Cruel amnesty

On 20 March 2000, Russian president Vladimir Putin urged Chechen fighters to take advantage of an amnesty offered by the Russian parliament.  He was speaking after arriving in Chechnya by fighter jet on a surprise trip ahead of this weekend’s presidential elections.

Vladimir Putin flying a jet in Chechnya

Vladimir Putin flying a jet in Chechnya

After a brief tour of parts of the devastated capital Grozny, Mr Putin indicated that Moscow was willing to discuss the republic’s future with rebels who laid down their arms.

He said that those “who have not stained their hands with the blood of Russian nationals, have not killed or robbed, have a choice”.


A Russian pilot taken hostage several months before was freed in Komsomolskoye, a Chechen town captured by federal forces after two weeks of heavy shelling. Lieutenant Colonel Alexander Zhukov had been captured in October when his jet went down in Chechnya during a mission. Zhukov was freed in Komsomolskoye on Sunday when rebels there tried to break out of a Russian encirclement. He was said to be in good physical condition.

Not much was left of Komsomolskoye village

Komsomolskoye Chechnya Russia war chechen rebels russian men soldiers fighters

In March of 2000 federal officials announced that 72 rebel guerrillas had surrendered at Komsomolskoye and that all were being amnestied. Two women were also among them, a Chechen woman by the name of Biluyevna Lipa (who appears in the video below) and an ethnic Russian woman who identified herself as wife of one of the Chechen hostages. Ruslan Gelayev, the commander, had escaped 2 days earlier.

The prisoners were taken to Chernokozovo filtration camp, where despite the public declaration of amnesty – they were tortured and killed. Three men survived  – two disappeared (disappearances are a common phenomenon in Chechnya) and one committed suicide, according to Novaya Gazeta.

One of the survivors, Rustam Azizov, told his story to Memorial Human Rights Center before he disappeared.

War in Chechnya: a Chechen militiaman tells his story

He also described the tortures they were subjected to; a short video shot by Russian army captured the treatment described click here for video segment (contains disturbing scenes)


 First part of the video below captures the hostages after the surrender; 2 females are part of the hostages. Russian officer also describes the killing of “snipers’ girls” – it’s unsure if it refers to these 2 females


A different version of the prisoners  footage


Chechen woman by name of Milueva Lipa is being asked to identify herself and admit on video that she was a sniper. She is in a visibly worsened state compared with the previous video


The male hostages captured on a 30 minute film, shortly before they died. The women can no longer be seen.


To read more about Chernokozovo filtration camp, click here Torture. atrocities (Emily Gillian’s excerpts)


The hostage video was made public in 2004 by Russian journalist Anna Politkovskaya. According to her, making the video public was the idea of the Russian officer who had filmed it, as he hoped it will help “free him from a nightmare which continues to torture him right up to the present.”

The news report and video download link are still available on the newspaper website where Anna Politkovskaya worked.

Anna Politkovskaya was shot dead in Moscow in 2006, supposedly for her human rights work and her open criticism of Kremlin’s corruption.


It was only through this video tape that the truth was revealed and the families of the prisoners finally learned of the faith of their missing relatives. It also reinforced declarations of Komsomolskoye witnesses like journalist Owen Matthews, who described seeing bodies with hands tied back and severe signs of torture.

The War in Chechnya had an extreme level of violence. To understand what role “violence” plays in Russian military culture, below is a so-called disciplinary video with young Russian conscript soldiers.

War crimes are a sad reality and a fact of every war. However, this particular event involved a declaration of amnesty from the highest state authority – the Russian president himself and the Parliament, and also involved a public statement from military officials of the prisoners “being amnestied” once they had surrendered.

The fact that the amnesty proved to be a false promise and that the real outcome was purposely disclosed from the public by the authorities – most probably with the knowledge of the President himself, affects the credibility of the authority in the Russian state on the highest level, not only in relation to the Chechens but also on international level.

“Chechen Gandhi” Kunta-Haji Kishiev – religion of peace

* In the last 2-3 decades, Sunni Islam has seen a rise in Chechnya, leaving small room for what was once the dominant and specific religion in Chechnya – Sufi Islam. Today, only the elderly resume to these old practices.

Kunta Haji Kishiev was a mystical Sufi sheikh, the founder of a Sufi branch named Zikrism, and a preacher of non-violence and passive resistance. He is considered a saint and the site of Kunta-Haji’s mother’s tomb (located in Chechnya) is a place of pilgrimage for believers.

Kunta-Haji Kishiev was born in 1830 in Melch-Khi village (Gudermes District of Chechnya). At the age of 18 he made his Hajj to Mecca. Soon after, he brought Qadiriyya, “one of the four oldest and most prestigious Sufi brotherhoods”. He also introduced the Loud Zikr (as opposed to silent Zikr), a mystical Sufi prayer-dance of the Caucasus.

