Dispatches from Chechnya No. 22
GROZNY - The Russian military forces are continuing special operations or "mop-ups" in Chechnya's cities and towns. They "mop-ups" have been particularly frequent during the last three months, beginning in November of 2001. According to the Russian military command, the special operations are being carried out for purposes of passport control and rooting out separatist fighters.
These "mop-ups" are carried out against the backdrop of Chechnya's horrible humanitarian conditions.
The mop-ups have been conducted in almost all the villages in the foothills: Duba-Yurt, Chiri-Yurt, Starye Atagi, Novye Atagi. They were also conducted in villages in the regions of Nazhi-Yurtovskii, Vedenskii, and Kurchaloevskii, and in the cities of Grozny, Argun, and Urus-Martan.
In one special operation in the city of Argun, 33 people were killed and 25 were wounded, including women, children, and the elderly. The facts are irrefutable. Photographs of the mutilated corpses were shown throughout the city. Representatives of the military and the Russian-backed Chechen interim administration promised city representatives that the guilty parties would be found and punished. But the perpetrators have not been found. Then, at the beginning of January of 2002, Russian soldiers carried out another special operation in Argun. This operation, like the previous one, included abuses of the civilian population.
Widespread human rights violations were committed under the pretext of special operations. In the course of these "mop-ups," homes were destroyed and Russian soldiers committed theft, extortion, and looting. Dozens of people were killed, and hundreds disappeared without a trace. The residents of these cities and towns were forced to pay large ransoms not only for living relatives, detained during the course of the "mop-ups," but also for the bodies of the dead. Among Russian soldiers, the business of ransoming both people and corpses has become an everyday occurrence.
In the city of Argun and the village of Starye Atagi, the Russian armed forces carried out mop-ups several times in the course of a single month. Such repeated operations happen frequently.
A mop-up in the village of Tsotsin-Yurt in the Kurchaloevskii region of Chechnya was especially brutal. According to investigations carried out by local residents and human rights organizations, on the morning of December 30, 2001, Russian troops with columns of tanks and armored personnel carriers surrounded the village and blocked all the exits.
The front column of the troops pursued a small car that was driving towards the village. The people in the car drove up to the first house they saw and ran inside. The house was immediately surrounded by soldiers. Other soldiers immediately arrested men living in neighboring homes. A little later, the house was blown up, and everyone inside, both the occupants and the people seeking refuge, was killed. The owner of the house, an elderly man, was wounded. The house was completely destroyed, and several other houses in the village were partially destroyed.
Separate groups of Russian soldiers, with armor support, then began to outflank the doors and arrest anyone looking "suspicious," that is men and boys between the ages of 16 and 60. According to local residents, 29 people were arrested on the first day of the special operation, and 20 people on the second.
Men who were carrying money were able to bribe themselves free immediately. The rest were taken away to the outskirts of the village, where they were strip-searched. Many were beaten so cruelly that they could not move on their own. The soldiers took those who had been beaten unconscious in armored personnel carriers and threw them onto the street.
The soldiers interrogated and tortured the captives in their yards, in plain view of family members. They then demanded that parents sign statements affirming that their sons were rebel fighters. After forcing them to sign the statements, the soldiers then demanded money from the frightened people as payment for being related to the rebel fighters. When no men were found in a house, the soldiers arrested and threatened the women, accusing their husbands of either being or having been separatist fighters and demanding payment. At one house, when no adult men were found, the soldiers made three boys between the ages of ten and thirteen stand outside against a wall and beat them until they lost consciousness and fell in the snow.
Some of the detainees were not released and spent the freezing winter night on the outskirts of the village. Among them were women and elderly people. They were all beaten and harassed, and soldiers demanded that they confess to cooperation with the rebel fighters and indicate where the fighters were hiding.
