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Roy Conrad. Grozny. A few days...
Home page: http://www.anycities.com/user/conrad/ Ў http://www.anycities.com/user/conrad/
Date: 19 Feb 2003
Russian original of this text is placed at
http://lib.ru/MEMUARY/CHECHNYA/grozny.txt Ў http://lib.ru/MEMUARY/CHECHNYA/grozny.txt
You have surely heard that far away, in South Russia, a cruel and
bloody war has been going on for many months. In a small anclave called
Chechnya, the Russian military are fighting several rebel groups which
demand independence and creation of an Islamic state. Some of these groups
wish to establish such a state only in Chechnya itself. Others intend to
create a larger state that would include vast areas of southern Russia,
areas that are predominantly Moslem. Some of these groups are extreme
fundamentalists, others are following the mainstream Islam. Some emphasize
their connection to Taliban, some deny. Some groups are heavily involved in
organized crime and drug trafficking, some are not. Some groups consist
predominantly of natives, some others are dominated by fighters who come
from Arab countries, Pakistan, Afganistan and even from England in hope to
die for Allah and to ascend to the Paradise. Some groups obey the
self-styled rebel "government," while most obey only their fearless and
Accounts of that conflict, provided by the Western media, are
controversial and sometimes contradictive. Prior to 9-11-2001, the media
emphasized the cruelty with which the military were trying to quell the
rebellion. Some of those awful stories didn't hold water, but some were
true. After that date, it has often been mentioned that the Russian
Government is fighting its battle against international terrorism, that some
Al-Quaeda associates have got refuge in the Chechen mountains and that many
Chechen warlords had been trained in the Taliban military schools.
Still, many critics of Russian policies insist that the army is
excessively tough and that the suffering of the civilians has been
unbearable. The Russian media, on its part, writes a lot about the
atrocities against the population carried out by the rebel gangs. As a
matter of fact, a considerable portion of the population has left that area
and has found refuge in the nearby regions of Russia.
What is really going on in Chechnya? How many faces does this tragedy
have? In fact, even for an experienced political scientist it is very hard
to offer a full account of the events and of their roots. The life of the
Caucases region is a tapestry of many strands, some of which have for
centuries been stained with blood, vengeance and unrest. The present
conflict is a result of many political, cultural, religious and economic
reasons and its complexity cannot be reduced to a small set of pivotal
This war has a strong smell of oil, but it would be extremely naive to
state that this is merely a fight for oil-rich terrain. This war has a very
distinct smell of heroin, but it would be utterly wrong to think that the
Russian Government is simply trying to cut the old drug-trafficking roots.
The past decade has been marked by revival of the ancient craft of ransom
kidnapping and slave trade in Chechnya, however, this military operation
cannot be defined as another attempt to reduce crime. This is a war for
political independence and for the tribal pride, but at the same time it is
a tragic sibling feud, because the Chechen society itself is dramatically
split on this issue. This is a war for the unity of Russia, but at the same
time there are circles in the Russian society which benefit from this
warfare through shady arms deals. Finally, this war is largely about
militant fundamentalist Islam, and still this struggle is not merely an
anti-terrorist action similar to that carried out by the US in Afganistan.
There is still more to it...
Once, in some pro-rebel newspaper I came across an article by a Chechen
intellectual who insisted that this war is not merely a conflict between the
State and the rebel underground, but rather is a profound conflict between
the freedom-loving tribal spirit and the modern way of life. Well, I am not
an expert in history, even less in ethnography, but all my experience of
life in those lands tells me that this author has his point. What is for
certain is that the old rule "War is continuation of economics" badly fails
in this instance.
I have lived in Chechnya for 40 years. Though being of Slavic origin, I
know the language and the ways of the Natives. Together with that land, I
have lived through its most desperate and cruel months. I witnessed its
successful push for de-facto independence from Russia and I saw how swiftly
this independence evolved into a complete independence from law and order. I
saw how barbarianism and anarchy swept over that area and I have acquired an
experience of living in an almost neandertal society which was, though,
equipped with cars, rifles, machineguns, and cellular telephones.
In my documentary story I shall describe the events that I became
witness to, and which have dramatically changed my life, the life of my
family, as well as the lives of hundreds of thousands of people who had been
unfortunate to live in Chechnya in early 90-s.I'm one of those who suffered
from Holocaust in Grozny. My story will help you learn something you haven't
heard before, something which was concealed from you.
Since this is an introduction, may I start out with a bit of history.
