Some of the top experts on the deportations, Michaela Pohl, Satsita Muradova, Georgii Derluguian, and Svetlana Alexeevna Gannushkina gather on this anniversary to discuss Chechnya.
BRIDGET CONLEY: Thank you, all, for coming today. I will do very little introduction because we have a really incredible panel today with several people from out of town who we rarely get the chance to hear speak in DC, some of the top experts on the deportations and scholars of great renown, so I think it will be an excellent panel. Thank you all for coming.
My name is Bridget Conley. I'm the research associate with the Holocaust Museum's Committee on Conscience. The mission of the Committee on Conscience is to alert the national conscience, influence policy makers, and stimulate world wide action to confront and work to halt acts of genocide.
The committee has concluded that in order for us to be effective in fulfilling this alerting function that it must monitor situations where it is concerned that there is a potential for genocide. If it is absolutely clear that there is a genocide taking place somewhere it is too late. And for that reason the committee has placed Chechnya on our genocide watch list for its potential for genocide.
The particular basis for our concern about Chechnya is the history of the persecutions of the Chechens, something about which we'll be hearing much more today, which, of course, includes the deportation of the entire population, the tendency in Russian society to demonize Chechens as a group, and we'll also hear a bit more about that today, and the amount of violence directed against Chechen civilians. If you would like more information about our work regarding Chechnya or other areas of our concern you can find it at www.committeeonconscience.org.
You will see we passed around all the speakers'short biographies. In order to move more quickly into their presentations I will let you look over the biographies. Each person will speak briefly and then we'll open the floor to questions.
So without further hesitation we'll begin with our first presentation on the history of the deportations with Michaela Pohl. Thank you.
MICHAELA POHL: Thank you very much for coming. I'd like to start by answering directly the two questions raised in the announcement for this panel, what happened to the Chechens in exile and what are the legacies of the deportation. I want to make three points. The first is what in my opinion is the most important legacy of the Chechen deportation and that's something that very few people know about but that I think that every school child should really know about and that's the unique behavior of the Chechens in deportation and in exile.
The second point that I want to speak about is what I think is the worst legacy of the deportation and that's the tendency to demonize the Chechens to this day and the notion of them as some kind of enemy of the Russian people or enemies of the people.
And the third issue is how important it is that the deportation was widely commemorated in Europe and I want to raise the question how come America is so silent with respect to this tragedy.
First of all, about the Chechens in exile, the first thing that they experienced is hunger and famine and there's a lot of points that one could make about and a lot of examples one could use and I wanted to read you some examples from the documents about how people who arrived in Kazakstan in Siberia after three-week train rides and the republic was absolutely unprepared for them and so the documents describe how desperate people tried to find food and described them as criminals.
I wanted to give you some examples of that. One is a description, 15 March 1944, in a village in the Frunze region of Kirgizstan, two Chechen special settlers entered a flat, drank two liters of milk, and fled. The criminals were caught due to the measures taken and an investigation is being carried out.
In Stalin district and in the precise locations given, a group of Chechen special settlers of ten people broke into the milk farm at night and began to start the milking of cows. After noise was raised by the farm guards and after the arrival of the collective farmers the special settlers ran away, hitting one of the collective farmers in the process.
The documents are full of these descriptions and then I found one document which shows that people not only tried to survive but made statements such as the following, which were considered anti-Soviet and very dangerous statements by the authority: “The chairman of the district executive committee of the Kirov District in Frunze region,” this is from April 1944, a few months after the deportation, “received a group statement from 40 Chechen special settler families which in the form of harshly expressed anti-Soviet protest has the following content.” That's how the police described this particular document.
“From the Chechen people: I ask you not to ignore our request because they sent us here to Kirgizia on 23 February 1944. Our people are dying. Up to the present day more than 30 people are starving. The others lie without strength.
We left behind in every household from three to five cows and 40 to 50 sheep, a lot of grain. We took nothing with us. If the state won't help us we're already a lost people. Either help us or send us back. If you won't give us help I ask you to shoot all of us together with our families.”
This letter is very unique. It points to the behavior of the Chechens in exile that was different from anyone else who was exiled in the Soviet Union under Stalin. I studied a lot of the documents relating to the deportation in Kazakstan. I looked at documents relating to Germans, Ukrainians, former kulaks, lots and lots of other people, and the Chechens stand out in every document. In every one of their behaviors they tried to resist the state and perhaps the most compelling evidence of that is that their death rates were much higher than that of any of the other deported people.
It's an argument I can't make here in detail but in the region where I studied I found that the death rates were about 25 to 35 percent of the people who were resettled to this particular region in Kazakstan (in the Akmolinsk region). Compared to the death rates of Germans of about 8 to 9 percent that's probably the most extreme comparison; that is, the Chechens lost a lot of people.
Now, how can that be explained? Many people who I talked to in Kazakstan who lived through the deportation told me that immediately after the deportation “we were like blind people, we couldn't do anything.” We couldn't focus on anything, we couldn't think about anything, and it's very clear from what they said and what the deportation tells us and what the party bosses said about the Chechens in exile that they refused to work, that they either couldn't or wouldn't work, and that they wouldn't humiliate themselves vis-a-vis the authorities.
