiritual genocide. Absolutely.

Putin initially needed Ramzan Kadyrov not only to pacify the defiant Chechens, but also to create power structures with elements of eastern despotism. Putin knew that if this experience was successful in Chechnya where there was never servility and grovelling before those in power, then in Russia where such conduct before the high authorities was a deeply rooted tradition and where a strong hand was always needed to rule, this experience will find its application without much effort. Putin also calculated that for the past 50 years Western leaders have supported authoritarian regimes in the east because of economic benefits. That is because the regimes have ensured the uninterrupted flow of energy and resources, and Russia with its enormous reserves and energy resources that it’s supplied to the West, and big number of nuclear weapons that it could threaten the West with; Putin knew that he could count on the West’s support in the Chechen issue. We warned the international community, that Putin would not stop in Chechnya, they did not hear us, or rather, they did not want to hear us, but this is another topic, I will not go deep in it now, everyone knows the answer; aggression, who is Mr Putin.

I am deeply convinced that the economic interests of certain countries, political interests of certain politicians should not be more important than the democracy, than democratic values, than freedom of speech, than human rights, and, of course, the fate of the entire Chechen nation. In fact, for several centuries the Russian state had been subjecting the Chechen people to systematic genocide. My friends, this is not my conclusion, in the year of 2000 the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe adopted Resolution 1456 which strongly recommended to the international community to start an independent investigation of war crimes which Russia committed in the Chechen Republic. But this investigation never happened. In 2004 European Union recognised the deportation of Chechens and Ingush in 1944 to Siberia and Central Asia as an act of genocide, but nothing was done further than that. In order to change the attitude of the international community to the Chechen problem, I believe it is necessary to convey to the West public the truth about historical problem of relations between Russia and Chechnya, therefore it was very important for me that this book was published here and in English. I know I am a little bit out of my time, but it was my day today, yeah?

[Laughter]

Akhmed Zakayev: I want to once again thank everyone who participated in this, Arch, Paul, Luke, everyone. Thank you for coming, and thank you for your attention. Thank you.

[Applause]

Dr Andrew Foxall: Thank you, Akhmed. As always, you spoke very powerfully. Arch, over to you, please.

Dr Arch Tait: I would like very speedily to take you through the 193 000 words of this book.

[Laughter]

