Dispatches from Chechnya
No. 2, September 29, 2000

The Consequences of War for Education and Culture in Chechnya

During the course of the fighting from 1994-1996, not only the social and economic infrastructure but also the foundations of culture and education were destroyed in the Republic of Chechnya.  Cultural and educational institutions and cultic architecture [see below] again suffered during the bombing of Grozny and other populated areas in 1999-2000.

The first war destroyed the Orthodox church in the center of Grozny, the mosque in the village Alkhan-Kala, and several mosques in Chechnya’s mountainous regions.  The 1999-2000 war has only added to that list.  Mosques were destroyed in Komsomolskoe and a number of mountain villages, and examples of cultic architecture were destroyed in Grozny and villages on the plains.

Architectural monuments from the Middle Ages have also been harmed.  [Here the author is referring to traditional Chechen towers, the style of which is unique to Chechnya.  Efforts by archeologists and preservationists to study, catalogue, and protect Chechnya’s architectural heritage are all but completely obstructed by the war.]  Tank fire left a substantial hole in the tower in Ushkaloi, the upper part of the tower on the way into Shatoi was shot upon, and many towers that date to the 15th, 16th, and 17th centuries are being used by Russian soldiers as living quarters.  Russian forces quash all efforts by historical preservationists to visit and evaluate the condition of these architectural treasures.

In Grozny the theater and concert hall on Pobeda prospekt, which were saved during the previous war, is gravely damaged, as is the Chechen Dramatic Theater, rebuilt in 1998.

After the regional museum and the fine art museum were destroyed in the first war, the surviving exhibits were combined into the United Chechen State Museum.  These exhibits were not evacuated after the resumption of hostilities and thus were seriously damaged.  The Chechen-Ingush State Regional Museum was one of the biggest in the North Caucasus.  The museum published a bulletin and boasted an extensive collection and highly qualified staff (many of whom possessed scientific degrees).  Today, ruins are all that remain of this museum.

Institutions of higher learning and secondary schools, partially destroyed in the first war and since repaired, have again been badly damaged.  Before the beginning of the fighting in 1994, there were 450 general schools, 11 vocational secondary schools, and 3 institutions of higher education.  Today, only the schools in the larger villages of the Chechen flatlands are in working order.  In the smaller villages, schools have not been in operation since the first war due to lack of funds.  Practically all the schools in the mountains have been destroyed by bombing and shelling over the course of the two wars.  No one is preparing to reestablish these schools: There is no money, no suitable buildings, and no teachers.  In the mountain villages more than one generation of children has already come of age without an education of any kind, neither European nor traditional Chechen.  Such people are easy victims for extremism and fill the ranks of military units preaching pseudo-religious slogans.  Under these adverse conditions we are seeing the return of the literacy problem, which was thought to have been resolved at the beginning of the 1970s.  Additionally, many children in Chechnya have experienced a two or three-year interruption in their studies, resulting in students who should be in the 10th or 11th grade undertaking 6th and 7th grade coursework.

In Grozny there were more than 60 schools, internats, and spetsinternats [schools with dormitories, including residential facilities for orphans or invalids -ed], none of which were spared by the war.  Some, especially those in the center, were destroyed completely; the remainder have been significantly damaged.  The materials to repair these schools have not yet been distributed this year.  According to official figures, 41 schools opened in Grozny on September 1 of this year (unofficial data suggests the number was 37), but ninety percent of these schools can barely be considered ready for the school year.  The windows frames are destroyed in almost all the schools; in those few schools where the window frames remain intact, the glass is missing and has been replaced by polyethylene film.  Many schools do not even have film over the windows and the wind blows through the classrooms.  The classrooms are dusty, as most schools lack any kind of floor covering, and extremely cold, since there is no heat.  Without heat, many schools will close down for the winter, reopening no earlier than the end of April.

All of the schools lack even the most basic equipment.  There are not enough desks, tables, and chairs, not to mention more specialized items such as sports or laboratory equipment.  In the first half of this year the republic was supplied with less than one million textbooks (over two million had been requested.)  As a result, the shortage of books and school supplies is felt everywhere.  Many important subjects, such as mathematics, physics, chemistry, and foreign languages are not being taught for lack of teachers, resulting in a sharp drop in the quality of education.