In contrast to the ideology of Holy War or Jihad of Imam Shamil (military leader who fought against in the Caucasus wars), Kunta Haji preached the idea of spiritual independence and non-resistance to evil.

“Because of systematic wars, our population is drastically diminishing. The tsarist power is already firmly entrenched in our region. I don’t believe that help will come to us from Turkey and that the Sultan of Turkey wishes our liberty and our salvation. Any further war is disliked by Allah.”

The Zikr became prevalent among Chechens, Dagestani and others; the movement was known as Kunta Haji tariqat.

The movement was first accepted by Russia due to its peaceful purpose. But soon after, Russia became wary of the the potential of Qadiri uniting the population.

In 1864, the tsarist authorities arrested him. Thousands of his adepts, ” the murids”, protested his arrest in the town of Shali and demanded his release – but hundreds were killed and the rest arrested and deported. Kunta Haji died in 1867 in a Russian jail in Novgorod.

After Kunta Haji’s  arrest, the Zikr was strictly forbidden but this measure only encouraged further the spread of Zikr which was practiced in the privacy of people’s homes.

Zikr (or Dhikr) is a is an Islamic devotional act which involves the recitation of the names of God. In other words, it is a form of prayer.

Chechnya chechen men praying North Caucasus people sufi islam muslims

Some adepts recite it quietly “the silent Zikr”, while the Qadiri Sufi Islamic brotherhood practices the loud Zikr (group Dhikr).

They join together in a circular dance to express their love for God and achieve spiritual perfection. The repetitive words are  “La ilaha illa ‘llah” which means “There is no god but God”. The physical effort leads to a trance-like state through mental and physical exhaustion, a state which will bring them closer to God.

Zikr (Dhikr) is also performed by women in a slightly different manner but the same words are recited – “There is no god but God”.

Video and text belong to Swiatoslaw

From the early morning late into the night, Badi is on her feet and she is at work. She is cooking, at 6 AM she wants to feed her guests with three courses and glasses of grape vodka, she runs around her giant Chechen house, and around her beautiful village in Pankisi valley, in front of the mosque she chats with tough men who listen to her humble like little boys, she takes care of other women, organizes them, motivates.  She is one of the leaders of zikr, Sufi ritual, partially forgotten and abandoned, even by men, and here carried on by women.

Eastern voices, here Eastern Europe marries Central Asia. Acceptance, peace, coexistence. This is passion of Makvala Margoshvili, for this is real name of the one everybody calls Badi. She is a founder and leader of folk band Daimoakh, protecting Chechen tradition, chairwoman of Marshua Kawkaz, which means Peace for Caucasus. In the lyrics of their songs, in what they do, in whom they are, there is warmth and peace, love for own kind and for guest, here you can find the essence of what Sufism is in practice, here you will find archetype of grandmothers and hospitality from Caucasus.

Chechen rebel “mole” – story of betrayal

source: Radio  Free Europe, Eurasia Daily Monitor

On January 23 2013, a group of rebel fighters lead by Gakayev brothers was “eliminated” during a shootout in the mountains of Chechnya, in Vedeno district.

The fighters had reportedly been pursued for days by a contingent of several thousand Russian and pro-Moscow Chechen police and security forces, who deployed combat helicopters and heavy artillery against them. They might have managed to escape, had their precise whereabouts not reportedly been betrayed, possibly under torture, by a member of the group.

At the time of the fighting, Chechen security forces was quoted as saying rebel fighter Islam Temishev (age 22) surrendered to the authorities following a gun battle on January 23 with Gakayev rebel group.

In the weeks after, it was revealed that Temishev was one of several “moles” who had infiltrated the rebels’ ranks over the past few years.


In this video, Islam Temishev and other alleged “mole” Algiriev Beslan – are seen talking as unsuspected members of the rebel group. The third man showing up in the video, Islam Atiev (age 24) was killed later in December 2013.

Islam Temishev and

Islam Temishev and Algiriev Beslan

Chechen rebel spies infiltrated in the rebel group

Chechen rebel spies infiltrated in the rebel group

Islam Atiev (kiled in december 2013) and 2 rebel fighters killed with Gukayev brothers

Islam Atiev (killed december 2013) and 2 rebel fighters killed during the January 2013 rebel-army confrontation

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Video of the questioning of the second spy (Algiriev Beslan) dispatched by the government. The rebels also show devices the spy possessed: —miniature bombs that were to be planted under certain commanders, signaling devices that were supposed to alert government forces about rebel locations, and so on. Algiriev Beslan says he was tortured and coerced into cooperating with government forces.

The video was designed to show that the government’s successes were the result of the “moles” they plant among the rebels. At the end of the questioning, the alleged spy is executed.


On January 23, the pro-insurgency website reported receiving information that the group had telephoned with the news that they were surrounded and had no hope of surviving. Video footage shows Muslim Gakayev having a head wound bandaged; another fighter asks jokingly why the enemy can’t fire more quietly.


