Thursday, October 7, 2004
Khassan Baiev, a Chechen surgeon, discusses his experiences as a doctor during the first and second Chechen Wars. He also addresses how the Chechen population is suffering from the overall impact of the wars on their physical and mental health. He is accompanied by Nicholas Daniloff, who helped author Baiev’s book, The Oath: A Chechen Surgeon Under Fire.
BRIDGET CONLEY: Thank you all very much for coming. I don’t know how many of you originally tried to attend our July 14 event, but we had invited Dr. Baiev to join us this summer, and I believe as one of the hurricane-related incidents, he got stuck on the runway in Boston. But we are very pleased that we were able to get him down here again for the first time for us, anyway, to speak with some of the people who have been following Chechnya events through our programs.
His book came out about a year ago--almost exactly a year--and it is one of the best books, I must say, on Chechnya, offering an insight that I think none of the other more political analysis perspectives can, because you are reading the story of someone who cares passionately and dearly for his culture and watching it under this incredible force of destruction.
We are very honored to have Dr. Khassan Baiev with us today and Mr. Nicholas Daniloff, who wrote the book with him along with this wife, Ruth Daniloff. I won’t do too much of an introduction to Khassan, because so much of what he has to say will tell you the story of who he is and how he has come to be here in the United States. I will just say briefly that I work at the Committee on Conscience at the Holocaust Museum here. Our mandate is to address contemporary threats of genocide, and we have issued a genocide watch for Chechnya. You can find out more about why we are working on Chechnya, the things that we have done in the past, and the position that we take in Chechnya on our website, which is ushmm.org/confront-genocide. Without further talk from me, I would like to turn the table to Dr. Khassan Baiev.
KHASSAN BAIEV: It is a great honor for me to speak at the Holocaust Museum, which has done so much to educate the work about genocide. I thank the Museum for including Chechnya on its watch list of countries and ethnic groups in danger of elimination. We are all painfully aware of what is happening in Sudan.
Please forgive my English. In the war with Russia, I suffered three concussions, and I was in a coma for a week. Before the war, I had a good memory. Now, I sometimes have difficulty finding words. I suffer from what you call “senior moments.”
I want to say right away how upset I am by what is happening in Beslan. I condemn these attacks in the strongest possible terms. There is no excuse for killing innocent civilians, absolutely no excuse for killing children. The scenes of wounded children and grieving parents remind me of my work as a wartime surgeon in Chechnya. I want you to know that the terrorist attack on Beslan has hurt Chechnya’s centuries-long struggle to run its own affairs.
Experts argue about the definition of genocide, but I think I can say I know genocide when I see it. In my opinion, genocide is happening in Chechnya. About one-quarter of the population of one million has been killed during the current barbaric conflict with Russia. Forty-two thousand of them were children. Translated into American terms, this would amount to 30 million Americans being killed. Fifty percent of the population now lives outside the borders of Chechnya, in Russia, in Europe, and in the United States. A [inaudible] friend tells me that when half of a nation’s population lives outside its borders, that nation no longer really exists.
Tonight I want to start by giving you some background about Chechnya. Chechnya is the size of Connecticut and had a pre-war population of just over one million. The first war began in 1994 and concluded in 1996. The second war began in 1999 and still goes on. The conflict began as a war of independence. Unfortunately, ten years of war have radicalized some groups who have turned to terrorism as a last resort.
Most people can’t find Chechnya on the map. They know nothing about our history, which goes back thousands of years. They know nothing of our traditions, of our 400-year struggle to be free. They don’t know that in 1944, Stalin deported the whole nation to Siberia in Central Asian cattle cars. In February 26, the European Parliament recognized the deportation as an act of genocide.
In April 2000, I escaped from Chechnya with the help of Physicians for Human Rights and another humanitarian organization. At the time, both sides in the conflict wanted me dead. The Russians wanted me dead because I treated Chechen fighters. Some Chechen extremists wanted me dead because I treated Russian soldiers.
