LGBT World Beside and RusLGBTIQ arranged a Kerstborrel on December 17 2022. About 40 asylum seekers and refugees from various post-Soviet countries gathered in the Goethe-Institut in Amsterdam to spend time together and play board games (Bingo, Mafia or Weerwolven, Uno, etc.). We are very thankful to Goethe-Institut for providing us with their amazing space. Without it, this event would not be possible.
The event started at 14:00 and lasted until about 18:00, after which we had a walking tour of some historical locations of Amsterdam and saw some artworks from the Amsterdam light festival. Thanks to the small donations of our individual donors, we were able to provide lunch and about 20 tickets for the participants arriving from the various AZC locations.
A journalist from NPO Radio 2 visited us and interviewed several participants of the event. We believe it is essential to increase the visibility of Russian LGBT people in the Netherlands, especially after the Kremlin-sanctioned homophobic policies, the last of which prohibits the public expression of any neutral or positive stance concerning the LGBT community.
Besides similar homophobic experiences, LGBT asylum seekers and refugees from post-Soviet countries share a common cultural identity. Notably, almost all LGBT people from these countries know well Russian language. The common identity and knowledge of the Russian language make the interaction of LGBT people from post-Soviet countries easy and friendly. Such interaction, especially for those who arrived in the Netherlands recently, provides Russian-speaking LGBT refugees and asylum seekers support and comfort during one of the most challenging periods of their lives. Therefore, we are intended to arrange such events regularly.
We specifically thank Wolfgang Schreiber, who helped us to connect with the Goethe-Institut and accompanied us during the whole event. Special thanks also to Neil van der Linden, who guided our tour, despite the cold weather.
In the State Duma, during the parliamentary hearings on demography problems, it was proposed to toughen the responsibility for the so-called “propaganda of non-traditional relations.” A prominent representative of the ruling party, Deputy Milonov, said yesterday what awaits LGBT activists. According to him, it is necessary to create concentration camps for them, sending them to forced labor in uranium mines.
“… For them, special camps should be made, mixed with uranium mines, for LGBT propagandists there should be hard labor,” said the 47-year-old United Russia party, quoted by the NSN.
“From my point of view, the time has come to tighten a number of articles. This is due to the implementation of propaganda on the Internet. If we are talking about working LGBT organizations that are not particularly hiding and are engaged in direct propaganda of this rubbish among our children. Klimova (Elena Klimova, creator of the project “Children 404”, left LGBT activism in 2020) and her comrades-in-arms, I would imprison them for life. They climb on social networks to our children with this idiocy, as it happens in the group “Children 404”. Administrative punishment for such activities is too softly. This should be dealt with by the SK … “- reasoned Milonov.
“I believe,” continued United Russia, “that those who are doing this should be in prison, like rapists and maniacs. Regular administration of these groups is no longer an administrative violation. These people should not be attributed to our drunks and those who crosses the road at a red light. In terms of severity, this can not be compared … “- insists Milonov.
Earlier it was reported: the United Russia party highly appreciated the activities of the notorious homon-hater Milonov. He is included in the list of “promising single-mandate candidates”. In February, Milonov proposed “to assign homosexual status” and to put the appropriate stamp in the civil passport. The holders of the stamp will be deprived of a number of constitutional rights. In particular, freedom of movement and education.
The European Union has come out in support of Novaya Gazeta, which is subjected to “intimidation by the Chechen authorities,” and also demanded an investigation into the cases of extrajudicial executions in the republic described by journalists. This is stated in the statement of the EU foreign policy service.
After the publication in Novaya Gazeta of an article by Yelena Milashina revealing extrajudicial executions in Chechnya, the journalist and the publication became targets of unacceptable verbal attacks, an ongoing smear campaign and intimidation by the Chechen authorities. The European Union expects the Russian authorities to stop these attacks and to investigate the information contained in the article.
Milashina’s article complements an already significant body of credible media and international human rights reports detailing ongoing human rights violations in Chechnya. All cases of extrajudicial executions, torture and other serious human rights violations committed in recent years must be investigated and the perpetrators brought to justice.
EU officials called on Russia to uphold its human rights obligations and provide protection for media workers. “Journalists should be able to work in a safe environment without fear of reprisals,” the statement said.
On March 15, Novaya Gazeta published the story of Suleiman Gezmakhmaev, a native of Chechnya, who had previously served in the Akhmat Kadyrov patrol and guard regiment. He told how in 2017 he participated in the detention and interrogation of people who were later tortured and killed.
On March 18, soldiers of the Akhmat Kadyrov regiment asked Vladimir Putin to “stop the insults” against them by Novaya Gazeta. Presidential press secretary Dmitry Peskov responded by saying that Putin had been addressed “to the wrong address.” He offered the Chechen security officials to settle their differences with the newspaper in court. At the same time, Peskov noted that “the safety of journalists must be absolutely indisputable.”
Later, Ramzan Kadyrov expressed bewilderment in connection with Peskov’s statement. According to the head of Chechnya, he believed that “people can turn to the president with a request to understand the issues that concern them.” Kadyrov also said that the employees of Novaya Gazeta “are agents of well-known Western services who have gotten away from impunity, and not journalists.”
Senior Sergeant of the Regiment named after Kadyrova Suleiman Gezmakhmaev for the first time talks about the extrajudicial killings of the inhabitants of Chechnya, without hiding the names of the executioners.
Suleiman Gezmakhmaev took part in the December and January special measures to detain hundreds of residents of Chechnya and guarded the regiment named after V.I. Kadyrov, at least 56 detainees (according to the “Law on Police” and other regulatory acts of the Russian Federation, the functions of the officers of the A.A. inquiry, citizens cannot be held in custody on the territory of the regiment – Editors).
The next day after the publication of the article “Execution after death” on February 16, 2021, officers of the regiment named after V.I. Kadyrov. They came to the relatives of our witness. The officers said they were sent by the regiment commander Zamid Chalaev. At first peacefully, then with threats, the police tried to find out where Suleiman Gezmakhmayev and his brother, the only close male relative who remained with Suleiman after his father’s death, were.
For the first time, a Chechen policeman, who himself carried out illegal orders, testifies to mass arrests and extrajudicial killings. But the extrajudicial execution of the detainees became the starting point for his escape from Chechnya. He no longer wanted to have anything to do with the Chechen police. And – most importantly – he wanted to tell the world about the terrible crime he had witnessed. All these years, the joint efforts of the large coalition of Novaya Gazeta partners have been aimed at ensuring the maximum possible safety of this person and his family. But this was not a security-for-testimony contract. Primary in this story was the very decision of Suleiman Gezmakhmaev to testify without hiding his face and name. We only helped him to do this and, if possible, stay alive.
“Assurance of Innocence”.
On September 17, 2017, two months after the publication of the article “It was an execution” in Novaya Gazeta, in which the list of 27 executed in January 2017 was first published, my longtime friend Musa Lomaev (the hero of Anna Politkovskaya’s materials and the applicant of the public association “ Committee Against Torture “) forwarded me a letter from a Chechen who fled Russia in May 2017 and applied for asylum in Germany.
I will cite this letter with small bills, because it contains data that were not published at the time of September 2017 and therefore could not be known to anyone except an eyewitness of the events described (the spelling and punctuation of the original letter are fully preserved).
FRAGMENT From a letter from a Chechen who fled Russia in 2017.
“Approximately on January 12, 2017, we were alerted. At the formation, we were assigned the task of carrying out operational actions to detain and deliver to the base of the PPSP suspects in the preparation of an attack on the 42nd Guards Motorized Rifle Division (Ministry of Defense of the Russian Federation) located on the outskirts of the city of Shali opposite the psychiatric hospital.
Iriskhanov (meaning Aslan Iraskhanov, at that time the commander of the Kadyrov regiment. – EM) received the addresses of the suspects, at these addresses we carried out arrests. In general, 56 people were detained and taken from the city of Shali and the Shali region, as well as from the Kurchaloyevsky and Grozny regions … “
(The following is a list of detainees indicating the villages in which they live; this list had never been published until that moment, that is, until September 2017; some of the names from this list were also unfamiliar to the journalists of Novaya Gazeta).
“All the arrests took place within 3 days. The interrogation of the detainees began from the first days. The interrogation was carried out both by the officers of our regiment (named Zaur, Ilyas), and by the FSB officers for the Chechen Republic of Chechen and Russian nationalities who arrived at the location of our regiment (5 or 6 people).
The detainees were all subjected to torture with electricity, beating with truncheons, rubber hoses, as well as torture with the help of a 100-liter blue plastic barrel filled with water, into which the detainee is lowered downside down, suspended by his legs from a hook fixed on the ceiling.
Electric torture is carried out using a special device 25-30 cm in size, brown, energy is generated mechanically by rotating the handle, household sockets are also used. The execution lasts several hours, then they give a “rest”.
If the detainee does not confess, then after an hour or two the torture begins again, this continues until the person confesses or dies.
The ration of the detainees consists of two cookies and a glass of tea in the morning and that’s it.
Around [at the end of] January 2017, at about 22-23 pm, operatives came to the gymnasium building […] where the detainees were kept, including Zaur and Ilyas, whom I had previously named, and others, whose names and surnames I do not know. They brought with them forms for registration of a recognizance not to leave.
I would like to note that the operatives who took away the so-called amirs (commanders of the militants – Ed.) Are the same persons who carried out interrogations and executions.
The process before the execution took place as follows.
The operative, calls the surname and the named persons are taken out of the basement rooms by our employees. Then the person is asked to sign an empty “Not to leave” form, after that, the detainee is taken out of the gym building, put into an UAZ car and one person at a time is taken to the barracks building, which is closest to Copernicus Street. On the left side, the car reaches the barracks building, then the detainee is lowered into the basement and taken along the corridor, to the penultimate room on the right side, where the tennis table is located, the door of the room is dark brown. All 13 so-called amirs were gathered in this room. Then, in the room on the left side, the suspects were lined up in a crescent moon, handcuffed and kneeling.
At that time, the head of the Shalinsky District Department of Internal Affairs Musaev Tamerlan and the regiment commander Aslan Iriskhanov nickname (call sign – EM) Akhmat were playing table tennis, in the process both police officers insulted the detainees by using obscene words. Then the guards of Musaev and the head of the Shali district administration, Turpal-Ali Ibragimov, nicknamed (call sign – EM) Fast, take one by one from the “tennis room” to the next room, the last room in the basement of the barracks … A room like a storeroom or a technical room. There is a ventilation hood in this room.
In this room were Turpal-Ali Ibragimov and his guard in the amount of 4 people, who directly executed the detainees.
The first two were executed by a shot in the head.
At the sound of a shot, Aslan Iriskhanov entered the room and complained that training sessions were taking place in the basement, and that after the shots there were traces of bullets, as well as blood, which left a persistent smell.
