BRIDGET CONLEY: Thank you all for coming and braving the weather today. You have extensive bios for all of the speakers that we have handed out, so I won’t go into their backgrounds. You can read them, and if you have questions later, you can ask them directly to the speakers.
I want to start with Stanley Greene, and I’d like to read to you a short excerpt from a review of his book, because I think it is a quite apt description. The reviewer says: “His images ask of us how can we see, look away, and remain unmoved? The reader is forced to acknowledge the suffering that continues to exist in Chechnya. But beyond bringing us the visual horror of the war, Open Wounds carries the reader into the conflict by being one of those rare things these days--a book with a purpose, one that is well-considered and unsentimental. Greene doesn’t ask us to feel sorry for the people in his pictures. Indeed, the Chechens themselves would have no room for self-pity.”
And it is the gripping nature of Stanley’s photos, something I would call a sort of raw humanism, that made us so pleased that he would be able to come here tonight, show you some of the work that he has done, and talk to you a little bit more about the impact that Chechnya has left on him and also about what he saw when he was there to cover the war. We’ll begin with a short film that Stanley has produced about his work. Stanley, would you introduce it for us?
STANLEY GREENE: Thank you. The film was made for [inaudible]; it’s a photo festival in [inaudible]. And we wanted to make a small film to show the making of a book; we wanted to give an audience what it was like, what was going in the mind of someone laying out the book. It is in English, and it has been subtitled, so when you see it, it will say [inaudible] or something like that.
The French were really supportive of the project, and if it hadn’t been for them, the book probably wouldn’t have gotten off the ground. I have to tell you that immediately.
It was important for me to do the book because it became so frustrating after spending almost ten years in Chechnya on and off in some way or another -- but I just came back from Iraq, and I’m starting to become more frustrated that atrocities can go on on both sides -- and the world doesn’t take pause. I have decided that this book is not for now, it’s for 50 years from now, because maybe 50 years from now, we’ll stop and wake up and see what we’re doing to each other.
I photographed the Americans who were killed in Tunisia--maybe you saw some of the pictures. It had a devastating effect on me. For one, I never photographed dead Americans; I had always photographed foreigners. I’m telling you this because I found it very interesting--I worked for Newsweek and the [inaudible]--that’s who I was on assignment for--and Newsweek got the pictures, and they didn’t run them. They didn’t run them because they thought they were too graphic and that the advertiser would be upset.
Newsweek has run a lot of my Chechen pictures, and I found some pictures where bodies were laid out--they were laid out, they were killed. They ran them with no problem, and there was an ad, and nobody said everything. But the minute that there were these pictures of these Americans who were killed like they were, and horribly killed, they didn’t run it. I found some kind of strangeness about it, but that’s what I’ll say on that, because I have had too many arguments and debates around the subject.
I don’t support terrorism, my detractors would like to say it, but I don’t. I spent time with the [inaudible] in Kashmir; I [inaudible] the SPLM in Sudan; I was in Rwanda--I have been with different groups. So I don’t support any kind of fanaticism. My godmother is Jewish. I just don’t want anymore to see human beings behaving what I have watched happening in Chechnya, so that’s why I speak out about it. And even more so, I wrote this book so hopefully one day, people will say, “Enough is enough.” That’s basically it. I don’t want to see anybody being put through what the Chechens or what other countries that I have been in, where people treat life like it’s nothing, and then worry about what the advertisers’ are going to say.
BRIDGET CONLEY: We’ll start the film.
BRIDGET CONLEY: There will be time, as I said, for questions for Stanley after we hear from Rachel Denber. Rachel works for Human Rights Watch, which I have to say is one of the most consistent and courageous of the international groups working on Chechnya. They have remained consistent in their reporting and in their attention and in their struggle to give the news of what is going on in Chechnya and the abuses that are happening there, and to make that information available to a wider audience. We’re very pleased to have Rachel Denber with us as well.
RACHEL DENBER: Thanks for inviting me here. It’s an honor to be here. It’s an honor to sit here with Stanley and our other guests.
Thank you for your kind words about the work of Human Rights Watch, but I have to acknowledge that it probably would have been impossible for us to do our work without the partner organizations on the ground in Chechnya, who are there every day in a way that we can’t be. I mean especially the human rights organization Memorial, which is based in Russia and has offices all over Chechnya. They do just incredible work; they are courageous, they are persistent, they are indefatigable and full of professional integrity and are just terrific colleagues. We couldn’t do our work without them, so our hats are off to them.
Last month, a band of several hundred armed insurgents swept through several cities in Ingushetia on Chechnya’s western border and attacked and took over a number of police stations and checkpoints. Their aim seemed to be to inflict as many casualties among law enforcement and security apparatuses in Ingushetia as they could and to destabilize the apparatuses. I think the total death toll was something like 88; most of them were police, law enforcement, security officials, and some other government officials, and more than 100 people were wounded, some of them civilians. It was a dramatic attack that put Chechnya in major newspapers and on the agenda of policymakers, and it was a tragedy.
But the thing is that every day, a tragedy happens in Chechnya, and it is the tragedy that Stanley has captured so beautifully and so stunningly. It is the tragedy of a man or woman detained by masked men, never to be seen again. It is the tragedy of living with the consequences of torture. It is the tragedy of having no other choice than to live in destitution, because your home has been destroyed, and you have nowhere else to go. It is the tragedy of having to stand by and watch as no one--no one--is held accountable for abuses and war crimes. And it is the tragedy of this armed conflict, the only active armed conflict left in Europe that is unseen now and unheard. That’s the tragedy that happens every day.
I’d like to trace the history of the abuses in this conflict and bring you up-to-date on the current situation the best I can. I would also like to go over a couple of policy recommendations that the international community should pursue to address this tragedy.
Russia’s second armed conflict in Chechnya in the past ten years began, as you all probably know, in September 1999. Russia claimed it was a counter-terror operation. Vladmir Putin, who was then Russia’s newly-appointed Prime Minister, justified the intervention by pointing to two things--first, bombings in Moscow and a couple of other cities that killed as many as 300 people. Putin blamed this on Chechen operatives. It pointed to the armed intervention by Chechen fighters in neighboring Dagestan, which was aimed at taking over a couple of villages there.
