A handful of Chechen and "Chechenized" bureaucrats are working
against the clock to cement commercial and political ties between the
breakaway Russian republic and the rest of the world. What's unusual is that they're doing so here from a three-story Turkish villa in the wooded heights above the
Istanbul has become the de facto, if not de jure, seat of
government of Chechnya. Now that the guns are silent, Checnya's leaders hope to move as quickly as possible from being a guerrilla movement to becoming a
functioning government and to do that, working telephones are needed.
Istanbul has got them; Grozny, the official Chechnyan capital, does not.
"Qatar is on the phone," shouts a secretary, and Mansour Jachimczyk
interrupts a conversation with an American woman in New York who
specializes in "negotiation deadlock" to take the call from the Gulf,
slipping from English into Russian and then into his native Polish before
going back to English again.
Krakow-born but Muslim-convert Jachimczyk is a man of many languages and
many titles. His business card reads "Secretary General of the
International Roundtable for the Reconstruction of Chechnya, Peace in the
Caucasus and Democracy in Russia and Chief Advisor to the Government of
the Chechen Republic of Ichkeria on Foreign Affairs and International
"One of our major projects right now is to create sister-city
relationships between Grozny and other Chechen towns with major cities in
Europe, the Middle East, Japan and America," Mansour explains. "Thus, if
war resumes, there will be a ready network in place to protest to a
number of different governments."
A renewal of war appears, for the moment at least, unlikely. Up to 20,000 Russian troops have left the battle-scarred republic while the pro-independence rebels are slowly establishing complete control of Grozny, the capital. Still, Grozny, and much of the rest of Chechnya, has been devastated. Communications from Grozny have been completely destroyed.
Meanwhile, "consulates" have been established in a score of foreign capitals, with
most of the "ambassadorships" having been appointed from the Istanbul
office to devoted supporters of the Chechen cause like Mansour. A series
of conferences bringing together scholars, human-rights activists and
politicians are also in the works. One was already held in Istanbul; the
next is planned for Warsaw in December, then Tokyo, London and Washington
in the spring of 1997.
The minister of foreign affairs, Rouslan Chimaev, and the minister of health, Dr. Umar Hambiev, make Istanbul the main seat of their
activities, while other high-ranking officials in the Chechen government
come and go with frequency. The equivalent of the head office of the
Chechen information and news service is now based in Istanbul as well.
The mansion overlooking the Bosporus is also the occasional domicile of
Alla Dudayev, the Russian-born widow of the late president of Chechnya,
Djokhar Dudayev, who still remains the most resonant symbol of Chechen
resistance to Russian rule in the breakaway republic. "My husband was only one of many, many martyrs who died for Chechen independence," says Mrs. Dudayev. "Our task now is to make sure their deaths were not in vain."
Another reason for the Chechnya-Istanbul connection is that Istanbul
is a friendly venue for a government not recognized by anyone else in the
world. Not only is public opinion
in mainly Muslim Turkey squarely on the side of the Chechens, but the
city is home to a large and very active diaspora community who emigrated
from Chechnya to the Ottoman Empire during the 19th century.
"I think we can be proud of our contribution to the Chechen struggle over
the past few years," says Fazil Ozen, chairman of the Chechen Solidarity
Committee in Istanbul, which has funneled millions of dollars (and not a
few fighting men) into Chechnya since 1994.
Communication between Istanbul and Grozny, however, remain problematic. While
satellite telephone links are possible (the Soviet-era
telephone system was bombed to bits during the war), physically getting
in and out of Chechnya still requires sneaking in and out, often over the
mountains. "It is pretty tough going sometimes, especially if you are carrying a lot
of luggage," says minister of health Dr. Hambiev, dressed in a black suit
and looking more like a banker than a front-line surgeon, which he was
during the war.
Meanwhile, multi-lingual Mansour Jachimczyk is back on the mobile
telephone, making last minute arrangements for Foreign Minister Chimaev's
trip to France, which, he hopes, will be the first country to officially
recognize Chechnya as an independent state. Israel and Poland are the
other chief candidates for that honor.
"Someday, I will slow down and be able to go home and build my house, as
planned," he says, reaching for his attaché case and heading for the
Mercedes waiting outside the door.
Where is that?
Thomas Goltz, a long-time foreign correspondent, was a finalist
for the Rory Peck Prize for his documentary
on the town of Samashki in Chechnya, which was broadcast on PBS in 1996.
His book on Azerbaijan, "Requiem for a Would-Be Republic," will be
re-issued by ME Sharpe (USA) early next year.
© Pacific News Service
Love's Labor Lost
"Don't tell me to improve my time-management skills. I've done that, and I'm scheduled to the teeth.
Teen-age boys don't need you on schedule. A spouse doesn't share intimacies on command. Work
doesn't always present new opportunities or crises just when you block out time for them. Throw in a
boss who has a good idea every two minutes and you can forget the schedule for good.
In the end, you simply can't do more of both. There's no room for better 'balance.' The metaphor is all wrong. You have to make a painful choice."
Robert Reich, on why he is quitting as Secretary of Labor. (From "My Family Leave Act," in Friday's New York Times)