Sorrow in the Eyes of Children
Every person has their motherland. Small Motherland, the place which is of high value for the person. My Homeland is the Chechen Republic of Ichkeria. I was born here, in Grozny. I was educated here. I became a teacher. During my short life I faced the things which neither I nor other residents of our country could foresee even in a nightmare. I do not know whether there is any family which was not visited by grief during the last 10-15 years. I mean, the period since the beginning of Russian invasion in 1994, as the current so-called “anti-terrorist operation” which was declared officially ended that is not true, swept most of the innocent lives.
The story that I want to share with you is about one family… But the story of this family is applicable to almost all of our people.
Once upon a time there was a woman living in a mountain village. She was young. She married her beloved man. She was pregnant with her first child when once at dawn, members of the People’s Commissariat of Internal Affairs (PCIA) came and took her husband away. She was only 17. Six months after the arrest of her husband, she delivered a son. She lived and brought up her son, endured the horror and ties of the deportation of 1944 and returned home from there. She gave a life to her child, and raised him. Throughout her life she worked on the earth, with only wish: that her son would be strong and healthy. That he could become a real man and an owner of the land where he was born and lived.
But surprisingly, the national tragedies in the history of the Chechens repeat again; they happen in a certain time of period. That, what happened in February 1944, the general deportation of all the people, all horrors and hardships that they faced in exile, were experienced again by the family of this courageous woman at the end of the 20th century. It happened in 1995.
It was a terrible day. The morning of the January 3rd in 1995. At the dawn of that day the family received refugees from the village of Bamut. There were a lot of people. And everyone who came here found here shelter, rest, warmth, food and support. But like in every other mountain village there was no gas, no electricity, and no water in the house.
The head of the family was thinking of how to heat a stove, where to get firewood to warm the wearied and frozen refugees. There was a forest nearby but it was deadly dangerous to go there to get firewood as the Russian military helicopters were flying around in the sky. And the son of the owner, 10-years-old boy, without asking permission of his father, took an ax and went to get the firewood. He went down to the river in the vicinity of the house, crossed it and started breaking knots at the edge of the forest. Suddenly a Russian helicopter appeared. It started going round over the boy, occasionally shooting towards him. The mother of the boy saw it through the window. She ran out of the house with a shout: “They are firing at my son!” Her elder daughter followed her, then the middle one. The youngest was the fourth in the chain of the women who were running to help the boy. The head of the family went out trying to stop them, but it did not help. The wife and the daughters did not hear him because everything was stifled by row of the helicopter. Suddenly the flying Russian helicopter turned round and went towards the women, the running mother and her daughters. All of them were stricken with one salvo. The spots of blood appeared on the white snow. First the mother fell down, then one daughter, then another, third… The mother and one of her daughters did not get up from the ground, stricken with bullets; her husband and two other girls who survived, became invalids because of the rocket burst near their house. One of them was only 12; the second one was 22 years old. The one that died together with her mother did not reach 17 years.
This tragedy happened in the family of Sultanov Salman Alavdinovich, 1937, the one who became fatherless before he was born. It happened during the years of Soviet power. He worked during all his life, got bread for working hard, and brought up his children. Salman always told them: “Whatever happens, whatever will be, remember that good defeats evil.” But he could not protect his children against one evil; the evil of war.
I am a teacher. I always thought that I would be able to answer any question from a child. But for almost 6 years, I cannot answer the question of the child who remained without legs on that day. The girl who lost her mother and sister on that awful day. “Why did it happen to me?” – was the question of the 12-year old girl; the crippled child.
Why it happened to her, to thousands and thousands of other children who became cripples and orphans? Probably, one day the history will answer the question, but I could not. Because all my arguments broke on sorrow in the eyes of the child.
The adults can somehow cope with the grief, sorrow, loss of the family members and relatives, but children accept it hundreds times harder. It is impossible to explain what happens. Why bombs and shells fall on their heads, why their parents, brothers, sisters, contemporaries die… In order to understand the pain of a child, you should pass it through yourself, and it is very difficult.
As a duty-bound I wanted that teachers would learn and see how our children, who went through the horror of the war, live, what they bear in their minds, the pain they live with.
And then the idea appeared. In December 2004 with the support of my colleagues I carried out a contest of children’s essays on the topic “I curse the war with the wounded childhood”. If I say that I read the children’s work with tears on my eyes, probably, I will not say anything… None of the adult could read them without tears and compassion.
