El JuramentoUn cirujano bajo el fuego en Chechenia By Khassan Baiev

I thought this book was incredible. For me, it was one of those books that was really hard to put down. The only thing I've heard about Chechnya from the mainstream media is that it is a hotbed for Islamic extremism and terrorism. Beyond that, I knew nothing . As with any story, once you dig in, you get context and the full picture makes sense.

Chechnya is a country with a million people in it, well before the Russia/Chechnya wars in the late nineties I should say. After the wars, there was 800,000. The wars killed 20% of the population of the country. It left another 350,000 homeless. The entire scope of the war fell outside of the bounds of the Geneva Convention which established new rules for countries at war after WW2, namely that civilians, women and children can not be targeted. Russia ignored those new guidelines and bombed the heck out of the Chechen civilians. The author, Khassan Baiev, a Chechen surgeon, stayed in Chechnya during this time and treated the injured on all sides. He took the Hippocratic Oath very seriously and would not turn people away. He even housed three Russian soldiers that deserted and helped them to get back into contact with their families.

Through reading this book, I've realized that Chechens are people that are accustomed to being at war at all times. There is no integrity or set rules in this war. Soldiers can show up at your house and take you away. They can throw you in a hole in the ground for several days (as they did with Baiev reminder Baiev is a surgeon not a soldier). Terrible things still happen in corners of the world that people do not value (for whatever stupid reason). This book once again brought home the point that traumatized people, if not intentionally given opportunities to heal, go on to traumatize others. The perpetrators of today were yesterday's victims. Violence begets violence. We need to pay attention to populations that are being victimized. If we don't, it is going to result in the suffering of innocents. This book was eye opening. Spanish Narrated By: Robert O’Keefe

This unflinching account of one remarkable physician’s experiences during the conflict between Russia and its breakaway republic, Chechnya, is an instant classic of war literature. Weaving the history of the Chechnya conflict and the heritage of his own family into the visceral narrative, Dr. Baiev tells a tale that is shocking, heroic, and impossible to forget. Spanish This important book provides a raw, real portrait of the devastation wrought by war, even upon a culture which has sadly become all too familiar with it. This account revolves around the experiences of Khassan Baiev, a Chechen from a small, mountainous province sometimes called little Switzerland because of its harsh terrain and unforgiving climate, where generations of semi nomadic farmers and pastoralists have wrested subsistence from the land. It's also a crossroads, situated in a strategic position between East and West. Baiev recounts his early life, which from the start was seemingly charmed: he was a renowned athlete, and then became a medical doctor, notwithstanding the overarching prejudice and discrimination he encountered, which prevailed even before the Russian Chechen War in the mid 1990s.

The most moving aspects of the book are the war stories Baiev recounts with terrifying and devastating accuracy and detail. The Oath, referring to the Hippocratic Oath taken by physicians to help all who need it, allies and enemies alike, subjected him to life threatening peril. Pursued by both Russian and Chechen fighters, who accused him of helping the enemy, Baiev's existence was a tenuous one. Notwithstanding his experiences, Baiev retains his humanity, demonstrating no animosity toward either Russians or the others, sometimes even fellow Chechens, who threatened his life and those of his family members. From taking in Russian soldiers that he befriended, to risking his life to assist a Russian doctor in escaping his captors who were planning to execute him in retaliation for the murder of a fellow fighter, Baiev's courage under fire is almost superhuman.

Perhaps most importantly, this book brings much needed attention to this greatly neglected region of the world, which gained prominence only in a negative light, unfortunately: its most famous residents seem to be those who have committed unspeakable atrocities, from the separatist hostage takers who seized a Russian theater, resulting in than a hundred deaths, to the Boston Marathon Bombers, whose parents Baiev actually hosted when they first arrived in the US, in Boston, in the early 2000s. The book certainly humanizes the Chechen people as a unique culture, noting many of their customs and highlighting their fierce commitment to family and community. It also demonstrates that, in contrast to the frequent assumption, that there is no one way to be Muslim. Many of the traditions of the Caucasus region are very distinct from those of other Muslim communities.

I highly recommend this book for anyone interested in geopolitics and current affairs, as it offers detailed information about a much neglected topic, and highlights in stark detail the horrors of war. Hopefully this region will enjoy an unprecedented period of peace and prosperity, despite its troubled past. Spanish A heartfelt story of the awful conditions encountered by the author in his role dispensing care during the conflict between Chechnya and Russia, and in the aftermath his coming to America. His care for both Russian and Chechen sufferers stands out as a particularly brave act. Spanish

