Genocide in Chechnya
In Grozny, ISCA representatives visited one of four major Russian concentration camps used for detaining Chechens during the war. Just outside of the city is one of the most infamous camps established by the Russians during the war. Known as PAP-1 (the Passenger Automobile Plant, or Passazhirskoe Avtomobilnii Predpriatie in Russian), the detention camp is the site of a former bus repair facility.
Torture chamber. Coverted bus garage, this cell, like all the others, was lined with steel grates, preventing the prisoners from touching the walls.
The camp held civilians as well as Chechen soldiers. Many parts of the main bus repair plant used for torturing Chechens detainees remain in place. Blood stained walls adorn the former holding cells where Chechens were held for interrogation. Chechen officials estimate that PAP-1, as well as three other camps, held at least tens of thousands of Chechens during the war, the majority of whom were civilians, not military combatants. Aside from PAP-1, one of the largest concentration camps used for detaining Chechens was located at the Russian military base at Mozdok. The average length of time for Chechens to be held at the camp was approximately one week. If, during the course of interrogation, it was learned that the detainees were important military prisoners, then they were transported by helicopter to the Russian detention camp at Mozdok for further interrogation. There are unconfirmed reports that the American, Fred Cuny, may have been transferred to Mozdok from PAP-1, where he may have been detained before being moved to the other camp.
To the naked eye it is difficult to know that PAP-1 was a major detention center used for interrogation and torture. Most Chechens are not eager to advertise the location of the camp and the members of the elite Presidential Guard did so only with great reluctance. With their martial traits and deep sense of pride, Chechens are remarkably embarrassed by what happened at PAP-1 and believe that it is a source of weakness to show the camp to foreigners. A sign near the entrance to the detention center states that the former detention camp is a Museum to the Victims of the War, but no displays or signs are visible inside, only the grisly remnants of Russian interrogation cells. When in operation, PAP-1 was a heavily guarded facility holding as many as 1,500 Chechens, many of whom disappeared altogether after being imprisoned at the camp.
Ostensibly PAP-1’s major purpose was to serve as a center for filtering civilians and soldiers captured during the fighting. By the end of the war, PAP-1 was one of the biggest concentration camps in operation in Chechnya. In an effort to release Chechens imprisoned at the compound Chechen special-forces units frequently fought to overrun the camp and in a rare instance of failure on the battlefield proved unable to break through the impregnable walls of PAP-1. Today the facility has a deathly silence as the proud members of the elite Presidential Guard seethe with emotions of anger and silence. They retell the history of PAP-1 and argue that this is the second instance in this century of Russian-orchestrated genocide against the Chechen people. The first instance, they note, was in 1944, when Stalin deported millions of Chechens by boxcars to remote areas of the Soviet Union where they languished in Siberian and Central Asian prison camps.
Electric torture chair, used in last war to torture Chechen prisoners, nearly all of whom were civilians. Other atrocities included nailing prisoners by their tongues to the table, electric shock and burning the bodies of the dead in huge vats.
A majority of the detainees held at PAP-1 were male Chechens. Approximately 68% of the prisoners held at the camp were civilians. It also included many innocent women and children who were used as hostages by the Russian military units that operated the facility. The Russian soldiers sought to supplement their poor salaries by asking huge ransom fees for the prisoners held at the facility. Chechen detainees were sometimes freed in exchange for ransoms paid by Chechen families; most often they languished until they died during interrogation. The fortunate Chechen families managed to win the release of their relatives by offering a couple of bottles of vodka or even sheep.
At PAP-1, ISCA representatives were met by a grieving mother who ran to the camp upon hearing that westerners had come to inspect the detention center. Overcome with emotion, she wept as she retold the story of how her eight-year old son was arrested upon coming to the facility to deliver food to an older brother held inside. Both sons, she said, disappeared and she never found any trace of their bodies after the Russian troops left the facility.
Inside the camp the instruments of torture largely remain intact. Burned out buses, which formed a series of makeshift cells for Chechen detainees, line the inner courtyard of the detention camp. The buses, it seems, served as temporary cells before Chechens were separated and sent into the main bus garage for serious interrogation. The main garage is where Chechens suffered the incessant beatings and torture by their Russian captors. An elderly Chechen man who works at the camp as a custodian escorted members of the ISCA delegation throughout the building. Before entering the holding cells, he showed two Spanish journalists who accompanied our group two portable steel dumpsters which remain on display in the central building. These steel coffins, he said, had been used to transport the bodies of Chechens killed during Russian interrogation. The mobile dumpsters could be moved to an interior room in the building where a makeshift incinerator was in place with two smokestacks connected to the outside roof of the building. The old man retold that as many as four to five bodies could be placed in a dumpster at one time. This Auschwitz style setting quickly eradicated any doubts among us that genocide had been committed against the Chechens in a remote corner of Grozny.
Unfortunately Chechen officials proved to be ill equipped for genocide-watching and lacked any official data or officials statistics on the exact number of Chechens who disappeared at the camp.
We inspected several of the holding cells inside the building and found at least 20 of these large metal cages that could contain as many as 20 Chechens at a time. Our escorts said that approximately 200 Chechens would be imprisoned inside the main building at one time. A central torture room inside the building still remains much as it was during the war, with a large metal rack with blood stained spikes and steel cables hanging from the walls. On one wall, it is still visible where a Chechen under detention wrote his name in blood. Blood stains on the floors and walls are highly visible throughout the facility.
The two Spanish journalists traveling with our group, one of whom covered the war in Algeria for three years for the newspaper La Stampeda, were astounded to learn of what happened at PAP-1 and wondered why none of the Moscow-based journalists had ever written a story about the camp. In all the years of covering the war in Algeria, one of the journalists said that he has never witnessed anything like PAP-1. The failure of western journalists to cover what occurred at PAP-1 greatly disturbed everyone who visited the camp. The one journalist remarked that it is only after the end of a war that this sort of grisly evidence is found. Today PAP-1 remains a visible monument to the Bosnia-like atrocities that occurred in Chechnya during the war and which continue to go unnoticed by the western media.