Again, I could give lots of examples of that. The letter that I just read is one very typical example, very emotional example, about how people responded to the predicament that they were in but there's a legend that the Chechens themselves tell about that and it's a very unique legend about what happened during the deportation in the trains in which people were deported and it's the type of testimony that I found with no one else, not among the Germans, not among the Russians, and the story is this.
It's a story told about the behavior of young women, young girls who were deported together with their families, and the story that people tell over and over about the behavior is that in the trains there was a common bucket for everyone to go to and people say that young women because of the traditions of the Chechen people and because of the humiliation were not able to use this and so they died en route to Kazakstan because they weren't able to use the bucket and I don't have to explain the physiological details now.
Physiologically, that's impossible. I've checked with several doctors who said it's not possible. You will be forced to be incontinent before anything can happen with your body. This is not physiologically possible but people tell this legend. They told it to me in person several times. You can find it on the Internet, on various websites; I saw it repeated in a number of interviews that were done in connection with the 60th anniversary of the deportation.
And so this stance is clearly something very important to people. They celebrate the way that individuals and even the weakest individuals in that society held up against the state even at a very high price to themselves individually and sometimes at a very high price to their families.
I want to give one other example of their behavior that testifies to that and that is political organization that the Chechens engaged in soon after coming to Kazakstan and to Kirghiza. In 1946 there were elections to the Supreme Soviet and the NKVD was very worried about how the deported people would respond to that and whether they would actually participate in the elections.
Well, they found very soon that the Chechens were planning to disrupt these elections en masse, that is, that their religious authorities were agitating among them not to participate in the elections, to refuse to participate, and I wanted to read you some of the things that they said in order to keep others from voting. These are things that people said in 1946 in deportation in Kazakstan that were collected by the NKVD.
One person said “I won't participate in the polling because the Soviet Government did not send us to Kazakstan live but to die. I would vote for an Anglo-American government with pleasure because it would be better than a Soviet.”
“After the elections we will return to the Caucasus because England and America will help us restore our state. That is why we will not vote for Soviet candidates. We are going to vote in the Caucasus for our candidates.” This was said by someone in Alma-Ata in 1946.
And then one last quote:
“There was a meeting in London of three ministers where the ministers of England and America warned the Soviet representatives that they would look after how the Soviet people vote in the elections and then they'll decide will the Soviet order be preserved. Undoubtedly the communists will agitate and try to fool us to take part in the election but we need to understand that and keep separate from the voting.”
So these statements are very interesting and I believe they are almost completely unknown in the west. They were unknown at the time, they're hardly known now, and they really deserve study.
I wouldn't want to overemphasize the nature of these beliefs and say because people believed out there in help from England and America they were able to resist the Soviet state. On the contrary I think that they probably deployed these kind of statements which they knew would be worrisome to the authorities but they deployed them very widely and the authorities collected these kinds of statements, I believe, from many, many people and were extremely in fact worried about it.
After the episode of 1946, and we don't know how many people actually ended up voting, how many of the special settlers, at least I didn't find the records to show how many actually ended up participating in these elections; the behavior of the Chechens continued to be unique.
Almost every document in the archives in Kazakstan and in Russia reveals different ways in which individuals and communities put up resistance to the state and it's often said that in 1956-'57 they were allowed to return by Kruschchev and allowed to restore their state and I believe that view needs to be revised because all the documents show that they were not allowed to do that but that they pushed the state in thousands of actions and demonstrations by spontaneously traveling to the Caucasus, by their disobedience, by their refusal to work in the sites of exile they pushed the state from below to be able to go back and to restore their autonomy and so that's the first point that I wanted to make, that it was a very unique behavior in that it's not that the state allowed it but the Chechens really pushed from below.
The second thing that I'd like to talk about is the image of the Chechens as enemies and I believe this is the worst legacy of the deportation, one that continues to this day. The documents that I've seen for Kazakstan for the years 1944 to about 1948 show very clearly that before the Chechens came to Kazakstan the NKVD spread rumors purposely about how they were enemies of the people and traitors and then not only did they spread these rumors. Afterwards they collected information about how people had responded to these rumors and whether they believed them.
And so an example, for instance, is in another 1944 report to Beria the NKVD is collecting testimonies from other deported people, Germans and Russians and former kulaks primarily, and they said things like we can stop working now, that is, knowing that the Chechens were coming there. We can stop working now. They're going to send us to the Caucasus soon. These people expected that they would be able to get the villages or the areas where the Chechens had lived.
Another comment, a typical one, if they really helped the Germans we won't accept them and there were lots of comments in which people indicated that they believe that the Chechens helped the Germans. Another comment, not a good nation, they're going to beat you and so on.
So the documents show that the NKVD spread these rumors and then made sure that they were effective and I see a repeat of that nowadays where in the framework of the 60th anniversary of the deportation in Russia there has been, first of all, very little new information. Public commemoration of the event was largely suppressed.
