EFFECT OF THE RUSSIAN WAR ON CHECHEN CHILDREN: EXTREMISM IN THE YOUNG GENERATIONS?

By Murad Batal Shishani (03/08/2006 issue of the CACI Analyst)

BACKGROUND:the two wars in Chechnya affected the humanitarian situation there significantly. Chechens suffers from countless health problems, in part due to attacks by Russian forces with weapons containing highly toxic substances. It has been established that 86 percent of the Chechens suffer from psychological disturbances; this is 30 percent more than the number of people suffering from mental problems in the areas around the Chernobyl nuclear plant in Ukraine following the 1984 explosion.

For example, the prevalence of tuberculosis in Russia is of 86 people per 100,000, but it is as high as three percent in Chechnya. The World Health Organization has earmarked $3 million to fight the disease in Chechnya, but its activities are limited to the refugees in Ingushetia. Inside the region, virtually no medical facilities to fight the disease are available as the war has destroyed hospitals, undermined medical supplies and killed or driven away qualified doctors and paramedics. Moreover, the treatment and rehabilitation of the rapidly increasing number of disabled and maimed people (victims of incessant bombings and exploding land mines planted by the Russian Army) is another pressing problem. According to the pro-Russian administration in Chechnya, there are 33,000 disabled people in the region.

As the future seems increasingly bleak with no end in sight to the miseries, increasing number of Chechens are becoming drug addicts. It is officially estimated that there are about 10,000 heroin addicts in the republic. Increased drug trafficking has, in turn, led to the rapid spread of HIV among them. More than 10 percent of drug addicts have tested HIV-positive. Complicating the situation further are crimes linked to drug trafficking.

Regarding children who have been affected by the humanitarian situation caused by Russia’s wars, medical experts find the entire Chechen region too hazardous for health. Out of 521 babies born in the capital city of Grozny in 2002, 20 died and 80 percent of the pregnant women were suffering from various pregnancy-related ailments while the mortality rate of children below 12 years is on the increase. The number of those suffering heart attacks at an early age is also far higher than is the case in other regions.

This is the shocking picture of the Chechens living under the shadow of Russian war. The situation is exacerbated by the brutal Russian policies that violate the most basic human rights; many youngsters, who account for about 40 percent of the Chechen population, are increasingly enticed to resort to guns and bombs.

IMPLICATIONS:Studying the case of orphans in particular, it is noticeable that according to the pro-Russian Chechen Administration’s Ministry of Labour and Social Development, the country needs ten orphanages but only has three. And while it is common, according to Chechen traditions, for relatives to take care of orphans, the war has disrupted the social structure in Chechnya: 1,200 children have lost both parents, 25,000 have lost one of their parents, and only 420 of those orphans live in orphanages.

At the same time, 19,000 Chechen children are unable to attend school as a result of the war and suffer psychological problems because of all the destruction and torture. Chechnya’s population under the age of 18 constitutes almost half of Chechen society and was born and raised after 1990, which means that these children, half of the population, have only known war in their country. This has implications in terms of the psychological tendencies caused by living in an environment of war. This brings back the focus to the poisoning incident in Chechnya. Most of the affected children were girls, because they have been far more affected both psychologically and physically by the war and are in a more vulnerable condition. According to some experts, this is a partial explanation for the occurrence of female suicide bombers.

A study conducted by Chechen psychologists Kahapt Akhmedova and Kuri Adisova has indicated an increase in aggressive tendencies as a result of war. The study was conducted on children inside the Chechen Republic and refugee camps. The children were asked to make drawings that helped reflect the effects of the war in terms of emotional suffering, increased aggressive tendencies (reflected through concepts of fighting and vengeance) and constant fear among children.

CONCLUSIONS:In an interview with Medina Akhmedova, a 15-year-old Chechen orphan whose parents had died in the first and second wars, she talked of her desire and ambition to study law to fight “injustice” and “defend orphans”. This child’s words are a clear indication of the injustice felt by young Chechen generations who have lived in a state of war all their childhood, and many have lost one of their parents or both. While most psychological studies hypothetically provide a link between the increase in extremist tendencies and frustration, in Chechnya this is proven by empirical studies.

Although it is clear that the nature of Chechen values and traditions will play a main role in the organization of society and restoring its balance; it would seem that, this time around, Chechen society is unable to adapt because of the gravity of the damage that has been inflicted to it. It will require international efforts to seek to limit the continuing escalation of violence in the North Caucasus.

AUTHOR’S BIO:Murad Batal Al-Shishani is a Jordanian-Chechen writer who holds an M.A degree in Political Science, specializing in Islamic Movements in Chechnya. He is author of the book “Islamic Movement in Chechnya and the Chechen-Russian Conflict 1990-2000”, Amman 2001 (in Arabic).