The Kremlin said that the Chechnya operation was also aimed at restoring the constitutional order in Chechnya, at eliminating the chaos that had reigned in Chechnya since the end of the first war, which as you know left the Chechens victorious, and aimed at liquidating terrorist groups that the Kremlin said had found haven there.
In terms of human rights abuses, I think the war in Chechnya can be divided into four broad periods--the first sort of “hot” phase that lasted from the beginning, in the fall of 1999 through March of 2000, when Chechen fighters had almost completely retreated to the southern mountainous areas of Chechnya. It was a period of direct combat between Russian and Chechen forces. For five months, Russian forces indiscriminately--and this is one of the main abuses--bombed and shelled Chechnya, especially Grozny, resulting in thousands of civilian deaths.
There were at least three major massacres which followed combat operations in the so-called “mopping up” operation to secure territories that had been gained from combat, and these took the lives of at least 130 people. It was a period of mass arrests and torture scandals in a couple of what became infamous prisons. And it was a period when Chechnya was on the agenda of the international community, and there was, thanks to Stanley and many other courageous journalists, a lot of coverage in the media and a lot of concern in the international community--not action, but concern. By March 2000, the federal forces had gained at least nominal control over most of Chechnya.
Then what I think is phase two set in as these forces began a pattern of classic dirty war tactics and human rights abuses that continue to mark the conflict to this day. As Russian troops moved further into Chechen territory, they conducted numerous what are called “sweep operations” in towns and villages, presumably to seek out rebel fighters and supporters and to ferret out arms or ammunition depots. In a sweep operation, the forces would essentially surround entire villages or communities and then go door-to-door on identity checks with the aim of detaining people.
And detain they did, people whom they claimed were collaborating with or were rebel fights. These individuals would be hauled off, usually be masked men who would arrive in armored personnel carriers or jeeps or other vehicles that were utterly unidentifiable, because they had purposely smeared over any kind of identifying numbers with mud. These individuals would be hauled off and tortured in custody to secure confessions or testimony.
Russian forces would also detain Chechens at one of the innumerable road checkpoints that really proliferated in those days. In some cases, the corpses of those who were last seen in Russian custody would subsequently be found bearing marks of torture and summary execution in dumping grounds or unmarked graves. Even according to an official statement by the Chechen Government in 2003, there were 39 mass graves in Chechnya. 39.
But more often, those who were last seen in custody were simply never seen again. They were what we call “forcibly disappeared.” It sounds like a very sterile term for something that is an endless tragedy for the families who were trying to find their loved ones. And this crisis of disappearances continues to this day.
During the second period, Chechen rebel forces also began to commit serious crimes, including numerous and brutal attacks that targeted civilians in and outside of Chechnya, killing and injuring many. Rebel fighters were presumably responsible--they never actually claimed responsibility--for assassinations of civil servants who were cooperating with the pro-Moscow Chechen administration.
Around the same time, in the second phase, the Russian Government developed a plan to normalize the situation in Chechnya by 2001, to revive the moribund government structures and to oversee the return of the hundreds of thousands of people who had been displaced from Chechnya and who were mostly living in Ingushetia. But the abuses that civilians endured made that situation far from normal, as they would for years to come.
Then, the third phase set in by spring of 2002. At this time, the large-scale sweep operations began to subside--there were fewer and fewer of them--and we saw the growth of something called “targeted” sweep operations in which armed and masked men, again arriving in unidentified vehicles, would raid individual homes, usually in the pre-dawn hours--some people called these death squads--and hauled men off who would subsequently disappear.
All of this coincided with a new sort of aggressive drive by the Russian Government to get Chechnya out of international scrutiny. The year 2002 was the year that we saw the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe, the OSCE; we saw the Russians maneuver to have the OSCE closed in Chechnya, and it was the year that we saw the Russians actively try to start to get the Council of Europe and their office out of Chechnya.
Now I think we are in the fourth phase, which is marked by four or five features. First, it is the daily grind--and I think we have already heard the word “grind”; that’s exactly what it is--it is the daily grind of disappearances, torture, and extra-judicial killings. Even by the Chechen Minister of Internal Affairs’ own accounting--he made a statement recently on Russian TV--132 people have disappeared so far this year, and the year is only six months old. These are new disappearances.
Fifty, we understand, were later released, and we should know that release doesn’t mean that you are brought before a judge in a habeas corpus hearing and then found that your detention was not legal--no. Release means that someone bought you out of custody, because all of these detentions are utterly extra-legal. The Minister of Internal Affairs acknowledged that these people were in fact abducted by security forces, which is rather stunning. That I think is probably the low end of the estimate.
The second feature is a much more aggressive public relations campaign by the Russian Government to promote this idea that the situation in Chechnya is normalizing. It is a public relations campaign that is being marketed both inside Russia and abroad. Normalizing how? Well, through the holding of elections--there were already two rounds of votes in the past 12 months--and the use of coercive tactics and false incentives to compel displaced persons to leave Ingushetia and go to Chechnya. These votes--the referendum in spring of 2003, and then the Presidential election in Chechnya in October of 2003 were empty exercises that were held in conditions that were so unsafe that no international monitors would come to observe them.
Then, the campaign to return the displaced people resulted in the closing just last month of the last large tent camp in Ingushetia, which had been an eyesore for the Kremlin and perhaps the most visible reminder to the outside world, who could still go to Ingushetia, that there was in fact a war still going on in Chechnya, and that the war was grinding on. Ironically, though, smaller tent camps have begun to spring up inside Chechnya, as the government there is just incapable of providing people who have been coerced or encouraged to return with adequate housing.
About 60,000 people still remain in Ingushetia, not in tent camps, obviously, but in private housing or in what are called “spontaneous settlements,” which are squalid arrangements in farms and factories and other substandard facilities.
