Publication: North Caucasus Weekly Volume: 7 Issue: 28

On July 13, Chechenpress published a “Manifesto for Peace” signed by Chechen Republic of Ichkeria (ChRI) Foreign Minister Akhmed Zakaev. According to the separatist website, the manifesto was approved at a July 5 meeting in Berlin of ChRI Foreign Ministry officials and ChRI representatives in European countries, but its publication was delayed by news of Shamil Basaev’s death.

The manifesto, which states that its aim is to attract the attention of the G8 leaders who are meeting in St. Petersburg, states that the conflict between Russians and Chechens that has been ongoing for two centuries “has endangered the very existence of the Chechen people.” It says that the ten years since the May 1997 peace agreement signed by the two sides have seen a resumption of hostilities that has caused the death of more than a hundred thousand people—according to some estimates, as many as 200,000 people— “and forced an even greater number of refugees to leave the republic, brought further destruction of the material basis of society and made life for the remaining population extremely hard.”

The ongoing conflict has led to “increasingly barbaric violations of human rights—torture, abductions, illegal imprisonments and terrorist acts—and has weakened or destroyed moral values in society,” the manifesto states, adding that “religious traditions have been undermined by the influence of foreign ideologies,” and that the young generation has lost any prospects for a decent life in the future. The conflict, it says, has destabilized “the whole of Northern Caucasus by aggravating ethnic conflicts and by jeopardizing its potential to become a prosperous zone where all different ethnic and religious groups could live together in peace.”

Zakaev also notes in the manifesto that Aslan Maskhadov, who was elected president of Chechnya in “free and fair elections” that were officially recognized by Moscow, launched a “substantial peace initiative” in 2005, proposing unconditional talks with Moscow and declaring a unilateral one-month-ceasefire for the month of February 2005. Nevertheless, “this initiative remained without any reaction from the Russian side and Maskhadov was killed on March 8 of last year,” the manifesto notes.

Against this backdrop, Zakaev writes that “urgent action” is needed for a peaceful solution of the Chechen conflict—one that guarantees security for the people of Chechnya and respect for human rights and law, establishes “political power structures, based on free and fair elections” and creates “the conditions for economic and social development for normalizing life and allowing the return of the refugees.”

“Our people have fought during all the years of the first and second wars, defending independence,” the manifesto states. “In view of the Russian aggression against our republic, we have always considered independence as the fundamental means to achieve peace for the Chechen people and guarantee their security. If in accordance with international law, however, any other solution for peace with the Russians can be found for achieving the aforementioned goals, we are ready for corresponding negotiations.”

The manifesto continues, “Through our conflict with the Russians, a wave of violence has overwhelmed our society and the neighboring republics of the North Caucasus. Therefore, it is necessary to apply all energy to achieving a general accord and reconciliation in Chechnya. For this, not only are amnesty measures necessary, but also means of reconciliation—like truth commissions—with the active participation of the family members of the victims of violence.” The manifesto also says that foreign assistance has to be mobilized to aid in Chechnya’s reconstruction.

“We realize that continued warfare and violence will not yield a solution to the conflict,” the manifesto concludes. “Therefore, we declare that negotiations with Russia have to start without preconditions. We condemn all forms of violence against the civilian population, including terrorist acts.”