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From Revenge to Forgiveness with students in Chechnya

Report and photos by Rustam Musaev and Venera Minazova

Workshops on Power of Goodness and Creating Cultures of Peace are held regularly with students of the Chechen State University and the Chechen State Pedagogical University. These programs provide a great resource for teaching children, youth and adults to use non-violent methods of interacting with people and to respond appropriately to aggression from others based on the universal human values of goodness, respect, nonviolence and forgiveness.

These themes are of particular relevance to young people in Chechnya and the North Caucasus, who have experienced difficult life situations. Memories of tragic events over the last twenty years are fresh in the memory of people living there. In the collective consciousness, certain stereotypes and attitudes have developed regarding their tragic fate, connected to the negative attitude that others have demonstrated towards them as representatives of a particular ethnic group and religious identity.

The perception of oneself as a victim, experiencing aggression from the outside, influences young people’s mood, behaviour, and attitudes towards themselves and others. Fears, self-doubt, a negative attitude towards certain categories of people, aggressive behaviour, pessimism and negative projection about the future are associated in the minds of many young people with what has happened to their parents, their people and their small homeland. Unfortunately in the experience of the younger generation, there are very few examples that show alternatives to violence.

The knowledge and skills of non-violent conflict resolution and peacebuilding learned through the Creating Cultures of Peace and Power of Goodness programs help young people to build their lives on new foundations. They embrace the principles of tolerance and respect for human rights, mutual understanding, justice, friendship, caring for each other and for the Earth. They are excited about putting this into practice in their everyday life and supporting each other in doing so.

We use many stories from the Power of Goodness collection: “To Forgive is Divine”, “New Girl in School”, “Experiment in Fairness”, “Bocha”, “Silver Candlesticks”, “Planting Trees to Heal the Earth”, “Allah is Merciful, Perhaps Allah Needs Me”.

A complex theme of interpersonal conflict was explored through the story “Bocha,” in which Bocha seeks revenge on the person who killed his father and brothers, only to find the man’s son was the doctor who had saved Bocha’s life. Students had lively discussions around this story. Students with fixed positions at the beginning of the session (they thought in such situations heroes could not tolerate forgiveness, that they had to take revenge, etc.), by the end, they listened openly to the views of other students proposing a more understanding and humane approach and changed their minds. Below are some of the students’ reflections regarding the choice of the main character of the story, Bocha.

Umalt writes in Chechen a letter from Bocha’s father to his son (translated by Venera):

My son Bocha!

I ask you not to worry so much because you did not have enough strength to take revenge on your bloodline and, according to the laws of our adat (traditional law), you must take his life. Forgiving the enemy is a GIFT from Allah. The Qur’an says that revenge is a human right, but the ability to forgive is of highest value. If in life we are unable to accomplish what is written in our traditions, the Almighty pardons us. Perhaps you were unable to implement the plan that you had been carrying in your head for a long time. You acted instead according to your heart. Your act demonstrates how much Allah loves you, and that you are a real Muslim.

Your father

Aishat also wrote a letter to Bocha from his father:

My son Bocha,

I felt that two fires were burning furiously in your heart, eager to devour each other. One wanted revenge, the other wanted forgiveness.

But do not be tormented by pangs of conscience, believing that you could not fulfill your duty, for I do not hold on to resentment and evil.

On the contrary, Bocha, I am very happy and proud that the revenge, which has lived in your heart for so long and flowed like poison through your blood, could not blacken your soul; I could not destroy the mercy that I have cultivated in each of you from the moment of your birth.

In addition, Bocha, as it turned out, damaged branches also produce fruit. It was with the hands of Haid that Allah wished to prolong your life. Perhaps, in those days, Barzanak escaped your revenge and stayed to live precisely in order to raise a son, who will one day become your healing.

Be calm, my son, and live your life no longer thinking about revenge and tormenting your soul. You did not give Barzanak life and it is not for you to take it away. The time will come when Allah will carry out justice over him, and he will answer for his sins.

Your father