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Anna Politkovskaya was an outstanding woman, devoted writer, and Human Rights activist. On October 7th 2006, a group of cowards assassinated her because they were afraid to face the truth. She was murdered because she exposed the crimes of the Russian government. Throughout the years Politkovskaya had been tracked down, followed, and investigated but that did not discourage her. Even after several failed assassination attempts, she kept going because she knew that she possessed a gift that was no match for the Russian government. She had the gift of writing, and wrote about the facts. Anna revealed the secrets that government tried kept hidden, and exposed their evil deeds. Even though her life was at stake she never gave up, she knew that it was her duty to keep the world informed. The world will never forget her. We salute Anna Politkovskaya.

Eagle / www.JusticeForNorthCaucasus.Com Updated October 9th 2006

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MAY 2002

Chechnya: Articles by Anna Politkovskaya

posted by Justice For North Caucasus - Anna Politkovskaya. on May, 2002 as Anna Politkovskaya

Children of Chechen "Spetzoperations"
by Anna Politkovskaya
Novaya Gazeta
May 19 2002
Do you still think you should be supporting the war in Chechnya because of some aim that's being pursued, so things wouldn't get worse? We have reached a stage in Russia now, where every schoolchild knows that Chechnya is being "cleaned", and adults no longer bother with the inverted commas.
"Zachistka" in this sense entails thoroughly sorting out someone or something and, on the whole, we prefer not to enquire too closely into who or what. For this meaning of this old word we have the war in Chechnya to thank, and more particularly the high-ranking military brass who routinely update us on television with the latest news from Russia's Chechen ghetto, popularly known as the "Zone of Anti- Terrorist Operations".
It is March 2002 and the thirtieth month of the second Chechen war. "Zachistka", if we are to believe the military, is precisely the aim of the current "special measures". From last November until now, lunatic waves of special measures have been sweeping over Chechnya: Shali, Kurchaloy, Tsotsan-Yurt, Bachi-Yurt, Urus-Martan, Grozny; again Shali, again Kurchaloy; Argun again and again; Chiri-Yurt.
Towns and villages are besieged for days; women wail; families try desperately to evacuate their adolescent sons - where to doesn't matter providing it's a long way from Chechnya; village elders stage protest demonstrations. Finally, we are regaled with general Moltenskoy himself, our supposed commander-in-chief of the 'Front Against Terrorism', festooned with medals and ribbons, there on the television screen, pumping adrenalin, larger than life; and invariably against a background of corpses and "cleaned" villages.
The general reports some recently achieved "significant success". But there's still no Khattab with Basayev.... And you know full well that something isn't right, because you went to school when you were little and can do enough mental arithmetic to add up the numbers of enemy fighters he claims to have caught over the past winter. It amounts to a whole regiment of them. Just the same as in last year's warfare season.
So, how many fighters are still there? What exactly does "zachistka" involve? What is the truth, and who is telling it? What have these special measures actually turned into? What is their aim? Last, and most important, what are their results?
His eyes looked so calm
- I was relieved when they took us out to be shot.
- Relieved? What about your parents? Didn't you think about them then, and how sad they would be?
Mahomed Idigov, recently taken out to be shot, is 16.
He is a pupil in the tenth grade of School No 2 in the town of Starye Atagi, Grozny region. He has a favourite pair of jeans, a much loved tape recorder, and a stack of pop music cassettes which he enjoys listening to. He's a typical 16-year-old. The only disturbing thing about him is his eyes, which have the level steadiness of an adult's. They don't go with his teenager's skin problems and adolescent gawkiness.
There something wrong, too, in the measured way Mahomed relates the story of what was done to him. In the course of "zachistka" he was subjected to the same electric torture as the grown men. Having themselves been tortured, these men pleaded with Russian officers not to torture the boy but to torture them again in his place.
- No way, was the reply. - We get good counter-terrorist information out of schoolboys.
When I ask about his parents, Mahomed pauses for a time. His eyebrows finally arch childishly as he tries not to cry. He manages, and replies clearly and directly, as you can when something's over,
- Other people get killed too.
Indeed. Why should Mohamed have it easier than other people. Everybody is in the same situation. The "zachistka" of Starye Atagi from 28 January to 5 February was the second time the town had been "cleaned" in 2002, and the twentieth time since the beginning of the second Chechen war.
