Dispatches from Chechnya No. 11

Colleges and Universities in the Chechen Republic

GROZNY, April 16, 2001 –Two bloody wars have done irreparable damage to Chechen culture and education. The bombing and shelling of most of Chechnya’s cities and villages has completely destroyed the entire cultural and educational infrastructure. Schools and laboratories have been destroyed along with theaters and concert halls. Libraries, museums, community centers, playgrounds and parks are all gone.

Bombing and fires destroyed the National Archives of the Chechen Republic, including photographic collections, audio tapes and videos that documented the history of Chechen art: theater, music and dance. Also destroyed were manuscripts of scholars and writers and paintings made by Chechen artists. All publishing houses were destroyed in the war, and a number of newspapers, magazines and television and radio stations have ceased to exist.

One of the most beautiful cities in the Caucasus, Grozny, lies in ruins, along with all of its parks, gardens, monuments and historical buildings.

Architectural monuments dating from the middle ages in the Chechen mountains, which are some of the world’s great cultural treasures, have been damaged or destroyed by artillery fire.

The Chechen ecosystem has sustained irreparable damage.

Worst of all, however, is the serious damage that the war has done to Chechnya’s spiritual culture and morality. Yet again the development of Chechen society has been stopped in its tracks and the spiritual and cultural continuity of a generation has been broken.

Chechen State University

The Chechen State University was one of the leading institutions of higher education in the North Caucasus. In the late 1980s the university employed more than 60 full professors and more than 300 associate professors. The university had excellent facilities, including technical laboratories and a library that housed more than one million books. Each year, it published a bibliography of works in the natural and social sciences. Additionally, the university frequently hosted international, national and regional conferences and seminars.

All of the university buildings were destroyed in the 1994-96 war, including the main building on Aslanbek Sheripov street, the library, the botanical gardens, the computer center, and the university press.

During the war, Russian bombs and shells killed many university students and teachers.  Dozens of highly-qualified specialists and scholars fled Grozny.

Despite all of this, in 1995 the Chechen State University re-opened in a former orphanage in Grozny’s Olympic neighborhood.

Before the second war began in October of 1999, 8,500 students attended the university. The faculty included 19 professors and around 140 associate professors. In spite of the very difficult social, political, and economic situation in the republic and the fact that over the course of three years faculty were paid their salaries only three or four times, the standards of teaching were still high. During the three post-war years, the university published several monographs and textbooks and 300 articles. Two doctoral students and 7 masters students defended their dissertations.

When fighting broke out in October of 1999, university classes were canceled. Dozens of students died in the Russian attacks, and dozens more disappeared without a trace when they were illegally detained in the so-called purges.  During a massacre of civilians in the village of Aldy, an instructor at the university, Idris Uspayev, was cruelly tortured and killed.

In March of 2000 the university once again re-opened, in spite of the constant threat to the lives of teachers and students. The parents of university students must escort their already-grown children to and from classes in order to protect them from arrest by Russian soldiers. [Most young Chechens lack identity documents because the Russian government has not issued these documents to Chechens since before 1994. The parents escort the students in order to vouch for them.  Ed.]  This is, however, not always effective. There have been incidents in which male students were literally torn out of the arms of their crying parents and arrested without cause.

Russian forces have orchestrated provocations specifically in order to hinder the work of the university. Students are regularly detained at checkpoints, and the university building is frequently shelled.

Chechen State Pedagogical Institute

The pedagogical institute, opened in 1981, is the newest of the state colleges in the republic. Its seven departments (humanities, physical/mathematical sciences, economics, education, sociology, physical education and correspondence courses) prepare students in 17 different majors.

The main building of the institute, located directly behind the Presidential Palace, was burned to the ground during the first war, as was the other building, located in another neighborhood. The director of the correspondence course program, Musa Gaitemirov, was killed at his front door, literature instructor Husein Musayev was killed with his family, and Chechen language teacher Malika Akhmadova also died in the war.

After the first war the institute moved to a building that formerly housed a kindergarten.

Although the institute’s new building was not totally destroyed in the second war, it was severely damaged. All of its technical and laboratory equipment was destroyed, and most of its property was stolen.

The greatest loss for the institute was its library, which until the first war housed a collection of 170,000 books (in addition to newspapers and periodicals).  By September of 1999, the institute had with great effort built up a collection of 12,000 volumes, most of which were then lost in the second war.

In the February 2000 mop-up operations, one of the institute’s teachers, Aldan Akayev, was shot and killed. On December 20, 2000, Russian troops shelled the institute. Seven students died and 15 were wounded.  Hundreds of students died or disappeared during both wars.

Today there are 6 departments at the institute, 2,325 students and 248 instructors, including 71 who hold PhDs. This year a graduate program opened with 16 students – 8 regular students and 8 correspondence students.

Although the teachers have done everything possible to create the minimal conditions necessary for learning, the Chechen State Pedagogical Institute faces many problems. The most serious problem is that in a war-torn city, students and teachers are in constant danger of their lives.

Grozny Petroleum Institute

The Grozny Petroleum Institute was opened as the Grozny Higher Technical School for Petroleum Studies in 1929. It had two departments: petroleum industry and petroleum technology.

By 1989, the Institute had expanded to include eight departments and offered 16 majors. More than 5,000 full-time, part-time and correspondence students attended at the time. The Institute employed more than 500 instructors, over half of whom held PhDs.

The Grozny Petroleum Institute included three laboratory buildings located in the center of Grozny and a number of other buildings associated with the city’s largest factories. The Institute also housed computer labs and a scientific-technical library.

Each department included a graduate program where the institute’s most capable students could continue their studies.

The Institute published its own scientific articles and organized international conferences and symposiums. Its graduates number in the tens of thousands.

During the first war, all of the Institute’s classroom buildings and other facilities were destroyed: laboratories, the library, the sports complex. The majority of the most qualified teachers fled Chechnya during or after the war. Hundreds of students died in both wars.

Today the Grozny Petroleum Institute is housed in a single building on Klara Zetkin Street. Before the war, the Institute included 12 departments and offered 35 majors. Today there are only five departments and 12 majors.

Of the 600 instructors employed by the Institute before the first war, 234 remain, including 7 professors and 46 associate professors. There are 2,897 full-time students – less than half of the pre-war total.

Because classes are frequently interrupted due to the war, the overall quality of education is falling. There are not enough teachers in the most important subjects. Classes have been shortened due to the curfew and the constant threat of artillery fire.  Male students are constantly at risk of being detained at checkpoints and must be escorted to and from classes by their parents.

The physical and moral damage that the Grozny Petroleum Institute has sustained during the two wars is irreparable.