The third hallmark of this new phase has been what is called the “Chechenization” of the conflict, and this involves a much greater role in security operations for pro-Moscow Chechen forces and a growing role played by the armed security troops under the command of Ramzan Kadyrov who is the son of the deceased pro-Kremlin President of Chechnya, Ahmed Kadyrov, who as many of you know was killed in a bombing in May as he was watching the Victory Day parade celebration. These armed security people are called “Kadyrovsky,” which essentially means “Kadyrov’s people,” and they are a group of about 5,000 armed men.
Like Ramzan Kadyrov and his father, many were fighters in the first or second Chechen war. Their allegiance is to the Kadyrov clan, not to Russia, and although they conduct numerous security operations, their legal status is unclear, to say the least. They have been implicated in numerous executions and disappearances, and they have developed a very effective but absolutely unlawful strategy of detaining numerous family members of wanted rebels to force the suspected rebels to surrender. With the proliferation of these Kadyrovsky, the Russian leadership sometimes attempts to shift blame for human rights abuses. It can now point the finger at other actors, even though ultimately, it is the Russian Government that bears responsibility for the current mess in Chechnya.
And with the proliferation of these Kadyrovsky, gone is the sense of anonymity of the abuses, and this affects accountability; it is another way for the Russians to avoid accountability.
It is one thing for a Chechen to have the courage to file a report about an abuse committed by an anonymous Russian soldier whom he doesn’t know, has never grown up with and shares no kinship with. A Chechen researcher for Memorial pointed out to me a couple of weeks ago that it is quite another thing to report on another Chechen--even if it is Ramzan Kadyrov or his thugs--it’s quite another thing to file a report on another Chechen, perhaps someone you or your family has known, perhaps someone who is known to your neighbors, and to be willing to face the consequences in that society. It is very, very different.
Russia is now relying on these Kadyrovsky for a number of things, but in doing so, Russia has created a very unreliable force that it now has to reckon with if it wants to avoid armed engagement with the Kadyrovsky. And not surprisingly, Ramzan Kadyrov, was quickly made deputy Prime Minister after his father was killed, and the new Chechen--the presumptive Chechen--I think that’s the fashionable word these days--the presumptive Chechen President has basically been selected by Kadyrov and that is the Minister of Internal Affairs, Alu Akhanov.
A fourth hallmark of this phase of the conflict, something that is new, is the increased targeting of women for arbitrary detention, for torture and disappearances. In the first few phases of the war, it was overwhelmingly men, mostly men between the ages of 18 and 55, who would be arrested, because it was presumed that only men would be involved with rebel activities or be active supporters, or whatever other--maybe there were other reasons as well--but it was always the men. And it was always the women who were the brave souls going on, trying to get justice for their father, their brother, their son, their cousin. Now we see women--we see more and more women becoming victims of disappearances, and I would assume that this is connected with the rise of the past two years of women’s involvement in suicide bombings. Now the Russians feel that they are fair game.
This is obviously of deep concern. A couple of months ago, an excellent London-based organization, the Medical Foundation for the Victims of Torture--a group that provides relief and treatment for victims of torture around the world-- published a report on Chechnya based on their interviews with victims of torture who were safely out of Chechnya--I think they are all asylum applications. This was the first time where there was really any public information or any public statistics about sexual violence against women and men. These were people who had reported sexual violence that probably happened to them in the earlier phases of the war, so obviously, there is a great fear that as more and more women are placed in custody, there is the fear that they will also become victims of sexual violence. And there is a tremendous stigma attached to that kind of thing in Chechnya. If those abuses are happening, they are happening in a shroud of silence, and it is a silence that needs to be broken.
The fifth hallmark of this phase of the conflict actually brings me back to the beginning of the story, and that is Ingushetia. I started out talking about the attacks in Ingushetia. And yes, they were dramatic, yes, it was new, but it wasn’t so new because actually, this fourth phase of the conflict is really marked by the spillover effects of the conflict. Beginning in spring 2003, we had been noticing--we had been documenting and our colleagues on the ground have been documenting--how the rise in joint security operations by both Chechen Kadyrovskyif you will, and Ingush security forces in settlements for displaced persons, in Ingush villages. These operations had various aims, sometimes the same aims as they are in Chechnya, to find alleged rebels or their collaborators, or sometimes perhaps they were just for mercenary aims. And we also saw the same kind of abuses, the same patterns of treatment and the same patterns of disappearances.
But I guess the one thing that unites all of these four phases, the one thing they all have in common, is impunity. There is no accountability process for these abuses. Ultimately, if Russia is going to be capable of bringing peace in the region--or is incapable of bringing peace to the region--it will be because it has resisted and failed to establish a meaningful accountability process for crimes committed by its soldiers and police in the region.
No one was brought to justice for the massacres I mentioned. No one was ever brought to justice for the obliteration of Grozny and the thousands of civilian deaths. One investigation that we know about into a mass grave was completely botched. And I can tell you for a fact that there has not been a single investigation into torture--not a single one. The investigations into the disappearances are haphazard and utterly unprofessional. The fact that no one has been held accountable for systematic and widespread human rights abuses is grossly undermining the trust, whatever trust might have been there, on the part of Chechens for Russian state institutions, and ultimately, there can be no peace unless there is trust.
The international community needs to hear this over and over and over again. They cannot be allowed to forget what is happening there. There are many crises in the world, and this is a serious one. They need to hear and process the message that the key to accountability is trust, and if policymakers are interested in Chechnya, and they are interested in finding a peaceful solution to the conflict, they have to be interested in human rights, they have to be interested in accountability, they have to be interested in trust. They have to promote scrutiny, external scrutiny. We have to remove the shroud from Chechnya. There has to be more, not less, scrutiny. We have to stop the process by which Russia is able to close off major institutions from their work in Chechnya--the OSCE and the Council of Europe.
