Wednesday, October 30, 2002
In 2000, Satsita Muradova began working for Memorial, a human rights organization in Ingushetia. In 2002 she was granted asylum in the US. Here, she provides an update on the situation in Chechnya.
Satsita Muradova: In order to understand the relationship between Chechnya and Russia, it is necessary to have an historical overview. To this day Chechens remember the name of the Russian general Yermolov who was responsible for turning Russia’s invasion of Chechnya into a destruction of the whole Chechen nation. The Caucasian war lasted for a long time; Chechnya did not become part of Russia voluntarily, the way Soviet historians wanted to portray it. And even the great Russian writers and philosopher-humanists Lev Tolstoy and Michael Lermontov wrote about the brutality of this war.
For the small Chechen nation, the big country became an ordeal that repressed Chechens just as it repressed many other peoples living in the USSR.
In 1944 the whole Chechen and Ingush nation was given 20 minutes to get ready, shoved into wagons used to transport cattle, and were deported into Central Asia. But in less accessible districts, such as the Haibah region, more than 200 people were burnt alive in a barn.
In 1957 thanks to Khrushchev, after 15 years of living in exile, the Chechen and Ingush people were able to return to their homeland. But their homes were occupied and they had to start from scratch. A short peaceful break in the history of the two nations lasted from 1957 to 1991.
I will not be talking now about the first war, which compared to the second war was accessible to media coverage and not as brutal. In 1997 after the signing of the peace agreement between [Russian President Boris] Yeltsin and [Chechen President Aslan] Maskhadov, who was recognized by Moscow and the international community, it seemed that the long awaited peace was here at last.
Armed groups inside the republic made Maskhadov choose between a civil war or a way to try to avoid it. Maskhadov chose the second way. As a result, a banditry movement began and people were kidnapped, etc., the official authorities of the republic were unable to protect their own citizens.
“Columns of refugees trying to get away from bombs and shells escaped into Ingushetia, while the Russian army shot at them.”
— Satsita Muradova
After Shamil Basayev went into Dagestan in September 1999, Russian President Vladimir Putin ordered an anti-terrorist operation on the territory of the Republic of Chechnya. But in fact a large-scale military action began. With this action, there was a mass exodus of civilians. More than 300,000 Chechens fled into neighboring Ingushetia. As a result, the population of Ingushetia almost doubled. Columns of refugees trying to get away from bombs and shells escaped into Ingushetia, while the Russian army shot at them. The president of the Republic of Ingushetia, Ruslan Aushev, the government of Ingushetia and international organizations did everything possible to avoid a humanitarian catastrophe.
At the end of February, 2000, Grozny was fully occupied by the Russian military. The so-called zachistki (mop-ops or cleansing operations, ostensibly to look for rebels fighters) were accompanied everywhere by killings, robberies, detentions and burnings. Innocent witnesses became victims.
This operation in Chechnya is now already entering its 4th year and during this time human rights have been violated many times. Statistics gathered by the human rights center Memorial (we can only survey 20-25 % of the republic) have documented 25 to 50 people killed each month. For example, in January 2002, 54 people were killed.
The real disaster is illegal detentions and disappearances that as a rule happen after zachistki. In the beginning of the “anti-terrorism operation,” more than 2000 people disappeared in the republic after being detained by Russian forces, part of them have now been found in mass grave sites with traces of torture and violent death.
The office of the public prosecutor in the republic has received 1,247 cases (this number is from 2002) -- not one of these cases were processed and forwarded to the court, not even those cases for whom the perpetrators/killers were known. Organizations defending human rights turned in descriptions of crimes committed during Russian military operations and offered concrete suggestions in line with the law. As a result of this, for example, the commander of the Russian military in Chechnya issued order number 80 (March 27th, 2002).
Order #80 was supposed to increase the efficiency of local federal authorities and law enforcement agencies of the Russian Federation in combating the disruption of law and order during special actions in settlements in the Chechen Republic.
According to the above order, clear procedural rules were established for “mop up operations:” federal servicemen carrying out a “mop up operation” must introduce themselves properly when entering residential premises, military is required to contact a city mayor during their operations, armored vehicles’ plate numbers must remain visible, representatives of the procuracy must be present, a list of detainees must be presented to the city mayor, etc. This order was never enforced.
