Aslanbek Apayev, an expert with the Moscow Helsinki Group, works with a group of Chechen mothers in Grozny yesterday.
The two devastating wars in Chechnya, which Russia has fought between 1994 and 1996, and from 1999 until the present, resulted in almost apocalyptic destruction and the deaths of tens of thousands of people. But perhaps the most painful legacy of those wars is the forced disappearance of numerous young men and women.
In almost all cases, those people were arrested in the night by heavily armed, often masked, men never to be seen again. Relatives were sometimes told that their loved ones would be released after an investigation, but that happened only if hefty bribes were paid immediately after the arrests.
Yesterday, a group of Chechen mothers gathered in one of the squares of Grozny, Chechnya’s capital, to protest the lack of progress in the investigations into what they call the “illegal detention” and subsequent disappearance of their sons. Many had documentary proof that their children had nothing to do with the resistance groups that have been fighting against the Russian Army in Chechnya for years now. Among the arrested are young men of high-school age.
One mother told RFE/RL that her son was preparing for a physics exam when Russian servicemen seized him.
The grief-stricken parents of the disappeared not only appeal to the law enforcement agencies to investigate the plight of their children but also, increasingly, seek to draw the attention of the political leadership to the problem.
“We love our children no less than those leaders who lavishly mark the birthdays of their children," one mother said, apparently referring to the monumental celebrations to mark the birthday of the son of Ramzan Kadyrov, the pro-Moscow head of the Chechen Republic.
Those appeals, however, have largely fallen on deaf ears so far.
Desperate and frustrated, the mothers of the disappeared in Chechnya have announced a plan to organize a “peace march” to attract international attention to the problem.
Aslanbek Apayev, an expert with the Moscow Helsinki Group, believes the march will attract the most attention in those countries that have had to grapple with the issue of disappearances, such as the countries of the former Yugoslavia, as well as Argentina and Chile.
About 5,000 people have gone missing in Chechnya since 1994, according to Chechnya’s pro-Moscow human rights commissioner Nurdi Nukhadzhiyev. Activists believe the real figure is probably close to 7,000.
Whatever the truth, even the official tally clearly raises concerns about the magnitude of the problem and its long-term implications for Chechen society.
(by Aslan Doukaev, director, RFE/RL's North Caucasus Service)