The area where I used to live was known, in the Soviet epoch, as the
Chechen-Ingush Republic and used to be an administrative unit of the Russian
Federation (which itself was a Republic or in the American terms, a State
within the former Soviet Union). The Chechen-Ingush Republic consisted of
two anclaves: Ingushetia and Chechnya, which were populated predominantly
(though far not exclusively) the Ingush and Chechen peoples, appropriately.
Most part of the 1.5-million-strong population of the Chechen-Ingush
Republic has always been Moslem. The capital of the Republic was Grozny,
founded in 1818 as a fort to protect the boundaries of Russia from the
attacks of savage Caucasian tribes. Through almost two centuries the town
had been developing and eventually grew out from a provincial fort into a
prominent industrial city which had its theaters, universities and colleges,
industries and crafts.
Some 12 years ago Grozny was a hardworking city with the population of
470,000 people. It used to be a large center of oil-processing. It also had
dozens of factories producing mechanical hardware. Their production used to
be exported to more than 60 countries. It was some 12 years ago... A lot of
water and blood have passed under the bridge since then. Changes began when
a group of enthusiasts came up with a good slogan: Return the historical
tribal land to its people and establish an independent Chechen or
Chechen-Ingush state. The Ingush people soon rejected this option and chose
to form a separate Ingush Republic which has been since then a part of
Russia. In Chechnya, however, the slogans of independence and tribal pride
began gaining support from various strata of society: from the organized
crime and from the clergy, from some tribal elders and from some
intellectuals, and even from some of the former Soviet officials who
understood that in a quasi-independent anclave they would be able to
privatize the state-owned property without giving a share or even a bribe to
the Moscow bureaucrats. One of such high officials, retired Soviet Airforce
general Dudaev was "elected" as a "President" of the new-born "Chechen
People's Republic of Ichkeria." Whether he was elected by democratic vote or
by some other mechanisms (like, say, fusillades in the streets) will be
studied by the historians. What is truly important is that the then Russian
President Yeltsin accepted Dudaev as a ruler of Chechnya and agreed to grant
him a very large degree of independence in exchange for support in federal
matters. This is how the story began, in peace and agreement. It ended in a
bloodshed unseen by those lands since the years of the World War ll.
I want to tell you this story as seen by the eyes of a simple citizen
who happened to become a cog of the state machine in an hour when that
machine started to badly falter. In my story you will not find a scientific
analysis of that tragedy, but you will find an account of the everyday
events, an honest sketch of that life. Possibly, some future historian will
want to use it as food for thought.
Before I start, may I express my sincere gratitude to my friends who
helped me with translating this story intoEnglish.
About the story
In my story I tried to present a concise chronicle of events that took
place in the city of Grozny prior to and during the period which some
journalists used to miscall "Chechen Revolution". A term like "The eve of
Chechen Tragedy" would be more adequate. I apologize for some possible minor
chronological inaccuracies. Over the past years, my life has been full of
events and changes; so it is hard to trace back some of the past events with
high precision in time.
I will not offer to your attention an exhaustingly comprehensive
account of those months and years. This is, after all, not a diary but only
a short memoire, a description of that life as experienced by an ordinary
man from the street.. After this story had been written, it came not once to
my mind to add to it more details and descriptions. When the
Russian-language version of this story appeared on the web, I started
getting letters and calls from my friends who lived in Grozny during the
described period. They began to remind me of more and more episodes which
were relevant and deserved being included into the story. After some
hesitation, I decided not to do this. First of all, the present content is
sufficiently informative, and I do not want to overload the reader with
excessive amount of heart-rending episodes or with excerpts from the
official news of that time. Second, it is quite a burden for me to write of
those events and even to cast my thoughts back to that my past. For several
years after having fled Chechnya, I used to often wake up in the night
because of nightmares tormenting me: each night I saw ruined houses,
desolete parks, and a burned skeleton of my apartment building. In these
nightdreams, I was running away from the gang. I heard their war-cries and
gunshots, tried to shoot back, and was persistently missing the approaching
targets, and only awakening used to save me from what seemd to be imminent.
I heared that some of the Holocaust survivors used to experience similar
symptoms for years after the war.
Nowadays I live a happy life and don't want those nightmares to return.
I don't have guts to live through that inferno again and again, even in my
thoughts and recollections.