Dr Arch Tait: It covers the first 40 years of Akhmed’s life, life filled with events and lived very honourably. The title ‘Subjugate or Exterminate!’ is taken from the rescript of tsar Nicolas I to his viceroy in the Caucasus in 1829. “You are now charged,” he wrote, “with the pacification for all time of the highland peoples. Or extermination of the recalcitrant.” Akhmed writes: “In Russia, tsars, general secretaries and presidents came and went. The political system changed. Autocracy was replaced by Bolshevism, which in turn was replaced by democracy, but Russia’s basic attitude towards the Chechens, subjugate or exterminate, has never changed. The protracted Caucasian war of the 18th and 19th centuries brought about the deaths of more than half the Chechen population. The communists’ hatred of the rebellious Chechens cost our people, according to various estimates, the death of as many as 70% from purges, starvation and the cold, when they were transported in unheated cattle trucks in the severe frost of February 1944. Subjugate or exterminate, no single generation of Chechens since the end of the 18th century has been left unscathed by this relentless Russian policy.” Could we have the next slide? Akhmed was born in 1959. This photograph of 1969 shows him, second from the right, with his friend Aimdi. “My school memories are inextricably bound up with Aimdi because we were accomplices in all our boyhood pranks and adventures. Aimdi and I sometimes summoned up the courage to make short trips by tram in Grozny, a special adventure. We had only to start talking Chechen for other passengers, who seemed always to be older Russian women, to rudely interrupt us with an injunction to “talk like human beings”. For Aimdi and me that was our first lesson in inter-ethnic relations. I subsequently met not a few decent, educated, well-mannered Russians, but these early impressions are etched in my memory and were the foundation stone of my later certainty that our Chechen and Russian peoples are very different in culture, mentality and everything else that qualifies as national characteristics. In Voronezh I completed my diploma as a film and theatre actor, and in 1981 returned to the Republic to work at the Chechen and Ingush drama theatre. My career went well. I acted in all the theatre’s plays in major roles, as a supporting actor, in walk-on parts. From the outset I got on well with the other actors, the staff, producers and directors. The only problem was the money.” And here, Akhmed is acting the role of Hamlet with his friend Hussein Kurzuyev in the role of Polonius. “In 1985 I was allocated a one-bedroom apartment in the centre of Grozny. This was a major and unusual stroke of luck for a Chechen. By this time, I had two children, and my wife did not go out to work. Gorbachev’s perestroika was just beginning. In the spirit of the dizzying changes taking place, in 1989 Hussein and I, and a number of like-minded friends founded the Daymohk association. This was, to all intents and purposes, an alternative Ministry of Culture. We were able to start work unhindered, in no small measure because in 1990 I had been elected Chairman of the Chechen and Ingush Union of Theatre workers. It’s time to say a few words about Chechnya’s first president, Dzhokhar Dudayev. In the Soviet Air-force he rose, by 1989, to the rank of Major general. I met Dzhokhar in the early 1990s. I would say only that he was embodiment of love of his country, and all his ideas, talks and words showed him to be a sincere and uncompromising Chechen patriot. He felt deeply all the calamities, the grief and misfortune which had befallen the Chechens in the past, and had no intention of forgiving our enemies or forgetting our tragic history. Dzhokhar told us about the tragedy in Khaibakh with such emotion, it was as if he had been an eyewitness of the atrocity committed there by Stalin’s butchers who locked more than 700 women, children and old people in a stable and burned them alive. There were many similar episodes during the deportation of the Chechens and Ingush. “How can we forget that? How can we forgive such things?” He exclaimed, with pain and anger in his eyes. We could see why, if he had not concealed thoughts like these, there had been such reluctance to promote him to the rank of General.” The Chechen Republic declared its independence from Russia, as under Soviet law it was legally entitled to, and in 1994 Russia declared war to, in the words of its propagandists, “restore constitutional order”. Akhmed, recently appointed Chechnya’s Minister of Culture, found himself in command of a military front. Dudayev was assassinated by Russia in 1996. Every effort having been made to raze Grozny to the ground. A Russian journalist wrote: “All that is said about the Dudayev regime falls down in the face of the incontrovertible fact that only the mighty national consciousness of a people united by a single will and a common destiny could have withstood the murderous brutality of an aggressor whose reserves of manpower exceed those of Ichkeria by a factor of over 150 and which does not hesitate to commit any crime in its efforts to crush the Chechen people.” To counter public revulsion at the barbarity of Russia’s new war, and as part of his re-election campaign, Yeltsin embarked on negotiations. Akhmed was central to these on the Chechen side. Here he meets with Ivan Rybkin, the secretary of Russia’s Security Council, and the Deputy Secretary Boris Berezovsky. The presidents of Russia and of Chechnya signed a peace treaty in the Kremlin in 1997. Aslan Maskhadov said: “I am profoundly convinced that if we are sincere in our intention to establish a lasting peace between our peoples, there are no contradiction which we cannot resolve at the negotiating table.” In effect, however, as Akhmed points out, Yeltsin was signing a peace treaty while preparing for a new war. “By the time we realised that, it was too late.” So it proved, the Second Russo-Chechen War began in August 1999 and was to last for 10 years. In 2000 Akhmed was wounded and eventually spirited out of Chechnya to become the spokesman in Western Europe for the government of President Aslan Maskhadov. Today he is the Prime Minister of the government in exile of the Chechen Republic. Martin Dewhirst in his article in the Salisbury Review writes: “A careful study of this text sheds a good deal of light on the character of Zakayev himself, his bravery, common sense, humanity and intelligence, a Hamlet who became a man of action because he realised there was and is something very rotten in the state of Russia.” Winston Churchill said: “The truth is incontrovertible. Malice may attack it, ignorance may deride it, but, in the end, there it is.” Thank you.

[Applause]

Dr Andrew Foxall: Paul, over to you, please.