I would like to cite some works as examples. A pupil of the 8th class from Shatoy district called his essay “The black square”. As the teenager writes, together with his family he endured the endless artillery bombardments and air strikes. Then the parents succeeded to take him to calm Astrakhan region. Once in the school, the teacher told the class where the boy studied to write an essay about the Great World War. To write what they know about this war. The boy thought for a long time. Because he saw the war with his own eyes unlike his classmates. But he did not know what and how to write. Finally he found the solution. His work consisted of just one drawing. A black square with a red line and a dot. The teacher received his work and understood the state of the child, the pain of his soul. There were many of these unordinary works.
This essay was written by the other child, the pupil of the 5th class, who happened to live in the basements. The one, who experienced the artillery and aircraft bombardments, who saw the death of his contemporaries. The one, who lives and studies next to ones, who became legless and armless as a result of the war. His essay begins like this: “I curse the war with my wounded childhood. I do not know even how to begin. From the ruins and destructions? From the destroyed hearts? I implore Allah– let him send me the end”… If the 10-12 years old child writes that he implores the Allah about sending him the death, imagine, what the state of this child is, how enormous the endured pain should be, how immeasurable his loss of the faith to the good and justice on the earth… Most likely, it will take not just ten years to us, the adults, to help these children, the children of the war, to get out of this state.
Or the essay, written by the girl, the pupil of the 2nd class. She writes: “I am as old as the war in Chechnya”. The child is 9 years and during her life she saw two wars. She was born during the first Russian military invasion and continues living in the second one. Again the child says: “Adults, stop the war. Why has it happened to me?”
Let’s take another work of the pupil from Achkhoi-Martan district. One of the girls writes: “If the adults knew how it is hard and painful to the children, probably, they would not make noise at all.” She wrote that when the “first” Russian military invasion started, she was only five. Her mother during bombardments used to hide her in the basement; she clasped her to her bosom, covered with scarf and said: “My daughter, Diana! Don’t cry; don’t be afraid, these are shootings at the wedding party”. “I thought why the adults do not abolish this custom which frightens the children? Why do they not abolish it?” At that time she could not understand anything. But she was ten when the second Russian military invasion started. And she knew that any explosion, any shootings – is not a wedding. It is the war. And this time she was cuddling her sister, the 3 years old Luiza. And was trying to calm her down: “Do not cry, Luiza, it is a wedding”…
We can speak a lot about it, but it is very painful. It is too painful. I will reiterate, probably, if I say, that it is impossible to understand someone’s pain, if it was not taken through the heart. I know, what it means to lose close relatives, I know, what it means to lose the house, native village. I know what a sister, a mother of the disappeared person feels… Because one evening I was waiting for my brother but he did not come home. I will not tell what titanic efforts I had to apply looking for him, and how lucky I was. Probably, it is true when we say that the person will live as much as the Almighty prescribes it. My brother, probably, was prescribed to live longer than 45 years… After long, exhausting searches we managed to return him. We found him alive, but I cannot say that he was healthy…
A lot of unbelievable stories can be told about the war, and there is no need to invent them, they happened almost every day. I still remember the girl, my pupil Fatima Dzeitova, who died together with her mother in the settlement of Assinovskaya. It was the year of 2000. During the air attack as a result of the rocket explosion the mother and her daughter died. Many people envied the girl. They said: “How the child would feel if she left fatherless, and then motherless? She is lucky that she died with her mother”. The child was only twelve.
I cannot understand how to answer the questions of some of my pupils. Frankly saying, I can understand, but do not know how to explain it to the children. When the child, for example, asks “When does my father come back?”. The son of my neighbors asked me this question when on the night of 29 October of 2002 his father was abducted by the Russian soldiers. The child was only three years old, and now he is seven. He is at school now. And he is still waiting for his father. But his father has not come back yet… It is terrible when the children lose their parents. It is terrible.
Therefore, today I, and probably, everybody grieve about the lost people and are anxious about the alive. Because nobody is confident that the same would not happen to him or her. And this pain, this anxiety lives in every woman – a Chechen woman.
Perhaps, it will take time to return confidence to our children, to return their faith to the kindness, humanity, faith to that the horror, they had experienced and now every day see in the eyes of their parents, will not happen again. It will take many years to get the children out of this situation. And it is unlikely that it can be done immediately. First of all, it is necessary to cure souls of the children. Perhaps, then our children will start smiling, be happy, not like now. They smile, but there is sadness in their eyes. It is abnormal. In order to understand the child’s pain you need to listen to it with the heart. And help the child.
*Text was translated by Waynakh Online and edited by Michael Capobianco