There were some people who tried to commemorate. In Moscow there were events, maybe a dozen events or so, and more and more Russians are receptive to apologias that are republished now on the date of the anniversary that indeed justify the deportations as having been in the Russian national interest.
So an example for that is Anton Utkin. He recently published an article called Operation Chechevitsa in which he repeats all the allegations that a significant number of Chechens and English fought on the side of the Germans and that they tried to organize an uprising together with German parachuters. So these publications I thought there were more of this type than of publications that honestly tried to understand what the place of this was in Russian history, and on top of that just now during the days of the anniversary Chechens living in major cities were subject to an operation called “Hurricane-4” and “Whirlwind Anti-terror” in which the subject is special searches, in which people go around from apartment to apartment to round up the suspicious, to collect all kinds of documents and information about people's private matters that are completely unconstitutional and go beyond anything that they would collect from another group of people.
These are called total checks by the police and when these total checks last week led to several raids in mosques dozens of people were arrested close to them. One of the police officials who explained what this was about said that we arrested people who were if not literally tied to acts of terrorism then ideologically prepared for them and I think this is a real warning sign.
It means that these stereotypes, these notions that what is inside peoples' heads sets them apart, makes them dangerous to the state, these are really returning and it can easily be widened from the Chechens to other groups of people in Russian society and I believe it's very, very dangerous to the continued existence of Russian civil society, and important to stop this trend.
Finally, I want to end on the fact that the anniversary of the deportation was widely commemorated in Europe in the most part thanks to the efforts of the radical member of the European Parliament, Olivier Dupuis, who connected the anniversary of the deportation to the collection of signatures for the foreign ministers peace plan and the awareness in Europe was real as thousands of people participated in actions, in demonstrations, in vigils, in fasting actions, and I was very pleased to see that it was very appropriate.
It helped raise awareness in the world for Chechens and their history. It led to a very concrete call in the European Parliament to recognize the deportation as genocide and I want to ask you in conclusion why America has been so quiet on this anniversary especially since the deported people already 60 years ago called primarily for England and America to help them and it means that our silence and with that our complicity go back much, much further than ten years. They go back 60 years and that's something that's important to consider and why events like these and awareness of this are especially important.
Thank you very much.
BRIDGET CONLEY: Thank you. Our next speaker will be Satsita Muradova.
SATSITA MURADOVA: Thank you. I want to thank again Jerry and Bridget for the invitation and also I want to thank all of you for coming here. I just want to remind some of you that my first presentation in the United States was in the Holocaust Museum and it was in 2002 and I was speaking about human rights violations in Chechnya during the second war and today the Holocaust Museum asked me to tell about my memories about deportation and I will just share some information with you.
I was born in Grozny during the Soviet regime so discussing the topic of deportation, of course, was forbidden and while we did not talk about deportation directly I would hear very often my mother admonish us not to eat what she served, reminding us that their entire family in Kazakstan had just maybe two handfuls of corn or wheat for dinner.
So we were told that in Kazakstan our parents will search for potato skins. For example, locals throw them out and they would search them and make soup and in my family it always was considered as a sin to throw out leftover food. So as a child I never thought to ask why they live in Kazakstan.
I was maybe ten years old when I had any understanding about deportations under the Soviet system and it's continuing today. Maybe a lot of you know that February 23rd was a holiday and they celebrated the Soviet Army and Navy Day and throughout the Soviet Union this day was a man's day and usually women would buy presents for their men and we had the same situation in our school so one day I came home and asked my father please give me money to buy a present for my classmate and he asked me why I needed money and I was angry and I said did you forget. This is a holiday. And it was silence and then he said, my girl, this is actually a black day in our history. We were deported in Kazakstan that day.
Why, I asked him, and he gave me a simple answer. Chechens refused to be in army. So at that time I thought well, if the Party did it so it has been right and I can understand why my parents did not talk about the deportations. We were told as children in school that it was a shame to speak Chechen and a shame to have parents who did not have education, as mine did not, and we never questioned them why they did not have this opportunity.
If our parents had taught us about the deportations or to question these circumstances we could have made the mistake and said something in school that we heard at home so there would have been serious consequences for my parents but later when we spent summers with my grandparents I learned more details about deportations and how they had affected our family.
My family from both sides used to live in Galancozhsky district in Chechnya. It was in the mountains. On February 23, 1944, the Russian military troops came to those villages and they give only 20 minutes notice, forced everyone to abandon their homes and possessions, and they were forced to walk with children and small possessions to an area where they boarded trains for somewhere.
So the old, sick, and those who could not move were killed and in Galanchozskii district alone 700 people were burned alive because they could not leave and the hospital in Urus-Martan, another city in Chechnya, people were killed and burned in the yard and this mass grave was discovered only in 1991.
And not everyone was at home when the authorities came to deport them. Many people were separated from their families and processed but once in exile despite intense restrictions on their movements some were able to reunite and for others it took years.
Some people, those with education or who worked with local authorities, members of the party, had some kind of idea what was coming, but for the rest they knew nothing and they thought that the Russian action would be for a limited time or that maybe perhaps the Germans are coming. My grand-aunt, for example, hid her gold under the mattress, thinking she would return and get it back. This is a story that was told us later after the passage of years when jokes could be told about the experience.
