Cleansing operations in the Kurchaloyevskiy region
In June 2001, members of the Human Rights Center 'Memorial' went to the Kurchloyevskii region in the Republic of Chechnya, where they interviewed local residents, talked to the region's administrative representative and visited the central hospital.
Below follows information about local events; the appendixes provide excerpts from local residents' statements.
Kurchaloyevskii region is located on the plain and foothills to the east of Grozny.
Since autumn 2000, the Human Rights Center (HRC) 'Memorial' has been receiving news about the extreme violations of human rights occurring in this region. The HRC 'Memorial' was the recipient of information about Kurchaloyevskii, submitted on the 22nd November 2000 by Mr. M. Taramov, the chief administrator of the region. This report includes descriptions of sabotage and acts of terrorism by the rebels, as well as numerous cases of violence against peaceful civilians by the federal forces.
Makhkal Taramov, a civil servant of the Russian administration and a man under death threats from the rebels, nonetheless released the following statement:
"The criminal acts committed by the federal forces and by representatives of various special service branches have a hugely negative effect on the general atmosphere in the region and cause widespread repercussions. There are constant cases of peaceful civilians being unlawfully detained and terrorised during the so-called 'clean-up operations'. People are taken away and their fate becomes a mystery <…..> Deliberate contempt is shown to civilians passing through at each checkpoint. Local police are often offended and derided. The bureaucratic chaos created by the federal forces adds to the explosive liability of the situation.
In the Spring of 2001 the 'Operational Headquarters for the improvement of the socio-political situation' was set up with the participation of the region's military commander, heads of the regional administration, leaders of the Temporary Department of Internal Affairs (VOVD – police temporarily taking command in Chechnya) and the Regional Internal Affairs Management (RUVD – Chechen police). Several times a month, this board chaired widely attended conferences, but the situation in the region did not improve. The HRC 'Memorial' continued to receive reports of acts of aggression against civilians by servicemen of the federal forces: of murders, robberies, torturing and 'disappearances' of local residents held under arrest.
At the same time armed formations continued resistance against the the federal forces.
30th April 2001: on the road outside the village of Oktyabrskoe a landmine blew up a vehicle of the Unified Military Forces Group. One soldier died and two were wounded.
1st May 2001, Kurchaloye: an uncased bomb exploded in coach that had been transformed into a cafe. Six servicemen of the federal forces and a waitress were wounded.
Evening, 1st May 2001: as a result of the shelling of a car, Saikhan Chukaev, the head of the village administration of Geldagan, was killed.
2nd May 2001: in the northern outskirts of Kurchaloy, a radio-operated landmine blew up a truck carrying servicemen of the Khabarovskiy OMON returning from a special operation. One policeman died and two were wounded.
Immediately following this event, soldiers arrested 4 local residents – men who happened to be not far from the site of the explosion; two were workers at a car repairs works, one, the owner of a roadside cafe and one, a young man who was washing his car by the river. During their arrest they were all severly beaten. At the VOVD however, for some reason only one of them was beaten up. Within 2 days all the arrested men were released. However, this incident caused clashes between soldiers and the local women, which led to the injury of an 11-year old girl (see Appendix 1).
12th May 2001: at 04:30 in the morning, soldiers arriving in armoured cars surrounded a block of flats in the village of Geldagan, burst into the home of Khamdi Khumandinovich Gerikhanov (born 1954) and shot dead his son Umar Khamdievich Gerikhanov (born 1982). The soldiers shot Khamdi Gerikhanov first in the leg, beat him and then shot him in the head.
On the same day armed federal forces representatives burst into the house where the brothers of the killed Khamdi Gerikhanov were living. They were taken from the house and released only after torture and assault:
Khamzat Khumadievich Gerikhanov (born 1952) – broken right foot, concussion.
Gairbek Khumadievich Gerikhanov (born 1959) – damaged ribcage, lower back, pelvis.
Ilyas Khumadievich Gerikhanov (born 1966) – forced to drink a substance that caused his body to break out in a rash and left him feeling extremely unwell.
Abubakar Khuseinovich Umarov (born 1980) – grievously beaten up.
According to the report from the headquarters of the United Federal Forces Group, dated 14th May, two rebels were killed in Gedagan.
17th May 2001: near the village school in Tsotsin-Yurt, the military commander of the Kurchaloyevskii region, colonel Sergei Kislov, stopped a passing car with three men inside and demanded to see the driver's documents. In response the driver shot at the commander several times with a pistol. The commander died later in hospital from his wounds.
