Chechens don’t call themselves Chechens. They call themselves Noxchi. One of the Vainakh peoples, Chechens are a distinct national group who’ve lived on the north slope of Caucasus mountains for thousands of years; evidence of their presence there dates back to 3000 BC. Over the last two centuries, hundreds of thousands of Chechens have died fighting for independence from Russia.
Stalin gave them a measure of autonomy. But when Chechnya allegedly collaborated with the Nazis, he dissolved their state and sent most of them to Siberia. “They were transported in boxcars chillingly similar to those that brought Jews to Hitler’s death camps. In the case of the Chechens, roughly half of the exactly 478,479 who were exiled died en route.”
During the First Chechen War in the nineties, Boris Yeltsin presided over a brutal rampage that left perhaps as many as 100,000 Chechens dead. The United States, under Bill Clinton, signed off on the slaughter. “Bill Clinton shamelessly compared the conflict to America’s own civil war, and rushed Yeltsin US $10.2 billion in IMF loans, half of which went to financing the Chechen war.”
Predictably, Russian violence sparked terrorism. And just as predictably, Russia responded to the terrorism it created with more violence. In 1999, Putin launched the Second Chechan War, which has spread to neighboring Dagestan. By killing tens of thousands of people, Putin has managed to weaken the independence movement, but the threat of terrorism is as strong as ever.
As we watch the Olympics, fearful of what might happen, we should remember that the central cause of Chechan terrorism, like the central cause of most terrorism, is military occupation.