Sooner or later a secret always comes to light
Date: March 25, 2000
The war in Chechnya after all is said and done, What do we know about it?
For three years a terrible and vile war has been raging on the European continent. A huge country, militarized to the bone, inheriting from its Soviet predecessor all the Satanic instincts of hatred toward humanity, is trying to wipe out a small Caucasian nation that had the audacity to declare its right to independence.
And at this time the heads of states considering themselves democratic--prime ministers, parliamentarians, well-known politicians--are peacefully playing with their children, conversing with their wives.And of course they feel like real men.
We agree: the former (and for all practical purposes the current) head of the KGB in control of nuclear Russia--this is very serious! But if the Chechen problem had anything to do with the national interest of these so-called democratic governments, would they stick their noses into this business after all?! You bet they would! Then it wouldn't be just an issue of abstractions like human rights. Is this self-serving? And how! In the words of Solzhenitsyn: "And let him not pride himself in being an important official, or a laureate, academician or People's Artist. Rather let him tell himself this: "I am just a sheep and a coward! Because the only thing that is important is that I myself am warm and well-fed!"
And meanwhile, Moscow, like all military criminals, is counting on the fact that "war writes everything off," that everything will be forgotten, fractured, that bygones will be bygones! Therefore, let the Kremlin know that always (even after many years!) there will be people who will drag into the spotlight the crimes of this war, so unjust for Russia. They will drag them out, winnow out the guilty and nail them to History's wall of shame! Let the people in the Kremlin approach their windows one more time. There is a great view from those windows--a view that extends all the way to the courthouses of the Hague and Strasbourg!
It also never occurred to Slobodan Milosevic that some day the bowl of bland soup handed to him through the food hatch in his cell door would be one of the comforts of his hopeless prison days.
March, 2002 is the second anniversary of the battle for Komsomolskoe. We present for the reader's consideration several unique interviews from February and March of 2000 that shed light on that event. The interviewer is NATALIA ESTEMIROVA, Nazran bureau chief of the Human Rights Center "Memorial" in Ingushetia.
R O S A, a nurse from the Komsomolskoye Nurse's Station: "...There were villagers hiding out in the field, surrounded by Russian troops. They had no food, no warm clothing, and no possibility of keeping warm. No one thought that they would have to spend so much time there and so they hadn't brought anything out with them, not even food. We were still in luck because at least there was no snow.
There began an epidemic of intestinal diseases and flu, but they did not allow those who had stayed behind in the settlement to supply us with medicine. Only one woman managed to get some medicine to us - medicine for blood pressure, heart, and high temperature. She wrapped them in a rag and said that that she was taking clothing to her sister. An eight-month-old girl died - she caught cold on the plain. She had double pneumonia.
Gelaev Abdurakhman died of a heart attack. He saw that they were separating the women and the men - a row of armed soldiers stood between them - and several of his sons were there. Apparently he was frightened for them and his heart couldn't bear it. They did not even allow us to read the prayers for the dead over him.
A little girl was born and then died - all on the same evening. Pashaev came up to me. In the settlement, his wife, granddaughter, brother and cousin had been killed, he himself was wounded in the arm, and the wound was not healing at all. He asked me where he could go for help: he had no money for treatment, medicines were more expensive now and no one would treat you for free.
Many were suffering from heart problems, the mortality rate rose. We were in need of various kinds of medical help, but no one offered it. Neither the Red Cross nor any other organization of that type helped us.
M U S A M U R T A Z A L I E V : "... Animal corpses were floating even in the Goy River. This river flows through the village of Goiskoye, through the settlement of Michurin, through the village of Goita... Cattle drink from this river, children bathe in it. I went to the Sanitary-Epidemiology Stations in Grozny and in Urus-Martan and requested that they clean the river. The Emergency Situations Ministry (MChS) did not bother. To this day dead horses are lying in the water. Before that, four cows and calves were lying there. I myself dragged them out with a tractor and buried them..The village is teeming with dead animals. I won't even mention all the dogs, cats, and sheep - if only they would clean up even the large horned livestock! Counting just the horses alone, there were around a hundred bodies."
The field engineers come first, then the FSB (formerly known as the KGB), and then some sort of pyrotechnicians - that's what they call them, it seems - they process the corpses in some way. And only after that does the MChS (Ministry for Extraordinary Situations) come; they collect the dead.
- When they examine the corpses - both those of boeviks and those of civilians - do they find money?
