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Wednesday, 2 February, 2000, 16:07 GMT
Turkey succours wounded Chechens
A Chechen fighter convalesces in Istanbul hospital
A Chechen fighter convalesces in Istanbul hospital
By Chris Morris in Istanbul

As the Russian offensive in Chechnya continues, events are being watched with particular concern in Turkey, a country with plenty of people who trace their roots to the Caucasus.

The Turkish government has joined international calls for military action to come to a halt, though it is cautious about needlessly provoking Russia.

Instead, it is a grass-roots movement in Turkey which is busy helping the Chechen people in their hour of need, as is evident at a small hospital in an Istanbul suburb.

Dozens of Chechens here have been treated with the help of Turkish Islamist aid groups.
Mohamed lost his arm while fighting in Chechnya
Mohamed lost his arm during a Russian air raid in Grozny
Indeed, 150 new patients are expected to arrive at this hospital soon.

In the wards, the patients - all young men - were nervous about being interviewed as they were concerned about the possibility of Russian reprisals against their relatives back home.

Mohamed, a former student, lost his arm during a Russian air raid in Grozny. He would not say exactly how he had come to Istanbul.

Turkish anger

Mohamed told me that he was grateful for the help given by Turkish Muslims, but other countries are doing nothing.
Turks feel real anger about Chechen war
Turks feel real anger about Chechen war
"Only God can decide when the war will come to an end," he said.

Real anger is palpable at a big pro-Chechen demonstration in Istanbul where protesters are expressing their frustration at what is happening to fellow Muslims in Chechnya.

The Russians allege that financial and material aid to Chechnya is flowing through Turkey, although this is hard to prove. Pro-Islamist groups say their focus is on humanitarian assistance, but they say the government could and should do more.

"No official policy can stand against the will of the people for long", says Bulent Yildirim of the National Youth Foundation.

"Turkish public opinion is very sympathetic to the Chechens. So the current government will have to change its policy - or the people will change the government."
Bouka: Fled Chechnya
Bouka: Fled Chechnya
Turks of Chechen origin are busy helping the few refugees who have made it to Turkey.

Bouka Aidamirova escaped across the Chechen mountains and crossed into Georgia with her son, just before the Russians shut the route down.

Bouka says she wants to go back - but only when the Russians have gone for good. For the moment however, she is stranded.

Turkey must be cautious

Politicians in Ankara may be sympathetic, but Russia is a huge neighbour, and Turkey's second largest trading partner.

There are good reasons for treading carefully, according to Fehmi Koru, a political commentator, in a country with its own large minority group, the Kurds.

"Turkey is very much dependent on Russian natural gas for example. And also there are people who feel that if Turkey tries to make a fuss about the Chechens, people will bring up the Kurds," Mr Koru says.

At the moment, the Turkish government will not pour oil onto troubled waters. But if the war in Chechnya drags on, there may be pressure for a change of heart.


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See also:

17 Jan 00 | Europe
01 Feb 00 | Europe
27 Jan 00 | Europe
30 Sep 99 | Europe
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