Aslan Iriskhanov proposed to kill by asphyxiation to cover up the crime. The rest were strangled with a climbing rope.
The crime took place in the following way, the face is placed on the stomach, several people are held by the legs and back, a rope is thrown around the neck, which stretches upward with both hands, the executioner puts his leg on his victim’s neck or on the back of the head. All 13 people were executed in this room.
I also want to note that Abuzaid Vismuradov, the commander of the Terek SOBR and the president of the Akhmat sports club, nicknamed Patriot, is a friend of Aslan Iriskhanov, he occasionally came to our regiment. At that time, about three weeks, from January 12  … Vismuradov came almost every day … I think that Iriskhanov would not dare to execute the detainees without a direct order from above, since Vismuradov was aware of everything that was happening. It was clear that Vismuradov was in charge of all activities from detention to execution. Also, Vismuradov could not give an order for murder without the sanction of the head of the Chechen Republic Ramzan Kadyrov.
… We had previously heard that the detainees were executed without trial, but it was always claimed that they were terrorists, and this was at the level of rumors. After this crime … [I] was convinced of the innocence of these persons …
I was unequivocally sure that these people were not terrorists, as I talked a lot with some of them when I guarded them in the basement of the gym … “
“They tell you that you have to torture someone.”
Without much hope for a result, I asked Musa Lomaev to find out if the author of the letter was ready to meet with me in person. Together with the famous Chechen blogger Aslan Artsuev, who was personally and well acquainted with the author of the letter, Musa was able to persuade him to meet. Both Lomaev and Artsuev knew Politkovskaya well. And they knew that the newspaper where Anya worked could be trusted.
At the end of September 2017, I flew to Hamburg. The meeting was made at the entrance to the hotel, across the street from the central station.
As I understood, my informant had to come by train from the suburbs, from the refugee camp.
Exactly at the agreed time, a tall, smart, light-eyed young man approached me.
I held out my hand to him, he shook it and said embarrassedly.
“I am Suleiman Gezmakhmaev.”
We found a nearby Middle Eastern eatery, bought shawarma. This is how our acquaintance began.
… At the end of April 2017, the Gezmakhmaevs (Suleiman, wife, two children, one of whom is a baby) left Chechnya on the Grozny-Moscow train, and then on the Moscow-Brest train crossed the Russian-Belarusian border.
By that time, they were already looking for Suleiman Gezmakhmaev in Chechnya, as his colleagues told him.
They said that “several employees of the regiment to them went to Belarus for him. Kadyrov in order to detain and take him back to Chechnya.”
In fact, by a miracle, the Gezmakhmaev family managed to cross the Belarusian-Polish border then. Polish border guards took their Russian passports from them and placed them in a refugee camp. But the Gezmakhmaevs did not stay in Poland (for several years now the Polish authorities have actually denied the residents of Chechnya a humanitarian shelter, and it is dangerous to be there awaiting deportation to Russia – there is a large Chechen diaspora in Poland, part of which is actively cooperating with the regime of Ramzan Kadyrov).
In early May, the Gezmakhmaevs arrived in Germany, on May 16, 2017, they surrendered to the local migration authorities and requested refugee status.
On June 2, 2017, Suleiman Gezmakhmayev was interviewed by an officer of the German migration service about the reasons that forced him to flee Chechnya and Russia and seek humanitarian asylum.
Gezmakhmaev spoke in great detail about the January mass arrests of residents of Chechnya and the murder of at least 13 detainees. He did not name only the names of the executioners,
because he feared that if he was denied refugee status and deported to his homeland, his interview would be handed over to officers of the Russian special services.
Here is a quote from this interview (we received the original on an official letterhead in German from Gezmakhmaev himself, other documents confirming the Gezmakhmaevs’ appeal for humanitarian protection and personal documents (birth certificates of children, marriage and official documents about Gezmakhmaev’s service in the Kadyrov regiment ), were requested from the German Migration Service by the German Embassy in Russia and transferred to Novaya Gazeta).
QUOTES FROM THE INTERVIEW TO THE OFFICER OF THE GERMAN MIGRATION SERVICE.
“Question: What was the reason for your desire to quit?
Answer: These thirteen people, they were tortured and killed … When I learned about torture and murder, I no longer wanted to work there … They tell you that you have to torture someone. They look to see if you hold his head under water, if you torture him with electric current. If you do not follow their instructions, they will eliminate you or, at best, invent something to blame you for. For example, in aiding the militants …
Question: Have you thought about going to the police if it is all illegal?
Answer: They control it all. Nobody would go against it. They have such a high position that it would be too dangerous …
Question: Why didn’t you [instead of Europe] just leave Chechnya for Russia? What were you afraid of? What could happen to you there?
Answer: They would have found and liquidated me, one hundred percent.
Question: Did your desertion cause problems for your parents?
Answer: I did not defect. I would talk about desertion if I served in the army. But I worked in the police and did not want to kill people … “
The German Migration Service denied Suleiman Gezmakhmaev a refugee status, both courts (first and appeal) approved this refusal and made a decision to deport the Gezmakhmaevs to Poland. The decision was extremely bureaucratic and was based on the so-called “Dublin Rule”, according to which the asylum seeker is granted by the authorities of the country through which he enters the territory of the European Union. On the basis of the Dublin Rule, hundreds of Chechens are being denied asylum in Europe today. This impersonal approach does not allow delving into the specifics and how serious, and sometimes critical, are the reasons why people are forced to flee from Chechnya and Russia.
An interview with an employee of the migration service dated June 2, 2017 is undoubtedly proved by the fact that Gezmakhmaev spoke about events that he personally witnessed.
Because he could not find out about them in any other way – at that time in the public space there were no reports of the detention and execution of people on the territory of the regiment named after him. Kadyrov in January 2017. This information appeared in the public only on July 9, 2017, when Novaya Gazeta published an article “It was an execution”.
Perhaps if the German migration services were less bureaucratic, and Suleiman Gezmakhmaev’s migration lawyer was more qualified, this publication in Novaya Gazeta would help convince the German authorities (the migration service or the court) that Suleiman Gezmakhmaev is really telling the truth.
Would we have lost a valuable witness if Germany did grant the Gezmakhmayev refugee status? I am not sure.
This terrible crime, in which he was also involved, did not let him go. On the Internet, he searched for the accounts of residents of Chechnya who were detained and killed in January 2017 and once came across the instagram of the wife of Adam Dasaev, one of the 13 executed. On the woman’s instagram, a photo of her with children was posted, and under it was a desperate plea to inform at least something about the fate of her husband.
Suleiman Gezmakhmaev could not restrain himself and wrote to the woman: “Soon you will find out what happened to your husband.” After that, however, he deleted the account from which he wrote to this woman. But it is unlikely that he could live with this knowledge for a long time, without allowing it to come out.
That is why, I believe, Suleiman made contact so unusually easily and trusted Novaya Gazeta and human rights activists. I trusted, even though we confronted him with the fact: in order to find a new country of refuge, he needs to return to Russia.
The system of international protection is based on one seemingly quite logical principle: in order to obtain it, one must be in the country and in conditions that threaten life or health. Most often it is a war. Or – a political regime that maliciously violates human rights.
Suleiman Gezmakhmaev, when we met him, was in Germany. And although Germany denied him protection on formal grounds, he could wait for a long time to be deported to Poland or go to an illegal stay in another country of the European Union. Could he openly act as a witness in the case of mass arrests and executions in Chechnya? Not. It would be too dangerous, because Gezmakhmaev did not have any protection, and the threat of deportation to Russia was high.
Therefore, we needed to find a new country that would not only take, but also apply measures of state protection to this witness (the minimum of which are individual housing, change of surnames and names, security). But it was here that we came across that very central principle of international protection, which in relation to our situation looked completely absurd. Not a single country in the world even undertook to consider the issue of providing protection to the Gezmakhmaev family, because formally they were in safe Germany.
And in order to get the process of seeking a country of refuge off the ground, Suleiman had to voluntarily return to Russia, which is dangerous for him.
In December 2017, I again flew to one of the countries of the European Union. I had a completely non-journalistic task: I had to ferry the Gezmakhmaev family across two European borders, bypassing, if possible, border patrols, though rare, but available.
Deliver the Gezmakhmaevs to Poland, obtain their passports from the migration authorities so that the Gezmakhmaevs do not end up in a Polish prison for violating the migration regime.
Fly with them to Russia, go through our passport control.
The mission to return an important witness to the dangerous country was a success, apart from the scandal I caused at the Polish Migration Office. As we feared, they refused to issue Russian passports to the Gezmakhmaevs, and they themselves, including Suleiman’s wife, pregnant with their third child, and his two tiny daughters, were detained in order to be placed in a Polish prison.
I must say that after several hours in the cell, the Gezmakhmaevs were in a much better psychological state than I was.
“I didn’t even doubt that you would pull us out,” Suleiman said nonchalantly.
I just waved my hand and joked that it is difficult for Chechen refugees to get to Europe, but it is even more difficult to return from Europe back. The familiar German diplomat, who was aware of this whole story and helped with the reclamation of the Gezmakhmaevs’ personal documents remaining in Germany, laughed at this joke for a long time and since then called me nothing but “best human trafficker ever” (The best specialist in the field of human trafficking – English).
To be honest, I no longer remember how miraculously I managed to reverse this process; I remember that then I raised the whole human rights community of Poland and the European Union. When Suleiman and his family left the gate of the migration department with passports in hand, I was sitting on the bench completely exhausted and eating the last glass of baby food from the food parcel (it was not accepted from me, but this gave me a reason to accuse the Polish migration authorities of attitude towards children).
The Gezmakhmaevs lived in Russia for a year and a half. And all this time I personally felt like a jailer, and the “life” to which we doomed the Gezmakhmaevs was called voluntary house arrest.
It really was a confinement within four walls with two small children, whom you can’t even take to the playground – it’s dangerous. This is an enduring fear that you and your family will be found and kidnapped at any moment by your former colleagues from the Kadyrov regiment.
This is the complete impossibility of any communication and meetings with relatives, who soon have not received any news from Suleiman for four years. Because this is safer for them. This is a life without the right to use a smartphone and the Internet (an obligatory, albeit cruel, condition to ensure the maximum possible security in Russian conditions).
This is the funeral of a daughter, who was born dead, at the St. Petersburg cemetery. When you yourself, the father and the only Muslim among the accompanying people, conduct the farewell ceremony.
And the only thing you can do is ask your child to be reburied sooner or later in the Chechen land at the ancestral cemetery. This is the funeral of your father that took place in your absence, who for a long time and was seriously ill with cancer, which you have not seen for many years and with whom you have not even communicated. Because this is safer for everyone …
I pay tribute to our “prisoner”: no matter how hard it was, Suleiman Gezmakhmaev never freaked out and did not let us down in anything. Most surprisingly, he continued to insist that his testimony be published under his name.
