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Following the tide of change that resulted in the breakup of the Soviet Union, the people of Chechnya proclaimed their independence in November 1991. Inevitably, many events took place between the newly formed nation and the Russian Federation, leading to the invasion of Chechnya by Russian troops in early December of 1994. A conflict that Anatol Lieven, the author of Chechnya: Tombstone Of Russian Power, has referred to as "the greatest epics of colonial resistance of the past century". Thus, for the next ten years, one bloody war after another reduced a thriving country to rubble; the Chechens enduring unimaginable suffering with no end in sight. To date, the struggle for self-determination has somehow, develop into an "Islamic" guerrilla war. Chechnya: Life In A War-Torn Society is not an account of the war; rather it is a reflection on a Chechen society forced into a never-ending, cruel and traumatizing war. The author of this scholarly text, Valery Tishkov, is currently the director of the Institute of Ethnography and Anthropology at the Russian Academy of Sciences. Therefore, his views on the conflict can be deemed authoritative and to some extent, biased.
In the first five chapters, the author seeks for the answer by explaining the historical context of events such as Stalin's atrocious deportation of the Chechens to the lifeless steppes of Kazakhstan during World War II, which the Chechens suffered in silence, undoubtedly created bitterness in their memories. Yet he asserts that it is not a reason for the unending conflict. Nor, according to Tishkov, do ethnic, tribal, or religious disparities explain the tragedy of this war. Tishkov however places the core of the problem in the early stage of Boris Yeltsin's presidency when rivalries between factions paralyzed the operations of the government in dealing with the Chechen crisis. He perceives the bloodshed as the result of unresponsiveness and puzzlements on the Russian leaders when the Chechen crisis first emerged and the reluctance to deal with General Dzhokhar Dudayev, whom the author introduces in chapter six, while the situation is still in control. All through the book, Tishkov observes the first war and its aftermath through the eyes of fifty-four Chechens whom he and his associates interviewed at length. These "informers" have infused his account of the war with an exclusive directness and subtlety. Their recollections offer a distinctive ethnographic description and analysis of the war, the outcome, and what precipitated it.
According to the survivors and Tishkov, the Chechens success in the first war can be attributed to the use of "guerrilla warfare", with tactics such as ambushes and attacks on the enemy's lines of communication which the author of Resisting Rebellion, Anthony J. Joes, stated as one of the vital strategy for insurgents to succeed. Tishkov goes on to express his admiration for the Chechen fighters' ability to overcome the psychological fear and intimidation and master the techniques of guerrilla warfare. Nevertheless, in chapter seven, when they staged and recorded their attacks, Tishkov portrays the exhibitionist behavior of the Chechen fighters as acts of terrorism. The author fails to realize that it is one of the ways that terrorists can get their objectives across to a wider audience. In his book Terror In The Mind Of God: The Global Rise Of Religious Violence, Mark Juergensmeyer, the noted sociologist and the Director of Global and International Studies, explains it as a theater that terrorists use to conduct terror for their audiences whom they are trying to terrorize. Yet, Tishkov fails to mention the atrocities that Russian troops committed on the Chechens that provoked the situation in the first place. On the aspect of religious, from chapter eleven to the rest of the book, Tishkov emphasizes the negative influences of Arab outsiders in the conflict, such as the al-Qaeda terrorist's network, whom he feels is using Chechnya as a stage determined to turn it into another Islamic state similar to the Taliban of Afghanistan. Tishkov's Chechnya: Life In A War-Torn Society is a recommended book since it does not try to venerate or condemn either side of the conflict but to expose how the war-monger parties in both Moscow and Grozny have made the erroneous political decisions that brought war to the Chechens and terrors to the citizens of Russia. Last but not least, the reader of this book must approach it with an open mind and not to form their judgments prematurely. Such as, in the view of some Westerners, the conflict is being about a small brave nation fighting against an imperial monster, or, in the view of Russia, an armed coup d'etat in Chechnya led by General Dudayev, resulting in the rise of an aggressive paramilitary regime that challenged both the Russian state and its armed forces. Nevertheless, it is a conflict that for Russia, according to Joes, who ranks it as one of the most disastrous counterinsurgent experiences on record, with the full implications of which have yet to manifest themselves.