In the return fire the driver and one passenger were killed. The third rebel managed to escape.
At the time of the incident, 4 young men were found near the scene. Not having succeeded in catching the third passenger, soldiers arrested these men. They were:
Dzhabrail Abdulkadyrov (born 1972)
Askhab-Ali Mugudinovich Biyakaev (born 1985)
Umar Makhmayev (born 1980)
A man of dagestani origin who had come to the region to buy oil.
In the evening of the same day General Troshev appeared on television. He presented 4 men; their heads covered by sacks, and said that they were responsible for the commander's death. The parents of the men recognised them, but when they questioned the authorities - the commandant's office, the VOVD, ROVD and the federal security service (FSB) - all denied that the men had been detained.
All 4 men were released within 2 weeks. They had all been beaten but no charges had been made.
27th May 2001: armed men in camouflage and facemasks burst into the house of the divisional police inspector of Geldagan, S. Chukaev, and killed him and his brother.
THE FIRST 'CLEANSING' OF THE VILLAGE OF MAIRTUP
1st June 2001: soldiers surrounded Mairtup (Kurchaloyevskii region) in the early morning. A 'cleansing' operation began, in which neither the regional commander nor the administrative head were involved. Soldiers burst into residential blocks, 20 or 30 at a time and fanned out round the courtyard and sheds. They held the residents at gunpoint in the courtyard, while they turned the contents of the homes upside down; tearing down carpets, breaking furniture and confiscating anything valuable. On discovering young men, the soldiers announced they were taking them with them, although they then offered the families the opportunity to pay for their immediate release.
8 men were taken to the outskirts of the village where they were chased by dogs and beaten. Later, 4 were released and the remaining men were taken to the commandant's office. They were detained there for 5 days. Two of them were then released, but two – Said-Khasan Salamov (born 1953) and Said-Magomed Vakhaev (born 1962) disappeared without trace. Vakhaev was taken to the commandant's office in a state of unconsciousness and was then taken away on a stretcher. Nonetheless the commandant's office claimed that neither Vakhaev nor Salamov had been held there. Documents confiscated from the released detainees were not returned to them.
(excerpts from testimonies of the detainees – see Appendix 2)
Beginning of June 2001: the headquarters of the Unified Military Forces Group in the North Caucasus released several statements about increased rebel activity in the Kurchaloyevskii region.
5th June 2001: Sheikhi Dubaev, a member of the security services of the head of the administration of Chechnya, received several wounds as a result of an attack on his car in the outskirts of the village of Kurchaloy.
6th June 2001: an armoured division approached the outskirts of the village of Mairtup. Soldiers seized 3 herdsmen and delivered them to the 33rd regiment, which is based in the former territory of the road repair station. There the prisoners were taken into tents and tortured with electric shocks, thus forcing from them testimonies indicating names of people in the village connected to the rebels. They were then thrown into a pit where they were left without food and water until the following evening when they were taken to a forest and abandoned.
8th June 2001: according to a commanding representative of the United Federal Forces Group, an armoured vehicle was blown up in a mine incident near the village of Mairtup and two policemen were killed.
On the same day the second 'cleansing' of the village of Mairtup commenced and continued till the 9th June 2001.
THE SECOND 'CLEANSING' OF THE VILLAGE OF MAIRTUP
Firstly the statements of two official persons:
On the 9th June an unnamed general informed a correspondent of Interfax: "We cannot adopt the approach 'an eye for an eye', but neither can we promise the residents of Mairtup a peaceful existence over the next two weeks".
On the 26th June A. Kadirov, the administrative head of the Republic of Chechnya informed journalists that the return of refugees from Chechnya is significantly hampered by "clean-up operations, which are accompanied by pillaging and excesses of behaviour in relation to peaceful citizens". He noted the 'clean-up' of Mairtup as an example where, he stated, "300 people, who were not involved in the unlawful activities were arrested ".
8th-9th June 2001: the village of Mairtup was blockaded. The 'cleansing operation', as usual took place in the absence of the commandant and the administrative head. Members of the Tverskoi OMON who are serving at the checkpoint nearest to the village and are supposed to guarantee the safety of its residents, shut themselves in a building and took no steps to intervene.
Undisguised robbery and extortion took place in the village. Servicemen of the federal forces rounded up the young men under any pretence. Dozens of people were arrested.