Dozens of thousands of people who fled Grozny live now all over Russia
and abroad. Some of them are professional jounalists, writers and academics
and they can write better than I did. I asked one of them to do so, but he
refused and honestly explained me the reason: he and his family live in
Russia, and no one will protect them from the possible revenge of the
tribesmen insulted by his testimony. Russia does not have a witness
protection scheme. I understand him, because I myself did often receive
agitated and aggressive "responses" from some readers who threatened me and
promissed to cut my throat.
This story has been written at the request of Vyacheslav Mironov, the
writer who participated, as a Russian army officer, in the military campagn
of 1995, also called First Chechen War. (His semi-documentary book "Assault
on Grozny Downtown" can be found at).
Well, that was it! My working day was over and it was time to head
toward my garage. I was driving there with one thought in my mind:
"Hopefully, the day when I shall drive my "Own" car, is not that far away.
Sure, it will be neither a fancy Mercedes, nor even a Lada, but rather a
tiny Zaporozhets, but still - my own". "Some day..."
I did understand that it was a kind of shame not to afford a car at the
age of 38. What made things worse was that having a car had always been my
cherished dream. Anyway, not much could be done about that: cars were highly
expensive in the former Soviet Union and in the post-Soviet era they were
regarded as a sort of luxury. I am quite a handy man, almost a
jack-of-all-trades: I can fix various equipment and appliances with my own
hands. Besides being a qualified craftsman, I am a pretty stubborn sort:
when necessary, I can work double shifts. I really did enjoy working like a
drudge horse: it is a part of my nature. I started my career as a simple
worker right after I had finished my compulsory military service. My
part-time studies at a technical university helped me to grow from the
ranks: from a worker, I was promoted to a technician and then to an
My wife was a schoolteacher and a really good one she was. "She had a
talent for it". Beside our regular full-time jobs, we both used to work
extra hours part-time. Nonetheless, we never became really rich, for a thing
was true in those days that are still true in the post-Soviet era: honest
labor never paves the way to wealth. Those who have studied the
sophisticated mechanism of the post-Soviet economy know that straining the
limits of the law has made almost all good fortunes there. In the Soviet
epoch we had quite a few underworld millionaires, especially in the South;
but their success was achieved through corruption and the black market.
Later, when the market and private enterprise became legal, many became rich
with their hands remaining clean. But don't look under their nails...
The mockery of it was that in mid- and north Russia there was and still
is, a common opinion that the folks from the Caucasus are moneyed and well
off. It was a ridiculous assumption, wholly provincial in concept, and as
nonsensical as any myth. These days, crowds of the so-called New Russians
travel across Europe, with a lot of money to burn and vice to spare. Does
this mean that Russia is a prosperous country? No, it simply illustrates the
strident gap between our oligarchs and the rest of the population. Back in
the late Soviet era, we had a similar stratification in the Caucasus. This
may sound like a revelation to those who think that the Communist ideas of
economic equality were fully implemented in the former Soviet Union. In its
European and Siberian parts they were in force (to some extent, at least)
and the level of corruption was not that high.
But please do not ask about Middle Asia and the Caucasus. Rather try to
imagine a weird symbiosis of feudalism and early capitalism, where local
feudal lords hold the positions of Party bosses and unofficially tax the
underground economies. A certain share goes to the local police, while a
considerable part goes to Moscow, sometimes to the very top of the pyramid.
Here are the rules of the game. The regional Party bosses (many of whom
represented the local tribal aristocracy) were doing their best to conceal
the incredible corruption and to make the impression that the Caucasus and
Middle Asia were living in compliance with Soviet laws. Moscow, on its part,
pretended that it believed in this. This concord rested on mutual interests
and often on generous "presents" in money and in kind, that used to flow
from the southern provinces to the Moscow political elite. The paramount
reason was the one known since times immemorial: whenever aging rulers of an
oversized empire were trying to keep it under control, they often preferred
to give carte blanche to the local satraps in exchange for their loyalty.
This system can work for dozens of years, sometimes even for centuries. It
works until the central government gets weak, so that the satraps can break
out and become kings of their domains. So it happened in the Soviet Union,
but while the center was strong enough, the satrap system kept functioning.
