Chechens might not be from the Czech Republic, as many believed following the horrific April 15 bombings in Boston. But there are some Chechens in Turkey. They might be far from their ravaged homeland, but Chechens in Turkey still feel the need to keep a low profile.
In Istanbul, their community has faced assassinations carried out by hit men who subsequently disappeared without a trace and scrutiny from Turkish authorities; no matter where they are in the world it is difficult for a Chechen to shake the “Islamic militant” stereotype.
Abrech, an ethnic Chechen born in Turkey who asked to be identified only by one name, agreed that some Chechens were radicalized by years of conflict.
“Chechens have the tendency to be radical Muslims,” he said. But the attacks in Boston had nothing to do with the Chechen struggle, he added. Why would a radical, militant Chechen attack a country other than Russia? The Boston bombings, according to Abrech, were an individual act clearly not part attached to the Chechen struggle.
In Turkey, the Chechen community can be divided into the old and new diaspora, he said. The old diaspora arrived before the wars of the 1990s. They numbered approximately 20,000and have been in Turkey for several generations. The new diaspora consisted of about two thousand people. “Not many of [the new diaspora] stayed in Turkey,” Abrech said. “If they had the option, the power, they went to other countries; the United States and in Europe.”
He told the story of his grandfather on his mother’s side, Dulki. Dulki was born in Chechnya and conscripted into the Soviet Army just before World War II.
“He started this adventure as a member of the Soviet Army. He ended it as a member of the Nazi army,” Abrech said. After fighting on multiple fronts, Dulki was captured by the Nazis and sent to a prison camp. But, because he was not an ethnic Russian, he was allowed to join the German army.
“People did not like the Soviet Union very much,” Abrech said. “Caucasus people still do not like the Russian Federation very much.”
After the war, Dulki (who died only about nine years ago) wondered where he should settle. The Soviets had sent virtually all Chechens to Central Asia and Siberia in 1944 in mass deportations. Dulki had no family left in Chechnya, no one to go home to.
He chose to live in Turkey because it was a Muslim country and he knew there were many Caucasus people there. At first he lived in Turkey’s central province of Konya, in a district of Beyesehir comprised mostly of Ingush people. He worked as a mechanic and after a few years was married to an Ingush woman who was born in Turkey. She taught him Turkish. Their children grew up speaking both Chechen and Turkish.
Abrech said that the older diaspora had a better life than the more recent one because after a few generations they were assimilated into Turkish society. He said there was “no significant economic difference compared to other ethnic groups in Turkey.” It was more difficult for the new Diaspora, which consists of recently arrived refugees from a war zone. The ones who stayed in Turkey were the ones who could not immigrate.
“Wars destroy lives and economies,” Abrech said.
There are many former fighters in Istanbul, he admitted. They are angry about the way the Chechen wars worked out. He estimated that a large number of Chechen men who came to Istanbul as refugees had been fighters. He pointed out that the Turkish government supported with arms and supplies the Chechen rebels during the 1994-1996 war against the Russians, “just like they are now providing in Syria,” he said.
Now with Chechnya relatively peaceful, there are some Chechens from Turkey returning to their homeland, but not a significant number.
There is not a better life in Chechnya, which still suffers from employment and security issues, Abrech said. Employed with a job in computer technology, he has no desire to go back to Chechyna. He visited twice when he was a child and maintained few memories of it.
Ramzan Kadyrov is a puppet, according to Abrech. “He just collaborated with the powerful side during the war. Many people in Chechnya hate him. Others are tired of the war and unsecure life. Even if he wants to be seen a s a good leader of Chechnya it is impossible for him.”
Abrech’s strongest memory of Chechnya was the nature, which he described as amazing. “The people are different,” he added. “The men are bigger, stronger. The women are more loud and speaking more – more dominant. They are funny people. They like enjoying life. The people have energy.”
Does he describe himself as Turkish or Chechen?
“I simply call myself Chechen, and a Turkish Citizen,” he said.
Justin Vela lives in Istanbul. Follow him on Twitter: @justinvela.