Russia to pull out of Chechnya

Posted by Eric Brightwell, April 16, 2009 04:57pm | Post a Comment

Cessation of operations

Russia has announced the end of its ten year “counter-terrorism” campaign in The Chechen Republic of Ichkeria (aka Noxçiyn Respublika Noxçiyçö and Нохчийн Республика Нохчийчоь). Although Chechnya has been fairly peaceful for some time now, many allege that it is due to the ironfisted rule of Russian-approved-and-installed Chechen leader, Ramzan A. Kadyrov, who along with his private militia, Kadyrovtsy, faces widespread suspicion of kidnapping, torturing and murdering advocates of self rule.

Eliza Betirova

Russia’s president, Dmitri A. Medvedev, having vowed to make rule of law the cornerstone of his government, may in fact be attempting to distance itself from the monster many say Moscow created by installing and giving free-rein to a scandal-plagued former rebel who some have compared to a cult leader who has described Chechnya as a “zoo filled with animals” and bragged, “I will be killing as long as I live."

Ali Dimayev

Russia’s involvement with Chechnya
Chechnya declared its independence in 1991, alongside many of its fellow Soviet republics. In what’s become an almost comically transparent double standard, Russia recognized the independence of former Soviet republics of South Ossetia and Abkhazia (since they’re within Georgia), and Georgia, which denied recognition to its breakaway republics, was one of two nations to recognize Chechnya’s independence (although the Chechen Republic of Ichkeria is a member of the Unrecognized Nations and Peoples Organization), the other being Afghanistan.

Timur Mucuraev

Yeltsin, then president, was upfront about Russia’s unwillingness to let Chechnya secede, due, in large part, to its considerable oil reserves. Russia first invaded the newly-independent republic in 1994, sending in 40,000 troops. The war ended in the humiliating defeat of the Russians two years later.

Ramzan Pascaev
In 1999, Kadyrov’s private army switched its allegiance to Moscow and his family seemed to come into some money, beginning construction on a 54 million dollar palace and closing refugee camps, calling their inhabitants spies.

Makka Sagaipova

From a Russian standpoint, their involvement in Chechnya has been largely disastrous. The European Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg ordered Russia to pay damages to the families of thirteen people who disappeared in Chechnya between 2001 and 2003, finding the government guilty of violating the ban on torture and the right to life and freedom.

  Mariam Tashaeva

Most estimated that the Russians lost around 5,000 troops in the first operation alone (and killed at least 41,000 Chechens). The most widely recognized event of the second war was the Beslan Massacre in North Ossetia, in which over 300 people died.
Fatima Turtulhanova

A pattern of violence
In March 2005, the democratically elected Chechen president Aslan Maskhadov was killed by Russian special forces. His successor was Kadyrov’s Moscow-approved father, who was killed by a landmine in 2007. Ramzan Akhmadovich Kadyrov is a former Chechen rebel (like his father) who assumed power in 2007. Shortly afterward, a pattern has emerged of his critics getting shot and killed.

Liza Umurova

In 2008, Ruslan B. Yamadayev was shot dead in his car whilst driving in Moscow. In January of this year, one of Kadyrov’s former bodyguards, Umar S. Israilov, was shot dead whilst buying yoghurt in Vienna after talking extensively to the New York Times about the Kadyrovsty’s widespread abuses.

Zina Anasova

Just this March, Sulim B. Yamadayev, one of Ruslan’s brothers and an elected member of Parliament, was shot dead in the parking garage of his apartment in Dubai. Dubai’s police chief, Lt. Gen. Dahi Khalfan bin Tamim, said the killing was traced to one of Kadyrov’s associates, Adam S. Delimkhanov. Kadyrov came to Delimkhanov’s defense and countered that Yamadayev had tried to kill him by poisoning a lake as well as committing other abuses, including involvement in the death of Kadyrov’s father, also a former rebel who defected to the Russian side and subsequently governed Chechnya.