And on the way to exile and in exile almost 40 percent of the population died. My father lost his father, his brother, two brothers and sisters from hunger and sickness. My mother's youngest sister just over two years old caught the fever and died in the train on the way. As the train stopped a Russian man saw my grandmother and grandfather with a dead child and promised to bury her under a tree and others were not so lucky because they were just throwing out the bodies on the way to Kazakhstan.
So the trip to Kazakhstan took more than a week and people had only what food they had with them and no comfort at all and they were in the train like a group of animals. Actually, those trains were for animals and the first year in exile it was terribly difficult and many people died.
As my grandfather and grandmother told me, they survived by just depending on each other. If one person found a job like my grandfather and grandmother, who worked as a cook and would share their food with all the others, and every day they just asked the same question. Did you hear any news? When are we coming back?
And it continued 13 years and after 13 years thanks to Khrushchev Chechens and my own family were allowed to return to Chechnya but they were not allowed to resettle in their district, in the Galanchozhsky district, an area still restricted and which suffered from bombing in both of these recent wars. So instead they started over again in Achkhoy-Martanovsky district in the village of Yandi so my grandmother and grandfather said they lived in shelter while they were building a house for their children and later they built a big house.
I want to point out that at the end of 1958 more than 200,000 Chechens and Ingushs returned to their republic and it was twice more than the officials had planned. So Russians living in Grozny were concerned about sharing jobs, houses, and other resources with the Chechen and Ingush returnees and in Grozny representatives of KGB, members of the communist party and interior ministry manipulated these concerns and organized the large street protests against the returners. I heard it from my grandparents and parents later.
When perestroika began under Gorbachev at that time I worked in district court in Grozny and my friends and I were actually excited about living in this time, about the changes and possibilities were opening up, and we learned more about the contributions of Chechen under the Soviet system and about our national class and the local newspaper “Komsomolskoe plemya” began publishing stories about the deportations and particularly about the Galanchozhsky district, where people had been murdered and chapter by chapter the same paper published a book, Kremlin Empire by Abdurahman Avtorkhanov who was living in Germany which described the imperial mind set of the Soviet leadership.
So at this point for the first time deportations were discussed in the general context of uncovering the past acts of the communists and this period of openness for Chechens lasted only from 1985 to 1988, I think, after which point it was decided perhaps there had been enough talk about national history.
Softly and quietly the possibilities began to shrink. For example, where I worked in district court our top position was held by a Chechen and he was replaced by a Russian and on February 23, 1989, there was a big demonstration in Grozny. Khazbulatov at that time a famous professor and scientist, was among the invited speakers and it was a cold winter day and Chechens and Ingush from our district court went even though the next day we were harshly criticized for attending by the Russian head of our office and it was the first time that so many Chechens, young and old, gathered to commemorate the day of the deportation.
The organizer of the meeting stated that this would be a day of sorrow for the Chechen people. Not long after the Chechen national movement started. It's ironic but Yeltsin inspired the Independence Movement when he said in 1991 when he was in Chechen-Ingush Republic “ Berite suvereniteta stolko, skolko smozhete unesti” so it was take independence how much you can get.
Well, it wasn't. The people just took it serious and in 1993 at that time the Chechen president Dudayev signed a decree naming February 23rd as the day of rebirth of the Chechen people. He also decided to have a monument to recognize those who died while in exile and it was composed by hundreds of stones that resembled the gravestones traditionally used by Chechens dedicated to those who died while in exile.
I think it's important to know about this history, to remember it, because of the way the Chechen people suffered. Growing up, we were treated as if our nation was shameful and we should not be proud of our history and in the works of Russian writers, Chechens are the enemy. Even in Russian lullabies it is the Chechen that's called up to frighten children. We were singled out as a nation for suffering.
This history turns around. Now Chechen mothers tell their children if they don't obey they will give them to Russians. For Chechens everything was and still is very hard, to get accepted, to enter the university, to get a good job, everything. We have been branded with the name “Chechens” as a black mark. We had to be twice better than the next person in order to be considered for any benefit or any promotion and I saw the Chechens were discriminated against repeatedly and good jobs went to less qualified Russians than the Chechens.
Remembering deportation, which took place on February 23, 1944, it is a way of remembering the wider history of prejudice and antipathy toward Chechens that has been present throughout the history of the Russian-Chechen relationship. The problem is that we need to remember this past, to pay tribute to the suffering our families underwent, but we cannot return there again and again and use this as a ground for our actions today.
After each terrorist attack in Russia or in Chechnya everywhere Chechen civilians are targeted and in fall 2002 after the Dubrovka Theater I'm sure all of you remember that the situation was so bad that a group of refugees in Ingushetia asked to be removed to Kazakhstan. Their search for a safe place to live and raise their families made them prefer a place tied in Chechen memory to hunger, sadness, and death, rather than to remain at risk in Ingushetia or forced back into Chechnya.
So I have this letter to the president of Kazakhstan, to Nazarbayev, and we did translate it in English and I can pass it around if you are interested in it.