In my book, I have written about the horrors of war. Make no mistake--war is evil. There are no winners in war. However, I did not only write about violence. I also write about the Chechen people, who have been so unfairly described as international terrorists in the post-9/11 world. I write about my childhood. I describe my friends and family. I talk about individuals who have brought honor to our nation as well as those who have brought shame. I write about our culture, which is struggling to survive against terrible odds. I want my readers to see us as human beings with a capacity for love, anger, and sorrow.
In Chechnya as in all modern wars, the civilians are the main victims. The United Nations estimates that in wars today, 90 percent of the victims are civilians. At the beginning of the last century, only 5 percent of civilians were victims in war. Today Chechnya is a medical disaster area. Much of the country is covered with land mines-- some 500,000 mines, by most estimates. UNICEF estimates that 10,000 people have been killed by mines, mostly women and children. During the wars, the Russians used defoliants on trees. This poison produces skin sores and intestinal disorders. I believe the contaminated environment is responsible for the increased rate of cancer and blood diseases such as leukemia in children. The infant mortality rate during the first year of life is very high. In Chechnya, it stands at 26 per 1,000 compared to 18 per 1,000 in Russia, or 7 per 1,000 in the United States. Chechen pediatricians estimate that one children in three is born with a birth defect. I recall a mother coming to me with her baby who was born with two extra eyes, two extra ears, and a hole instead of a nose.
It is not only physical disease which is plaguing the population. In my opinion, the whole nation is suffering from post-traumatic stress. People are nervous. They suffer from memory loss, insomnia and depression. Suicide and suicide attempts are common. Men in their twenties have heart attacks. General stress dries up mothers’ milk. The incidence of tuberculosis among children is very high.
As a doctor working in Chechnya during the war, I worked almost all the time without electricity, without water or heat. I operated outside in the snow, in cellars, on kitchen tables, and on the floor. I had to find ways of working with diminishing supplies. For example, when my antiseptic solution ran out, I made salt solutions of oil with strength to clean wounds. Sometimes I told my patients to use their own urine to wash off outer wounds.
I had no surgical saw, so I did amputations with an ordinary hacksaw. I performed brain operations with a carpenter’s drill. When my suture thread ran out, I used ordinary household thread soaked in alcohol. I never threw out my rubber gloves. I boiled them and made their fingers into drainage tools.
One of my worst problems was lack of anesthesia. I had no general anesthetic. I did all the amputations with local anesthetic, one percent lidocaine, the kind your dentist uses when filling cavities. As I amputated, I would inject lidocaine [inaudible] into different areas of the limb that I was cutting off.
I fear for the future of my country. The continual conflict is undermining our culture. A whole generation is growing up without education, without medical help, and with hatred of Russia. You might think it strange, but never a day goes by when I don’t wish I was back in Chechnya. I feel guilty that I am living in the comfort of America when there is so much suffering in my own country.
Two years ago, I took over the leadership of the International Committee for the Children of Chechnya. Through this nonprofit organization, I hope to help child victims of the war. You will see these fliers. We recently adopted a school for deaf children in Grozny. Many of those children lost their hearing because of the bombing. This school is housed in a bombed-out building with no electricity or water. Our first goal was to provide the school with teachers qualified to teach the deaf. We had arranged for the teachers to receive special training in Moscow. We had planned on buying some modern equipment to test hearing, and we selected an ear, nose, and throat specialist to come to Moscow to train our teachers on the equipment.
Then, Beslan happened, and all of our plans fell apart. Every Chechen today is viewed with suspicion in Russia. The teachers were frightened to come to Moscow.
If I have a single thought which I would like you to take home this evening, it is this--the population of Chechnya is suffering horribly, and particularly the children. The population of Chechnya is under attack. When we get a chance, we must do something to save them.
Thank you for listening to me. Now I would like to ask Nicholas Daniloff to read from my book.
