Sunday, Aug. 10, 2003

Grozny, Chechnya: 1994

I was made Chechen Minister of Culture in November and in late December of 1994 my ministry was bombed.

I tried to close the door of my office with a piece of wire — I don’t know why, there wasn’t much left — went out into the square in front of the building, where a militia unit was being formed, and joined up on the spot, even though I had no military experience.

As soon as the attack on the city started, we were in the thick of it, on Pervomaiskaya Street [in the center of Grozny] and then at the presidential palace. I was put in charge of uniting the various militias that had sprung up, then became a front commander.

At the beginning of the war, someone asked Jokhar [Dudayev, a former Soviet Air Force general who was then head of the breakaway republic] how long the war would last. ‘Fifty years,’ he said.

For a long time, I thought he was joking. But he was right. I have no illusions. The civilized world has no interest in us. They have betrayed us again. Putin has a maniacal hatred for Chechens.

What we have to do is outlive his presidency and hope for something better.

Akhmed Zakayev is a Chechen actor-turned-military commander who is now the chief overseas representative of secessionist Chechen President Aslan Maskhadov