Only now I understand how useful the return of Suleiman Gezmakhmaev to Russia was for the common cause. With his arrival, our stalled investigation of mass arrests and extrajudicial killings took on a second wind. It was then that we had a well-developed plan and understanding of where and how to look for evidence of the most terrible crime committed in post-war Chechnya. And the source of this understanding was the many hours of video interviews by Suleiman Gezmakhmaev, which were conducted by the best analysts on this topic – former lawyers of the Committee Against Torture, who once worked in the famous Consolidated Mobile Group in Chechnya.
In March 2018, the Investigative Committee of Russia issued a final refusal to open a criminal case on the complaint of Novaya Gazeta about extrajudicial killings in Chechnya. But simultaneously with the refusal order, the investigation presented us (the applicants) 18 volumes of pre-investigation checks with, frankly, invaluable materials.
Studying them, we found a huge number of strings that the investigation tried to cut and for which we pulled.
But without Gezmakhmaev’s testimony, we not only could not find out and restore all the circumstances of the execution of the detainees – we could not even catch the investigation by the hand in very important moments.
Back in April 2017, Novaya handed over to the Investigative Committee data on the extrajudicial execution of 27 residents of Chechnya detained in December 2016 – January 2017. One of the very first actions that the investigators took during the pre-investigation check was the inspection of buildings on the territory of the Kadyrov regiment.
By the way, Suleiman Gezmakhmaev learned about the arrival of the investigators much earlier than we did – back in May 2017 from his colleagues. The investigation was carried out by the investigators of the Main Investigation Department for the North Caucasus Federal District on May 11, 2017. On the eve of this examination, the last of the detainees (at the time of Suleiman Gezmakhmaev’s departure at the end of April 2017, 14 of the January detainees remained in the basements of the Kadyrov regiment) were transferred to other secret prisons in Chechnya, and the basements themselves were cosmetically repaired.
But the investigators decided to insure themselves even more seriously against detecting traces of a crime that they did not want to find.
In accordance with the Code of Criminal Procedure of the Russian Federation, they had to inspect absolutely all buildings, without exception, on the territory of the regiment to them. Kadyrov and basements in them. However, as follows from the inspection protocol and its comparison with the plan-scheme of the regiment to them. Kadyrov, attached to the protocol (check volume No. 1, case sheets 165-171), the investigators managed to “overlook” and walk past the huge building indicated on the plan-diagram at number 8.
What kind of building we learned only from Suleiman Gezmakhmaev, when we familiarized him with the materials of the pre-investigation check. Building No. 8 is the same gym where 56 detainees were sitting in the basement. It was there that Suleiman Gezmakhmayev and other employees of the fifth and ninth companies of the Kadyrov regiment guarded people illegally placed in basements, including even a shower room. It was there that they were interrogated and tortured.
It was in this basement that a hook was mounted in almost every room in the center of the ceiling, on which the detainee was hung upside down, and then “dunked” into a barrel of water until he began to convulse.
We could learn these and other important details only from Suleiman Gezmakhmaev. The detainees themselves, who survived and subsequently gave evidence to the investigating authorities and in court, knew that they were being held and tortured on the territory of the regiment. Kadyrov. But they were not guided by the location of buildings on the territory of the regiment, because they were all brought there with bags on their heads.
The testimony obtained from witness Gezmakhmaev in accordance with the “Law on the Bar” and the Code of Criminal Procedure of the Russian Federation is officially certified by a notary and comprises 37 pages.
Today, Novaya Gazeta publishes a monologue by Suleiman Gezmakhmaev, in which he talks not only about the crime he witnessed, but also how young Chechens, joining the Russian police, end up becoming executioners.
“I was born in 1989. My ancestral village is Achkhoy-Martan, teip is Chinhoi. When Dzhokhar Dudayev came to power, I was one year old. When the Chechen war began – 5 years. My father participated in the first Chechen militia, fought with Dudayev, Maskhadov, knew Akhmat Kadyrov. After the second war, my father took a clear position: to have as little in common with the state as possible. He himself never worked in government agencies and did not want his children to work there.
My mother divorced my father when I was four years old, left the republic. According to Chechen customs, the children stayed with their father’s relatives.
I studied at the Achkhoi-Martan school number 1 from 1997 to 2007. I tried myself in freestyle wrestling, like most Chechen boys. At school, he began to earn money at a construction site. After graduation, I did not go to the institute. There was devastation in the republic, and it was expensive to leave Chechnya for Russia. I tried to work for a friend of mine who lived in Russia. He traded currency on Forex, opened an office in the village, and I persuaded my friends to work for him. And then he began to cheat and did not pay them a salary, although he earned some money. And I had to blush for him and promise, and then not keep promises. I couldn’t do that. My father hammered into me that every word and deed must be answered. I dropped this case.
The army was inaccessible to the Chechens. Construction, taxi or police – that’s the whole choice.
I became the first in my family who went to work in law enforcement agencies. My father was categorically against it, but I told him: I could easily get a job as a cop in the Achkhoy-Martan ROVD, but I don’t want to be a cop. I want to be a commando. I want to participate in special operations, to fight terrorism. When Kadyrov’s regiment is shown on the Chechen State Television and Radio Broadcasting Company – in all uniforms – this is a strong impression for the Chechen guys. I thought: the special forces are not the police and not the traffic cops, they are not engaged in torture and bribes, I will protect people in the special forces.
My father, when he realized that I could not be dissuaded, said: “If at least one person complains about you, I will go with you with my own hands … I will not even figure it out.”
I trained to pass the standards, passed easily. Then there was an interview, plus I had guarantors. Friends from the village who have already served in the regiment and in the district police department. A week after the interview, I was invited, and I filled out a questionnaire, then within 5 days I received an order to enroll me in the regiment as a trainee.
“Prepare for the result”.
The first year and a half I served in the 7th company in the 14th platoon in the PPSP battalion stationed in Achkhoy-Martan. For three months, while we were trainees, we were trained by instructors who were trained at the Daniil Martynov Special Forces Center.
Daniil Martynov, 30, is a former employee of the Alpha unit of the Central Security Service of the FSB. In 2013, after being fired from the FSB, he accepted the invitation and became an assistant to the head of Chechnya in the security bloc. Included in the closest circle of Kadyrov, is his confidant. At the suggestion of Martynov, a commercial training center (private educational institution) “Russian University of Special Forces” was created in Gudermes. The center trains instructors for Chechen security forces. In addition, the center regularly exhibits a team from Chechnya at international professional competitions for special forces and organizes competitions in the republic itself (for example, the Chechen Republic Open Championship in tactical shooting among security forces, dedicated to the memory of A. Kadyrov).
It turned out that I have the ability to shoot. My specialty is a police shooter, sniper. I tried very hard, I really liked it all.
The main base of the regiment is in Grozny. There are 9 companies in the regiment. One – the engineering department and 8 companies, which were engaged in regular service. The company has 80 to 100 people. Plus the command staff. The total number of the regiment is under 1000 people.
We were on guard at the gate (checkpoint), towers, participated in the cordon. In addition, the regiment’s employees have always participated in the CTO (counter-terrorist operation. – EM).
The service schedule is irregular, they can call at any time. If you don’t come within an hour and a half, they’re punished – they’ll not be released on weekends for weeks. We spent six days at work, two at home. It often happened that you go home and do not get there – they call back, there were not enough people in the company. Therefore, when you get a job in a regiment, you definitely need a car. And a car is a loan, that is, a strap that binds to the service.
In February 2012, when I passed from trainees to privates, for the first time I participated in the CTO in Nozhai-Yurt district. In addition to the regiment, other structures were involved. The total losses among the employees of the Chechen Ministry of Internal Affairs – dozens of dead and wounded. Only six militants were killed.
The wounded militants were all finished off on the spot. Nobody needs real fighters alive in Chechnya; under torture they can say a lot of unnecessary things.
The counter-terrorist operation in question took place in Chechnya from 14 to 18 February 2012. The goal was to destroy the bandit group of the Chechen field commander Magarbi Timiraliev. The operation took place in a hard-to-reach mountain-wooded area on the border with Dagestan. The Chechen authorities refused to help the FSB, the Ministry of Defense and even the Dagestani neighbors (during the operation, the forces of the Ministry of Internal Affairs of the Republic of Dagestan were alerted). As a result, the Chechen security forces suffered the largest losses since the end of the second Chechen war. According to preliminary data, 17 Chechen policemen were killed, 24 were injured. Some of the militants disappeared.
Some of the militants’ weapons, mostly old or unsuitable for shooting, were officially surrendered (to the investigating authorities – EM), and we took the good ones for ourselves and did not register them in any way.
These weapons were later used for various purposes, for example, to extend the CTO regime in Chechnya. It is unprofitable for the siloviki if the CTO regime is removed. Funding is decreasing, there are no indicators.
Each head of the ROVD has proxies from among the employees who do the dirty work. They are given the militants’ weapons, and they fire at some checkpoint or military unit. And again, an enhanced regime is introduced in the republic.
If any of these people are killed in a shootout, they are retroactively fired and put on the federal wanted list as accomplices of terrorists.
Chechen police officers do other dirty jobs using their left weapons. If they come across, they are also fired retroactively.
For example, Nemtsov’s killer, an employee of the Sever battalion of the Chechen Ministry of Internal Affairs Zaur Dadaev, found himself in a similar situation. Soon after the FSB established his involvement in the murder, representatives of the Ministry of Internal Affairs announced that Zaur Dadaev had written a vacation report on December 24, 2014, after which he resigned from the Chechen police, allegedly of his own free will.
If money is found from the militant, it is taken by the employees of the unit that liquidated the militant. This is their “result”.
We call the “result” a killed militant, “shaitan”. For the “result” they get bonuses, promotions, and singles out.
The “result” can be done in the course of a real CTO, but it is easier to catch someone, hold them in the basement until a beard grows, and then take them out into the forest and disguise them as a militant. This is called “preparing for results”. I heard this [expression] as soon as I got a job in the regiment.
And he himself faced this in the spring of 2012. In early spring, an 18-year-old boy was brought to the base and lowered into the basement. The location of the regiment in Achkhoy-Martan is small – three buildings and a dining room. And it was impossible not to notice that he was brought. He was guarded by old servicemen, we, recruits, were not involved in this.
About a month later we were lined up, divided into four groups (each of five people) to reinforce four operatives and a FSB officer (this was the fifth group). We were told to collect our backpacks for three days and were sent to Bamut to participate in the CTO. Our group received the coordinates of its height, we were supposed to be in an ambush. There was a distance of one kilometer between all the groups, so that we would immediately hear if a clash began and came to the rescue.
