NPR: Ethnic Chechens Caught Up in Iraq Violence
- National Public Radio (NPR)
SHOW: Weekend Edition Sunday 12:00 PM EST
September 30, 2007 Sunday
Ethnic Chechens Caught Up in Iraq Violence
JAMES HATTORI, host:
In Iraq's Diyala province is a village called Chechen. And yes, its
residents are ethnic Chechens. They're 800 miles away from their
traditional homeland in Southern Russia. The 30 Chechen families in
the village have tried to steer clear of the ongoing violence around
them. But the Chechens have now become the latest victims in Iraq's
NPR's Jamie Tarabay reports.
JAMIE TARABAY: He's got light brown hair and his blue eyes are tired
from worry and days without sleep. Munsi Mahmoud(ph), one of the
Chechen community's leaders has spent the past few days placing people
from his village into the homes of sympathetic neighbors. They were
forced to flee after Shiite militiamen targeted their village in
retaliation for an attack on one of their villages earlier this month.
Mr. MUNSI MAHMOUD (Chechen Community Leader): (Through translator)
Al-Qaida - whatever you call it - struck the Shiites in the village of
Balar(ph), killed 14. They were able to attack Balar by coming through
TARABAY: In response, Mahmoud says, Shiite militias gathered in their
hundreds and turned on the nearest Sunnis they could find - the
Chechens. The militiamen attacked the Chechen village and burned down
most of its houses and orchards. The Iraqi army intervened and managed
to evacuate the local before the entire village went up in flames,
Mr. MAHMOUD: (Through translator) If the Iraqi army hadn't come, it
would have all been gone. They brought everyone out. But even on the
road, the militias were firing on us.
TARABAY: Among the wounded Chechens were women and children. Mahmoud
and other village elders went to the mayor's office in the nearby town
of Muqtadiya to appeal for help. Mayor Najem Harbi says the Chechens
are peaceful people.
Mayor NAJEM HARBI (Muqtadiya, Iraq): (Through translator) I can tell
you, these people have nothing to do with the sectarian war. They are
educated, liberal and peaceful.
TARABAY: Most of the Chechens who live here are third or fourth
generation descendants of those who wandered from Russia, traversing
Persia and reaching Iraq almost 200 years ago. Mahmoud, the village
elder, says Chechens live in Mosul, Irbil and Kirkuk in Iraq's north.
Others traveled as far as Jordan, Syria and Turkey.
The U.S. militaries had a long-standing relationship with the Chechens
here. Lieutenant Anthony Vomplinsky(ph) from Apache Troop of the 69th
Cavalry of the 1st Cavalry Division remembers the first time his
patrol stumbled into the Chechen village nearly a year ago. There, he
says, he saw men with hair that was whiter than snow.
Lieutenant ANTHONY VOMPLINSKY (Apache Troop, 69th Cavalry, 1st Cavalry
Division): We drove down there and the Muqta or the head guy of the
this area came out, spoke pretty good English, stopped us and asked to
take us around his town. Seemed like he was very proud of his town,
very proud of his people down there and stuff like that.
TARABAY: Vomplinsky says the U.S. military has never had any problems
with the Chechens.
Lt. VOMPLINSKY: They usually kept to themselves. They don't really
come out and do much dealings with Muqtadiya in general. They
understand that their symbiotic relationship - they're going to feed
off of the other and this is the inevitability of living close to each
TARABAY: Mahmoud, the Chechen village elder, said his people have
always tried to be friendly with their Iraqi-Arab neighbors. But he
believes their mere presence and ownership of Iraqi land would someday
create problems for his village.
Mr. MAHMOUD: (Through translator) Even until now, the Arabs look at
us, our lands, like we are different. Their aim has always been to
take back our land. This has been their intention for a very long time.
TARABAY: Mahmoud says he doesn't know how to speak the language of his
forefathers. He only speaks Arabic. He considers himself an Iraqi. But
like other minorities in this country, he thinks he and his people
will never be accepted no matter how long they live here.
Jamie Tarabay, NPR News.