GROZNY, Russia – Chechnya's parliament on Wednesday asked the Kremlin to rename the war-ravaged provincial capital after the Moscow-backed Chechen president who was assassinated in a rebel bombing last year.
Grozny, traditionally translated as "terrible," was built by the Russians as a fortress when they conquered Chechnya in the 19th century. Chechnya's parliament speaker said the name raised dark associations for most Chechens.
"The fortress of Grozny was founded to project power and subdue the people," Dukvakha Abdurakhmanov told The Associated Press in a telephone interview. "The people have seen many perils since the fortress has been founded."
In two wars over a decade, Grozny has been pulverized by relentless Russian troop and artillery strikes that turned most apartment buildings into blackened ruins.
Putin briefly visited Chechnya on Monday and pledged to help rebuild Grozny, where Kadyrov's 29-year-old son, Ramzan, now serves as deputy prime minister and is widely assumed to become the next president.
Late Wednesday, Russian news agencies quoted Kadyrov as saying that he opposed the idea of renaming the Chechen capital.
"I don't see any reason for renaming Grozny," he was quoted as saying by ITAR-Tass and Interfax. "If we want to commemorate the memory of (my father), then the best method is to rebuild the ruins that are here in Grozny."
Kadyrov's widely feared paramilitary unit is blamed for abducting civilians, and he reportedly controls a large chunk of Chechnya's oil wealth. He is widely expected to succeed Chechnya's current president, Alu Alkhanov, after he turns 30, the minimum age for presidents under local law.
Several rights activists also slammed the proposal for renaming the city.
"The deeds of Kadyrov — both the father and the son — have brought suffering to many Chechen families," said Lyudmila Alexeyeva, head of Russia's leading rights organization, the Moscow Helsinki Group. "It is an insult."
Russian forces retreated from Chechnya in 1996 after a 20-month war that left the Caucasus region de facto independent. They returned in 1999, after Chechen rebels raided a neighboring region and some 300 people died in apartment bombings blamed on the separatists. Large-scale combat operations in Chechnya have ended, but rebels continue to target police and security forces in regular raids and land-mine explosions.
An estimated 100,000 civilians, soldiers and insurgents have died and violence is increasingly spilling over to neighboring Caucasus provinces.
The Kremlin hailed an election for the Chechen parliament last month as proof that the region was stabilizing.