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)

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.

Russia bans movie on Stalin deportations of Chechens

Quick reminder: Between 1939-1945, Stalin carried out massive deportations of Estonians, Lithuanians, Latvians, Finns, Romanians, Ukrainians, Poles, Germans, Crimean Tatars, Balkars, Karachay, Digors (from Ossetia) and the entire populations of Chechnya and Ingushetia – numbering 7-8 million people (although the numbers could be higher). Half of them died due to hunger, cold, lack of medical care, or simply because they were forced to “work to death”.

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Source – Reuters News

MOSCOW: Russia has refused to permit the release of a film about the mass deportations of entire ethnic groups on Stalin’s orders during World War II, calling it anti-Russian and a falsification of history.

Russia-bans-film Stalin-deportations-Chechens Siberia soviet

The historical drama shot in Chechnya details how the Soviets forcibly deported the whole Chechen nation and the related Ingush group — half a million people — from their homeland in the North Caucasus to Central Asia in the winter of 1944, accusing them of lacking loyalty to the state.

A culture ministry official condemned the film as a “historical falsification” in a letter shown to AFP by the film’s scriptwriter and producer, Ruslan Kokanayev.

“We consider the film will promote ethnic hatred,” wrote Vyacheslav Telnov, director of the ministry’s cinema department, in the letter in response to a request for a release certificate.

Titled “Ordered to Forget”, the film was intended to mark the 70th anniversary of the deportations this year. The culture ministry, which licenses cinema releases, singled out a massacre depicted in the film in which 700 people were burnt to death in the Chechen mountain village of Khaibakh in 1944.

The ministry said it had searched three Russian state archives including the files of the NKVD security forces that carried out the deportations and Stalin’s personal files.

 “As a result of the investigation, no documents were discovered proving the fact of the mass burning of residents,” the ministry said.

“This allows us to conclude that claims of this ‘event’ are a historical falsification.”

An advisor to Culture Minister Vladimir Medinsky, Larisa Khon, told the Kommersant daily the ministry had not taken a final decision on the film and would carry out a further expert assessment. The ministry did not respond to a request for comment from AFP.

Chechnya deportations atrocities war crimes movie russia

 ‘A generally accepted fact’

But Alexander Cherkasov of rights group Memorial told AFP the Khaibakh massacre “is considered a generally accepted fact.”

“On February 23 (1944), snow fell in the mountains and it was difficult to move the people out on foot. They brought out the men, but set fire to those who could not walk,” Cherkasov said. “It is only possible to argue about the numbers of the dead.”

The ministry “apparently acted on the principle: let’s not get ourselves into trouble,” Cherkasov said.

The film’s makers were taken aback by the decision. “I didn’t expect it because we were sure we’d get a distribution licence, because these facts are known,” Kokanayev said by telephone from the Chechen capital Grozny.

“I intend to contest this ban,” Kokanayev said. “We will go to court and show that we are in the right.” The history graduate from Chechen State University in Grozny also denied that the film could incite ethnic hatred of Russians. “The film can’t be anti-Russian because it doesn’t say one nation killed another nation,” he said. “Some Russians behaved well towards those deported.”

Russia under President Vladimir Putin has increasingly taken on the mantle of the Soviet Union and prides itself on its victories while downplaying the millions of deaths under Stalin’s forced industrialization, collectivization and prison camps.

Putin has voiced opposition to debate on history and is overseeing the creation of a single history textbook series to be used by all schools.

The film is a “full-length feature film, the first Chechen film,” said Kokanayev. Unusually for a movie maker, the 52-year-old works as the head of a municipal district in Chechnya.

The film was financed by “private investors in Grozny and Moscow,” he said. “We didn’t have any financing from the (state) budget.” It stars several acclaimed actors including Roza Khairullina, who last year won best actress at Russia’s prestigious Golden Mask theatre awards.

The film’s makers have submitted it to a number of film festivals both in Russia and abroad, including the Moscow International Film Festival and the Venice Film Festival.

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Read more about the 1944 “Deportations”

 Testimonies

Salman Dudayev was in the trenches of Stalingrad when he was told he was being exiled on charges of helping the invading Nazi army

Mukhazhar Dzhabrailova was the sole survivor in her family

Other video testimonies

Crimeans
Romanians
Poles

Russia-Europe-US economic relations and implications

source: U.S. Department of State, New Republic, Agence France-Presse

Russia is one of the largest import and export merchandise trade partners for US and Europe. The following is a summary of economic relations and dependency, which automatically affect political relations.

