Zainudin and Sapiyat Alibekov are scared, desperate -- and determined.
The couple from the town of Khasavyurt in Russia's insurgency-wracked North Caucasus region of Daghestan are in the fifth day of a hunger strike, aimed at persuading their only son, Ibragim, to give up fighting against the government and come home:
In an interview with RFE/RL's North Caucasus Service, Zainudin Alibekov says he knows that coming down from the hills is dangerous. The insurgent groups treat those who change their minds without mercy, while the forests are full of security forces eager to report the killing of another militant.
"Now I am afraid that any word I speak could harm my son. The only goal I have is for my son to hear us and to make the correct decision to get out of the situation that he finds himself in," Alibekov says.
"There has been a lot of noise lately and people are calling us from everywhere asking for details. But I'm afraid that could hinder him, us, from resolving this problem positively," he adds. "Recently there has been a tendency for these boys to be shot, without any trial, without any investigation."
It isn't important to him why Ibragim left his wife and child three months ago and went into the hills, Alibekov says. The only important thing now is bringing him home alive.
A press release announcing the hunger strike says Alibekov is supported by other local parents whose children "ended up in the forest solely because of their naivete and who now cannot get out because of their indecision."
Ending Cycle Of Violence
There is no way of knowing for sure how many militants are waging the low-level, scattered insurgency across Russia's North Caucasus. Russian security agencies generally cite figures around 400-500 fighters at any one time. But the steady stream of reports of violent incidents indicates the militants are able to replenish their ranks by recruiting among the region's impoverished residents.
The authorities have waged an often brutal campaign to suppress the rebellion. Human rights advocates have accused them of kidnappings, extrajudicial killings, and torture, which they say has only fed the insurgency.
Alibekov says he fears such hard-line tactics merely condemn the region to an endless cycle of violence and death.
He has banded together with local parents who are worried about their children and who want to persuade them to lay down their arms. Together with sympathetic local authorities and police, the desperate parents slog through the forests, assuring their children they can return to civilian life without repercussions.
"You see, lately our police have shown a lot of good will. I have personally spoken with the chief of police, and [four] kids returned under his personal guarantee of their safety. The parents from our group pulled them out of there, and agreed with various structures that there are no charges against their sons," Alibekov says.
"And, thank God, these four kids will be completely rehabilitated. They are now at home. We have talked to them -- I talked to them personally. And there are a lot of boys like that in the forest, who want to return but who are held back by someone, by something. Society has to appeal to them and explain that we do not want revenge."
Ready To Die
A Khasavyurt police source told RFE/RL that there were no charges pending against Ibragim Alibekov and that he was free to return home.
But it remains to be seen whether Ibragim will ever hear his parents' appeal. The idea for the hunger strike came to the couple during the Muslim holy month of Ramadan, which they spent praying incessantly for Ibragim's return.
"Our jihad is better than his jihad, which seems dubious to many people. Our jihad is dedicated to our son, and no one has any doubts about us. We want him and all the others who have made this incorrect decision to change their minds," Alibekov says.
"Kids have returned. There used to be a myth that fighters didn't give up, that they don't come back. But we think the tendencies now allow us to hope for the best."
But Alibekov's hope is backed up with resolve. "These boys are really proud and they think that since they have taken such a step, they can't go back," he says.
"With my hunger strike, I am trying to explain that if he is so stubborn, those who gave birth to him are even more stubborn. He may have decided to die there, but we are ready to die for him."
Robert Coalson contributed to this report from Prague