As a result, most population in the semi-feudal regions of the Soviet South
lead the life of sweat and toil, but the richest part of the southerners
used to travel to Moscow and Leningrad, and to dazzle everyone with their
thick wallets and unbelievably deep pockets. Much like the New Russians are
embarrassing Europe these days. Hence the myth about the Soviet southerners
According to the official Soviet ideology inherited from Stalin's
epoch, the Russian people collectively were the "Senior Brother" of the
other people, which were labeled as its "Junior Brothers." An interesting
nuance of the real life in the Soviet Asia and Caucasus is that the major
landowners and black-market businessmen, as well as most of the (utterly
corrupted) local Party elite were representatives of the local tribal
aristocracy and, generally, of the local nations. As a result, the ethnic
Slavs and other people of non-local origin were, typically, concentrated in
the poorest strata of the society in such provinces. They were workers,
engineers, teachers, small-time governmental officials, but never big-time
shots or, Heaven forbid, underground businessmen. The latter was reserved
strictly for the locals who knew the way around and, most important, were
interconnected by tribal links and the Omerta. The social texture of the
Soviet South will forever remain a puzzle for the Ivy League and Oxbridge
How did this social mechanism work in Grozny? Well, in a pretty
standard manner. When so ever it came to work at a factory or in a foundry,
that sort of jobs was left for the "Senior Brother." However, the profitable
jobs (the ones that had something to do with goods distribution of steeling
deficit raw materials) were by default reserved for the locals. "Simply
because they had connections." The local Party bosses had their families,
clans and tribes; and one's loyalty to his clan has always been the most
important thing in the South. Suppose, some local guy gets through
protection of his relative Party boss, a good profitable position that gives
him an opportunity for some illegal business. This guy has a wife, and she
has numerous relatives. Hence, it will be a matter of honor for the guy to
do his very best, to help all those relatives to get employed in a similar
manner at the same place. And so forth...
Involvement in illegal economics may once a while lead people to jail.
But never for too long for the local judges and prosecutors alike, know the
rules of the game, and their positions are merely a camouflage for their
extortion business. To put it bluntly, they all took bribes, bribes that
were presented as gifts, either to them or to someone else in their clan.
Sometimes it was not about "gifts" and "cash", but about "special" relations
between clans and families. As a rule, everything was eventually settled in
a peaceful way. This rule, as any, had exceptions.
Those exceptions, though, reflected not the ability of the system to
punish corruption, but contradictions between the tribal and political
clans. People who came from traditional, especially Moslem societies know
what I mean. One may be the most honest man in the world, but he will never
have guts to challenge the laws of tribal solidarity.
Of course, many of the local nations worked on the farms and plants,
but only at positions where they could get some extra profit. In addition to
that, they acquired the habit to litter with money. Why should one save that
what is earned so easily?
Especially at resorts, Ministries, because of that the Caucasus has
received a fame as a prosperous rich area. This fame has been fortified by
different auditors and commissions from the Capital (Moscow). The guests are
traditionally honored in the Caucasus, but not all, just exceptional
ones-like bosses. Not only are they treated to many delicacies, but also
given expensive gifts. Exactly after such an honorable hospitality, a famous
"Human Rights Activist" - Sergey Kovalyov - had fallen in love with his
As for us, we didn't rub shoulders with top dogs or "younger brothers"
so we earned our living, which was extremely meager. By the way, our pay was
far too smaller than the one in Russia and even far less than in Moscow. We
had to shop at black markets, but in Moscow they could shop at the stores
with stable prices. That's why whenever we had a vacation, we didn't think
about going to the seaside, we thought about clothes and shoes we need to
buy for a stable price and went to Moscow for shopping. We lived from hand
to mouth, borrowing the money all the time. Some people were a little
luckier than others, but the time was flying and the life went on and
everybody knew what to expect in the future.
I still remember the general hilarity which was caused by Gorbachev. It
was like a mass psychosis. Everybody felt as if they were newly born! I wish
these hilarious people had a vision into the nearest future, about 2 years
ahead. What has he done, what kind of "nationalistic" porridge has he
cooked? It will take a long time to manage this hopeless mess. Possibly with
his coming to power I developed a gift of future vision, frankly, I call it
intuition. To my great pity, almost all of my predictions had been carried
out, some of them even in a more horrible way than I wanted.
I was "lucky" with my car, but there was no choice. With each coming
day the economic situation worsened. Agriculture, light industry, chemical
industry was almost dead. Only gas and oil industries were still working. If
on the mainland the people didn't suffer from delayed pay crisis, in
Chechnya we experienced great difficulties because of stopped payments. It
looked like something was going to happen. I needed to hurry. As a result of
a long search, I managed to find a car, which I could afford. The deal was
6,000 rubles. I paid with my gold ring (my mother's gift during the
"stagnation" period, - 500 rubles), a state bond (valued at 2,500 rubles)
plus 3,000 rubles in cash, which was borrowed from my wife's student. My
wife had to pay back by teaching her student privately for almost 6 months.
