Chechnya: rationales of violence and war experiences
Paris, 22-23 October 2012
Since 1994, the Chechen war has been qualified in diverse ways by actors and observers – colonial war, counter-terrorist operation, restoration of constitutional order, war of extermination. This profusion – or perhaps confusion of qualifiers reveals a multitude of explanations for the causes, aims and consequences of the war, and often hints at the exceptionality of the conflict. The aim of this conference will be not only to sum up, renew and enrich existing research on the Chechen war, but also to put the phenomena of violence at work there in a comparative perspective that takes into account the renewal of the historiography of 20th century wars.
The Chechen war, which broke out in 1994 and began again in 1999 after a 3-year cease-fire, played a central role in Russia’s political evolution. Several studies (Tishkov, Hughes, Dunlop, Lieven, Evangelista) have shown how the Chechen war was linked with the collapse of the USSR and the reconfiguration of the political system and Russian federalism, but also the role played by that war in certain important Russian political events (Yeltsin’s re-election in 1996, his resignation in 1999 in favour of Prime Minister Putin, whose popularity was on the rise thanks to the war).
Although estimates of the number of victims of the first (1994-96) and second wars (since 1999) remain a subject of debate (Cherkassov, Maksudov), as do the periodisations of these wars, studies by NGOs suggest tens of thousands of deaths in the two wars. Since 1999, those missing number in the thousands – testimony to the repressive system put in place to “fight against terrorism”. The policy of systematic filtering of the population aimed particularly at men (Le Huérou, Regamey) was accompanied by numerous acts of violence (torture, rape, summary executions). The coming to power of Akhmad Kadyrov, succeeded on his death in May 2004 by his son Ramzan, meant a change in the rationales of violence and a “Chechenisation” of the conflict, which leads to the use of the notion of “civil war”.
At the present time, the violence taking place in the whole of North Caucasus is analysed as a combination of a spread of war violence from Chechnya and of rationales proper to the Republics of North Caucasus (Merlin). The question of the spread of rationales of war violence into the whole of Russian society is also raised, there being so many Russian soldiers and officers today having gone through Chechnya, but policemen especially (Le Huérou, Sieca-Kozlowski). Bombings and hostage-takings linked to the Chechen conflict also raise the issue of Moscow’s handling of terrorist acts (Dunlop).
Because Kadyrov was installed by Moscow in order for Chechnya to re-enter into Russia’s fold, his power paradoxically raises the question of the degree of autonomy of a Republic whose leader claims to govern while not adhering to Russian laws (on women’s rights in general), and Chechnya’s place in today’s Russia’s political game (Malashenko, Lokshina). Another important element in Moscow-Grozny relations is the memory of the deportation of Chechens in 1944, the aim of an official mobilisation policy by pro-Russian Chechen authorities. Lastly, even if relative and truncated, the policy of amnesty for combatants suggests an “end of war” policy in which the issue of justice is not broached at any moment whatsoever.
It is the whole of these tendencies and rationales of violence at work that the conference will re-examine, drawing on deeply renewed research in war studies done in the past twenty years from the perspective of history, political science, anthropology, international relations, philosophy and law. Occasionally borrowing from anthropology (Audoin-Rouzeau, Ingrao), recent historical research has built up the concept of the culture of war (Becker, Horne), studying the war experience of combatants (Duclos, Reno, Debos) and suggesting several explanations for war violence. Putting forward the notion of trivialisation and brutalisation (Mosse, Bartov), examining issues such as consent (Audouin-Rouzeau, Becker, Browning) or the extent of constraint (Rousseau, Cazals), they also emphasize specific acts of violence, particularly torture and sexual violence (Branche, Virgili). Other research points to a need to pay particular attention to post-war moments (Cabanes, Capdevilia, Duclos, Jardin, Picketty), to the situation of former combatants (Delaporte, Edele, Prost, Oushakine) and to forms of transitional justice (Saada, Lefranc, Nadeau, Delpla, Rousso). Finally, we will address questions such as how conflicts fit into an international dimension and discuss the role of international actors and issues of labelling and qualifying a conflict (Lindemann).