NICHOLAS DANILOFF: I’m going to read a few pages from Khassan’s book, “The Oath,” and let me just introduce this section by telling you that in the course of the second war, one of the curious characters in Chechnya was a Chechen criminal by the name of Arbi Barayev, and Arbi Barayev seemed to be working for the Russians. He seemed to be enthralled with the notion that power grows under the barrel of a gun, and he was very quick to execute anybody he didn’t like on the spot.
On one occasion, Arbi Barayev came to Khassan’s hospital because he essentially accused Khassan of treating Russians. I will now read this passage.
[Begin book excerpt]
“Barayev’s men marched me into my office and pushed me into the far right-hand corner of the room. I stood in the corner with my back to the wall, flanked by two guards cradling rifles. I couldn’t see Barayev’s face because he sat with his back to me. He had commandeered my chair at the head of the table--the place where I addressed the staff each morning.
The room felt glacial, the kind of cold that penetrates your bones. Under my bloodstained scrubs, I wore several sweaters. My feet felt numb, and I tensed my muscles to stop my limbs from shaking. The last thing I wanted was for Barayev and his henchmen to think that I was frightened.”
“Barayev placed his six senior lieutenants on either side of the table, rifles propped against the chairs. He had selected these bearded men in black woolen ski caps from his private army to make up a Shariat court. He called his men ‘emirs.’ Now, ‘emir’ is not a Chechen word. In Arabic, it means ‘commander.’ Barayev referred to himself as the ‘chief emir.’ Frankly, I doubted that Barayev would recognize a Shariat court if he saw one. The judges of a Shariat court must know Arabic and be able to read the Koran in the original. There was no Koran in evidence, and the proceedings were a charade meant to appease the people of Alkhan Kala who would protest Barayev, having executed their only doctor, namely, me. He could declare the Shariat court found him guilty--it was the court’s decision--Allah’s will.
Barayev sat addressing his men, and he said: ‘We are here to judge this man. He is a good surgeon, but he is running a hospital for the enemy.’ He turns to the men on his right: ‘I am asking you all to voice your opinions.’
The first man stood up. ‘The Russians drive up to his house in a personnel carrier. He jumps on board, and they drive off together. It’s clear to everyone that he’s working for the Russians.’”
Then another one stood up. ‘During the Operation Jihad, we have the right to put traitors to death.’ And then a third. ‘We are at war, and according to any military tribunal, he would be condemned to the firing squad for saving the lives of our enemies.’ Then a fourth man stood up. ‘He is treating Russian pigs. Execute him.’
The rest of my sins were punctuated by rounds of mortar fire outside. The Russian attack against Barayev and his contingent had begun at the edge of town near the grain elevator. I heard an explosion which turned out to be the blowing up of an armored personnel carrier, and shortly, more wounded were brought into the hospital. I could hear yelling in the corridors.”
“Barayev announced to his ‘emirs’: ‘So, we are all in agreement that you should be executed. The Shariat court now gives you the right to have the last word. What do you say?’
I think he expected me to beg for mercy, but I was determined to say what I thought of him and his court. I had nothing to lose. Whatever I said or didn’t say wouldn’t make any difference. The decision had already been made. What did surprise me, though, was that Barayev was more concerned with his Shariat court than with the fighting between the Russians and his men, which was clearly intensifying.
So I began: ‘I opened a hospital,’ I said, ‘for my fellow townspeople and refugees and people who needed my help. Today I evacuated 70 patients to save them from the Russians. Half of them were Chechen fighters. The townspeople know very well I am not a traitor. They know I operate on them. So, for you to say that I am a traitor is nonsense. I live by the Koran. It is true I am not a scholar, and I have not read the Koran completely, but I do know that it says to do good to others. The Koran says to help the needy. You don’t have any idea what’s written in the Koran. Your war is the war of the Kalashnikov rifle. You came here to execute me. Your presence will bring casualties to the people of Alkhan Kala, and you are going to kill me so I can’t help them.’”