Ilyas Ayubov

A history of struggle
One thing is inarguable. After killing most of his opponents, Grozny, Chechnya’s capital, has achieved a peace that many thought would never come – especially as violence flares up in other parts of the region. Even before the twenty year violent struggle against Russia, Chechens have long been among the most embroiled people on earth. In the 1940s, Stalin deported the entire population to Siberia, charging them as a people with collaborating with the Nazis to weaken Russia’s imperialist hold on the Soviet-subjugated region. A third of the Chechen people died on the way there, another third died when they were moved back in 1956.

Imam Alimsultanov

Chechen culture
Chechnya is a mostly Muslim nation. Despite their language belonging to the Nakh family, Arabic was the only written language until 1923, when the Chechen alphabet was created. Chechnya converted to Islam under the Ottoman Empire in the 1400s. Before Islam, their religion was largely based around rain rites and farming, including honoring the Thunderer Sela and the Goddess Tusholi.

Marina Aidaeva

Although Muslim, Chechen’s traditional culture imbues their lives, especially the concept of “nokchallah,” a term for the Chechen behavioral code which is roughly analogous to the dead concept of chivalry in the west.

Imran Usmanov

As with most cultures, a big part of Chechen cultural expression is their music. As with their spiritual views, their musical expressions are also closely tied to Chechen culture. Pkh'armat is a legendary figure who brought fire to the Chechens with a burning reed, who is thus honored with the music of the native reed pipe. The chiondarg is a fiddle-like instrument that, when played, is believed to lead to healthier crops. The pondur is a stringed instrument similar to the balalaika.

Bilo Haj

The Soviet composter A.A.Davidenko travelled to Chechnya in the 1920s and published arrangements of their folk music in 1926. Chechen musicians include Marina Aidaeva, Imam Alimsultanov, Ilyas Ayubov, Liza Akhmatovabulat, Zina Anasova, Aza Bataeva, Eliza Betirova, Valid Dagayev, Ali Dimayev, Amarbek Dimayev, Said Dimayev, Umar Dimayev, Khas-Magomed Hadjimuradov, Sultan Islamov, Sultan Makkayev, Raisa Malsagova, Timur Mucuraev, Ramzan Paskayev, Tatyana Rostova, Makka Sagaipova, Adnan Shakhbulatov, Maryam Tashaeva, Fatima Turtulhanova, Liza Umarova, Imran Usmanov and Malika Utsayeva.


Chechnya has been the subject of several documentaries and features, albeit nearly all focused on more recent, traumatic events: From Chechnya to Chernobyl, Rights and Wrongs: Chechnya - Russia's Human Rights' Nightmare, Guerrilla Tactics – Total Resistance, Kavkazkie plenniki, Terror in Moscow, Mountain Men and Holy Wars, Disbelief, Coca: The Dove From Chechnya - Europe In Denial of a War, Beslan: Siege at School No. 1, Kavkazskaya Rulyetka (Caucasian Roulette), Marksman, Alexandra and Russian Triangle.
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(In which we consider Léon Theremin.)

Posted by Job O Brother, December 2, 2008 12:04pm | Post a Comment
The other day, a customer at Amoeba Music stopped me and asked:

“Do you have the correct time?”

Long after I told him what time it was, I still pondered his specification of  the type of time he wanted. That adjective, correct. What had transpired in his days of life that he should deem it wise to emphasize that he didn’t want just any time quoted to him; he didn’t want me to make up a time (“Oh, it’s a quarter after eight billion o’clock”); he also didn’t want to fall trap to any inaccurate time, as perhaps others who’d come before me had given him. No, he wanted the correct time.

And while I would have – on this I vow – I would have given him the correct time regardless of whether or not he had made certain to choose that sort of information, I feel that, by both catering to his need and also not remarking on why I thought it odd he should make lengths to get only “correct” time, I have somehow contributed to his neurosis that, unless he asks for correct time, alternate times may well be offered.

What does any of this have to do with theremins? Very little, and for that, I apologize.

So, without further ado, please enjoy the following clip:

The woman is the above clip is the splendiferous Clara Rockmore, widely regarded as the finest theremin player of all time. A pupil of the instrument’s inventor, Léon Theremin, she remained a stalwart champion of the man even after he suddenly and mysteriously disappeared behind the Iron Curtain in 1938.

