wrote The Oath for two reasons. I wanted the world
to know that war is a hellish thing, which victimizes the innocent.
In war there are no winners. Second, and equally important, I wanted
to introduce my readers to the Chechen people.”—Khassan
Baiev was born in Alkhan Kala, a suburb of the Chechen capital Grozny,
in 1963. Plagued by illness growing up, Baiev was propelled into athletics,
in particular martial arts, to overcome his frailty. By the late seventies
he was a black-belt, champion judoist who won Russian competitions
and faced a promising career as a coach in the sports-obsessed Soviet
Instead, Baiev, whose sisters were nurses and father was an herbalist,
desired to be a doctor. "However, I never talked about it out
loud because of my school grades. I was sure people would laugh and
think me arrogant if I suggested it," he recalls. In 1980 he
convinced the Krasnoyarsk Medical Institute in Siberia to accept him,
despite their efforts to exclude non-Russians. Admitted provisionally,
Baiev was forced to study and sleep in the waiting room of the local
railroad station for the first six months.
Graduating in 1985 and returning to Chechnya in 1988, Baiev became
a successful reconstructive surgeon, particularly in the aftermath
of the Soviet Union's collapse. But when President Boris Yeltsin issued
the order to invade Chechnya a few years later, Baiev gave up his
lucrative practice to perform trauma surgery. As the wars raged on,
he was persecuted as a criminal by both sides. When he treated Chechen
fighters, the Russians accused him of being a traitor. When he treated
Russian soldiers, factions of Islamic extremists accused him of the
same. Determined to uphold the Hippocratic oath, Baiev operated on
all in need, from Russian soldiers to Chechen fighters. But, as he
is always quick to point out, it is the civilians caught in between
who are the main victims.
During the first war (1994-1996), Baiev treated thousands of civilians.
He also operated on and saved a Chechen field commander in a secret
underground hideout with the assistance of a Russian doctor the Chechen
fighters had taken prisoner. When a Chechen field commander threatened
to kill the Russian doctor in retaliation for the murder of his brother,
Baiev helped him escape. Thrown into a pit for nine days where the
relatives of the field commander tried to force a confession, Baiev
barely escaped execution himself.
During the second war (1999-present), Arbi Barayev, a notorious Chechen
thug, tried Baiev in a kangaroo court for treating Russian soldiers.
Facing execution yet again, Baiev was saved at the last moment by
the Russian bombardment of his town.
The Russians, in turn, issued their own order for Baiev's arrest after
he saved the life of Shamil Basayev, one of the Kremlin's most wanted
field commanders. “With a million dollar bounty on Shamil's
head, I could have been a rich man if I had let him bleed to death,”
Realizing that Baiev was a man wanted by both sides, Physicians for
Human Rights helped him seek political asylum in the United States.
He reluctantly emigrated in 2000, telling The New York Times: "Nobody
likes to recall that I was saving elderly civilians by the thousands.
The only thing they remember is that I was the surgeon who operated
In the past three years Dr. Baiev has become an outspoken advocate
for human rights who has been honored by Human Rights Watch, Physicians
for Human Rights, and Amnesty International. He has even returned
to competitive sports after a break of 13 years and in 2001 and 2002
he won the world championship in sombo (a Russian form of martial
arts). "If it weren't for my athletic training, I don't think
I ever would have survived the two Russian-Chechen wars."
Dr. Baiev lives today in Massachusetts with his wife and six children.
His youngest child, a girl named Satsita, was born in 2003 in Boston.
"She is our American daughter. All my family here and in Chechnya
are delighted. And maybe one day she will grow up to be a U.S. senator!"
Daniloff is the author of the The Kremlin and the Cosmos
and Two Lives—One Russia. He has worked for various
news organizations, and was Moscow bureau chief for U.S. News
& World Report. He is the former director of Northeastern
University’s School of Journalism.
Daniloff has worked and traveled widely in Europe, Russia, and the
Caucasus. She writes frequently about the plight of refugees and the
war in Chechnya, and her articles have appeared in many publications,
including the Washington Post, the Los Angeles Times,
and the Boston Globe. She and her husband live in Cambridge,
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