The emirs fidgeted and stroked their beards. ‘And one more thing,’ I added directly to Barayev, ‘have you forgotten that in 1995, when you asked for help, I operated on you--how I removed a bullet from your neck, saved your life. You order me to be put to death--a strange way to express your gratitude. Have you forgotten that people suffer the same as you and ask for my help??
At that moment, there was another explosion, this time nearer to the hospital. The window frames rattled. The emirs looked at each other in surprise, but kept silent. They may not have known about my help to Barayev. I stood in the corner, wondering what Barayev would do next. Panicked voices filled the corridor. ‘Where is the doctor? We need a doctor?’ A door slammed, and I heard someone running down the corridor. Barayev jumped to his feet, strode to the door, flung it open. A Barayev guard shouted, ‘Wounded fighters--four Russians, two Russians, four fighters.’
Barayev turned to his emirs. ‘Guard him,’ he commanded. ‘He can treat our people first. Then, before leaving, we’ll execute him.’ For the next 36 hours, my favorite nurse, Rumani [ph], and I worked around-the-clock in the operating room, taking only an occasional cat nap when our concentration gave out. While we operated, Russian artillery pounded the town, and Barayev’s men fought gun battles with the [inaudible]. The window and door frame of the hospital blew in; then, the sandbags we had piled against the outside walls of the operating room fell down; then, the road took a direct hit. The houses surrounding the hospital which gave us some protection took numerous hits and finally burst into flames.
In this commotion, Barayev disappeared. Even his own men were gone.
[End book excerpt]
I think at this point, we’ll show you a few slides, and Khassan and I will comment on them a little bit, and then, if you have any questions, we’ll take them.
As you can see, that is the cover of the book. Let me just tell you a little bit about what’s on the cover, because it is not immediately obvious.
At the bottom, you see the Chechen fighters driving their wounded to Khassan’s hospital, and up at the top, you see Khassan drinking a cup of tea. Now, that picture was taken of him after he had been operating for 48 hours without stopping. And during those 48 hours, he did 67 amputations and 7 brain surgeries. So, knowing that background, it is really a dramatic story.
Khassan, do you want to talk a little bit about this? This is more on the cultural line.
KHASSAN BAIEV: These are mountains in it looks like [inaudible.]
NICHOLAS DANILOFF: And here, you have a picture of Grozny. This was taken during the first war, which was between 1994 and 1996. The town was very largely destroyed; in many respects, it looks like Hiroshima or Nagasaki today. And even President Putin when he came recently into Chechnya was amazed and said he didn’t realize how much destruction had been done by the Russian military shelling essentially what were supposed to be their own people.
But this picture also tells you that life goes on despite all the horrors of destruction.
KHASSAN BAIEV: This is my small operating room. I removed an eye with shrapnel [inaudible].
NICHOLAS DANILOFF: And isn’t that Rumani who is standing behind the girl with the face mask? I think that is Rumani. The young man in the background is Ali [ph], who is Khassan’s nephew, who helped him and was a medical assistant.
KHASSAN BAIEV: These are Russian civilians a woman [inaudible] also brought to my hospital, wounded in the shoulder by Russian snipers.
NICHOLAS DANILOFF: Her left shoulder was hit by a sniper. Khassan removed the shrapnel, sewed her up, and then he did for her what he did for a number of other patients. He put her in a dugout shelter that was on the territory of the hospital. A little bit later, a Russian cleaning-up operation came by, took one look at the patients in this dugout, threw in a live grenade, and killed everybody.
KHASSAN BAIEV: This is my nurse, Rumani. She is sterilizing instruments in alcohol.
NICHOLAS DANILOFF: And here, Khassan has his carpenter’s hacksaw. He was about to amputate the hand of one of his co-villagers. And actually, [inaudible] of that saw, and that saw has its own interesting little story, because it didn’t belong to the hospital--it belonged to a neighbor. A during one of these operations, Khassan was all set to amputate using the saw, but the saw disappeared because its owner had taken it to build a set of bookshelves, and they had to run out of the operating room and repossess the saw in the middle of the operation.