And to that end, we need an historical record, an official historical record, of what is happening in this conflict. Stanley’s photographs are an historical record--but Stanley said a couple of minutes ago 50 years from now, we should be able to look back and see what it was that people were doing to each other, and there needs to be that official record in black and white and in words. And this is where the UN has a role to play. The UN has terrific monitors that write official reports on specialized issues like torture, like summary executions, like disappearances. Not a single one of these mechanisms has been to Chechnya, and that is something that we should all be fighting for, so that there is accountability and there is an official record for history.
BRIDGET CONLEY: Thank you very much. I think Stanley had a few comments he wanted to make on that, too.
STANLEY GREENE: But I can’t sit.
BRIDGET CONLEY: You are welcome to stand.
STANLEY GREENE: You are all concerned, or you wouldn’t be here. There are some points that she made that are important. There is one very important point here--because I am learning more and more, the only way to speak about Chechnya is to present to people certain realities. The reality is you have babies disappearing now, okay? You have bodies turning up with the organs missing. You have young girls disappearing. This is true. They are disappearing; they are being murdered; they are being sodomized.
I did a story in Lithuania with the celebration of Lithuania coming into the European Union. People know my background, and they said, why don’t you go and do our refugee camp, the refugee camp here. People are escaping from different countries. I went there, and I found families--families from Chechnya. I found one particular family. There was a father who had this beautiful daughter, and he told me this very heartbreaking story of how he had to leave Grozny because his daughter--the soldiers in the area that were there started looking at her in a very bad way, and he was very afraid that they were going to kidnap here. So he had to leave his whole family and escape with his daughter to Lithuania. That’s a fact. He had to do that. He and his uncle escaped. He had to bribe, he had to sell. The rest of the family is still there. These stories are not getting out because Putin has done an incredible job of preventing the media from reporting it.
You may think that I am too radical, but I’m going to tell you something. Putin should be sitting next to Milosevic. He is guilty of murder. He fired two guided missiles into the central market in October of 1999 when he was Prime Minister and acting President, and he got away with it.
Yeltsin should be sitting next to Putin and Milosevic, because Yeltsin got away with murder as well. In Grozny in January of 1995, 30,000 Russians were killed by the bombs being dropped, because the pensioners couldn’t escape. There are a lot of Chechens in Grozny. They were able to get out of Grozny and go out to different villages of their relatives. But the [Russian] pensioners who had been sent there by the different communist regime going all the way back to Stalin, they couldn’t escape. The most amusing thing was they considered themselves people who lived in Chechnya. They had an Orthodox church there. The Orthodox church was a sanctuary for rebels, for refugees, for journalists. When the war was over, some Chechens wanted to go and destroy the Orthodox church. Shamil Basayev wouldn’t allow it because this had been the sanctuary. This was where the journalists would go if they wanted to get close to the Presidential palace.
We did a book years ago, Dvuh Pravd [available in French as Dans Les Montaignes Ou Vivent les Aigles], about the war in Chechnya--I did it with Anthony Suau. He photographed on the Russian side, I photographed on the Chechen side. “De Pravda” in Russian means “two truths.” The problem is that we only get the one truth--we don’t get the other truth. There are two truths.
I live in Moscow. If you go up to any taxi driver, he will tell you: The special forces did those bombings; 300 people killed. Now, I am a journalist, so I am going to tell you a little story. In May of 1999, I did a story about Russian soldiers being bivouacked all over Russia because they had economic problems. All of a sudden, we had news that they were making a huge force, building it up. They were recruiting like crazy, and nobody could understand why. They got to figures about 200,000 troops. We were working on this story because we were curious. We asked, what do they need 200,000 troops for? Different journalists were all exchanging information.
Shamil Basayev went into Dagestan in August of 1999 [inaudible], who may have had links with Bin Laden--maybe not--but for sure, he had a link with Saudi Arabia. We are getting to the economics of this. When they went into Dagestan, he went in there for the primary purpose to destroy the pipeline that was coming up from Baku, but was supposed to cross into Chechnya, but the Russians had diverted it and were sending it up into the Urals, and Chechens were being accused of stealing [inaudible]. So Basayev ordered [inaudible] to go in to stop this pipeline because they weren’t getting their tariff.
Berezovsky was involved in this plot. He was involved. He was funding the Chechens, because he had his own interests. The problem was when the 300 people were killed, he didn’t want to be part of it anymore. He didn’t want to be part of a scheme where 300 people were sacrificed so that the Russians would have an excuse to go to war. Putin sent 170,000 troops into Chechnya. He sent 170,000 troops. That explains why they had that huge buildup of 200,000. These are facts. To take it back a little bit further, this was a plot. This goes all the way back ten years. Putin and the KGB planned this thing. They controlled over 300 nightclubs, the alcohol, prostitution. Moscow was awash with this corruption. ....For ten years, they waited and waited. They put a gun to Yeltsin’s head and told him that if he didn’t resign, they were going to expose him to the Swiss Government--particularly his daughter, because that’s the one thing that Yeltsin cared about. They had a bloodless coup. Putin is considered a “godfather” in St. Petersburg. You almost have to kiss his ring, okay? These guys planned it.....
These are facts. This is not something I’m making up. If you go and do your homework and go back, you can trace all of this just like I did. Most of the journalists in Moscow, we know this. It is very difficult to report it, because every time somebody reports it, they are accused of fabrications. But if you look at the facts, you will see that the Chechens have been used. They were used by Yeltsin. They were used by Stalin. They have been used by Putin. They are used by everybody. They are used by the war lords as well. Kadyrov is a gangster, was a gangster. He was involved in the drug trade. We all know this. These are facts.
The problem is that we have to take the gloves off. These guys crawled out of the gutter. Putin crawled out of the gutter. The KGB crawled out of the gutter. When you go and kill people just for economic reasons and power, when you allow babies to be kidnapped, when you allow bodies to be used just for their organs, this is wrong. If we continue to sit and salute these guys--Chirac allows Putin to come in and out of France because they have an economic deal going on. George Bush says this is somebody that he could look into his eyes, somebody he could trust. Tony Blair, the same. These guys--what are we talking about here? I grew up under communism, but if you don’t want to believe the facts about Chechnya, then let’s talk about East Germany. He was in East Germany when those people were killed trying to escape. These guys are dangerous. Look at what’s happening in Russia today. Look at what’s happening with Khodorovsky. Look at this oil billionaire. What did he do? He calmly stepped up and said he wanted to be in politics, and they shot him down.
