Publication: North Caucasus Weekly Volume: 3 Issue: 36

Malika Umazheva has been murdered,” the human rights organization Memorial reported on December 4, “a person well known in Chechnya and beyond its borders, the [former] head of administration of Alkhan-Kala, who boldly opposed the arbitrariness of the [Russian] soldiers in her village.” Observing that official Russian news sources were claiming that Umazheva had been killed by separatist “bandits,” Memorial sent a group of its own investigators to the village, “where they questioned the fellow villagers of the murdered woman (her relatives refused to speak with anyone, accusing human rights activists and journalists of not proving capable of defending Malika). It is completely obvious that Malika Umazheva was murdered by those who had more than once made threats against her–by representatives of the federal forces.”

From the words of the villagers, the Memorial investigators were able to reconstruct what had happened on the night of November 29-30. “On [that night] there burst into the home of Malika Umazheva, the former head of administration of Alkhan-Kala, Grozny Village District, four Russian soldiers wearing camouflage uniforms and armed with snipers’ rifles with silencers. Having knocked in the door with the shout: ‘Where are the wahhabis?’ they broke into the house where Malika was present with her son, Said-Akhmed, and two of her nieces, whom she had been raising since they were very young. They ordered everyone to lie down on the floor. Malika asked for permission to light a lamp, but they did not permit it. Two of the soldiers then turned everything upside down in the house, not saying what they were looking for. They then proposed that Malika accompany them to the barn, so they could conduct a search there. The girls became frightened and began to plead: ‘Don’t kill mama!’ Malika tried to quiet them down.”

“One of the soldiers,” the Memorial account continued, “said: ‘I give you my word that she will come back.’ Malika took a lantern and went out ahead of the soldiers. Soon a shot was heard. The neighbors ran up and saw Malika’s body. They report that Umazheva’s house was surrounded by soldiers.” Not far from the Umzhevs’ garden they saw an armored vehicle and military truck standing.

“Several days before the murder,” Memorial recalled, “at 3:00 a.m., according to her nieces, Russian soldiers came and proposed that Malika Umazheva go with them to identify several wahhabis who had supposedly been taken into custody in Alkhan-Kala. Malika refused to go with them because she was no longer head of administration (on September 9, 2002 she had been removed from her post for ‘systematic non-performance of her duties’)…. Later it emerged that no one in the village had been taken into custody that night” (HRO.org, December 4).

In a tribute to the slain Umazheva, award-winning Russian war correspondent Anna Politkovskaya wrote in the December 5 issue of Novaya Gazeta: “Malika was a true heroine, a unique and marvelous one. She became the head of administration of one of the most complex Chechen villages–Alkhan-Kala (a ‘Baraev’ village, the subject of endless ‘cleansing operations,’ executions and disfigured corpses) after the former head had been murdered. Reason would have told her: ‘Sit quietly. Be careful.’ But she did the exact opposite–she became the boldest and most committed village head in that murderous zone of military anarchy which today is Chechnya. By herself, unarmed, she went out to meet the [Russian] tanks that were crawling into the village. Alone, she shouted to the generals who had deceived her and, on the sly, were murdering the residents of the village: ‘You scoundrels!’ She relentlessly fought for a better fate for Alkhan-Kala. No one else permitted himself to do that in present-day Chechnya. Not a single male.”

“She, a humble village head who had been elected by a popular assembly,” Politkovskaya continued, “earned the wild hatred of the chief of our General Staff, the much-decorated General Kvashnin. He hated her so much that he invented the vilest stories about her, using his access to the television cameras to spread them. And she? She continued along her chosen path and, in response to Kvashnin’s lies, she sued him in court, knowing perfectly well that almost everyone is afraid of him…. But Kvashnin does not forgive those who do not fear him.”

In another tribute appearing in the December 2 issue of Der Tageszeitung (Germany), posted in Russian translation on Inosmi.ru on December 3, journalist Klaus-Helge Donath wrote: “At the beginning of this year, Russian soldiers searched the home of the head of administration of Alkhan-Kala nine times. Each time they demanded the same thing: They demanded that the 55-year-old former schoolteacher affix her signature to a statement affirming that during the course of the ‘cleansing operations’ there had been no violations of legality. Malika Umazheva refused.”

“It is clear,” Donath went on, “that this crime will never be solved. Umazheva was for the Russian FSB and soldiers a beam in their eye. She not only knew how to keep the residents calm, despite their sufferings, but she also was able to pass on information concerning the horrors endured by her community, which numbers 20,000 souls, beyond the borders of Chechnya. After the atrocities at the beginning of the year, a delegation from the Council of Europe visited Alkhan-Kala. Umazheva has died, and with her has died a voice calling for the curbing of anger and for reconciliation.”

On December 4, Musa Khasanov, a correspondent for Radio Liberty, reported that: “More than 4,000 residents of the Chechen Republic… gathered today for the funeral of Malika Umazheva in the settlement of Alkhan-Kala, and almost all of them signed an appeal to the [pro-Moscow] leadership and procuracy of the republic asking that they locate and punish those guilty of murdering a courageous Chechen woman who, despite all the threats from the Russian special services, the MVD, and the soldiers of the Combined Group of Forces in Chechnya, always stood in defense of the rights of the populace of Alkhan-Kala, documenting all illegal actions committed by the soldiers during their many special operations and raids on that population point” (In HRO.org, December 4).