Our objective in this conference – which will mainly focus on the history of Chechnya since the end of the Soviet period and the collapse of the USSR – is therefore not only to examine political, economic and social trends having marked the Republic, but to reflect on conditions determining the production of knowledge on this war from a comparative perspective, thanks to specialists on other conflicts who will participate as discussants.
We will be interested in the most relevant tools, methods, questionings for furthering understanding and analysis of this conflict, and will pay particular attention to the various existing sources, to the way they are used by different actors, as well as historians. We will pay attention to a precise chronology of the last twenty years, attempting to replace events in the context of the era, so as to avoid any anachronism or temptation to re-interpret the past in light of the present. Finally, though many research works emphasize the consequences of the conflict on how Russia has evolved, we will emphasize the consequences of this conflict on Chechnya and Chechen society.
The questions we wish to address can be grouped under four main themes:
How to work on this war?
This question, unavoidable for a conflict as contemporary as that of Chechnya, is in fact a dual one. As an ethical and political question, it is of importance today for all researchers in the domain of extreme violence (Sémelin, Zawadzki, Le Pape, Siméant, Vidal). If it is necessary that we discuss this war, which took place right in front of us, is it possible to produce knowledge which is purely academic and involves neither taking a stand nor action? How can we work without endangering, worsening the condition of persons who are the object of extreme acts of violence, at the very time when these acts of violence are taking place?
Then there is the question of sources. The war in post-Soviet Chechnya began less than twenty years ago, and has given rise to a profusion of journalistic sources, humanitarian or human rights NGO reports, testimonies gathered by the latter which are extremely valuable sources (Lokshina, Sokirianskaia); numerous actors and witnesses can be questioned. At the same time, Chechnya was and has to a great extent remained inaccessible: in addition to the dangers inherent in any armed conflict were those of the chaotic period between the two wars marked by hostage-taking and assassinations, besides the entry prohibitions put in place by the Russian authorities as of 1999. Still today, Chechnya remains a dangerous region where the foreign visitor or researcher is under strict control. In this context, what do existing sources tell us and what sources are used by and are usable by researchers?
Political rationales of violence
Our aim here is to analyse acts of violence committed against civilians as well as their perpetrators, from the point of view of the military and police rationales at work in the conflict. In this case, two problems arise– the qualification and labelling of the conflict (war, anti-terrorism) and the consequences of this naming on the war terrain; what relationship is there between the naming of the enemy by the political power and the practice of acts of violence on the terrain? Are there borrowings of anti-terrorist practices from other countries, as well as from Soviet counter-insurrection practices? In what way does the conduct of the war reflect the situation in the military, but also, in what way does it bring about reforms and reorganisations? How to evaluate the role played by R. Kadyrov’s armed forces in this violence? What are the relations between the boeviki, independentist and/or Islamist combatants and the civilian population? How to analyse the recourse to terrorism and its evolution during the war years? From the legal perspective, what links are there between the various stages of the conflict (jus ad bellum/ in bello/ post bellum) that enable us to speak of its breaking out, taking place, and of issues of after-war justice/reconciliation. Finally, how to record the Chechen war in the long history of wars and characterise it with the tools of “war studies”? Is the distinction between “old” and “new” war (Kaldor) operational in the case of this conflict?
War experiences and socio-cultural consequences of the war
We would like to examine the existing sources, testimonies, memoires, narrations and fictions to try to understand what was lived by those who went through the war. First of all by the civilian populations, whether they remained in Chechnya or fled the conflict. Whereas the Russian population living in Chechnya-Ingushetia during the Soviet era left the territory gradually, beginning in 1991, what were the effects of the war on Chechen society, and on the different peoples/persons living in Chechnya before the war? What were the economic consequences and issues brought on by the war? How to analyse the evolution of religion and religious practice, as well as the political mobilisations of religion? How did social cohesion evolve in its various forms and what role in these upheavals is played by the teïp, traditional organisation in clans (Sokiranskaia)? What specific forms of violence were women exposed to, how did their role evolve and, more generally, how did gender relations evolve during the war? Can we speak of a “re-traditionalisation” today, and if so, how can it be explained? What about the formation of a diaspora and of Chechen communities in exile, what type of social links connect those who left – and sometimes returned to Chechnya?
