Young Chechens’ army dreams left unfulfilled

There's just one week left of this spring’s military draft in Russia. But in one part of the country, the Chechen Republic, young men don't have to join. The government says the republic, which has seen brutal conflict over the last decade, is not ready,

Zelimkhan, Aslan and Enver are men of military age living in Chechnya.

They were between the ages of five and seven-years old when the first military campaign in the republic began in 1994. Their families stayed even after many had fled and the boys had to come through the second campaign as well. However, they have differing opinions about military service.

“I don’t want to go to the army as I’ve been seeing weapons and war for quite a long time. I don’t want to see anything that looks like what I saw,” says Enver.

Aslan has also lived in Grozny and has probably seen the same but he says the army and the war are nothing alike.

“It’s a kind of obligation for Chechens – shame upon those who’ve never been a soldier. The army disciplines and strengthens young men and a military uniform makes a man handsome. I’d be glad to be drafted,” Aslan says.

During Soviet times Chechnya provided the USSR’s army with thousands of young soldiers every year. But since 2004 Chechnya has not received any official request to send its young men into the army. Only 700 have been drafted over the last four years during so-called ‘test drafts’ to serve inside the republic itself.

“We do have potential – more than 50,000 men of military age now live in Chechnya, and we are ready to send our young men into the army – but no official order has been recieved to do so,” said Selim Tsuev, Military Commissioner of the Chechen Republic.

In eight years Aslan will be over the age limit to serve, and he hopes the regular draft in the republic will resume before that happens. The only thing Aslan worries about is his 66-year-old disabled mother. But even if he was drafted he wouldn't have to be far from home.

“Soldiers from Chechnya serve only inside the republic. As a Chechen and a general I think it’s the right decision. It may happen that in the army they meet those who’ve lost their friends or relatives here in Chechnya and that the army gives them a chance to get revenge. It'll be possible in two or three or five years. We have to wait for a change in people's minds,” Tsuev says.

Residents of Chechnya who’ve already served in the army can return as a professional, sign a contract and receive a salary. They also only serve in the Chechen Republic only.