As a result, we because the owners of a cute white body (ZAZ - 968M) with a
set of wheels, disintegrated dashboard and a six-year-old engine. Thanks to
the fact that the car stayed in a shack there was no rust, but the hens
living in the same shack seemed to like it because there was lots of
feathers and straw in it.
The car was towed to the garage of one of my friends in a plant region
and I started the restoration. I didn't have any previous car mechanic
experience; only sometimes I had to deal with car problems. Also, I didn't
have blueprints, so having started from scratch, step by step; I managed to
reanimate the car in 1 month. The easiest part was the electric part; there
I had a lot of experience. As a result, all hardware was restored thanks to
the help of my friends, the specialists. I lacked many things to finish the
job successfully, but our people would never fail. It's no problem if you
stopped by a neighbor's garage and asked for advice. Car owners - were like
one family, but I was just a beginner, so why not share their experiences
with me? Frankly speaking, I had to stay in the garage rather late,
sometimes well over midnight, and sometimes I even stayed there overnight.
The day when the car started to "cough" for the first time was the happiest
day for me, so I decided to finish early. It was 9 or 10 pm. It used to take
15 min. to reach the tram stop, up to the "Central" stop. Then up to
"Grozneftyanaya", and 20 min. more up to "12th Trust" stop where my
apartment was. I used the same route many times but the only thing I didn't
think about was safety at such a late hour. But, here I need to stop and
For many years, beginning with the `80s, the city dwellers didn't have
a wish to go outside when it was getting dark. We lived in the
Chechen-Ingush republic, where the law and the power were only on paper, and
taking into consideration some specific features of native people, it was
not safe (putting it mildly) to go outside at night. Chechens have always
hated the people of another faith, and after Gorbachov has successfully
destroyed the country and every nationality has started a fight for
independence, the dream of ousting the "aggressors" had become more real.
Well, some people acted in a civilized way, some only started to talk
about it, but Chechens had their own way of solving this problem. Even
during the so-called "stagnation" period our republic topped the list of
criminals in the country. Almost every Chechen teenager carried a knife and
never hesitated to use it. Robberies, violence, and fights were so common,
that nobody cared much about them. Only sometimes, when the prey was a top
dog or some boss, for an example, the leading actress of one company touring
in our drama theater. Chechens managed to kidnap her right after the show
and the parts of her mutilated body were found in the local river the next
day. Besides, the laws were indifferent to such situations. The explanation
like "not blooded Caucasians" was very handy, and it was not allowed to
upset "the young brother". But if by chance Russian guys beat Chechens, in
this case the law would ask a question, "How did they dare!"
Some people moved out of the republic, some came. Those who were
leaving weren't numerous. Some people including me, started to understand
that a thunderstorm was coming. To say that it came out of the blue would be
wrong. In our city we had a TV program schedule, which was printed on a
flyer, and on the backside of that flyer they printed intercity apartments
exchange. First, those ads occupied only a quarter of a page, but then there
were many of them. I analyzed their quantity and meaning attentively.
The number of people moving out of the republic was the same, but the
number of people willing to move to the republic was increasing. Chechens
were willing to move to the republic. Very soon the moving ads started to
occupy the whole flyer. I knew perfectly well what it meant. I tried to
discuss it with my parents, acquaintances and friends. But all of them
didn't take the situation seriously. They used to say that it was natural
that Chechens and Ingushes wanted to live in their own republic because
everybody wanted to be independent. Not once did I talk with my wife, she
was all for moving out, but... Everything depended on our parents.
Unfortunately, we couldn't just flee and dump our parents. But they
didn't want to move out. They laughed at my forecasts. They used to calm me
down by saying that Chechens would soon change for the better, they would
get their cherished independence and everything would go well. They use to
tell me: - "Well, Just think, how will they do without our hands, because
technology is not their field? Russian hands are needed everywhere. How can
they handle refineries!"
Well, my parents were not that old. They didn't need constant care and
were ready to start any moment, if it came to that (as it actually
happened). But, as for my wife's parents, the problem was far more serious.
