Sunday, May 8, 2005


Russians hold hundreds of Chechen civilians hostage during Beslan standoff

Peace Reporter, a wonderful Italian site published this in Italian several weeks ago. I mentioned it here, but at last, the English translation directly from the website is available, and I reprint it below. Please visit the site to read all the reportages on Chechnya and other war zones.

Chechnya - 26.4.2005
Hostage Retaliation

Enrico Piovesani

While the world focused on the school in Beslan where Basayev terrorists had been holding hundreds hostage for two days, far from the cameras in Chechnya another drama was unfolding. One that so far hasn’t received any news coverage. The Russian armed forces that have occupied the breakaway republic for years were executing a classic counterstrike. They took hundreds of Chechen civilians hostage—men, women, children, and elderly—and held them in a military base at the gates of Grozny using the same methods as the Beslan captors. The big difference is that the latter were terrorists while the former serve in the army of a civilized nation, Russia, that claims to be democratic. The Russian government probably had a hostage exchange in mind, but events soon took their own course. We spoke with a Chechen women in Grozny who had been the victim of the secret operation along with her husband. She found the courage to speak out only now, seven months after the events took place. Her name and identity will remain hidden. More than once the Russian secret service FSB has threatened to kill her if she ever talks about what happened. “That week my husband and I were following what was happening in Beslan on TV and we were very worried. Like so many of my friends, my heart went out to those kids. I’m a mother too. And Chechen women know all too well what Russian soldiers are capable of.”

“It was the morning of September 3, the day the special forces opened fire in Beslan. It was before dawn, around 5am. A Tabletka pulled up in front of our house (editorial note: Tabletka means “pill” and describes the pill-shaped transports used by the FSB in Chechnya). Soldiers with guns broke in—they were wearing battle fatigues and balaclavas—and took us away without explanation. Fortunately my daughters were staying with relatives. After a short drive we arrived at the military base in Khankhala. I was terrified. Everyone knows about that place and no one gets out alive. I was shocked to see that dozens of trucks like ours were coming in at the same time, loaded with civilians who’d been arrested.”

“They grouped us all together and held us at gunpoint. There were more than 200 people—92 women and 20 children including babies, some of them only a few months old. No one told us why we were there. The only talking they did was to insult us. Then some of us noticed a bunch of trucks and transport helicopters. We started thinking maybe they were going to take us to Beslan to use as human shields so they could attack the school. The children were crying, terrified, but their moms weren’t much help because they couldn’t stop crying either. Then they separated us. They put the women and children in a big army tent where they continued to hold us at gunpoint. Our husbands, sons, and brothers were blindfolded and had their hands and feet bound. My husband told me later that they were forced to kneel for hours. The soldiers took them away one by one to a small room where they were interrogated, beaten and tortured.”
“That evening the women asked for food and water for the kids. But the soldiers just insulted us and told us to keep quiet. The children were crying—they had to go the bathroom. The soldiers came with us and kept the guns pointed at us like we were criminals. When night came we begged the soldiers for blankets for the smallest children. They gave us two for everyone.”

“No one slept. I was so worried about my husband because I had a pretty good idea what they were doing with the men. And we were afraid that something even worse would happen to us. As I looked around during that long night I realized that women from Mashkhadov’s family were there with us too.”

“The next day, September 4, we kept asking why we were there, but they wouldn’t say anything. Early that afternoon they got us all together and forced us to sign a statement saying we would never take legal action against the Russian armed forces and that we would never say a word about this to anyone. Then they started up the helicopters and made us board. The helicopters got louder and louder and the blades were kicking up wind. We were certain the time had come for them to take us to Beslan just like we’d feared. None of us had any idea the drama at the school had already come to its tragic conclusion the day before. Our helicopter took off with the rest of them, but instead of heading west it went north. They brought us back home. We couldn’t believe it.”

“That evening I saw what had happened in Beslan and I stayed in the house, crying in front of the television set. I spent all night crying, for those poor kids and also just trying to vent all the stress that’d been building up in me. The threatening phone calls started the next day along with intimidating visits from FSB agents. They knew that I work for a human rights organization and were afraid I’d use my contacts to let people know what happened. I didn’t—I was too scared. But I never quit doing my job exposing the crimes and human rights violations perpetrated against my people by the Russian armed forces.”

“As a precaution, that day I stopped living in my house and I sleep someplace different every night. On March 1, I went to visit my parents in their village. Army tanks rolled in that night with dozens of soldiers. They carried out a “zaciska”—a raid. They roughed up some of the men and took about ten of them away for no reason. I hid. When they left I said goodbye to my parents and took off. I’ll never be safe in Chechnya. No one ever will in this country.”


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