It is subjected to "special measures" nearly every month. The official explanation is plausible: with a population of around 15,000, Starye Atagi is one of the largest towns in Chechnya. It is 20 kilometres from Grozny and ten from the so-called "Wolf's Gate", as Russian soldiers call the entrance to the Argun Gorge. It is considered a trouble spot full of terrorist wahhabites and their sympathisers.
But what has this to do with Mahomed? On the morning of 1st of February, when the twentieth "zachistka" was at its most ferocious, masked men seized the boy from his home in Nagornaya Street, threw him like a log into a military truck and took him to a "filtration point", where he was tortured.
- It was very cold that day. First we were "put against the wall" for several hours, which means you stand with your hands up and your legs apart, facing the wall. If you try to lower your arms you get beaten immediately. Any soldier who walks past is likely to hit you. They unbuttoned my jacket, pulled up my sweater and cut it into strips with a knife, like a clown's jacket.
- Why?
- Just to make me feel the cold more. They saw I was shivering.
I can't bear it. Mahomed is too dispassionate. I can't bear the calm, thoughtful look on his face as he relates his appalling story. I wish this child would at least cry and give me something to do. I could comfort him then.
- Did they hit you a lot?
- All the time. On the kidneys. Then they put me on the ground and dragged me through the mud by the neck.
- What for? Did you know why they were doing it?
- Just because. For fun.
- But were they trying to get something out of you?
- For a whole day there was nothing. They just hurt me. They took me to interrogation in the evening. They interrogated three of us. They showed me a list and said, "Which of these people are fighters? Where are they treated for injuries? Who is the doctor? Whose house do they sleep at? Which of your neighbours is feeding them?" I answered, "I don't know".
- And what did they say?
- They said, "Do you need some help?" And they tortured me with electric current. That's what they meant by helping. They connected the wires and turned a handle, like on a telephone. The more they turned it, the stronger the current that passed through me. They asked me where my older brother, "the wahhabite", was as well.
- And is he a wahhabite?
- No, of course not.
- What did you say?
- I didn't say anything.
- And what did they do?
- They passed the current through me again.
The war has been lost
- Did it hurt?
Mahomed's head on his thin neck slumps down below his shoulders, into his angular knees. He does not want to answer, but it is an answer I need.
- It hurt a lot then?
- Yes, a lot.
- Is that why you were relieved when they took you out to be shot?
Mahomed is shaking as if he has a high fever. Behind him is an array of bottles with solutions for medicine droppers, syringes, cotton wool, tubes.
- Whose is this stuff? It's for me. They damaged my kidneys and lungs.
There are a lot of people in the room, but it's as silent as if we were in an uninhabited, sound-proof bunker. The men are completely motionless. Somewhere outside the Idigovs' house the nightly artillery barrage is starting, but nobody so much as stirs at its uneven booming which sounds like the drums at a funeral.
I realise that this war, which from force of habit we still call an 'anti-terrorist operation' has been lost. It can't be continued solely for the momentary gratification of a group of people who long ago has gone mad. The silence is broken by Mahomed's father, Isa, a haggard man whose face is deeply etched with suffering.
- I was wounded serving in the Soviet army. I served on Sakhalin. I know the way things are. During the last "zachistka" they took my oldest son. They beat him up and let him go, and I decided to send him as far away as I could, to people I know, where he'd be safe. Was I wrong to do that? During this "zachistka" they've crippled my middle son, Mahomed. What am I to do? My youngest is already eleven. How long will it be before they start on him? Not one of my sons is a gunman. They don't smoke or drink.
- How are we supposed to live? I do not know how. I only know that this is unacceptable.
I know too how it has come about: our entire country has joined hands to follow the lead of our great statesmen (and not only Russia, but Europe and America too), and at the beginning of the twenty-first century we are acquiescing without a murmur in the torture of children in a present-day European ghetto mendaciously called a 'zone of anti-terrorist operations'. The children of this ghetto will never forget what we have done.
You give birth to a dead baby?