KHASSAN BAIEV: This the famous Commander [inaudible] also brought to my hospital. I amputated his right leg.
NICHOLAS DANILOFF: And one should say that Barayev recently explained that he was involved in the Beslan tragedy, and the Russians had put a $10 million bounty on his head. In fact, at this time, which was in the second war, the Russians had put a $1 million bounty on his head, and they are furious at Khassan because, instead of accepting the $1 million bounty, he saved his life. This is the problem with doctors in wartime--where is [inaudible]? We know in our own Civil War, the problem that Dr. Mudd got into for treating John Wilkes Booth.
KHASSAN BAIEV: This is an [inaudible] amputation. I am consulting relatives in the hospital.
NICHOLAS DANILOFF: And what is perhaps not all that clear about this picture is the amount of blood that is everywhere. You can see blood on the patient, blood on the floor, blood on Khassan’s rubber gloves. You get the sense, I think, from this picture of how desperate the situation was and under what desperate conditions medical people had to work. Again, it is [inaudible] going out of its mind. Khassan?
KHASSAN BAIEV: This is [inaudible] bandages.
NICHOLAS DANILOFF: Khassan is putting on--he is a wonderful bandage [inaudible]; he has treated me for a few [inaudible]. He is skilled at doing bandages; he’s incredible. But one of the interesting things about this picture is that the boy is his nephew, and the nephew, incidentally, was arrested by the Russians and held in a pit for 39 days and finally was released on a ransom of $10,000, which Khassan [inaudible]. And finally, Khassan was able to get him to the United States, and he is currently on Nantucket, working.
KHASSAN BAIEV: This is an innocent victim, also [inaudible] in my hospital. His face and body is burned.
NICHOLAS DANILOFF: An innocent burn victim. And here in the slide show--and we only have a few slides left, and unfortunately, this slide now is a little bit out-of-date--but Khassan here is turning his attention to the condition that Chechnya is in today and the disastrous medical situation.
This boy stepped on a land mine which I think was disguised as a toy, and it blew off his left foot. If you take a look at what is happening in Chechnya and look at the number of casualties there, and you compare it to the number of casualties in Iraq, for example, the comparison is horrifying, because the casualty rate in Chechnya is really [inaudible].
And here, Khassan is focusing on the medical crisis in Chechnya. I think one of the most dramatic one of these statistics is that somewhere between 25 percent and 33 percent of newborns are born with birth defects. We wonder what’s going to happen with this next generation which, as Khassan said in his remarks, are growing up without education but also growing up with a hatred of this force that is invading their territory and is killing them. And yet Chechnya, whatever happens, is going to have to live with Russia--Chechnya and Russia are going to have to [inaudible] one way or another.
KHASSAN BAIEV: These are children in the deaf school.
NICHOLAS DANILOFF: Khassan mentioned to you that he is running the International Committee for the Children of Chechnya, and we have some fliers here, which you are welcome to take. And this is a picture of some of the children of this school in Grozny that the Committee has founded.
KHASSAN BAIEV: These are teachers, teaching [inaudible].
NICHOLAS DANILOFF: She is essentially trying to teach how to talk with your hands, sign language. And again, this is the same--of course, the language that it is being taught in is Russian. Chechens speak both Chechen and Russian, and here, this is a lesson [inaudible].
So, that brings us to the end of the slide show, and we would be pleased to try to answer questions.
QUESTIONS AND ANSWERS
BRIDGET CONLEY: Yes, and we have plenty of time left. Please, go ahead.
QUESTION: Is there any sense of international workers, Doctors Without Borders or other groups, that you encountered or that you are aware of in Chechnya, either currently or in the past ten years?
KHASSAN BAIEV: [Interpreted from Russian by Mr. Daniloff]: During the first year, there were such humanitarian organizations, and I did work with them. The Red Cross was there, Human Rights Watch.
During the second war, however, the Russians refused to allow these international organizations in. The closest that the international organizations could get to was Ingushetia. Ingushetia is another jurisdiction which borders on Chechnya.