Her father could walk slowly to the nearest store (40 min.) using a cane,
although the distance was about 300 m. As for her mother, she could hardly
move. That's why we had to shop for groceries for them, visit pharmacies and
do some house chores almost every evening. That's why they didn't want to
leave their long-occupied place. Though, they had a wonderful chance because
their son (my wife's brother) was a top dog in Vladivostok and worked as a
Professor at the University there. But, unfortunately, he didn't have any
desire to see his parents, well, and they also didn't want to move. Frankly,
taking into consideration the changes for the worst, we managed to own a car
even though it was very hard. As it proved later, the car did save our lives
Usually I came home from my garage after midnight. At that time it was
not that dangerous. Everybody had a chance to party and come back home. I
was happy at that time but I didn't think that I picked the wrong time for
coming back home. I got on a street car and took a seat behind the driver
starting to think about my car and what else I could do for it. There were
some elderly people on the tram sitting here and there. A group of young
Chechens got on the street car at the next stop and became rowdy. I
understood that if they paid attention at me, I wouldn't be in for it, but
my stop was rather near. Unfortunately, my hopes were in vain. The voices
came nearer and sounded meaner, more aggressive and squealed.
According to the number of their voices, there were four of them, "I
thought". So, to hope for a "gentleman" style fight was stupid. Not without
reason, 200 years ago the Chechens were given the nickname - "jackals". In
addition, they had knives. If I tried to resist, they would cut my throat
anyway, but in that case my wife is under threat, because they would never
calm down unless they revenged upon the family of their prey that dared to
resist. Only one thing remained - to grit my teeth and try to stay calm.
- Well, you, kike, it's not Moscow here!
The blow to my face came from the side! My glasses got broken, the
blood poured into the eye. Blows and blows, and more blows... I couldn't
think of anything, only ringing in the ears, only one thought kept on
piercing my mind - "don't move and don't fall". Then there was a stop and
the voices disappeared.
I tried to revise the damages. A piece of glass was above my eye - I
took it out. Got up, looked around, one eye could still see. Same elderly
people, they all looked down, to the floor. I understood them and didn't
accuse. Only one old lady - Chechen lady - not far from me started to
- Vakh, vakh! What have they done to you? These hooligans?
I couldn't suppress my tears any more and they poured from my eyes. I
cried because of lack of retaliation, lack of fighting back and holding
myself back in order not to fight. Shame and hatred to myself filled my
- Why were you silent? They are YOUR grandchildren. They MUST obey when
you talk. And now you feel sorry for me? Remember!!! When you, your children
and grandchildren will be obliterated like mad dogs, remember me! Remember
The street car stopped and I got out. I didn't remember how I reached
Life is becoming harder and harder every day. No authority. Well, lots
of people in police uniforms were on the streets, but the republic was full
of anarchy. Who did they serve and protect - remained unknown. On the
streets there were lots of armed Chechens in civilian and military clothes.
Pay and pension pays were delayed for a few months and were not paid in
full. The delays became longer and longer.
A new high-rise KGB headquarters building was seized and robbed. I was
told about the details of that seizure by one of our friends, a KGB major,
which worked in that building. One weekend there were only 2 officers on
duty in the building. They were in the hallway. When the crowd started to
bang on the locked doors, one of the officers - a Russian - headed to the
door to talk to the crowd. His partner - a Chechen - shot him in the back
several times. After that he unlocked the door and let the crowd in. Robbery
and vandalism started. The bandits seized a thousand uniforms and armament
for Special Forces. But, they seized not only this. They also stole
everything they could, even pens and paper. The things they couldn't carry
were smashed on the spot. A unique telephone system was in the building.
Only 5 or 6 kinds of such a system were produced in Russia and the cost was
terrific. The equipment was crushed and shot.
Later, some Russian technicians from the Central Security Department
were "invited" as specialists to restore the equipment, at least partially.
They told me as their former colleague what they saw there. The whole
building looked like a huge public restroom. Dingy, shabby walls, urine and
excrements everywhere. It was impossible to look at the equipment without
shudder. Torn out cables and wires, crashed bulbs and indicators, scattered
parts of equipment. There was no word about any restoration.
But even if it were possible to restore some parts, the technicians
didn't have any desire to talk about it. They knew perfectly well that it
would be the job done for the enemy.
Whatever general conviction could be about everybody working for money,
the people started to wake up. Not everything can be bought or sold.
The seizure was successful, Moscow preferred not to pay attention and
the Chechens were glad they were not punished. Only some people knew about
that in our city because nobody took any interest in such departments and
their fate. So much more anxiety was caused by the outrageous kidnapping of
the State University Rector Viktor, Kan-Kalik.