A mop-op operation took place from April 11th to 15th in the village of Alkhan Kala. The whole village was blocked, none of the military introduced themselves, were rude to the villagers, robbed, took with them things that they liked, and 15 people were detained. The detainees were driven outside the village, where they were beaten up and given electric shocks. The city mayor asked the prosecutor to get involved, but the prosecutor replied that the military is not listening to him and not taking him into account. During this time many buildings were destroyed, including hospitals and administrative buildings. Children could not go to schools and people could not buy products for 5 days. On 12th of April, the city mayor Malika Umazheva was asked to sign a paper that she does not have anything against this. Being afraid to say no, and not wanting to provoke the military to commit more crimes, she signed the paper.
On the 13th of April, Russian tanks came back to the village and began searching and shooting the ones who had been detained and afterwards released. On 15th of April the military forces threw out the corpses with their heads missing and without arms, afterwards the villagers found two more bodies. When the city mayor mentioned the Order number 80, the military laughed at her and insulted her.
Just recently on September 6, 2002, on the border of Ingushetia and Chechnya, the bodies of 7 people were discovered. Afterwards it was found out that military officials had detained all of the victims between the 2nd and 14th of May in the October and Krasnostepnovsky villages, which is part of the Grozny region. During this time relatives and friends did not know the whereabouts of their loved ones who had disappeared. This discovery revealed what military officials did to the detainees. They had all been tortured and later killed and their bodies dumped out on the border of Ingushetia and Chechnya. During the mop-op operations, the military were very brutal not only to men, but also towards women. They punched out four of the mother of Karieyva family’s teeth and beat her head with a machine gun. Mrs. Karieyva’s body was recovered among the 7 people discovered on the Ingush-Chechen border.
I could tell you about numerous such cases since I worked with the relatives and loved ones of detainees and disappeared ones in Chechnya. While working at Memorial, in May 2002, I alone had 564 cases. And as I mentioned before the investigation has not been complete on any of these cases. Actually, the victim’s relatives or victims themselves are doing the investigation process. Investigators often try to do everything to make it so the military is not responsible. In Chechnya there is no punishment and there are no laws.
Refugee conditions and why are they not returning.
There are 137,000 Chechen refugees today in Ingushetia. On 28th of April, 2002 the new president Zyazikov was elected. On his first meeting with Chechen authorities on May29th, 2002, a contract was signed for all Chechen refugees to return back to their permanent place of residence. One refugee living in a tent in Ingushetia, responded by saying: “We didn’t come here on contract and we are in no need of any contracts to return back home. We lived without any means of survival and we did not have any humanitarian assistance. We are not going to die from hunger; we can get by with our farms. We are also not afraid that we have nowhere to live. In the worst case, we can dig out mud huts. We will return as soon as they will stop killing people...”
Refugees in the camps experience indirect pressures to return. Electricity is turned off for 5-8 hours, the distribution of bread is discontinued, etc. Young people have been increasingly detained on Ingush territory. For example, 6 young people were detained by Russian military. Those refugees who believed the promises of the Chechen authorities went back to Chechnya and settled down in temporary places for refugees, but soon after tried to escape back to Ingushetia, where they are no longer registered [and have trouble getting aid]. They return because several times in those temporary places there have been zachistki or mop-op operations.
For example, armed people invaded one of such temporary places on Novatorov Street in the Staropromislovsky district, to do a zachistki. Holding weapons up to the civilians’ heads, they forced out all the men and beat up the women. They took 8 people who they later released but all of whom were severely beaten. Xizir Umalatov was held for 10 days. His family left Chechnya immediately.
Just as for the people remaining in Chechnya, refugees are in danger as soon as they leave their camp. They might get detained without any reason, they might disappear or they might simply get killed. During nighttime there is danger of getting killed by accidental bullets.
The Shamsudinov family also believed authorities that they could return back home. Mr. Shamsudinov began arranging his place, when on June 6, 2002 the Russian military broke in and severely beat him in front of his wife and took him to an unknown location. His wife turned to all the possible places in search of her husband. After 10 days the dismembered body of Mr. Shamsudinov was found in a garden between two villages.
During the shootings, people are forced to spend nights in basements and sleep in their clothes fearing the worst will happen. The psychological condition of people is quite depressing. They don’t have a job and they cannot freely go outside their temporary places of residence. During the night, people do not have the possibility to receive medical help. Such conditions lead to different psychological trauma, difficult inner condition, high levels of irritability, feelings of despair, helplessness, hatred and devastation.