So that's my memories about deportations.
BRIDGET CONLEY: Thank you and if anyone is interested in the talks that Satsita previously gave here, it is also on our website.
SATSITA MURADOVA: And I'm sorry for trying to read it because my English is not perfect. I could do it in Russian but I prefer to do it in English.
BRIDGET CONLEY: Thank you. Georgii Derluguian is our next speaker.
GEORGII DERLUGUIAN: [Transcript not available]
BRIDGET CONLEY: Thank you very much, Georgii. That was an incredible background to the 1944 deportations and, of course, informs what's going on today. And our final speaker will bring us more up to date on what is going on today. I want to introduce Ms. Svetlana Gannushkina. And also I want to thank Dmitry Klimenko, who is one of the absolute best translators around, and we're very happy to have him with us today.
SVETLANA GANNUSHKINA: I'm sorry that I will speak Russian. If you allow me I'd like to present myself to you in two words. I work in two public organizations that are involved in the issue of migration. I am the head of the Civic Assistance Committee. It's a humanitarian organization which provides additional assistance to migrants who find themselves in Moscow. But then we have another program which is providing medical help into the camps in Ingushetia and Chechnya. For that reason we find ourselves in these camps at least once a month.
The second organization is the Human Rights Center Memorial and within the memorial I head up the legal consulting department. We assist migrants throughout Russia. It's a network. We have 57 of these legal consulting offices throughout the country.
In Chechnya we have four of these sites because it is very difficult to get to some of these consulting sites and we also have an office in Nazran in Ingushetia. Satsita Muradova was our first attorney in Ingushetia in 2000 and to this point she maintains very closed relationships with all of our colleagues.
Nevertheless regardless of all of these activities I am also a member of the Presidential Committee on Human Rights as well as another one, the Committee for State Migration Policy, and I hope that there also I have a chance to bring some benefit.
Today you heard from Satsita how the deportation transpired in 1944. In our Moscow office we have a very old Chechen, Usam Dudaevich, who is approximately 70 years old, working as a security guard and he remembers the deportation very well because he was no longer just a little boy during this. So he says that now it's more difficult for the Chechens, even harder than it was then.
So this discussion which is now going on between myself and government colleagues about whether on the territory of Chechnya we have a case of genocide. For me this issue was resolved in 1999 when they started bombing the city of Grozny and in December of 1999 it was the last time that I made a televised appearance on the program Mir, which stands for peace, where I stated that it was genocide. After that they no longer invited me to the program.
I believe that what is going on with Chechens and with Chechens in Russia is in violation of the Convention on Prevention of Genocide, Article II. I'll remind you it is the murder of people of specific groups, creating health risks, establishing difficult and unendurable conditions for life, and all of this we see in Chechnya as well as throughout all of the regions of Russia regarding Chechens.
We can speak a lot about this and I would like to recommend you go our website which is here on the board. In three different languages we have two reports, approximately 100 pages each, reporting on the condition of Chechens in Russia. These are Chechens not in the Chechen territory. That's from 2002-2003 and it appears that this summer we will have a report from this year as well. And there we have a site that will show you the events transpiring in the Northern Caucasus and chronologically what is going on in Chechnya.
I was twice able to discuss this issue with the President of Russia and once with the President of Chechnya, Kadyrov, and I think today for the first time I understand why the elected representative of the Russian government in Chechnya was Kadyrov. This is a person that is trying to bring everything occurring in Chechnya under his control and this is a person who is not afraid to pursue his goals where the ends justify the means, and so right now there is a very difficult question standing before us whether we should have our colleagues working in Chechnya. They always found themselves at risk of death just like everybody else but right now it is just the question of can we have an office in Chechnya. Recently one of our colleagues had to leave Chechnya and Ingushetia. She's currently in Germany. She hopes to return, but I'm not sure that this would be the correct decision.
And since this topic is endless I would like to take a few examples that will carry over to the territory of Russia. Right in front of me I have a case dealing with the voluntary surrender of the minister of defense for the Maskhadov government, Magomed Khambiev. This person surrendered to Kadyrov's people on the 8th of March. It was said that part of his group was held. There were discussions. There was some work conducted. All of them were released except for two people and they were able to convince Khambiev to surrender.
Later in an interview with the Russian Kurier newspaper Ramzan Kadyrov, the son of the president, who represents the greatest threat to people on the Chechen territory, said that the house of Khambiev had been surrounded, that there were negotiations, and then he surrendered. So they even contradict their own official versions. In fact the surrender of Khambiev had actually many tragic foundations to it with acts that were undertaken in Gudermes.
There was a parade of forces representing Akhmad Kadyrov, soldiers that reported directly to the Russian army, and in the course of this parade there was a declaration of Jihad against the opposition. So in the villages in where Khambiev is from there were operations conducted and people were detained and, more concretely, we can say that this was just blatant kidnapping of people who had some relation to Khambiev.
This is not just limited to Nozhai-Urtovskii district. It was on the first of March where I was shocked to receive a phone call from Grozny telling me that two students were abducted and taken out of their classroom for unclear reasons. We didn't understand this at the time. Only later did we realize that my Grozny colleagues recognized that the last name of these two students was Khambiev.