9th June 2001: Apti Akhyadov, a 14-year-old boy, was killed. By mistake, the permanent address on this boy's provisional I.D. was incorrectly stated as Alleroi. Knowing that such a mistake could cause severe problems for her grandson, his grandmother advised him to run away. Apti ran off but the soldiers noticed him and one of them shot as he was climbing over a fence. The shot was taken at close range and it would have been obvious that this was not a grown man, especially since Apti was not a tall boy. His brother ran up to him but he was already dead. The soldiers decided to detain the 16-year-old brother of the dead boy. In vain the boy asked to be allowed to remain until his brother's funeral and swore he would then turn himself in. But they took him away nonetheless.
Driven to despair, the residents of the village laid Apti's body on a stretcher and the gathering crowd set off through the village to the regional centre of Kurchaloye. The soldiers immediately burst out of the courtyards where they had been carrying out their 'cleansing operation'. A woman threw a stone at them. One soldier aimed and fired an automatic weapon at her. A second soldier grabbed him and forced the first's arm upwards and the shots went off into the air. The soldier tried to shoot a second time, but was again prevented from doing so. The residents wanted the commanding officer to speak to him, demanding not the ending of the 'cleansing operation; but that it should be carried out lawfully. The soldiers began to fire into a pile of stones, which the villagers were standing in front of. Several bullets ricocheted into the crowd; three men received injuries as well as one woman whose knee was shattered by a bullet. Two men hoisted her up and called for the commanding officer. The soldiers compromised saying that the commanding officer would address them only if the crowd withdrew 10 metres and only three men approached the administrative building.
At this moment the deputy commander of the region Odissey Danaev arrived. The residents noticed that he was in a good mood and told him what had happened. Danaev promised that in future the cleansings would be carried out only in the presence of members of the military and civil administration.
Apti Akhyadov's brother was released late that evening. There were no charges made against him.
'CLEANSING OPERATION' IN THE VILLAGE OF TSOTSIN-YURT
15th June: the latest meeting of the 'Operational Headquarters for the improvement of the socio-political situation' took place in the morning in the regional centre of Kurchaloy. In particular the order of the commanding officer of the Unified Military Forces Group in the Northern Caucasus ¹145 (see Appendix 3) was being discussed. According to this order, the commanders of the various sections and divisions of the federal forces must co-operate with the leaders of the local administration, the military commandants, chiefs of the regional police units and the military prosecutors during all special operations in civilian areas. At the start of a special operation, the leader of the operation must invite these officials to his command office.
However, as it later became clear, at the very time that this was going on, and without even informing the head of the Kurchaloyevskii region, anyone from the village's central administration or even the commandant of Kurchaloyevskii region, the federal forces were undertaking a 'cleansing operation' in the village of Tsotsin-Yurt.
From 10:00 am Tsotsin-Yurt was surrounded by a large number of armoured vehicles. By 11:00 am soldiers blockaded the village. No one was admitted to the village, not even a woman bringing the dead body of her child back from Makhachkala.
Next, the helicopter safeguarding Tsotsin-Yurt discharged its passengers. All the residents' passports were checked which was accompanied by extensive pillaging of their property. All the pillaged possessions were loaded into the armoured vehicles and transported to a point at the outskirts of the village. Everyone who had been arrested was also taken to this point.
Dozens of male village residents were arrested. They were all subjected to beatings and torture that resulted in broken ribs and limbs. Almost all of them had bloodblisters on their bodies.
Soldiers stopped the drivers of buses and cars along the road through the village, and beat them also.
Most of those arrested were released the same day, however, the fate of 11 people remained unknown. In the course of a week, 9 of the 11 were released. They had been held in temporary solitary confinement cells (IVS) in Kurchaloy. Among the detainees was Rezvan Saidovich Kubiev (born 1969) who was suffering from mental illness. Rezvan is not aware of what he does or what is going on around him, he cannot feed himself but has to be fed by his mother. He was kept in isolation for a week.
Two of the arrested men disappeared completely. The men were two brothers – Adash Adamievich Edisultanov (born 1975) and Beslan Adamievich Edisultanov (born 1973). It is possible that the reason the representatives of the federal forces paid special attention to them was because their bodies were showed old scars. There are statements that reveal that on the 16th of June they were detained with the other residents of Kurchaloye (see below). There is no current information (as of the beginning of July) as to their whereabouts.
'CLEANSING OPERATION' OF THE VILLAGE OF KURCHALOY
16th June: at dawn the federal forces set about the 'cleansing' of Kurchaloy. According to statements from local residents, the cleansing began at 4:00am and 10 people were arrested according to information on file about them.
