Accessibility links

Breaking News

Caucasus Report: July 31, 2002

31 July 2002, Volume 1, Number 3
FUND ESTABLISHED TO HELP REBUILD CHECHEN UNIVERSITY. The University of Chechnya, virtually destroyed during the course of the conflict in Chechnya, is unlikely to be rebuilt without assistance from outside the region. The student body once included students from throughout the Caucasus, the rest of the Russian Federation, and abroad. The institution's three main buildings in Grozny have since been leveled.

But a movement is afoot to reconstruct the 30-year-old university. A group that includes renowned scientists, Russian administration officials, and businesspeople from Russia and the Chechen Republic met with Moscow State University Rector Viktor Sadovnichii in late April to discuss that effort. University of Chechnya Rector Hamzaev Adnan stressed after the meeting that the facility will not be restored any time soon without assistance from the international community. The United Nations Educational, Scientific, and Cultural Organization, or UNESCO, reportedly has already pledged to assist with funding and in supporting the teaching staff.

With such aid in mind, the group decided to establish an international fund to rehabilitate the University of Chechnya. Former Soviet Foreign Minister and Foreign Association President Aleksandr Bessmertnykh was appointed to head the reconstruction fund. Its founding organizations include the Association of Russian University Presidents, the Association of Eurasian Universities, the Kyiv Polytechnic Institute, representatives from the Chechen public administration, Russian Federation legislators, and scientists.

Backers hope to return the institution to its former self. Battered by the 1994-96 Chechen conflict, its buildings were some of the first to fall when war returned to the region in 1999. All three buildings, along with laboratories, libraries, and dormitories, have been destroyed. Most of its scientific community has left the republic, and its textbooks are gone or destroyed. At one point, there was one book available for an entire department.

Aside from the UNESCO support, Moscow State University has promised to aid with instructors and textbooks. The fund itself is expected to focus on bringing lecturers and students from other universities.

Less than two years ago, the university was home to nearly 10,000 students, according to the Institute for War and Peace Reporting, which noted that the University of Chechnya was one of 11 technical colleges in the republic. (Suriane Martanova)

ABDURASHID ZAGALIEV, A WWII VETERAN FROM DAGHESTAN. Born in Chokh and currently a resident of Moscow, 80-year-old Abdurashid ZagAliyev is a spry, clear-headed man with a lively sense of humor. One of Daghestan's oldest living veterans of World War II, ZagAliyev was recently interviewed by RFE/RL's Abdurashid Saidov. Saidov asked the former soldier, sculptor, and veterinarian to recall some of his experiences. The following is an edited version of that conversation:

RFE/RL: Where and when did you first hear news of the war, and how did your life change as a result?

Abdurashid Zagaliev: In those days, I worked in Buinaksk as a veterinarian. Although by the 1940s I was at the right age for army recruitment and perfectly fit and healthy for the army, I was rejected. They said that I was the son of an enemy of the state, and instead of drafting me they put me on the reserve list. By the year 1938, my father -- an honest and rich man -- had been imprisoned. Despite the fact that our forefathers had served the state as military and security personnel, my father was executed by the NKVD [Soviet secret police], and his family was left without food or shelter. My grandfather and great-grandfather were both colonels in the tsar's army. My uncle was killed in 1915 in World War I; I was named after him to honor his memory. And another uncle served in the army under the famous Marshal Konstantin Rokossovskii as a senior sergeant. He received an award from Rokossovskii's hands personally. I still remember our 1,139th regiment, based near the Rostov region. We walked barefoot, without even weapons, all the way to Stalingrad when we heard about the German invasion. We walked for one week in minus-40-to-42-degree [Celsius], freezing weather, and many of our fellow soldiers died of cold before they arrived. Many had to have their frozen hands or feet amputated. Those who hear these horror stories cannot believe that doomsday really existed.

RFE/RL: Do our films reflect the facts of that war?

Abdurashid Zagaliev: Our cinema was always colorful, and movies did not quite reflect the true picture and did not show its pitfalls either. We were armed in Stalingrad and sent to Donbas and Kharkov. By 1942, our armed division had attacked the German military base of Barbenko near Kharkov, where we ransacked their food and weapon supplies. At the same time, we were cut off from [Red Army] main forces and had to defend ourselves in a blockade. The supplies we got from them helped us to survive until our soldiers came to rescue us in May. Survival was relatively easy because we had enough food, including chocolate, vodka, cigarettes, and coffee. These foodstuffs helped us to live until May. Our regiment, which was in the Rostov region together with two other regiments, was surrounded by German forces and was captured by the Nazis. Under the escort of Germans, some 800 soldiers in a kilometer-long chain of military prisoners walked toward an unknown destination.

