The 21st Century: Is it Still Possible to Hide Monstrous Crimes?
For several years, I have been working in the Human Rights Center “Memorial”. From the residents of the Chechen Republic of Ichkeria I have heard one hundred stories about atrocities conducted by Russian servicemen against defenseless and peaceful people during so-called “counterterrorist operations”.
These operations were started by Moscow in the autumn of 1999. Both relatives of the suffering citizens and victims of the violence inflicted by the Russian servicemen have approached us. I heard about rocket attacks on settlements, bombardments, kidnappings, murders and the extrajudicial executions of defenseless citizens, torture and mockery in so-called “filtration camps” and other places of illegal detention of the people which were practically in each Russian military division located in the territory of our homeland.
One story in particular that I remember well is the story of a 37-year old resident of the capital city, Grozny. We shall call him Ayub.
On January 23, 2001, Ayub was driving with passengers in the car. He was detained by Russian servicemen at checkpoint #51 in the settlement of Tashkala on Grozny’s Staropromyslovski Highway. Having checked the documents, one of the servicemen ordered Ayub to drive the car to the side. He told Ayub that they had some materials discrediting him and he would be detained until “clarification was be made”. Using a portable radio-set, the servicemen called for a special group. The passengers were forced to leave the car and lay down on the ground.
A relative of Ayub, who was in the car with him, flatly refused to obey the commands of the Russian servicemen. She asked them to tell her what the reason for suspecting Ayub was and why it was not possible to clarify everything right away. The woman, together with Ayub was pushed into the vehicle, in which two servicemen sat as well. Then they were escorted by four cars, “UAZ” to the 36th sector (Maskhadov – formerly Staropromyslovsky- district). In the settlement of Ivanov, Ayub’s relative was thrown out of the car. Ayub managed to ask her to inform his relatives about his abduction. After that Ayub was carried further. Sometime later they arrived at the edge of the settlement, in the closed zone. The vehicles approached a three-storey gray house, where there were several civilian vehicles. The gate was protected by guards. Ahead, according to the victim, down to the Terski range there was an open space.
Ayub was taken inside of the building, handcuffs were put on the hands and he was blindfolded. Then he was led down a dark corridor, on the way he was beaten with legs and rifle butts. He tried to find out why he had been detained and he asked them to give him an explanation, but nobody listened to him. Until 5:00pm he was kept in that house, then through the other exit taken to the courtyard fenced with concrete plates. He was taken to a premise, which led to the cellar. It appeared that it was a torture chamber. Through a small window a fuel-lubricating tank dug in the ground could be seen.
Ayub was placed on an iron chair, a trunk and hands pulled together with belts, and it was not possible to move, a metal ring was put on his head with electrical cables and the current was turned on. As Ayub explained, the pain was so terrible, that it twisted his whole body. He did not remember how long the torture continued, because he often lost consciousness. Two times he was brought around by injections to his hand and neck. According to him, he was tortured for 3 to 4 hours, with small breaks in between.
After severe torture, Ayub was brought to the tank, which was divided into three compartments. The middle hatch was removed, then the bandage and handcuffs were removed and he was thrown downwards. Hitting a blunt object, he fell into water. The water reached his waist, and there were some detained people in it. He managed to rise onto his feet only after being helped by a man of about 50 and a young girl.
The girl, who came to help the beaten Ayub, was named Rosa and she was from the town of Shali. The man, who introduced himself as Kharon, was the resident of a settlement called Novy Aldy. They were imprisoned for about two months. As Ayub has said, both were in an awful state. Kharon was missing his left ear, his face and body had been crippled by torture and beatings with legs, rifle butts and iron objects. This special treatment was explained by the fact, probably, that during a “mop-up operation,” as he said, a weapon was found in his house.
Rosa, a beautiful girl of 22-25 years old, had been detained at a checkpoint. Allegedly, she was “suspected” of being a sniper. She was naked up to the waist, and in order to hide her nakedness she had to sit in water up to her shoulders. She had light cuts on her belly and side made by a knife and her right hip was pierced with a sharp object. Ayub gave her his shirt.
In total there were six people in the tank: Ayub, Rosa, Kharon, two more men and one girl from the Maskhadov district (formerly Staropromyslovsky). Based on her looks, she must have been about 16 years old. Her name was Taisa. She was a very beautiful brunette of small stature. Her face was black and blue and covered in bruises.
It is not possible to describe with words what these beasts did to the arrested people. As Ayub said, instead of a meal, some leftovers were given once a day. Nobody was taken to the toilet. Moreover, “the fighters of terrorism” pulled back the hatch, urinating and defecating directly on the people in the tank. The people had to relieve themselves straight into the water of the tank.
When they were called for interrogations, a rope ladder was pulled down from above. Those who could not climb independently were put in handcuffs and dragged upwards. Shouts and groans of the tortured people were constantly heard from the torture chamber. Sometimes the Russian servicemen practiced “collective actions”: they put all the people in a row and started severely beating them. But the worst, most painful and humiliating thing was when these animals, forcing the girls to stand with their hands extended forward, raped them in front of the other prisoners. And they did it in the most sophisticated forms. The detained men had to look at it. Later Rosa confessed, that sometimes she was “passed around” to 20 or 30 people. As for Taisa, she was pregnant. Kharon was also raped.
Relatives rescued Ayub from this hell on the fourth day, January 28th. They paid two thousand US dollars to the Russian servicemen. Before his release, the girls and the men had asked him to let their relatives know about them and do everything to save them from these fascists. Actually, Taisa had said that she would not have a life anymore, and that she was lost for herself and for her relatives.
On the morning of January 28th, Ayub was released. Only his passport was returned to him. Money (about seven thousand rubles), his car and the documents for it were not given back. He accomplished his cellmates’ request. He went to Shali and informed relatives of Rosa, and then visited relatives of his fellow sufferers. Rosa was ransomed in two weeks for four thousand dollars. According to Ayub, first she had been taken to the military base in Khankala, and then released from there. Тaisa was released the same way and for the same amount of money. But later Ayub was told that the girl had died some time later after her release. After the funeral her relatives left for Belgium. Ayub did not know what happened to the men, but hoped that they were lucky enough to be pulled out from this terrible place. Of course this would only have been possible after paying a big amount of money.
During the first 2 to 3 years of “counterterrorist operations” in the territory of the Chechen Republic of Ichkeria, the practice of paying ransom by relatives to release the people detained by the Russian servicemen was widespread. It also happened that servicemen sold bodies of brutally tortured victims to the relatives. And it was considered as a big success if servicemen agreed to retrieve the crippled body of the person. Very often the bodies of victims of extrajudicial executions were thrown out by servicemen in deserted places, or buried on the outskirts of settlements. It is certainly awful, but it is reality. The Russian servicemen killed and abducted people here, raped women, brutally punished the defenseless old men, women and children, and were not held accountable for anything.
I hope that sooner or later, all of them, starting from the private soldier and the general and finishing with the high level officials, will pay for everything they have committed. It is no longer the 19th century nor is it even the middle of the 20th century, when it was possible to hide monstrous crimes against unarmed and peaceful people. It is the 21st century. The example of Colonel Gvishiani, who in 1944 burned 700 unarmed peaceful residents of the settlement of Khaibakh alive and then calmly died in his bed surrounded by loving relatives, will not be repeated anymore.
Human Rights Defender
*Text was translated by Waynakh Online and edited by Michael Capobianco