It is very dangerous. It is very important to understand what’s going on. It’s not just about the Chechens, it’s about the Russians as well. It’s about the Russian people who are not given a chance to enjoy the democracy that it took so long for them to get, because these guys, all they care about is power. They are retaking the power. The KGB is recontrolling Russia. You have super governors, all former KGB agents--all of them. In Chechnya, you have the Interior Ministry which is under the control of the FSB. You have 400 checkpoints, 100 in Grozny, and every time a Chechen has to go through a checkpoint, they have to pay a bribe. It’s all about power and economics.
BRIDGET CONLEY: We did hear that Dr. Baiev is not going to be able to make it. His flight in Boston was endlessly delayed, and the latest word we had is that it wouldn’t get in until 9:30. I am really sorry that he is not going to be able to be here. For those of you who have not read his book, we are selling copies outside, or you can find it elsewhere. But it is a remarkable account from someone from within the society who can speak about what is unique about Chechen society and why he loves it, and what it is like to watch it as a witness under attack. So we are very sorry, and we will try to get Dr. Baiev here at some time in the future, and I’m sorry for those of you who particularly wanted to hear him speak.
We passed out note cards are you came in--I hope all of you have them. Please write down any questions that you might have for our speakers, and we’ll be coming down the aisles and collecting them and will ask them to the speakers. While you are considering what you want to ask, I also want to ask Stanley a question, and Rachel, I would also like to hear your response to this.
You started going in even before the war started in 1994, and I wonder if you could just talk about the scene on the streets of Grozny and what was happening in that period before, where this dream of independence had started. And then, if you could talk a little bit about how things have changed over the decade. Ten years is a long time. So what are the picture that you have seen, the people you have spoken with--how did those things change in the ten years?
STANLEY GREENE: It was a beautiful scene. I mean, let’s not kid ourselves. The Chechens are not angels, all right? I mean Kadyrov, he was the godfather, that’s for sure. They were involved in all forms of banditry. But the Chechens would tell you the Russians took everything else, and the only thing they left for them was to be good bandits. Their whole history goes through that. But that aside, they had museums, they had art galleries, they had science fairs, they had movie theaters, they had streets as big as the Champs Elysee. They had wonderful views. They had the biggest market--they had their central market--all over the Caucuses, it was famous. People used to come to it. It also had the gun market.
Every culture has its good and bad, and the Chechens, unfortunately, had this independent spirit that was a little bit out of control and threatened the rest of the Caucuses. But what is amusing is that what the Chechens were upset about was that Armenia was able to get their independence, Azerbaijan was able to get its independence, Georgia was able, and they felt why can’t we?
The problem was that that pipeline was running right through there, and no way Russia was going to give back. The other problem was that the Russians have always hated the Chechens. And there was a lot of stuff going on. The Chechens were stealing cars out of Russia and sending them up there. So there are certain truths; there are truths that the Chechens were involved in different kinds of bank schemes and banditry. But that’s not a good reason to go in and wipe them out--but that’s what happened.
BRIDGET CONLEY: What were some of the pictures that you captured in that early period and how did they--I mean, clearly, the change with war, with casualties--
STANLEY GREENE: I captured a people--when I’m amused is when people start talking about Taliban and al Qaeda, they forget one thing. Chechens are into dance, they are into music, they are into life--they are very happy people. Even in war, they are like that. They are adventurous. In fact, when I was in Grozny in 1994, I went to a fashion show. I went to a women’s fashion show. They had a club called the “Mona Lisa,” they had cafes, like I said, they had movie theaters, they had wonderful dishes. What is really the funny part about Chechnya is that the Russians pushed them into this Islamic fanaticism. They pushed them, because at the moment when I was there, it was very secular. They really weren’t embracing it. They were like--the funny thing is the Chechens honestly believed that they were Europeans. That’s the best part of all. Even though you see the pictures of them running with machine guns and beards, they still believed that they were Europeans. In fact, they used to say--amusingly--that they would like to be part of Britain, they wished the Brits would come in. That’s how they were.
When you see early pictures of Chechnya, it is really quite interesting. They were wearing suits, miniskirts. They were very hip. Basayev was Yeltsin’s bodyguard in 1991, and the reason he was in Moscow--he was trying to buy computers. He wanted to bring Chechens more and more into the future.
BRIDGET CONLEY: Rachel, one of the things that both you and Stanley alluded to was changes in how Chechnya is portrayed on the international stage. I wonder if you could talk about that and your experience and how that has changed, and what are the challenges today?
RACHEL DENBER: Well, starting with the first war, just really briefly, Chechnya was portrayed, really unfortunately, as an internal armed conflict; it was just something that was really remote, really far away, really out of there--this was before the CNN period, before 24/7 news, before graphic images from war zones around the world became-- correct me if I’m wrong, Stanley--but before that became a daily part of our media diet. So it was an obscure, remote, armed conflict that really, unfortunately, Clinton had, I think, consigned to obscurity when he said, “Oh, well, it’s just like our Civil War.” Whoops. And that was really unfortunate, because it’s not just like our Civil War.
Unfortunately, the pattern of international inaction on Chechnya was really established back then, back in 1994. The bombing in the second Chechen war was terrible, but that destruction in December of 1994 was just something breathtaking in its horror. And there were no consequences for Russia, not a single one. I don’t remember any diplomatic meeting being cancelled. I don’t remember a state visit being cancelled. I don’t remember any loan being put on hold. In fact, quite the contrary; I remember the World Bank going through with credits to the general Russian budget for coal sector development. It was a scandal, a complete scandal, and without any accountability process for what had happened during that first war, the European Council --the main European intergovernmental organization that is supposed to promote democracy and human rights -- admitted Russia in 1996. So that was during the first period.
