The now dormant conflict between Russia and Chechnya was a continuous cycle of resistance and reprisals. During the epochs of imperialism, socialism and federation, the inhabitants of the North Caucasus blunted the Russian spearhead through asymmetrical warfare. The practice of hostage-taking is at the center of Chechen war theory. Since Russia’s first incursions into the region, the highlands have made the exchange of abductees a productive endeavor. Their imperial opponents followed suit and used Caucasian methods to quell Caucasian riots. This continued trade in life would be complemented by a trade in deaths in the nineteenth century, and during the Caucasus War terrorism became a punitive measure used by Chechens and Russians alike. The atrocities committed by both Slavs and Caucasians served as an animus for warfare that went well beyond the imperial era.
However, the events of the recent Chechen wars seem beyond the scope of this historical tactic. Global media reported that the hostage crises at the Dubrovka Theater in 2002 and at the Number One Beslan School in 2004 were attributed to foreign Wahhabi militants. On the other hand, Putin’s consolidation of authority over domestic news outlets has led to an understatement of the state terrorism perpetrated by Russian forces. However, if we try to rationalize the macabre tactics of the recent Chechen wars, we must examine the historical precedents of terrorism and hostage-taking in the Caucasus.
The imperial era
The practice of abduction by the highland tribes was commonplace long before their contact with the Slavs. Indispensable for village cavalry raids or Nabegiwas the capture of hostages as security. The kidnapping was culturally an integral part of the region – in mountaineering mythology “sport theft” was portrayed as the heroic persecution of ancestors. The Caucasian hostage-taking also had precedents in the practice of bride kidnapping that the highlands inherited from the Arab, Turkish, and Mongolian peoples who had filtered through the region over time. Mountaineers expanded such methods in the mid-16th century when Ivan the Terrible sent the first Cossack settlers to the region. The unpredictable threat of Nabegi terrorized the tsar’s expeditions. Most of the Russian prisoners were auctioned off in the Ottoman slave trade, making mountaineering robberies a profitable endeavor. By 1551, Zardom had introduced a nationwide tax to pay ransom money for abductees, while the Cossacks took matters into their own hands and held Chechen prisoners of war hostage. At the beginning of the 17th century, around 150,000 to 200,000 Russians had been captured by the highlands. These mass kidnappings later subsided under Romanov’s rule with the creation of the defensive North Caucasus line in the following century. The perimeter consisted of Cossack garrisons and watchtowers along the Terek River and allowed the Slavs and Caucasians to gradually mix as hostilities subsided. Legitimate trade largely replaced the exchange of prisoners.
Relations between mountaineers and the Russian Empire deteriorated at the beginning of the 19th century, which led the Chechens to resort to it Nabegi for self defense. In 1816 the jingoist general Alexei Yermolov was appointed commander of the Caucasus operations. He imagined the mountaineers agreeing to imperial rule and boasted of the tsar: “I would like the terror of my name to protect our borders more than chains or fortresses.” Yermolov ignited the decades-long Caucasus War by ordering his soldiers to advance across the North Caucasus line. The Russians stepped up their offensives by building forts such as Grozny, a base on the Sunzha River notorious for massacring hundreds of climbers in a single night. Yermolov also used the highland method of hostage-taking. He negotiated for Pavel Shvetsov, an officer who was kidnapped during a year Nabegby arbitrarily arresting large sections of Chechen villagers and holding them as counter hostages until the looters were obliged to do so. In addition, Yermolov ordered scorched earth offensives into the highlands, which carried out terrorism and collective punishment against the climbers. Most notable among Yermolov’s retaliatory blows was the 1819 massacre in the Chechen village of Dadi-Yurt, ordered in response to mountaineers driving away Russian workhorses. The highlands refused to surrender, so Yermolov’s Cossacks burned houses and extinguished them with cannon fire. After the sacking of Dadi-Yurt, the soldiers captured women and children while “only fourteen men survived”. The appalling, disproportionate use of force, which is an integral part of the “Yermolov system,” sparked Chechen unrest beyond the general’s demotion in 1827 and set the stage for the Murid War, the next phase of the Caucasus conflict . Yermolov’s repressive tactics had been completely undermined.