"Zachistka" began on 28th of January. In the evening several soldiers and armored vehicles surrounded the village. By dawn all streets were swarmed with APC's with their ID numbers painted over with mud. Very low, as if approaching for landing, above the village, helicopters hovered, and roof tiles as maple leaves in the fall wind, flew from the roofs away, leaving them uncovered. In the morning, on 29th of January, Liza Yushayeva, being in the last month of her pregnancy, went into labour. This frequently occurs unexpectedly and doesn't depend on the periods and parameters of "spetzoperations" set up by General Vladimir Moltenskoy, who commands the United Grouping in Chechnya. Liza's relatives went to ask military men, who were standing in the nearest encompassment, to let the pregnant women pass into the hospital, but they didin't allowed it for a long time. The women loudly shamed them, they said, you have also mothers, wives, sisters. But they answered that they arrived here to kill those who are alive, not to help those who are giving birth.
As a matter of fact, it turn out, when servicemen ended their rage, this "process" went ahead, but Liza couldn't go those 300 meters, which was the distance to the doctor, which also was closed by troops by their "zachistka's cell". So, they began to negotiate again, about a vehicle, and again time passed away. Finally, Liza was brought to the hospital. But since there, entirely other soldiers stood, they pinned down the arranged driver and Liza to the wall - like to a fighter, who's been captured: hands up, legs spread wide apart. Yushayeva endured "the wall" for sometime and then she began to faint. Soon, a baby was born, but it was dead.
Do you still think you should be supporting this war because of some aim that's being pursued and so things wouldn't get worse? Things cannot get worse. We have lost all sense of the morality and restraint we were taught in less tumultuous times, and something more vile and loathesome than we could ever imagine has erupted from the murkiest depths of our souls.
- Do you deliver a dead baby, because you weren't allowed to give birth to a live one? - point blank, like a shot, asked a woman looking into Magomed's room.
- If you know the answer, you are still a happy person.
Anna Politkovskaya from Stariye Atagi
From the Polish daily newspaper "Rzeczpospolita"
April 27, 2002
Nation Non Grata
interview with Anna Politkovskaya
Karol Wrubel: President Putin has been ruling Russia for two years. During that time the economy has been revived and foreign policy has been reoriented. Only the war in Chechnya is still going on. Society is observing it with growing apathy.
Anna Politkovskaya: I get a lot of letters, 40% of them are against the war, in the rest of them people condemn my anti-war views. In the Russian media there's a lack of information regarding this subject, not like during the first war from 1994-96. In this information emptiness, actions of authorities are supported by a huge propaganda machine. This machine has been able to create a picture of the enemy. This enemy living down south, they called them "blacks". Thanks to that, for many people it's easier to put up with reality of life or break down with nostalgy for the past: to live with the enemy is much more comfortable - it's possible to devolve the responsibility for defeats, failures on it. There's no absence of verbal abuse and swear-words in letters addressed to me. But, people read my articles because there's no information in the media. If we're going to have more of this kind of articles, maybe the Russian public opinion will change its views, on what's going on in Chechnya.
Q: During the first war you hadn't written about Chechnya?
A: I was working at "Obshchaya Gazeta" then, this subject was taken by my collegues, they had appropriate conctacts, experience, I was writing that time about military hospitals, refugees. For the first time I flew to Grozny in 1998, to conduct an interview with president Maskhadov. People were kidnapped at that time, there was trafficking in prisoners, and Maskhadov himself didn't really know how to cope with this. This biggest impression on me made those crowds of bearded men - for them, all of journalists from Russia were officers of the FSB; waves of fleeing people, I've had worked already for "Novaya Gazeta" and editor-in-chief asked me to take the subject of Chechnya seriously. In the Caucasus, the big role play contacts with people, they give you some warranty of security, after each trip there's more of them.
Q: Since then, you've been to Chechnya more than 40 times. You were arrested last year, you were threaten with death, Gazeta had had sent you to the West. Your son, before he gets into a car, checks it out very carefully to find if a bomb is not planted on it. Are you afraid?
A: I'm afraid a lot. During every trip. But, if I wanted to live without fear and risk, I would became a teacher or a housewife. There's a risk written in the profession of journalist, so this talk about my fear doesn't have any sense. The editor-in-chief asked me to take this subject and that's enough.
Q: It doesn't make you think why people don't flee Chechnya? There's still shooting there, soldiers perish, civillians. A Russian woman - acquaintance of mine told me, if she were a Chechen mother, she would taken her children and fled. They would be more secure if she were to beg for bread near church in Volgograd, Yekaterinburg, Irkutsk.