In the second war, when I was working there as a surgeon, we were essentially blockaded; Russian forces surrounded the town completely. But we had a terrible need for aid. And people ran out of food, and they began begging from their neighbors. We had 5,000 refugees in our village, and all of our reserves were gone.
NICHOLAS DANILOFF: I should add quickly here that Alkhan Kala, his village, had a population of 18,000 people, so when you have 5,000 refugees, you can imagine.
QUESTION: Given that there appears to be little incentive to be a doctor in such a situation, what do you say to people and to other doctors to get them to feel like they should do this work?
KHASSAN BAIEV: [Interpreted from Russian by Mr. Daniloff]: Well, when people decide to become doctors, a great deal really comes from God, and the first thing that such doctors need to have in mind is that you are not doing this for money.
It is clear when doctors start working who is doing it from the bottom of their hearts, who is doing it for money, who is doing God’s work. And those who went into medicine because they were interested in getting money out of it, they have a harder time because they are forced into a situation where they are playing a role that they really can’t do.
BRIDGET CONLEY: May I take the prerogative of the moderator to ask a question as well. You talked about the stress on the Chechen population through these two wars and currently. What do you think is most at risk for the Chechen society? How do you see it responding, and what are the dangers that you feel are increasing?
KHASSAN BAIEV: [Interpreted from Russian by Mr. Daniloff]: [Inaudible] people, particularly adults, had not have a chance to be rehabilitated. And I think one of the worst things that is happening now is that people are committing suicide, because people are ill, and they see no point in a life. One of the most terrible things is when people see injustices being committed, and the people are losing faith and hope, and then they decided that suicide is the only way out. This is one of the great risks in Chechnya today.
There are thousands upon thousands of Chechen families who have lost all their relatives, and I have seen that with my own eyes. When a person loses seven or eight members of his family, he sees no hope ahead of him, and the only thought he has in mind is revenge.
This is the situation that we are in, and there is no help or rehabilitation for those who are suffering. One of the most terrible things is that there is a whole generation of young people who are growing up during a generation of war, and these young people now are not learning Russian, have not been outside Chechnya, and this generation has seen only destruction, rape, use of force, and they are growing up with a hatred of the Russians. They cannot understand that in Russia, there are good people [inaudible]. They have only seen this negative side of the Russians.
QUESTION: Is there anything foreseeable that can change this trend, or is it inevitable?
KHASSAN BAIEV: [Interpreted from Russian by Mr. Daniloff]: The situation has gone into a dead-end, and those people who are promoting the war themselves don’t know how to get out of it now. Every year, it gets worse and worse. There seems to be no way out, and there is an enormous drain, an outflow, of people leaving the Republic. Actually, they cannot really go to Russia, either, because once there is a terrorist act such as happened recently, everybody is under suspicion, and immediately, the Russians say, “Oh, it’s the Chechens who have done it.” And the Russians have no great incentive to make any great investigations, because they have an easy explanation for all their ills. You can blame everything on the Chechens. The American journalist who was murdered in Moscow recently, Paul Kleblihov [ph], immediately they said it was two Chechens who killed him, and then they backed off of that explanation. You can blame all your headaches on the Chechens today.
QUESTION: What happened to the teachers and the school? I didn’t understand what you said about the teachers [inaudible].
KHASSAN BAIEV: [Interpreted from Russian by Mr. Daniloff]: We had an agreement for teaching, a ten-month agreement to help the children who had lost their hearing because of the bombardments in Chechnya. Two teachers were supposed to come from Chechnya to Moscow to undergo ten months of training on this new hearing equipment. But after the problem in Beslan, these teachers from Grozny were afraid to go to Moscow to get this training. The doctor who had come to Moscow actually returned to Chechnya, because she felt that her life was in danger if she stayed in Moscow. She was supposed to get three months of training so that she could test the children, but she left.
We want very much to help these children, but because of the current situation, there is nothing that we can do.
QUESTION: Chechnya and the school hostage [inaudible], and I understand that Russian imposed marshal law because of it--does that affect Chechnya directly?