In the second war, I think it was a little less remote, because there was the CNN factor, and there was a lot of coverage, and it was horrible. And by this time, the Yugoslav wars had already ended, so there was for a very brief period focused attention, and there were a couple of diplomatic consequences at the Council, but only at the Council of Europe level. But then, even so, there were a couple of resolutions at the UN Human Rights Commission, and those were very strong, very good resolutions.
There was international attention, but it was sort of ghettoized. I mean, it was a good thing to have resolutions adopted at the UN Human Rights Commission that said that Russia has to do this, this, and this--it has to have an accountability process, it has to let in UN monitors, it has to do reconstruction, it has to do this and that--but those resolutions don’t mean anything unless Russia’s interlocutors--the United States, the UK, France, people who are part of the EU as a body--unless they make that resolution part of the bilateral relationship, unless it stakes diplomatic or financial or other consequences to Russia’s failure to make progress on it. And that never really happened. Nobody really integrated it into the bilateral relationship.
And then the war on terror started. I think until September 11, people still viewed Chechnya as a struggle for independence. It was still viewed by most people as a struggle for independence, a war of national liberation, along those lines. Then, when the war against terror started with September 11, the role that Khattab played, the degree to which Saudi Arabian and Jordanian and other militants were able to find haven or succor or develop camps or whatever in Chechnya and the fact that some ethnic Chechens and other people from Russia had been found in Afghanistan, that completely dominated the way that Chechnya was perceived by policymakers. It pushed out off the policymakers’ agenda the fact that this was a struggle for nationalization. It pushed out the fact that there are all kinds of different actors in Chechnya pursuing different agendas. And the counter-terrorists, the international policymakers began increasingly to buy, lock, stock, and barrel, Putin’s argument that this is a counter-terror operation--
STANLEY GREENE: Which was a lie.
RACHEL DENBER: --which was a lie, yes--thank you, Stanley. Yes, it was a lie, and it was bought lock, stock, and barrel, and as soon as the--I work in the Empire State Building, and I watched the Towers fall, and the first thing I thought was, oh, my God, it’s going to be so hard now to move or get anything done on Chechnya.
STANLEY GREENE: I was doing a lecture on Chechnya in Germany when the bombing happened, and my first fear was that it was Islamic terrorists, and I knew that it was going to be impossible for the Chechens, but growing up in New York, I was just as angry as anyone else, and I called up Newsweek and said, “I want to do this story. I want to go.” They sent me to Afghanistan, and I spent two and a half months, and the whole time I was in Afghanistan, they kept telling me there were Chechens there, and the whole time that I would there, I would ask anyone, “Are there any Chechens here?” and not one of my colleagues--even colleagues who hated Chechnya--said “I haven’t seen a live or a dead Chechen.” And CNN and Fox kept saying there were Chechens in Afghanistan--and they did the same thing in Iraq. They say there are Chechens in Iraq. I can’t understand why no one has called this up to the media and said, “Why do you keep putting this lie out?” because the Chechens are not in Afghanistan and not in Iraq--they are in Chechnya. They are fighting Russians again.
BRIDGET CONLEY: As a follow-up question from the audience, there are actually two components. One is do you think that such incentives--incentives versus threatening in terms of international relations--do you think incentives exist that the rest of the West could offer to Russia that would persuade Putin to alter his policies? Can what he wants to achieve be accomplished without using Chechnya as a tool?
And then, a slightly different one asking also about what role do you envision for the EU, specifically.
RACHEL DENBER: Trying to change Russian policy is difficult, and at Human Rights Watch, I have been doing it for 14 years. International actors, I don’t understand why, but they lose their nerve when they deal with Russia, and I really can’t figure it out. They think that the Kremlin is this massive monolith, that it is all-powerful, and that the Russians hold all the cards and that in terms of the things that are on the table in the Russian relationship, these are all things that the West wants more than Russia wants--and I don’t think that is true. There are a number of incentives. Incentives only works--the carrot works--when there is also a stick there. So we need a combination.
Putin has a place on the world stage now. Why? How did this happen? Democracy is going under in Russia right now, and it is going under on Putin’s watch. Meanwhile, he is collecting international prestige.
Well, looking back rather than looking forward--I will look forward in a second--but looking back, I think if there had been checks along the way, if there had been, back at a time when the Russian economy was not as vibrant as it is today, thanks to the oil windfalls, if there had been conditionality by the international financial institutions, if there had been a collective will on the part of the EU and the United States to press for an accountability process, to press for change, what would the incentive be? Well, I think you can’t have an incentive unless there is something that is on the table and is under threat. But I can’t remember anything, aside from this one parliamentary assembly delegation to the Council of Europe--their credentials were suspended for a couple of months--I can’t remember anything that was on the table and under threat that Putin had to respond to. And it has been our experience that when the Foreign Ministry feels that they are under threat, they mobilize, they get things done, they sweat, they get bothered. And I think you can get things done that way.
I remember when the resolutions at the UN were adopted in 2000 and 2001, I used to sit and imagine all the ministry bureaucrats on [inaudible] just panic, saying, “Oh, my God, what can we do now to stop this resolution?” And they did things that didn’t stop the resolution, and the measures that they did were half-measures. But I think it showed that when there is a threat, they mobilize.
STANLEY GREENE: I think it goes back to the attack on the parliament in 1993. If the United States and the West had slapped Yeltsin’s wrist, and I mean hard--1,000 people died inside that building [this number is generally estimated to be between 150-200 people] --CNN for years used that one image of the tanks firing onto the symbol of democracy, and we never said anything. And I think that after that, they just figured they could do what they wanted.
RACHEL DENBER: I’d like to also talk about the EU, because of the question you have asked. The European Union has just completed yet another phase of expansion, and Russia has become much closer to the EU than it ever was before. The EU is developing programs for a wider Europe now that the European Union is a much bigger place. The European Union is rethinking its policy toward Russia, and I have seen their policy strategy paper has excellent language about the need for structural reform, about the need for the rule of law, about the need for transparency and accountability. But that strategy paper isn’t going to mean anything unless there are signs sent in private and also messages sent in public at the very highest level.