The tribes of the North Caucasus united in the following decade under the Avar imams, who used the Chechens and their tactics to resist imperial conquest. The united Caucasian imamate triumphed under the abilities of Shamil, the last imam. Shamil did Nabegi a powerful terrorist force that destroys Russian bases with its cavalry and imprisoned imperial soldiers in guerrilla ambushes. The longevity of the Murid Resistance was based on Imam Shamil’s expertise in amanaty, the diplomatic use of hostages. Shamil deterred Russian interference with captured Imperial soldiers held in underground pits, or Zindan. During his battle in the village of Tilitl in Dagestan in 1837, Shamil’s forces were encircled by General Fese’s Russian army. In return for a temporary armistice, he offered his Russian counterpart his last prisoners; Fese agreed to end the siege and gave Shamil crucial time to withdraw. The Imam proclaimed: “Giving hostages … we have made a peace with the Russian emperor.” The Murids used this crucial truce to rebuild their fortress in Ashilta on the border with Chechnya and keep Shamil at war. Shamil was also employed amanaty In 1854, two Georgian princesses were captured to rescue his son, who was being held hostage by the Russians. Despite being forced to flee in 1859, Shamil demonstrated the ability of terror and hostage-taking to combat the outnumbered forces of the Tsar.
The socialist era
At the beginning of the 20th century, amid the turmoil of the Russian Revolution, mountaineers were given another chance at freedom. Still, the mountain republic they founded was fragile and would fall under the occupation of the Red Army in 1920. The Chechens rebelled against their Bolshevik hegemony, but the actions of the Soviet secret police beheaded the resistance leadership and significantly disarmed the population at the beginning of Stalin’s five-year plans. To enforce regional efforts to collectivize agriculture in the 1930s, the Chekists revived the Murid War tactics amanaty discipline the climbers.
Regardless, the Russification and Soviet persecution of Islam would lead to another Chechen uprising that coincided with the Nazi invasion of the Soviet Union. In 1944, in retaliation for the Caucasian “cooperation” with the German enemy, Stalin commissioned collective punishment. Operation Lentil, the mass deportation of mountaineers by the NKVD to the Kazakh and Kyrgyz SSR, was a totalitarian update of Yermolov’s ethnic cleansing strategy. By mechanizing the imperial practice of state terrorism, the Soviets have effectively demoralized the Chechen cause. Systematic forced labor and exposure to the elements killed an estimated 144,704 of the 650,000 or so people who were resettled in “special settlements”. After the de-Stalinization, the survivors were allowed to return to their homeland, only to be oppressed by decades of Soviet indoctrination that sought to eradicate their cultural identity. But in the midst of the nationalist zeitgeist of the Gorbachev era, the mountaineers were once again enchanted by separatist ambitions.
The federal time
The traditional tactics of the Caucasus War resurfaced when the Chechens rose in solidarity from the crumbling Soviet Union to declare the independent Chechen Republic of Ichkeria in 1991. When Boris Yeltsin sent an invasion force to the emerging country of Jokhar Dudayev in 1994, Nabeg and amanaty became practicable, historically proven resistance methods. Hostage-taking emerged again during the First Chechen War when lightly armed guerrillas attacked convoys and kidnapped poorly prepared Russian conscripts. Using Yermolov’s counter-hostage method, Russian soldiers kidnapped Chechen villagers and used them against the warlords – this practice of gladly often involved the detention of casual civilians. The exchange of prisoners therefore thrived amid the turmoil of the First Chechen War, preserving the methods developed during the Shvetsov incident nearly two centuries earlier.
In the face of significant losses, the Russian Federation has restarted the Yermolov terrorist system. The army waged a war of annihilation; Chauvinism was almost as widespread under the Yeltsin government as it was at the beginning of the 19th century. When the insurgents drove the first Russian advance out of the Chechen capital Grozny, the Kremlin ordered the city to be destroyed by indiscriminate bombing, killing 25,000 civilians. Exactly where Yermolov built his first fort in 1818, relentless artillery strikes reflected the bravery of the imperial general. This persistent terror campaign failed to eradicate the Chechen uprising at all, but only heightened the determination of the mountaineers.
On the other hand is the contemporary capacity of amanaty was confirmed by Warlord Shamil Basayev, Dudayev’s deputy. In mid-1995 the Chechen units were pushed back into the mountains and fragmented by Russian artillery barriers. On June 14 of this year, Basayev led a detachment of climbers to the city of Budyonnovsk in the Stavropol Territory. They held 1,600 residents at gunpoint and forced them to the local hospital. They called for an immediate ceasefire and the agreement of peace talks. After a failed attack by Russian commandos, Basayev executed hostages and used human shields to deter further attempts. After five days, Yeltsin admitted and provided the militants with safe passage to Chechnya. Basayev’s actions proved crucial to the war effort. The exhausted Chechen resistance movement recovered during the armistice and regained the strength to evict Russian forces from Grozny the following year. Shamil Basayev violated international humanitarian law and renewed his namesake’s tactics. Just as Imam Shamil defended the Russian forces in Tilitl by releasing prisoners, Basayev used hostages 158 years later to blackmail the Yeltsin government to demonstrate the tactical reliability of amanaty until well into the First Chechen War.
