Publication: North Caucasus Weekly Volume: 6 Issue: 47

The People’s Assembly, the lower house of Chechnya’s newly-elected parliament, unanimously voted on December 14 to rename the capital, Grozny, in honor of Akhmad Kadyrov, the pro-Moscow president assassinated in May 2004. Dukvakha Abdurakhmanov, who served as the republic’s agricultural minister and a deputy prime minister before being unanimously elected chairman of the People’s Assembly on December 12, told Russian and Western news agencies that the parliament had sent an appeal to the Kremlin asking to change the name of Grozny to honor the slain Chechen president.

“The fortress of Groznaya, established in the 19th century on the site of the current capital of Chechnya, brought nothing good to the Chechen people,” Interfax quoted Abdurakhmanov as saying. “The darkest pages of the Chechen people’s history are linked to the name of this city. At the same time, Akhmad Kadyrov gave his life so that the Chechen people would become free [and] prosperous, enjoying equal rights among all of the peoples of Russia. Therefore we believe that the capital of the Chechen republic should bear the name of Kadyrov. And we very much hope that the country’s president will support our request.” Abdurakhmanov added: “Everyone knows that in the passport of the first president of the Chechen Republic Kadyrov, the name was spelled Akhmat, and not Akhmad, although he was known throughout the world as Akhmad-khadzhi.”

Abdurakhmanov emphasized that the People’s Assembly working group that is preparing the final draft of the appeal to President Vladimir Putin will probably suggest “Akhmadkala” as the capital’s new name. “This is connected to the fact that only a narrow circle of individuals could know about the character of the entry in the passport [Akhmad Kadyrov’s passport]. To all of the people in the Chechen Republic, in Russia and in the world he was known as Akhmad.” Abdurakhmanov also emphasized that “in the final variant of the naming of the city ‘Akhmadkala’ should be written without a hyphen in the middle of this word. In my view, it is pointless to complicate the name with a hyphen in the middle, since there is also no hyphen in the name of the capital of Dagestan—‘Makhachkala.'”

Abdurakhmanov said that the request to rename Grozny would be sent to President Putin on December 15.

As newsru.com noted on December 14, Grozny’s main avenue already bears the name of Akhmad Kadyrov, and a statue to the assassinated pro-Moscow leader made by the controversial sculptor Zurab Tsereteli was unveiled in the center of the Chechen capital in August. Chechnya’s pro-Moscow administration had earlier ordered that all central streets in all of the republic’s district centers and cities be renamed in Kadyrov’s honor.

Kommersant reported on December 15 that the federal authorities are not happy about the bid to rename Grozny. “Representatives of the federal center have reacted negatively to the initiative, suggesting to the [Chechen] deputies that they occupy themselves with more urgent problems,” the newspaper wrote. “Behind these words, obviously, is the Kremlin’s reluctance to indulge the ambitions of first vice-premier of Chechnya Ramzan Kadyrov, who, observers believe, was the real initiator of the passed resolution” [on renaming Grozny]. Kommersant quoted independent State Duma Vladimir Ryzhkov as saying: “We all know that the parliament of Chechnya is, in fact, run by one person, Ramzan Kadyrov, therefore this initiative is exclusively his.” The newspaper also said the initiative was the latest in a series of recent steps by the Chechen administration demonstrating Kadyrov’s increasing political independence, including his call for reviewing Chechnya’s administrative borders with neighboring republics (see Chechnya Weekly, December 8).

The initiative to rename Grozny, Kommersant wrote, could present Moscow with a difficult choice. On the one hand, to reject it would undermine the authority of both the new Chechen parliament and Kadyrov. On the other hand, approving it could provoke a negative reaction in both Russia and the West as “an overt sign of a return to the Soviet era,” given that the last time a Russian city was renamed in honor of a dead leader was in March 1985, when the Krasnoyarsk Krai city of Sharypovo was renamed after the deceased Soviet Communist Party General Secretary Konstantin Chernenko. According to the newspaper, however, a greater potential danger in supporting the initiative is that this could “once and for all convince the first vice-premier [Kadyrov] that ‘everything is permitted’ for him, and his next demands of the federal center might turn out to be much more serious.”

It is no surprise, then, that federal officials and legislators were guarded in their comments about the initiative. Deputy presidential envoy to the Southern Federal District Oleg Zhidkov told Kommersant that Akhmad Kadyrov was “undoubtedly a historic personality, but such issues should be decided with consideration of the opinion of a wider public.” In addition, Abdul-Khakim Sultygov, the pro-Kremlin United Russia party’s national policy coordinator who was formerly Putin’s special representative for human rights in Chechnya, told the newspaper that forcing the issue would be premature. “It would probably be incorrect to name these ruins in the name of Hero of Russia Akhmat-Khadzhi Kadyrov; it would be better first to reconstruct the republic’s capital,” he said. State Duma deputy Vyacheslav Volodin, who is secretary of the presidium of United Russia’s general council, told Kommersant: “Questions of renaming cities are always difficult. As a rule, if the population expresses itself in favor of renaming its city, the State Duma supports that decision.” State Duma First Vice Speaker Lyubov Sliska said the initiative should not have been among the first taken by the new Chechen parliament.

Kommersant speculated that the Kremlin could pressure Ramzan Kadyrov to withdraw the initiative.