A: Many Chechens dream about leaving, but to where they can escape? Does it matter that they're citizens of Russia?. Nobody is waiting for them in Russia, not even for Russians who used to live in Grozny before. Those people are not able to create a new life somewhere else - the country rejects them. A Chechen had been killed, not so long ago in Ivanov, only because he was Chechen. This nation is exposed to agression and humiliation. Why they don't flee abroad? Till now, the Interior Ministry instruction stating that Chechens musn't get passports for travel abroad has been in full force. They can buy a passport for 250-300 USD, but that's a sky-high amount for them. The poorest have remained in Chechnya, those better off have left it a long time ago.
Q: In Poland, every now and again, we hear about problems that Chechens are facing, trying to get political asylum. From the side of authorities we hear arguments that they don't deserve this status, because after their return to Russia they're not threaten with any repressions.
A: The Chechens are in Russia the nation non grata. Even for me it's strange, that it has to be explained to people in Poland, that they meet with repressions in their own country and they have a right to get asylum in democratic countries. I had been describing many such cases: a Chechen comes to Moscow to do some business; police plants on him narcotics and grenades; the Chechen lands behind bars. At the start of war, soldiers called them "chekhs", now they say about Chechens not otherwise than "apes".
Q: In the eyes of authorithy's representatives there are also "good" Chechens?
A: Even those who are pro-Russian, those who collaborate with the authorities, are barely tolerated. In one of my last articles, I've described a family with the totally pro-Moscow views. Father was a Colonel in the Russian police, his son had joined the Chechen one, he wanted to participate in bringing order there. He had been shot during one of many "zachistkas". His body has been taken away somewhere, and till this day it can't be found. Chechens who are employed in the administration complain that their Russian supervisers treat them as people of worse kind. Some Colonel of Chechen police complained to me that they don't get promotions, rewards. Apes don't deserve that.
Q: What's a "zachistka". Were you a witness to it?
A: Many times. Military surrounds a villlage or a town. The whole Grozny was subjected to this type of operations. Blockade can last for many days, there's a ban on travelling to other localities, sometime it's not even allowed to walk from house to house. Military controls documents. I used to know well some old man from Stariye Atagi, he came out in the front of his house convinced that his papers are OK. In next moment he was dead. That happened in the spring of 2000, just after the assault on Grozny. Today "zachistka" that's an act of ordinary marauding. Russian soldiershave to be payed 1000 roubles, and then a man won't be taken a filtration point. Price depends on the material situation of a house that's being searched. It goes up if there's furniture, kitchen dishes in it. Lately in Stariye Atagi, for 300-500 roubles Russian soldiers were ready to give up rape of local women.
Q: How do you explain this kind of behaviour?
A: It's hard to comprehend this. From one side, those young men, who are a few months in Chechnya, without contacts with women, I understand - in this wild, war conditions - their hankering for rape. They want a woman, but if they get payed 300-500 roubles, they don't want her anymore. Maybe for them, the more important than their sexual urge, is the need to humiliate? All kind of pleasure in humiliation. I promise her that I won't rape her, but she must pay me 300 roubles...
Q: What are sources of this demoralization?
A: The young soldiers live in terrible conditions for months. It's needed for a few weeks not to wash himself, to eat very poorly. Fear, alcohol, feet that have been rotting from dirt, a human being has been slowly changing into beast. Already, a long time ago they quit to obey all regulations. Anarchy and chaos rule in the military. Russia is sending its men in the military uniforms to Chechnya, in the same time they are told: are you sick and tired of everything? do you want to live to the fullest? lower your stress level?. Have a pleasure, Chechen apes are living there. You can do whatever you want, you don't have be afraid of punishment, in any case as the military men say, "vali, vsiekh prikroyem" (in Russian - have a go, we'll cover you all. M.L.).
Q: Doesn't anybody in the military understand that these acts deepen a process of autodestruction of the army?
A: When I come to Chechnya, almost always some officer tries to arrange a discreet talk with me. I hear praises then: "I read your articles, you're right, this what's going on here is terrible, it needs to be stopped. If some help is needed, please ask myself." But, the same officers in the presence of their collegues join the choir of condemnations and insults. Then, I hear that I humiliate and offend the Russian soldiers. In the last year, Colonel Anatoli Khriechkov, a military commisar, dared to give me an official interview. In his opinion, in Chechnya, it would be needed to introduce ban on alcohol, it's imperative to stricly obey regulations, officers should be responsible personally for behaviour and actions of their subordinates, they should be accounted for it. Not long ago, I'd met colonel Khriechkov again, and he says: " You know, after this interview I was really in trouble". His friends in the high places in the General Staff were barely able to defend him.
