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Open Democracy; War comes to Ingushetia by Tatyana Lokshina

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  • mariuslab2002
    War comes to Ingushetia Tanya Lokshina, 2 - 07 - 2008 The border of Chechnya and Ingushetia used to mark the line between war and peace. Now the shootings,
    Message 1 of 1 , Jul 3, 2008
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      War comes to Ingushetia
      Tanya Lokshina, 2 - 07 - 2008

      The border of Chechnya and Ingushetia used to mark the line between
      war and peace. Now the shootings, torture and disappearances have begun.

      It used to be peaceful here. The border of Chechnya and Ingushetia
      marked the line between war and peace. Crossing this line, returning
      from war to peace, you sighed every time: "Now everything will be
      fine. It's safe here..." Of course, there's poverty, dirt, corruption,
      but people don't get killed, shot or kidnapped here. There it's part
      of everyday life

      When did this all change? It happened gradually. The realities which
      only used to exist "across the border", in Chechnya, seeped slowly
      into Ingushetia. The kidnappings began in 2002, though it's true that
      at first the Ingush themselves were not affected - only the Chechen
      refugees. At the time, there were 150,000 of them in Ingushetia, equal
      to around half the population of this small republic. Militants from
      Chechnya began coming at night. They broke into the homes of refugees,
      grabbed their victims, put them into vehicles and drove them back to
      Chechnya. Those kidnapped usually disappeared without trace. Numbers
      increased and soon they started taking Ingush as well, who also
      "disappeared". And they were tortured too. But until June 2004 this
      was a rare occurrence...

      That "black June" was the turning point - war came into Ingushetia.

      On the stifling summer night of 21-22 June, Shamil Basaev appeared in
      Nazran with a force several hundred strong. For a few hours they held
      the republic. They killed dozens of policemen and left the local
      law-enforcement agencies without leadership. It was an easy operation
      for them. Basaev's men set up checkpoints on the roads. Drivers
      stopped their cars, when they saw armed soldiers in camouflage,
      thinking it was a special services operation. Law-enforcement
      employees showed their ID so they could pass unhindered. But by then
      it was too late. Men in uniform or with official IDs were shot on the
      spot. The militants captured a military warehouse, loaded a heap of
      weapons into their cars, and left Nazran and Karabulak late at night,
      without suffering any losses.

      All night, people shook with fear. Children sobbed, terrified by the
      shooting. Mothers pushed them under the bed - what if people broke
      into the house, or started blowing everything up? Women bustled around
      rooms, putting together bundles of essential items: if the militants
      were here to stay, they would have to flee.

      The next day the funerals of the murdered policemen began and
      Ingushetia was almost literally flooded with hatred. The population
      was prepared to approve any action by the authorities - as long as
      nothing like this ever happened again! They really did support the
      first special operations, believing them to be necessary But these
      operations were conducted "Chechen style"...

      Law-enforcement officers broke into houses and seized young men. Many
      were taken to neighbouring North Ossetia. Some were put in pre-trial
      detention centres and tortured there. Others were even held in pits.
      They were forced to confess to taking part in the "attack on Nazran"
      and having connections with the militants. They were forced to name
      accomplices. If a young man said he didn't know any militants, he was
      tortured until he started naming neighbours and classmates. One man
      who was held at the detention centre in Vladikavkaz betrayed several
      dozen people, and then cried: "Go on, put me in prison! But why
      imprison them? They've got nothing to do with it!" The men named
      completely innocent people, anything to stop the torture and the
      beatings, or to have the wires removed from their fingers and toes.
      People who had been named were also rounded up and tortured. They too
      named names. Some of the people who were taken away by the officers
      disappeared. Their relatives looked for them everywhere, went through
      all the official channels, and paid huge sums of money for any
      information, but could not find them. Sometimes, the kidnapped men
      were released. They returned home, but could no longer live in peace,
      and kept looking over their shoulders, expecting to be "detained" a
      second time - they were, after all, now on the list of suspects. If
      the family had enough money, the man was sent away from Ingushetia to
      a safe place. If the family could not afford this, then life became
      hell. And eventually the men realized that they had nowhere else to go
      but into the mountains.

      Villages were also "cleansed". This is how one of the residents of the
      village of Ali-yurt described the cleansing of last summer: "They were
      already in the yard, shouting `On the count of three we throw a
      grenade!' I rushed to the door and opened it, and one of the soldiers
      hit me in the left temple with his gun. I saw stars and fell off the
      porch. They kicked me and beat me with the butts of their guns in the
      stomach and head. One of them stood on my head, another two pulled my
      legs apart, twisting them terribly. The pain was awful, but I thought
      about what they could do to my wife. She was heavily pregnant, and in
      her condition anything could happen... They shouted: `Why did you kill
      that soldier? Why did you shoot?' I said that I hadn't shot anyone,
      and they just shouted at me: `Shut it, you bastard!' And then they
      beat me again... When at last they left, I went into the house, and
      saw [my wife]. She was lying on the floor... Her face was covered in
      blood, her lip was split and her neck was swollen. When I saw that I
      was even more scared then I was when I was being beaten."