The Tsotsin-Yurt special operation included mass theft, larceny, and extortion. All the stores and kiosks in the center of the village were looted. The homes of local residents were also subjected to robbery if their owners did not have the means to pay a bribe. The size of the bribe was set at anywhere from $30 to $250, depending on the wealth of the owner.
The Russian soldiers stole cars, video equipment, rugs, and dishes. When the owners refused to give up their property voluntarily, it was destroyed. The soldiers stole gold jewelry from women: those who refused to surrender it were threatened with the arrest of one of their relatives. The soldiers not only took money and valuables, but also food. Periodically, the Russian soldiers exchanged gunfire with each other, quarreling amongst themselves over the spoils. According to residents, there were casualties among the soldiers in these gunfire exchanges.
During the special operation a mosque was also desecrated. The Russian soldiers walked over the carpets with filthy boots and used the mosque as a toilet during their stay in the village.
On December 31st and January 1st, the soldiers held a New Year celebration in the residents' homes. They demanded food and vodka from the owners and shot up their livestock. Occasionally they held drunken shootings, exchanging gunfire between themselves.
According to the local residents, Russian soldiers extorted money from almost every house, threatening to plant weapons or ammunition to be found during a search.
On the third day of the special operation, some of the troops raided the village of Geldagen, where they arrested 15 young men and took them to Tsotsin-Yurt, where five were killed. In addition, the soldiers beat up several young boys who were returning from school.
When the relatives of those who had been killed demanded that at least their bodies be returned, the soldiers demanded money and alcohol in exchange, and threatened to burn the bodies if they did not receive payment. These poor people had lost all their belongings during the course of the war, so they were forced to collect money from throughout the entire village, literally in kopeks, so that they could bury their dead.
Moreover, even after paying the ransom, the relatives were forced to sign statements that the deceased had been rebel fighters before the bodies would be handed over. Nearly everyone in the village whose relatives had been arrested or killed had to sign such statements.
The criminality and brutal human rights violations of the Russian soldiers took place in front of the military prosecutor and two deputy prosecutors of the Russian backed interim administration of the Chechen Republic. All told, several local residents unconnected to armed units were killed, more than seven people disappeared without a trace, approximately one hundred people were beaten, a mosque was desecrated, many people living in the village were robbed, one home was destroyed, and several more homes were partially destroyed.
The residents of the village of Tsotsin-Yurt, outraged by what took place, have turned to the UN, OSCE, the Council of Europe, and the European Parliament to request that the Chechen Republic be protected from genocide. At the end of their appeal they write:
We can not understand why, over the course of the past two years, the world has silently observed the senseless cruelty of the Russian administration in Chechnya, which is shielded by hypocritical discussions about the battle against terrorism, and why European politicians, speaking about democracy, about human rights, about humanity, so indifferently allow the Russian army to kill us again and again. How is it possible to explain such a position? Why have politicians become entangled in lies? When do you intend to put an end to this war?
The UN, the Council of Europe, and the OSCE have already long known that Russia is not fighting terrorists in Chechnya and that what is actually happening there is the destruction of a nation.
We therefore propose that you not kill us so slowly and cruelly. If we are being handed over to the harsh treatment of Russia, then kill us immediately, in one day, in one hour, everyone together. At least in this way you will alleviate our suffering and resolve all of our problems. Judging by your indifference and apathy, we suspect that you are at one with Russia. If this is not so, then in the name of God, in the name of everything sacred, save us from these barbarians!
After the special operation in Tsotsin-Yurt received wide publicity, thanks to the information supplied by human rights organizations, representatives of the Russian military command met with representatives of several human rights organizations working in the conflict zone. At the end of the meeting, the representative of the Russian military declared that the Russian troops would continue their anti-terrorist operation in Chechnya; in spite of everything, special operations would continue as before.
The current situation in the Chechen Republic indicates that these are not empty words. Immediately after the events in Tsotsin-Yurt, Russian troops began special operations in the city of Argun and in the villages of Starye Atagi, Novye Atagi, and Chiri-Yurt.