M . M. : "Only on those who were dug out from beneath the rubble. Those who lay where they had fallen had long since been robbed. SOBR (Special Forces), OMON (similar to American SWAT teams), simple soldiers - everyone is getting into the pockets of the dead.
Many corpses had been buried in yards. People would usually stumble across them accidentally when they were digging in the kitchen garden. If we noticed a small mound, we would immediately begin to dig. We couldn't always establish the identity of the deceased: often there was nothing in their pockets - neither documents nor money. Sometimes if it was a comrade who had buried him he would have sent his papers to relatives, but, in the first place, documents didn't always make it through, and in the second place, the comrade didn't always manage to survive. There were cases where they would dig up a man in one place but find his documents hundreds of meters away on the outskirts of the settlement. When we find things under the rubble that might belong to fighters, we take them to the cemetery. There an old man guards everything we find: who knows, maybe these things will help someone find their relatives. After the MChS left we identified four more bodies. Someone found their documents in the fragments of a destroyed building, and under the rubble we found the bodies. Their relatives immediately took them away. In general we notify the relatives immediately if we find someone, if there are documents on him."
- About how many people were burned?
M . M. : "On February 25, when I first came into the settlement (this was before MChS), I personally saw burned people in three places. There were eleven bodies in one place, four in the second place, and three in the third. I don't know how they were burned, but there was a man who was kneeling, his hands were clenched into fists and holding his head. This man was burned all over, but his head was still in his hands. Even in the fire he had not lowered it to the earth."
- What do you think burned him up?
M . M. : "They set him on fire. They set them all on fire. I assume they just poured gas over them and lit it."
- Couldn't it have just so happened that these people caught fire from neighboring buildings that were on fire?
M. M. : "No, no. There were no fires there. Only the hospital was burned down and those who defended it. The burned corpses were lying outside in the courtyard. You might suppose that they had burned when the building caught fire if they had been found inside the hospital building. No, they had been set on fire."
- Did anyone besides you see these burned bodies?
M. M. : "A man called Vakha from Sernovodsk was with me. I don't remember his surname. We were searching for his brothers. He made a deal with the FSB, after which they accompanied us. On February 27, we found his two brothers. His brother died in the hospital that same night. Vakha took his body and the body of his cousin home. He and I together saw all of this. Several other men from our village were helping the MChS and also saw the burned bodies. Such corpses were also found in other places..
Three people, they were dead already, had been burned in a basement - Zainab Pashaeva, 70 years old, her granddaughter Eliza Pashaeva, 9 years old, and an old man, Musa Beksultanov, 91 years old.
There was one man, Saindi.We found his corpse, or rather what was left of his remains - his right foot and his head. His burned bones were lying next to it. His son gathered them up in a blanket - there were 4 or 5 kilograms - and took them to the cemetery - that was all that remained of his father.
But Supian had to bury his mother together with his sister right in his own yard. Six Ossetians and three Russians helped him. This was on March 8. Aina Akhmedovna Umarova - that was his sister's name. She was 34 years old.
There was also an old man about 93 - 95 years old. They found him not in his own home, but near the mosque. He was lying on a stretcher, we don't know who put him there and how. February 24 was the last time the Russian soldiers saw him alive - they confirmed this. And then three days later someone carried this old man in - dead from a bullet through his head.
After the combat in Komsomolskoye, artillery bombardment continued and the "cleansing" operations started. Looting! The OMON came, the SOBR, all kinds of "Justice" (Ministry of Justice) troops.They took everything that they could lay their hands on, cleaned it out! And then they started to cart away wood products: they pulled down roofs from the houses, they dismantled floors, they knocked out window frames, they took out doors. All this was loaded into cars and taken off in the direction of Urus-Martan.
We presented a complaint to Nikolai, everyone knows him, his rank is Major General. I arrived at his house and asked, "Will there be an end to this looting? You are already taking our houses apart, you are carting away the building materials, you think maybe that's enough?" After my words he stopped four cars. But the next day I found out they never even been unloaded.
I saw them take away furniture - refrigerators, beds, televisions, armchairs. - the car was completely loaded. They didn't succeed in covering it with a tarp, and I saw everything. The car drove up to a cargo helicopter and all the goods were moved on board. There were six of us, we all saw it.
