May 26, 2018
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Chechen visitors share tales of war, peace, hopes for future during Maine tour

Deke Rhinehart | BDN
Deke Rhinehart | BDN
Aslan Ismailov, Khanpash Aydamirov, and Zargan Makhadzhieva of the Chechen Republic (from left) and translator Mihael Blikshteyn (right) are interviewed by Don Cookson of WZON at the radio station in Bangor Friday.
BDN staff reports

BANGOR, Maine — Make cultural and economic partnerships, not war, is the message three visitors from the Chechen Republic who have been touring the state delivered to a group of Maine journalists Friday at the WZON radio station.

“We are concerned about the foreign policies of the U.S., with all these war efforts,” said Aslan Ismailov, a producer with the Internet news agency Grozny-Inform, speaking through a translator during the round table discussion. “The horrendous crimes of war can’t be described by journalists. You have to live it to understand it.”

Ismailov and fellow Chechens Zargan Makhadzhieva, chairwoman of the human rights organization “Niiso” headquartered in the capital city of Grozny, and Khanpash Aydamirov, assistant to the speaker of the Chechen parliament, talked about their experiences living in a Russian republic of 1.3 million people ravaged by two wars in the past 20 years. The republic, also known as Chechnya, has been at peace since 2009 after Russia quashed the separatist movement.

The Chechens’ trip to Maine is sponsored by the Open World Leadership Center, an organization funded by the U.S. government to strengthen democratic processes in Eurasian countries. Hosting the trip is the American-Caucasus Work Group, founded by Dr. Barry Rodrigue of the University of Southern Maine Lewiston-Auburn College, and the Holocaust and Human Rights Center of Maine at the University of Maine-Augusta. The visitors agreed their time spent with Maine government officials, small-business owners and host families has been valuable.

“My stereotypical views of Americans have been completely destroyed,” said Aydamirov. “Before I came here I thought Americans were [an overly] proud people who walked around with their heads above the clouds. Now I know the American people are very much like our people.”

The group, which included facilitator Andrey Fink of Tolyatti, Russia, and translator Mihael Blikshteyn of Juneau, Alaska, were guided around the state by Rodrigue and Robert Sylvester, who handled logistics and driving.

Among those they visited this week were Gov. Paul LePage, U.S. Marshal Noel March, state Sens. Justin Alfond, D-Portland, and Tom Saviello, R-Wilton, with stops at the Veterans Administration health clinic in Lewiston, and the small business Living Nutz, which processes and distributes raw nuts from around the world.

“We are working to improve living standards,” said Ismailov, summarizing the goal of the trip on the eve of their return home. “We want to live well. We want to learn to live well from other countries. We understand the value of life and how horrible war is.”

Correction: An earlier version of this story was amended to correct spellings of the names of two Chechen visitors and to correct inaccuracies in information provided about the itinerary.

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