Writing the War (Hero): Update 1

The scope of my research has narrowed since I began. I’ve realized there is more than enough of a story for me to tell just by focusing on Akhmad Kadyrov’s place in official histories of the Chechen War, without the other two figures I had initially planned on also examining. I’ve spent the last couple of weeks in the European Reading Room of the Library of Congress (where, incidentally, they serve tea and cake every Friday), making sense of the record left behind of the first President of Chechnya, reading mostly in Russian. It’s slow going, but I’ve already found some interesting things.

Something that stuck out to me in the writings produced in Grozny, rather than outside Chechnya, was the hagiographical quality to many descriptions of Akhmad Kadyrov. In the very first book I picked up, a collection of essays compiled on what would have been Kadyrov’s sixtieth birthday, the first page of the introduction used the phrase “messiah” twice to describe the man. Through this book and other works I’ve seen, Kadyrov’s piety and self-sacrificial morality are emphasized. Additionally, he is proposed as a sort of lone-savior, in opposition with all other actors in Chechnya. Before his arrival on the scene, chaos rules; after he takes charge, conditions materially improve.

There is also an intense historicization of Kadyrov. He is held alongside great figures of Chechen past, going back hundreds of years, and the critical nature of the late 1990s is frequently emphasized, a point at which the Chechen people was at a crossroads, and Kadyrov led them. This idea of “the people” is also brought up again and again. Kadyrov is firmly of the people, and his sole motivation is to protect and preserve his people.

As I continue reading and analyzing official accounts of Akhmad Kadyrov, I’ll begin to shift my focus to the Russian side of things—works produced in Moscow or Petersburg, statements by Putin and other officials, etc. By analyzing differences in the figure presented, I hope to gain insight into the different goals of these bodies of official history, and how effective they might be. I think my bottom line with this project is that everything can be read as a primary source of something—I am not reading primary accounts of Kadyrov’s life, but I am reading primary accounts of the history-making process around him.