There began a wave of activity by the students. They began to picket in front of the university. Studies ceased. I approached the chairman of the President's Human Rights Commission as well as sent a telegram to the prosecutor general, the attorney general, demanding to know what was happening. The chairman, Ella Pamfilova, actually called Kadyrov directly to find out what was going on. Kadyrov said everything's fine, everything's normal.
As a result on the fourth of March one of the Khambievs, Aslambek Khambiev, was released. And this was done in the manner, which is normally done with bandits. He was thrown from a car near the village of Benoa in a half-unconscious state and right now he is in a hospital in critical condition. There were absolutely no reasons given for the abduction of these two young men. The second one has disappeared and we know that there are no plans to provide excuses or reasons for their abduction. This was just done as a matter of fear.
Beginning with this year we are already seeing something that Chechens have never seen before. It is the endless detention of women. Even prior to this they would make statements that regardless of whatever groups they may be working with that the women should not be touched because for the Chechens to abduct and hold the women is something extremely traumatic; it's extremely insulting and humiliating. Yes, this order previously had been violated but not on such a massive scale as it is now.
Nevertheless Kadyrov and his groups have not recognized this at all. Last year there were two incidents where they murdered women. One was Z.Bitieva who had approached the European court with a lawsuit, and it's very possible that she was murdered because of this lawsuit.
Two women were killed because of some very unrestrained comments by the prosecutor. There was an assassination attempt on Kadyrov. He said it was done by these two women. It is apparent that Kadyrov's family then in return for vengeance went and killed these women's relatives. We have seen these types of acts before from Kadyrov but now we are finding them to be much more focused on the women from the Khambiev family who are being detained or abducted. It was obvious that this was intentional since these were women who were married living in various parts of Chechnya, not even in one tribal area, and they were already members of another family but they were still taken.
From different sources the numbers of detained abducted people range from 50 people to 200 and it is clear that we will never have the exact number but we know that it is at least 50 people whose names we do have and by the testimony of witnesses it's upwards of 200 people. Their goal was achieved. Khambiev surrendered. The question is can the government act this way. Can authorities function the way that terrorists do?
The second example I want to bring forth is from the events occurring in the camps in Ingushetia. As you know, camps are being shut down in Ingushetia and there's an enormous amount of pressure put on the people who are living in those camps and this is being done by Kadyrov and right now this pressure has been activated to an extreme level. When I spoke with him personally about this he said all who will not return to Chechnya are traitors. He said let them stay in Ingushetia. We will encircle them with a very large fence and put a sign up saying “Wahabis.”
And my question is how can you insist or demand that people return to an area where they are constantly threatened with danger? And his response was what, you want to tell me you love Chechens more than I do. I answered, of course, I don't know about some but certainly much more than others.
Chechen representatives who make up this committee on refugees are constantly found on Ingush territory and they constantly run checks on the camps, finding people who are on the list and those that are physically in the camps, and they will conduct these checks as well as detentions.
I can tell you there is something incomparably explosive about the relationship between the authorities in Chechnya and Ingushetia because after Ingushetia had accepted so many Chechens and in fact at one point doubled the population of Ingushetia and especially after 1999 in December Ruslan Aushev, the President of Ingushetia, opened up one of the checkpoints, Caucus 1, and he said these are our people. Let them go. The hatred now has increased to a very dangerous point between the Ingush people and the Chechen people and this is something that is being done by Kadyrov.
It's obvious that the Ingush are very much against the conduct of these police of the Chechen Ministry of Foreign Affairs and their police activities on Ingush territory. And on March 6 there was such a check done on the territories of the Satsita camp. There are people living there from two liquidated camps, not only from Satsita, but from Alina and Bella.
There was yet another one of these terrorizing checks conducted. Some people were hiding underneath the floors in their tents. People's documents were checked, some were detained, and they planned on removing five young people. But the women literally beat these people off of the children. They would not allow these young people to be taken.
It's almost impossible to talk about this because of the pressure that the refugees are living under with these various actions. They're constantly being told that the camp is going to be closed. It started with the camp would be liquidated or shut down at the end of November in 2002. Then they were told the camp would be shut down November of 2003. Then there's the continued pressure of saying it will be shut down on March 1st. In this way the authorities are trying to force people to go back to Chechnya.
And this is something that I saw with my own eyes in November 2002 where people were violently and forcefully removed from the camp of Iman, Aki-Yurt, Ingushetia it was only the presence of our Commission on Human Rights that was there. We created a lot of noise and complaints and were only able to save these people and actually they still live there today. Unfortunately, even the Commission on Human Rights no longer has such influence.
It's very obvious that after the elections Kadyrov felt that he could force all the Chechens to move back into Chechnya, but I can tell you things that they need for human existence they don't even have what they have in the camps.
And finally I would like to say just a few words about what is going on outside of Chechnya. Every single terrorist act the authorities immediately tie with the Chechens and our Mayor of Moscow really does have an incredible sense of things because he has quite a fantasy that whenever anything happens he says that he already feels the footprints of the Chechens.