Khassan Baiev, nació cerca de Grozny en 1963. Cirujano musulmán, diplomado en la universidad de Krasnoiarsri de Siberia, ha sido testigo directo de las dos guerras ruso chechenas de 1994 y 1999.
Por respeto al juramento hipocrático, participa activamente salvando vidas tanto de soldados rusos como de combatientes y civiles chechenos. Por ser uno de los pocos cirujanos que quedan en la capital chechena, tiene que operar las veinticuatro horas del día en un hospital habilitado, bombardeado por unos y tiroteado por otros.
Cuando salva la vida de uno de los principales jefes de la resistencia chechena, los rusos ponen precio a su cabeza, cuando salva un médico ruso, sus hermanos de la resistencia le condenan a muerte. Considerado como un traidor por los dos bandos, en el año 2000 se ve obligado a huir a los Estados Unidos donde los americanos no recono­cen su título de médico. Hoy en día vive cerca de Boston y sigue luchando por su país. El JuramentoUn cirujano bajo el fuego en Chechenia


“The Oath: A Surgeon Under Fire” tells the story of Khassan Baiev, a cosmetic surgeon living in the town of Alkhan Kala whose life along with that of the rest of the population of Chechnya – is turned upside down by several wars with Russia during the 1990s as a result of Chechnya’s declaration of independence.

After the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991, the Chechen Ingush Soviet Republic was split into two: the Republic of Ingushetia and Republic of Chechnya. The latter proclaimed the Chechen Republic of Ichkeria, which sought independence. Following the First Chechen War with Russia (1994 96), Chechnya gained de facto independence as the Chechen Republic of Ichkeria. Russian federal control was restored during the Second Chechen War (1999 – 2007). Since then there has been a systematic reconstruction and rebuilding process, though sporadic fighting continues in the mountains and southern regions of the republic.

The above factual paragraph however, does not go any way towards giving the historical context of the conflict, nor the scarcely believable human tragedies that these conflicts inflicted on all involved – civilian and military. Baiev’s book, however, depicts these elements in graphic detail and to great effect.

Whilst this is very much the story of Baiev’s life it is also the story of the homeland that he loves so much. Indeed the fact that the horrific descriptions of war in this account are sandwiched between a prologue detailing Baiev’s idyllic rural childhood and his later life as a refugee in urban Boston (safe, but cut off from his nation and his extended family), only serves to highlight what has been lost to this nation – and the book’s author – through this conflict.

Even during Baiev’s childhood it is apparent that as a Chechnyan he is an outsider in his “Russian” motherland. His father’s accounts of being denounced as a Nazi collaborator in WW2 because he was a Chechnyan – despite having fought with the Soviet Army at Murmansk is particularly telling.

Another example of disenfranchisement through his ethnic origin is seen in his being denied at the last minute of attending the World Judo Championships at the last minute, despite his prowess in the sport as a youth, by the KGB so as not to have Russia represented by a Chechynan.

However, the above slight – though reprehensible – pales next to what Baiev and his countrymen endured after August 1994, when Russia massed thousands of troops along the border of Chechnya and Baiev, then 31, left his promising surgical career in Moscow to aid his Chechen countrymen.

What follows is a harrowing and relentless account of Baiev’s forced move from cosmetic surgeon to wartime field surgeon. Whilst trying to keep a semblance of normality with his family and his staff, Baiev is faced with treating and ever growing conveyor belt of wounded – many from mine and shrapnel wounds – with ever diminishing supplies (even resorting to using sewing threat in operations). Baiev’s matter of fact narrative jars heavily (to great effect) with descriptions of 48 hour surgical sessions where he could no longer move his arms through the amount of amputational sawing he had to do, through to descriptions of himself and his staff having to work whilst feeling faint due to the amount of blood they had to directly donate to treat the wounded.

His efforts to save lives in the midst of war are played out against a backdrop of constant shelling, threats to his life and – on several occasions (one resulting in him being in a coma for some time) the physical destruction of the hospital premises he is working in.

This brings to mind a phrase that Baiev quotes on several occasions in the book: “The Russians destroy, Chechnyans rebuild.”

And, in the context of this war, the Russian army does destroy: buildings (Baiev’s family home is targeted several times), cities (the capital of Grozny is literally razed to the ground), and indeed people. Time and again we hear of men, women and children – young and old – whose bodies are shattered by this conflict. And as builders rebuilt the cities it is surgeons who are left to rebuild the shattered bodies of the wounded.

Sadly, just as some buildings and cities were bombed beyond repair – so some causalities could not be saved. And it is here that the mental toll of war begins to be inflicted upon Baiev – he is haunted by the images of friends, family and strangers who were simply beyond salvation despite his expertise.

But this account is not just a litany of horror. What makes this book relevant and unique is the fact that Baiev – according to the Hippocratic Oath and his Muslim beliefs – treated each patient equally; be they civilian, Chechnyan fighter or Russian soldier.

For this, he becomes vilified as a traitor by both sides – although there are individual flashes of humanity which provide a certain counterpoint of hope in the overall despair of the conflict. Not least among these is a Russian FSB (the former KGB) colonel who risks his own life to help Baiev escape to America at the point where his assassination by one side or the other has become inevitable. The ultimate fate of this brave individual, which we learn later, only adds to the poignancy of this act.

