Cover image for The Oath : a surgeon under fire
The Oath : a surgeon under fire
Baiev, Khassan.
Personal Author:
Publication Information:
New York : Walker & Company, [2003]

Physical Description:
xxii, 376 pages ; 24 cm
General Note:
Includes index.
Personal Subject:
Format :


Call Number
Material Type
Home Location
Item Holds
DK511.C37 B35 2003 Adult Non-Fiction Non-Fiction Area

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When Chechen rebels took Moscow theatergoers hostage in October 2002, it tragically highlighted the ongoing conflict between Russia and its breakaway republic, Chechnya--a war that has claimed an estimated 200,000 Chechen lives in the past decade. Yet the true nature of the debacle lies behind the headlines. In The Oath, a heroic Chechen doctor relates his harrowing experiences in the line of fire to bear witness to this international calamity, and illuminates his remarkable people and their culture.

In 1994, when fighting threatened to break out in Chechnya, Baiev left his promising career in Russia to aid his countrymen. First, he worked in a Grozny hospital until it was destroyed by Russian shelling. Returning to his hometown of Alkhan Kala, he and his fellow villagers restored a clinic with his own funds, and he soon found himself the only doctor for 80,000 residents in six villages and 5,000 refugees. During the next six years, he worked without gas, electricity, or running water, with only local anesthetics, and at one point dressed wounds with sour cream or egg yolks when supplies ran out. He often donated his own blood for surgeries, and on one occasion performed sixty-seven amputations in forty-eight hours.

Although he mainly treated civilians, Baiev also cared for Russian soldiers and Chechen fighters alike, never allowing politics to interfere with his commitment to the Hippocratic oath. He harbored Russian deserters and Chechen rebels at great personal risk and single-handedly rescued a Russian doctor who was scheduled to be executed. For this, Baiev was nearly killed by both the Russian special forces and Chechen extremists. Only when the Russian Army ordered him arrested for treating a wounded rebel warlord did Baiev finally flee Chechnya.

Echoing through his memoir is the history of Chechnya, a Muslim nation the size of Connecticut with a population of one million. Baiev explains the roots of the Chechen- Russian conflict, dating back 400 years, and he brings to life his once-beautiful ancestral home of Makazhoi where his family clan goes back generations, steeped in ancient traditions that are an intriguing blend of mountain folklore--including blood vendettas, arranged marriages, the authority of village elders--and Muslim religious rituals. And he writes frankly about the challenges of assimilating into western culture and about the post-traumatic stress disorder that has debilitated him since the war began.

The Oath is an important eyewitness account of the reality of the Chechen-Russian conflict, in which countless atrocities have been committed against average Chechens in stark contrast to the Kremlin's portrayal of the conflict. It is also a searing, unforgettable memoir that is certain to become a classic in the literature of war.

Author Notes

Khassan Baiev received political asylum in the United States in 2000 and lives with his family near Boston, Massachusetts. He has been honored by many human-rights groups, including Human Rights Watch, Doctors Without Borders, Physicians for Human Rights, and Amnesty International
Nicholas Daniloff 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
Ruth Daniloff 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, Massachusetts

Reviews 3

Booklist Review

Baiev lived an extraordinary chapter of his life during a devastating time for his homeland of Chechnya. His war memoir, written with Ruth Daniloff and Nicholas Daniloff, gives American readers an important perspective to consider as our government's quest for support in the war on terror constrains it from condemning atrocities committed by allies. It's the perspective of an oil-rich Muslim republic naive enough to think it could break away from Russia during the period of glasnost and so steeped in warring tradition that it resorts to terrorism in its now-suicidal struggle for freedom. Through two Russian invasions of Chechnya, Baiev refused to take up arms or retreat from his hometown of Alkhan Kala. There and in the devastated capital of Grozny, the martial-arts-champion-turned-stoic-surgeon made a stand for humanity and the Hippocratic oath, treating civilians and soldiers on both sides even as missiles rained down, his family suffered, and he found himself targeted by Russian and Chechen leaders. As in The Pianist, one marvels at how a man can continually escape seemingly certain death and persevere under the most perverse conditions. Perhaps understandably, Baiev proves an unreliable analyst of the political situation, sometimes blaming the Russians for atrocities committed by Chechens. But this peace hero is at his best when he recounts the countless medical miracles he performed under fire and sears our senses with the horrors of war. --Frank Sennett Copyright 2003 Booklist

