6 september 1991 – A substantial crack in Chechen unity

6 September 1991 inspired a holiday of independence for many Chechens, but the day is also taunted with what was to follow – a substantial crack in Chechen unity, the start of the two Russian-Chechen wars, and the beginning of Russia's modern-day descent from development in a democratic direction towards authoritarianism.

The holiday symbolizes just how torn the state of Chechen society is. For some Chechens, it’s a day of the restoration of statehood, lost during the second half of the 19th century. For others, it’s a celebration of the civil agreement. The first ones celebrate the holiday outside their homeland at rallies under green-white-red banners with a coat of arms in the form of a resting wolf. And the latter “celebrate” at home, arranging concerts against the backdrop of a flag borrowed from another Russian region, to which a yellow ornament is added to give local specifics. But both of them celebrate what the Chechen people do not have today and are not expected to have, as it seems, in the near future – independence and unity… 

On 6 September 1991, the Supreme Council of the Chechen-Ingush Parliament, which had been elected one and a half years earlier, stopped working. The reason was suspicions of passive support for the GKChP – the anti-Gorbachev coup d’état (putsch), an attempt which was suppressed by democratically-minded residents of Moscow and Leningrad. On 19-21 August 1991, Grozny became the third center of resistance to the putschists. The city center in those days resembled an awakened anthill. Its squares and streets were packed with young and elderly men who came from all over the republic. Hastily made banners and posters hung on the facades of houses and fences, speeches of successive speakers helped by megaphones were heard, interrupted only by exclamations of approval and the singing of murids performing Muslim nazms right on the streets and circling in a noisy, mystical and at the same time attractive zikr. 

At first, the protesters demanded from the authorities of their region to resolutely condemn the people in Moscow who decided to remove Mikhail Gorbachev from his post. But when suspicions arose that the Supreme Soviet of the Republic had taken a-wait-and-see position, that the deputies were trying to sit on two chairs, they demanded its dissolution. 

At the head of the protesters was the charismatic General of Aviation Dzhokhar Dudayev, the leader of the opposition National Congress of the Chechen People. Opposing him, to reduce the processes taking place in the republic down to individuals, Doku Zavgaev was a party and economic worker of the old school. His election as chairman of the Supreme Soviet of the republic had just before been greeted with jubilation. No wonder why! Since the mid-1920s, he was the first Chechen elected to the post of the head of his own republic. However, the August coup d’état, which he witnessed in Moscow, where he went as previously planned for the signing of a new Union Treaty between the republics that were part of the USSR (one of the goals of the coup d’état was to disrupt it), played a cruel joke on him. Without its chairman, the Supreme Council of Chechen-Ingushetia could not properly respond to the events, and Doku Zavgaev himself was listed, as it turned out, groundless, among the supporters of the State Emergency Committee. 

Looking back, it’s safe to conclude that the first steps towards the current, tragic situation in Chechnya were taken back then. At the same time, the first steps were also taken towards Russia’s modern descent from development in a democratic direction towards authoritarianism and an imperial-aggressive path. This did not occur overnight, and the signs may at first have been unnoticeable, but took place gradually and inevitably. In other words, the war in Ukraine and Ramzan Kadyrov as the Gauleiter of Chechnya were pre-determined, among other things, by events in Grozny in the early 1990s. 

After two weeks of demonstrations, supporters of Dzhokhar Dudayev eventually broke into the building of the Supreme Council. The deputies were forced to resign. For the supporters of the independence of Chechnya, 6 September became the Day of Restoration of Statehood. But this is also the day when the first and noticeable crack ran through the politically unified array of the Chechen people. Supporters of the dissolved Supreme Council did not recognize the authorities of de facto independent Chechnya and withdrew from their jurisdiction the entire Nadterechny region of the republic. From this very territory, the “anti-Dudaev Chechen opposition” marched towards Grozny in 1994, using tanks with crews from the Kantemirovskaya division near Moscow. This would lay the foundation for the two subsequent Russian-Chechen wars, and military aggression against Georgia and Ukraine. 

Russian authorities, led by Boris Yeltsin, and supporters of Chechen independence, led by Dzhokhar Dudayev, in August 1991, together opposed an attempted coup d’état in the then USSR. Today, the successor of the first is turning the cities and villages of Ukraine into ruins, trying to return this country to the lair of the Russian world, and the followers of the second are fighting for Ukraine and the democratic choice of its people in the hope that someday they will achieve freedom for their own. 


NazmMuslim chants in praise of Allah and his prophet Muhammad.  

MuridIn Sufism, a murīd (Arabic مُرِيد ‘one who seeks’) is a novice committed to spiritual enlightenment by sulūk (traversing a path) under a spiritual guide, Sheikh  

Zikr (Dhikr) – Sufist ritual of remembrance of Allah and unity of believers, performed in Chechnya by running in a circle and loudly clapping your hands. 

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Lene Wetteland

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