We sat there for two days and saw nothing suspicious. They served at night, replacing each other every two hours. On the third day, the radio said that a car was driving in our direction, they ordered us not to shoot. The car passed, and a few hours later – it was already dark – the employee who was on duty while we slept heard a loud human scream. And in the morning heavy shooting began. It quickly stopped, we were ordered to release the height. We went down from our hill, and I saw a man. He had a wound in his left eye (entrance hole) and in the chest. It seemed to me that his legs were broken. He had nothing with him, no things, no weapons. We were told that there was a clash, he resisted and was killed.
But this was the same guy who was brought to our basement a month ago. He was very pale and overgrown all over. They brought him in at night, shot him and threw him off a cliff.
And they told us that we would take part in a real special operation. If I had not seen him detained at our base, I would really have thought that another militant had been killed.
Later in the company we discussed this case among ourselves, someone found a video of ablution on the Internet (his body was given to relatives for burial). It turned out that this boy is my fellow villager, the only son in the family, he has no father. He was detained when he left the village for Pyatigorsk to study after the holidays. And since then they have been looking for him everywhere, relatives have thrown information about him everywhere. And he was sitting in our basement …
This was the first situation when I was faced with how “prepare for the result.”
And at the end of the service he almost became a “result.”
When I left and they started looking for me, my relative, the battalion commander of the Achkhoy-Martan ROVD, said: if you don’t know where Suleiman is, then he definitely went to Syria.
He did so, because to reveal the person who left for Syria is also considered a “result.” For this they may even give a prize at the end of the year.
Who is Kadyrov afraid of?
At the end of 2012, we were transferred to serve in the regiment’s location at the address: Grozny, Staropromyslovskoe shosse, 17. I served in the 14th platoon of the 5th company of the 3rd battalion as a police rifleman. The commander of our company was first Ismail Dautov, and then Isa Taymaskhanov.
Previously, when I had to go on special operations, I was always the first to be called.
Now he was afraid that instead of real militants, we could kill the dummies. I did not want to participate in this and began to avoid going to the CTO.
I began to train more at the base, regularly participated in special forces competitions. They are popular in the republic, just like MMA fights or horse racing.
He also served in the cordon. The regiment is recruited to guard all major events in Chechnya, football, concerts, when Kadyrov’s guests arrive.
In addition, the regiment always performs security functions when Kadyrov himself goes into the city. When he walks, for example, along Putin Avenue, in every house, in apartments with windows overlooking the avenue, a sniper and a submachine gunner are sitting approximately every 50 meters. Residents at this time are asked to either leave the apartment, or wait in other rooms. I have guarded Kadyrov in this way many times.
And when he goes to the mountains, his security is increased to at least two thousand people. SOBR “Terek” is always involved – the first circle of protection. OMON and our regiment – the second circle. Then the personnel of the district police department.
When the Chechen State Television and Radio Broadcasting Company shows how Kadyrov is leading a special operation to destroy the militants, this is a performance. First, the militants will be killed, the territory will be cleaned, cordoned off, only after that Kadyrov arrives with personal security and cameras.
In December 2016, I was among the regiment officers who were involved in the destruction of a group of ISIS militants (an organization banned in the Russian Federation – E.M.) who attacked police officers in Grozny. We moved forward in armored UAZ and Ural vehicles, plus armored personnel carriers. But they didn’t even get out of the cars. Because it was difficult to call it a special operation. Four of the detainees were brought to Karpinka unarmed, ordered to flee from the hillock and shot like rabbits. But even then Kadyrov arrived after they had already been killed. We were needed to guard him as he drove the armored car back and forth under the cameras.
Kadyrov rarely came to our regiment, only on holidays or anniversaries.
Woodland near the village of Karpinsky Kurgan, Zavodskoy district of Grozny. On December 18, 2016, in the area of Karpinsky Kurgan, a special operation took place, which was officially led by the head of Chechnya, Ramzan Kadyrov. During the special operation, four young Chechens were killed, who, according to the investigation, attacked Chechen police officers on December 17 and 18, 2016.
I think he is afraid of a regiment named after his father. Before his arrival, we removed the strikers from the service weapons and took out the cartridges from the magazines.
We were very carefully checked several times before his arrival.
When thousands of Chechen policemen gathered at the Dynamo stadium and everyone started talking about Kadyrov’s army, in fact this army was unarmed. Only Kadyrov’s personal bodyguards had weapons. Well, maybe at the Terek SOBR. Kadyrov is not afraid of him. SOBR is led by his childhood friend Abuzaid Vismuradov, nicknamed Patriot.
Incentives and exactions.
Chechen police officers are encouraged to catch the “shaitans”. Once we were promised a million rubles and a Toyota Camry. How everyone rushed to look for militants! They asked for leave or, conversely, to travel to CTO. They called the regiment, raised two or three crews per night for detention. But I have not seen a single member of the regiment who received a million or a Camry in the end.
The head of Chechnya himself recently spoke about the fact that the employees of the Chechen power units are being stimulated with promises of large monetary bonuses. On January 21, 2021, he visited the employees of the regiment named after I. Kadyrov, who were wounded during the operation to destroy the bandit formation of Aslan Byutukayev. At the same time, Ramzan Kadyrov told the ChGTRK journalists that he had promised the first person who would reach the militants’ base and destroy the leader, 500,000 rubles. After the telegram channel “Adat” drew the attention of its subscribers to Kadyrov’s words, the story about the visit of the head of Chechnya to the hospital was corrected.
When I entered the service, the regiment commander was still “Jihad” – Vakhit Usmaev. Under him, if someone, quite obviously, for the “star”, brought a person from whom confessions of terrorism were knocked out, then Vakha himself interrogated him. And when he realized that the person was innocent, he personally beat the person who tortured the detainee.
“Jihad” is the call sign of the Chechen security officer Vakhit Usmaev, who is a member of Ramzan Kadyrov’s close circle. Usmaev commanded the Regiment of the patrol and guard service named after V.I. A. Kadyrov for ten years, then held various positions in the republic, in March 2020 he was appointed Deputy Prime Minister of Chechnya.
In August 2014, Aslan Iraskhanov, a friend of Vismuradov, was appointed commander of the regiment. He received new employees into the regiment in the following way: one day several detainees were taken out of the basements.
Iraskhanov takes a pistol from his guard and says to those who came to settle down: could they kill a man to get into the regiment?
“What did he do? One guy asks.”
“He is “shaitan”!”
And this guy takes a gun, aims at the head and pulls the trigger.
Before that Iraskhanov’s guard took out all the cartridges from the store. But the guy didn’t know about it. This is the behavior of people who were cowards in front of their friends and fellow villagers. Give him weapons and power – he begins to feel almost like a god.
A month after Iraskhanov’s appointment, 2,000 rubles were collected from each employee. This is about 2 million rubles a month from the entire regiment. We were told that this money was allegedly taken to pay for gasoline and spare parts for cars used during operations.
My salary, the highest one I received already as a senior sergeant, is 43,000 rubles.
They did not pay anymore, although they had to pay extra for each trip to the CTO. I once spent 27 days in the forest on a special operation. They never went down to the village; they liquidated Doku Umarov’s personal guard Abu Muslim. No award was given to any of the rank and file.
Doku Umarov’s personal bodyguard, Rustam Saliev, nicknamed Abu Muslim, was killed in the Shatoi region of Chechnya in July 2013. The operation was carried out jointly with the FSB and lasted about a month.
Iraskhanov has a gas station located next to the State Traffic Safety Inspectorate for the Chechen Republic. The gas station is called Saturn-S and is run by Iraskhanov’s father, Salman. The regiment employees are allowed to refuel at this gas station on credit, so most of the employees, due to a lack of money, refuel there. On the days when they should receive a paycheck, lists of debtors come from the gas station, and the foremen immediately take the debt from the employees.
In the data of the register of investment projects of the urban district of Grozny (order of the government of the Chechen Republic of 30.03.15, No. 70-r), the entrepreneur Salman Zhansoltanovich Iraskhanov is indicated as the person representing the company Saturn-S LLC. A person with the same name, patronymic and surname appears in the appeal of the Council of Deputies of the Tsentaroy rural settlement (the Kadyrovs’ ancestral village) addressed to the chairman of the Chechen parliament, Magomed Daudov. The appeal is dedicated to the unanimous decision of Kadyrov’s fellow villagers to rename the village of Tsentoroi to Akhmat-Yurt (in honor of the father of the head of Chechnya, Ramzan Kadyrov). The appeal also includes Kadyrov’s family tree (12-page document). Salman Zhansoltanovich Iraskhanov appears in the appeal as a resident of the village of Tsentoroi, who was one of the first to advocate the initiative to rename the village.
Even by the standards of Chechnya, Iraskhanov’s guards were numerous. Six people are in personal protection, 10 – at home. Personal guards on paper were listed as deputy commanders of battalions and companies, that is, their salary was higher than that of ordinary employees – from 55 to 90 thousand rubles. In addition, every night, two crews of employees (8 people) drove in armored UAZs to guard Iraskhanov’s house.
Kadyrov did not know about this until one time our crews were stopped on Putin Avenue by traffic cops (the avenue was blocked for Kadyrov’s motorcade). So it turned out that Iraskhanov every night recruits additional guards for himself, although before that Kadyrov ordered all police chiefs to dismiss his guards: “You are not in danger!”
I don’t know what Kadyrov’s reaction was, but we didn’t stop guarding Iraskhanov. Then the company commander told us: go around Putin Avenue, and if they stop, say that you are going to a special operation in the forest.
I saw many detainees in the regiment. On drugs, on illegal armed groups (participation in illegal armed groups. – EM). All of them, of course, were detained illegally.
Once they detained boys of 17-18 years old in Grozny. They drove a car with left-hand license plates. The numbers on the left are a separate topic. We often use them in special operations. More often we remove the license plates from the regimental transport – buses, UAZs or the cars of drug addicts who were detained, and put them on the cars in which we go to special events. In addition, the regiment has left numbers from broken wheelbarrows. In Ingushetia you can buy any number for 1,500 rubles. These guys did just that. We detained them because they had number K 769 RA 95 on their car, and this is Iraskhanov’s number. They didn’t know what the number was, they just liked it. The boys were taken to the regiment, beaten, and released a day later.
All employees of the regiment have a set of stripes and chevrons of various divisions, including SOBR, OMON, Ministry of Internal Affairs of Russia and their own regiment. Before the start of the operation, the commanders indicate in what form and with what stripes you need to go to the operation. Regiment employees went to all official events in their uniforms, with stripes and chevrons of their regiment.