Dr Paul du Quenoy: Thank you all for coming tonight, and thank you again for hosting this wonderful event. As the publisher of the book, I first have to thank Akhmed for having the courage to make a public response about what happened in Chechnya in the 1990s. This is obviously not an easy thing to do. Criticising Putin today is an extremely challenging experience, and here in the UK the libel laws that prevail of, you’re already laughing, can create a number of problems with very favourable plaintiffs and lawsuits. So, some of you may know the case of Karen Dawisha, the late American political scientist who wrote a book about Putin’s rise to power in Saintpetersburg in the 1990s, and had her book pulled from publication here in the UK, it was later published in the States. I can also say that just this week, we had another case of this in our press, the very famous intelligence researcher James Flynn published a book, or had a book under contract with the press here in the UK, that their lawyers thought might incite hatred. “Might incite hatred” seemed to be a valid enough reason for them to withdraw James’ contract, and I’m happy to announce he’s doing his book with us. We’re doing a rush job, and we’ll get it out in December. So, Akhmed, it’s very brave of you to do this, and, of course, one of the things you’ll notice as you read through this wonderful book is that most of the people, most important actors that are mentioned on the Chechen side and some who are active on the Russian side are dead, often in various suspicious circumstances, or they were killed in combat, and Akhmed seems to be the only one who’s still with us. So, again, it’s a testament to bravery that you were able to do this. I’d also like to thank Arch Tait for a very elegant and meticulous translation of the book, just as all of his other translations of really important books about Russia and works on Russian history are revered and well praised, I think he’s done a splendid job with “Subjugate or Exterminate!” and we’re looking forward, of course, [inaudible] for the second volume detailing Akhmed’s life after the year 2000 when things really really really became a lot stranger, and, of course, this is still, what is today, and, of course, Luke, thank you for the foreword as well, we appreciate that. As an historian of Russia, my first career was an academic career, much of my research focused on imperial Russian attitudes toward the Middle East, and how Russia interacted with peoples like the Chechens, but rather beyond the borders of empire in places like Beirut, where I’ve been a professor for 11 years, and I actually, I have to correct you, Dr Foxall, I left my position effective October 1st, so I’m now a free person.

[Laughter]

Paul du Quenoy: But it’s nice to be reminded after [inaudible] a couple of weeks that I’ve now shifted full-time to running the publishing company. What you see in Chechnya, in the case of Chechnya, is this ‘divide and rule’ strategy where the Russians would try very actively to recruit and court local elites with the hope of moving them into a pro-Russian position. This is not unique to Chechnya, they do this everywhere. We have cases in 18th century, just to give an example, of Lebanon, which I’ve recently left, of the Russians coming to the Ottoman Levant and going to the Druze leadership that mysterious who live in the mountains [inaudible] saying to them: “Well, wouldn’t you like to become Russian subjects?” and then producing a letter from the Druze emir saying: “Yes, we very much would, and, in fact, since I was a child, I wanted to be a subject mighty Russia and enjoy all the benefits of Katherine the Great and her magnificent empire.” So this is a strategy that they use all over the place to try to get the elite people of their steppe frontier to do this, and we think it comes out of a sort of Turkic practice from Russia’s historical experience of being defeated and occupied by the Mongols for about 200 years, and having to deal with that polity, with the khans, much as they later deal with their own subject peoples on the peripheries of their empire. I think that’s one of the great historical lessons of the book, this is something that will be cited in historical work in my own field, immediate field of scholarly interests on Russia and the Middle East. So I think this is an extremely important study, and again, we’re looking forward for what happens next in the next volume, and we’re hoping to bring that out maybe next year?

Akhmed Zakayev: Yeah, I hope so.

Paul du Quenoy: I think that’s a realistic goal. Again, you all have order forms, so please, read and enjoy, and I really appreciate what Akhmed went through and what his people suffered as a result of this long-term Russia approach to empire which is very much alive and with us today. Thank you.

[Applause]

Dr Andrew Foxall: Thank you, Paul. Luke, last but not least. A few words, as you authored the foreword, you supplied the blurb as well for the back of the book.

Luke Harding: Yeah, just three very quick point because I know it’s late. First point, I mean, what struck me about this book is how not only clear-sighted, but how honest it is. What I very much like about it is that Akhmed is, of course, brilliant on Russia, on the treachery of Moscow, of the KGB, of the way that it’s meddled in Chechnya before and throughout the 90s and so on, but what I think is very strong about it is that he is also pretty unrelenting about the failures on the Chechen side, and in the 1990s, how Chechnya succumbed to factionalism, to palace intrigue, to vanity, to cronyism, with people being kidnapped, and the whole project going wrong, and I think that makes it a great book. I think if it were just a story of national survival, it would be a lesser book, but as it is, it’s a multi-dimensional portrait of what’s going on. The second point that I wanted to make is, it’s really well written. I write books, and, you know, it’s quite heavy, but you find yourself flying through it, and it’s done with flare, there’s a kind of lyrical quality to it, there are passages which are haunting, for example, about the eve of the First Chechen War where you talk about the [inaudible] descending on the streets of this capital about to be bombed and subjugated, and invaded, and I think you write beautifully and brilliantly, and evocatively.

