Publication: North Caucasus Weekly Volume: 7 Issue: 14

Chechen Prosecutor Valery Kuznetsov announced on April 3 that 57 graves had been found in Kirov Park in Grozny’s Leninsky district, RIA Novosti reported. Construction is currently underway in the park, these days known as Akhmad Kadyrov Park, to build an Akhmad Kadyrov Entertainment Center. “During a cleaning of the park’s territory, 57 graves were found,” Kuznetsov said, adding that tests showed that the bodies bore mainly “mine-explosive wounds.” According to the prosecutors, each of the victims was buried in a separate grave, and exhuming the bodies and reburying them in a cemetery took several days. Fifty-one of the bodies have been identified and reburied in a rural cemetery in the village of Staraya Sunzha on Grozny’s outskirts. Kavkazky Uzel reported on April 4 that the six bodies that remained unidentified were being held at Chechnya’s Emergency Situations Ministry, but a source in the republican prosecutor’s office told the website that Ingushetia did not have a laboratory capable of carrying out DNA testing and that the authorities were in the process of deciding where to send them for identification. The source refused to specify whether the bodies belonged to separatist fighters or local inhabitants, but said: “One thing can be said exactly: they are not the remains of servicemen.” Citing the Russian-Chechen Information Agency, Kavkazky Uzel quoted an official with the prosecutor’s office in Grozny’s Leninsky district, Umar Dakaev, as saying that the six bodies would soon be sent to a forensic laboratory in Rostov-on-Don for identification.

Kommersant reported on April 4 that “the majority” of the 57 people buried in the park in Grozny were “ordinary peaceful Grozny residents who for various reasons were unable to leave the besieged city and died under bombardment” during 1999-2000. However, the website wrote on April 3 that those buried in the park were “probably” Chechen separatist fighters killed during the February 4, 2000 rebel retreat from Grozny to Alkhan-Kala. The rebels fled through a minefield and rebel warlord Shamil Basaev lost his right foot during that retreat.

The separatist Kavkazcenter website on April 3 quoted Akhmad Sardali, chairman of the newly-created Movement for the Decolonization of the Caucasus and also chairman of the Union of Caucasian Journalists, as calling the reports that those buried in the park had died from mine explosions an “outright lie.” Those buried in the park, he said, were “victims of Russian air and artillery carpet bombing of the Chechen capital” during November 1999-February 2000. Sardali said that he and other journalists had filmed the bombardment of the Chechen capital that claimed the lives of hundreds of civilians, who were taken at night to the park for burial. He claimed that at least 700 Grozny residents, not 57, had been buried in the park and areas adjacent to the park, and that some of the bodies had been buried together in one grave. “Once again with full responsibility I would like to reiterate that all those people died as a result of explosions of Russian artillery shells and bombs,” Sardali told Kavkazcenter. “They could not have been identified then and delivered to their relatives for re-burial within such a short period of time. This is a second lie,” he said.

Reuters on April 5 ran an item about a 70-year-old Grozny resident, Rasul Arapkhanov, who told the news agency that he had buried dead Chechen rebels in Kirov Park during the heavy fighting between rebel and Russian forces in the Chechen capital in 1999. “Every killed person had a label with his name and address,” Reuters quoted him as saying as he stood outside his house on the outskirts of Grozny. “When the fight calmed down, the relatives and I opened the graves to move the body to his own graveyard. I was not hard to find. Everyone here knew that I looked after the graves. And I knew every path in the park.” Citing the separatist Kavkazcenter website’s report that the park contained at least 700 bodies of people killed by the bombs and rockets that fell on the city, Reuters reported that Arapkhanov said he knew “every grave” in the park and that the federal troops had never entered the park during the fierce fighting of 1999-2000. “The park was surrounded by water, and the Russians did not enter its territory,” Arapkhanov said. “They were scared they wouldn’t be able to leave it. This quiet place steadily became a place for burying the rebels. The fighters could not leave the blockaded city. It was easier for them to bury their dead here.”