Human rights activist Zarema Mukusheva’s documentary Crying Sun: The Impact Of War In The Mountains Of Chechnya is available for viewing on Google video. The 26 minute film, which is the first film produced by Memorial and the US based human rights group Witness, documents the effects of the Chechen war on the village of Zumsoi.In an interview with RFE/RL, Mukusheva said that the film
Especially follow[s] one man [Myahdi Muhayev] — during the war, his 15-year-old brother was abducted by Russian troops. Another brother was also detained, and after very cruel torture, became handicapped. Then our character himself is thrown into jail. After his detention by the federal services, he disappears for several days, and then there is an attempt to accuse him of serious crimes.
The other main character in the film is a schoolteacher in Zumsoi whose father is 103 years old. After everyone abandons the village, she starts to work for a human-rights organization and on the cases of disappeared people.
The film shows the lifestyle of these people, their situation, and how they are treated by the [Russian] military troops. It also shows the environment of the village — which is a result of the war; aerial attacks on the village, mop-up operations, and about how the families, one after another, gradually have to leave the village until the village is finally abandoned.
Shout out to A Step at a Time for bringing attention to it.
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By Sean — 12 years ago
Though the recent cloudy and rainy days signal the end of summer, its official end comes with the sudden appearance of children on the streets of Moscow. These bright young faces, dressed to the hilt for their first day of school are also a grim reminder. September 1-3 marks one year since the Beslan Massacre.
On the morning of September 1, 2004 Chechen terrorists took hostage Beslan School No. 1 in the small town of Beslan in North Ossetia. The hostage takers demanded the immediate withdrawal of Russian troops from Chechnya. For three days 1,200 adults and children were held hostage as Russia and the world watched. On September 3 all hell broke loose. When a FSB sniper shot one of the terrorists who had a bomb, thus setting it off, Russian forces stormed the school. It was then that the details get murky. Overwhelming force was unleashed on the school, including helicopter gunship fire and even a tank. Some claim that terrorists began shooting hostages held in the school gym. Others claim that FSB agents indiscriminately fired rounds into the school, killing many hostages. As chaos broke out, parents, themselves armed, ran toward the school to save their children. Teachers and children fled out of it. When the smoked cleared 330 hostages were killed, including 186 children. 918 hostages were rescued. Quickly dubbed, 9/1 following America’s 9/11, the Beslan massacre sent shock waves across the Russian body politic. Blame for the deaths was and continues to fall on both Shamil Basayev, the Chechen warlord who organized the act, to Russian President Vladimir Putin, for failing to prevent it.
Beslan has become symbolic of many things over the last year. It is a reminder of Russia’s brutal and seemingly never ending war in Chechnya. It is a symbol of Russia’s weakness, even while Putin has created an image of decisive and authoritarian strength. It has drawn Russia further, whether rhetorically or in actuality, into the “global” war against terrorism and Islamic extremism. Beslan, along with the terrorist raid on the Nord-Ost Theater in October 2002, killing 129; the February 2004 Moscow subway bombings, which killed 39; another metro bombing at Rizhskaya in October 2004, which killed 10; and blowing up of two passenger planes in August 2004, killing 89, has become a symbol of Russia’s inability to provide security against terrorism. In a recent poll, 65% of Russians polled believe that the authorities cannot protect them against terrorist attacks. Many Russians are still looking for answers of how this tragedy happened, who is to blame, and what can be done to prevent another. This search for the “whys” of Beslan, answers to which might provide not only psychological comfort to the victims’ families, but also to the nation, has been dubbed by some the “Belsan Syndrome.”
The so-called “Beslan Syndrome” goes beyond Beslan itself. How can one forget how Putin used the massacre to scrap the election of governors for their appointment by the Kremlin? Officials claim plans for the ditching regional elections were in the works for months. Beslan, however, provided the perfect political opportunity to unfurl them. Beslan also caused no reevaluation of the Chechen War. Moscow’s doctrine of overwhelming force continues unabated. It trudges further down the rabbit hole. Any hope of a political solution died with the killing of moderate Chechen separatist Aslan Maskhadov. Now the nationalist-Islamist Shamil Baseyev is now the de facto leader of Chechen independence. The conflict has moved to the border of Dagestan and bombings are becoming more common in Ingushetia. A year after Beslan, the Chechen War threatens to engulf that region.
The town of Beslan remains sorely divided between those who lost love ones and those who didn’t. Suspicion informs how each side deals with the other. The scores of official delegations, visitors, and journalists heading to the southern town have only increased the stress. Most of all, residents cannot understand how their own neighbors aided the terrorists. One man is on trial for allowing the terrorists into the town for a bribe of 500 rubles ($20). Many are blaming the school’s director for hiring maintenance workers who turned out to be the terrorists.
