Institute for War and Peace Reporting | Giving Voice, Driving Change

Chechens shun Dagestan Draft Drive

Moscow’s attempt to conscript ethnic Chechens in Dagestan has run into difficulties.
By Musa Musayev

The border towns between Dagestan and Chechnya are full of stories about who has managed to avoid conscription into the army – and what happens if they do not.

One oft-repeated story concerns a group of Chechens from the Leninaul village in Dagestan’s Kazbek district who were drafted into the armed forces but served only a month and a half there. According to rumour, the conscripts’ parents went to collect their children from the unit, and found them suffering injuries ranging from fractures to bruises.

Kazbek, along with two other regions of Dagestan, Khasavyurt and Novolak are populated by native Chechens who came back to their homeland from Kazakstan, to which they had been deported in February 1944. There are now more than 100,000 in the region.

During the first Chechen conflict of 1994-6, almost all Dagestani Chechens refused to serve in the Russian army and many fought on the opposing side with the pro-independence rebels.

Last autumn, the Russian authorities made a drive to recruit young Chechen males to the army but gave up the attempt. They blamed “lack of financial resources” but it was universally accepted that the task was simply impossible.

In Dagestan, however, they have tried harder over the past three years – with very mixed results. A particular focus has been Khasavyurt on Dagestan’s border with Chechnya, which has a quarter of a million people in the town and surrounding area.

Zaur Omarov who is the acting head of Dagestan’s recruitment centre says that across the republic they managed to draft more than 5,000 young men into the army last autumn. He conceded that in three areas, Kaspiisk, Akushinsk and Khasavyurt the conscription quota had not been met.

Local Dagestanis say military service can be avoided for around 1000 US dollars, although no one says this publicly. And the highest avoidance rate is among the ethnic Chechens.

“It used to be a disgrace to avoid military service,” said Arsen Adilsultanov, a sports teacher who works at a school in the village of Nuradilov in the Khasavyurt district. “But now it is absurd to join an army that is waging a war against our homeland, killing children, old people and women. This is precisely why many of the conscripts’ parents are not letting their children serve. They’ve had first-hand experience of the terrors of war.”

Local Chechens say that the few young men who did serve were discriminated against and abused because of their nationality.

Nonna Sultankhanova, a reporter for the Chechen newspaper Niyso, published in Dagestan, says, “Chechen conscripts are treated with disdain and labelled as ‘[former Chechen president Jokhar] Dudayev’s spies’, in the best case. No propaganda about the necessity to serve in the army can convince conscripts when they see their relatives and neighbours returning from the army maimed.”

Another Chechen journalist, Zainab Magomedsharipova, pointed out that Chechens have another reason to dislike the army. When the whole country celebrates February 23 as the Day of the Russian Army, for the Chechens it is the day of the Stalinist deportations in 1944 and a day of mourning.

Adam Jasuev from Osmanyurt village was the only Chechen in his unit when he served in the army in the Urals city of Ekaterinburg and discovered that one of the soldiers in the outfit was an officer who had previously served in Chechnya. He said that the officer told him, “I’ll make you dance to my tune!” At a line-up, Adam then stepped out to the front without permission and declared in front of everyone, “I am a Chechen and I am proud of it, but I am not guilty of what is happening in Chechnya.” He says after that he was not persecuted, but was left in peace.

While he was serving, his parents received letters of gratitude from the army, and he returned home a senior sergeant. His father Bilal recalls that when his son was drafted he told the officer who came to pick up Adam, “You are responsible for my son. If anything happens to him, I’ll find you anywhere.”

However, Bilal Jasuev is not prepared to see his younger son, Adlan, be drafted too.

“I am not letting him go to the army,” said Bilal. “In our village, which has five thousand households, no one has served in the army, except my older son. And my son must not be an exception among his peers.”

An official in the Khasavyurt town draft office who declined to be named said that faced with such resistance, they had planned to draft a much reduced number of military-age men but had failed to meet even that target. “We planned to draft 430 people, but instead we got 340,” the official said. “During every drafting campaign we notify them three times each, but they just ignore it.”

According to the Khasavyurt draft office, they know that 2,840 Chechens in the Khasavyurt and Novolak districts are evading military service, while the real numbers may be much higher. Officials say a similar pattern of low conscription is repeated across the entire region.

Aigazi Mutalimov, deputy military commissar of Khasavyurt, says that parents have just one argument – that their children will be mistreated. He said that the number of Chechens willing to serve is going up.

“They are just sick of hiding all the time,” Mutalimov said. “It’s hard to get a job, make a career or move somewhere without military registration. But even now we still have to visit the same house several times and outside office hours.”

Official figures say that 42 Dagestanis have deserted from the Russian army over the last few years, but there are many others whose flight has never been made public. For most parents, never letting their sons go, by whatever method, is the best means of prevention.

Taxi driver Mairbek said his son is about to be drafted into the army, but he has no intention of letting him go, “I’ll try to find a way for him to avoid this fate. I have about six months to come up with a solution.”

Musa Musayev is a journalist with Dagestanskaya Pravda newspaper.

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