For those of you unfamiliar with the theremin, here’s a brief overview:

Léon Theremin invented the (coincidentally named) theremin in 1919 quite by accident, when his desire for a contraption that would allow him to make fresh, hot toast went awry. After many messy and frustrating nights were spent cleaning bread crumbs and margarine out of his workshop, he finally adhered to his pet chimp’s advice to market the failed toaster as an electronic instrument.

Léon Theremin, anticipating how high the slice of sourdough will pop-up.

Complications arose because the Soviets had a strict ordinance against any music that could eventually be used as incidental tracks for sci-fi motion pictures. (Lenin himself lived in fear of The Day the Earth Stood Still, a movie that, though it wouldn’t be filmed for another 32 years, still gave him nightmares so bad he’d have to be lifted from his underwater sleeping lair and spoon-fed bowls-full of Ovaltine to soothe him.

Lenin LOVED Ovaltine. He’d often eat it for breakfast, lunch and dinner, instead of the more traditional Russian meal of potatoes, beets and Pinkberry.)

Early Soviet propaganda

Consequently, Léon Theremin traveled to the United States of America (or, USA, for short). It was there he found fame and fortune. His marriage, in the 1930’s, to Lavinia Williams, caused quite a stir, though not, as many reputable historians have agreed, because she was black. It was for a different reason. But I’m not telling you what it was. So there. Meh meh moo moo.

In 1938, Léon Theremin – by now going under the name T. Diddy – was kidnapped at gunpoint and returned to the Soviet Union (or, Союз Советских Социалистических Республик, for short). His captors were astonished upon their return to discover that, when they peeled away the lovely Christmas paper they used to conceal him, it was Theremin the man. It was, in fact, his pet chimp they were after – not the inventor! But the Soviets, being an open-minded and adaptable bunch of chaps, decided to go ahead with their plans and placed Léon Theremin in a traveling circus, billing him as Yoyo, the Fast Dancing Chimp.

Early advertisement for Theremin's show.

Sadly, Léon Theremin eventually died of a banana overdose. Eerily, this happened November 3, 1993 – just one year and a couple months before Kurt Cobain took his life on April 5, 1994.

Even so, Theremin’s invention has lived on and influenced many future, electronic virtuosos, such as Wendy Carlos, Robert Moog, and Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart.

For those of you interested in learning more about the hot, sultry, sexy story of Léon Theremin, I encourage you to read things about him that aren’t complete lies. For the rest of us, this humble blog is enough.

Next week, I’ll be telling you the thrilling life’s story of Isadora Duncan, the first ballerina to conquer the Moon-men!

Below is a clip of Lydia Kavina, another theremin master, still living and producing work. You can find recordings by both her and Clara Rockmore in the avant-garde classical section of Amoeba Music.

Ossetia - Ир, Ирыстон

Posted by Eric Brightwell, August 8, 2008 03:41pm | Post a Comment
Remember how Russia was grousing when Kosovo declared independence? Remember how they said it would open a Pandora's Box of evils like autonomy, diversity, cultural expression and self-determination? Well, in an unprecedented about face, Russia invaded the breakaway region of South Ossetia today to repel US-encouraged Georgia's forces who launched a surprise attack on the hapless Ossetians at the encouragement of the Bush administration, killing unconfirmed numbers of Ossetian civilians without provocation. Perhaps the most surprising thing is how most of the media have used this to denounce Russia, and not to defend the Ossetians, whose homeland was invaded without apparent provocation.

Condoleeza Rice said, “This is not 1968, and the invasion of Czechoslovakia, where Russia can invade its neighbor, occupy a capital, overthrow a government and get away with it,” she said. “Things have changed.” It's sort of funny coming from the people who invaded Afghanistan and Iraq, occupied their capitals, overthrew their governments and got away with it. But they're not our neighbor so it's ok. So why did the media throw their support behind the breakaway republics of Yugoslavia but not Georgia? Because Georgia is a tool and partner in the US's efforts to expand influence in the area, so they aren't beholden to the same standards as our enemies.