Once soldiers drove a scrawny calf to the blockpost, stoned it to death, and threw it to a large black dog. The dog gnawed its throat, and they threw back their heads and laughed out loud. I went up to them: "Have you really no shame? Have you no pity? Aren't all these human victims enough for you? Now you have tormented and killed this poor animal."
Z O I A (resident of the village of Goiskoye): ".Every day they come, they steal, and they curse as they pass by. I don't know why they're so disgruntled. They steal everything down to the last spoon. They've gone to my neighbors five or six times already.Yesterday they came:
- We've taken some Dutch tile!
- And what are you going to do, take it to Russia?
- No, we'll sell it here.
- And who is forcing you to steal?
- Our officers, higher-ranking "jackals"..
They force the conscripts to steal. They're cunning: they don't come themselves. They order them to steal boards or something else. Then they sell them through the local residents in Martan-Chu or Urus-Martan, and buy drugs and vodka.. The conscripts complain sometimes that they are beaten by their commanders or the mercenaries.
The soldiers get drunk and shoot at one another. And then they pretend that someone is attacking them.A week ago they tore down a house on the edge of the village. Their major, Konstantin, says:
- You know, Zoya, we tore down that house on the edge of the village. Your boeviks were shooting from there, from Stopka (the little hill there next to the ravine).
- Aren't you ashamed for trying to trick us? And you're a Major! Those are your troops out there. You know very well they get drunk and start shooting.
And he played the fool: "Our boys out on the clearing are drinking?!."
On March 6, a heavy fire fight started. I was even lying down flat on the floor. Russian mercenaries came up. They interrogated me, screaming: "Why didn't you leave the village? You look like a sniper!" They beat up my nephew, although he hadn't taken part in anything. The next morning our boeviks came, but by that time the Russians had all left the village.
On the evening of the 6th, about 10:00, I left the house and saw the houses below burning. There were so many mercenaries there! They were yelling, they were shouting obscenities; they set everything on fire, one thing after another.
On the seventh, they murdered the Umarovs, daughter and mother, and the day before that, in the morning, they wounded an old woman. We went up to the blockpost: "Send a medic!" but they replied: "Girls! We're going to level this village to the ground - those are our orders! You'd better get out!" We started to explain, and they interrupted us: "Fine! Bring the old woman and come up here!" On that day I left the settlement.
I returned on March 16 with Chechen OMON troops. The dead lay everywhere, many corpses, including bodies without heads.And the heads were lying separately. It was horrible! I can't stand to think about it!. They were riding over the bodies. We were searching for the bodies of our relatives and friends, but we found only Islam Khashimov from Khatayama. For several days he had been lying among the corpses, not eating, not drinking.We picked him up from among the corpses and carried him away.
Corpses were in the center of the village, in the ravine, in the military hospital (around 300 bodies), and under the rubble. They had burned them all, and I saw this with my own eyes! On the street, in the basements, everywhere! They had pelted the basements with grenades... On the roads I saw corpses still smoldering. I think several of them were burned alive.Yesterday some OMON soldiers came by and they were telling how they had burned people alive, and how they had beat people to death, and how they had shot people or cut off their heads. A boy by the name of Sasha told how they had taken ten people captive and beat them to death-not one remained alive.
In Goiskoye I saw corpses without heads, without ears. A corpse without ears was lying in my kitchen garden. On it was a quilted jacket, jeans and socks. He was so mutilated that his own mother wouldn't have recognized him.
There were many, many dead people throughout the whole village. The pockets of every corpse had been turned inside out, meaning that the military had been searching for money. I didn't see a watch or a ring on anyone - nothing valuable. There were corpses without heads, without ears, without hands, without fingers - it wasn't that dogs had gnawed them off - it was clear they had been cut off with something sharp.I couldn't take it, I began to scream, the boys had to take me away..
Just as we were entering the settlement, the artillery began to fire again, though there had been a warning through field radio that civilians were passing through. We had the impression that they had just been waiting for us to enter..
Everything was mined. Mines were in the kitchen gardens, in the houses, on the roads. The mines were laid not for the boeviks, but for Chechen civilians: the Russians knew that civilians would be coming back. Our neighbor Magomed Dzhantamirov was killed; he was seventeen - he was in the kitchen garden; Lechi Basnakaev, 30 years old - also in a kitchen garden; together with him Rizvan Alkhanov was wounded in the stomach and the leg - he's still in the hospital; on May 15 and 16 two boys were killed - Muslin Dalaev and Kartuev, they were about twelve.