In January of this year, in the Shatoy region, a group of GRU officers had killed and burnt six persons. This case was investigated and officers had been arrested, only because a Major from the Defence Ministry, who was a witness in these events radioed the Prosecutor Office. Thanks to him those murders had been cought practically red handed. But now, the Major is in serious trouble. And what about if he wasn't there? In many cases of crimes that have been comitted by the military men, prosecutors arrive too late or not at all, or have problems to get a vehicle.
In September of 2001, a helicopter with two Russian generals on board was shot down over Grozny. One of them was Pozdniakov. He was sent to Grozny by the president, he gave him full powers to collect materials about crimes that have been comitted by the military. I didn't know him well, but I was under impression that he understood the need to clean up the army. The official communique lied the blame for the death of general on "Chechen bandits". I was in Chechnya then. The city was under total blockade. The helicopter could had been only shot down by people who were interested to hide truth. If death, for not minding their own business, threatens generals supposedly supported by the Kremlin, then we'll have less heroes who are ready to follow their footsteps.
Q: In Chechnya, thousands of Russian soldiers have perished, many more have been wounded. But, the country doesn't really care about it... A: Mothers of soldiers who were killed in garrisons because of "dedovshchina" ( violent hazing of conscripts M.L) are often come to see me. "It would be better, if they were killed in Chechnya, at least they would recognized them as heroes." - when I hear this kind of talk, I'm speechless. That means that they have also became victims of the state propaganda. After all, there's nothing more important for a mother than her own child. In big cities there are working Soldiers' Mothers Committees, some protests are taking place, the youth demands the right to substitute for the military service. So, in Chechnya mostly boys from the countryside are in the military service. I'm getting conviced about that when I'm visiting military hospitals.They were born in 1981-83. Those were times where our health and educational system was going down the tubes. Those boys are undernourished, uneducated, forgotten by their parents.
Q: From where people in Chechnya get money for their survival?
A: The best luck have those with grandpas-pensioners, for many families their pensions that's the main source of cash. Women trade on bazaars in whatever is possible. Families with small children can count on some support, so there are some scams when they register "dead souls of children".
Q: Moscow bureaucrats are assuring that Chechnya will be rebuild soon. Is that possible?
A: I've been hearing thist for the last five years. Buildings could be rebuild, however if you take under consideration our Russian corruption and sluggishness even this is doubtful. But what hurts me the most is that, there's absolutely no chance that Chechens could trust and like Russia in the near future.
Q: The Chechen war will still play a role in Russian politics. Do you believe that Putin will be willing to sit down to talks and finish this war?
A: Putin that's an intelligent politician, and for sure, he will be keen one day to come out as a creator of peace. Maybe before the elections to the parliament in the end of 2003, certainly before the presidential elections in 2004. But during his presidency, in the front of our eyes, there are things happening which can only arouse our dismay. During Yeltisin's time, at the beginning of his rule, we were going in the opposite direction, from the official side we had been being assured that the most important is a human being and its rights. We can't exist without our state, but its significance is much smaller then an individual person. Now, we're hearing something different, well known from the Soviet times. Above all, only the state counts and its interest, a person counts when it is servicing its state. There has came an odour of our old, well known ideology. For many that's a source of happines - now it's going to be as it had been before.
Q: Do you want us, those living beyond Russia's borders, to do something more on the issue of Chechnya?
A: Putin doesn't care what the Russian media say and write about him. Although, he watches the Western ones, trying hard that they would shown him there in his best light. So, there is some chance. The world media should pay more attention to what is going on in Chechnya and the Caucasus. Happily, when I was in London not long ago, accepting the "Index" award, (Most Courageous Defence of Freedom of Expression from the English magazine "Index on Censorship" M.L.) I was surprised that the English press and TV were interested in what I was saying.
Q: Are you going to Chechnya again?
A: Yes I am, the next week.
Karol Wrubel talked with Anna in Moscow     Translation from Polish: Marius

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