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        Breaking Up Is Hard To Do

        Russian/Chechen relations are the focus of this lesson on nationalism, separatism, and terrorism. (Chechnya)

        Lesson Summary


        The collapse of the Soviet State in 1991 was followed by Chechen President Dzhokhar Dudayev's declaration of the Chechen Republic's independence from Moscow. Concerned over the loss of its territorial integrity, Russian troops invaded the breakaway republic and a civil war ensued. In l996, Chechen rebels regained control of the capital, Grozny, from Russian forces, almost destroying the city in the process. Fighting in Chechnya continues to this day, although on a relatively smaller scale.

        The Wide Angle video "Greetings From Grozny" (2002) examines the conflict from the perspectives of Russian soldiers, Chechen separatist militants, radical Chechen Islamists, and civilians living in Grozny.

        In this lesson, students will explore the multiple perspectives surrounding the conflict, examine the conflict's regional and international implications, and understand the mindsets of Chechens who have managed to maintain their identity and self-esteem in the face of untold human suffering.

        This lesson can be used during or after a lesson on the breakup of the Soviet Union and the formation of the Russian Federation (1991- present). A basic knowledge of post- Soviet history and basic geographical facts of Eurasia are required for the successful completion of the lesson.



        • Locate key geographical entities related to the conflict in the Caucasus;
        • Identify and discuss key issues related to the conflict;
        • Analyze the perspectives of both combatants and civilians;
        • Explore regional and international implications associated with the conflict;
        • Appreciate the efforts of civilians to overcome the fear and hopelessness that pervade their daily lives;
        • Propose a peaceful way of resolving the conflict by suggesting a concession that all sides could accept.

        Grade Level:


        Suggested Time

        Two to three 45 - minute class periods (excluding homework time for Culminating Activity)

        Media Resources


        For the class:

        • Computer monitor or computer connection to television/projector for segment viewing
        • Chalkboard, Whiteboard
        • Wall map of Eurasia (updated)

        For each pair of students:

        • Computer with Internet access
        • Printed copy of United States anthem lyrics (see Media Components for online source)
        • Printed copies of 3 versions of Chechen anthem lyrics (see Media Components for online sources)
        • Printed copy of Russian Federation anthem lyrics (see Media Components for online source)
        • Anthem Comparison Student Organizer

        For each student:

        Web Sites

        Before The Lesson

        Bookmark the Web sites used in the lesson on each computer in your classroom, or upload all links to an online bookmarking utility such as

        Preview all of the video segments and Web sites used in the lesson to make certain that they are appropriate for your students, currently available, and accessible from your classroom.

        Download the video segments used in this lesson onto your hard drive, or prepare to stream the segments from your classroom. RealPlayer is needed to view the video segments. If your classroom computer does not have it, download RealPlayer for free at

        Procure an updated wall map of Eurasia.

        Make copies for each student pair of the lyrics of the United States national anthem (available at; three versions of the Chechen anthem (available at,, and; and the anthem of the Russian Federation (available at

        When using media, provide students with a focus for media interaction, a specific task to complete and/or information to identify during or after viewing of video segments, Web sites, or other multimedia elements.

        The Lesson

        Part I: Introductory Activity

          1. Distribute copies of the U.S. national anthem to your students. Ask students why they think the national anthem is sung before many public events. (Student answers will vary, but should include the idea that the anthem promotes patriotism and unity amongst diverse peoples). Then ask students what a national anthem can reveal about a nation and its peoples. (Student responses will vary, but should include the idea that the anthem often highlights events in a nation's history of which the nation is most proud; it uses symbols to remind the nation and its people of how great and important they are.)


          1. Distribute copies of the three versions of the Chechen national anthem that you have printed and downloaded from,, and


          1. Have students examine the three versions. What differences do you notice? (The Muslim version and traditional version are the same except for the references to Allah. The officially approved Russian version contains none of the natural imagery of the other versions.) Then, ask students what similarities they notice. (All three speak of a proud, freedom-loving people, a strong people, ready to fight for the honor of their land.) Ask students, if national anthems reflect how people see themselves, what evidence is there that the Chechen people are nationalistic? (The praising of their land as the cradle of liberty, a land possessing priceless wealth, the repeated mention of the Motherland.) Ask students what is meant by the use of the phrase, "death or freedom," which appears in two of the three versions. (Chechens appear to be willing to die before they are enslaved by others.) The third version, which was issued by a pro-Russian government, and installed by Moscow in Chechnya notes that "Concord among your people is a priceless wealth." Ask the class, "What is the significance of including that phrase in Chechnya's national anthem?" (The pro-Russian government wants to portray the Chechens as living in harmony and in peace with each other.)