Thousands have showed up at the school to morn. Thirty women from the Beslan Mother’s Committee began a three day hunger strike and spent the night in the school to commemorate the incident. Forty others slept in the local cemetery where the victims are buried. According the one report in the Moscow Times, the tensions between citizens are high:
“[Zoya] Gadiyeva said her 38-year-old son died of heart attack just five months after the attack because he could not handle the stress.
“Why didn’t you do anything to protect them?” she berated the police.
“I will cry everyday until I reach you over there,” she said, turning to the pictures of her daughter and granddaughter.
Nearby, an old woman in black sang a song in Ossetian. “You all died and still the authorities are hiding the truth from us,” the woman sang, according to a translator. “Tell me, my dears, where should we go for the truth?”
A policeman told her to be quiet, and she retorted in Russian: “You haven’t lost anyone. You should have protected my children, but you failed, and now you are trying to shut me up?”
A group of screaming women tried to stop the principal of School No. 1, Lidia Tsaliyeva, from entering the gym. One woman ran up and tried to hit her on the head, connecting only lightly before police carried her away.
Some men then approached her. “How dare she come here today,” one man yelled.
“She is responsible for the death of our children. She betrayed us,” screamed Batras Tsalago as she tried to get near Tsaliyeva.
Police officers quickly surrounded Tsaliyeva and escorted her away.”
The politics of Beslan also continues in Moscow. Putin met with three members of the Beslan Mothers’ Committee. Many of the mothers blame Putin himself for the tragedy and they vow to make their views clear. “I will say that we think President Putin is to blame for what happened. As for what else I will say, well I am unpredictable and I can’t tell the exact words I will use but it will be serious,” says Susanna Dudiyeva, whose 12-year-old son Zaurbek was killed in the incident. The meeting however is being hailed in the media as a “precedent” for all of Russia. Putin is known to steer clear of any meetings with angry voters.
It is hard to not see this move by Putin as pure political calculation, rather than a genuine concern for the views of the Mothers’ Committee. During the meeting, Putin promised to punish those who “blundered” and a full and open investigation. What else could he say? His statements were so predictable they sound trite. His words, however, did their job. The Mothers seemed satisfied, though cautious.
There is a struggle between the State and society over the memory of Beslan. There is attempt by the Russian State to incorporate 9/1, like 9/11 in the United States, into its own narrative. Nothing shows this more than the black posters with “??? ????” (No Words) that appeared inside metro cars a week ago. At first I thought these were done by the Mothers’ Committee because the posters announce a meeting in solidarity with the victims of Beslan. It was only yesterday did I find out that Nashi, the pro-Putin youth group, were the source of the posters and sponsors for the meeting. Nashi has erected a large stage down the street from Red Square and plan to hold their “meeting” on Saturday. Yesterday, Nashi activists, dressed in black windbreakers with “??? ????” written across them could be seen in the city’s center.
There is a poem on the Nashi website that is telling of how the memory of Belsan is being turned. How the general grief of the public is being consolidated into that of the State. The poem reads:
We are one country. One people.
The murdered us.
The subhumans want us to be afraid of them.
When we sleep in our homes,
When we go in the metro,
When we rest,
When we take our children to school.
This will not happen. One year ago—3 September—Beslan.
There are no words that can describe this tragedy.
There are no words able to voice all the pain and sorrow
For those who will never walk the earth.
That who did this will be eternally damned.
They will only be remembered
Everything will be done so that this won’t be repeated.
A meeting of silence at the monument for the victims of Beslan.
It says that there are “no words.” However, between the lines of remembrance is a deafening silence that calls for revenge; a statement of absolute victimhood that produces a silence that covers up the context of their murder. Nashi is wrong. There are words. One word really. A word denied in this poem, and thus silenced from memory. That word is Chechnya.Post Views: 109
By Sean — 5 years ago
Sunday, October 7, marks six years since Anna Politkovskaya was murdered in her apartment elevator. The assailant shot her four times, three in the chest, and once in the head, the trademark of a contract hit. Also on Sunday, incidentally, Vladimir Putin will turn sixty years old. Six and sixty. There’s symmetry in the numbers, the one marking a death, the other a birth. But Putin and Politkovskaya have been linked for a while now. That is, at least since the former became (acting) President of Russia in December 1999. Only six months prior had Politkovskaya begun writing for Novaya gazeta, where she spent the rest of her career covering the gruesomeness of Putin’s war in Chechnya. Her murder on Putin’s birthday (which many think was a perverse present to the leader) formally cemented the link between the two rivals, perhaps forever.
