Missing in North Caucasus – Where do people disappear?

“Please save me from here!”

From left to right: Zhanna Ismailova is showing a picture of her youngest son, Rashid Ismailov, 26, who was abducted on May 8, 2012. Wwitnesses saw him being dragged away by men in black uniforms. Oksana and Burliyat Danilin are showing pictures of their husband and son Timur Danilin, 35, abducted on March 24, 2012. Timur managed to call his wife's cell and say: "Please save me from here." Those were the last words she heard from him. Image by Anna Nemtsova. Russia, 2012.

From left to right: Zhanna Ismailova is showing a picture of her youngest son, Rashid Ismailov, 26, who was abducted on May 8, 2012. Wwitnesses saw him being dragged away by men in black uniforms. Oksana and Burliyat Danilin are showing pictures of their husband and son Timur Danilin, 35, abducted on March 24, 2012. Timur managed to call his wife’s cell and say: “Please save me from here.” Those were the last words she heard from him. Image by Anna Nemtsova. Russia, 2012.

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September 11, 2014 Mahachkala, Dagestan – Abduction caught on tape with the infamous “men in black”
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Click on links to view full official reports from Human Rights organizations (PDF files). Reports also contains detailed cases of both male and female victims.

Human Rights Watch  –  “Disappearances” in Chechnya—a Crime Against Humanity

Counterinsurgency, Rights Violations, and Rampant Impunity in Ingushetia

Amnesty International –  Torture, “disappearances” and alleged unfair trials in Russia’s North Caucasus

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Missing in North Caucasus – Where do people disappear?

More than a decade after the end of the last Chechen war, enforced disappearances in Chechnya have become so widespread and systematic that they constitute crimes against humanity. The phenomenon spread to all neighboring republics especially Ingushetia, Dagestan, North Ossetia.
Russia contends that its operations are its contribution to the
“global campaign against terrorism”. However, the disappearances of people after being taken into custody represent an unjustified and unlawful abuse of basic human rights.
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Victims
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Between 1999-2004, up to 5.000 people went missing in the small republic of Chechnya. In 2007 – 2.000 unresolved missing cases in Dagestan.
The victims are usually civilians or individuals who, when taken from their homes, checkpoints or other locations, are unarmed. They are predominantly men, although after the 2002 Moscow theater siege where Chechen women were involved, females have also increasingly become victims of disappearances.
One of the witnesses, a woman who chose not to file a formal complaint about the recent disappearance of her son, told Human Rights Watch:
“I searched [for him] everywhere, but did not write a petition [to the
prosecutor]… Here, many who write petitions [themselves]
“disappear”… I was afraid… I have two other sons at home. If I were to
tell someone, [they] might take them away as well.”
The relatives of 13 victims of disappearances who spoke to Human Rights Watch insisted that they not publicize information about their cases. In almost all cases where the disappeared person was subsequently released or the relatives found the body, the families either refused to be interviewed or asked not to disclose the names of the victim and his relatives, their place of residence, or any other details that may allow the authorities to identify the witnesses.
Victims who return alive to their families testify of torture during interrogation and of being coerced to admit to criminal acts. Once individuals have signed a “confession”, they are reportedly transferred to another detention facility where they have access to a lawyer of their choice and relatives; the confession is used as evidence in court in order to secure a conviction. Amnesty International learned of such cases in Chechnya, as well as in the neighboring republics of Ingushetia and North Ossetia.
Perpetrators
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In the vast majority of cases, the perpetrators are allegedly government agents—either Russian federal forces or local Chechen security forces who are subordinate to the Russian federal Ministry of Internal Affairs or the Ministry of Defense. According to a Chechen official, 1,814 criminal investigations were opened into enforced disappearances in 2004 yet not a single one has resulted in a conviction.
Kadyrov publicly denied his units’ involvement in abductions and threatened to sue human rights groups accusing them of such crimes.
The Russian authorities deny such acts and in certain cases they accuse Chechen rebels of committing the kidnappings.
Lack of criminal investigation and prosecution into disappearances
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 The lack of progress in missing persons investigations is indicative of the authorities’ resistance to bringing perpetrators to justice. Not a single person has been convicted in relation to a disappearance.
According to Memorial, most of the criminal cases are closed or suspended after several months, “due to the impossibility of establishing the identity of the perpetrators.” Law enforcement agencies usually make no effort
to conduct even the most rudimentary investigative actions, such as questioning witnesses or searching for a particular car that had allegedly been used by the perpetrators.
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“Enforced disappearance” – or kidnapped by the authorities
Definition – An enforced disappearance takes place when a person is taken into custody by state agents, and the authorities subsequently deny that the victim is in their custody or conceal the victim’s whereabouts or fate in a way that places the victim beyond the protection of the law.
Often victims of disappearances also suffer torture or are summarily executed.
Video below describes the use of torture on Chechen women held by authorities in what can be described as “enforced disappearance” during peacetime.