The purpose of the kidnapping was rather clear in spite of the followed
official explanations. The Chechens sent a message for the people to
understand whom the real master in the Republic was and what would happen to
those who didn't understand that. The process of ousting all of the
unfaithful from leading positions was under way.
Among our acquaintances, there were people of different classes,
including directors of plants and CEOs. We heard from them that the Chechens
advised them to quit their jobs. But nobody took it seriously. The
kidnapping was bold and outrageous. In broad daylight, Chechens in civilian
clothes entered Rector's cabinet, grabbed him, forced him into a car and
drove away. The witness didn't say a word. After a few months of official
search a burned corpse was allegedly found somewhere, but we will never know
the truth. Only one thing was real - his death was horrible because, he
became human prey in beastly hands.
Every day we went to work, discussed current events and all that time
we had a feeling that it was a dream. What was happening seemed unreal. It
looked like everything was just going on it's own way but something sinister
was above the head. Shootings were not rare. The shops didn't have
groceries. We could shop only at the market. The prices were skyrocketing
and there was no money. To withdraw the money which one saved for years in
the bank was impossible. At night the city was solitary and quiet.
Somewhere, in the still of the night, gunshots could be heard. Who
fought against whom was unclear. Some people who owned orchards dared to go
there, only during daytime but often useless. Somebody had already gathered
the harvest and the security was reluctant to explain. But, what could an
elderly security man do against armed robbers? The only thing he could do
was to sit quietly in his cabin and prey they didn't kill him.
My father called me at my job place.
- You were right. Look for somebody who wants to buy our apartment
urgently. Your mother and I want to leave.
- Yes. It's terrible. Don't want to talk about it on the phone. Come
My parents' apartment was downtown on Partizanskaya St., opposite the
Republic's Art Foundation. From their 4th floor, they witnessed
the scene, which soon became an ordinary sight in many parts of the city. A
few Russians were passing by the Republic's Art Foundation Building. A car
"Volga" passed by and then stopped. Some armed Chechens got out of the car
and shot down the poor guys with their automatic guns. Then slowly got into
the car and drove away. After this horrible scene, which was witnessed by my
parents, they understood at last what "independent Ichkeria" meant. Both of
my parents went through war, fought against fascists during WWII, but this
scene shocked them with its senseless cruelty.
We had many acquaintances among Chechens but to pick out a reliable
buyer was really hard in order not to pay their life's savings for that.
But, anyway in a week the problem was solved. One of our acquaintances, a
University Professor, an intellectual guy of our age was glad to have such
an opportunity. His relatives were coming from Russia and the apartment
price, which went drastically down due to a great outflow of the population,
was just good for him. A few days before the sale of the apartment, my
father asked me to move his car - "Zhiguli-5" to the relatives in
Prokhladnoe. He was not a good driver and the car mileage was ridiculous.
So, he wouldn't make it. This trip was a very risky one, to put it
mildly, because many drivers were killed even for used cars. There were many
accidents like this, they killed not only unfaithful but also the people of
their faith, and in our case my father's car was almost brand new and made
for export. But there was no way out. My father didn't want to part with the
car; it was his favorite toy and joy, which he was able to buy with his
honest work. He used to drive the car when he went fishing or visiting his
relatives, the rest of the time he used to polish and admire it.
It didn't take a long time for me to get ready for the trip. I put 2
jerry cans of gasoline into the trunk because of gasoline shortages, an old
fish net for camouflage, some fishing accessories and 2 bottles of `Vodka'
into the glove compartment. Of course, I took `Vodka' not for drinking, but
it served as a form of currency, which could be used at any time. In the
morning I went into the garage, made the sign of the cross for myself,
although I was not baptized yet at that time and left. The most terrible and
risky part was to cross our own border.
I reached the post between the Chechen-Ingush Republic and Osetia at 10
am. I tried to reach there not too early, in order not to attract extra
attention. I drove up to the post slowly, fortunately, there wasn't any
traffic. Who could drive under such circumstances and not be shot?
I was not so lucky. There was a fire not far from the post and some
people were sitting around eating shashlik. One man got up and headed in my
direction, staggering without making a sign for me to stop. However, he
pulled a machine carbine gun from behind and another large-caliber
machine-gun was beside the people, sitting around the fire. Of course, if I
revved up quickly, then in a few seconds I could be one, two hundred meters
away from this place, and he wouldn't be able to shoot, his reaction was
impaired, but the position of the machine-gun was much better and it could
shoot rather far, but my car could move only along this straight road. I had
to put on the brakes and smile. I got out of the car and the "dzhigit" with
his swollen, unshaven face, didn't even didn't look at me.
