Institute for War and Peace Reporting | Giving Voice, Driving Change

Chechens Disappointed by War Reparations

Getting compensation for destroyed homes involves bribery and a long wait.
By Kazbek Tsuraev

A large crowd of people stand at the crossroads where the two main streets meet in central Grozny, hoping it might be their turn to be summoned into Chechnya’s only functioning bank and win compensation for property lost or destroyed in the many years of war.

Bank employees occasionally emerge to read out a fresh list of surnames, and the lucky few squeeze through the crowds to get inside the building.

Once inside the bank, they could receive up to 300,000 rubles, 10,400 US dollars for a destroyed house or apartment, plus an additional 50,000 rubles for other damaged or lost property.

The process has been a painful one: only 14,000 out of the 39,000 people deemed eligible for compensation have received their money. Some have paid over large sums to agents to get the money due to them. Once they have the money they find it is not enough to buy a replacement home.

Some believe that the delay in payments happened because the September 2003 announcement of the scheme was a public relations stunt by the authorities, ahead of the election of Akhmad Kadyrov as Chechen president. Now Kadyrov is dead, killed by a bomb in May this year.

Abuzayid, a 52-year-old Grozny man, has been waiting at the bank since early morning – and his name has come up at last, a year after he was promised compensation.

He once had a four-room house in Grozny, which he built with the help of relatives. The home was destroyed by artillery fire in winter 2000, when his family had already relocated to a refugee camp in neighbouring Ingushetia.

“We were promised that if we came home [from Ingushetia], we’d be the first to receive money. But a year has gone by, and I haven’t got anything yet,” he said. .

Abuyazid is unemployed and says he will only be able to rebuild his house when he gets this compensation. “Besides unemployment benefit and the occasional odd job, I have no source of income. And you can’t build a home with that,” he said.

The former welder will not get the maximum compensation, as the commission that examined his house estimated it was 80 per cent destroyed.

In reality he will get even less, because he has promised 30 per cent in commission to an agent who secured the money for him. Many other claimants interviewed by IWPR, most of whom did not want to be named, said they too had fallen victim to the scam – believed to be run by individuals with good access to compensation commission members. The fee ranges between 30 and 50 per cent.

“To get a positive outcome, I was offered to share the compensation 50-50,” said Tamara, a resident of Starye Atagi. “Look over there: right next to the bank there are plenty of these middlemen. But you can’t build a house for 350,000 rubles [maximum damages], let alone half that amount. And I’m scared of going to the police.”

Fear of the extortionists is compounded by Chechen’s widespread distrust of the police, and a general aversion to “informing”.

When Alu Alkhanov was elected president of Chechnya in August this year, he said ensuring that compensation was paid would be high on his agenda. He replaced the compensation committee with a new one, and opened an office to monitor the process.

One problem that appears to have been dealt with is a protection racket in which people had to pay another 10 per cent to groups of armed men, with threats of beating or death. Recipients of compensation say that since the death of Akhmad Kadyrov, these groups are no longer extorting money from them.

But claimants say other corrupt practices persist.

The Chechen government calculates that 114,000 private homes have been destroyed across the republic, a figure which does not include homes in Grozny apartment blocks. Nor do “partially destroyed” homes count, even though the damage can range from smashed windows and doors to uninhabitable structures with caved-in roofs and collapsed walls.

IWPR was unable to obtain precise figures as to how many families are due compensation, and how many have received it. The deputy chief of staff in the Chechen government, Shukran Jabarilova, said it was forbidden to give out any information without the express permission of more senior officials.

People lucky enough to win compensation find that it is not enough to buy an apartment or build a house. When the compensation scheme was announced, it caused a surge of inflation in the housing market and construction industry. A three-room apartment in Grozny that would have sold for 8,000 dollars last year would now go for between 20,000 and 25,000 dollars, while the cost of building a small three-room detached house has risen to at least 15,000 dollars.

The scheme is now closed to new applicants, and anyone who failed to submit the right documentation in time will now be able to seek redress only through the courts. Meanwhile, hundreds of claimants have simply disappeared from the books.

Akhmad Karimov, deputy head of Itum-Kali district’s local government, said that in his area “two hundred people are unable to receive compensation. Their documents were examined by a commission, but then disappeared. Our administration is trying to ascertain where these papers are”.

A similar situation is reported in Sunzha district, where deputy administration chief Yunes Barcheshvili told IWPR, “Of the 200 cases, 60 have been struck out, for reasons unknown. No representative of the district’s [local government] leadership has been allowed access to the compensation commission. And there’s a similar situation in Achkhoi-Martan district.”

Kazbek Tsurav is a correspondent for the newspaper Chechenskoe Obschestvo. Aslanbek Badilaev is a correspondent with the Zov Zemli paper.