      Soon after the cleansing in Ali-yurt, the militants, evidently no
      fewer in number after three years of intensive anti-terrorist
      operations, but actually significantly more, moved on to new extremes
      and began making sorties literally every day. They caused explosions,
      shot at government buildings, clashed with soldiers or police, killed
      officials and even ambushed the cavalcade of the president of the
      republic. In response, the law-enforcement officers started conducting
      operations in villages near places where the enemy had appeared.
      People instantly forgot that they had recently been supportive of the
      anti-terrorist operations.

      The editors of the opposition site Ingushetia.ru posted an explanation
      to the city and the world. "After the most recent... punitive
      operation at a village, the number of militants only increases... If
      you talk to these guys in the right way, and say to them, `look at how
      the federal troops treat you, take up arms and defend your honour',
      they just disappear into the forest". The main objective of the
      political opposition in Ingushetia is to replace the president of the
      republic, Murat Zyazikov. One of their main arguments is that Zyazikov
      does nothing to prevent the outrages perpetrated by the law-enforcers
      or the kidnappings, and is thus indirectly involved in the growth of
      the armed underground movement.

      It is difficult to say how many young men really go into the
      mountains, but the violence and humiliation inflicted by the
      law-enforcement officers, combined with the ineffective reaction of
      the authorities to the mood of the young people, naturally have an
      effect. Support for the militants is constantly increasing. And so is
      hatred of the special services.

      This was illustrated last year, when there was a wave of murders in
      Ingushetia (24 Russians were killed between July and November). Many
      people in the republic refused to believe that the militants were
      responsible. When they heard the apparently quite logical official
      explanation that these crimes were directed against the government
      programme to return Russian families to the region, that the
      militants, seeing the Russians as occupiers, were trying to force them
      out of the republic, people shook their heads: "No, it's not the
      militants! They get nothing from it!" When asked: "Why not?" people
      explained: "The militants won't do anything that's bad for the people,
      and these murders are simply terrible!" Or "The Russians who were
      killed were mainly respected people - teachers and doctors, who had
      lived in Ingushetia for a long time. The militants wouldn't have
      touched them!" "What about when the teacher Terekhina was murdered?
      Some bastards put a landmine in the Russian cemetery before her
      funeral. And there were a lot of Ingush there! Anyone could have been
      blown up, a Russian or an Ingush! No, only the special services are
      capable of this, no one else!" This suspicion felt towards the
      law-enforcement structures, even if it has no basis in reality, speaks
      for itself - the people have begun to regard them as a source of
      constant threat.

      In their unsuccessful hunt for militants, the special services shoot
      young men in broad daylight. One of these men, 20-year-old Islam
      Belokiev, was selling spare parts for cars at a market in Nazran.
      Everyone saw him being hailed from a car parked by a fence. He turned
      towards the car, and the officers opened fire. Islam fell down,
      wounded, but still alive. People rushed towards him, but the
      law-enforcement officers surrounded the body, and did not let anyone
      get near him. Islam bled to death as people looked on. Someone even
      saw a pistol being put into his hand as he died, and a grenade placed
      next to him. No one could do anything. The law-enforcement officers
      did not allow doctors or people from the prosecutor's office into the
      market until Islam was already dead.

      He is by no means the only person killed in Ingushetia who was shot on
      the spot and then charged as a "participant in illegal armed groups".
      These cases are closed as soon as they are opened, of course - the
      suspect is, after all, dead. But on one occasion during a special
      services operation, someone was killed who in no way fitted the
      scenario of "liquidating the militants".

      Rakhim Amriev could not have been called a participant of illegal
      armed groups. And it was not possible to put a gun into his dead hand.
      Rakhim Amriev was six years old. He lived with his parents, brothers
      and sisters in the small village of Chemulga. Early one November
      morning, when it was still dark, he was woken by a noise outside.
      Suddenly there was a loud shout, probably from a megaphone: "Women and
      children - out!" His mother dashed around the room, as she tried to
      gather her things and dress her four children. There was shooting
      outside. It was terrifying. And then soldiers with guns broke into the
      house... there was a bang and then darkness. Rakhim was killed by one
      of the first shots.

      The murder of the boy enraged the republic. People began to gather for
      a protest meeting. The authorities put pressure on the organizers,
      threatening them and demanding that they back down, but some people
      still took to the streets on 24 November. The protest was broken up.
      The television journalists and the human rights advocate who had come
      to Ingushetia to cover the events were kidnapped from the hotel in
      Nazran on the night before the protest by unknown law-enforcement
      officers. The officers put black plastic bags over the heads of their
      victims, forced them into a car, threatened to shoot them, and
      finally, after beating them severely, threw them out in an abandoned
      area, ordering them to leave Ingushetia for good. In the darkness,
      half-naked, they were barely able to walk through the snow to the
      nearest village.

      The next protest against the abuses of the law-enforcement officers
      and corruption was held in Ingushetia on 26 January this year. The
      authorities declared an anti-terrorist operation in Nazran beforehand
      - an extremely effective method of prohibiting any public protest and
      suppressing the media! They just rounded up all the journalists who
      came to Nazran, took them to the police station, and sent them to
      North Ossetia. This process was called a "deportation" to ensure the
      "safety" of the journalists themselves. And the protest, incidentally,
      was not peaceful at all.