“You are BVP (missing presumed dead). You dont exist and time for you has stopped.”

Report by Memorial Human Rights Center in regards to Chechnya disappearances. Relatives talk about their missing family; teacher describes his experience after going missing for 3 months.

Usam Baysayev, member of Memorial human rights group describes treatment of detainees (male and female) who were officially “missing persons”.  Letter from Memo.ru translated HERE.

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Disappearances in Dagestan

*source Human Rights Brief

Report from 2013 connected to Sochi Olympics “anti-terror” campaign  analyses the overall situation regarding disappearances in Dagestan.

A growing number of abductions and forced disappearances in the North Caucasus republic of Dagestan, presumably linked to Russia’s efforts to improve security before the 2014 Sochi Winter Olympics, have raised concerns among human rights groups. Between January and October 2013, men in unmarked cars abducted 58 people in Dagestan, 19 of whom have yet to resurface.

Russian security forces have abducted suspected militants in the region for decades. In fact, the European Court of Human Rights (ECtHR, Court) issued two separate judgments finding violations of both the people who disappear and their families’ human rights.

Numerous relatives of young men abducted between the late 1990s and 2005 in Dagestan filed applications to the European Court of Human Rights (ECtHR), alleging Russian security forces were responsible for the disappearances and that the Russian government failed to properly investigate. In response to the high volume of applications, the ECtHR began jointly hearing cases in Aslakhanova and others v. Russia, which was decided in December 2012.

The Court found that Russia violated the right to life, guaranteed by Article 2 of the European Convention on Human Rights (“ECHR”), of all the disappeared men. In addition, the Court also found Russia violated the rights of the applicant family members by causing them to suffer inhuman and degrading treatment (Article 3 of the ECHR) .


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Kidnappings Abound in Ingushetia and Transcend its Borders

source

On October 18, hundreds of people blocked a federal highway near Magas, the capital of Ingushetia. The protestors demanded that the government put an end to abductions in the republic. Dzhamaleil Gagiev’s disappearance from the village of Ali-Yurt in Ingushetia on October 14, and the failure of the government to respond to his relatives’ inquiries, triggered a protest action that included slogans like “Against the Terror of the Security Services.” (read more here)

Quick list of unresolved cases of missing people (result of kidnappings) in Ingushetia, made by Mashr human rights NGO – appearance in the news report below
Kidnapped list

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When the missing persons are found

Magomed Aushev Abdulaevich, born 1976 in Nazran district of Ingushetia, went missing on July 28, 2010 while heading for work in North Ossetia.

Magomed Aushev Abdulaevich with family

Magomed Aushev Abdulaevich with family

His body was found on July 30, 2010 with signs of extreme torture (source mashr.org, memo.ru)

Video below shows the state he was found in (warning – graphic content)

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Russia’s Efforts to Block the United Nations Draft Convention on Enforced and Involuntary Disappearances
In 2001 the U.N. Commission on Human Rights started to elaborate  a legal draft for the protection of all persons from enforced disappearances. This process started in the late 1980s in order to help eradicate the scourge of “disappearances” in all regions of the world.
While initially mildly supportive of the initiative, Russia became hostile
to the idea of an international treaty aimed at preventing enforced disappearances.
Russia insisted that the definition of “disappearances” should include private actors as perpetrators on the same footing as governments. The Russian proposal represents a violation  international human rights law, which ensures that the rights of individuals are protected and prohibits states from
engaging in activities that would violate those rights. The particular horror of
“disappearances” is that they are a mechanism used by state agents to bypass their own legal institutions and obligations when they find these obligations inconvenient.
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Russia Keeps Killing Suspects in the North Caucasus

The news headlines constantly show Russian federal forces killing terrorism suspects across the North Caucasus. This act is officially called “liquidation”.