They went to the arrests in uniforms and with stripes of other units. During the arrests, it was customary for us to call ourselves by false names so that the detainee would not know our real names. Sometimes they spoke only Russian to pass themselves off as federals.
But there were only two mass arrests in my memory until January 2017.
In 2015, there were arrests from my area. In the village of Katyr-Yurt there was a group in Votsap, about 30–35 people. I don’t know what kind of group it was. The detainees were kept in the basement, but then all were released.
In 2016, there were a lot of detainees from the villages of Benoy and Oyskhara (Nozhai-Yurt and Gudermes districts). All the detainees were accused of preparing an attempt on Kadyrov’s life: then explosives were planted in his residence in Benoi.
ATTENDANCE ON KADYROV.
In the spring of 2016, one of the most serious attempts on the life of the head of Chechnya was averted, in which people from the Kadyrovs’ native village of Tsentoroi, as well as from the villages of Benoi, Oyskhara and others, participated. A large number of people were involved in the preparation; Kadyrov’s enemies – the once influential Yamadayev clan in Chechnya – were behind the assassination attempt. Explosives and weapons caches were found at Kadyrov’s residence in the village of Benoy. Novaya Gazeta published information about the unsuccessful attempt on Kadyrov’s life in the fall of 2016. At first, representatives of the Chechen authorities categorically denied this fact, and then Kadyrov admitted it and confirmed the assistant to the head of Chechnya in the security bloc Daniil Martynov.
Behind this crime are the Yamadayev brothers – the bloodlines of the head of Chechnya. All the circumstances surrounding the preparation of the assassination attempt indicate that the Chechen elite is split.
I know for sure that at least two of these detainees are dead. One had his kidneys beaten off, he died in Dzhalka, the ancestral village of Delimkhanov. The second was called Umar. Vismuradov personally interrogated him. During the interrogation, he insulted the detainee, addressed him derogatoryly, like a woman. Umar replied: “Who are you to talk to me like that and turn your back on me!” Vismuradov grabbed a sledgehammer and hit the detainee on the arm with a swing, shattered the wrist.
Umar was beaten to death and buried secretly near the regiment. I know the place.
In early January 2017, the company commander, Isa Taymaskhanov, informed us that arrests would be carried out. As I understand it, the FSB monitored Uzum-Khazhi Madayev and his contacts. Initially, there was no complete list of people to be detained. The FSB and the opera presented the data of the first detainees, they handed over someone under torture, those – more and more.
In 2004, a resident of the village of Kurchaloy Uzum-Khazhi Madayev was sentenced to 12.5 years for participation in an illegal armed group; he was serving his sentence in a strict regime colony in the Pskov region. After his release, he returned to Chechnya and came under secret surveillance by the Chechen Federal Security Service Directorate. Mass arrests in January in 2017 really began with an unsuccessful attempt by Chechen security officials to detain members of Madayev’s group on January 9 at their place of residence in Shali and Kurchaloy.
In our regiment, it is like this: when even one person is caught, we are already preparing to leave. Because even if a person is innocent, he must surrender someone, and we will go to arrest those whom he named.
During the week we brought 56 detainees to the regiment, many of them first saw each other only in our basement.
And even before January 9, four people were brought to our regiment. Among them were Rizvan Dubaev, all gray-haired, 45 years old (it turned out that we have common relatives) and Salambek Pataev. His arm was broken. He passed a lot of people.
On January 9 or 10, we were ordered to build, leaving in an hour. Assault groups were formed from the regiment’s employees, all employees were in the form of a “figure”, in unloading, helmets and body armor. That is, in full gear. We left mainly in the evening and at night. Detentions took place in Gudermes, Kurchaloyevsky, Shalinsky, Grozny districts and in Argun. We were supposed to provide military support to the operatives, but none of the detainees offered any resistance.
I took part in the arrests from January 9 or 10 to January 13, mainly in the Kurchaloy district (the villages of Mayrtup, Tsotsi-Yurt) and in the Shali district. Only our group (there are four employees in the group) carried out 6-7 arrests every day. In total, about 50 members of the regiment took part in the arrests.
I personally took part in the detention of a resident of the village of Mayrtup Mansur Dzhamalkhanov.
We arrived at Dzhamalkhanov in two carriages, there were also detectives from the criminal investigation department of the Kurchaloyevsky District Department of Internal Affairs in Lada Priora cars and a district police officer. He was waiting for us at the entrance to the village, showing us the way. He said that Dzhamalkhanov would not resist.
We arrived, cordoned off the houses, the gates were not locked. At the knock on the door, Jamalkhanov himself came out, he was in home clothes and slippers. His mother jumped out after him, screamed. We said that her son would be taken to the ROVD, asked a few questions and brought back. The first crew, together with the operatives, conducted a search in the house. They took away the phones, they did not find any weapons. After the search, they allowed him to put on a jacket and took him away in slippers.
Dzhamalkhanov was put in our UAZ, in the car we put handcuffs on him and pulled the jacket over his head.
He was very scared, he kept asking us: why? For what? We tried not to talk to him.
First, we brought Dzhamalkhanov to the Kurchaloyevsky District ROVD. They were waiting for the operatives to question him. They beat him badly. Then we took him to the regiment and immediately let Dzhamalkhanov down to the basement of the gym. There were already 8 or 9 people chained to the battery. Dzhamalkhanov refused to confess, asked to bring the one who pointed to him as a member of the gang. The detained Soltakhmadov was brought. He was in such a state that he would even call his own father a militant. Dzhamalkhanov cried, asked Soltakhmadov to tell the truth. Later, when they were in the same cell, Dzhamalkhanov nevertheless persuaded Soltakhmadov to confess to the slander.
All the detainees’ phones were taken away, and the phones of their relatives were taken away during the searches during the arrests. The detainees unlocked their phones themselves. The telephones were kept by the operatives in the regiment on, on charge, in flight mode.
In addition to the regiment’s operas, the detainees were interrogated by FSB officers. In January 2017, they spent about a week on the territory of the regiment, ate in our cafeteria, and spent the night in their cars. I remember exactly four: one was a Chechen Ilyas, one was Russian and two were Dagestanis.
They interrogated the detainees after their “processing”. They themselves did not beat me. The staff of the regiment and the opera were engaged in the “processing” Opera was ours, SOBR “Terek” (the commander of “Terek” Abuzaid Vismuradov in January 2017 constantly came to the regiment) and regional police departments.
The detainees were beaten as soon as they were lowered into the basement. They beat me mainly with polypropylene hoses, on the legs and on other parts of the body, except for the face, as they were photographed for orientation. If the detainees had traces of severe beatings on their faces (most likely after torture in the district police department – EM), they were not photographed in the regiment.
All detainees were tortured with electric current upon admission. They used a field telephone, but if the detainee was silent, they took a wire: at one end of the terminal, at the other – a plug. It was plugged directly into a power outlet. After that, the detainees were handed over to the FSB officers, they were interrogated in offices where no one had the right to enter (Novaya Gazeta was given the interrogations of the detainees, which were carried out by the FSB officers in the Chechen Republic in January 2017. – Ed.).
After the FSB officers, the detainees were interrogated by officers of the regiment. I also interrogated them personally. This is not an interrogation like that of an investigator. I was not taught to conduct interrogations and ask the right questions. I was just figuring out how it got to the point where they joined the terrorists. I asked them why they were against the state, some general information: who they were, where they came from, what teip, what family, did they think about their relatives before doing this.
Our commanders told us that they were preparing an attack on the Chechen police. The detainees themselves said that they wanted to attack the Russian military. But under the current you can say whatever you want. They had already been detained as terrorists, so they had to admit at least something.
On the territory of the regiment there are five barracks, a rehabilitation center, a club, a headquarters, a gym, garages for special equipment, storage facilities, a football field and a stadium. There are basements under all the buildings, but not every one is “worked”, that is, tortured.
Most of the detainees were kept in the basement of the gym, where they were tortured. The very bad, those who could no longer walk, were sent to the basement of the fifth barracks.
From January 14, I was sent to guard the detainees who were in the basement of the gym. The basement was divided into ten rooms, with a corridor in the middle. The passages to the rooms were closed by doors, two of which were metal, the rest were wooden. There were no feeders at the door.
Every day, six people stood up for the protection of the detainees, who were on duty in shifts, mainly two or four people. The new guards in the cafeteria took food for the detainees. The detainees were fed twice a day. For 56 detainees, they received ten mugs, plates and spoons, two buckets of tea, biscuits in cardboard boxes, bread, and sometimes soup. The guards selected one of the detainees to deliver food to the cells. The detainees were poured a mug of tea, given one or two pieces of bread and one cookie. These cookies were always given to us for breakfast, lunch and dinner in the dining room of the shelf. Eat as much as you like. And the detained crumbs were collected from the floor …
They were not specially fed, they were very hungry, weak, could not walk, and fell. They slept on the bare floor, putting their clothes and shoes under them.
We were on duty in two: four hours shift, four – rest, then again you return to the basement and, apart from screams, you hear nothing. There, the detainees were constantly interrogated and tortured. In one of the cells on our shift, the detained Abdulvakhid Dzhabikhadzhiev tried to open his veins. He broke the tap on the radiator and cut his wrists with sharp metal edges.
My friend Suleiman Saraliev was always with me on the shift, just like me, a police sergeant, he served in the 14th platoon of the 5th company. When we were on duty at night, we had the opportunity to take the detainees to the shower. We bought them shampoo and soap, brought them nail clippers, allowed them to pray, asked in the dining room to give them more food, talked to them.
Among those detained were 13 “amirs” – militant commanders. I remember well Imran Dasayev, Makhma Muskiev, Ayub Tsikmaev, Said-Ramzan Abdulkerimov, Akhmed Tuchaev, Muslim Shepiev … They were all killed. Only Imran Dasaev was left alive.
Of the hundreds of residents of Chechnya detained in January 2017, 14 commanders of combat cells – the so-called “amirs” were “identified”. In this capacity, these people are indicated in the operational documents of the Center for Countering Extremism of the Ministry of Internal Affairs in the Chechen Republic and in surveys conducted by the FSB officers in the Chechen Republic (available to Novaya). Under the command of each “amir” there were, according to the operational version, 10 people. It was these “commanders” who were executed on the territory of the regiment named after Kadyrov.
Subsequently, the Chechen Ministry of Internal Affairs officially denied the fact that these people had ever been in operational development. Regarding two “amirs” – Makhma Muskiev and Said-Ramzan Abdulkerimov – the Chechen Ministry of Internal Affairs submitted official documents (available to Novaya Gazeta) that they were never members of the underground and were never detained on suspicion of terrorist activity, especially as “amirs”.
