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Chechnya: Politkovskaya Mourned As 'Last Hope'

Mourners at Politkovskaya's funeral on October 10 (epa) MOSCOW, October 11, 2006 (RFE/RL) -- Of all the people devastated by the death of Russian journalist Anna Politkovskaya, it may be Chechen civilians who feel the loss most keenly. Politkovskaya was the most vocal defender of the Chechen population, keeping the issue of human rights atrocities alive in the West as interest in the protracted Chechen conflict waned.

Over a thousand mourners gathered on October 10 at Moscow's Troyekurovskoye Cemetery to bid an emotional farewell to Politkovskaya, who was gunned down on October 7 in her Moscow apartment building.

Russian President Vladimir Putin, who was the subject of scathing criticism in many of Politkovskaya's articles, was not in attendance. He did condemn her killing the same day at a news conference in Dresden with German Chancellor Angela Merkel, calling it a "disgustingly cruel crime." However, he played down Politkovskaya's influence as "extremely insignificant."

"Yes, this journalist was indeed a sharp critic of the present Russian authorities," Putin said. "But I think journalists should know -- in any case, experts understand it perfectly well -- that the degree of her influence over political life in Russia was extremely insignificant. She was well-known in journalistic circles, among human rights activists, in the West. I repeat, her influence over political life in Russian was minimal."

International Praise

Putin's comment contrasts sharply with the praise of Politkovskaya's work that has poured in from all over the world.

At her funeral, Russia's veteran human rights campaigner Lyudmila Alekseyeva said Politkovskaya was revered in Chechnya as a tireless denouncer of the abuse committed against civilians by Russian forces and by Chechen Prime Minister Ramzan Kadyrov's feared militia.

"She spoke about Chechnya, first and foremost, everywhere," Alekseyeva said. "It was her constant theme and her constant pain. And you know, there isn't a person in Chechnya who does not revere Anna Politkovskaya. Everybody knows her there, and people photograph her with point-and-shoot cameras and then those pictures are placed on the walls of every house."

Voice Of Chechnya's Despair

But how are Chechen themselves reacting to her assassination? RFE/RL's North Caucasus Service spoke to several Chechens about Politkovskaya and her investigative work in the war-ravaged republic.

"All the villagers I speak to -- even those who I thought were not at all interested in journalism and current affairs -- are extremely upset," said Amina, a woman from the town of Serzhen-yurt. "She was the only one to tell the truth about the horrors taking place in Chechnya. People are terribly upset. Obviously the authorities of this country don't like people who speak the truth and are capable of compassion for the humiliated. They kill the people's finest representatives. I can't tell you how upset I am. I have all her 'Novaya gazeta' articles. I kept her address and her telephone number, in case I needed to get in touch in a hopeless situation. She was my last hope. We are mourning."

Chechens abroad are no less devastated by the assassination of Politkovskaya, who they say was the country's bravest journalist and Chechnya's biggest hope for justice.

Apti, a Chechen man living in France, has staged a memorial ceremony in her honor. He said he is deeply shaken by Politkovskaya's murder.

"Like many Chechens, grief has stricken me many times lately," he said. "But when I heard that she'd been killed, my eyes filled with tears for the first time in my life. I know it's not decent for a man to cry. But I wasn't ashamed today. I would have been willing to give up the time the Almighty has given me in order for her to live on. Over the past five or six years, only a handful of people in this huge country have covered the events in Chechnya. Anna was one of them. In my opinion, she died for us."

'One Of Us'

The Chechen community in Holland is also mourning Politkovskaya's death. One woman, Dagmar, said that Chechens have lost the "only one" who worried about their fate.

"I'm terribly upset, terribly. I've always been afraid of that. I don't know why they killed her now, at this point in time. I'm heartbroken," she said. "She was always writing about us, traveling to Chechnya, people visited her to tell her about their problems. She was the only one -- there was no one else in this huge country who worried about us like that."

Layla, another Chechen woman living in Turkey, described Politkovskaya's slaying as an irreplaceable loss for the Chechen people. Layla didn't know her personally, but like many Chechens, she is mourning Politkovskaya as one of her own.

"She was always welcome in Chechnya," she said. "Our people, abandoned by all, needed her. Will someone come forward to replace her? I don't think so. People, journalists, have been so scared. There won't be anyone else like her now, ready to sacrifice her life. I'm so upset that it reminds me of what I felt when my two sons were killed. Was it more painful? I can't say."

The Chechnya Conflict

The Chechnya Conflict

The aftermath of a December 2002 Chechen resistance attack on the main government building in Grozny (epa)


The fighting in Chechnya has raged, with short breaks, since 1994. It has brought misery, death, and destruction to the North Caucasus republic and to Russia as a whole. View an annotated timeline of the conflict.


RFE/RL's complete coverage of Russia's war-torn Republic of Chechnya.

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