Akhmed Zakayev: It’s Arch Tait.

[Laughter]

Luke Harding: Yes, I know, but I mean, he is, Arch is a very accomplished and wonderful individual, but actually it’s your story, and you tell it very well.

Akhmed Zakayev: Thank you, thank you.

Luke Harding: And I think it’s really important, and I look forward to the second volume. And just the last point, I think, is that, as Akhmed really is in kind of unique position, I don’t think there’s anyone else from the epoch who could have written the story of Chechnya from the inside, and I’ve read a lot of books from Russia, including some brilliant books by Russian, but actually to have Akhmed at the negotiating table with Yeltsin, being afraid of being poisoned, flying in and out, meeting Boris Berezovksy, these people are almost mythical, but actually, in the book they come to life as real characters, and I was talking, last week I interviewed Svetlana Alexievich, the Nobel Prize winner from Belarus, and talking to her about Anna Politkovskaya, and she was saying that she met her in 2005, about a year before she was murdered in Moscow, and Anna at that point was enormously frustrated because she could not communicate the horror of Chechnya, of what was going on there, to the West, she felt the West didn’t understand, wasn’t getting it, on some profound level, and I think what this book does is explain to an Anglo-Saxon audience what it was like to be there, why it’s important, and why this struggle, this record of struggle, is useful not just for now, but for future generations of Chechens, both in Chechnya and outside, so Akhmed, I congratulate you, I think you’ve done a very important thing.

Akhmed Zakayev: Thank you.

[Applause]

Dr Andrew Foxall: Thank you, Luke, we now have about 15 minutes, excuse me, for Q&A, if individuals would like to ask a question, please just raise your hand and introduce yourself, and if you represent a particular organisation. There’s a first question here, and please, say if your question is directed to any particular individual or indeed if it’s for the panel as a whole, please.

Audience Member 1: Thank you very much. Ian Grant, I’m a former law enforcement intelligence analyst who covered the ex-Soviet states, I’m now independent, I’ve worked for European programmes [inaudible] Ukraine and Central Asia, and I heartily endorse your comments on the West and particularly Western European [inaudible]. Some things I came across were absolutely staggering. My question is for all of you, but particularly to yourself, what is the reaction in continental Europe, either for the English language publication or any possible other languages, particularly given that there’s really no excuse now for it not being on the agenda, particularly in Germany, given the recent murder in Berlin which really means that there’s no excuse for not taking a close look and thinking, what the hell is going on and what Russia is up to. Thank you.

Akhmed Zakayev: Thank you for the question. I’m happy my translator is really close to me now.

[Laughter]

Akhmed Zakayev: In order to explain this exactly I will try to explain what ‘s going on in Europe just now, but for me it’s easier to do it in Russian, okay? He will translate me. [Akhmed Zakayev speaks in Russian]

Dr Arch Tait (translating): During the entire history of the confrontation between Russia and Chechnya…

Akhmed Zakayev: [speaks in Russian]

Dr Arch Tait (translating): …the greatest victory of those who were trying to subjugate the Chechens…

Akhmed Zakayev: [speaks in Russian]

Dr Arch Tait (translating): …the top guy really has been Putin, and how he managed to do it is…

Akhmed Zakayev: [speaks in Russian]

Dr Arch Tait (translating): …already back from the times of the Caucasian War there have been people in Western Europe who sympathised and supported the Chechens.

Akhmed Zakayev: [speaks in Russia]

Dr Arch Tait (translating): Since the recent wars, beginning from 1994 and continuing through until maybe 2006…

Akhmed Zakayev: [speaks in Russian]

Dr Arch Tait (translating): …Western society was very supportive and approving of the Chechen leadership.

Akhmed Zakayev: [speaks in Russian]

Dr Arch Tait (translating): And we were conscious of this moral support coming from Western European societies.

Akhmed Zakayev: [speaks in Russian]

Dr Arch Tait (translating): But the Russian intelligence services managed to change this image, this understanding of what was actually happening in Chechnya and with the Chechen people.

Akhmed Zakayev: [speaks in Russian]

Dr Arch Tait (translating): This was particularly the case when the perception of the Chechen events was moved into the category of the War on Terror, and in particular when the so-called Caucasian Imamate was founded.