I interrogated Makhma Muskiev. He was detained right at the construction site, he was in work clothes, all in cement and galoshes on bare feet. He was very thin, quiet and pitying. He was beaten very badly, and he cried and agreed with everything he was accused of. He was assigned to the “Emirs”, they said that he attracted 10 fellow villagers to the bandit group. Personally, I didn’t believe it at all. Could someone like Makhma even convince one Chechen to go with him to the “jihad”? I would simply not listen to him … I think they took him because he was the nephew of the very Muskievs who were at enmity with the Kadyrovs in the 90s.
During the January arrests, Kadyrov only talked about the Muskievs, called them enemies of the Chechen people, and demanded that they be expelled from Chechnya.
On the same days, the ChGTRK showed in the village (Tsotsin-Yurt, the ancestral village of the Muskievs – EM) a large gathering, at which fellow villagers convicted the Muskievs and evicted them.
Magomed Musaev was 17 years old. He was terribly beaten back in the Shalinsky ROVD, before he got into the regiment, his face and one ear were like a continuous purple bruise. He was accused of financing a bandit group. He was the son of the deputy head of the Shali administration, he was later released because he was a minor, or maybe his father agreed and bought him out.
Tamerlan Muskhanov was a hairdresser, he had an Audi car, which was taken during the arrest and given to Iraskhanov’s nephew. Tamerlane was also made “Emir”.
Adam Tuchaev was a driver in a Shali military unit, in a tank regiment, against which the detainees were allegedly preparing an attack. He was accused of giving the militants a flash drive with information about the regiment: where the tanks are, where the sentries are, how many employees are in the regiment. Adam Tuchaev’s daughter has a very rare disease – the only case in Russia. Adam was her only donor.
Yusupov Shakhman was sitting in the boiler room. He himself is from Shali, but his relatives were accused of setting fire to a ziyarat (a holy place – EM), and their family was evicted from the village. Shakhman with his wife and children moved to Argun. There he was detained.
Said-Ramzan Abdulkerimov told me: “Well, what kind of Emir am I with two brothers-policemen? I just went to the same mosque with some of the detainees. ” Abdulkerimov’s brother is a police major. His second brother, also a former employee, had the call sign “Boy”. Said-Ramzan himself also wanted to get a job in the police, but both of his brothers were against it. Then the second brother, who worked in the security for some bigwig, was able to agree that the relatives would be given the body of Said-Ramzan for burial.
Adam Dasayev was detained on January 11 during a special operation in Geldagan. It was shown on ChGTRK on January 11. He was a member of the group Uzum-Khazhi Madayev, who really interested the FSB. They monitored him and tapped his phone. But most of those who were detained after this special operation in Geldagan and put in our basement did not even know who this Madayev was. Adam was tortured very badly, and he drove his head. He had seizures, sometimes screaming like crazy at night.
His cousin Imran Dasaev was detained on January 14 and was also shown on the ChGTRK. He was brought to our basement with a wounded leg. Those who brought him were forbidden to pull out a bullet from the wound, they wanted the gangrene to begin. Imran was handcuffed to the door grate, handcuffed. His leg was swollen and he suffered greatly. When he was screaming in pain, we called company paramedic Anzor to him so that he could dress it up. At night he could not sleep, and I often sat with him. Brought him tea and snickers. Imran told me that he wanted to leave for Syria. When they were surrounded in Geldagan, he left the backyards, because he did not want to kill anyone and did not want to die either. And two days after the special operation he surrendered to a policeman on Minutka Square in Grozny.
After the arrest, he was taken to the residence of Kadyrov, where he was shot in the leg. He shouted to Kadyrov why he was on the side of the Russians who killed his father, Akhmat Kadyrov?
This infuriated Kadyrov, he grabbed a pistol from the guard and fired several times into the floor at Dasayev’s feet.
Imran Dasayev tried to hang himself while sitting in the basement. He made a rope out of his underwear, tied it to the grate and hung it all over. Inmates interfered with him and made a fuss. (Novaya Gazeta has at its disposal the testimony of Imran Dasaev, who confirmed the testimony of Suleiman Gezmakhmaev. – Ed.)
At about the end of January, in the evening, several operas from the Shalinsky District Department of Internal Affairs came to the basement of the gym. Our shift has just ended. One of the operatives began to call all the “emirs” according to the list. They were brought to him one by one, and they signed some kind of paper. I was wondering what was going on and I asked one of the operas. We were told that the “emirs” must sign a recognizance not to leave, after which they would be released.
I was very surprised: why were the “amirs” released, but the rank and file of the gang were not? I asked, but they told me it was none of our business.
After the “amirs” signed the paper, they were taken out of the gym one by one. Suleiman Saraliev and I volunteered to bring Said-Ramzan Abdulkerimov out. A regimental UAZ was waiting for us near the gym. We got into it and drove all together to the building of the sixth barracks. We were told to take Abdulkerimov to the basement of the barracks. We took Said-Ramzan Abdulkerimov to a recreation room with a tennis table, which is located next to the technical ventilation room.
In the rest room were Tamerlan Musaev, the head of the Russian Ministry of Internal Affairs for the Shali district, the regiment commander Aslan Iraskhanov, and four of their guards. Musaev and Iraskhanov played table tennis. All the “amirs” who were brought from the basement of the sports hall were kneeling along the walls in the same room, their hands were handcuffed behind their backs. Some of them asked for pardon, said they were innocent. Musaev and Iraskhanov responded by mocking and insulting them.
I wanted to tell Suleiman that we had better get out of here as soon as possible, but at that moment the door of the ventilation room opened and we saw the head of the Shali district administration, Turpal-Ali Ibragimov, nicknamed Bystry. In the ventilation room, besides him, I also saw Ibragimov’s guards and the bodies of two “amirs” who were lying on top of each other.
They were not handcuffed. From the position of the bodies, I understood that they were dead.
In one of them, I identified Adam Dasaev. Ibragimov Turpal-Ali said that the next one should be brought into the room. Then he saw Makhma Muskiev, laughed and said: “Take him here, he will tell us everything now.” Suleiman Saraliev stood next to Makhma, he was ordered to pick him up and lead him into the ventilation room. Mahma was crying. I saw from Suleiman’s face that he was very confused. But he could not fail to obey the order. He led Makhma into the ventilation room, and Ibragimov closed the door.
I realized that next they would order someone to take me to the ventilation room, and I told the regiment commander Aslan Iraskhanov that after my shift I would go to bed. No one was surprised, since the sixth barracks was the barracks where we lived (sleeping quarters for employees were on the first floor) and studied. I quickly left. The driver of the “UAZ”, in which we brought Said-Ramzan Abdulkerimov to the execution, left after me.
I did not go to bed, I was waiting for Suleiman. He came in about two hours later and was very frightened. I asked what happened. He said he would tell me in the morning and immediately went to bed. The morning after the formation the next day, Suleiman said that everyone who had been brought to the basement of the sixth barracks had been killed.
According to him, first Ibragimov shot one or two “emirs”, after which the regiment commander Iraskhanov entered the ventilation room and said that it was better to kill so as not to stain the premises with blood. It does not wash well, and the smell remains.
So the rest of the “emirs” were strangled with a sports rope. The man was placed on his stomach with handcuffs on his back. A sports rope was passed from below, under the neck, and one of the employees, stepping on the back of the head, tightened on the neck from above, the second employee held his legs. Ibragimov’s guards were killed.
Suleiman Saraliev was also forced to participate in the murder of Makhma Muskiev. Suleiman told me that he could not forget Muskiev’s face at the moment when he was killed. After the execution, the corpses were taken out of the basement, put into UAZ-Patriot cars, which were at the guard of Tamerlan Musaev, the head of the Russian Ministry of Internal Affairs in the Shali district, and taken away. Where exactly – I do not know, but I know that the relatives of Said-Ramzan Abudulkerimov were given his body for burial.
On February 16, 2017, Tamerlan Musaev, the head of the Russian Ministry of Internal Affairs for the Shalinsky District, was awarded an order.
Suleiman Saraliev joined the regiment in 2014. He comes from the village of Shaami-Yurt, where all the Saralievs are from, including the State Duma deputy [from Chechnya] Shamsail Saraliev. Suleiman’s cousin, Khasan Nazirov, worked as the deputy head of the Oktyabrskiy ROVD. Suleiman and I met and became friends very quickly, we were always together in all trips.
After the execution of the “emirs” Suleiman changed a lot.
He kept saying that he was dreaming of Makhma Muskiev at night, could not sleep normally, and became addicted to Lyrica (an anticonvulsant drug that is popular among drug addicts in Chechnya – EM).
He became obsessed with telling someone about the execution. He was afraid that the relatives of the murdered Mahma would come to him and take revenge. In the end, I agreed to go with him to a meeting with his acquaintance, who worked either in the prosecutor’s office or in the investigative committee. His name was Minkail. The meeting took place near the Berkat market in Grozny. Only Suleiman met with Minkail, I stayed in the car. I understood how dangerous it was, but I could not stop my friend. I told Suleiman that we need to leave Chechnya and then tell everything. I myself applied for a passport for the whole family and took sick leave. I have already decided that I will never return to the service.
The meeting with Suleiman’s acquaintance, Minkail, took place in early March 2017. Suleiman said Minkail asked for a week to consult with the management. Minkail did not get in touch again. This was the last time I saw Suleiman. He continued to serve in the regiment, I was on sick leave. In the second half of March, my platoon lock called me several times, but I did not pick up the phone. I thought I was being summoned to the regiment to leave, but I did not want to go there. And then Suleiman called. He was terribly scared, said that he was now with his cousin Hasan, and asked not to believe anyone, no matter what they say about him …
Two hours later I dialed it myself, but he did not answer. I called an employee I knew from my platoon and asked where Suleiman could be. He very rudely answered me: “About this bugger Saraliev, never call me again!”
I began to find out from other colleagues what had happened, and learned that Vismuradov had come to the regiment and brought some drug addict with him. Suleiman was brought from the gym. The drug addict pointed to him and said that he was with him at an apartment in Grozny and that Suleiman was allegedly gay.
After that Vismuradov summoned Suleiman’s cousin Khasan Nazirov to the regiment and asked him: “Will you kill him or shall we do it?”
And the next day, in fact, secretly, without condolences and commemoration, as is customary in our country, Suleiman was buried. I don’t think Suleiman was gay. I have known him for many years. But they could have dealt with him as a gay man, because he told about the execution of the detained Chechens.
… After that, as soon as the passports were ready, I bought tickets to Brest and left Chechnya forever. “
Recorded by Elena Milashina / Novaya Gazeta
On the murder on suspicion of homosexual orientation of an employee of the Patrol and Post Service Regiment named after V.I. A. Kadyrov was known to Novaya Gazeta long before it met Suleiman Gezmakhmaev (we received this information back in April 2017). It was difficult to verify this information, nevertheless we managed to establish the name and surname of the victim, place of service, day of death, circumstances of death and the identity of the probable killer.