Later I found the bodies of boeviks I had known from the villages of Zona and Khersonoy. I also found their relatives who had been with them. The relatives were clearly civilians. They had simply joined the boeviks when they were coming down from the mountains. If they had been by themselves, the Russians definitely would have detained them, beat them and killed them. To Russians it doesn't make a difference if you are a boevik or a civilian. The only things that matters to them is that you are a Chechen.
A soldier from Habarovsk (he is still here) regularly comes for cherries... He told us how he rode over both living and dead in his tank. Those were his orders.He complained that they were hardly being fed. He said that they were selling everything - canned meat, canned milk - on the black market in return for vodka. The ones they call "jackals" are selling it.
Not long ago they detained Batsilov. He came up to the blockpost to register and at that time they sneaked some TNT into the trunk of his car and demanded 1,500 rubles.... Sometimes they put shells furtively into the trunks of cars...."
L A R I S A : "...I saw them kill our boys. Among them were Ruslan Abdulgamidov from Samashki, Aslanbek from Prigorodnyi, and Islam from the microdistrict. They shot them in the forest. They hung six others. They mocked them and beat them..They cut off the ears of one, Ruslan - he resisted. He was born in 1974. The tank men were more humane. But the mercenaries.The bodies hung for around two weeks until the MChS arrived. Those who had been shot were also lying there..
The MChS threw cows and people into a pit - both Russian soldiers and ours. They put the cattle on top. The human bodies were in bags. The MChS tried to convince us that these, they said, were not ours, but Arabs, Wahabbis.But ours were there too. Later we got them out - there were no more than ten-fifteen men. We took the last one out on March 29. Now that spot is already overgrown."
A D L A N (fictitious name): ".There was a place where the troops were stationed by the foothills, by Martan-Chu. There on a bonfire they had boiled a human head in a bucket. I saw the old man who had found the head take the bucket off the fire. They took the head to a cemetery and I was present at its burial.
This was the head of a male that had been chopped off. The hair was black, the beard was short. It was impossible to identify the man: the skin had fallen off the face, the flesh had partially separated from the bones. We still haven't been able to determine whose head this was. It was buried in Martan-Chu. This was in April, after the March events, when they brought the dead out of Komsomolskyoe..."
S A O D A T : "...On the fourth of March in the evening there was a "cleansing" operation. At that time nobody was taken away... Before the "cleansing" operation they drove everyone from the village and surrounded them in the field. The settlement was bombarded by helicopters and artillery. In the evening, around 6:00, they allowed us to return to the village. When we stepped into the house, we saw that everything had been plundered. They took the television, the tape player, cassettes .. Six times we had gone through "cleansings" operations, but the seventh time they started to loot. They carried off everything they could lay their hands on. They even took women's shoes.
It was beginning to dawn when an skirmish started up in the ravine. Around 7:00 I actually saw the boeviks. They were carrying their wounded and their sick and they looked absolutely exhausted.
- We haven't come to fight. Let us rest and then we'll go. We showed them an empty house where they could go. An hour later the bombardment started up again. People were running out of their houses - some with children, some undressed, some barefoot. We didn't take anything with us, we jumped out however we happened to be. Everybody was running out into the field... When it got dark they started to drive us out of the field back into the settlement, and they tried to persuade us that they wouldn't hurt anyone, but nobody came back. At about 9:00 that evening the artillery started shelling again. They shelled all night long. The residents were out in the field, but old people and livestock still remained in the settlement .
We stayed in the field for four full days - women, children, the elderly, some with livestock if they had been lucky enough to take ... The conditions there were inhuman. They did not allow us to go for water, for bread, or for firewood, they didn't let us out to go to the toilet.The women would try to go for water, but they would shoot at them with their automatic rifles and yell: "Get back! Bitch! Whore!" How is it we didn't all die from hunger or shrapnel!?
I examined many corpses - three or four hundred. The majority of them were mangled by armored personnel carriers : there were no legs, no arms. Many had no fingers: the phalanx of the fingers had been cut off. There were some with their heads cut off. You could tell if a person had been alive when his head was being cut off: his body was covered with blood. We found a head boiled in a bucket. There were corpses without ears, also several covered in blood. They brought three male legs, each from a different man; they had not been torn off by a shell but by the caterpillar track of a tank, that was clear. We didn't bury them all at that time. Several remained untouched. The corpses found in the gorges were in the same condition; so were those from the dug-outs. The ones lying on the earth, most of them were mangled too. Our friends found their relatives. One of them had his ear cut off, and then his head had obviously been cut off while he was still alive. He was my brother's friend. He had been taken prisoner and put in the Chernokozovo filtration camp, but they found him in Komsomolskoye. They found Aslanbek Akhmadov there too. He had been shown on TV as a prisoner in Chernokozovo. His parents rushed over there, but they had already shot him pointblank in the back of the head - here. They found Nalgiev here in Komsomolskoye too.