Sunday will be a reminder of that bond, if only because no one has been convicted of Politkovskaya’s murder. This is not to say that Putin is to blame for it, but the lack of conviction has occurred under his watch, first as President and then under his stand-in, DmitryMedvedev. Three suspects, Dzhabrail Makhmudov, Ibragim Makhmudov, and Sergei Khadzhikurbanov, were tried and acquitted in February 2009. By that summer, the Russian Supreme Court overturned their not-guilty verdicts, and the three will be retried. As it stands now, investigators have completed their inquiry, and six suspects will eventually stand in the docket: Rustam Makhmudov, the alleged gunman, his brothers Dzhabrail and Ibragim, Lom-Ali Gaitukayev, and two former police officers, Dmitry Pavlyuchenkov and Sergei Kadzhikurbanov. As for the persons who hired these alleged proxies, the search for them appears to have grounded to a halt, assuming it was ever started.
The link between Putin and Politkovskaya will be recalled in the divergence of scale and tone in the planned commemorations for each figure. The state channel NTV will run a documentary giving the public a “never-before-seen” peek into the life of their dear leader. Other Putinoids will hold everything from rallies to poetry readings, while towns like Rostov and Chelyabinsk will drape their thoroughfares in Putin banners. And just so you don’t think Putin has lost his virility, the Levada Center has conducted a poll that puts the sex into the sexagenarian Putin. According to the survey, 20 percent of women would “would jump at the chance” to wed Russia’s President. How fitting it all is. But make no mistake; such events are not at the behest of the Kremlin. Or so we are told. “I already said that Vladimir Putin is not a supporter of marking his birthday in public,” his press secretary, Dmitrii Peskov told reporters. “He spends his birthday among close friends and family.” Then he added, “We definitely do not encourage any kind of on air celebrations. Although some special celebration was initiated by the channels themselves, we will not approve of it.” As Jan Plamper noted in his study of the Stalin cult, such acts of disavowal amount to “immodest modesty” or “flamboyant modesty.” The leader wants his cult, but doesn’t want to appear to want it. I suspect Putin is no different in this regard.
Plans to observe Anna Politkovskaya’s murder are in stark contrast. Supporters, friends, and family will stage a small and likely solemn picket on Novopushkinskaya Square. The organizers originally wanted to have it at Pushkin Square in the center of town, but the authorities rejected the idea, saying the site will be occupied. This is not to say that Politkovskaya’s murder doesn’t have its own objects of memory. A human rights award has been named after her, two posthumous books have been published—her diary A Russian Diary (2007) and a collection of her final articles in Nothing but the Truth (2010) (published in the United States as Is Journalism Worth Dying For? (2011)—and a few films and documentaries have been produced about her work, murder, and its investigation. New memory objects are in the works. Just this week, officials in the Czech town Karlovy Vary renamed a park in her honor. And further celluloid immortalizations are in store with a new Hollywood film about the journalist in the planning stages.
There was no love lost between Politkovskaya and Putin. In Putin’s Russia, Politkovskaya called Putin the “soul brother” of Gogol’s Akaky Akakievich on the eve of his inauguration for his second term in 2004:
“[Putin’s] outlook is narrow, provincial one his rank would suggest; he has the unprepossessing personality of a lieutenant colonel who never made it to colonel, the manner of a Soviet secret policeman who habitually snoops on his colleagues. And he is vindictive: not a single political opponent has been invited to the inauguration ceremony, nor a single political party that is in any way out of step. Tomorrow . . . Akaky Akakievich Putin will strut down the red carpet of the Kremlin throne room as if he really where the boss there. Around him the polished tsarist gold will gleam, the servants will smile submissively, his comrades in arms, a choice selection from the lower ranks of the KGB who could have risen to important posts only under Putin, will swell with self-importance.”
In contrast to Politkovskaya’s hyperbole, Putin was cold, dismissive, and exact when it came to his critic. When asked for a comment on Politkovskaya’s murder, Putin said, “Yes indeed, this journalist was a harsh critic of the present authorities in Russia, but I think that journalists should know this, at least experts are well aware of this, the extent of her influence on political life in the country, in Russia, was extremely insignificant. She was known in journalistic circles, in human rights circles, in the West. I repeat, her influence on political life in Russia was minimal.” For him, Politkovskaya was merely a “woman” and a “mother,” and as far as who was the real victim of this crime, it was “Russia,” its “current government authorities,” and if that wasn’t ironic enough, those of the “Chechen Republic.” Her murder, Putin continued, “inflicts on the current authorities a far greater loss and damage than her publications.”
Politkovskaya would have hardly been surprised by Putin’s response. Yet I wonder what she would have thought about the last two years of Putin’s second term, the Medvedev interlude, and Putin’s return for a third tour. She would have likely been among those who called Medvedev a sham, and would have been unmoved by Putin’s hat-trick, or that the vast majority of Russian society passively accepted it. After all, her general assessment of Russia was incredibly dark, and she showed little hope that it would change. “Our society isn’t a society anymore,” she wrote in Russian Diary. “It is a collection of windowless, isolated concrete cells…There are thousands who together might add up to the Russian people, but the walls of our cells are impermeable.” Her prophesies about “revolution” in Russia were similarly laden with dread. “Our revolution, if it comes, will be red, because the Communists are almost the most democratic force in the country, and because it will be bloody.”
