Publication: North Caucasus Weekly Volume: 4 Issue: 22


Akhmad Kadyrov’s gradual transformation of Chechnya into his own personal fiefdom has by some accounts now reached the point where he can trample not only on Russian laws but also on such deeply rooted Chechen traditions as “blood revenge.” A chilling article by Anna Politkovskaya in the June 16 issue of Novaya gazeta argues that Kadyrov’s bodyguard is perverting “blood revenge” into a tool of unlimited, generalized intimidation.

The custom of “blood revenge,” like that of family feuds among eighteenth century Scottish highlanders or nineteenth century West Virginians, has survived underground in Chechnya for generations. Even during the peak of Soviet power, it was not unusual for a Chechen who had murdered another Chechen to serve a long sentence in a Soviet prison–and then to be killed by his victim’s relatives as soon as he was released. Though manifestly contrary to modern legal norms in which criminal sentencing and punishment are the sole prerogatives of the state, “blood revenge” was subject to rules of its own shaped by ancient custom; it was not a license for unchecked bloodshed. For example, the proclamation of “blood revenge” could not be made unilaterally by a third party, without the active participation of the family of the deceased. There was also a place in the process for a kadi (an Islamic judge) or an imam (an Islamic cleric).

Politkovskaya’s June 16 article is entitled “The Kadyrovtsy [Kadyrov’s men] decide everything,” which is a pun on the old Soviet saying, “The cadres decide everything.” In it, she recounted her recent visit to the home of a Chechen family in the village of Bachi-Yurt, in the foothills of the Chechen highlands. During the night of May 17-18, armed men in masks and camouflage uniforms burst into the home, dragged four of the family’s members into the basement, and shot them. The murderers said that they were carrying out blood revenge “for the 14th of May.” That was the date of the assassination attempt by a suicide bomber on Akhmad Kadyrov in which five of his bodyguards died. The murderers spoke Chechen without an accent.

In fact, the local family’s only involvement in the May 14 bombing was that two of its members were victims of it. The sisters Shakhidat Baimuradova and Aimani Visaeva had been in the same town as Akhmad Kadyrov on May 14 because, like thousands of others, they were responding to a mass invitation from Kadyrov himself. For days beforehand, the Kadyrov-controlled media had been telling citizens that Kadyrov would be available on that day to meet personally with mothers whose sons had disappeared in the innumerable “zachistki” security sweeps by federal and pro-federal troops. As a tactic intended to produce a high turnout for what amounted to a pro-Kadyrov political rally, these announcements were quite successful. After all, as Politkovskaya put it, “thousands of relatives are constantly scouring the length and breadth of the republic in hope of finding some trace of their loved ones. Shakhidat and her sister Aimani…were among many mothers desperately seeking their sons, always carrying with them stacks of documents and hoping that by accident they might somewhere find a responsible police official…”

At the May 14 gathering, Shakhidat and Aimani happened to be standing only two yards from the point where the bomb went off–killing both of them. Two days later their relatives retrieved their bodies to bring them back to Bachi-Yurt for burial. But by that time the procuracy had already accused these two middle-aged women of having been among the suicide bombers.

On May 17, two unexpected visitors suddenly came to the family home in Bachi-Yurt while the post-burial rituals were still taking place. The visitors were Roman Edilov and his deputy, Arbi Salmaniev. Both men are well known in the locality. Edilov is head of the internal-affairs section, which has responsibility for the police, for the Kurchaloyevski district in which Bachi-Yurt is located. He was appointed to that post only recently, having previously served as a fighter in Kadyrov’s personal bodyguard. He has the reputation of being the guardian of the Kadyrov family’s interests in the district. In Politkovskaya’s words, “that is part of the current policy of Kadyrov: He is setting up such guardians of his own everywhere in the districts and large villages, putting fighters from his bodyguard, headed by Ramzan [Kadyrov’s son], into positions as heads of local police forces.” Edilov’s deputy, Salmaniev, a resident of Bachi-Yurt, is also a veteran of the Kadyrov family’s personal army.

Salmaniev and Edilov told Shakhidat and Aimani’s mourning relatives that not only the sisters but their family bore the guilt for the terrorist act against their leader and comrades, and that the family must now pay with blood. Within hours, that threat was carried out with the night-time murders of Aimani’s two sons, her and Shakhidat’s brother, and their niece–the mother of a two-month-old baby–before the eyes of their horrified relatives.

All four of these new victims were quickly buried according to Chechen custom. But according to Politkovskaya, their surviving male relatives have still not visited their graves. What this most likely means is that the relatives are now planning their own “blood revenge” against the murderers.

Politkovskaya asked Akhmat Temirsultanov, the kadi (judge) of the district’s Muslim court: “You know what’s being prepared here?” The elderly judge pretended to be deaf and unable to understand the question. She tried to insist, but he was clearly too terrified to answer. “This is the kind of fear that now reigns in Chechnya,” commented Politkovskaya, “a fear that did not exist even a year or two ago. People have been trained by bloodshed, and only the bravest will even whisper ‘We are afraid of Kadyrov.'”

Politkovskaya was able to get the procuracy itself to confirm that its investigators had clearly established that the sisters were in fact not guilty of the May 14 bombing. “A thorough examination of the bodies of Shakhidat and Aimani,” she wrote, “conducted at the request of the task force of the procuracy assigned to investigate the terrorist act…found that it would not even make sense to perform a specialized forensic analysis: From the state of the injured bodies of Shakhidat and Aimani it was clear that ‘it was not they.'”

Ivan Nikitin, leader of the procuracy’s investigative task force, told Politkovskaya: “These women…were not those who were carrying explosives. They simply were standing two meters from the epicenter. I said as much to the Islamic judge Temirsultanov when he visited in order to ask me whether they were guilty; I understood that he had to know the answer in order to forestall blood revenge.”

Politkovskaya asked Nikitin, “Why then did the procuracy hasten to announce that these people were kamikazes? Now there are four more dead bodies, so far, of completely innocent people.” According to her account, he “sighed heavily and answered that ‘it’s all because of the mass media’…But the surnames of the ‘women bombers’ were made public by nobody other than Nikitin’s direct superior, Sergei Fridinsky, the deputy procurator of Russia for the southern federal okrug, who did not even bother to investigate the matter in detail….On that subject Nikitin refused to comment and referred me to ‘higher’ sources. But those ‘higher’ sources in the Chechen procuracy, whose irresponsible statements have led to human deaths, did not wish to comment.”

At this point nobody is capable of protecting Shakhidat’s and Aimani’s surviving relatives, Politkovskaya concluded–“neither the procuracy, nor President Putin, nor the United Nations.” In Chechnya “it is now almost an established practice–Kadyrov’s men are allowed to do anything, even things which previously were forbidden by tradition. They live as if there were no tomorrow. They hold all laws in contempt, both written and unwritten…. Everyone in Chechnya now knows it: If you want to take blood revenge against someone, all you need to do is to get a job in Ramzan’s unit: They will accept you, arm you, and give their blessing to your blood revenge…Kadyrov’s men are engaged in setting everyone at war with everyone else, for the sake of strengthening their own power. When there is no authority, only fear and blood remain as the throne’s foundation.”