It is a rare occasion when the main event of the month in Chechnya may be pinpointed immediately. Beyond all doubt, it was the poisoning of the population of the Schelkovsky district, predominantly children, with unknown substance.
The epidemic broke out on the 16th of December in the stanitsa (Cossack village) of Starogladovskaya. 12 schoolgirls and two teachers developed the symptoms of poisoning – asphyxia and cramp. In the evening three girls aged 15–16 were delivered in heavy condition to the intensive care unit of the Grozny clinical hospital. During the week almost 100 persons with similar symptoms were delivered to the district and republican hospitals from the populated points Shelkozavodskaya, Shelkovskaya, Staroschedrinskaya and Kobi.
The head of administration of the Shelkovsky district Khussein Nutayev stated that judging by all signs and symptoms the poisonous substance could be a nerve or psychotropic agent. In this case the children could not get poisoned with food since none of them had eaten in the school mess. Besides, earlier two similar incidents were registered in the stanitsa of Staroschedrinkskaya in the Shelkovsky district: in late September and in late October. In both the cases the precise causes of poisoning were never quoted.
Things went so far that a high-ranking delegation of specialists arrived from Moscow. And within two days it came to the quite expected conclusion: pseudo-asthmatic syndrome of a psychogenic nature. Simply speaking – mass psychosis. While ‘new patients appear exactly because of excessive dwelling on this topic, and if journalists stop interference, all problems will be resolved within a week.’ It was declared that the sickness was caused by the long-drawn conflict in the republic. However, the same Nutayev noted that his district is probably the quietest in Chechnya and if the illness is of the psychogenic nature, Vvedensky, Nozhaiyurtovsky, Shatoisky and other southern districts would have long been unconscious.
After such ‘conclusion’ vice-premier of Ichkeria’s government Akhmed Zakayev sent a letter to the head of the Hague organization for banning chemical weapons in which the insistently requested that an international investigation be initiated to establish the reasons of the mass disease in Chechnya. The minister of health of Chechen Republic of Ichkeria Umar Khanbiev sent a similar appeal to the World Health Organization, UN, Council of Europe and OSCE.
Arrival of Russia’s President in Chechnya. Initiative to rename the republic’s capital
The republic’s authorities seem to be the only ones who failed to react to the incident. But they had more urgent business to attend to at that time. On December 11, on the day of the 11th anniversary of the war start Russia’s President Vladimir Putin unexpectedly arrived in the Chechen Republic. His visit coincided with the first day of work of the new parliament.
Speaking at the first session Putin thanked ‘all who took part in these elections, as well as in the difficult process of peaceful settlement.’ He also stressed that we ‘have come close to a period when it is necessary to reconstruct Grozny…Now we can really get down to resolving this problem.’
Deputies decided to tackle the restoration of the republic’s capital without delay. As a first step an initiative was put forward – to renamethe city of Grozny into Akhmat-Kala. But the Russian president turned down the Chechen parliamentarians without waiting for an official paper from Chechnya. ‘I think that this theme is closed,’ said the Russian president in his Sochi residence Bocharov Ruchei. He referred to the opinion of the Acting Premier of Chechnya Ramzan Kadyrov who, in his words, ‘expressed himself explicitly on this score.’
Stabilization – reconstruction of Grozny
Nevertheless, reconstruction of Grozny is indeed underway. Chechnya’s president Alu Alkhanov reported to Putin that the ‘leadership of the Chechen Republic began the reconstruction of Grozny’s central part without waiting for the budget funds… We intend to reconstruct Prospect Pobedy (Victory avenue) before the new year begins.’
Prospect Pobedy ‘is being reconstructed to the historical appearance’ with the money from the Foundation named after Akhmat Kadyrov. The reconstruction is slated to be completed by December 25. Entrepreneurs that settled down along the avenue were invited to the district administration and told to make their establishments ‘presentable’ – to have plastic windows and entrance doors installed, to have pavement tiles laid etc. As a result the reconstruction of the main street was indeed going on throughout December at an accelerated pace.