She minced few words when it came to the opposition too. In February 2004, she rhetorically asked, “Why is it so easy in Russia to put down democratic opposition? It is something in the opposition themselves. It is not that what they are confronting is too strong, although of course that is a factor. The main thing is that the opposition lacks an unflinching determination to oppose.” A month before her murder, her diagnosis of Russia’s democratic opposition had hardly changed: “To put it bluntly, I do not believe their democratic convictions run that deep. I don’t trust any of them, other than Kasparov, and I doubt that he will be able to move mountains on his own.”
Her assessment of her colleagues in journalism was no less caustic. In an article found on her computer after her death, presumptuously titled, “So What Am I Guilty Of?” Politkovskaya compared her peers to “koverny,” Russian circus clowns who entertained the crowd between acts. “Almost the entire generation of Russian journalists, and those sections of the mass media which have survived to date, are clowns of this kind, a Big Top of kovernys whose job it is to keep the public entertained and, if they do have to write about anything serious, then merely to tell everyone how wonderful the Pyramid of Power is in all manifestations.” She, on the other hand, refused to play the clown, and accepted the fate of pariah. “What am I guilty of? I have merely reported what I witnessed, nothing but the truth.”
This begs the question of what she might have thought about the Russia of 2012. It’s widely maintained that Russia has changed. Would Politkovskaya have changed with it? What would she have made of the New Decembrists and some of the Young Turks at their head, like Alexey Navalny and Sergei Uldaltsov? Of the protests against Putin, which during her life were never more than a few hundred people, at best, and now number in the tens of thousands? Of the political vibrancy of Runet, the centrality of blogs and Twitter, and the new crop of activist-journalists? Would she write them off as clowns? And what of Russian society? Would Politkovskaya look at all this and still see it as a tetragon of windowless, impenetrable concrete cells? Is there still even a place for Politkovskaya in today’s Russia? Where would her role be, when Chechnya and the North Caucasus in general are literally out of the Russian sight and out of the Russian mind? Sadly, thanks to three shots to the chest, and one to the head, we’ll never know.Post Views: 211
By Sean — 11 years ago
Since I’m already on the topic of Chechnya, I urge readers to check out C. J. Chivers’ piece in the NY Times on the torture of Malika Soltayeva, a Chechen woman who is suspected of adultery. It seems that Kadyrov’s Chechnya is turning out to be no different than the late Shamil Basaev’s would have been. Here is an excerpt:
Ms. Soltayeva’s own experience, much of which was captured on video, was an accumulation of terror, pain and loss.
She was seized March 19, and mocked throughout a torture session that lasted nearly two hours. “Call for Sergei!” one of the policemen said, using the name of her assumed lover as he beat her. “Sergei! Help!”
Next they told her to dress, and drove her to her husband’s courtyard and made her dance before her neighbors. “Look how ugly you are,” another policeman said.
When she staggered away, several of them kicked her with their heavy black boots. Two days later she miscarried, and has been largely out of public view since.
The episode, which took place five months ago, was not investigated, even though videos showing the torture were passed along on cellphones throughout Argun and other Chechen towns. The videos circulated widely enough that accurate details of her abuse were known by roughly half of the Chechens interviewed by The New York Times.
“It is just outrageous lawlessness,” Ms. Soltayeva said in an interview in Grozny, Chechnya’s capital.
As is common in crumbling marriages, the details of Ms. Soltayeva’s family life and behavior are in dispute. Her former husband’s family says she had an affair with a Russian serviceman she met at a store where she worked as a cashier. She says that she did not, and that she was faithful to her husband even though he beat her.
Her whereabouts in the weeks leading up to her beating are also a source of contention.
Ms. Soltayeva said she was away from home because she had been abducted by masked men who eventually released her, a phenomenon in Chechnya that is common enough that her own family says they believe her. Her husband’s family, and the police, say that she left Chechnya to try to live with her Russian lover, and that she returned when it did not work out.
Natalya Estemirova, a staff member at the Grozny office of Memorial, a private human rights group, said she tried to bring the case to the Chechen authorities, but they threatened Ms. Soltayeva with criminal charges for falsely claiming to have been kidnapped. They showed no interest in the police violence, she said.
Allegations of state-sponsored horrors, and claims that Russian and Chechen officials have allowed servicemen to commit crimes with impunity, have been a regular accompaniment to the Chechen wars.
Human rights groups have documented mass graves, extralegal executions, widespread use and tolerance of torture, illegal detention, rape, robbery and kidnapping.
The Chivers’ article includes other, more violent examples of the kadyrovtsy’s methods.Post Views: 105