Akhmed Zakayev: [speaks in Russian]

Dr Arch Tait (translating): They found, Western leaders actually found this rather convenient because they had difficulty in reacting to reports of people like Anna Politkovskaya or Luke Harding, and this enabled them to take a step backwards and to take a softer line on Putin.

Akhmed Zakayev: [speaks Russian]

Dr Arch Tait (translating): When then people inspired by the FSB [inaudible] started arguing that they were actually fighting not for Chechen independence, but for jihad.

Akhmed Zakayev: [speaks Russian]

Dr Arch Tait (translating): This was very convenient for all the international organisations just to wash their hands of the Chechen problem.

Akhmed Zakayev: [speaks Russian]

Dr Arch Tait (translating): So there’s a very important parallel here with the Baltic states, which for over 50 years were occupied by the Soviets, and the West really did very little to support them. And now, the important thing is for us to keep alive the flame of the Chechen struggle, so that when the time comes, when circumstance change, it’ll be clear that the realities are rather different from the way they’re represented by the Russian side and willingly accepted by Western Europe.

Akhmed Zakayev: I’m sorry, maybe a little bit longer, but this is [the] answer.

[Laughter]

Dr Andrew Foxall: Paul, Luke, okay, please.

Audience Member 2: My name is [inaudible], I’m a Russian-American journalist and editor, at the [inaudible]. My question to you, Mr Zakayev, you flew in to the airport right around the time of September 11th to speak to your counterpart, a Russian general, you’re the only person who ever negotiated directly with the Russians, after Putin came to power, from your side, and you had that one meeting where the Turkish envoy took you from the airport to see the Russian general at the [inaudible], and what happened?

Akhmed Zakayev: Okay, it’s a good question, thank you for this. [speaks Russian]

Dr Arch Tait (translating): In 2001 when I was the special representative of the President…

Akhmed Zakayev: [speaks Russian]

Dr Arch Tait (translating): …this was in the wake of the tragedy in America, the 9/11…

Akhmed Zakayev: [speaks Russian]

Dr Arch Tait (translating): …Putin made a declaration.

Akhmed Zakayev: [speaks Russian]

Dr Arch Tait (translating): And he touched on two aspects in his rather extensive statement.

Akhmed Zakayev: [speaks Russian]

Dr Arch Tait (translating): The first was that Russia entirely supports the international coalition in the fight against terrorism.

Akhmed Zakayev: [speaks Russian]

Dr Arch Tait (translating): But in return, he wanted the international community to recognise the struggle in Chechnya as part of the War on Terror.

Akhmed Zakayev: [speaks Russian]

Dr Arch Tait (translating): Nevertheless, it’s on record, Condoleezza Rice said: “It’s impossible for us to recognise the legitimate struggle of the Chechen people for independence as somehow falling within the parameters of the War on Terror.

Akhmed Zakayev: [speaking Russian]

Dr Arch Tait (translating): And Putin demanded that the Chechens should immediately embark on negotiations with his representative General Kazantsev.

Akhmed Zakayev: [speaking Russian]

Dr Arch Tait (translating): The Russian generals were very confident that the Chechens would not accept this demand.

Akhmed Zakayev: [speaking Russian]

Dr Arch Tait (translating): Because it was phrased like an ultimatum, that the Chechens must appear no later than three days from now and must lay down their arms, etc. etc.

Akhmed Zakayev: [speaks Russian]

Dr Arch Tait (translating): The intention was to say to the Americans: “There, you see? We’ve tried to negotiate with these Chechens, but they’re just a bunch of bandits, and there’s nothing you can do about it.”

Akhmed Zakayev: [speaks Russian]

Dr Arch Tait (translating): I personally persuaded Aslan Maskhadov to respond to this call when I met him Tbilisi?

Akhmed Zakayev: [speaks Russian]

Dr Arch Tait (translating): That, in fact, it should not simply be brushed aside as an ultimatum.

Akhmed Zakayev: [speaks Russian]

Dr Arch Tait (translating): The Americans were actually very supportive and were very much in favour of the Chechens agreeing to this meeting, and so it took place. But, in fact, it led to nothing.

Akhmed Zakayev: [speaks in Russian]

Dr Arch Tait (translating): Following that, there was a provocation, the outrage in the theatre at the musical ‘Nordost’.