Those accused of terrorism are almost always dispatched (killed) by the state rather than being brought to trial. “The accused can’t then reveal their accomplices, the middlemen, the organizers who financed terrorism” says lawyer Igor Trunov. After the official news of suspect liquidation, little else is presented about the cases. No proof, no details, nothing.

There is no doubt that certain suspects will oppose arrest. However, the flow of  terrorism suspects killings, the lack of any trials coupled with the official reports regarding extrajudicial killings, disappearances and impunity, can only raise suspicion regarding the manner in which liquidations occur.

February 21, 2013 – Extrajudicial Arrests and Killings on the Rise in Ingushetia

Jan 18, 2014 Seven “possible” suspects killed in Dagestan

No further details were offered about the case after the shootout.

Bodies of four killed suspected militants are seen in Derbent region of Dagestan, April 18, 2011.

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Memorial Human Rights Center on parallels between Crimea and Chechnya

source

Reports from the Crimea are emerging about the detainment and subsequent disappearance of people- journalists, civic activists, and Ukrainian soldiers.

We hope that the detainees and missing persons will be found. However, considering the experience of the armed conflict in Chechnya, these events cannot fail to cause serious concern.

In early March 2014 it was reported that the Russian forces in the Crimea are headed by a general whose troops in the years 1999-2000 were responsible for the enforced disappearance of at least 7 people during the second war in Chechnya. (read more here)

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A recent move by the Russian parliament restricts the activity of Human Rights organizations in Russia – Human Rights NGO’s decapitated by Kremlin

Nij tower complex _Tsorey-Loam

Ingushetia vainakh medieval Nij castle Caucasus mountains beautiful landscape

Nij tower complex – built near Tsorey-Loam mountain in the XV century.

Ingushetia medieval Nij Caucasus mountains .

 

Located in the southern district of Dzheyrahsky in the Dzheyrakh-Assin historical and architectural museum and nature reserve. Dzheyrakh-Assin has the biggest concentration of medieval Vainakh settlements (like the Argun State History, Architecture and Nature Museum Reserve of southern Chechnya).

Nij tower complex consists of defense towers (6-7 stories high), residential towers (3-4 stories high) and nearby burial grounds, which are underground, or above ground vaults, typical of pre-Islam pagan period.

Nij complex has 4 well preserved defense towers, the residential structures having been destroyed in the XIX century by the Russian imperial army.

*In 2001, Russian helicopters attacked historic sites in the area. Ingushetia itself was not a war-zone and the destruction was caused by military corps stationed in Ingushetia – article from Moscow Times   Army Unit Attacks Ancient Ingush Site

Journalism in N. Caucasus – Executions and censorship

In the troubled North Caucasus, free uncensored journalism is intrinsically intertwined with the denouncement of human rights abuses, which are still taking place on an almost daily basis.

Below are the stories of a few of the journalists committed to documenting realities of life in North Caucasus republics – in many cases at the price of their own life.

Beyond the sacrifices of a few brave men and women, what’s left behind is the never-ending lack of reaction from the international community and the same brutal reality, hidden behind flashy photographs of  a rebuilt Grozny and Russian news reports of a miraculous return to normality in the region.

UPDATE: Human Rights NGO’s decapitated by Kremlin

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Anna Politkovskaya Russian journalist Chechnya warsAnna Politkovskaya – born on August 30, 1958 to a family of Soviet diplomats of Ukrainian origin. She graduated Moscow state University with major in Journalism.

In 1999 she was invited to work as an observer to an independent newspaper Novaya Gazeta. Since then, Anna Politkovskaya dedicated herself to uncovering human rights abuses and denouncing the corruption in Kremlin.

In November 1999, she organized the evacuation of 89 residents of Grozny Nursing Home (ethnic Russians) from the war zone, and helped them settle in various regions of Russia. In the summer of 2000, 22 elderly where forcefully returned to Grozny by the Russian authorities. Politkovskaya wrote: “the purpose of this action was to demonstrate to the world that the conflict in Chechnya is over”. The elderly found themselves without water, medication, food and clothes. On her initiative, Novaya Gazeta collected 5.5 tons of humanitarian aid and 5000 dollars to help them.

