Between the devil and the deep blue sea: civilians at war (weekly review)
By Dzhambulat Are
GROZNY, Chechnya – On the night of December 4 Chechen mujahedeen attacked the home of Khadzhi Sadulayev, former administrative head of the village of Agishty. The forces were unequal, and no one put up a fight. 72 year-old Sadulayev, who retired on a pension two years ago, had no bodyguard.
The mujahedeen came at around midnight. At that moment the only people in the house were Sadulayev, his 58 year-old wife Taus and 32 year-old son Salman.
An audio recording in which one of the attackers told his story appeared briefly on the Internet. The man, who called himself a mujahedeen fighter and gave his name as Movsar, described how he and his fellow attackers executed a “national traitor” and his son and then burned down his home. When he came to the fate of Taus Sadulayeva, the gunman stumbled at first, but then quickly recovered himself and said she had jumped from a window and broken her neck.
In fact, the attackers shot and killed the whole family, including the elderly Taus. Movsar the mujahedeen fighter explained that he and his fellows were members of a unit formed by the late emir Muslim Gakayev to avenge the deaths of three of their comrades whom they claimed were killed two years ago by local police acting on a tip-off from Sadulayev. At the time, Sadulayev had just taken up the post of Agishty administrative head.
The events in question took place on January 18 2006. That day, Chechen OMON and police surrounded a private house on the edge of the village and, after a long battle, killed three mujahedeen. Officers who took part in the operation admitted that the reports of armed men being seen by neighbours at a private house on the outskirts of the village had indeed come from Agishty.
Later, the dead men were identified. They were Supyan Abdullayev, Movladi Magomadov and Salman Mustapayev, all natives of Chechnya’s Vedensky district – fighters from the unit led by mujahedeen commander Muslim Gakayev, known as “Dunga”.
Dunga Gakayev (b. 1975) was the emir of the local dzhamaat in the village of Elistanzhi in Chechnya’s Vedensky district. He was the eldest of six brothers, all of whom were born in Elistanzhi, and all of whom fought against federal forces in the two Chechen campaigns. In April 2006 Dunga turned up in Grozny, where he was pinned down and blockaded in a multi-storey apartment house by the elite “Vympel” FSB unit. Before heavy armour was brought up to the site of the battle, destroying half the building, Dunga Gakayev and two mujahedeen who were with him in the same apartment killed five spetsnaz officers. The FSB’s Spetznaz Centre had not experienced losses of this magnitude before.
In reprisal, federal forces together with local Chechen units conducted a large-scale operation against the Gakayevs in the area of their vilage, involving not only ground forces but also heavy artillery, armoured vehicles and even aircraft.
But apparently some of the Gakayevs managed to survive. The fact that they were involved in the murder of the Sadulayev family was confirmed at a meeting with security forces in Grozny by Chechen interior minister Ruslan Alkhanov. According to his statement, the attack in Agishty was organized by one of the surviving brothers – Hussein Gakayev. Incidentally, his subordinates still refer to themselves as “Dunga’s men”.
However, the fighters are not the only people in Chechnya who engage in burning down the houses of their potential enemies. In the summer the republic experienced a campaign against the relatives of those whom the authorities believe to be militants. There were cases of arson in several villages and towns of the republic, including Alleroi, Geldagan, Khidi-Khutor, Kurchaloi, Samashki, Shali, Shatoi, Niki-khita and Tsentoroi. In many cases, the arsonists did not even try to hide the fact that they were operating within the framework of a repressive plan to cause material loss to the families of mujahedeen.
The principle of collective responsibility has long been applied in Chechnya both by the federal and by the local power structures. Pressure on relatives is a method that has been used in one form or another for many years. At one time, the Chechen authorities even launched an initiative to grant such “hostage-taking” legal status, and it is said that there were preparations to set an appropriate bill before the Russian State Duma.
As in the days of Stalin, the local authorities are organizing "show trials". Relatives are forced to publicly repudiate their militant relatives on television, and are threatened with eviction from their villages, ostensibly at the request of their fellow villagers.
Intimidation of the populace by means of arson and murder is failing to bring the desired result, either for the authorities or for the underground. On the one hand, mujahedeen commanders say they are seeing no shortage of recruits who go into the forest knowing in advance that their decision may have a most tragic impact on the fate of their loved ones. On the other, there is no shortage of people willing to take up public service. Despite punitive mujahedeen raids like the one on the Sadulayev family, posts like that of administrative head, as well as other less assuming positions, do not go unfilled.
The photograph is borrowed from the website of "Memorial".
Previous weekly reviews can be read at http://www.watchdog.cz/weekly.
(Translation by DM)
(T) RELATED ARTICLES:
· Mujahedeen enter the village of Agishty (Kavkaz-center, 4.12.2008)
· Hostage-taking still rife in Chechnya (PW, 27.9.2006)
· Aslan Maskhadov's brothers and sister kidnapped (PW, 7.12.2004)