And my brother was beaten to death too. They dumped his body near Gazi-Iurt. We buried him there. And he had been also in Chernokozovo. And Arsan Dudaev was found near Gazi-Iurt and buried there."
A D A M A V D A E V , the head of the Komsomsolskoye Regional Administration: "We were standing by the blockpost between the village and the Federals. Six and a half thousand people along with refugees. Women, children, the elderly - beneath the rain and snow for four full days!.
On the night of the 5th, helicopters began to fire at us, and snipers shot at the settlement. The Pashaev, Umarov, Ilyasov, Verikov and Gatsaev families could not escape from the settlement. The following died during the bombardment: an old woman, Zainab Pashaeva, her nine-year-old granddaughter, Rizvan, an 85-year-old, Malika Umarova, 80 years old, her daughter Aina, 24 years old, and a refugee from Grozny, an old man of about 90. The body of old man Bashaev has still not been found. He could still be under the ruins or could have been buried by federal soldiers. The bodies of Malika and her daughter and the old man from Grozny have also not been found yet.In all, from March 4 through March 9, fourteen people were killed - all of them had stayed behind in the settlement. Others were luckier: they happened to be close to the military units and ran towards them...
Movladi Gutsaev and Musa Iliasov were beaten half to death - for no reason at all. Just because they were Chechen, just because they exist on this earth. A son of Malika Umarova, Supian, dragged his dead sister Aina to the basement and was on his way up to see the Makaev family when the Russians saw him. They were about to shoot him dead, but Lecha Makaev, an old man, rescued them all - Gatsaev, Supian Umarov, and Musa Ilyasov. He managed to dissuade one of the soldiers. The soldier had been born in Kazakhstan and his parents seemed to be acquainted with some of his relatives. It was a miracle they were saved." Were there occasions when the Chechen fighters wanted to surrender but were shot?
A . A. : "There were very few boeviks who broke through to our village. They came in order to surrender. They were all killed. When they came out to give themselves up, the Russian opened fire. This happened from March 5 through March 9. We have a list of those who nevertheless managed to surrender, but their fate is unknown. Their relatives are still searching for them, but without success. And those who were taken to Urus-Martan, 180 people, were ransomed by their relatives. They paid 200-500 dollars apiece, that is, if they were in good health. For the wounded, they paid 200-300 dollars.
The fighting in Komsomolskoye was over by March 10, but the night-time shelling still did not cease. And by day the military dragged away everything that remained. They took live cattle, carried off carpets, televisions, furniture, everything there was of value. Television has been broadcast in Urus-Martan since March, but not once have we heard of any Russian soldier ever being punished.
Since March 11 or 12, crowds of people were trying to get home. However, they were able to reach only the first checkpoint - they weren't allowed any further. Basically, those returning home were mothers searching for their sons. And in the settlement, according to the stories, there were around 500 dead. Their bodies were decomposing, but the MChS did not begin its work until the 29th, that is, 19 days after the fighting ended! They told the women: "The "cleansing" operation is going on, when it's done we'll start letting you through!." But we saw an armored transport rolling up to every house and Russians loading everything onto it that they could get hold of.
The unharmed houses were burned down. I had a dog, and when I finally came back, I found my dog burned right there in my room.
They let us into the village following behind the MChS, they were removing corpses. According to an officer, there were corpses tied with barbed wire. He claimed that they were the fighters who had surrendered. When we arrived at the village, we found the corpses of people who had obviously just been killed. Where did they come from? After all, there had been no fighting for three weeks. The son of one old man had been imprisoned at Chernokozovo, his father knew that for sure. But his body was found in Komsomolskoye. He had been shot point blank. In the ravine they found a woman without a head, left shoulder and hand. I took her from Alkhazurov and buried her in the cemetery. In all there were sixty-seven civilians who had come down from the mountains , and only twenty survived."
And here what Vladimir Putin said in his speech at that time: "The Chechens should understand that they have not been conquered, but rather, liberated."