Final Reflection: Akhmad Kadyrov, Murderer and Martyr

When I began this project, sitting in the Library of Congress, I thought I was doing something very different. I believed I would be looking broadly at how the history of the Chechen Wars is told in Russia through the lens of about five key figures. I quickly realized I would be narrowing my scope, and zoomed in on Akhmad Kadyrov. Almost fifteen years after his assassination, the way his memory is used is fascinating. In Chechnya he legitimizes his son. The myth of Akhmad Kadyrov, savior of the Chechen people, has been promoted by historians in Grozny, and Ramzan Kadyrov, current president, needs that myth in order to legitimize his rule.

In Russia more broadly, Kadyrov’s legacy is less settled. While he is a Hero of the Russian Federation (the highest honor the state bestows), many civilians consider him a killer. This can be observed in reactions to naming a St. Petersburg bridge in his honor: immediate backlash in the form of petitions, protests, graffiti, and of course, online debate.

More than anything I learned about the life of Akhmad Kadyrov in the course of this summer, my biggest takeaway was the extent to which history, and controlling the historical narrative, is intensely political. If Kadyrov is a martyr for Chechnya, Ramzan can say he is following in his father’s footsteps–his father, who died fighting terrorists. If Kadyrov is the “murderer of the Russian people,” it becomes harder for Putin to justify his reliance upon Ramzan and his earlier alliance with Akhmad. The Chechen wars are still a fresh issue in all of Russia, and especially Chechnya itself. Akhmad played a pivotal role. But who gets to say exactly what that role was? And as the years continue to pass, and the man himself fades from lived memory, what will the books and the city-texts and the state say about him? I believe this is a crucial question, and definitely something I hope to continue researching.

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