The authorities intend to resolve the issues of Chechen refugees at an equally accelerated pace. On the 7th of December it was declared that from January 2006 all points of compact residence of the internally displaced persons from Chechnya are planned to be closed down in the territory of the Republic of Ingushetia. A formal pretext for that was allegedly failure of the housing conditions of the compact residence places to meet the requirements of the sanitary and epidemiological inspectorate. Representatives of the Chechen non-governmental organizations believe that such a decision means another attempt of the authorities to oust the residents of temporary location points to Chechnya and thus close down the very problem of internally displaced persons. ‘All these issues should have first of all been addressed to the authorities that should provide proper living conditions for its citizens. What is going on now is another attempt of an easy resolution of a complicated problem,’ says Aslambeck Apayev, the head of the human rights organization Committee for protection of rights of people forced to migrate. At the present time 67 points of compact residence of refugees are now open in the territory of Ingushetia in which, according to various data, from 10 to 13 thousand internally displaced persons from the Chechen Republic reside.
Violence against peaceful people
On the whole December was relatively calm in Chechnya. From five or six killings and the same number of kidnappings it is worth dwelling on two episodes only.
First, this is the kidnapping of imam of the Achhoi-Martan mosque Alvi Khaskhanov in the daytime of December 3. He was kidnapped from one of the streets of the village on the way home. Alvi Khaskhanov enjoys much authority among the villagers and a spontaneous rally in his defence immediately gathered in front of the district administration building.
On the same day the imam was released. In his words, he was approached by three cars in which there were unknown people wearing camouflage uniforms and masks. Without explaining anything they seized the clergyman, put him into one of the cars, delivered him to an unknown location and began the interrogation. According to Khaskhanov’s statement, the entire interrogation boiled down to one question: whether he supports ties with representatives of separatists professing radical Islam. The imam said he had absolutely no contacts with the Wahhabis. At 23.30 the interrogation was finished. After that the unknown persons gave Khaskhanov a lift to the suburbs of Achhoi Martan and let him go.
One cannot but mention the death of Chechnya’s Secretary of the Security Council Rudnik Dudayev in Grozny on December 11th. His boarding outfit car located in the territory of the complex of governmental buildings caught fire in broad daylight. The 56- year old FSB (federal security service) colonel was a close associate of Kadyrov-Senior and then an ideological mentor to Kadyrov-Junior. The ‘grey cardinal’ of Chechnya got poisoned with carbon monoxide. The prosecutor’s office of Chechnya categorically denies the version of arson and premeditated murder of Rudnik Dudayev. It is worth noting that the incident took place exactly during the day of Vladimir Putin’s stay on Grozny.
Events beyond the republic’s boundaries
A good half of significant events concerning the Chechen Republic took place in December beyond its boundaries. The parliamentary election held in late November made Russian and foreign human rights activists make rather tough statements spearheaded not so much against the federal and Chechen authorities, but rather against Russian liberal politicians and international political entities.
On the 2nd of December, 2005 human rights activists made a statement entitled “Democrats should not have supported and participated in ‘parliamentary election’ in Chechnya.” This statement sharply criticized European politicians, as well as the parties Yabloko and SPS (Union of Right-Wing Forces) that have recognized the so called ‘parliamentary election’ in the Chechen Republic. Human rights activists deeply regretted that “both parties of the Russian ‘liberal opposition’ lamenting the ‘authoritarian rule’ in the country participated in this ‘election’ and, already having the monitoring data on the actual percentage of voters, recognized its results.” The statement also expresses indignation that both the PACE representatives and Western politicians, in point of fact, legitimized the election deeming it to be movement towards civil dialogue and peace in Chechnya. “ In our view, this recognition only indicates full despair and perplexity of many adherents to democratic values in the face of most rugged arbitrary action and incessant violence in Chechnya,” says the statement.
A week after, on December 8, Russian and international human rights organizations charged the European Union’s authorities with an attempt to ‘whitewash’ the developments in Chechnya. In November EU welcomed the election that took place in Chechnya. As was stated by seven human rights organizations in the open letter addressed to the U.K. Government presiding in EU, this casts doubt on the European Union’s adherence to observance of the human rights. The statement was signed by the International Helsinki Federation, Memorial human rights centre, Demos Centre, Moscow Helsinki Group, Norwegian Helsinki Committee, the Society of Russian-Chechen Friendship and the International Federation of Human Rights.
