Families of Chechen Rebels Still Targeted

Chechen security forces accused of torturing and intimidating relatives of fighters.

Families of Chechen Rebels Still Targeted

Chechen security forces accused of torturing and intimidating relatives of fighters.

Friday, 24 November, 2006
A series of long barrack-style houses, reached by a broken road, not far from the centre of Grozny were built for English oil-workers a century ago. Now they are home to dozens of families. Three teenage boys left here several months ago to go to the mountains and join the Chechen rebel fighters. Since then, life has become hell for the family of one of the boys.

Masud Alkhazurov (not his real name) has seven children aged between 10 and 19. His second son Ruslan, 18, is one of the three young men who disappeared to fight the Russian army. Too grey for his age, the father smoked nervously, as he recounted to IWPR recently what had befallen him since then.

“A week ago, late at night, the cottage, where we live, was surrounded by armed men from the security forces, who’d arrived in two model 10 Zhigulis (or Ladas),” he said. “Usually, this kind of car is driven by Kadyrovtsy (the name widely used to refer to the security forces loyal to prime-minister Ramzan Kadyrov). They did not introduce themselves or explain anything, they just swore and asked me repeatedly where my son was.

“When I said that I didn’t know, they took me out into the street, pushed me into the car and drove away. My children, wife and neighbours tried to stop them, but they wouldn’t listen. They fired their automatic weapons in the air, threatening to kill anyone, who dared to come closer and did not let anyone come near me.”

Masud was taken several kilometres out of town and savagely beaten by the men, who accused him and his family of being religious extremists and demanded to know where his son was. “My attempts to explain anything to them were futile. They were like zombies – just beating me with their rifle butts, kicking and ceaselessly shouting the demand that I bring my son back home,” he said.

The father said he was already covered in blood when one of the men decided that he genuinely knew nothing and persuaded the others to stop beating him. The man drove him home. “On leaving me, the man said they wouldn’t leave me in peace and advised to find my son, if I did not want to lose my other sons,” continued Masud. “ Now I wait in fear day and night for what will happen to my family. Along with my older children, I don’t undress at night, as these people might burst in at any moment and take away any one of us.”

Earlier, at the end of September, Masud’s eldest son 19-year-old Rasul was abducted by armed men wearing camouflage and held for several days at a base apparently belonging to the Kadyrovtsy in the Shali district of south-east Chechnya. He was beaten, tortured with electric shocks and threatened with death by his kidnappers who demanded to know where his younger brother was hiding, according to Masud. Eventually his captors dumped him on the edge of Grozny.

“He told me how they tortured him,” said the boy’s father. “How they tied barbed wires to his fingers and toes and switched on the current. They did it till blood started gushing from under his nails. How they beat him with rubber clubs and rifle butts. He spent two weeks confined to bed, with no strength to move and he still walks with difficulty.

“The monsters injured his kidneys with the beating. Rasul told me he had no intention of falling into the hands of these beasts again and would die rather than go through the hell one more time.”

As Moscow and the pro-Moscow government in Chechnya claim victory in the long-running conflict with Islamist and pro-independence fighters in the republic, the story of Masud’s family illustrates the brutal tactics still being used.

Officials will not comment on accusations of torture, saying only that a three-month-old amnesty that followed the death of militant leader Shamil Basayev in July has been a big success.

“A total of 260 participants of illegal armed formations surrendering over three months, is a significant number,” Chechen policeman Lom-Ali Takhayev told IWPR. “If they had stayed in the mountains with their weapons, they would be a real force and threat. Assuming that each of them could have killed one soldier or one policeman, we could say that 260 human lives have been saved, plus the lives of the fighters themselves.”

For the past two years, the authorities have waged war by targeting the relatives of the rebels. In 2004, they detained several relatives of former pro-independence president Aslan Maskhadov. They were released only several months after Maskhadov’s death. More recently, they abducted the wife, baby son and father of the current rebel leader Doku Umarov. The wife and son were released but the fate of Umarov’s father is still unknown.

Yet despite these methods, the rebel movement continues to exist in the mountains. On November 3, General Yevgeny Baryayev, deputy commander-in-chief of the Russian armed forces in Chechnya, made a statement that startled many people, when he told journalists in Grozny that around 700 militants were still hiding in Chechnya’s mountains.

The general said that a number of young men had recently joined the fighters and they had received a large sum of money. “Military methods alone are not sufficient to defeat the armed gangs,” he said.

This view contradicts that of Kadyrov, who said in August that there were no more than 50 or 60 fighters active in Chechnya and 150 to 200 mercenaries.

A Chechen political analyst said young people were continuing to flee to the mountains to escape the attention of the Kadyrovtsy. “They just have no choice,” he said. “They have seen nothing but war. Every day they see the lawless behaviour of the military and members of the security structures, and their desire to resist the evil being wreaked by the Kadyrovtsy and the ‘federals’ is stronger than the will to live. Otherwise, none of them would go to the mountains, virtually condemning themselves to death.”

Masud agrees. “My son would have never gone to fight, but for the hopeless situation, into which the Kremlin has driven us all,” he said. “Why do they take hostage relatives of those, who resist them? They should go and fight the right people, instead of those sitting at home and just wanting to live a normal life.”

He said he now feared what his elder son would do, but he would not be able to stop him leaving for the mountains too.

“Two bloody wars have changed many things in our life.”

Umalt Dudayev is the pseudonym of a Chechen journalist and IWPR contributor.
Support our journalists