Publisher's Weekly Review

Russia's war against Muslim separatists in Chechnya turned Baiev from a cosmetic surgeon into a real-life Hawkeye Pierce. As he shows in this understated, honest memoir, the change "took some getting used to": he faced constant obstacles, such as poor supplies, not to mention occasional bombing campaigns-one of which placed him in a coma. And as the only doctor in a city of 80,000, he once performed 67 amputations in 48 hours. Baiev is a clear Chechen patriot, as he goes to great lengths to demonstrate, countering Russian allegations that the Chechens were Nazi sympathizers during WWII and documenting the mighty suffering of his people during the fighting, which has raged sporadically during the past decade. But he details Chechen atrocities as well. He treated everybody, whether Russian or Chechen, and risked his life on numerous occasions to save those on both sides. The result: both sides physically threatened him, yet he was also honored by Human Rights Watch. Throughout, Baiev, who is also a martial arts expert, is modest, which only adds to his heroism. But more than that, he has humanized the Chechens, whom others have portrayed as terrorists. Russian president Vladimir Putin has tried to equate Russia's fight against the Chechens with the U.S. battle against al-Qaida. Those who read this stirring memoir will be hard-pressed to see the situation so simply. (Oct.) (c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved

Library Journal Review

The common thread of these two books is doctors in war. Fink's book is set against the Bosnia-Herzegovina conflict, in the besieged city of Srebrenica, and its cast of characters are the young doctors (no surgeons) and other health personnel and their patients who endured every imaginable affliction of modern war in brutal conditions similar to those suffered by soldiers during the U.S. Civil War. Fink, a New York-based physician and writer who has worked in the Balkans, Africa, and Iraq, confronts the ethics of war and medicine, asking whether medical neutrality is possible in the face of atrocities, genocide, and ethnic cleansing. For barbarism and cruelty, Stalin's deportation of the Chechens during the 1940s is unmatched. Baiev, a refugee physician presently living in Boston, recounts how the sufferings of the Chechens continue today since they began their quest for independence from the former Soviet Union. Like Fink, Baiev presents readers with the ethical dilemmas confronting a doctor in war. In relating his personal experiences, Baiev reveals how practicing altruistic medical humanitarianism can place the doctor in jeopardy of being seen as a combatant by both friend and foe as he treats all who are in need. Although Baiev's memoir is full of the horrors of war, he devotes much of his book to describing the unique culture of Chechnya and its people. While both books graphically depict war and its effects (terrible wounds, amputations, and the lack of medications and instruments in bombed-out hospital facilities as well as the shelling, looting, rape, and killings sustained by civilians), Fink's book is the preferred choice because of her unusually impressive documentation and stylistic superiority. Readers with particular interests in Chechnya may prefer Baiev's memoir. Both prove that war indeed is hell.-James Swanton, Harlem Hosp. Lib., New York (c) Copyright 2010. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.

Table of Contents

Acknowledgmentsp. ix
Prefacep. xiii
Prologuep. xv
Introductionp. 1
Part 1 Before the War
Chapter 1 Dada and Nanap. 11
Chapter 2 Ancestorsp. 28
Chapter 3 Becoming a Doctorp. 43
Chapter 4 Finding a Wifep. 67
Chapter 5 The Eve of the First Warp. 89
Part 2 The First War
Chapter 6 The Hospital Opensp. 105
Chapter 7 Heaven and Hellp. 117
Chapter 8 Young Soldiersp. 130
Chapter 9 Raduyev and Sashap. 142
Chapter 10 Saving Alkhan Kalap. 160
Chapter 11 Escape from Groznyp. 167
Part 3 A Fragile Peace
Chapter 12 Rebuildingp. 187
Chapter 13 An Eclipse of the Soulp. 201
Chapter 14 Meccap. 211
Chapter 15 Rising Crimep. 223
Part 4 The Second War
Chapter 16 War Againp. 241
Chapter 17 Reaching a Climaxp. 256
Chapter 18 Double Jeopardyp. 277
Chapter 19 Descent into Hellp. 289
Part 5 Refuge in America
Chapter 20 My Escapep. 313
Chapter 21 Hard Choicesp. 327
Chapter 22 Heartbreakp. 337
Chapter 23 Hope and Despairp. 343
Epiloguep. 359
Appendix Where Are They Now?p. 363
Indexp. 367