On the 10th of December the Chechen theme again recalled itself to European entities. A rally was held in Strasbourg near the PACE building demanding that international organizations take measures for peaceful settlement of the conflict in Chechnya. The organizer of the event, Ichkeria’s former minister of communications Said-Emin Ibragimov went on hunger strike demanding that PACE, UN and other international organizations ‘take measures corresponding to the international commitments to stop the war and recognize the fact of gross violations of humans rights and liberties in Chechnya at the official level.’ Ibragimov who is now heading the international association ‘Peace and human rights’ met with the High Commissioner for Human Rights of the Council of Europe Alvaro Gil Robles just before the event and discussed the Council of Europe’s capabilities in resolving the conflict. The Commissioner, in Ibragimov’s words, said that such capabilities are limited.
The start of the protest action was not timed incidentally. Besides the 11th anniversary of the invasion of Chechnya by the federal forces and the International Day of the Human Rights, the event was timed to the review by the PACE commission for legal and human rights of the report and draft resolution on the situation in Chechnya on the 13th of December. Naturally, after receiving the materials for the hearings prepared by Rudolph Bindig the Russian delegation deemed them to be biased and extremely non-objective. Deputy head of the delegation Valery Grebennikov did not agree with the reality of even such obvious facts as kidnappings, killings and torture in Chechnya.
In an outburst of resentment Mr.Grebenikov stated: “If PACE persists in continuous proof-less and groundless accusation of Russia of non-constructive approach, violations of human rights, the Russian Federation will reject the very idea of cooperation with European parliamentarians and institutions of the Council of Europe not only on Chechnya, but also on other issues.’ Deputy chairman of the State Duma committee for international affairs Leonid Slutsky tried to calm down his colleague deputy: “ His (Bindig’s) mandate with PACE expires in January," said he. ‘Several years ago he called upon to setting up a special international tribunal, but no such rubbish is acceptable in the Council of Europe.’
Cases from Chechnya in European Court for Human Rights
Of course, it is yet a long way to go to an international tribunal, but the European court for human rights is still there. On December 8 this instance commenced to review the first case on the disappearance of a person in Chechnya. Fatima Bazorkina residing in Ingushetia accused the Russian authorities of failure to investigate the disappearance of her son, 25 year old Khadji-Murat Yandyev. His interrogation by the Russian military in the village of Alkhan-Kala near Grozny was filmed by the NTV and CNN television channels in February 2000. Since then relatives have not received any news from the young man and in August 2000 they were informed that Yandyev is not kept in any Russian prison.
Several days later, on December 13, the European Court for human rights accepted the complaints on the killing of petitioners’ relatives during ‘a cleansing operation’ conducted by the federal forces in Novy Aldakh (Chechnya) on February 5, 2000 that made 56 persons victims. All in all, the European Court for human rights in Strasbourg has accumulated about 200 complaints of Chechens against the crimes committed by the Russian military: torture, kidnappings, out-of-court arrests and killings.
Despite the fact that the decisions on these cases will not be taken soon, the behaviour of Russian forces in Chechnya may cost a pretty penny to the nation. In December the European Court published a decision on the case ‘Ilyas Timishev versus Russia.’ Russia has to pay almost 6 thousand euro for the traffic police inspector’s preventing the refugee from Chechnya to reach Nalchik (that is, for violating the guarantees of the freedom of movement only).
However, there are grounds to believe that the law enforcement agencies of the Russian Federation may reduce the expenses of its compatriots related to paying for arbitrary actions in Chechnya. One of the steps in this direction was made by Chechnya’s prosecution office that initiated legal proceedings againstthe commander of the Khanty-Mansi OMON (special purpose) police force Alexander Prilepin. This case is the logical follow-up of the ‘case of Lapin (Cadet)’ who tortured Chechnya’s national Zelimhan Murdalov to death. Defence lawyer Stanislav Markelov reported that that during legal proceedings against the OMON police force officer Sergei Lapin ‘the involvement of the detachment commander and his deputy was revealed.’ In the spring of 2005 the October district court of the city of Grozny sentenced OMON policeman Sergei Lapin to 11 years’ imprisonment. Major Prilepin would not wait for the lot of his subordinate and, having found out about the initiation of the criminal case went into hiding.
Source: “Demos”, Situation in the Chechen Republic, №3, December 2005,