I escaped from captivity on the first day by hiding in a cornfield. I managed to flee. Exhausted [and] without food or shoes, I crossed the Don River and came to Budenovsk several days later, where I found no forces, either German or our own. There were warehouses of wine and vodka, and because of the absence of authority, people robbed these storage places. From there, I went searching for our army in neighboring Stavropol -- only to be imprisoned. Thank God that after the interrogation I was recognized by one of my former senior commanders and released shortly thereafter. The fascists were approaching and we had to retreat. [Our] commander led us through woods and fields all night, and when the sun rose we discovered that we had been circling around the same place.

RFE/RL: What do you think of politicians today?

Abdurashid Zagaliev: There are some who allocate a lot of money to culture, health care, and charitable activities -- [State Duma Deputy] Gadzhimurad Omarov and [Avar national movement leader and State Duma Deputy] Gadzhi Makhachev, for example. I am grateful to Makhachev: He bought a beautiful statue of [Avar- and Russian-language poet] Rasul Gamzatov from me. He also bought a big statue of [19th-century resistance leader] Imam Shamil. It is said that he set it up on his lawn. Now I sell my works for a reduced price, but in the past I had orders from the government for a statue of Lenin and others. Now there are hardly any orders from government institutions. How about the statues of Ullubyi Buinaksk, in the town of Buinaksk; Efendi Capieva; and Hamzat Tsadasa in front of the Avar Theater in Makhachkala? Aren't they good pieces of art? These are but a few of my numerous outstanding treasures. Though I am old now, I have the desire to work and have creative plans for the future.

CHECHEN HISTORY, LANGUAGE GO HAND IN HAND. The subject of countless local poems and writings in praise of its beauty, the development of the Chechen language has mirrored that of the nation. Looking solely at the language, one can track the way Chechen experiences with Arabs, Mongols, Turks, and Persians left their marks.

One of the best-known sources of information on Chechen history is Umalat Laudaev and his groundbreaking work, "The Chechen Nation." Uncomfortable with the prospect of leaving the chronicling of Chechen history to Russian writers, he is regarded as one of the first modern Chechen historians. A former Russian Army officer in the Caucasus, Laudaev is credited with revealing many of Chechen culture's hidden beauties.

Laudaev was born in 1828 in the village of Nomiz-Yurt (Lomaz-Yurt). At eight, his father sent him to live with Ingush. Three years later, he was sent as a cadet to a military school in St. Petersburg. After his graduation, he worked throughout the Russian regions for the next 15 years. In the 1840s, Laudaev participated in the suppression of revolutionary efforts and was decorated for his military service to tsarist Russia. Three years before the conclusion of the Caucasian War, he was dispatched to that conflict as a senior officer, where he led a battalion at Grozny for two years. Laudaev retired from the Russian military of his own accord in 1858, one year before Imam Shamil was to surrender.

With little money and in the absence of any military salary, Laudaev wrote "The Chechen Nation." In it, he chronicled the history of the Chechen nation and its religions, explored the Chechen character and nature, and described the land and its resources. Throughout the book, he placed great value on Chechen custom and tradition. But Laudaev also asserted that the widespread acceptance of Islam among Chechens was a key development. Their new faith led to fewer quarrels among Chechens and unified the nation, Laudaev wrote.

Reinvigorating The Language

Chechen scientists and academics are meanwhile convinced that their language should be protected and otherwise renewed, at the same time pointing to several reasons for its current condition. First, there is the destruction of the education system alongside fighting that has plagued the republic since it first broke out in 1994. Second, the Grozny-based Institute of Research on the Chechen Language was destroyed during the conflict, leaving questions as to what, if any, scientific works on the language remain. And third, the Chechen language heard by most residents of Chechnya today on television and radio is made up of about 20 percent Russian words.

In a recent article in "Groznenskii rabochii" titled "Why We Need To Protect The Chechen Language," the author stresses that "the language is a particularity of a nation." The current, chaotic situation implies rapid and sweeping development, he says. He asserts that Chechens today are relatively powerless to protect their mother tongue, its pillars and its unique characteristics. "Vestnik" and "Bulletin" are now published by the Chechen diaspora, he adds, and are of high graphic quality in addition to tackling major issues. Still, the author counters, they are of questionable value. He calls for a long-term project aimed at informing children about the wonders of the world in Chechen and for other Chechen-language children's literature. But he considers the use of Chechen in administration, politics, education, and in people's daily lives essential. (Lyoma Chabaev, Amina Umarova)