Publication: North Caucasus Weekly Volume: 3 Issue: 24

On July 29, a congress entitled “Women of Chechnya for Peace” was held in Nazran, Ingushetia. A number of Chechen human rights and public organizations, such as “LAM” and “Echo of War,” participated, as did representatives of the Russian human rights center Memorial and the Andrei Sakharov Museum in Moscow. Journalists representing Novye Izvestia (the well-known political commentator Otto Latsis) and Novaya Gazeta (award-winning war correspondent Anna Politkovskaya) plus the website Grani.ru attended, as did journalists from foreign countries. “Mention should be made,” Chechenpress.com reported on July 30, “of the speeches of about sixty Chechen women from various cities and villages of the republic who had turned out to be either the victims of the atrocities or the mothers of those who fell victims to the Russian military machine. Their speeches were so impressive that, at the end of the congress, which lasted almost eight hours, a representative of the Russian journalists apologized to the Chechen mothers for the atrocities of the Russian army in Chechnya. ‘The Russian army is not a nation. I beg your forgiveness,’ he said.”

In an account of the congress published in the August 1 issue of Novye Izvestia, Otto Latsis focused upon a moving address made to the assembly by Malika Umazheva, the pro-Moscow head of administration of the village of Alkhan-Kala, which has a population of 20,000. (Latsis tape recorded Umazheva’s words.) She began by recalling that federal forces had conducted a cleansing operation in her village from April 11 to April 15: “It was headed by [General] Bronitsky,” she began, “He murdered my brother. My brother was guilty of nothing. It is one thing to kill someone and another to do it with savagery. They killed him savagely. They tortured him. Here are photographs of him after his death…. They tortured him with a sharpened aluminum spoon. They sliced the skin of his fingers with the spoon and then peeled it off. They also gave him electric shock treatment. He lay there with swollen hands…. [The soldiers] then fired an entire clip from an automatic weapon into him. When I asked Ferlevsky (the deputy procurator of the North Caucasus Military District) why they had done that, he answered, ‘He put up resistance.’ How could he have put up resistance with such hands? When he could not even lift a towel?” “In Alkhan-Kala,” Umazhaeva continued her account, “250 persons have been murdered [by the federal forces], and sixty have disappeared without trace. That list could be extended. Where does such cruelty come from? I have often posed this question [to the Russian soldiers]: ‘What kind of mother gave birth to you? Under what sky were you raised?’… I feel pain for Russia. I did my studies in Russia. I cannot imagine a life without Russia.”

Summing up his impressions from the women’s congress, Latsis wrote: “Let us remember one thing about which Malika Umazheva and many others spoke during our conversations in Nazran’ and in Grozny: This plague from Chechnya will also come to our homes [in Russia]. Those who have learned how, with impunity, to rob and murder will not conduct themselves any differently in a different place…. An unjust war and fascism are inseparable. The war in Chechnya is not only a misfortune for Chechnya but it represents a terrible threat for Russia itself.”