We will also examine the war experience of combatants, particularly in terms of “war trauma”, but also in the translation of these reactions into resistance and disobedience movements. How the rationales of violence proper to police and military institutions play themselves out on the terrain, and how, inversely, violence and the war experience influence the behaviour of policemen and the military once back in Russia, outside of Chechnya.
Phases of “non-war” and ends-of-war
Contrary to the temptation to see the history of Russian-Chechen relations only structured by war and confrontation, we will also examine times of “non war”. First of all, the years between 1970-1980, a peaceful period, though not without tensions which remains to be re-explored. Second, the events of the beginning of the 1990s, after the fall of the USSR, the nature of the political relations between Moscow and Grozny and the modalities of negotiations or non-negotiations, as well as the role of the various actors involved. Finally, how to qualify the period between 1996-1999 (“interwar”, “end-of-war”) and the present period?
For all these periods, we will ask what legal relations were set up between Grozny and Moscow, how the status of Chechnya evolved and how the issue of recognition intervened in the process. What were the forms of political management of Chechnya by Moscow and what forms of government in Chechnya itself were given priority? How is Chechnya managed by Moscow from the viewpoint of the whole North Caucasus? How to analyse relations between Chechen and Russian elites, whether before and during the wars, and today, under Ramzan Kadyrov? How were economic relations with Moscow and the rest of Russia established, how did Chechnya fit into the networks and what role did it play in the circulation of various flows – economic and financial, legal and illegal? Finally, we will ask how, during these 20 years, issues of justice and impunity were addressed, in particular, the importance of internal justice mechanisms in comparison with the possibilities and limits of international justice; notably in the absence of Russia’s ratification of the Rome statute founding the CPI.
The inter-disciplinary conference is open to the contributions of historians, sociologists, researchers in political science and international relations, cultural studies, literature and the cinema, as well as specialists in military questions. Although the conference will focus mainly on Chechnya since the fall of the USSR, contributions on earlier periods are also welcome, as are proposals involving a comparison between the Chechen case and other conflicts.
Persons wishing to participate should send to email@example.com a résumé of 300 to500 words along with a short biographical note (no CV) for May 4th 2012.
Participants accepted will be informed by June 1st 2012.
Participants will be requested to provide an abstract of approximately 5-7 pages (3000-5000 words) for September 15th 2012.
Working languages: French, English, Russian (presentations are possible in these three languages, French-Russian and Russian-French translation only will be available).
Information: http://russiaviolence.hypotheses.org, firstname.lastname@example.org
This conference is organised by the research project Understanding Violence in Russia: War, Institutions, Society thanks to the support of the “Emergence(s)” Programme of the City Hall of Paris.
Organising Institutions: Centre d’étude des mondes russe, caucasien et centre-européen (CERCEC) (CNRS/EHESS); Fondation Maison des Sciences de l’Homme, Paris; The Journal of Power Institutions in Post-Soviet Societies (PIPSS.ORG); Université Libre de Bruxelles-; Centre d’études franco-russe, Moscow.
Scientific Committee Alain Blum (CERCEC (EHESS/CNRS)), Raphaëlle Branche (University Paris-1, CHS, IUF), Marielle Debos (University Paris Ouest, ISP), Jean-Vincent Holeindre (Panthéon-Assas University (Paris 2), Centre Raymond-Aron (EHESS)), Mary Kaldor (London School of Economics), Julie Saada (Artois University), Aglaya Snetkova (Centre for Security Studies, ETH, Zurich), Katia Sokirianskaia (International Crisis Group, Moscow), Maïrbek Vachagaev (Association for Caucasian Studies, Paris), Vanessa Voisin (CEFR-IRICE)