The EU twice a year has a summit with Russia, and just last year, they were part of this massive celebration in St. Petersburg. And not a peep--not a peep--this is as Chechnya is burning, as democracy is going under, they are all toasting Putin in St. Petersburg. It’s just a pity. And the European Union has to stop losing these opportunities.
BRIDGET CONLEY: Someone asked the straightforward question that I think both of you have been getting at, and it is basically taking on the dominant perception of Chechnya today. Do you think the Chechens are terrorists? I can imagine what your answer is, but you alluded partially earlier to various groups in Chechnya with different agendas and such. I assume that’s how you’d answer the question, but may not, so--
RACHEL DENBER: Do I think Chechens are terrorists? I mean, terrorists come in all shapes and sizes and ethnic identities. Yes, we have seen acts of terrorism in Russia over the past few years. The seizure of the theater--the name is escaping me now--
BRIDGET CONLEY: Dubrovka.
RACHEL DENBER: --Dubrovka; thanks--the seizure of that theater was obviously an act of terrorism. Do I think Chechens are terrorists? No, I don’t think Chechens are terrorists. That was clearly an act of terrorism. I don’t think we can go around assigning collective identity to terrorists.
The problem now in Chechnya--one of the problems in Chechnya--is that because there is such anarchy, because despite the presence of--I think it is now 80,000 Russian troops--80,000 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--the Kadyrovze that I talked about before--and I think that there are probably other bands roaming around who claim to have various tenuous official status, and they have mercenary agendas.
STANLEY GREENE: I think that Khattab was a terrorist--I mean, to me. But I’d also go this far and say that--an old axiom--terrorists are not born, they are created. And what Russia has done, if you want to call them terrorists, is created terrorists. But if you back somebody far enough into a corner, they are not going to go silently into the night. They are going to come back and try to hurt you. That’s reality.
We never ask the “Why?” We are quick--I was in Moscow doing the Moscow theater hostage seige, and when it comes out in the media, it comes out that they are terrorists. But if you strip it away, it was a “mise en scene,? It was theater. You have to look at it for what it was.
The Chechens went in there supposedly strapped with bombs, but they stood up in front of the world and said, “We want the war to end in Chechnya.” They didn’t ask for money. They didn’t ask for anyone to be released. They just asked for the war to end. Ask this question: If they had walked into the Moscow Metro system and started blowing up parts of that until the war ended, I guarantee you the West would have gotten a little bit more busy--but again, the Russians responded in a heavy-handed manner and killed their own citizens.
And I can tell you another thing. When the Russians went in for the terrorists--remember, the so-called terrorists--they had been gassed--why was it necessary to mutilate the women’s faces? Why was it necessary to fill their faces full of bullet holes? What was that about? Was that terrorism? You have got ask the question: What goes on in Chechnya is terrorism, okay? Every, single day, these people live in terror. I can tell you that with facts, because I felt it. Going through, moving around, I wasn’t scared of the Chechens--I was scared of the Russians if they caught me; what would they have done?
BRIDGET CONLEY: Someone wanted to ask as well about yesterday, Chechen rebels killed Moscow security force members and a member of the acting President of Chechnya’s motorcade. Do you think that this kind of violence will continue up to the elections, scheduled, I believe, for the end of August?
RACHEL DENBER: Yes.
STANLEY GREENE: Yes.
RACHEL DENBER: The short answer is yes. I think we saw the referendum in the Presidential election as well. I think that there will probably be a spate of acts of political violence to send messages about the election. But I would also like to say something else that is really interesting about the incidences of human rights abuses and the election. I was talking about the sort of daily grind of disappearances and how this is like an unending problem. Yes, I’m sure there will be political violence that will lead up to the elections, but what we saw in the two previous votes is that was that in the two months or so in advance of the elections, disappearances stopped, arbitrary detentions declined. Why?
Well, I think that there was an attempt to try to temporarily, at least, sow some good will. But what does that show? The Russian Government constantly talks about how, oh, well--I mean, aside from the statement by the Chechen Interior Ministry the other day--the Russian Government more often than not says that, well, these disappearances were conducted by unknown people, and we don’t know where they are, we don’t know who these people are who were abducting the disappeared. Well, the fact is that when you have such a dramatic drop-off in these incidents, it really suggests that someone in fact does have control and can control it.
STANLEY GREENE: Yes, it’s an interesting thing about the election. The amazing thing is the Chechens that have been living in Pankisi Gorge in Georgia and in Ingushetia, weren’t allowed to vote unless they came back into Chechnya. And yet Russian soldiers who were there were allowed to vote. It was such a farce--the journalists who were there to cover it, they were voting--in both elections. And Putin comes out that it was 96 percent of the country voted. Well, that’s a farce, because there are probably only maybe 70,000 or 80,000 people in Chechnya now.
BRIDGET CONLEY: One question about the way the war has been fought. Is it true that the Russian army has and is using internationally-deemed illegal weapons, chemical and biological weapons, vacuum bombs?
STANLEY GREENE: Yes. They use vacuum bombs, and they have a cute weapon, it’s really adorable, and I have had the pleasure to see it in action so I know of what I speak. It is a bomb, but when it explodes, it looks like fireworks. Then, it drops down to about head level, and then it cuts loose, and all of this metal, anything in its path, just cuts it to pieces.
I was with Wim van der Helm and we were caught in the middle--we heard the explosion--it was a joke--you could hear it. We turned around--I’m telling you the fact--we turned around because we wanted to watch our death, because we knew we couldn’t escape. The thing exploded--we were watching it--and it was like fireworks. And then it dropped, and we thought we were going to see this thing like out of the film 2001, and instead it was a dud; it just dropped. Fortunately, we were able to move away from it. If you look in the book, you can see other pictures of people who weren’t so lucky.
