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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Chechnya Begins to End Arms Culture

GROZNY -- Weapons -- carried by Chechens as a symbol of national pride -- are banned from public places by new legislation in this breakaway republic, which has the biggest illegal arms market in the volatile Caucasus.

Signed in November by Chechen President Aslan Maskhadov, the law came into effect Wednesday. It bars people from carrying "heavy" weapons, such as automatic rifles, machine guns and grenade launchers, in public places without a license.

Carrying small arms such as rifles and pistols will be banned at a later stage.

Deputy Prime Minister Kazbek Makhashev said, "It will be difficult to enforce this law because people here are used to weapons. They have a lot of them and they travel around with them on public transportation."

As early as 1992, separatist President Dzhokhar Dudayev, killed in 1996, authorized the unrestricted carrying of weapons in the Caucasus republic, which helped to foster the view that "a good Chechen is an armed Chechen."

The sentiment deepened during the 21-month war of independence. Tens of thousands of people died in the conflict against Russia which raged from December 1994 to August 1996, concluding in humiliation for the Russian army after the separatists recaptured Grozny in a lightning assault.

For the Chechens, firing into the air remains their favorite way to express joy.

"We are aware of the mentality of the Chechens and their love of weapons. But the increase in serious crimes forces us to enforce this law," Makhashev said.

Since hostilities ended, crime, especially hostage-taking, has spread in Chechnya.

"Today it is virtually impossible to distinguish between a group of outlaws and a legitimate armed group," Deputy Prosecutor General Magomed Magomedov said. "The ban on carrying weapons could help us to know who is who."

However, the law provides for the confiscation of weapons in public, but not in private places.

The text of the law states that anyone aged 21 or over who is of sound mind, has no criminal record and is neither a drug addict nor an alcoholic, retains the right to buy weapons and keep them in their home.

It adds: "The black market must be eliminated and that weapons should henceforth be bought in specialist shops."

Police who check all cars which enter the Chechen capital are planning to confiscate all the weapons on the Grozny market, noncommissioned officer Isa Munayev said.

In a Grozny market, a Makarov gun costs a mere $700 to $800, while the arms buyer can snap up a brand new Kalashnikov for $1,000 or a grenade launcher for between $1,200 and $1,500.

"I have no intention of abandoning this trade because for the time being in Chechnya, there is no work, and wages are not paid regularly. I will probably continue to sell arms in secret," said an arms trafficker, who spoke on condition of anonymity.

Another seller said he had nothing against forsaking his trade, provided his colleagues did the same.

Other Chechens, while favoring the new law, are doubtful it will succeed.

"Like all Chechens, I like weapons, although I approve of this law," said Magomed Avturkhanov, 40, a professor of literature.

But, he said: "The young criminal groups are likely to oppose it because for them weapons are a source of income."