Oath: A Surgeon Under Fire

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New York, NY 2004 Hard cover New in fine dust jacket. Sewn binding. Cloth over boards. With dust jacket. 320 p. Contains: Illustrations. Audience: General/trade. Baiev, a ... Chechen, served-often as the only doctor to be found-both Russian & Chechen fighters during the civil war between Russia & Chechnya in 1994. Bears important witness to that war and presents a side seldom covered in the news. Baiev had to seek and finally gained asylum in the U.S. in 2000. Read more Show Less

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1st Edition, Fine/Fine Clean, tight & bright. No ink names, tears, chips, foxing etc. Price unclipped. ISBN 0802714048

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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.

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Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly
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.) Copyright 2003 Reed Business Information.
Library Journal
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 Copyright 2003 Reed Business Information.
Kirkus Reviews
Graphic, often horrifying memoir by a Chechen doctor who treated Russian soldiers, Chechen rebels, and civilians caught in the middle. Now living in the US and struggling with English, Baiev is assisted here by former U.S. News & World Report Moscow bureau chief Nicholas Daniloff (Two Lives—One Russia, 1988, etc.) and freelance journalist Ruth Daniloff. Drawing on his wartime journal to depict the bitter conflict, the doctor also recalls his Muslim childhood amid an extended family, his medical studies in Moscow, and his early years as a prosperous cosmetic surgeon in Russia. With war imminent, he returned to Chechnya in 1994 and was soon practicing emergency medicine under rapidly deteriorating and extremely dangerous conditions, first in Grozny, the capital, and then in his hometown, Alkhan Kala. Operating without electricity, gas, or running water, under attack from Russian missiles, eventually forced to use sour milk and honey on wounds, to suture with ordinary thread, and to amputate limbs using only local anesthetics and carpentry saws, Baiev was at times the only doctor for some hundred thousand people. Both Russian forces and Chechen rebels threatened to kill him for treating those on the other side, and his escapes were harrowingly narrow. During an uneasy peace in the late 1990s, suffering clinical depression and contemplating suicide, Baiev made a life-changing, soul-saving pilgrimage to Mecca. By the summer of 1999 he was again in Chechnya, stockpiling food and medical supplies in preparation for the resumption of war. This time he videotaped conditions for Western news organizations. After the nephew who helped him was executed, Baiev decided in early 2000 to take theoffer of a Russian security services officer to help him leave Chechnya. Members of Physicians for Human Rights and the Human Rights Watch helped him find sanctuary in the US. A compelling portrait of the Chechen people and the effects of war on innocent victims, demonstrating the depths to which human beings can sink and the heights to which they can rise.
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780802714046
  • Publisher: Walker & Company
  • Publication date: 8/1/2004
  • Pages: 320
  • Product dimensions: 6.34 (w) x 9.28 (h) x 1.42 (d)

Meet the Author

"I 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 Union.

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," Baiev noted.

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 on Basayev."

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!"

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Read an Excerpt

Told with immediacy and heart, The Oath is the story of a brave physician's dedication to saving lives in the Russia-Chechnya conflict.
In 1991, when the political conflict between Chechen insurgents and the Russian army began, Khassan Baiev was a wealthy plastic surgeon. But when Russia began to bomb his country, Baiev gave up safety and security and opened a small hospital in his hometown of Alkhan Kala. At times, the one-storey cement building was staffed by just six nurses and a handful of volunteers. Baiev was the sole physician.
Over the next six years, Baiev treated thousands of people under the most brutal conditions, using outdated tools and dwindling medical supplies, and with a constant threat of missiles overhead. A witness to the unspeakable horrors of war, Baiev treated anyone, Chechen or Russian, soldier or civilian. He became a marked man, hated by both sides in one of the world’s ugliest and least understood conflicts. After he treated a widely feared Chechen rebel leader, his home was looted and burned. A Chechen warlord stood him up against a wall and threatened to execute him for saving Russian soldiers.
Under threat from both sides, Baiev finally fled Chechnya early in 2000. Still tortured by the memories of his past, he has taken refuge in the USA. Throughout his whole ordeal, Khassan has maintained his commitment to medicine and medical ethics. When asked why he didn’t flee his country like so many others had done, he said, “I could have left before the war. But where would I have gone? Where was I more needed than Chechnya?”

Author Biography: Dr. Khassan Baiev is currently living in Boston. Ruth Daniloff has written for the Washington Post, the Los Angeles Times, the Chicago Tribune and many other publications. She has lived and worked in Moscow where she was a correspondent for Peace News and Variety. Nicholas Daniloff worked as a correspondent for United Press International and U.S. News and World Report. He was Director of the School of Journalism at Northeastern University from 1992–1999 and he is the author of The Kremlin and the Cosmos and Two Lives: One Russia.

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Table of Contents

Acknowledgments ix
Preface xiii
Prologue xv
Introduction 1
Part 1 Before the War
Chapter 1 Dada and Nana 11
Chapter 2 Ancestors 28
Chapter 3 Becoming a Doctor 43
Chapter 4 Finding a Wife 67
Chapter 5 The Eve of the First War 89
Part 2 The First War
Chapter 6 The Hospital Opens 105
Chapter 7 Heaven and Hell 117
Chapter 8 Young Soldiers 130
Chapter 9 Raduyev and Sasha 142
Chapter 10 Saving Alkhan Kala 160
Chapter 11 Escape from Grozny 167
Part 3 A Fragile Peace
Chapter 12 Rebuilding 187
Chapter 13 An Eclipse of the Soul 201
Chapter 14 Mecca 211
Chapter 15 Rising Crime 223
Part 4 The Second War
Chapter 16 War Again 241
Chapter 17 Reaching a Climax 256
Chapter 18 Double Jeopardy 277
Chapter 19 Descent into Hell 289
Part 5 Refuge in America
Chapter 20 My Escape 313
Chapter 21 Hard Choices 327
Chapter 22 Heartbreak 337
Chapter 23 Hope and Despair 343
Epilogue 359
Appendix Where Are They Now? 363
Index 367
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Sort by: Showing all of 3 Customer Reviews
  • Anonymous

    Posted April 4, 2004

    NO WORDS...

    ...to express my feelings. This book brought tears to my eyes. I recommend this book to every literate human being.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted April 28, 2004


    I just finished this book, and all I have to say is , 'WOW!!!' This is an amazing journey through hell. The Oath chronicles one man's life from birth to his coming to America. Baiev is Chechnian, and he is obviuosly very proud of this fact. As a historian, I wanted to learn more about the situation in Chechnya. Baiev weaves history and memoir into this fantastic book. After reading the last page, I felt as if I really had a very good idea of the culture and people of the country. I am just astonished that all of the events depicted happened to one man. In the end, I literlly cried. This book works on so many levels: it is a memoir, it depicts the horrors of war, it is an anti-war book; however, at the core he addresses the issue of what it means to be human. I am very angry at my local bookstore because I found this wonderful book buried in the medical section and not in current events where it would recieve more exposure. Do yourself a favor and run to the bookstore and pick this up; once stated you will not be able to put it down. Baiev's images, thoughts, and reflections will forever last in your memories.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted January 23, 2004

    Harrowing but worthwhile

    This work is probably one of the most important books I've ever read. If you are interested in the human condition in the world today, in medicine, in life in Russia, or in Russia's relations to its ethnic minorities, I would highly recommend reading 'The Oath'. This is the type of book you'll remember reading 60 years from now.

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