Memorial: Growing Number of Young Chechens Joining Rebels

Publication: North Caucasus Weekly Volume: 10 Issue: 20

The Memorial human rights group says that pressure by law enforcement bodies in Chechnya on youth in the republic has only increased since Russian President Dmitry Medvedev officially announced an end to the ten-year-long counter-terrorist operation in the republic last month, and that this pressure is driving more and more young Chechens to join the rebels.

Kavkazky Uzel on May 20 quoted Memorial as saying that Anzor Bashaev, a young resident of the village of Shalazhi in Chechnya’s Achkhoi-Martan district, disappeared from his home on May 7 and has not returned since. According to the human rights group, two days before his disappearance, Bashaev had been detained and severely beaten by security forces. Bashaev said he had been detained in connection with the disappearance of another local resident, named Asmerzaev. Relatives of Asmerzaev claim that he was abducted by rebel forces but other local residents said he went with them voluntarily.

Memorial reported that Bashaev had probably also gone off to join the rebels, noting that two of his cousins, Rizvan and Alkhazur, had already done so, and that Alkhazur had served as a rebel recruiter. Memorial reported that eight young people from Shalazhi have joined the rebels in the last six months, including another pair of cousins, Adam and Islam Shakhbiev, and 22-year-old Baudi Akhtakhanov, who was detained and severely tortured by security forces last November. Another young resident of Shalazhi, Alvi Khamzaev, was detained by security forces—reportedly officers of the Urus-Martan district police—in late April and tortured, but was freed after his relatives managed to track him down.

“It seemed to us that the cancellation of the counter-terrorist operation would be another step toward normalizing the situation in the republic, but what we see now indicates the exact opposite,” Memorial quoted Shalazhi residents as saying. They were also quoted as saying that security checkpoints are periodically set up at entrances leading into the village from the villages of Orekhovo (also in Achkhoi-Martan district) and Gekhi (in Urus-Martan district). They also said that their village is frequently buzzed by low-flying helicopters. In addition, Shalazhi residents were warned in mosques that they risk being shot without warning if they go off into the woods to join the militants.

Kavkazky Uzel quoted residents of Chechnya as saying they fear that the current security operations will result in innocent civilians being detained instead of rebels. The website quoted a representative of a Chechen non-governmental organization as expressing concern over recent harsh statements made by Kadyrov and other Chechen officials, including Chechen Interior Minister Ruslan Alkhanov and his deputy, Ali Tagirov, especially threats made against relatives of militants. The NGO representative said Tagirov had openly threatened “accomplices of the bandits” on local television and essentially ordered his subordinates to begin large-scale cleansing operations (zachistki): to inspect every home, find people living in them who are not legally registered there, check everyone who visits homes, and so on. “The subordinates of the top leadership normally take such things as a guide for action and start to do anything they want,” Kavkazky Uzel quoted the NGO representative as saying.

According to Memorial, 34 people in Chechnya were abducted during January-April 2009—an increase over the same period in 2008, when only seven people were abducted (a total of 42 people were abducted in Chechnya in 2008). The human rights group noted that 20 of those kidnapped during the first four months of this year were residents of the village of Dargo in Chechnya’s Vedeno district. It also reported that 27 of the 34 people kidnapped in the republic in the first four months of 2009 were subsequently freed, while two were found dead, two disappeared without a trace and three were found in pre-trial detention and under investigation.