If this account tells us one thing it is this – that war and interracial hatred is about governments and regimes than individuals, who are capable of great heroism as well as hateful acts.

I should also make it clear here that Baiev – whilst a patriot and a proud Chechnyan – is no apologist for the atrocities that were also carried out by the Chechnyan separatists, such as the taking hostage of a Moscow theatre audience of 850 people by 40 Chechnyan activists in 2002. Most of the Chechnyans and around 130 hostages died as a result – mainly from a gas pumped into the theatre by Russian forces. Baiev is unequivocal in condemning this. The book was published before the further outrage in 2004 where separatist took a school hostage. Ultimately, at least 334 hostages were killed, including 186 children. Hundreds were injured and many were reported missing. One can only imagine that Baiev would have condemned this act also had it happened before publication.

In summary then, this book shows two things – the human capacity for evil and the human capacity for good. Reading this book, one can feel lifted by the capacity for good in the worst of scenarios, but one does not hold out much hope of this the struggle between good and evil ever resulting in than a stalemate.

Still, to end on a positive note – a touching detail of Baiev’s later life (effectively in exile) in the US is that he was finally free to be able to compete in the World Sombo Championships (in Paris) in 2001. These are the championships the KGB denied him way back in 1983. He won – and was able to raise the Chechnyan flag on the winner’s podium.
Spanish A very telling first hand account of what has been happening in Chechnya. The author grew up there and speaks his native language as well as Russian. He lived and studied in various parts of the Soviet Union. His life, until the break up of the Soviet Union was even somewhat privileged; he became an athlete and then a medical doctor.

There were always undertones of discrimination because of his Chechen roots. This all literally exploded with the disintegration of the Soviet Union and the break up of its many republics. Whereas Moscow reluctantly said “Yes” to the autonomy of Latvia, Estonia, Lithuania, Ukraine and several others; they said “No” to Chechnya. It tragically became another Afghanistan. The Russians responded with overwhelming military force destroying their capital Grozny and several villages in the countryside. As the author aptly demonstrates it is largely the civilian population who suffered the most – with lives lost and their houses and communities destroyed. Chechnya is now in a state of trauma. We feel this directly through the author who served as an emergency room doctor. There are many passages of severe treatments. This is a personal history of the devastating effects of war. The great strength of this book is that the author bears no malice to the Russian people. He treated Russian soldiers, some of whom were very bitter about their military occupation in Chechnya. Many Russians were living in Chechnya and their lives too have been shattered.

Due to the Russian occupation and the many competing bands of Chechen militias the author was forced to flee. He now lives in the United States where his immediate family has joined him. We can only wish him well.

This is an emotionally charged book where we are provided with yet another example of an invasion of a small state by a superpower.

A memorable line in the book (on page 348): “If I did something bad to them, I would be no better than they are. I don’t want revenge. I want to be human. I don’t want to hate.” Spanish An engaging and important true story of a surgeon operating under the worst of conditions in war torn Chechnya. War is always hell but the Russians definitely are the devil in this book, though he lays plenty of blame on the Chechans also. I knew precious little of this region beforehand and found the culture fascinating. By the end of the second war he was operating under the most primitive of conditions, using household thread when he could get it, and was appalled upon visiting an American hospital for the first time at how they threw away so much stuff that would be so valuable back in Chechnya. A real insight into the politics and bribery rife in the area. We Americans are half a world away and sometimes know so little of such atrocities. Spanish The Oath was mentioned at the end of A Constellation of Vital Phenomena. It was just by chance that the library owned a copy. It has only been out 4 times since its purchase in 2003. That should give you a good idea of just how little interest there has been in Chechnya.

This is an important book. While it teaches a bit about Chechen history and traditions, it is best when it describes how one person can really make a difference (often at great cost to himself). If we all were a bit like Khassan Baiev, the world would be a much better place. He is one person we can strive to emulate.

After reading this, I pondered the popularity of the apocalyptic genre in our popular culture. Perhaps we all would be better served reading books like this. The world is apocalyptic enough we certainly don't have to make it up.
Spanish I really enjoyed this book. I wasn't sure I would at first, but it was informative learning about Chechnya and the conflicts going on there in RECENT years and that are still going on. It opened my eyes to what is happening in the world, as sad as it is, and how lucky I am in so many ways. So many people in the world are just trying to live good lives and yet they are bombarded by war and other evils. I think Khassan is one of those good men and I have a lot of admiration and respect for him and what he stood for; how he honored an oath taken in medical school no matter what and how he tried to do the best he could under his circumstances. I also learned a lot about the Muslim religion and culture. There is quite a bit of gore since he was a surgeon during war, but it wasn't hard for me to take in because it was his reality. Spanish

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