Germany Russia

Angela Merkel and Vladimir Putin in 2012

One of the two largest oil producers in the world, Russia surpassed Saudi Arabia again by pumping almost 10.4 million barrels per day (BPD). It is also one of the world’s largest exporters of oil, with nearly 5 million BPD. With the world’s largest proven reserves of natural gas, Russia is also the top producer of natural gas, accounting for about 20 percent of the world’s total. This makes Russia’s oil and gas supply the best geo-strategic tools.

Since Rosneft bought Russia’s third-largest private company, TNK-BP, it has become the largest publicly traded oil company in the world by output. As a result, the state share of Russia’s oil production increased from 20% in the early 2000 to 56% today, with Rosneft accounting for 48% of the total. The increase in the state ownership paralleled a steady rise in overall production.

Click on the image for a detailed look (PDF file)

Oil and Gas pipelines from Russia to Europe

RUSSIA – EUROPE

Russia is Europe’s biggest single energy supplier and its natural gas pipelines mainly run through Ukraine, where some is used and the rest passes through to major Western economies such as Germany.

From the International Energy Agency, here is the breakdown of Germany’s oil imports by country of origin:

German oil imports by country

The same chart for Germany’s natural gas imports:

German natural gas imports

Germany’s position in the European Union is particularly important as Germany often dictates monetary policy set by the European Central Bank, basically controlling the markets and policies in its favor.

Other than being a major oil supplier, Eurostat data shows that Russia is also European Union’s third most important trading partner, behind the USA and China.

RUSSIA – UNITED STATES

Last year, Russia was a $11.2 billion market for the US as well according to Commerce Department data.

Over the period from 2004 to 2011, U.S. exports to Russia rose an average of 16 percent per year; in 2011 U.S. exports to Russia rose by 40 percent. U.S. companies reported numerous major business deals in Russia, including Boeing’s sale of 50 aircraft to Aeroflot and 40 planes to Russian airline UTAir, a joint venture between Exxon-Mobil and Rosneft to explore for oil and gas in the Arctic, and GE’s joint ventures with Russian partners Rostekhnologii and InterRAO. In December 2011, after 18 years of effort, Russia was invited to join the World Trade Organization (WTO). This major accomplishment will bring the largest economy outside the WTO into the organization.

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POLITICS

According to the Wall Street Journal, Phillip Missfelder, a senior member of the German legislative body, said,  (referring to the recent Russia-Ukraine crisis) “Economic sanctions against Russia would damage Germany itself. Sanctions are always bad for Germany as an export-driven nation.”

German Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier also said on Sunday that the G7 countries should not kick Russia out of the G8.

Late 2013, while Ukraine protests were unfolding, Russia also threatened the tiny country of Moldova (ex-Soviet republic) for seeking closer ties with Europe.  During a visit to Moldova’s capital, the Russian deputy prime minister declared “We hope that you will not freeze this winter”, referring to Moldova’s dependency on Russian gas.

Read full article here Russia Putting a Strong Arm on Neighbors

“Being nice to Mister Putin – Chechnya”

Documentary made by Marcel Theroux

“With moves to increase Russian influence within Nato, it seems that Chechen suffering will go virtually unchallenged by Western governments. What seems important is that Russia is kept open for business.”

Georgian villagers irate as fence goes up on South Ossetia boundary

SOURCE: www.rferl.org

Members of Georgia's Special Forces Police secure an area near wire barricades erected by Russia in the village of Dvani.

Members of Georgia’s Special Forces Police secure an area near wire barricades erected by Russia in the village of Dvani.

With its gently rolling hills and sun-drenched orchards, the small Georgian village of Dvani could easily be described as picturesque, were it not for a barbed-wire fence that runs through it.

Dvani, home to around 1,000 inhabitants, straddles the demarcation line that separates the breakaway region of South Ossetia from the rest of Georgia.

The village’s unfortunate location has placed it on the front line of a territorial dispute that has pitted Tbilisi against South Ossetia’s Russia-backed separatists since the collapse of the Soviet Union.

In 2008 — almost two decades after an armed conflict between Georgian government forces and South Ossetian rebels — Dvani was shelled and looted during the brief Russia-Georgia war over the divisive region.

And when Russia subsequently recognized South Ossetia as a sovereign state, Dvani found itself, in Moscow’s eyes, sitting on a fully fledged national border — one that Georgians say is creeping deeper into their lands.

