Publication: North Caucasus Weekly Volume: 6 Issue: 11

Some of the sharpest criticism of the killing of Aslan Maskhadov came from politicians and Chechen refugees in Georgia. Koba Davitashvili, leader of Georgia’s “Association of National Forces – Conservatives” opposition party, called Maskhadov’s killing “an act of state terrorism on the part of Russia.” During a March 10 press conference, he held a minute of silence for slain separatist leader and conveyed “condolences to the Chechen people in connection with the tragic death of Chechen President Aslan Maskhadov,” the Regnum news agency reported. “The entire international community should give the most severe assessment of that political murder, carried out at a moment when the problem at issue is a peace settlement. The murder of Maskhadov at a time when he took a step toward peace will not promote the establishment of relations between Chechnya and Russia. The death of Maskhadov once and for all dispelled the myth of Russia’s fight against terrorism and it became clear that it is the Russian side, not the Chechen side, that is in favor of furthering the conflict by using forceful methods.”

Davitashvili reported that his party’s parliamentary deputies planned to start collecting signatures among fellow parliamentarians and ordinary Georgians for an appeal condemning the killing of Chechen separatist leaders and calling for a peaceful settlement of the Chechen conflict. The petition will be sent to the president of the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe (PACE).

Meanwhile, the Ilia Chavchavadze Society, which was formed in 1988 as the first formal political opposition to the Soviet Communist Party, released a statement on Maskhadov’s killing expressing grief “in connection with the tragic death of a hero and a wise person.” The society said “the death of Maskhadov, who under difficult circumstances fought and died for the sake of freedom, is a great loss for the Chechen people” and that Georgia “has lost a great friend in the person of Maskhadov.” The statement also expressed hope that “in spite of Maskhadov’s death, the Chechen people will not end their struggle and the enemy will not be able to defeat that country,” Regnum reported on March 10.

Former Georgian President Eduard Shevardnadze told Georgia’s Mze television channel that he knew Maskhadov well and that the rebel leader was “a relatively decent person” who “was not a terrorist by vocation,” Rosbalt reported on March 9. Shevardnadze noted that Maskhadov had graduated from the Tbilisi Artillery College and had many friends in the Georgian capital. The former Georgian president said he had spent a whole day with Maskhadov in Georgia prior to the start of the second Chechen conflict in 1999 and that one of their conversation topics was finding “a common language with Russia’s leadership.”

On March 14, an estimated 80 Chechen refugees demonstrated in front of the Russian embassy in Tbilisi, demanding “the liberation of the Caucasus from the Russians,” Rosbalt reported. said participants in the demonstration demanded the withdrawal of Russian troops from the Caucasus and “an end to the bloodshed,” saying they would return to their homeland if this came to pass. Protesters had gathered outside the embassy in Tbilisi on March 12. The Kavkazky Uzel website that day quoted a leader of the Chechen diaspora in Georgia, Khizri Aldamov, as saying that in the wake of Maskhadov’s death, Chechens have concluded that they must “further unite and more actively carry out our struggle.” “It is the only method: it is not possible to find a common language with Russia by peaceful means,” he said.

On March 9, the Council of Elders in Georgia’s Pankisi Gorge, where both Chechen refugees and ethnic Chechen Kistins live, announced a three-day mourning period for Maskhadov, Rosbalt reported. Georgia’s Rustavi 2 television channel reported that many Chechens and Kistins in the Pankisi Gorge doubted the official statements concerning the date and circumstances of Maskhadov’s death. They claimed that Maskhadov and his associates had been surrounded by federal forces on March 6 and that he ordered his personal bodyguard unit to shoot him to prevent him from falling into Russian hands alive.

The Chechen separatist Kavkazcenter website reported on March 14 that people were mourning Maskhadov’s death in mosques across Chechnya despite the fact that “the occupiers warned the imams of the mosques and mullahs about the undesirability of carrying out such activities.” According to the website, eyewitnesses reported that even in the Gudermes and Kurchaloev districts, “where the Kadyrovite bandit formations have their permanent bases, the imams of the mosques could not prevent people” from mourning Maskhadov’s death.