Rights Organizations Recall Mass Killings in Chechnya’s Aldy

On February 5, the head of Makhachkala’s police force, Ahkmed Magomedov, was gunned down in the center of Dagestan’s capital. Magomedov’s driver and two his bodyguards also died in the attack. According to the investigators, the murder was likely to be connected to Magomedov’s professional activities. He had reportedly survived an attack at the same location in 2005. The same day that the head of Makhachkala’s police force was killed, another important figure in the ranks of the Dagestani police, Gapiz Isaev, the head of the republican interior ministry’s inter-regional department for the fight against extremism, was killed in a bomb blast in the Dagestani coastal city of Izerbash, south of Makhachkala (www.gazeta.ru, February 5).
Dagestan is grappling with violence as the republic awaits the Kremlin’s decision on who will lead the republic after the term of the current president, Mukhu Aliev, expires on February 20.
Violence also continues in Ingushetia, despite the government’s repeated promises to stop it. On February 7, two people, including at least one policeman, were shot dead in Ingushetia. On February 6, the chief of staff of the Sunzha district police force, Magomed Agiev, was wounded in an attack as he approached his house in the settlement of Ordzhonikidzevskaya (www.ingushetiyaru.org, February 7).
Chechnya has experienced a surge in the number of attacks and victims since the special counter-terrorist operation regime was lifted in April 2009. According to estimates by the Kavkazsky Uzel (Caucasian Knot) website, 270 people died and 190 were wounded in attacks during the period between April 2009 to January 2010, which was more than the number of casualties in the same period of the previous year (www.kavkaz-uzel.ru, January 12).
At least ten people were killed in recent clashes in Chechnya’s Urus-Martan district –five of them on the insurgents’ side and five on the federal and pro-Moscow Chechen side. The government initially put the number of insurgents involved in the fighting at 15, but subsequently elevated it to 50 (www.kavkaz-uzel.ru, February 6). The insurgency’s website claimed 11 members of the Russian security forces were killed in the Urus-Martan clashes. The insurgent news source boasted that the rebels have not stopped fighting, even during the winter period, as they have normally done in previous years in order to survive the cold weather (www.kavkazcenter.com, February 6).
Meanwhile, human rights activists decided it was a time of reckoning for the past crimes committed by Russian government forces in Chechnya. On February 5, the tenth anniversary of the massacre in the Grozny suburb of Novye Aldy, the film “Aldy: With No Expiration Date” was screened in Moscow, St. Petersburg and Grozny. In 2000, members of a special police unit (OMON) from St. Petersburg killed at least 56 civilians, mostly elderly people, women and children.
Aleksandr Cherkasov of the Memorial human rights center stated at a Moscow press conference that the 10-year-old crimes in Novye Aldy were “comparable to the crimes of Hitler’s punitive expeditions in the Great Patriotic war [WWII].” The St. Petersburg OMON, according to Cherkasov, entered Grozny after its defenders retreated and the Russian military took over the city, so that the police commandos committed their crimes in an atmosphere of utter impunity. Despite that, Cherkasov noted, no proper investigation had ever been conducted and no one was punished for the crimes. When the European Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg accepted the Aldy case, investigators from the pro-Moscow Chechen government started reviewing it and found a suspect in the St. Petersburg OMON, but the investigation was not allowed to proceed beyond that point. Cherkasov pointed out that the numerous scandals involving police abuse in Russia are linked to the fact that many Russian police units were deployed in Chechnya and grew used to acting with brutality and impunity (www.kavkaz-uzel.ru, February 6).
Surprisingly, even the pro-Moscow ruler of Chechnya, Ramzan Kadyrov, whom some Chechens accuse of committing crimes “worse than the Russians committed,” went out of his usual way in condemning Russian military’s crimes in Aldy. At a Friday prayer in the Aldy’s mosque, Kadyrov said: “February 5, 2000 is a date that echoes with pain in each of our hearts. On that day, people who called themselves military servicemen but in reality were bastards, shaming the Russian army, organized butchery in this settlement. Dozens of Aldy’s inhabitants, mostly old men, women and children, were shot dead in cold blood. I am confident the perpetrators will be punished in the end.” Referring to the reconstruction of Chechnya and his rule, Kadyrov warned that the people of Chechnya must “value the positive changes [in the republic] and never forget the price that was paid for the peace” (www.ramzan-kadyrov.ru, February 6).
Ironically, the prominent Chechen human rights activist Natalya Estemirova was among the first people to start investigating the Aldy massacre. Several of Estemirova’s colleagues have accused Ramzan Kadyrov of being involved in her death in July 2009. So, while Kadyrov practically endorsed the results of Estemirova’s work, he somewhat remained opposed to her personally.
On the tenth anniversary of the killings in Aldy, the Memorial human rights center, the Yabloko political party’s branch in St. Petersburg and the House of Peace and Non-violence in the city launched a website –www.pomnialdy.ru (Remember Aldy). It describes itself as having been designed “to reclaim the good name of St. Petersburg and its inhabitants,” by establishing positive ties between the people of St. Petersburg and Aldy.