          1. Distribute the lyrics to the national anthem of the Russian Federation to your students. This is an old hymn of the Soviet Union with some changed words, available at: Ask students what phrases in this anthem speak to the need for the peoples of the Russian Federation to remain united as one. ("Eternal union of fraternal peoples," the use of the possessive pronoun "ours," "faithfulness to our country gives us strength, thus it was, so it is, and always will be!")


        1. Distribute and have students complete the Anthem Comparison Student Organizer.

        Part II: Learning Activity #1

          1. Explain to your students that a knowledge of the geography of the Caucasus is essential for an understanding of what is going on in Chechnya and why. Have students access a map of the Russian Federation, available from the CIA's World Factbook: Provide your students with a focus for media interaction: ask students to locate the Black Sea and Caspian Sea on the map, and to determine of what land mass Russia is a part. (Eurasia). Ask students why these two bodies of water might be becoming increasingly important to the world's economy (oil pipelines will stretch across the Caucasus from the oil -rich Caspian Sea to ports on the Black Sea, crossing through the territory of Georgia. Georgia's minister of state security claims that his country, in order to keep these pipelines protected from terrorists hiding in the Caucasus, needs a trained and well-prepared army).


          1. Next, have students examine a map of the Caucasus, available at: Provide a focus for media interaction: ask students to locate Chechnya and to name its capital city (Grozny). Note Chechnya's location in the Russian Federation; note its closeness to the Middle East and to Afghanistan. Also note its proximity to the Republics of Dagestan and Ingushetia. The Chechens invaded Dagestan in l996. The Russian government worries if Chechnya could successfully separate itself from the Federation, other areas might follow Chechnya's example.


        1. Explain to students that for over 200 years there have been intermittent hostilities between Chechens and Russians in the Caucasus region. Extreme brutality has characterized these hostilities. The current conflict is considered by some to be the largest in Europe since World War II. The war in Chechnya has divided Russian public opinion, brought devastation to Chechnya, and to the Chechens, and has outraged Muslims around the world who see the war as another example of how the West victimizes Muslim populations. Chechnya is 85% Muslim, while the majority of Russians are Orthodox Christians or have no religious affiliation at all. The West, for its part, has been alarmed at the presence of terrorists sympathetic to radical Islam and to Al Qaeda in Chechnya and in the surrounding area.

        Part III: Learning Activity #2

          1. Provide your students with a focus for media interactionby asking them to discover why the vastly superior might of the Russian armed forces have not been able to militarily defeat the Chechen rebels. Play Guerilla War QuickTime Video for the class. Check for comprehension. (Student answers will vary, but should note the rebels' decision to fight a guerilla war, that they appear well-equipped with American and Russian-made weapons, that they are nationalistic, and that some of the Chechen fighters believe their war against the Russians is part of a holy war, a jihad.) Remind students that the conflict in Chechnya is a complex one with many voices offering explanations as to why the war occurred and how the conflict can be settled. Ask students which voices they have heard so far. (Answers will vary, but should include the points of view of the Russian government, the Chechen rebels, and from Chechen non-combatants.) Ask students to think of other voices which need to be heard before a more complete picture of the conflict can be drawn.


          1. Explain that the next activity will help the students hear some of these other voices. Divide the class into four groups. Assign each group one of the following documents:


        Provide each group with a focus for media interaction by asking each group to report aloud: the source of the document they have examined, the information the document provided, and how the information can help the class gain a more complete picture of the conflict than what was presented in the video. (Answers will vary, but should include the observations that document #1 reveals that radical Islamic elements have taken control of the Chechen rebellion; document #2 reveals that a prominent Russian legislator has suggested that the Russian leader, Vladimir Putin, should try to reach a compromise with representatives of the Chechen population, but should not deal with radical Islamic representatives in Chechnya; document #3 highlights the economic importance of the area, and where two crucial pipelines from the oil-rich Caspian Sea would be coming through Georgian territory that lies quite close to the Pankisi Gorge on the border with Chechnya, where Al Qaeda terrorists are known to be hiding; document #4 focuses on the serious human rights violations committed by the Russian military in Chechnya, violations which only serve to help the cause of the Chechen rebels.)

        Part IV: Learning Activity #3

          1. Provide your students with a focus for media interaction by asking them what evidence is presented in the video that suggests that global terrorist groups (e.g. Al Qaeda) are present in the Pankisi Valley that borders on Chechnya, and that the Chechen rebels are in support of these groups. Play Pankisi Valley QuickTime Video for the class. Check for student comprehension. (Answers will vary but should include the fact that U.S. Special Forces have set up a presence in the Republic of Georgia, south of Chechnya; and that some Chechens in the segment applaud Bin Laden's activities and appear to be anxious to set up a radical Islamic State once the Russians and the pro-Russian Chechens are driven out of Chechnya.)