Arrests of men on file
Two brothers – Magomed-Salakh (born 1980) and Magomed-Emi Dokhtukaev (born 1978). The circumstances under which Mahomet-Salakh was wounded by an automatic weapon outside his house are undetermined. He was still alive when soldiers returned to the scene and placed him in an armoured vehicle. They then placed his brother, Mahomed-Emi and father, Said-Mahomed Dokhtukaev (born 1959) in the same vehicle.
A little while later S-M. Dokhtukaev was released after being told: "You will never see one of your sons again, and the other won't be around either. Off you go and suffer for the rest of your life".
The fate of the two brothers remains unknown. Local residents believe that the unrecognisble remains of human bodies, found in the outskirts of the village on the 21st June belonged to them. The relatives of the men, however, are unwilling to accept this.
Khasan Dzhunaidovich Chimaev (born 1948): at 4:00am soldiers, arriving in cars with muffled motors, stole into his courtyard. Chimaev was home at the time with his wife and 15-year-old daughter. Half asleep, his daughter scarcely managed to tell him: "someone's in our courtyard" when the soldiers burst into his home, breaking down his door and windows. Asking no questions, they began ripping the doors off cupboards and wardrobes, overturning and smashing up furniture. Finding no evidence of criminal activity, they left with Chimaev with the words "we'll have the old man".
21st June: among the corpses found that, day relatives identified him by scraps of his clothing (his wife identified him by the collar of his shirt she had mended).
Vakha Magomadov: He worked in the regional office of internal affairs, therefore he left his house and climbed into the military's vehicle calmly when he was detained. Those who arrested him stole all the valuables from his house.
Magomadov's dead body was found on the 21st June near to the village.
Khanpasha Khizriev: He showed his documents ascertaining that he was a divisional police inspector to the soldiers, carrying out identity checks. He was not held while being arrested, according to the eyewitness accounts of his relatives; he climbed into the military's vehicle. At the commandant's office his mother was told that they had no information as to his whereabouts.
Among the bodies discovered on the 21st June his body was identified by a note in his trouser pocket. It was a note to him as the divisional police inspector asking for someone to be officially registered.
Two brothers – Rizvan and Ibragim Gaibov: from 1997-1999 (during the Maskhadov regime) their brother, Idris Gaibov, was the prefect of the region of Kurchaloevskiy. After the second war in Chechnya began, he moved away from Kurchaloy, but his brothers were hassled every time there was a 'cleansing operation'. This time was no different; in the morning of the 16th of June Rizvan and Ibragim were arrested but released in the evening. However, on the 17th June Rizvan was again arrested. His exact whereabouts are unknown but it has been reported that Ibrahim Gaibov is alive and being held in a solitary confinement cell at the VOVD.
In addition to the brothers, three other men were arrested who were released after having been beaten and tortured. For example, one of the arrested men, whose son is probably a rebel fighter against the federal forces, had his back sliced. Two ribs were broken as a result of the beatings he suffered. A sharp implement was inserted into his ear as a result of which he now has only partial hearing.
The utter 'cleansing' of Kurchaloy
After the arrests of those on file, many armoured vehicles entered the village and blockaded the streets. A complete check of all the houses commenced. The same thing happened here as in Mairtup and Tsotsin-Yurt – looting and extortion. The soldiers blatantly loaded valuables – stereos, televisions and carpets into their armoured vehicles.
Public institutions such as the medical clinic (see appendix 4) were also looted.
The 'cleansing' commenced with no notification or co-operation with the local administration. Soldiers simply didn't allow the head of the regional administration to leave his house that morning.
Only in the afternoon the colonel leading the operation (who refused to identify himself) met the head of the region and the village administration in the presence of the head of the VOVD and the military commandant. He stated that all men arrested would be later released if no charges were made. Those who were clearly involved in suspicious activities would be taken to the military base in Khankala. And those who had to be 'worked on' (in the words of the colonel) would be taken to the VOVD.
During the 'cleansing' neither the commandant's assistants nor the VOVD police even tried to stop the excesses. Later the regional commandant claimed that he had not been informed about the impending 'clean-up' operation.
The 'clean-up' continued till the 17th June, the looting and extortion continued. Unlike the day before however, there were almost no arrests.
Arrests, beatings, torture
16th June: over the course of the day about 120 men between 16 and 65 years old were arrested.
All the arrested men were blindfolded and had their hands tied behind their backs, and were transported to the outskirts of the village where they were held either outside or in a warehouse of agricultural chemicals. Several of the men were badly sunburned due to being forced to lie half-naked in the extremely hot sun for hours.