KHASSAN BAIEV: [Interpreted from Russian by Mr. Daniloff]: After the beginning of the second war between Chechnya and Russia, essentially, traffic stops at about 6:00 or 7:00 in the evening, and people try to get home before it gets dark, because once it gets dark, the Russian command posts start shooting at anything that moves in the dark.
Once this horrible thing happened in Beslan, there was clearly a reaction in Chechnya, and people began holding meetings of protest against it. And the whole Republic of Chechnya condemned what happened in Beslan.
QUESTION: I’m not suggesting that Chechnya had anything to do with that event, but I was interested in what the repercussions were from Russia to the outlying--
KHASSAN BAIEV: [Interpreted from Russian by Mr. Daniloff]: When things like this happen, the Russians start strengthening the borders between Russia and Chechnya, but it doesn’t really help. One of the things that happens is that all people who look like they come from the Caucuses fall under suspicion, and the police then find it very profitable to stop people, ask them for their documents, and when they discover that they are from the Caucuses, demand bribes.
The fact is that all the police stations in Russia know very well where the Chechens live in their towns; and when you get an event like this happening, the police go out looking for “terrorists,” people from the North Caucuses, and they start checking documents, and in order to get release, you have to offer a bribe. But actually, this doesn’t really seem to help, because they don’t catch anybody.
It’s not just the Chechens that they are checking up on, but the other nationalities from the Northern Caucuses. In the open markets, the bazaars in Moscow, where the Azeris from Azerbaijan are frequent traders, the Russians come and start doing their verification and checking up on people and causing essentially a disturbance. One of the worst things is that Putin says that we, Chechens, are equally part of the Russian Federation and have all the rights of Russian citizens, and yet it turns out we don’t have any rights at all.
QUESTION: Is the book available in Russian?
KHASSAN BAIEV: [Interpreted from Russian by Mr. Daniloff]: Actually, we would like to have a Russian edition, and we are trying to gather money together to have the book translated into Russian, but we are not quite there yet.
BRIDGET CONLEY: So you would pay for it yourselves, although no publishers have--
NICHOLAS DANILOFF: We have been in touch with a Russian publisher who has said that she would be willing to publish. Now, that was before Beslan. Now, after Beslan, I’m not so sure. I think time will have to go by. But in answer to your question, we are prepared to put in some of our own money as a challenge to other possible donors to get the book translated, because what we are concerned about is that we do not want a bootleg translation to appear. The book has been heard about now in Chechnya and in Moscow, and there is quite a lot of interest. There are something like 200,000 Chechens who live in Moscow who would love to read the book in Russian, so there is a demand there, and we are trying to do something about it, but we are stymied now for the moment because of the tragedy in Beslan.
NICHOLAS DANILOFF: I’m sorry, I didn’t totally get your question. What kind of--
QUESTION: In his village, are Russians there as military personnel--do you have blockades--I’m not talking about the civilians who are there who live as Russians, but is that the kind of control that exists?
NICHOLAS DANILOFF: Yes, okay.
KHASSAN BAIEV: [Interpreted from Russian by Mr. Daniloff]: The Russian forces are not quartered inside the Chechen villages. If they were in the Chechen villages, they would be targets for revenge. They are probably a few kilometers outside of the villages. They are in reinforced command posts that are built out of concrete.
There was a time when they tried to set up command posts in each village, but the fact was that they would be blown up very quickly by [inaudible.] And I repeat that there is hardly a family in Chechnya that hasn’t lost two or three members of its family, so that’s a big risk for any Russian forces that want to control the situation.
QUESTION: I have a follow-up question. I was curious to know what kind of Islam is practiced in Chechnya.
NICHOLAS DANILOFF: That’s a very good question.
QUESTION: I have heard that it’s not the kind of orthodox Islam [inaudible].