On September 6, 2017, in the course of an additional interview, I handed over the personal data of Suleiman Saraliev to the investigator of the State Investigative Directorate of the North Caucasus Federal District Vladimir Kozhev, who is conducting an inquiry on our statement about extrajudicial killings in Chechnya against gays and persons suspected of terrorism. I also conveyed information that his relative, who serves in the Chechen law enforcement agencies, may be involved in the murder of Saraliev.
In addition, on September 6, 2017, I handed over to the investigation the data of another resident of Chechnya, Zelimkhan Bakayev, who was recently detained in Grozny on suspicion of belonging to the LGBT community.
At the time of my interview, Zelimkhan Bakaev was alive and could have been saved.
On September 12, 2017, the investigator Kozhev asked the commander of the Regiment named after I. Kadyrov Aslan Iraskhanov information about whether Suleiman Saraliev serves in the regiment. He also asked for information about his whereabouts.
On the same day, the investigator Kozhev included the answer of Aslan Iraskhanov in the materials of the check. I must say that this answer does not contain any signs of an official document (there is no official “header” of the PPSP of the Ministry of Internal Affairs in the Chechen Republic, no date, no outgoing number, the signature opposite Iraskhanov’s name does not coincide with his signature on other official documents that are at the disposal of Novaya newspapers “).
Iraskhanov’s answer, whose authenticity is in great doubt, contains the following information:
“03/17/2017 policeman of the 14th platoon of the Regiment of the Patrol and Police Service named after the Hero of the Russian Federation A.A. Kadyrova of the Ministry of Internal Affairs for the Chechen Republic, police sergeant S.S.Saraliev dismissed from service in the internal affairs bodies of his own free will.
After that, the investigator Kozhev, without taking any action to establish the whereabouts of Suleiman Saraliev, came to the conclusion in September 2017 that Saraliev was alive, although “his whereabouts are unknown.”
This clearly testifies to how the investigator of the State Investigation Directorate for the North Caucasus Federal District Vladimir Kozhev carried out a “check” according to information from Novaya Gazeta about the possible murder of Suleiman Saraliev. Otherwise, it is impossible to explain why the investigator Kozhev failed to establish the fact that Suleiman Saraliev died on March 17, 2017 and was buried in the ancestral cemetery in the village of Shaami-Yurt. (Novaya Gazeta possesses photographs of his grave taken in March 2017 and March 2021.)
On September 28, 2017, investigator Kozhev wrote to the head of the Main Investigative Directorate of the Investigative Committee of the Russian Federation for the North Caucasus Federal District, Lieutenant General of Justice O. Vasiliev’s report, in which he said:
FROM THE REPORT OF THE LEATHER INVESTIGATOR
“When interviewed during the inspection [on the circumstances of the mass murder of gays, as well as suspects of terrorism in the Chechen Republic], the journalist of ANO RID“ Novaya Gazeta ”Milashina E.V. reported the possible murder of an employee of the PPSP them. Hero of Russia A.A. Kadyrov of the Ministry of Internal Affairs for the Chechen Republic Suleiman Sulumbekovich Saraliev [on suspicion of homosexual orientation].
This fact does not apply to events, the circumstances of which are established in the course of this inspection … “
On September 28, 2017, on the basis of his own report, investigator Kozhev forwarded all information about Suleiman Saraliev, provided by Novaya Gazeta, to the Chechen Investigative Committee, which suspended the investigation “due to the impossibility of establishing the whereabouts of Suleiman Saraliev.”
Similarly, the State Investigation Directorate for the North Caucasus Federal District “torpedoed” the inspection of other residents of Chechnya who were killed and detained on suspicion of homosexual orientation.
Welcome to Chechnya reveals the atrocities of the anti-LGBTQ campaign in Chechnya. For the first time since the gay purge started in 2017, American director David Franceallows the activists and refugees to tell their stories. In aninterview with LGBT World Beside, the documentary makershares his experiences while filming undercover in one of the most secluded places in the world.
Within two weeks after you read an article in The New Yorker about the situation in Chechnya, you were on aflight to Moscow.What was itthat urged you to take action?
In April 2017 the anti-LGBTQ campaign in Chechnya was revealed. I thought that it had ended when the news came out, but then in July, journalist Masha Gessen reported in The New Yorker that the problems in Chechnya were unabated. A network of activists had been forced to pull together to respond as individuals, because the government was doing nothing, and the international community was ineffective.That’s what moved me to want to tell the story in a bigger way, to try and add my voice to the voice of the activists who are doing the work in Russia, to bring attention to what they were undertaking.
What were you expecting from your trip to Russia? Was it as you imagined?
I know I was expecting to meet people who had experienced unspeakable suffering and torture, but I wasn’t prepared for there to be such danger. The degree that they were being hunted even in Moscow and Saint Petersburg, and elsewhere in the safe house network, was shocking to me. I realized that we were in a very dangerous situation. In fact, their lives wouldn’t necessarily be better even when they reached more liberal capitals elsewhere in the world. This kind of vast Chechen diaspora was an ongoing threat and will be an ongoing threat as long as Ramzan Kadyrov is still in power.
What was the mental statethe refugees were in when you first met them?Were they open to working with you fromthe beginning?
All of the people who are in the film were very open to my efforts, to allow them a way to tell what happened to them and to reveal the crimes that were going on. But there are many more people in the shelter system than you see in the film.
After everything that they had already been through, some felt it essential to focus on their own security and safety for the time being. Others chose not to be in the film because their stories were so particular that there was no way to tell themwithout revealing their identity. And I respected their decisions.
I also found a large number of people who were severely traumatized. Everybody I met suffered an extreme degree of post trauma syndrome. One person you see in the film, was so dissociative that he attempted suicide, and that was not even ashock to people that somebody would respond in such a way to all that they’ve been through. I know that most of the people who have been through that shelter system will struggle for the rest of their lives with what has happened to them.
You went to great lengths to protect the identities of the people you worked with.You were editing in a windowless bunker in LA and you never let the original footage even touch a computer that had ever been connected to the Internet.Why did you find it necessary to take such extreme measures?
We understood that the opposition to our work, if people knew about our work, would come from the state. That’s why we had to take precautions, given our knowledge of what the state of Russia is capable of. We know that the security apparatus in Russia is for the most part aligned with the security forces in Chechnya. We have seen them work together to invade the safe house network and to detain Chechen survivors on the streets elsewhere in Russia. That’s why we felt that it was essential that we barricade our work in such a way, that electronic surveillance would not be able to access our footage.
We edited offline in New York, ‘air gapped’ as we say, and we did our postproduction work and video effects for the face doubling technique in a bunker in Los Angeles, so we had a bunker on both coasts.
How did you come up with the face swapping technologyas a solution to protect people’s privacy?
I couldn’t use the faces or names of the people who agreedfully to share their stories, and I promised them that I would find some way to disguise them while also trying to find a way to express their humanity through that disguise. There was no easy way to do that, so we went into a long period of research and development to see what new technologies were available to us. That’s when we discovered a way to digitally transfer someone else’s face over the faces of the people who are in the film, in a way that doesn’t change what that face is doing, it just changes how that face looks. This has not been done before.
It is a brand-new tool for documentary filmmakers and for human rights workers who try to bring witness to this kind of disaster as it’s unfolding throughout the world. It brings an audience member into the emotional journey of the people who agreed and wanted to tell their story. And I think in a really important way, it gives them back their own histories. It gives them back that power to be able to talk about these crimes without further endangering themselves and that was my goal.
The process took some time and it was certainly costly, but it was my commitment to the people in the film that I would protect them to a degree that even they felt comfortable. I followed up with everybody I could still find after this 18-month period of filming and their 18-month period of fleeing,and I showed them the work that I was doing for their approvals. I showed them all the scenes as we’ve completed them and made sure that there was nothing being revealed in any way that would make their lives more uncomfortable than they already were.
Whose faces did you useas adisguise?
The faces you see belong mostly to LGBTQ-activists from New York, who had already been engaged in either protesting the horrors in Chechnya or had been active in other LGBTQ refugee movements. We recruited them through Instagram and by going to demonstrations and meetings of political organizations. We tried to find faces that were different from the way that Chechens looked, so that it would add an additional layer of confusion to people who might be trying to figure out who they are.
Were the authorities aware of what you were doing when you were working on this film?
I never had a formal conversation with anybody, or informally even, from the government about the work that I was doing. I was detained at one point in Chechnya while I was filming,but they did not know I was filming, and they didn’t suspect it.So, I was able to be released very soon after without drawing any suspicion.
What did you tell them that you were doing there?
I was with two Russian activists and I explained that I was anAmerican football fan, especially of the Egyptian football team. The World Cup had just played in Russia and Egyptians stayed in and traveled through Chechnya. My explanation was that I was following the footprints of the Egyptian football team. It took me a lot of memorizing of Egyptian football, likenames and scores, and I carried a lot of tourist information with me about the North Caucasus, so I had a deep enough cover story.
Why is Kadyrov targetingthe queer peoplespecifically?What is it that makes him so fearful of that minority group, in your opinion?
I’ve never been smart enough to explain irrational hatred and I certainly would need multiple psychiatric degrees to explain Ramzan Kadyrov and his multiple problems. We know that he has waged deadly campaigns against other people as well, butthis is the first time we have seen him attempt a liquidation campaign of this sort where his intention – which is pathological – is to identify, roundup and eliminate all known LGBTQ Chechens. His belief – if you can call it that – is that in doing so, he will cleanse the blood of the Chechen people of the scourge and scandal of homosexuality.
It’s not a good time to be queer anyplace in the world really,there are 70 countries where it’s illegal, in 8 of those it’s punishable by death. There are growing numbers of parts of the world, Poland for example, where municipalities in a third of the country have declared themselves to be gay-free zones and it’s creeping through the West. It’s a bad time to be a sexual minority, but at no other place in the world and no other time since Nazi Germany has anybody undertaken this kind of a genocidal campaign against queer citizens.
How do you think or hope that your work will help the queer community of Chechnya?
My goal was to make sure that the world was talking about this and that in talking about it, it would bring our governments to be more responsive. The people who participated in the film want western governments to unite their voices to demand an end to this and to demand that Kadyrov and his deputies be brought on charges for these crimes.
In some ways, it’s already working. We showed the film to lawmakers in the US, in Washington and Congress, and within 72 hours the US State Department issued – finally, after three years – sanctions against Kadyrov and his leadership. That’s the kind of thing it’s going to take to bring an end to this atrocity, and some form of justice for so many people who have survived it and for those who weren’t able to survive.
Kadyrov keeps denying that queer people exist in Chechnya, but there is video footage of people getting beaten up and abused for being gay.You took those‘trophies’ they made while they were abusing queer people, and you turned it around bypresentingthemasevidence. Why was it so important for you to include thoseviolent images in your work?