In 2001, while reporting on the war in Chechnya, she was detained by Russian troops. During the interrogation, she was reportedly beaten and threatened.

Seven years on the front line – Anna’s 7 years of work with exclusive footage

One of the cases she worked on was a false amnesty promised by Putin in 2000. See video below and full story here Cruel amnesty

In October 2002, Anna participated in negotiations with the Chechens who had seized the theater in Moscow. Together with Doctor Leonid Roshal, she was allowed into the building of the Theater. They handed fresh water and other food and drinks to the hostages.

When the Beslan school siege happened, Politkovskaya flew to Beslan in hope to speak with the terrorists and prevent the final tragedy. She was heavily poisoned in the plane, but survived the assassination attempt.

On October 7 2006, she was shot dead while entering her apartment block.

Anna Politkovskaya Funeral

Books by Anna Politkovskaya (click on photo)

Putin’s Russia: Life in a Failing Democracy

Putin's_Russia_book_cover

A Small Corner of Hell: Dispatches from Chechnya

A Small Corner of Hell Dispatches from Chechnya war north caucasus

Is Journalism Worth Dying For?

Is Journalism Worth Dying For Final Dispatches

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Natalia Estemirova in Grozny Chechnya war Russia victim

 

 

 Natalya Estemirova – born on 28 February 1958 to Russian and Chechen parents. She graduated from Grozny University with a degree in history.

In 1991 she started her journalism career; during the first Chechen war she started to document human rights abuses on civilians by the Russian army.

Estemirova was a frequent contributor to the independent Moscow newspaper Novaya Gazeta, and personally collaborated with Anna Politkovskaya.

Her documentation of human rights abuses continued as she became a board member of the Russian human rights organisation Memorial.

On 15 July 2009, Estemirova was abducted in front of her flat in Grozny as she was leaving for work. Two days later, her body was found in neighboring Ingushetia.

Testimonies of Novy Aldy massacre survivors, interviewed by Natalya

In 2007, Natalya was the first person to be awarded the Anna Politkovskaya award for her work

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“Accident” during which an opponent of Russian policies is killed while in police custody

Maksharip Aushev, the man who continued his work, was assassinated one year later

Ingush Opposition Activist Laid to Rest

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Pulitzer Center’s project “Journalism and Censorship in the Caucasus”

Elena Maglevannaya exposed the torture of Chechen detainees in Russian prisons. Read more here

Zurab Markhiev (of Ingushetia): “If you are a journalist in the Caucasus you have to be a human rights defender at the same time.”

Read more here

Fatima Tlisova on reporting journalist murders in the Caucasus

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Caucasian Knot, one of the few independent newspapers in North Caucasus – which reports both in Russian and English – has lost two journalists in the last 4 years. See their news website here

Murder reports Caucasian Knot correspondent assassinated in Dagestan

Akhmednabiev, "Caucasian Knot" correspondent murdered in July 2013

Akhmednabiev, “Caucasian Knot” journalist murdered in July 2013

NOTE: The above stories reflect only a few examples of brutality against journalists as the real numbers of abuses are countlessly multiplied.

To read about ongoing human rights abuses in North Caucasus, click on the links below

Chechnya today – “Worse than war”

Clean up anti-terror operations

Enforced disappearances (kidnappings by the authorities)

Analysis on Russian media censorship (minute 11:35)

Tsori tower-castle complex

 

Tsori – located in the Dzheyrahsky district of Ingushetia.

Tsori is a XVth century fortified tower complex with 3 battle towers and several residential buildings – typical Vainakh castle complex. It was surrounded by a fortified wall from which only the foundation stands today. Burial vaults lie a few meters from it.

Tsori, like all the other historic sites, was severely damaged during the XIX century Russian conquest of the Caucasus.

In 2011, the Russian authorities decided to build a 60 billion ruble ski resort in the region.

Dargavs – “city of the dead”

Dargavs necropolis dead town North Ossetia crypts North Caucasus mountains

Dargavs “Dead City” is a pagan necropolis situated in Prigorodny district of North Ossetia republic, in the historic Kurtat gorge.