According to the accounts of those who suffered at the hands of the soldiers, they were beaten with plastic water-filled bottles. They were beaten around the head and other vital organs: kidneys, liver etc.
The arrested men were hang up on trees. They were forced to lie on the ground and soldiers jumped onto them. The soldiers burned their bodies with cigarettes, poked fingers in their eyes and squeezed their fingers and toes with pliers. In this way they forced answers to the standard questions: "Are there rebels in your village? "How are you helping the rebels?" "Who has weapons and where are they hiding them?" etc.
At the request of the interviewees, 'Memorial' is not releasing the names of those who were tortured. Among the residents of Kurchaloy who were seriously harmed, information on the following is available:
- A 44-year-old man who suffered broken ribs and was beaten about the kidneys and liver
- A 26-year-old man who had the fingers broken on both his hands
- A 29-year-old man who also had his fingers broken, had his nose broken and was wounded several times with a screwdriver.
There are other seriously wounded men about whom less information is currently available.
After the beatings and the torture, most of the men were released that evening. 19 of them were not returned the documents they held at the time of the arrests. Several more were released over the course of the next few days.
However, 7 of the men were not released: Vakha Magomadov, Khasan Chimaev, Rizvan Gaibov, Ibrahim Magomed-Salikh Dokhtukaev, Magomed-Emin Dokhtukaev, Khanpasha Khizriev and Badruddi Israpilov.
Regarding Rizvan Gaibov and Badruddi Israpilov (in whose homes hunting weapons were discovered) there is information that they are being held at the VOVD.
Unlawful executions: 'disappearances'
21st June 2001: 5 mutilated bodies were found a few kilometres from the village in the buildings of a deserted farm.
One of the deformed men was immediately identified. It was Vakha Magomadov (see above – arrests of men on file).
The other 4 bodies were practically in pieces, evidently from shell wounds. Nonetheless, two of the bodies were identified by relatives. That is the bodies of:
The remains of the other two men were unidentifiable, but the village residents presume that they are the remains of the bodies of the Dokhtukaev brothers.
All these men were arrested by representatives of the federal forces, early in the morning of the 16th June during the selective arrests of men whose details are held on file.
The news agency Interfax announced the discovery of the bodies but didn't draw attention to the fact that they were the bodies of men who had been arrested by representatives of the federal forces.
"INTERFAX 22nd June: In Chechnya, 4 km from a regional capital, local residents discovered the dead bodies of five men.
As 'Interfax' was informed on Friday, the forensic examination at the ROVD of the Chechen region of Kurchaloyevskii established that they all died from their 'numerous shrapnel wounds'.
At the present time, it has been possible to identify two of the bodies: they are local residents who had previously been presumed missing. The ROVD confirmed that the identities of the other three bodies are currently being in established.
A criminal case has arisen from the discovery of the bodies. Reporters from 'Interfax' gave details that an investigative team from the public prosecutor's office, the FSB and the military commandant's office are working on the scene.
"INTERFAX 22 June: Names were established of two of the five men whose bodies were found with numerous wounds at the outskirts of the regional center of Kurchaloy. As Interfax reported earlier, the local ROVD established that among the dead were Guseyn Chimaev and Vakha Magomadov, both residents of Kurchaloy.
They were last seen alive on the 16th June. Law enforcement agencies are investigating the events."
The night of the 27th/28th June: In the village of Geldagan soldiers arrived in armoured vehicles (BTR) at the home of the Israilov family. The armoured vehicles broke down the brick wall around the courtyard and the soldiers burst into the house. Neighbours heard shouting and an order in Russian "Lie down on the floor!" After that there was a volley of machine-gun fire. In the morning it was established that Dzhabrail Uvaisovich Israilov (born 1953) and his sons Beksolt Dzhabrailovich Israilov (born 1982) and Bekkhan Dzhabrailovich Israilov (born 1983) had been killed.
Several residents of Geldagan cautiously express the opinion that the death of these people may have been connected to their involvement in money-changing operations.
- Kurchaloy, 2nd May 2001: Car explosion, detention of 4 residents.
- Excerpts from the testimonials of the residents of Mairtup about the 'cleansing' operation in the village, 1st June 2001.
- Extract from the order of the Commanding Officer of the Unified Military Forces Group in the Northern Caucasus, ¹145.
- Excerpts from the reports of the residents of Kurchaloy about the 'cleansing' of the village, 16th June 2001.