KHASSAN BAIEV: [Interpreted from Russian by Mr. Daniloff]: During the Soviet period when religion was essentially outlawed, and you were not allowed to pray, there were no mosques in Chechnya. But every Chechen family raised its children according to Islam and propagated the religion within the family circle, and we went through all of the Muslim rituals. If the Russians found that somebody was teaching their children about the Koran, they got a prison sentence of nine years. The KGB, the Secret Police, had its own special department for religious matters. In those days, you had to believe and have faith only in the Communist Party. When Gorbachev came to power, every village began building its own mosque.
We are Sufi Muslims, and what we did was we took from Islam those elements that were helpful to our customary role. Now what you find is, as the result of the destruction of war, that the mosques have been destroyed, but also the Russian Orthodox churches have been destroyed and the synagogues have been destroyed. We did not have interreligious rivalries or conflicts before the war, and we find that some of the politicians today like to get mixed up in religious matters. My opinion is that these are people who are not very religious themselves.
BRIDGET CONLEY: Are there any more questions from the audience? Yes, please.
QUESTION: Briefly, when you talk about your village, just out of curiosity, is it a more mountainous village? What kind of terrain is it located in?
KHASSAN BAIEV: [Interpreted from Russian by Mr. Daniloff]: My village of Alkhan Kala is not in the mountains. It is in the valley. And it is actually a suburb of Grozny.
NICHOLAS DANILOFF: If I could just quickly add, if you look at the map, you’ll see that the southern part of Chechnya is mountainous, and that is related to the great Caucasian Mountain chain. The northern part is flatland.
BRIDGET CONLEY: Can I just ask one question--and I sound terribly American with this question--we work on genocide, so none of the places that we work on are very uplifting, but actually, Chechnya particularly is almost numbingly depressing now, because as you said earlier, things seem to get worse and worse, with this sort of slow decline that is very steadily attacking the society. What signs of hope do you see? Are there things within Chechen society that you think can maintain the cohesion of the society or can resist? Can you give us something that you feel can be supported or should be reemphasized?
KHASSAN BAIEV: [Interpreted from Russian by Mr. Daniloff]: I was in Los Angeles, and a family came up to me, and they gave me a talisman and said to me, “Hope is the last thing to die.” You know, wars always come to an end eventually, so I think that war must come to an end here sometime.
QUESTION: What kind of role do you think the United States should play or could play [inaudible] in any way?
KHASSAN BAIEV: [Interpreted from Russian by Mr. Daniloff]: Unfortunately, the American Government has really not been helping the situation in Chechnya. I think if America really wanted to help Chechnya, it would have a very loud voice in this tragedy, but unfortunately, America has other headaches--Iraq and Afghanistan. There is sort of a trade or even a tacit agreement that Bush closes his eyes to what goes on in Russia, and Putin doesn’t condemn the United States for what is going on in Afghanistan or in Iraq. In this situation, unfortunately, absolutely innocent people are suffering. And unfortunately, war turns people into beggars.
BRIDGET CONLEY: Yes, the final question.
QUESTION: I read in the paper here just recently that Colin Powell [inaudible] in Russia had to assist them in their [inaudible] situation over there and [inaudible] in all these efforts. What is your position?
KHASSAN BAIEV: [Interpreted from Russian by Mr. Daniloff]: I get Russian television at home, and I followed what Colin Powell said in Moscow, and when Americans start saying that there should be a political solution to the Chechnya problem and that you guys should sit down to the negotiating table, that really seriously irritates the Russians. They come back and say, “Well, why don’t you sit down to the negotiating table with bin Laden?” The situation is totally different. The Russians like to say “Sit down and negotiate with bin Laden,” but the situation is different.
BRIDGET CONLEY: Thank you all for coming. We particularly thank Dr. Baiev and Mr. Daniloff. If you have not gotten a copy of the book, we do have copies available upstairs in the bookstore, so I would encourage you to stop by if you haven’t had a chance to read it. Thank you all. If you want to hear about more of our events, more of our work on Chechnya and other places, please visit our website. Thank you.
KHASSAN BAIEV: Thank you very much.