Islam Temishev together with Russian and pro-Russian Chechen forces during the January 23 rebel-army battle


Bodies of the rebel group members in the forest



Chechen leader Ramzan Kadyrov shows up on television with Islam Temishev, whom he questions (among other things) about life inside the rebel enclave. Kadyrov portrays rebels as cowards and promises severe punishment.


On the night of February 18, the men accused by Islam Temishev of providing food and other essentials to the rebels – were brought to Vedeno and were humiliated by Chechen leader Ramzan Kadyrov in front of television cameras. One of the men was terminally-ill Said Gunkbayev (pictured below).


Said Gunkbayev on TV

Said Gunkbayev

At the end of the broadcast,  the media sources announced that “despite the severity of the crimes committed, Ramzan Kadyrov gave them a chance and let them go”. However, after the televised appearance a few of the men “disappeared” (common phenomenon in the region) and Said Gunkbayev’s body was found with signs of torture.

*A new measure to combat terrorism installed by Akhmad Kadyrov and later by his son Ramzan Kadyrov – extends the punishment of rebel fighters to their families and even neighbors, even if there is no proof of direct involvement or knowledge of their relative’s actions. Moscow-based Memorial Human Rights group and its member Natalya Estemirova accused Kadyrov of human rights violations in the “fight against terror”. Natalia Estemirova was murdered in July 2009 in Grozny.
(Source: “What Your Children Do Will Touch Upon You” Human Rights Watch report)

Ushkaloy rock towers, Chechnya

Ushkaloy defense towers are located in the narrowest point of the Argun Gorge, on the way to Itum-Kale village (Itum-Kalinsky district) in Chechnya. The towers are around 900 years old. They have only three walls, the fourth wall being a rock.

Chechen rebels


Chechen fighters tell their stories in a 25-minute report


Chechen rebels during a Russian helicopter attack near Goragorsk, during Russia's second war in Chechnya. October 1999

Chechen rebels during a Russian helicopter attack near Goragorsk, during Russia’s second war in Chechnya. October 1999


Click below for other related stories

 The rebel “mole” – story of betrayal

Chechen rebel spies infiltrated in the rebel group

Chechen rebel spies infiltrated in the rebel group


Chechen rebel captured (video)

chechen rebel captured chechnya north caucasus fighters

War photographer in Chechnya

Eric Bouvet, war photographer – Chechnya, may 1995

Interview excerpt from The Guardian


“It was unbearable. Two crazy weeks and the most unbelievable story I ever did. I was with a Russian special commando. They were torturing, killing and raping. I saw them do it, and I couldn’t stop them. Someone of a normal constitution can’t accept that. I was working on the edge.

This is the morning after a night that left four men dead and 10 wounded. It was heavy fighting, and I was very afraid. I discovered a dead Chechen four metres from me when I got up in the night. You see movies, you read books, you can imagine anything. But when you are in front of something, it’s not like the movies. We started out as 60 and came back 30 – one in two people injured or killed. I was lucky.

As soon as it was light, I took pictures. This is the first thing I saw. The guy with the bandage on his head has lost his friends. He has fought all night long. I don’t feel pity, but at the same time they took me with them and did everything to protect me. Without them, I couldn’t have done the story. I was the only witness. It’s very complicated.”





Russian soldiers Chechnya war chechen rebels fighters terrorists North Caucasus 1

Russian soldiers Chechnya war chechen rebels fighters terrorists North Caucasus


Chechen men from village rounded up in famous "filtration camps"

 Chechen men from a village rounded up for the infamous “filtration camps”

Chechen hostages, such as this one, are taken, interrogated under torture and then executed by Russian special forces of infiltration and intelligence. Source:


For two weeks, Eric Bouvet accompanied Russian special forces of infiltration and intelligence on their mission. Using night-glasses to see in the dark, they occupied strategic positions behind enemy. Source:


Russian soldiers eating Chechnya war chechen rebels fighters terrorists North Caucasus

Chechen civilians victims Russian soldiers Chechnya war chechen rebels fighters terrorists North Caucasus wars


For more on the filtration camps go here “War crimes” (testimonies from French editor Sophie Shihab, Russian journalist Andrei Babitski and Emma Gilligan’s book “Terror in Chechnya”)

Babitsky’s talks about his detainment at the filtration camp in video below

Grozny before war, Chechnya

Old pictures of Grozny, the city that was named “the most destroyed city on earth” by the United Nations after the two Russian wars.
Below is an article on what Grozny used to be

There were parks in Grozny, before the war

“Dispatches from Chechnya” – report on the damage done to the infrastructure of Chechen culture and education system based in Grozny (Chechen State University was one of the leading institutions of higher education in the North Caucasus )

Dispatches from Chechnya

Grozny was one of the most important oil centers of the Soviet Union. Russian oil giant Rosneft has taken over the business – even if in Chechnya’s detriment.

For Grozny during war click here