You have to understand that as a result of this people are in an extremely paranoid state right now. They are physically in fear of terrorist acts. They're afraid for their children who they send to these rock concerts or that they send out to the aqua park, and at the same time we have the authorities saying well, here is your enemy. Here's who they are.
This by no means is limited only to Moscow. This is going on in other cities as well where people are being removed from their jobs. We have the police forcing store owners or manufacturing facility owners to fire Chechens from their employment and up till now our medical professionals were always up in the heavens because they never denied anybody medical care. Not long before arriving here one of the hospitals that we cooperated with, even more so the surgical staff that we worked with, informed us that they would only operate on Chechens when Chechens would stop blowing up houses. This is obviously the influence of the mass media, something that actually I became much more convinced out here in the United States.
The first person I met in the United States who was not a relative of mine when I came was an elevator operator, Uncle Misha, and he asked me where I was from. I explained Moscow and he said why, why, why is it to this point you people still haven't been able to resolve this issue with the Chechens? Why do they keep blowing up the buildings? Why do they keep engaging in these terrorist acts? I said why do you think the Chechens are doing this. He said well, I subscribe to NTV on the TV and I watch NTV. And I said well, I would not be so certain, and he said well, then who because for him it was already obvious.
Unfortunately in fact this attitude toward specific ethnic groups is not just limited to Russia. I believe that all of us have to be in solidarity right now because alone we will not be able to resolve these global tendencies to ignore or limit individual human rights, all in the name of fighting this very abstract war on terrorism. We cannot allow our presidents to come to agreements behind our backs. Whether it was done on a ranch or riding on a sled with Schroeder our president filtrated Iraq and Afghanistan for Chechnya and that both sides would forgive each other for their various shortcomings.
I feel the only way we can actually fight terrorism is to have a respect for human rights and have a respect for individual rights. And if authorities begin to act the way they have with Khambievs then these authorities are placing themselves on the exact same level as the conduct of the terrorists and this can only lead to a war of all against all. And for that reason I believe that in this war on terror in the very first place we must have respect for human and individual rights.
BRIDGET CONLEY: Thank you very much. I wanted to just ask if there's any representative from the Russian Embassy who we'll give first chance to respond? If not I did want to draw your attention to someone who has joined us and allow him to have the first response. Mr. Ilyas Akhmadov is here. He's the foreign minister with the Maskhadov Chechen government.
Mr. Akhmadov, if you wanted to have first response Dimitri, our able translator, will join in. Thank you.
ILYAS AKHMADOV: Good afternoon. I would first like to thank the organizers of this wonderful opportunity to actually be able to turn another sad page in the sad history of our people. I would especially like to thank Ms. Gannushkina for the fact that she actually spoke about the case with Mr. Khambiev because this in itself is a very frightening symptom of something that had occurred in the 19th century where in the war there was an institution of hostage-taking. And one of the ways that the Czar's army got Imam Shamil to surrender was because they had taken his family hostage.
Just to speak to the topic, I wanted to give you a short story about my own personal history. I was born in December 1960 in Kazakhstan in Alma-Ata Oblast and, of course, I do want to thank Mr. Nikita Sergeivich Kruschchev, the guy that you know so well for coming here and hitting the table with his shoe, that I was born forgiven, that I was born with amnesty, because people who were born four years prior to me were immediately born with a special Stalinist title of “exile.”
The very first memory that I have is of that day in December 1962 where we boarded a train and were headed for our homeland. I didn't know that it was our homeland. I didn't know what it meant. But the reason I remember this is this was the first time I was on a train and I remember being surprised that all of a sudden the house was moving.
I was very happy. I was running around. The train was full of Russians and Germans and I was a rather stocky little fellow and people would ask me where are you going and I would say ÄÄÄÄ only when I grew up later that's was the first word I learned in Russian and when I grew up I realized that in Russia it's pronounced ÄÄÄÄ.
I want to conclude so we would have some more time for the questions but at the end of February of this year I just want to point out that the European Parliament under the initiative of the transradical party had adopted two amendments to a resolution which recognized the 1944 deportation as genocide, and it seems sad that it would take 60 years for the West to actually have some sort of a tribunal on this case.
The other thing I also wanted to point out was that Khrushchev had amnesty. He had forgiven the Chechens even though Stalin had accused and convicted and deported the whole nation. Khrushchev had only given them amnesty and it was in 1989 under Gorbachev when there was actually discussion of rehabilitation and it appears that for us December 1994 marked the very beginning of rehabilitation, which today has cost us 250,000 lives, a quarter of the population.
Thank you very much.
BRIDGET CONLEY: We are running very tight on time but I would like to have some of the questions. I know there are some very knowledgeable people among our audience. We'll maybe take several questions at once and then have panelists answer them. Would anyone like to pose a question to the panelists?
QUESTIONS AND ANSWERS:
BRIDGET CONLEY: So we can get this for the record the question was for Svetlana on what recommendations you would have to the US government and also inquiring about whether members of Maskahadov’s family had been held hostage against him similar to the case that she outlined.
