Monday, June 14, 2004
Photojournalist Stanley Greene presents his work on Chechnya and describes the conditions he witnessed there as the republic headed toward war and then as full-scale violence broke out. Rachel Denber of Human Rights Watch details some of the changes in the pattern of human rights abuses through the Chechen wars, focusing on current conditions. Dr. Khassan Baiev, a scheduled speaker for this event, was unable to attend due to travel complications.
STANLEY GREENE: If you speak out, you disappear. If you speak out, you go to jail. If you speak out, you’re kicked out of the country. It’s a dirty, dirty war.
RACHEL DENBER: Russian troops who went in there to restore the constitutional order have created a haven of anarchy because there is a proliferation of armed men who are of very unclear legal status.
JERRY FOWLER: Good evening, and welcome to the Holocaust Memorial Museum. I should say that I feel lucky to be here. I was sitting on the tarmac at La Guardia for two-and-a-half hours, as was Stanley Greene, because of all the weather on the East Coast. And one of our guests, Khassan Baiev, is coming from Boston and we hope that his plane is en route now. The last we heard, it was due to arrive at National Airport at 7:30, and he was going to come straight here, but we’re going to go ahead and get started, and then hope that there will be a seamless segue from our first couple of guests to Khassan arriving and then we’ll get to hear his very important story. But we’ll go ahead and get started without any further delay.
I’d like to welcome you to the Holocaust Memorial Museum. My name is Jerry Fowler, and I am the staff director of the Museum’s Committee on Conscience. The role of the Committee on Conscience is to alert the national conscience to threats of contemporary genocide, and it was part of the original vision of Elie Weisel and the founders of the Holocaust Memorial Museum that this memorial would address contemporary threats of genocide. They believed that a memorial unresponsive to the future would violate the memory of the past, that it is was part of the memorial role to try to change the world in which we live.
Several years ago, the Committee on Conscience put Chechnya on its Genocide Watch List because of the fear of a potential for genocide in Chechnya. The things that motivated the Committee to put Chechnya on the watch list were, particularly, the history of persecution of Chechens as a group, the demonization of Chechens as a group in Russian society, the incredible amount of violence directed against civilians by Russian security forces, beginning especially with the so-called second war in Chechnya in 1999. The violence, although at a lower level, continues today. And added to these factors is that in the years since what we might call major combat operations stopped after 1999-2000, there has been a constant grinding of the civilian population in a situation where it is very difficult for normal life to continue. That is really the subject of our discussion tonight--looking at a society after a decade of destruction and asking questions of how and whether the society can continue to exist.
We have a very distinguished group of speakers tonight, and to introduce them and to moderate the program, I am very happy to introduce my colleague, the research associate for the Committee on Conscience, Dr. Bridget Conley.