Monday, April 26, 2010

Circles.

If you read enough about one subject, you start seeing these little overlapping circles, and running in between the circles will be these little red threads of ideas that connect them. It's like viewing a picture that you can't make sense of until your eyes do that little click and it suddenly comes into focus, and then you can't not see it. Pretty soon that little thread starts running through everything you see.

From today's Washington Post, about Ramzan Kadyrov:

I just finished reading A Dirty War, by Anna Politkovskaya, one of the people who criticized Kadyrov and ended up dead. Anna was forced into a car outside of her apartment building and found on the side of the road, shot in the head. Her death wasn't particularly surprising; she worked for Novaya Gazeta, a Russian newspaper whose reporters have the life spans of gnats.

That Politkovskaya's death was engineered by Kadyrov (and if you disagree, I have a bridge over the Bering I'd like to show you) is particularly ironic, given that Politkovskaya was one of the few Russian reporters willing to expose the Kremlin-ordered human rights abuses in Chechnya.

I read these four books:








Combined with a lot of other random research on Chechnya, the Russian Federation, and the slow roil and eruptions of that region, I started seeing little threads connecting all the various circles - theories put forth by Russian and Chechen writers alike.

I started reading about the Bosnian conflict because it was personal. My father was a peacekeeper, although how much peace was actually kept is debatable. I knew very little about what he did (I still know very little) but reading about it gave me the little current of connection, of recognizing the names of towns where he had been, of seeing the bigger picture of a conflict that a child's mind isn't built to understand.

Chechnya: Conflict in the Caucasus sets up the historical underpinnings of the region's volatility, although it's textbook-like prose drags in the final third. Carlotta Gail and Thomas de Waal (who wrote the introduction for Politkovskaya's book) do the reader a great service in explaining the disastrous military strategy of the invading Russian forces, so incompetent as to be almost funny (or actually funny, if wading through body parts comedy makes).

Khassan Baiev, a Chechen plastic surgeon-turn-triage-surgeon, wrote The Oath (with help from Ruth and Nicholas Daniloff). Baiev, who was educated in Russia, stayed in Chechnya as the bombs fell and the bodies rolled in, with a staff of nurses and a jury-rigged hospital. Baiev remained in Chechnya while others fled, and it was not the Russians that forced him out, it was the Chechen fighters, who kidnapped him for operating on Russian soldiers brought to his hospital and threatened to kill him.

Apparently the stupidity of shooting the one surgeon remaining in your region was lost on them, even though Baiev had saved many of the fighters from injuries. (Actually, that may encapsulate the conflict in a nutshell- it's dumb, but we're doing it anyway!) Baiev eventually made it to the United States and (relative, as long as you're not in Chicago) safety, although much of his family remains in Chechnya.

It's obvious where Baiev's sympathies lie, and eventually his proclamations of the saintliness of the Chechens get grating, especially when he finds himself on the wrong end of the Kalashnikov wielded by his countrymen, but the book captures the tide of death that rolls through his hospital in vivid, 3-d Gore-O-Rama.

Like Baiev, Politkovskaya has picked sides. A Dirty War is a disjointed book, but that's to be expected - the book is really more a collection of essays and article bits than a narrative. Sort of like a travelogue through Hell. Politkovskaya also includes the transcripts of several of her interviews, including the one with Kadyrov that sealed her fate.

Finally, Asne Seierstad's Angel of Grozny gives a worm's-eye and invaluable look into life in Chechnya. She spends some time living with Hadijat, who takes in the traumatized and orphaned children of Chechnya (well, some of them, since there are thousands). Traveling to and from Chechnya and Russia, Seierstad, no doubt aided by her Nordic good looks, even gets an up close encounter with Kadyrov and the surreal circus that surrounds him.

It is perhaps Seierstad's book, more than any of the others, that convinced me that there will never be an end to this war. The books inscribe an endless loop, a circle worn down by all the boots of whoever came before you.

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