They fired another one, and we made it to a trench. A patrol was coming up. The same thing happened. We think it’s going to be another dud. It cut them to pieces. It just fires metal indiscriminately.
BRIDGET CONLEY: Rachel, have you seen any evidence?
RACHEL DENBER: We have heard of fuel air explosives. Human Rights Watch hasn’t gathered information on vacuum bombs, but other organizations have. I think Memorial did some excellent documentation of the use of a couple of incidences of vacuum bombs. We are also concerned about cluster bombs, which aren’t illegal but are obviously highly indiscriminate weapons.
STANLEY GREENE: They look like toys. The other thing is a Russian drops these bombs that look like toys, and kids go into the mountains and find them, and they pick them up. We have found ourselves tape recorders, cameras, that are packed with weaponry--kids are blinded, their arms exploded. I have seen what a vacuum bomb has done. They used the vacuum bomb back in the Presidential Palace--they just dropped it down. What it does is it sucks the air out. That’s exactly what it does.
There was a guy who was recently beaten up by the Russians, Andrei Mironov. He is with Memorial. He would go around collecting pieces of metal and showing them to us just to prove that they are using weapons of mass destruction. So eventually, he has become such a thorn to the Russians that they set him up. He was beaten like in a regular mugging to the point that he has lost his motor skills.
This is how the Russians play. 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.
BRIDGET CONLEY: Rachel, there is one specific question for Human Rights Watch and other human rights-specific organizations: Can you do anything to stop the forcible return of refugees. The tent camps are now all closed in Ingushetia, but what about--
RACHEL DENBER: The big ones.
BRIDGET CONLEY: --yes, the big ones--what about the people who are in private housing and spontaneous settlements, who are increasingly under pressure to return?
RACHEL DENBER: Starting in 2002, when it was clear that the government was really serious about closing the tent camps, we made it a priority to focus international attention and domestic attention on what was happening in the tent camps, together with the groups on the ground. And we were able to postpone the beginning of that process. I don’t know whether that was because the ministries and the Russian agencies didn’t have their act together, or whether it really was the fact that Memorial and our work and the work of others really catalyzed international pressure and that that pressure worked. But there was pressure, and the closure of these big camps was postponed.
First, I think it will be harder for the Russians to push people out of private homes, at least, because they are so atomized, because they are in many different private homes--not impossible but more difficult. But what we’re really worried about now are the spontaneous settlements, because they are completely vulnerable and because many of the aid agencies are not there anymore, and they are the eyes and ears of the international community.
So I think we need to focus attention on the plight of these people. I mean, if they are there, it’s not because they want to be there. They live in desperate conditions.
BRIDGET CONLEY: We’ll conclude with two final questions, one for Stanley and then one for Rachel. Stanley, if you don’t mind going first--you have covered a lot of horrible situations. The one that stuck out to me was covering the aftermath of the 1994 genocide in Rwanda. I wonder if you could talk a little bit about why it is that Chechnya stays with you, and Chechnya is the one that you have produced a book about. Is it because of your history with spending more time in Russia, and you just have a better sense of the larger picture? What is it about Chechnya?
STANLEY GREENE: It was the solidarity in January of 1995, when the Russians started doing their blanket bombing. And you are on the ground with somebody, and you are there as a journalist, and you come there as a journalist, and all of a sudden, these bombs are dropping all over you. You are victims. Your cameras aren’t going to stop those bombs. You are stuck. You are in a ditch or a trench or a house or something, and you are all together in the same thing. And I’m telling you, that experience will live with me for the rest of my life.
Rwanda was hell. I was in a pit once when all the bodies were being pushed in by bulldozers while I was photographing--and you would think that that would be the one. But no--it was standing next to somebody while bombs are dropping on us, and we are looking at each other, we don’t speak the same language, and we don’t even know each other, and all of a sudden, we’re trying to save each other. That will stay with me for the rest of my life--somebody who doesn’t know me but is trying to keep me alive, and therefore, I am trying to keep them alive. And how do you keep yourself alive when bombs are falling on you?
Honestly, to this day, I am surprised that we survived that bombing. All those journalists who were there, it was miraculous--the gods looked favorably that day--because in all truth, we should have all been dead. We were right under those bombs. And I don’t to this day know why we escaped it. Later on, some of us didn’t--were quite dead--we weren’t, and to this day, it’s a mystery to me. The people who were all in that group, when those bombs started dropping on the 7th of January, 1995 at [inaudible], nobody died. Afterward, yes, but that day, we should have died and didn’t.
BRIDGET CONLEY: Thank you. And Rachel, the final question for you is--it has been asked in a couple of ways by members of the audience--what do you think of the Track 2 peace negotiations, which is essentially peace negotiations by nongovernmental organizations, and what do you think of the Maskhadov Government; does it have a role to play? Essentially, the question is, though, what are the possibilities for peace now?
RACHEL DENBER: Well, possibility depends on will, it depends on political will. And we don’t see the political will in Moscow right now. So we need to build up pressure so that there is the will for negotiations. But again, I have to emphasize that for that to happen, the Kremlin has to understand that if they genuinely went to Chechnya to restore constitutional order, to bring stability to a troubled region--to a troubled region where Moscow has strategic interests--the pipeline, the Georgian border--if they want that region to be stable, they have to find a different solution, because the situation as it is now, I can look forward to another--I would not welcome, but I could certainly see this continuing for an unpredictable number of years--a decade. Why not? Look at Israel. This could be an armed conflict that could be pursued indefinitely. So the government has to understand that this is not the way to bring stability, and in order to bring stability, there has to be justice, there has to be an accounting, there has to be real law and order and not the law and order of Ramzan Kadyrov.
BRIDGET CONLEY: Thank you. Thank you both very much speaking to us. I also want to thank you for coming this evening. If any of you would like to keep up-to-date with our current events, you can join our listserve. We also have additional materials on Chechnya and the other places that we are working on at our website at www.ushmn.org/conscience. Thank you very much for coming.