In October 1999 Russia invaded Chechnya again under the leadership of Vladimir Putin. The military operation was “justified” by a series of apartment bombings across Russia, which Basayev and his affiliates were immediately charged with. The Kremlin willingly dubbed the conflict a “war on international terrorism”. The “courageous and dangerous people” despised by General Yermolov were targeted with the more modern term “terrorists”. The Chechen government collapsed after Putin’s well-organized invasion and launched another uprising. Chechen ambushes were quick with Nabegi Harassment of Russian departments; After their attacks, guerrillas fled through nearby villages into the mountains. These “collaborating” communities were often jointly punished with Russian artillery fire long after the militants had withdrawn. One such village was Duba-Yurt, which was destroyed by federal troops in February 2000 “out of revenge and bitter suffering for their comrades who had died”. In the same month, residents of the city of Novye Aldy asked a local Russian department to stop the artillery strikes. The next day, the special police carried out a counter-terrorism “sweep” in which households were randomly destroyed and looted. Without provocation, the soldiers shot 56 civilians. The strategic initiatives behind such retaliatory tactics were similar to those behind Yermolov’s attack on Dadi-Yurt in 1819. To deal with the people of the highlands, terror was again fought with terrorism.
The hostage-taking was also an essential element of counterinsurgency tactics during the Second Chechen War. Putin’s soldiers entered the profitable Caucasian ransom industry through the “purge” operations of zachistki. Under the guise of searching for terrorists, Russian patrols circled Chechen villages in armored vehicles, forcing civilians through “temporary filter points” where “militants” were arrested and tortured with electric shocks, beatings and mock executions. In the village of Makhety improvised soldiers Zindan with garbage pits to store prisoners – they were released as soon as the community raised enough money to pay off the Russians. If the annoying ransom was not paid in time, the “militants” disappeared. Z.Achistki developed the historically lucrative trade in prisoners into an instrument of oppression.
Initially, Russia’s use of state terrorism against the Chechens was as ineffective in the 21st century as it was in the 19th century. Relentless collective punishment and zachistki led desperate separatists to return to terrorists amanaty. Movsar Barayev, a subsidiary of Basayev, led a contingent of Chechen insurgents in October 2002 to confiscate the Dubrovka Theater in Moscow and pregnant women, in good faith. The Federal Security Service decided otherwise and pumped a fentanyl-based gas into the theater, eliminating all separatists and 139 of their prisoners. Although many of these militants had lost entire families to Russian operations, the state and global media linked the incident to international Islamic terrorism. Russian soldiers still adhered to the vengeful Yermolov system and executed the civil administrator of Alkhan-Kala, Barayev’s village.
Putin decidedly avoided repeating Budyonnovsk’s embarrassment; The resulting collateral damage was excusable in his war on terror. The overvaluation of Wahhabi extremism justified the Kremlin’s refusal to negotiate with the Chechens. Regarded by the government as irrational actors, Chechen separatists were unable to leverage amanaty. In Putin’s own words: “Russia does not negotiate with terrorists. It destroys them.” In Basayev’s next major hostage crisis in September 2004 at the number one Beslan School in North Ossetia, the Russian government blocked negotiators and limited press coverage. State outlets falsely reported that Basayev made no claims. The inevitable storm killed 334 prisoners, including 186 children. The hostage transaction was made non-negotiable as Chechen nationalism was equated with global Islamic terrorism, with even the Western media proclaiming Beslan as “Russia’s September 11th”. The separatists were still desperate to negotiate, as Basayev repeated, “I’m not a terrorist … I’m an ordinary Chechen who rose up in arms to defend his people.” Claiming that the Chechens are unreliable extremists, the Russian government rejected the historic solution amanaty and suppressed separatist requests for peace.
The Russian-Chechen struggle remained marked by terrorist reprisals well into the 21st century, in which thousands of combatants and civilians died. Despite misinterpreted claims of foreign Islamic terrorism in Moscow or Beslan, the overt war crimes committed by both Russian and Chechen belligerents were seldom unprecedented in motive and execution. After this predictable resurgence of life and trade, it appears that the Yermolov system has overcome the indigenous mountaineering tactics. The rebel doctrine of bombings and zachistki Perhaps they fulfilled Yermolov’s ambitions, because Basayev and his staff perished. With the region under the rule of the Chechen warlord and Putin loyalist Ramzan Kadyrov, the separatist movement comes to a halt and closes another chapter in the Russian-Chechen conflict. Even so, it is impossible to tell whether the “daring and dangerous” spirit of the Chechens has been defeated. After all, history has proven the stubbornness of mountaineers after decades of Russian hegemony. If separatist aspirations return, the Chechens could unleash another cycle of resistance and reprisals using the terrible, traditional tactic of Nabegi and amanaty at your disposal.