          1. Provide your students with a focus for media interaction by asking them whose side in the conflict, Russia or the Chechen rebels, the U.S. government supports. Play Pifer Interview QuickTime Video for the class. Check for student comprehension. (Answers should indicate that the U.S. supports Russia's desire to maintain its territorial integrity, thus avoiding going the way of the old Soviet Union which broke up into its constituent parts; the U.S. also supports the Chechens' desire to have their human rights respected and for the conflict to end peacefully; and would like moderate Chechens to step forward and take the lead in the peace process).


        1. Ask the students to examine the Statement by the High Commissioner For Human Rights on Her Visit To Russia, February 24, 2006, available at: 0/8701F47EA29A9B2FC125711F005A1884?opendocument. Provide your students with a focus for media interaction, asking them to summarize what the U.N. official discovered when she recently visited Chechnya. Give your students 5-10 minutes to review the article, then check for student comprehension. (Answers will vary, but should include her observation on the ongoing violence, the use of torture by Russian personnel to extract confessions, and the failure of the Republic of Chechnya to become a society governed by law not by force; these comments represent an update of the video's account of the situation in Chechnya, circa 2002.)

        Part V: Learning Activity #4

          1. Provide your students with a focus for media interaction by asking them why they think the Professor insists on continuing to teach at his shattered campus. Play Grozny University QuickTime Video for the class. Check for student comprehension. (Answers will vary but include the fact that the Professor was one of the founders of the secular nationalist movement in Chechnya in the late l980s; that he is also obviously proud of the program he built on campus; and the fact that he started at Grozny University in l976 where he began his research.)


          1. Provide your students with a focus for media interaction by asking them what Rajap, the young refugee boy, is doing that indicates that he has not given up on life. Play Refugee Camp QuickTime Video for the class. Check for student comprehension. (Answers can vary, but some indications of a positive frame of mind include: the fact that Rajap is attending school, that he is learning English, that he is reading some classic works of literature, and that he has an idea of what he would like to be when he becomes an adult.)


        1. Then have students examine "The Photo Gallery: Chechnya's Bright Side." Available from BBC in Pictures, 04/europe_chechnya0s_bright_side/html/1.stm. Provide students with a focus for media interactionby asking them to locate the photo that best indicates that some Chechens, despite the ongoing conflict, are trying to maintain a positive outlook on life. Give students 8-10 minutes to examine the site, then check for comprehension. (Answers will vary).

        Part VI: Culminating Activity

        This activity could be offered as a homework assignment to follow Learning Activity #4. Explain to the class that proposing a solution to the current conflict in Chechnya is both a very difficult and very necessary task given the high stakes involved. The West's relationship with Muslim countries, America's relations with its former Cold War rival, Russia, and the need for stability in the Caucasus given the vast oil wealth that is or will soon be flowing through the area, all point to the critical need to find a non-military solution in which each side agrees to make concessions. But what concessions-and who should make them? In the belief that one concession can lead to others and start the ball rolling toward peace and reconciliation between the Russian Federation and the Chechen rebels, have your students work on the following project:

        1. Distribute the Chechen Emblem Student Organizer to the students.
        2. Direct them to examine the national emblem sacred to the Chechens, available at: Have them note its prominent features. (These include the Wolf-the traditional Chechen symbol of independence and freedom.)
        3. Also direct them to examine the officially approved current state symbol of Chechnya, the one created by the Moscow - installed government in Chechnya, available at: Have them note its prominent features. (These include the medieval Chechen tower and the oil rig, a symbol of Chechnya's oil wealth.)
        4. For the assignment, have the students design a new state symbol emblem of Chechnya that incorporates the important elements of both the traditional Chechen and the current state emblems. The final design should reflect concessions made by both sides. If both sides could agree to concessions with regard to the format of the state emblem, would that be a first step on the road to peace?
        5. Display student-created emblems, along with their brief explanation as to why they included what they did in their final design.


        Language Arts

        • Compose a letter written by a Russian soldier stationed in Grozny to his parents describing the war as it has personally affected him.
        • Compose a letter written by a former student from Grozny University, now living in Western Europe, to Professor Dadashev, urging his former professor to leave the war zone.

        Social Studies

        • Interview an older friend, classmate, family member, or friend of the family who has lived for a time in a war -torn environment. Transcribe the subject's recollections into a narrative document.
        • Use the Chechnya conflict as a case study of human rights violations in Europe. Have students explore other cases of human rights violations in Africa, (e.g. the Sudan), Asia (e.g. the People's Republic of China), Latin America / Caribbean (e.g. Cuba).
        • Additional Web resources for further study:
        • The Empire That Was Russia:
        • Institute for War and Peace Reporting:
        • The Chechen Press:

        Community Connections

        Invite a person who has lived for a time in a war-torn environment to your class to discuss his/her experiences.

        Visit a local veteran's organization to hear former soldiers relate their personal experiences as to war's impact on the local populations.


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