The Ossetians homeland lies both in Russia and Georgia. They're an Aryan people who moved to the region some 7,000 years ago. The word "Ossetia" comes from the Georgian name for them. Their own name for their country is Irættæ. Their ancestors founded the kingdom of Alania, which was a beneficiary of the Silk Road. They migrated to their current home in the Caucasus to flee the Mongol Horde. When the USSR collapsed, some Ossetians proposed reviving the name of Alania. Soon afterward, the term Alania was revived in many enterprises and added to the official title of the Russian-occupied north, making it Republic of North Ossetia-Alania.

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Putting the "Balkan" in "Balkanization"

Posted by Eric Brightwell, February 18, 2008 02:26pm | Post a Comment

Kosovar musicians (left) and independence-celebrations... with American Flags- nice touch (right)

If you're like me, you love a new country. Yesterday, Kosovo took the plunge. Of course, Serbia is predictably bitching and moaning, but haven't they gotten used to rejection, what with being successively dumped by Croatia, Slovenia, Bosnia, Herzegovina, Montenegro and Macedonia? And didn't Serbia ignite the Great War when they were trying to assert their independence? And didn't Serbia only include Kosovo because it invaded it in 1912? Let it go, Serbia. You are too possessive. You smother your mates and now you're alone and forsaken.

Of course, from looking at new countries, choosing independence seems like a pretty tough row to hoe. Look at some of the Earth's newest countries.

East Timor, approaching ten years of independence, is still plagued with violence, corruption, lack of economic development or infrastructure.


Eritrea, independent for 15 years, enjoys an uneasy peace with its neighbors Ethiopia and Yemen.

But Montenegro, approaching its second year of independence, seems to be doing a lot better, with pollution from tourists being the biggest issue. Whether achieving independence goes roughly or smoothly, there's a long waiting list. Check out the UNPO sight. There are currently 192 universally recognized sovereign states. A country like Taiwan isn't included in the list. They, like South Ossetia, Somaliland, Nothern Cyprus, Palestine, Nagorno-Karabakh, Sahrawi, Transnistria, Kurdistan, Abkhazia, may, for the most part, run their own business, but are recognized by few for various reasons.

Red shows distribution of Russians (W. Hollywood not shown). These Yakuts' lands are Russian, they just don't know it.

Of course Vladimir Putin is upset. What kind of precedent does this set? A good one, I say. One that champions self-determination achieved through non-violent means. I mean, if you look at a map of Russia it's basically one big boundary drawn around a bunch of people for whom the government in Moskva holds little relevance. I remember when all the former Soviet republics bailed, a radio reporter asked a guy in Kazakhstan how life was different now that the Soviet Union was gone. He was all, "The whuh? Never heard of 'em." What gave Russia the right to call most of Asia "Russia" anyway? Sticking some intellectuals out in far-flung work camps in the taiga is hardly asserting your state's authority.  Furthermore, I doubt Putin would be whining about self-determination if the Russkies were still under the yoke of the ruthless Mongol horde or threatened by the church-burning Krauts. No, Aleksandr Nevsky-- please don't free us, it sets a terrible precedent.

Aleksandr Nevsky, spokesmodel for self-determination

Putin has asked when argued with about this sort of thing, "Well, how would you like it if Alaska declared independence?" Sounds cool to me. I'm down. The plains and Rockies could form their own country too. Then Bush wouldn't be my president. An independent Midwest would give them a chance to assert their ignored cultural singularity with Garrison Keillor delivering state of the union addresses that would begin with, "It was a quiet year in The Middle West..." John Cougar could write their national anthem to quiet chuckles from the sweater-clad congress. I'm afraid the South must remain in the Union, though, because they probably won't create all the good music and literature if they're not subjugated to the remaining U.S.A.

The Middle West's (hypothetical) President Keillor

And, as far as the Kosovar music scene goes, there's already the following music festivals:

Rock për Rock, Polifest, Showfest, Videofest, Kush Këndon Lutet Dy Herë and the North City Jazz & Blues Festival.

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