Akhmadov, Ilyas and Miriam Lanskoy. “The hostage trade.” in the The Chechen struggle Independence gained and lost. New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2010.
Baddeley, John F. The Russian conquest of the Caucasus. London: Longman, 1908.
Boykewich, Stephen. “Russia to Beslan.” Virginia Quarterly Review81, no. 1 (winter 2005). https://www.vqronline.org/dispatch/russia-after-beslan
Dunlop, John B. Russia Confronts Chechnya: Roots of a Separatist Conflict. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1998.
Dzutsati, Valery. “Despite the decline of the uprising in the North Caucasus, the Russian authorities are still careful with what remains.” Eurasia Daily Monitor17 no. 71 (2020). https://jamestown.org/program/despite-demise-of-insurgency-in-north-caucasus-russian-authorities-still-wary-of-its-remnants/
Evangelista, Matthew. The Chechnya Wars: Will Russia Go the Way of the Soviet Union? Washington: Brookings Institution Press, 2002.
Gilligan, Emma. Terror in Chechnya: Russia and the Civilian Tragedy at War. Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2010.
Grant, Bruce. The Prisoner and the Gift: Cultural Stories of Sovereignty in Russia and the United States Caucasus. Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 2009.
King, Charles. The Spirit of Freedom: A History of the Caucasus. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2008.
Meier, Andrew. Chechnya: At the heart of a conflict. New York: W. W. Norton, 2003.
Moore, Cerwyn. “Counterinsurgency and hostage-taking in the North Caucasus.” The Central Asia-Caucasus AnalystAugust 23, 2006.
Politkovskaya, Anna. A little corner in Hell: programs from Chechnya. Translated by Alexander Barry and Tatiana Tulchinsky. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2003.
“Russia has never negotiated with terrorists, including Chechen separatist leader Aslan Maskhadov.” President of Russia. February 6, 2004. http://en.kremlin.ru/events/president/news/30315
Toft, Monica D., and Yuri M. Zhukov. “Islamists and Nationalists: Rebel Motivation and Counterinsurgency in Russia’s North Caucasus.” American Political Science Review109 no. 2 (2005). https://scholar.harvard.edu/files/zhukov/files/toftzhukov_2013_0.pdf
 Dzutsati: “Despite the decline of the uprising in the North Caucasus, the Russian authorities are still careful with what remains.”
 Boykewich: “Russia to Beslan.”
 Moore, “Counterinsurgency and Hostage-Taking in the North Caucasus”.
 Grant, The Prisoner and the Gift: Cultural Stories of Sovereignty in Russia and the Caucasus67-68.
 Ibid, 23.
 King, The Spirit of Freedom: A History of the Caucasus30-41.
 Dunlop, Russia Confronts Chechnya: Roots of a Separatist Conflict14th
 Baddeley, The Russian conquest of the Caucasus107-108.
 King, 54.
 Baddeley, 132.
 Dunlop, 17th
 King, 80-81.
 Meier, Chechnya: At the heart of a conflict39.
 Baddeley, 302-305.
 Ibid, 306-307.
 King, 58.
 Ibid, 187.
 Dunlop, 51-52.
 Ibid, 57.
 Ibid, 62-70.
 King, 211.
 Evangelista, The Chechnya Wars: Will Russia Go the Way of the Soviet Union?37-39.
 Akhmadov and Lanskoy, The Chechen struggle: independence won and lost102.
 Evangelista, 33.
 King, 235-237.
 Gilligan, Terror in Chechnya: Russia and the Civilian Tragedy at War127-129.
 Evangelista, 40-42.
 Gilligan, 206.
 Dunlop, 14th
 Politkovskaya, A little corner in Hell: programs from Chechnya46.
 Gilligan, 55-58.
 Ibid, 62-65.
 Politkovskaya, 47-50.
 Toft and Zhukov, “Islamists and Nationalists,” 25.
 Gilligan, 134.
 Ibid, 135.
 Politkovskaya, 222.
 Toft and Zhukov, 21.
 President of Russia.
 Gilligan, 143.
 Ibid, 129.
Written To: Colgate University
Written for: Professor Alice Nakhimovsky
Date written: December 2019
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