Release Date: August 31, 1999
Eric Margolis, c/o Editorial Department, The Toronto Sun
333 King St. East, Toronto, Ontario, Canada M5A 3X5
Fax: (416) 960-4803 -- Press Contact: Eric Margolis

Following In Stalin's Footsteps

by Eric Margolis

SOSPEL, FRANCE - Lenin called the Russia Empire 'the prison house of nations.' Though much shrunken, Russia remains today the last 19th century colonial empire, and nowhere more so than in the towering Caucasus mountains, where long oppressed peoples have drawn their swords and risen against the new Czar in Moscow.

The latest uprising comes in Dagestan, a multi-ethnic Russian-ruled state of 2 million lying between the Caspian Sea and Chechnya on the northern slope of the Caucasus. Important pipelines carry oil north from Azerbaijan through Dagestan to southern Russia.

In recent weeks, Dagestani and Chechen mujahidin, or Islamic holy warriors, waged fierce battles in the mountains against Russian forces. The insurgents are led by famed Chechen chieftan, Sheik Shamil Basayev, who played a key role in defeating and driving the Russian Army from Chechnya (Ishkeria) in 1994-1995, one of the most heroic victories in modern military history.

Russia's prime minister of the month, dour ex-KGB agent Vladimir Putin, vowed to crush the Dagestani rebels. Fifteen thousand elite Russian troops, backed by massed artillery and hundreds of air strikes, drove the 800 Islamic rebels from the remote Dagestani mountain villages they seized two weeks ago. Russia poured massive artillery fire and bombs on civilian targets, as it had in Chechnya, where Russian forces massacred 100,000 people. Basayev ordered his men to disperse in the face of overwhelming force and continue guerrilla warfare.

Moscow was repeating the infamous tactics of Marshall Yermolov, the brutal, 18th century Russian conqueror of the Caucasus, who proclaimed, 'I desire that the terror of my name should guard our frontiers more potently than chains or fortresses, that my word should be for the natives a law more inevitable than death.'

The principal Muslim peoples of the Caucasus Chechen, Ingush, Circassians, Abkhaz, Dagestanis have been in almost constant revolt against their Russian colonial rulers for three centuries. The greatest uprising was led in the mid-1800's by the legendary Dagestani Imam, Sheik Shamil.

Russsia crushed all revolts with ruthless ferocity and twice attempted genocide. In the 1940's, Stalin deported nearly all the 1.5-million Chechen to Siberian concentration camps, where 25% died. Two million other Soviet Muslims, including many Dagestanis, were also sent in cattle cars to Stalin's death camps. Hitler used gas; Stalin used the Russian winter.

In a July, 1988 this column predicted the Chechen and Dagestanis would revolt against Russian rule. Six years later, the fierce Chechen rose up and, after ferocious fighting, defeated the Russians. But the rest of the world shamefully ignored the Chechen and refused to recognize their independence. Russian disinformation convinced much of the international media, and President Bill Clinton, who helped finance Russia's war in Chechnya, that the Chechen were merely 'mountain bandits.'

The skilful disinformers at KGB's Moscow Center are again spinning lies. They are planting stories in the western media that the Dagestani and Chechen rebels are 'Islamic terrorists,' backed by the nefarious Osama Bin Ladeen and other sinister Mideast terror groups. Or 'Wahabis,' an ultra- conservative Saudi sect. A shadowy 'Arab fanatic' named 'Khattab' certain evidence of an Islamic conspiracy - is said to be at Basayev's side.

The anti-Islamic British conservative press has amplified this canard. In a remarkably obtuse and bigoted editorial, a new British-Canadian newspaper actually made the preposterous claim that an independent, Islamic Dagestan (2 million people) would 'spark unrest' throughout the Caucasus, somehow including Christian Georgia and Armenia, as well as Turkey, other Russian republics, even the entire Middle East. It concluded: 'Moscow has good reason to act preventively in Dagestan.'

In fact, the so-called 'shadowy Arab fanatic,' Khattab, is actually a descendant of Dagestanis who fled to Jordan to escape Russian genocide. The Chechen and Dagestanis are not Saudi 'Wahabis,' but traditional Caucasian Sufi Muslims, known as Naqshbandi. No outside powers are helping the Caucasian mujahidin in their valiant, David v. Goliath struggle to throw off 300 years of savage Russian colonial rule.

How ironic that the same western media that ardently campaigned for the liberation of another captive Russian people and their return to their historic homeland the Jews now calls on Russia 'to act preventively' to crush the Muslims of the Caucasus.

On 31 July, 1937, Stalin's secret police shot 14,000 Chechen and Ingush, 3% of the total population of those tiny nations, and dumped their bodies into a pit four years before Hitler's SS committed a similar mass murder of Jews in the pit at Babi Yar. It is time we add the Muslim peoples of the Caucasus to this century's victims of genocide. If anyone deserves their own homeland, they do.

To many westerners, Muslims often seem like constant trouble-makers or, worse, terrorists. But let us recall the Muslim world was the principal victim of rapacious 19th and 20th century European and Russian colonialism. The majority of France's, Holland's, and Russia's colonial subjects, and almost half of Britain's, were Muslims. Muslims, including Dagestanis and Chechen, are fighting today in many lands to regain the freedom they long ago lost.

Instead of branding the Dagestani and Chechen fighters as 'terrorists,' the west should be aiding them and demand Russia set free the peoples of the Caucasus.

[Eric Margolis is a syndicated foreign affairs columnist and broadcaster based in Toronto, Canada.]

Copyright © 1999 Eric Margolis - All Rights Reserved
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