Akhmed Zakayev: [speaks Russian]

Dr Arch Tait (translating): Exploiting this situation, the Russians accused me of having personally organised the hostage taking in Nordost, even though I hadn’t been in Chechnya for years by that time.

Akhmed Zakayev: [speaks Russian]

Dr Arch Tait (translating): And it was really at this point that I became the object of persecution. The French and the Americans and other Europeans were saying: ” Well, if we can, if the Russians can negotiate with Zakayev, then clearly he’s a recognised representative of the Chechen people, and we should be able to negotiate with him also.

Akhmed Zakayev: And, all of these things, it’s in my second book.

[Laughter]

Akhmed Zakayev: If these two gentlemen will be so kind, and we will publish the book, you will have everything about that [inaudible].

Dr Arch Tait: It should be mentioned, perhaps, that 60 000 words of this book have already been translated.

[Laughter] [Applause]

Dr Andrew Foxall: We’re an all-male panel, and the two questions thus far have both come from males as well, so are there any females who would like to ask a question, please do. I am also aware of the time, so if there are any remaining questions, I’ll take them all at once, if I may, and then give the panel the opportunity to respond to them together. But there’s a question here, please.

Audience Member 3: [inaudible] I was wondering if you could give us a little bit of an outlook, if you now see how President Putin is establishing his order, not only in the form of a Russian empire but also in the Middle East and Syria in particular. Do you think this will encourage or discourage anyone in Chechnya still hoping for independence?

Akhmed Zakayev: [speaks Russian]

Dr Arch Tait (translating): The idea of independence is still alive among Chechens. It’s still something they feel the need for.

Akhmed Zakayev: [speaks Russian]

Dr Arch Tait (translating): But my own feeling is that from now on, really, we should seek to attain independence exclusively by political means.

Akhmed Zakayev: [speaks Russian]

Dr Arch Tait (translating): We really can’t subject our people again to the kind of bloodbath that they suffered in the past, and the fact of the matter is that, if we were to seek confrontation, it would just be a soap bubble which would burst in a day.

Akhmed Zakayev: [speaks Russian]

Dr Arch Tait (translating): There is no doubt that there will be apologies and some kind of reconciliation in the future, but the main thing is for us not to fall into a trap, not to allow ourselves to be deceived by the Russians.

Akhmed Zakayev: I am one hundred percent sure Chechnya will be free. One hundred percent [inaudible].

[laughter]

Dr Andrew Foxall: To the panel, any final comment, anything that you’d like to add?

Audience Member 4: My question is very simple. I thought that maybe you [inaudible]. Do you think to publish the book in kindle version?

Dr Andrew Foxall: To the publisher, will there be a PDF or a kindle version of the book?

Audience Member 4: I’m interested are you going to [inaudible] find the book in kindle version [inaudible], do you have that option?

Dr Paul du Quenoy: We don’t have any current plans to produce the kindle version, but we can produce, we have the technological capacity to produce e-books. The trouble with e-books, just from a business point of view, is that they’re not very popular, so I’m glad you like them, but the general trends in sales favour print volumes, and e-books are becoming increasingly less popular, contrary to all the expectations and predictions.

Audience Member 4: [Inaudible]

[Laughter]

Dr Paul du Quenoy: But less popular.

Dr Andrew Foxall: Akhmed started his comment referring to a conversation that he had with Alexander Litvinenko, so it’s only appropriate that the last question or comment comes from Marina, please.

Marina Litvinenko: Yes, Marina Litvinenko, a good friend of Akhmed Zakayev and his family. I would like to say how I’m very proud of you, and I would like to [inaudible] with this work, and I know how it was very important for you. I know how you work hard. It was not easy because it was not [an] easy time for you. It was a time checking everything, and I’d say you’ve done it so well. And thank you very much to everybody who supported Akhmed at this time. And you’re a hero.

Akhmed Zakayev: Thank you, thank you, Marina.

[Applause]

Dr Andrew Foxall: Just to bring the meeting to a close, just to echo what Paul said to begin with, there are copies of the order form for the books scattered around the room, Christmas is coming up, they make good stocking fillers.

[Laughter]

Luke Harding: It’s not Brexit.

Dr Andrew Foxall: It’s not Brexit-related.

[Laughter]

Dr Andrew Foxall: If you already have a copy, then buy another. Seriously, it has been a great pleasure, Akhmed, thank you, Luke, Arch, Paul, thank you for participating as well, thank you. Seriously, Akhmed, for everything, thank you.

[Applause]

HJS



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