Dargavs contains 97 crypts, making it the biggest necropolis in North Caucasus. Next to the crypts lies a watchtower, meant to protect and watch over the dead.

The architecture has a visible resemblance to that of Vainkah crypts (found in neighboring Ingushetia and Chechnya). The crypts were built during the pagan era in the Caucasus, before the introduction of Semitic religions (Christianity and Islam).

East Prigorodny conflict – Ingushetia North Ossetia

During the XIX century, the Ossetians were Russia’s key regional allies in its battle to conquer the surrounding highlanders, including the Ingush, Chechens and Circassians. Ossetians offered little resistance to Russian invasion and were quick to convert from their native pagan religion to Orthodox Christianity – though pagan elements remain or were intertwined with Christian elements, and a significant segment of population remains pagan.

In exchange for certain privileges, the Ossetians sided with Russian troops and together they colonized and renamed several western Ingush villages and built Vladikavkaz fortress, which today is North Ossetia’s capital city.

Map showcasing in red the territories handed over to neighboring republics after the 1944 Chechen-Ingush deportation and dissolution of their republic.

Map showcasing in red the territories handed over to neighboring republics after the 1944 Chechen-Ingush deportation and dissolution of their republic.

At the end of World War II, Stalin deported several North Caucasus nations to central Asia. The entire Ingush and Chechens nations were deported and their history archives destroyed. Villages (many of them historic settlements) were blown up, and other ethnicities were forcefully settled in abandoned villages.  In Ingushetia, the western part of its territory – East Prigorodny district – was incorporated into North Ossetia.

Upon rehabilitation in 1957, the (surviving)  returnees found that a big chunk of their territory had been handed over to North Ossetia. The Ingush consistently maintained their claim to the territory and their right of return. Several thousands Ingush bought back their homes from Ossetians and waited for a political decision, however their request remained ignored even after the collapse of USSR.

In 1992, a conflict erupted between the two sides. Russia sided with North Ossetians. Faced with an overwhelmingly bigger army, the Ingush swere quickly crushed. Boris Yeltsin issued a decree stating that East Prigorodny district will remain part of North Ossetia.

Click on photo to see the consequences of the 1992 conflict

(certain photos are extremely graphic with signs of severe torture)

north-ossetia-ingushetia-east-prigorodny-north-caucasus-wars-victims

Click on photo to view outcome of 1992 conflict

During the conflict, 600 Ingush were killed and 60.000 others were expelled from east Prigorodny. In violation of orders to separate Ingush and Ossetian armed groups and stop the fighting, Russian troops did little to prevent the human rights violations, the expulsion of Ingush civilians and the looting and destruction of Ingush homes that followed.

Houses of the expulsed Ingush civilians

Houses of the expelled Ingush civilians (source ghalghay.com)

Despite being a traditional ally of Russia, North Ossetia’s privileges remain strictly ideological, as economically it is one of the poorest republics in Russia. In 2003, a new government ruling redirected all local alcohol revenues to the federal budget instead of the regional one, which caused a permanent 60% loss in North Ossetia’s budget revenue (source).

In 2004, Russian President Vladimir Putin abolished direct elections in Ingushetia and the  federation heads have since been selected from a shortlist of candidates proposed by the local chapter of the ruling United Russia party. In these circumstances, no pressures or requests can be expected regarding the Prigorodny issue.

Documentary on the East Prigorodny conflict (Russian language). Contains rare footage of the aftermath; the conflict remained largely ignored by the international media, therefore foreign reporting is poor or non-existent.

Targim, Ingushetia

Targim is a XII century fortified village situated in Assa gorge – an economic and cultural center of the Vainakh in the medieval ages. The gorge is filled with fortified Nakh settlements, crypts and towers.

The towers carry pagan symbols with Christian influences as the Vainakh (Ingush and Chechens) were partly converted to Christianity by Georgian missionaries.

Assa gorge - Map of Vainakh settlements (Targim circled in blue)

Assa gorge – Map of Vainakh settlements (Targim circled in blue)

Not far from Targim are ruins of ancient churches from this period, one recently discovered in december 2013 – Ancient Christian Church Found in Ingushetia (the most intact christian church is Tkhaba-Erdy).

Tkhaba-Erdy

The Mongol invasion of the XIII century brought an end to Christianity.

 

3D reenactment of Targim village