      It was said that some protesters were armed with rocks, and some with
      Molotov cocktails; the building of the newspaper Serdalo was even set
      on fire, though it is unclear whether it was an accident or a
      deliberate act, but who will ever know? There was an attempt to charge
      journalists who were filming the burning building for professional
      purposes with causing the fire and if human rights organizations and
      the media had not raised a scandal, they probably would have been
      charged, but the police had to release them the next day... Several
      organizers of the protest were, nevertheless, taken to the detention
      centre in Nalchik for allegedly provoking mass disturbances in Nazran
      and were only released in early summer. Their term in custody was
      extended three times - the prosecutor's office needed time to find
      grounds for the charge. The prisoners in desperation even declared a
      hunger strike on 23 May. Fortunately, no one died of hunger. The case
      collapsed and on 7 June everyone was released.

      I asked Murat Zyazikov, the President of Ingushetia, if rallies on the
      territory of the republic are really prohibited. Zyazikov insisted no
      one could prohibit rallies: if people want to gather and discuss
      important problems, and express their opinions, they are quite
      entitled to do so. However this case did not involve "rallies, but
      provocations", and provocations that played into the hands of the
      militants, directly aimed "at destabilizing the situation" in order to
      turn Ingushetia "into a new trouble spot". And the authorities of the
      republic cannot allow this! Judge for yourself, the participants of
      this provocation had Molotov cocktails, and they tried to get
      teenagers involved in the protest with promises of computers and
      mobile phones, then gave them the cocktails to throw! What sort of
      demonstration is this?

      Who would argue? A Molotov cocktail is not the best means of protest
      and dragging teenagers into public protests where violence is
      unavoidable is also irresponsible and wrong. And to announce that
      there will be a free lottery with valuable prizes at the rally, as the
      organizers of the January rally did, is a rather unethical way of
      attracting additional participants.

      But what can parents do if their sons have been kidnapped by
      law-enforcement officers? Appeal to the president, to the interior
      minister, ask for help, wait for the competent bodies to sort
      everything out? Many asked for help, then waited and waited,
      fruitlessly... Mukhmed Gazdiev, whose son Ibragim went missing in
      August 2007 - he disappeared just before his wedding - went to see
      Murat Zyazikov personally. He promised him that everything would be
      fine, that his son had been detained, but would soon be home again."

      "When I worked as a teacher in Grozny," Gazdiev said,"Zyazikov was one
      of my pupils for two years. So he could not refuse to see me. I
      explained the situation to him and he summoned [republic prosecutor]
      Turygin. I said to the prosecutor: `Please, don't harm my son. We know
      about the methods that your people use. Do everything according to the
      law. If he deserves punishment, then let us punish him together. I
      will disown him [if he is guilty]'. And he [Turygin] said to me: `We
      don't intend to do anything illegal to him...' Then Zyazikov
      explained: `He has been detained by the organs of state security and
      is assisting them with their investigations.' "

      The president's assurances put Gazdiev's mind at rest. He was sure
      that his son would return soon. But one month went by, then two
      months. Now it is summer again, and Ibragim has still not returned.
      What should people like Mukhmed Gazdiev do? There are many people like
      him. What should the father of a murdered six-year-old boy do, when
      for over six months the prosecutor's office has been unable to
      establish whose weapon fired the shot, and when punishing the leader
      of this FSB operation is not even under discussion? How can they
      express their protest, if the authorities make promises but do not
      keep them, and rallies are essentially prohibited? Write to the
      newspaper? But there is no independent press in Ingushetia. And
      visiting journalists are thrown out of the republic, and particularly
      curious journalists are even kidnapped, as was the case with the
      television journalists from REN-TV.

      When asked about these journalists, however, President Zyazikov said
      that this kidnapping should also be seen as a "provocation" by forces
      interested in discrediting the authorities. And it is, in fact,
      strange that REN-TV sent three camera crews to the small republic of
      Ingushetia. "What for? To film a Molotov cocktail, and then portray it
      as a public protest?" In other words, in this situation, the
      journalists benefited from their own kidnapping, and their behaviour
      was quite suspect. "Mr. Zyazikov, do you mean to say that the REN-TV
      journalists kidnapped themselves - along with Mr Orlov, the head of
      the `Memorial' Human Rights Centre, who happened to be in the same
      hotel?" "No, I'm not saying anything of the kind, but you must agree,
      the situation is strange..." It certainly is strange. You can't argue
      with that.

      What can protestors do if they can't hold demonstrations? If they
      can't speak? If they can't believe the promises of the authorities? If
      they are called provocateurs? If journalists who try to talk about
      them, people who try to help them, are also called provocateurs? What
      will happen to the opposition if it is forced out of the public
      sphere? Marginalisation... Radicalisation...

      Armoured Personnel Carriers drive along the roads. Ingushetia is like
      a disturbed anthill. And it is difficult to believe now that, until
      relatively recently, this was a peaceful place.

      Tanya Lokshina is chair of the NGO Demos, and a member of Human Rights
      Watch
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