Are there any other questions that we could take at this point? Yes, please.
BRIDGET CONLEY: That was a question on a report in Interfax on whether Magomed Khambiev had voluntarily surrendered. Jim, did you want to add one?
QUESTION: Yes, my question is about if you find non-Chechens in Russia being stigmatized for their sympathy with Chechens now and just if you could say a little more about the role of the Chechen issue in the political straitjacket that you see Russia moved into in the last years.
BRIDGET CONLEY: And then I think we’ll pause and have Ms. Gannushkia respond to these three.
The third one was whether non-Chechens have been targeted for political or other sympathies toward Chechens and if she could comment on that in the larger context of the closing of political space in Russia.
SVETLANA GANNUSHKINA: I would like to see a much clearer line on demanding respect for human rights. I would hope the United States government would not use an unclear tone, which is employed sometimes in this savage violation of human rights and this animalistic conduct. I would hope that any of the actions and consequences after September 11th or any terrorist activities in Russia would by no means excuse this approach to collective fault and collective punishment.
One year ago the President of the United States was in Russia and he met with the so-called public political leaders. After a very short speech, which for the most just covered how he met his wife Laura, the President then started walking around the room and shaking hands and we had an opportunity to say one or two phrases. His face had a greater and greater look of surprise when he got down to the row where the human rights activists were sitting because they kept saying Chechnya, Chechnya, Chechnya, that America must do something to stop this if it wants to keep its role as a leading democracy in the world, and that is actually something that I am beginning to doubt now. His answer was to inhale very heavily and tossed his hands up in the air and say, “You’re probably right,” and that was not enough for us. That is just too little.
We tried to do the story of the first war with President Clinton. At the 50-year anniversary of the victory over fascism we asked the President not to come because we felt it was inappropriate for him to come to a country where at that point fascism was developing rather strongly and right now in all practicality fascism has reached Russia. For the very first time we were not allowed to have a demonstration on Pushkin Square commemorating the deportation of the Chechens. This was on the 23rd of February, just now.
We want all of humanity, all of the world community if this term hasn’t lost its meaning to know that all of humanity and all of the world community has responsibility for what is going on in Chechnya, and these are the positions and the values that I would like to see.
Of course, without a doubt we have to discuss the refugees. The maximum that we are capable of doing is that when people come to our organization asking for help we try to assist them in getting to the West in the hope that they will at least in the West get the status of refugees, that they will be get asylum. These two reports that I pointed out to you actually deal with that work.
Each summer I travel to Europe. In Germany I’ve had discussions with the immigration authorities, who want to go into such minutia as wondering how many days did this particular person spend in Moscow. Why wasn’t he killed there? He should have been killed there. And how can we give status to somebody like this who had managed to survive? And this is all in reference to the 1951 Convention on Refugees.
Regarding Maskhadov and his family, of course, it’s obvious that they’re in danger but I don’t know anything specific. The tone in which Maskhadov is discussed by Kadyrov, and excuse the expression “president,” is so horrible that I can’t even repeat it because it’s just impolite language.
Regarding Magomed and his so-called voluntary surrender I’ll give you the report the Memorial had recently put out, and it’s very clear to us that this was absolutely natural that he would surrender. He had absolutely no other way out. When the women in his family were abducted, when the students were being tortured, there was nothing else for him to do. He couldn’t sit in safety. He had to surrender.
Regarding non-Chechens supporting Chechens I just have to say that I’m very fortunate because I work and interact with such groups. We have many Chechens working in our offices. We have many people who want to help us. So I can say that in this case I’m not suffering at all.
And unlike the Azeri and Armenian conflict I can also say that in Moscow I was employing Chechens. They threatened to actually fine me for employing Chechens. I said I would be very glad if you did that. But in the end they actually didn’t fine me for it.
But nevertheless in our population there are many breakups within families or splits within relatives and friends and so the tension in increasing because for most people the Chechens are the people who are causing explosions, burning up buildings, and represent danger. You may have elderly Russians from Chechnya who may actually be registered in an apartment in Moscow so they can receive some sort of a pension but if it’s an elderly Chechen they won’t allow them in because they are afraid to. All of the interactive polls show an extremely negative attitude toward Chechens.
Was that the last question?
BRIDGET CONLEY: That was the last one on the list we had.
ILYAS AKHMADOV: I just wanted to clarify one thing about the Khambiev case because I spoke with his brother Umar, who is in Europe. The second student was found murdered and his body was just dropped off. It was thrown out of a car and dropped off in one of the regions.
SVETLANA GANNUSHKINA: And unfortunately in Chechnya this is a common occurrence.
BRIDGET CONLEY: I could stay for several more hours. The panelists have just had a wealth of information and perspectives but I think in all fairness after two hours I should let the audience go, at least. Well, let me just do one announcement. On March 24th at 7:00 p.m. we will be doing a premier excerpt screening of Front Line’s new film on Rwanda which will later be shown on Frontline and people are welcome to come to that. Just check our website for further information.
If we could give a round of applause, a thank-you to our incredible panelists.