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Wednesday, 6 February, 2002, 00:24 GMT
Jordan's Chechens divided by war
Rifat Shishani (right) and his father
For some of Jordan's Chechens, the war is personal
By Russell Working in Zarqa, Jordan

When wounded Chechen fighters arrived here in 1994, everything changed for Younis Ashab.

Younis Ashab
Ashab went to Chechnya to enforce Islamic law, the sharia
Ashab, a 53-year-old electrician, was inspired after watching television reports about the young rebels who had been brought to Jordan by an Islamic charity and were in a hospital in the Jordanian capital Amman.

He sought out the young fighters, married his daughter to one of them and travelled to Chechnya.

"They are our people and they speak our language. We welcomed them and supported them," he said.


I am outraged when the Russian politicians say 'Chechnya is a cancer on the body of Russia'. They want Chechnya without Chechens

Visskhal, Chechen refugee

Ashab is one of 8,000 ethnic Chechens living in this Middle Eastern kingdom stretching between Israel and Iraq.

Chechens first came to Jordan in 1895 -1905, fleeing Russia's southward expansion in the historically Muslim Caucasus regions.

They found a home in what was then part of the Ottoman Empire.

Divided

The current war in Russia's rebellious south has divided Chechens here, as it divides their kinsmen at home.


Now they've heard about us. The writers started writing about the struggle we have been through for 300 years

Rifat Shishani, Jordanian Chechen

Some blame Chechen leaders for provoking Russian brutality. Others support the cause by collecting money and lobbying foreign governments. And some send their sons to fight.

Abdul Baki-Jamu, 75, an ethnic Chechen who has served as a senator and cabinet minister during his 45-year political career, says he has urged separatists in Russia not to seek independence.

"I said, 'You will be destroyed and you will go backwards 100 years, and it will take you 100 years to recover.' But they didn't listen".

'Humanitarian aid'

Yet many Jordanian Chechens say Baki-Jamu is out of touch.

Russian President Vladimir Putin
President Putin holds firm line with Chechen rebels

Bader Al-Deen Izzedeen Bino Shishani is a Jordanian professor who claims to serve as a roving ambassador for Chechnya's rebel leadership.

He has travelled from Indonesia to Morocco, and he and other Chechens abroad have raised an estimated $2 million in "humanitarian aid" for Chechnya.

But he denies that the money goes to buy weapons for the rebels.

Bader Shishani helps bring wounded soldiers and civilians to be fitted with prostheses in Jordan.

He is attempting to find a world body that will try Russian President Vladimir Putin as a "war criminal."

To cover his costs and raise money "to assist the people of Chechnya", he sells a $3 tape that recounts history from a Chechen perspective.

The tape opens with the sounds of automatic weapons.

"From the burning ruins of Grozny came what may be a final, heartbreaking message from its Chechen defenders, asking Muslims around the world not to forget the ordeal of its brothers in Chechnya, fighting the jihad holy war against Russian oppression," a narrator states in English.

But despite the tape's talk of holy war and Mr Putin's denunciation of foreign mercenaries in Chechnya, Bader Shishani insists he does not recruit fighters abroad.

Personal war

For some Jordanian Chechens, the war became personal.

Ashab, whose daughter married the Chechen veteran, wears the skullcap of a devout Muslim.

He and his wife moved to Chechnya in 1998, a year after his daughter moved there with her husband.

He translated, taught English and Arabic in the schools, and served as a judge enforcing sharia, or Islamic law.

Darker memories

While Ashab remembers this period as idyllic, many have darker memories of Chechnya between the wars.

Stung by its defeat in the 1994-96 conflict, Russia washed its hands of Chechnya. But the breakaway republic became a Lebanon of the 1990s.

Kidnappers snatched children from neighbouring Russian regions and sold them back to their families.

Chechen women washing clothes
Many Chechens have been forced to live in tents

A slave trade flourished. Armed gangs captured and beheaded foreign aid workers.

Chechnya's meltdown spilled into Russia in 1999. Some 300 people were killed in string of apartment bombings blamed on Chechen militants.

Chechen guerrillas invaded the neighbouring Russian republic of Dagestan in an attempt to bring holy war to a fellow Muslim region that wanted nothing to do with it.

Moscow had had enough, and former President Boris Yeltsin launched a second war.

During those violent days, Jordanian Chechens used to seek out the white-bearded Ashab.

"Most of them used to come to me in Shali because they wanted to meet a Jordanian," he said. "Most of them are dead now."

Outrage

Ashab's war veteran son-in-law, Visskhal, now 24, tried to re-enlist with the rebels, but they turned him down.

"You've done your duty," they said.

During the first war, he had been wounded in the head and lost an eye when a Russian soldier beat him with a rifle butt as he lay injured, he told his family.

He and 30 other rebel prisoners were blindfolded, herded into a mechanic's garage and crammed into the underground repair pit.

A concrete slab was placed on top with only a small opening at one end. Russian soldiers used to urinate into the hole. If anyone spoke, he was taken out and tortured.

The family eventually escaped to Turkey and returned to Jordan.

See also:

18 Jan 02 | Europe
UN backs Chechen president
28 Sep 01 | Europe
Analysis: New rules in Chechnya
06 Sep 01 | Europe
Chechnya's decade of disaster
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