I wanted to be very plain to anybody who sees the film of what’s happening there. The fact that the very forensic evidence of what’s happening was produced by the people who are committing the crimes, was essential for me to get out to the world. To show that while they’re denying this is happening, they are not only just continuing to do it, but they are celebrating it in a way by recording it and sharing these recordings among themselves.
I don’t bring these recordings out easily. I was very concerned about doing it, about what impact that would have on the people who watched, but I want the film to implicate everybody involved. This outrage that’s happening in Chechnya is our problem. Once we know about it, once we see it, I’m hoping that we will all act.
We are all witnesses to what’s currently happening in Chechnya. Now that we know about these horrors, we have to carry the news stories forward and make sure that we keep talking about it, make sure that we keep bringing in more witnesses to this and that’s what that footage invites us to do.
People who want to do something after watching your documentary can go to the website that is linked to the film,where you have outlined four goals of ways people can help. Have you seen an increase of people volunteeringto help since HBOhaspremiered‘Welcome to Chechnya’ in some countries?
Absolutely, we get contacted all the time by people who want to do something very specific. “What can I do that would make a difference? How can I join this movement?”
The first most easy thing we say to people is: you can help the organizations that are on the ground doing the work. Theydesperately need the help, especially now during the pandemictheir work is more difficult, more expensive and more dangerous than ever before. We give several suggestions to people on how they can help. Those suggestions were all developed not by us and the film crew, but by the people who are doing the work. We held a listening tour with all the organizations that are central to this campaign and asked: “What do you need this film to produce for you? Let us find a way to help you do that.”
You spent 18 months filming in Moscow and even Chechnya.What were your impressions of both areas?And what did you think of the Chechen culture?
I was in Chechnya only briefly and it’s a very closed part of the world. It’s very hermetic, a place where not many Russians travel, it is part of their country and even they don’t find their way there often. It’s a place that is heavily controlled by the government and by the security forces, so you have a sense there, as an outsider, of a very suspicious life. You have a feeling there that everyone feels the sense of being watched and policed. It is similar to other hermetic places in the world,I think of North Korea for example: places where it’s just a given that suspicion defines public life. It was a place where it felt almost hard to breathe, because of that kind of repression, but I was not there long enough to tell you anything about the culture itself.
The place is physically beautiful, it was just a stunning typography to witness. But it is hard not to see through all of that to the awful history that has been visited upon the place not just by Kadyrov and other Chechen leaders, but by Russian leaders over many years. It’s a land that has a very lengthy sad past.
And what about Moscow? Youwere there for a longer period of time.Did you feel like you could move more freely,or did you encounter difficult situations?
I did move more freely in Russia. I don’t have any evidence that I was under any sort of observation. I never encountered any Russian authorities, as I said earlier, who might have given away any sort of knowledge of what I was doing. I was there on the tourist visa, I had friends in Moscow and Saint Petersburg that I visited, so I had certainly enough tourism activities while I was there to sustain the fiction of my being there as a tourist. It was my first time in Russia and I don’t speak the language, so I was a little isolated from ordinary life there as well.
To get more into the work of evacuating the queer people from Chechnya: Igor Kochetkov from the Russian LGBT–network said that the persecution of queer people in Chechnya has never stopped since the first reports, but that its scale has changed.What did you learn about this change in scale?
The original impetus behind the purge was the discovery by the Chechen authorities that there were gay people, that theyknew one another, and they communicated through apps on their telephone, specifically the Hornet dating app. The authorities began to use that in the first month of this campaign to find connected networks of gay people. The gay people soon realized that they had to abandon those circles of communication. There’s been a lot of serious work in the community to make themselves less discoverable, whichmakes it much more difficult for large numbers of people to be rounded up simultaneously.
That doesn’t mean people aren’t being discovered, it’s happening all the time. There are people I know today who are being held, who are not safe, whose fates are not yet decided and that’s an ongoing problem. It’s not that the Chechen authorities have stopped looking for LGBTQ Chechens, it’s that they’ve become harder to find. By my estimation there are some 40,000 LGBT folks hiding in plain sight in Chechnya. By hiding I mean they are often marrying members of the opposite sex, they are emulating heteronormative behaviors and family structures in daily lives. By doing so, they hope it will keep them from being discovered.
There is nothing like a gay community in Chechnya, or that you would describe as a gay community in any other setting,because it’s just too dangerous to have that kind of communication among one another. We’ve seen people who created a comfort zone around their identities being punished in brutal ways.
What would you advise to queer people whoare in Chechnya right now and who want to escape theirsituation, but don’t really know where to start?
There’s a hotline that people know about and it’s widely circulated for people to call in case they need to be rescued.But a problem that is of this magnitude can’t be solved by rescuing everybody. The problem has to be solved by stopping Kadyrov.
You cannot do a hand by hand rescue of 40,000 people.Keeping in mind that LGBTQ-people are born every day in Chechnya and elsewhere, even saving 40,000 people today won’t do anything to stop the arrival of new targets of this hatred. So what needs to be done is fundamental and that’s to change the regime and to bring Kadyrov to justice.
It’s hard for me to speak to the people who have chosen to stay. Because it’s such a closed community, it’s hard to leave there, just emotionally and psychologically: to leave behind your homeland, to leave behind your language, to leave behind every relative you’ve ever had. It’s a clan-basedsociety: relatives are one of the most important parts of that community. To say to those 40,000 people you must leave there in order to survive, is to say to them you must cut off a very important part of yourself in order to rescue this other very important part of yourself, and that is such a cruel thing to suggest to people.
When I came out in the US, there were no laws to protect us. We were universally reviled and I had to leave my family andmy home, but I didn’t leave my culture and my family wasn’tcoming after me. The perversion that Kadyrov has brought to this, is to put such inescapable pressure on family members to bring back people, that it perverts the whole notes in the family.
When someone does decide to escape Chechnya,evacuating women is very different from evacuating men. This is something that Olga Baranova, one of the activists we get to know in your documentary, has talked about. Can you explain why it’s so much more difficult for queer women to escape from the Chechen culture?
All women in Chechnya are subject to a form of servitude,that makes it almost entirely impossible for women to get out on their own. When women travel on their own, it brings intense suspicion. Many of the women whose stories I have followed from the beginning in 2017, who tried to get out,were turned back by checkpoints or even by the taxi driver, who would bring them back if he had some suspicion about what they were doing.
This has left it to the activists to actually physically rescue women in Chechnya much more often than they’ve had to rescue men. This type of operation increases risks all around,for the rescuers as well as for the young women who are trying to make their escape. It causes family members to pursue the rescuers as kidnappers or as thieves, for having taken what amounts to as a piece of property from them. Sothere are multiple levels of difficulty for women to find their way to freedom, especially for lesbian women. If there’s already a suspicion of their sexual orientation, then their attempts to make it into Russia – and then maybe even into Europe or elsewhere – are more quickly policed and they are more urgently pursued as they’re making their escapes.
Olga Baranova sounded quite hopeful in a recent interview about a new project they were setting upspecifically to evacuate women.
They have issued a report recently about queer women from the North Caucasus, who are doing some important work on advocating for a global receptiveness to the plight of queer women in Chechnya. They are also working on the ground with secret partners in the Republic to bring women out before they are identified. They find ways to protect them while they’re in Russia waiting for invitations from other governments, and then finance their trips out of the country.So, their organization exists, it’s growing, it’s being supported by the Moscow Community Center for LGBT+ Initiatives and that does leave me hopeful.
In fact, all of this leaves me with a measure of hope just to know about the commitment of the activists to doing this workand rescuing strangers, people they have never met. They have created this massive infrastructure that reaches every part of the globe, that serves as a pipeline to get people from Chechnya and Dagestan and elsewhere, to places where they can actually begin to build their new lives.
Maybe under new names, they can try and find comfort. Not just with the history that they have been through and the ways that they’ve been betrayed by their government and by their families, but also with the stirrings of their own hearts. So that they can find a place where they can live fully, while exploring their own sense of self. And that makes me really happy and hopeful.
A very important part of your film is Maxim Lapunov. At the end of the film his identity is revealedand you show his faceas he filesa lawsuit against his own government because they failed to protect him.Unfortunately, he didn’t get the justice he was seeking and after he exhausted every possible legal way in Russia, he has filed a new lawsuit in Europe. Do you have any news on how he’s doing and how the lawsuit is coming along?
The lawsuit got stuck in the clouds of the pandemic, so it’s moving slowly. There are a couple of arms to his legal approach through the European courts. One is to pursue remedies through the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe, OSCE, and they have investigated his claim and substantiated it, and even filed their response for Russia to counter. Russia was meant to meet a deadline in March but has not yet filed its response.
The OSCE complaint system has always been honored by Russia in the past, so it’s expected that they will do as they are obliged to do by covenants which they’ve signed, and that they will respond. If there’s a finding against Russia and in favor of Maxim and his family, then Russia will be under the obligation to investigate his claim thoroughly and to bring charges where merited. If they don’t do that, then it’s up to Europe to make the next move.
Maxim’s case has also been filed in the European court for human rights and that is proceeding as well, but it has also entered the grey area of the pandemic.
Meanwhile, unfortunately, Maxim and his family are relegated to a life in the shadows. They are not able to work and they don’t feel safe going out in public. They’re living in hiding somewhere in Europe and always try to keep their locations changing. They are still under the protective watch of the Russian LGBT-network and Human Rights Watch and otherorganizations, like the committee against torture that brought the case in the first place. Maxim and his family have sacrificed a great deal in order to be able to try and bring this criminal case to fruition. There are ways to support him directly through our website as well.
Do you think the international community willbe able tobring Kadyrov to justicein the near future?
As Tanya Lokshina, who works for Human Rights Watch covering the North Caucasus, puts it: if Putin told Kadyrov to stop, Kadyrov would stop, and international pressure can force Putin to say that to Kadyrov. That is the first step. This must stop.
The next step is criminal justice and that could take a lifetime.In the international court of opinion, Kadyrov has already been tried and convicted. He is not able to travel to most parts of the world, he’s really an isolated tiny dictator in that small corner of Russia. As his crimes multiply, I hope that he’ll even have trouble traveling in Russia itself.
One of his most recent crimes involves a young Chechen man who was made to give an apology to Kadyrov for being a moderator in an anti-Kadyrov group chat. He was forced into making an apology video where he is seen naked. After hegives the apology, he is then forced to rape himself with a glass bottle. The horror of that is just unimaginable and now even voices within Chechnya that are condemning Kadyrov for having done that are starting to be heard, and there issomething really powerful about that. The man went too far years ago and he goes further every day. Somehow, he has to be stopped.