Pro-Moscow Authorities Terrorize Families of Chechen Militants

Publication: North Caucasus Weekly Volume: 9 Issue: 39

The authorities in Grozny, the capital of Chechnya, are trying hard to present a rosy picture of the situation on the ground. The many public holidays are interspersed with reports about the opening ceremonies at this or that facility in the city or the republic.

Against this background of a “permanent” holiday, there are frequent reports on local television about the attempts by the authorities to prevent youths from leaving for the mountains to join the militants to fight against those who speak on behalf of the people. Alarming signals about the exodus of the youth to the mountains can be found in brief news reports from around the Chechen Republic, as well as in the angry denials made by Ramzan Kadyrov in front of the television cameras.

A recent public address by the mayor of the city of Argun included threats to evict the families of militants and the parents of young men who had joined the rebels in mountains and failed to convince their sons to return to their families (http://www.memo.ru/hr/hotpoints/caucas1/msg/2008/08/m144307.htm). The eviction threats entail not only evictions from current places of residence but also expulsions from the city entirely. In an evening news broadcast on Chechen television several days later, the Argun mayor did not disavow such radical measures and cited the opinion of city residents, thereby avoiding responsibility for the statement he had already made publicly.

Similar threats were heard from Grozny Mayor Muslim Khuchiev, the chief financial officer of Kadyrov’s projects, which are funded through the Akhmad Kadyrov Foundation. The New York Times published an article on this subject in late August 2008. The article contained a quote by the Chechen capital’s mayor, who stated: “At present we will not carry out a dialogue with you based on the laws of this state. We shall act in accordance with the Chechen traditions.”

According to the Memorial human rights group, several houses were burned down in the Itum-Kalin District as a warning to those whose children left for the mountains. Following the same scheme, a number of houses were destroyed in Shatoi and Shali districts of the Chechen Republic.

The Prefect of the Vedeno District of Chechnya, Shamil Magomaev also decided to please the authorities and declared that all families of those whose children joined the militants would be deprived of all social benefits (Severny Kavkaz, October 7). His statement, however, was retracted by the evening because it was clearly illegal. Another interpretation was offered instead—that what was meant was the deprivation of “social assistance” in accordance with traditional Chechen customs. This actually sounded even more nonsensical than the initial iteration (Regnum, October 7). What was most interesting about Magomaev’s TV performance was that he admitted that “the authorities cannot fight with militants as long as their ranks are swelled by more and more youth” (skavkaz.rfn.ru/rnews.html?id=153449&cid=). That is, even though the authorities are trying hard to conceal the true state of affairs, it can still be ascertained from the conversations between the authority figures and the population. According to official figures provided by the law-enforcement authorities, in the first six months of 2008 more than fifty people joined the militants (Regnum, October 7). And these are official estimates, while in practice the number of those who have joined militants is significantly larger. For instance, the head of the “Demos” center, Tatyana Lokshina, is convinced that hundreds of young men joined the militants in 2007 alone (www.kavkaz-uzel.ru/newstext/news/id/1193008.html).

The main reason that local authority figures make such radical statements is because they are trying to present themselves in a good light to Ramzan Kadyrov, who is not happy about those who are departing for the mountains. The heads of local bodies of executive power simply do not know how to draw a line between their loyalty to Kadyrov and the violations of Russian laws. It is quite likely that the Prosecutor General’s Office sends out urgent signals about the inadmissibility of adopting such decisions in order to forestall the wholesale substitution of the legal framework of Russian Federation with gangster-style settling of scores.

The principle of accountability of all relatives for one family member has become an everyday norm in Chechen society under the reign of Ramzan Kadyrov. Collective accountability must, in the view of the authorities, yield a positive result in the end. Yet people see how the authorities humiliate the relatives and family members of those who have joined the militants in mountains and many are puzzled by the actions of the authorities. It only adds more negativity to the overall popular attitude against Chechnya’s pro-Moscow leadership.

Particularly popular among the youth are the video recordings, which are distributed by cell phones, in which the actions of militants are assessed positively. Patriotic songs from the time of independent Ichkeria, symbols of that era and historiographies of various rebel field commanders are becoming increasingly popular among college-age Chechen youth.

There is nothing new in the tactic chosen by the authorities, because various forms of pressure on the families of militants have been adopted and implemented from the very beginning of combat activities in Chechnya. The Russian special services first tried such measures on certain personalities—including, for example, Magomed Khanbiev (Lavkaz.memo.ru, March 10, 2004). Almost two dozen of his close relatives were arrested in order to lure him out of the mountains and force him to surrender to the authorities. Those arrested included his brother, sisters, brother-in-laws and others. Some efforts were also made to influence Aslan Maskhadov when authorities arrested his older sister, who is 70, and his two brothers, as well as five other family members (Newsru.com, January 13, 2005). Several months after Aslan Maskhadov was assassinated they were released from custody. (The president of the Chechen Republic of Ichkeria Aslan Maskhadov was killed on March 8, 2005.)

Slightly later, following the now-familiar scheme, the pro-Moscow Chechen authorities abducted the older brother and aging father of Dokka Umarov, the leader of the Chechen resistance movement. It should be noted that Dokka Umarov’s father died while in custody (Prague watchdog, August 22, 2006).

Those who filed cases with the European Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg (France) against the crimes committed by the Russian troops in Chechnya were also subjected to persecution. Several of them were killed by unidentified gunmen (Newsru.com, June 21, 2007), while others were coerced to retract the statements that they already made (Kommersant-Vlast, April 17, 2006). There have also been cases in which jurists and lawyers who helped Chechens filed their cases to the court were actively persecuted (Gazeta.ru, July 16).

In their attempts to demonstrate loyalty and devotion to Ramzan Kadyrov, the local pro-Moscow authority figures inadvertently incur the ire of the people and this has a positive impact on the militants, who quickly find supporters in the disenfranchised portion of the population as a way to sustain their struggle against the pro-Moscow Chechen government.

Thus far nothing presages a major change in the situation in Chechnya against the background of the policy Ramzan Kadyrov is implementing on behalf of his Moscow paymasters. The Kremlin strategists clearly prefer a putatively “subdued” Chechnya under Kadyrov to a law-based one in which elements of separatism would still be strongly manifested in society. And that is why the Russian government will continue to close its eyes to the peculiarities of the Chechen authorities.