Village of Zandak
Beyond the plains of Grozny lie mountains, shrouded in mist and bathed in blood. In the shadows of its vales and in between the stillness of the meandering rivers lies the quiet village of Zandak. Ahmed Jamalkhanov, a 52 year-old farm worker, lived in the solace of these mountains until he was driven out by a savage military attack on his village on March 27 1996.
As Russian helicopters and ground-to-ground missiles pounded the village into dust, Ahmad tried to escape with his wife and two sons. When they reached the edge of the village, Russian troops raked his car with gunfire. His wife was shot twice and died instantly. The troops forced Ahmed and his sons aged 19 and 17, out of the car. 'They wanted to know where the Chechen fighters were as they beat us with their guns. The [Russian] soldiers then blind- folded us and told us to take off our clothes. We were beaten with a metal rod, which broke my skull and ribs.'
Ahmed passed out from the beating. When he regained consciousness a day later, lying next to him in the blood-soaked ice were the bodies of his two sons. Their throats had been slit.
Ahmed was lucky to have survived the attack on his village. Countless others were not so fortunate. His village in Chechenya is still subjected to constant bombings, its civilian population victim to harrowing tales of torture and indiscriminate killings . The tragedy that is now unfolding in Chechenya underlies this generation's inhumanity.
For a second year a full-scale bloody war has been waged against the civilian population of the tiny republic in the Caucasus. The towns and villages of Chechenya, Dagestan and Ingushetia are being subjected to regular aerial, artillery and missile bombardments. Russian regular army troops, interior ministry troops, as well as the crack FSS forces, whose total exceeds 400,000, are taking part in the assault and in the occupation of Chechenya. Using weapons of mass destruction, whole towns and villages have been razed to the ground.
Yet the extent of human suffering in Chechenya has remained largely hidden from the outside world. Media attention has been limited by Russia's blockade on journalists and even aid workers are prevented from entering the war-torn State. But equally powerful in suppressing the cries of victims is the support Boris Yeltsin has received from the west. The west has sought to minimize the war as merely an 'internal affair' of Russia. The human suffering has simply been ignored. The friendship between the west and Yeltsin stems from the economic benefits that the former hopes to reap from Russia's rich natural resources as it moves towards a free market economy.
The Muslim world has similarly failed to recognize the suffering of their fellow Muslims. For fear of upsetting the Russian Bear, Muslim countries have not asked Moscow even to exercise restraint in its massive military assault on the tiny republic. Hosni Mubarak of Egypt, for instance, had the audacity to invite Russia to the international conference on 'terrorism' in Sharm el-Shaikh where Yeltsin condemned the Chechens as ' terrorist dogs' who must be annihilated. None of the Muslim heads and foreign ministers present protested this insult.
Even worse, the government-appointed grand mufti of Russia was paraded on Russian television condemning the Chechen fighters and praising Russian forces for seeking peace in the region. The Chechens in their hour of suffering, have found that they live on a very lonely planet.
The horrors of the Russian offensive in Chechenya are very real. With the specific aim of crushing the Chechen uprising, no distinction is made between fighters and civilians. Typical of this brutality has been the Russian military attack on the village of Samashki. On April 7,1995 after several months of siege by columns of Russian federal troops during which it was subjected to incessant air and missile bombardment, the village fell to Russian forces. What followed was a rampage of unimaginable proportions.
Russian MVD (ministry of interior) troops, supported by the brutal OMON (Special Task Militia Units), began a house to house operation to terrorize the population. Abdurakhman Chindigaev, a 43-year-old and his neighbour, Salavdi Umanov, an elderly man in his seventies, huddled together with their families in their home in the centre of the village.
'Four Russian soldiers burst into the courtyard of our house at about 2 am,' Abdurakhman described the event, with tears rolling down his cheeks.
'We were hiding in one room, when a soldier threw in a grenade which killed my mother and two daughters. "Anyone here alive?" shouted the soldier and we were all forced out into the courtyard. "Lie down, you b---- Lie down you b----!", they screamed. As we lay down one soldier shot Umanov's wife. A minute later they shouted "In the ditch,b----!" Salavdi, Musa (Salavdi's son) and I were standing in the ditch facing a wall. I said to Salavdi that they are going to kill us here, so I started to pray. Musa begged the soldiers not to shoot but they didn't even let him plead. They shot at all of us and we fell in the ditch.'
Musa died instantly, his father the next day. Abdurakhman is crippled from the gun shot wounds.
Shooting and shelling reverberated around the village non-stop for two days. Some people were dragged out of their homes and butchered with machetes. Others were burned alive in their homes which they had used for shelter during artillery raids. Azman Ansarova, recalls how she had been hiding with about 40 villagers in one of the cellars. 'We were mainly old women and wives hiding with our children. But when the Russian soldiers found us they didn't care. They threw two grenades into the cellar and locked the door. Many people died. Someone then broke the door and about eight of us ran outside.
The soldiers were waiting and chased us back into the cellar. "Let's see how many live now!" shouted one soldier and he threw two more grenades into the cellar. There was fire all around me and it looked like everyone was dead. I couldn't stop screaming and was punching the ceiling. I ran out again looking for water. My body was on fire. But then I saw the soldiers had taken the water and were pouring it on the other side of the street. They were all sitting and laughing, drinking and eating nuts and other food they had found in someone's house. And I was there burning with my family.'
The pre-war population of Samashki was 14,600. All are now dead or have fled. Only 3,000 people survived in Samashki. Over two days, Russian forces rounded about 5,000 Muslim men, according to eye witnesses. They included businessmen, teachers, surgeons and civil servants 'all the prominent people of Samashki', in the words of one exdetainee. With their disappearance, Samashki's power structure was virtually eliminated, a graphic example of the destruction of the Chechen elite that is the apparent aim of the military juggernaut the Russians are rolling across Chechenya. Most of these men were taken to the infamous 'Filtration Camps' that have been set up by the invading Russian forces to interrogate, torture and murder Chechen civilians.
From eyewitnesses who have left Chechenya, there are at least five such death pits (as they are locally known). Yet the Russian authorities deny their existence; no TV crew has been able to make it to their vicinity. The Filtration Camps are Chechenya's equivalent of Bosnia's 'ethnic cleansing' camps and Germany's concentration camps.
As they witness the systematic destruction of their people, their land, economy and centuries-old culture, many Chechens cannot comprehend why such ferocity is being used against ordinary people. Methods differ from village to village, but the underlying pattern, according to eyewitness accounts, is to round up the wealthiest, the most educated, the most successful, and the political and religious leadership from previously prepared lists. The Muslim population in Samashki and Sernovodosk is virtually eliminated.
The pattern of conduct, the manner in which these acts are being carried out the length of time over which they are taking place and the areas in which they occur combine to reveal a wider purpose. Genocide and the annihilation of the will of the Chechen people is the actual plan. The legacy of Russia's brutality is scorching a terrible image into the minds of those Chechens who survive such massacre.
Unless serious efforts are made to end the atrocities and find a just resolution to the conflict, Chechenya could be cultivating a generation whose sole aim would be to put right centuries of injustice. The current conflict would then only be the mother of a greater and more vicious war of the future.