First year students have been registered at the state university, the pedagogical institute, and the Oil Industry Institute.  Due to the continuing hostilities, entrance was not particularly competitive, unavoidably affecting the overall level of education in Chechen institutions of higher education.  Parents are afraid to send their children to study in Grozny because of the continuing military action and the zachistki or “cleansing” operations, during which young people have disappeared without a trace.  Because of years of persistently inhuman living conditions, the lack of materials, the regularity with which wages go unpaid, and their isolation from other intellectuals, it is no surprise that the qualifications of the instructors are also declining.

The majority of teachers and professors returned to Grozny despite the significant physical risk.  They prepared the buildings that had been salvaged for the new school year, clearing obstructions, removing trash, and making repairs, all so that the children could sit at their desks on September 1.  But on August 1, the official start of the new school year for teachers, the teachers were only paid two months salary, though they are owed years in back wages.

Out of the several hundred day-care establishments that existed in Chechnya in the early 1990s, thirteen remained at the end of the first war. Not a single one is in operation today.  Bombing and shelling destroyed many of the buildings, and those that remained were looted.  Parents who must work often leave their pre-school age children in the care of young siblings, a situation that often ends in tragedy.  There is little access to or understanding of check-ups or preventative care, and children who have lived through more than one war and should be under constant medical observation have not seen a doctor for years.

The situation in the Chechen republic is extremely difficult for cultural and artistic institutions.  In the early 1990s there were 360 state-run libraries, dozens of clubs, two dramatic theaters, a puppet theater, and a state folk dance ensemble, one of the best in the Caucasus.  There were folk troupes that performed in Shatoi, Vedeno, and Nozhai-Urt as well.

Today in mountainous regions such as Shatoi, Sharoi, and Itum-Kalin not a single cultural institution remains.  In Grozny six libraries remain out of thirty and none of the eleven art or music schools for children still exist.  Not a single republic-level cultural institution has survived.

The National Library of the Chechen Republic, once the largest in the Northern Caucasus, is now crammed into a small basement.  From a collection of 2.5 million books, no more than two thousand books remain; of the once enormous collective of highly qualified specialists, only a few enthusiasts are left.  Currently there are no means to provide for the resumption of work or the acquisition of books.

The state archives, practically destroyed during the course of the first war, endured further damage in 1999-2000.

Salaries are not being paid at cultural establishments; during the year 2000 not one building has been repaired.  The members of the “Vainakh” dance ensemble, the Chechen Dramatic Theater, and the “Pokhcho” children’s ensemble all lead a miserable existence beyond the borders of the republic, unable to practice their profession.  The fate of the Khanpasha Nuradilov Chechen State Dramatic Theater and the “Vainakh” dance troupe is especially dramatic.

The repertoire of the Chechen Theater included such world classics as “Othello” and “El Cid.”  All that remains of the theater is a few actors and the director, Ruslan Khakishev.  With no building and no generational change for seven or eight years, the troupe has deteriorated and they are doomed to obscurity.

At one time the unquestionably strong “Vainakh” troupe was in the vanguard of traditional dance in the Caucasus.  The collective has fallen apart for lack of activity.  Some of the dancers are working in the “Ingushetia” ensemble and some have switched to other activities.  The “Vainakh” ensemble lacks a home, program, and regular funding.

Life in Grozny is very difficult for famous artists and cultural figures such as People’s Artist of Russia Nelli Khadzhieva, Honored Artists of Russia Shita Edisultanov and Zulai Sardalova, and famous Chechen ethnographer Said-Magomel Khasiev.  They live in ruined homes and have no means of subsistence other than assistance from private individuals.  Nothing is known of the fate of Abuzar Sumbulatov, the famous scholar and expert on Sufism, who was abducted from his home in 1998.  Yusup Uspaev, the rector of the Chechen Institute of Education, was killed in Grozny.  The loss of the personal archives of well-known Chechen scholars and writers Professor Katya Chakaev, Yush Aidaev, and many others, is unquestionably a loss for Chechen culture as a whole.

When speaking of the state of culture and education in Chechnya, it must be emphasized that the consequences of the military actions of 1999-2000 have been no less devastating than those of the 1994-1996 war, during which almost the entire foundation of culture and education in the republic was destroyed.  If immediate measures to support Chechen culture, including financial support, are not carried out, then the complete destruction of the cultural and moral values of the Chechen people may manifest itself in the most negative manner, not only in contemporary Chechen society, but also far into the future.

Center Lam