What's a Chechen? It sounds like the start of a joke, but there's no punchline. I'm supposed to write about the war in Chechnya this issue, but...the war itself is kind of interesting, but something's missing. Maybe you don't realize it over in Moscow, but nobody in the US cares about Chechnya. At all. Maybe that's why I'm having a hard time writing about it.
-- No, it's sort of more complicated than that, because not caring should make it easier to be a war fan. I probably wouldn't even want to write about wars where people I care about were getting killed, so maybe it's better not to care.
A boring war.
No, that's crap. In the first place, when I wrote that bit about "people I care about" it hit me, I don't care about anybody. Not since my dog died. Especially not on weekdays, or when the commute's bad, or when it's as hot as it's been around here lately.
Fuck'em. I'd love to write about the place I live going up in flames. Those fires in Arizona and Colorado -- you hear about these fires over there in Russia? That's when it hit me, sitting there in front of the TV -- I was cheering the fires. Go flames! Roast those Arizonans in their shorts and T-shirts! I hope it all burns. It's not war exactly but it's kind of close in a way. Lots of smoking ruins anyway, and lots of good godfearing assholes having to wake up for once and get their noses shoved in the fact that the world doesn't like them.
So why is it so hard to get interested in Chechnya? Maybe it's because there haven't been any good pictures out of there in a while. You read about the war there sometimes, but there's never any interesting combat shots. Just the charity bullshit, with a closeup of some little Muslim kid acting devastated and then this sobby voice going, "Please send money." But nobody does, or at least I don't think so. I think it's because the Christians only go after war orphans they think they can convert, and it's no use trying to get Muslims. (I had this friend in high school, his parents went all churchy when they got old, and they signed up to be missionaries in Pakistan. I laughed for a week. Pakistan. I haven't talked to him lately -- I haven't talked to anybody lately -- so I don't know if they lived. But it's so cool to think about these Bakersfield Okies heading up the driveways in Peshawar holding their little Bibles. I hope they roast the fuckers alive.)
The other problem is the geography. Chechnya's hard to find. It's landlocked, and that never helps -- landlocked countries are fucked. Ask the Kurds. Ask the Dinka. And the alliances are very complex, too complex for Fresno TV, that's for sure.
But when I started looking into it, I found the war, just as war, does have some interesting aspects. It's one of those classic combats between two crippled countries. Russia would never have had a problem with Chechnya if it hadn't fallen apart; and the Chechens wouldn't've had a problem expelling the severely weakened Russian army if they hadn't had built-in flaws like a tiny population, lack of ground cover, and a macho war code that kept them from fighting an effective guerrilla campaign.
The first Chechen war started in 1994. but that's not really the beginning of the war. None of these slow postcolonial wars ever really start or end. That's one of the things that makes them so depressing and un-fun. Un-cinematic...hey, maybe that's why the whole thing's so hard to get interested in: no movies about it! Although actually, I hear there is a Russian film about Chechnya, called Outpost or Blockhouse (or Outhouse) and I saw a clip about another called "War" on CNN, but they're not subtitled so I never saw them. Any of you Russians know about them? Are they any good? Write me at eXile and I'll pass the word on to all the other war fans.
But like I said, that wasn't the start. You have to be a professor of Asian history to find the start. The Russians were expanding south all through the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, of course. That's what led to all the Russo-Turkish wars, and the European entanglements, like the Crimean. But the Chechens were apparently one of the last peoples to accept the Russians. The Chechens, and this does seem to be one consistently clear thing about the war, were the real warriors, the stone crazies, of the region. I've come across some amazing stories about them in trying to research this column. The neighbors, the Daghestanis for example, are terrified of them. And the Chechens apparently used to rule the Moscow crime world in the early Yeltsin era even though there were only about a thousand Chechens in Moscow. There's a great story about the Chechens going to a meeting with the slow old Russian crime bosses. The Russians were eating and drinking, feeling safe, when the Chechens just grabbed the steak knives and started stabbing. Half the Russian bosses were dead before they had time to finish the first course.
Burn, baby, burn.