Last month, Russian troops began unfurling barbed wire along the boundary line, effectively separating people in Dvani from their farmland, ancestral homes, and cemeteries.

“Russia should leave our territories to us. We will solve our own problems, be it with Ossetians, Armenians, or Azeris, and we will live alongside each other as we always have,” said Leila Januashvili, a resident of Dvani. “Russians should not interfere and must stop setting people against each other.”

Russian Border Patrols

After the 2008 war, South Ossetia delegated the protection of its borders to Russia on the grounds that it does not have its own border patrol.

Metal barriers went up two years later on portions of the 400-kilometer boundary line, but the project was quickly abandoned and Dvani was spared.

Tensions have been simmering, however.

When news came that a fence was being built in some neighboring villages, Januashvili and her husband, Teimuraz Kopadze, wasted no time harvesting apples from their orchard, which lies on the other side of the boundary.

Like many local residents, the family relies heavily on apples as a source of income.

They returned to inspect the boundary line last week with a heavy heart and little hope of ever setting foot in their orchard again.

To their surprise, the border guards had disappeared.

Gone, too, were the fence poles and rolls of barbed wire that had been strewn on the grass waiting to be assembled.

“Everything was removed, including the poles, which made us very happy,” Kopadze said. “They removed the pillars along one-and-a-half kilometer. Even the [poles] that were planted but not permanently fixed have been pulled out and taken away.”

Although the fence remains incomplete, much of what has already been built is still in place. Likewise, in the neighboring village of Ditsi, work on fences has also abruptly ended.

Russian authorities have remained tight-lipped about the developments, declaring only that South Ossetia was marking out its true territorial boundaries in line with maps from the Soviet-era, when the province was an autonomous region within the Georgian Soviet Socialist Republic.

The Russian Foreign Ministry also dismissed Tbilisi’s claim that the boundary line was being shifted further into Georgia proper and warned of “serious consequences” if Tbilisi continued what it described as “political speculation.”

A view of a newly constructed fence along Georgia's de-facto border with its breakaway region of South Ossetia.

A view of a newly constructed fence along Georgia’s de-facto border with its breakaway region of South Ossetia.

Western Criticism

The apparent decision to halt the fencing came amid a mounting barrage of criticism from the West.

The United States, the European Union and NATO all voiced concern last week over Russian-backed efforts to seal South Ossetia off from the rest of Georgia.

The U.S. State Department said the initiative was “inconsistent with Russia’s international commitments and Georgia’s territorial integrity” and created “hardship” for local residents.

A spokesman for EU foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton warned that such activities “seriously challenge” stability and security in these regions.

All reiterated their call on Russia to rescind its recognition of South Ossetia and Abkhazia, Georgia’s other pro-Russian separatist region.

Whatever the reason, the departure of Russian troops, however temporary, has met with a deep sense of relief in Dvani.

Some villagers hope the incident and the international attention it has attracted will breathe new life into efforts to find a negotiated solution to the dispute.

“Nothing can ever compensate for our losses, but we started hoping again that there will be new negotiations,” said Ano Makhachashvili, a Dvani resident. “I think this could be a sign that the Russians are retreating. Hope dies last. We are not going anywhere.”

In Tbilisi, authorities remain more skeptical.

Georgia and Russia still do not have diplomatic relations, and Moscow’s recent statements on the border issue have been less than conciliatory.

Georgian President Mikheil Saakashvili raised his concern at the United Nations General Assembly on September 25, condemning what he described as “the annexation of Georgian lands by Russian troops” and accusing Russian forces of “dividing communities with new barbed wire.”

A Split Within Georgians Too

The fence has also deepened divisions within the Georgian leadership itself, with Saakashvili accusing his rival, Prime Minister Bidzina Ivanishvili, of failing to visit the affected Georgian villages and of pursuing a policy of appeasement with Moscow.

But memories of the war are still fresh in Ivanishvili’s camp, too.

Reintegration Minister Paata Zakareishvili, who oversees efforts to bring South Ossetia and Abkhazia back into Georgia’s fold, says there is no indication that Russia is backpedaling on the border-fence issue.

Georgians, he said, must still brace for a possible escalation of the dispute.

“We should not have any illusions about improving the situation. We should not expect any positive steps in this direction from Russia,” Zakareishvili said. “If it happens, all the better. But we must be prepared so that our citizens are safe.”

Reports have since emerged that a border fence was going up in the nearby village of Adzvi.

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