- What's there in the trunk?
He saw the jerry cans.
- No. There's gasoline. I'm going fishing; there are no gas stations
there. But I have some `Vodka'. There's no fishing without `Vodka'?
Only at that moment he looked at me, but I didn't know whether he saw
me because his glance was blank.
- 'Vodka' is good. We've run out of it.
I immediately gave him both bottles from the glove compartment. He
grabbed them and turning away from me said, - "On your way back get some
Trying not to hurry, I got into the car, started it and slowly pulled
away. I revved up slowly at first, then faster and faster. There was no time
to look straight ahead, the road was empty, only in the rearview mirror I
could watch what was happening behind, if anybody went to the machine-gun
from the fire. A few kilometers which separated the posts of Chechnya and
Osetia I drove like crazy, momentarily, though those were the longest
seconds of my life. When I looked away from the mirror, I saw Osetian post
ahead, concrete blocks across the road, bumps and roadside "hedgehogs". I
started to put on brakes but the speed was too fast and the car bumped and
rocked like crazy. Twenty, thirty meters more and I felt as if I were riding
a huge vibrator. I could hardly hold the steering wheel. At last, the car
jerked and stopped. "I made it"!
From the post I could see a group of people in police uniforms running
to me loading their guns. I hurriedly got out of the car and raised my
hands. The senior of them, an Osset, looked at my car's license plate, then
at my face and said, questionably.
- Russian? From Chechnya?
It remained only to nod. The guns were lowered down.
- Do you need help?
- No. I'd like to examine the car. It got it.
The Osset smiled.
- I'm not going to give you a speeding ticket, though you raced like
hell. Was it scary?
I shrugged my shoulders. How can I admit that it was so scary?
- It's OK. Don't worry. Go now. That's all right; you're not the first
They treated me to a cigarette and only then I saw my hands trembling.
I finished smoking, examined the car, looked under its bottom, and pulled
some parts, which I could reach. It looked like everything was OK. Good
strong cars were produced in our country! Tried to start it. Started, but
only from the second try. Listened carefully, the sound was clear. I forgot
to show my ID, so I reached into my pocket to find it. The Osset smiled
- You don't need to. Everything is clear with you. Are you coming back?
- I'm moving the car. Then I'll come back. My wife is staying there.
He nodded his head understandingly.
- Well... You know better. Good luck!
I waved to the gunmen and got into the car. Squeezed between the blocks
and the post and slowly drove away. When I was passing by the next post,
nobody stopped me; they only looked carefully at me. Probably, they were
informed about me. During that day I crossed 5 or 6 republican borders,
intentionally trying to make a circle. Why? I didn't know, just in case. In
Prokhladnoye, I parked the car into my relatives' garage, left the car keys
and car ownership with them and took the train back to Grozny the same
In a few days I put all our parents' possessions into a container and
took a train the same day. It was very problematic to buy the train tickets.
I had to pay extra money for the tickets but we had to leave immediately.
The hunt for people selling their apartments was under way. Only naive
people could stay in the city after their apartments were sold. And very
often such people had night visitors. After the night visitors' departure
one could rarely stay alive. We tried to avoid stupid risks. My parents
asked me to accompany them to Ryazan where their relatives lived. We reached
Ryazan without problems, though I tried not to get out of our compartment
very often. In Ryazan our relatives met us. When we got out of the train on
to an empty platform, a very strange feeling seized us. We rode in the car
along the city streets; answered questions but the feelings of unreality
didn't leave us. And only when we sat down at the dinner table, did we
understand what the matter was. Nowhere did we see crowds of armed people,
or, the armed people in civic clothes or in camouflage. We haven't got used
to ordinary, peaceful life. Of course, we didn't have a war, but the city
was on the front line. We were scared of the silence without shootings. We
couldn't get used to it.
My mother asked me.
- Maybe you will stay?? Won't go back??
- Mom, Irene is still there.
- Yes. I see...
And suddenly she started crying.
- Why do you need all this? We fought at the fronts against fascists
and for our country. Why do you need to die! What for!
It was very hard to calm her down...
In a day, early in the morning I went back. I asked them not to see me
off. I got up when it was still dark outside, got dressed and left. I didn't
have any luggage, only a train ticket and some money.
I haven't seen my mother alive since then. And now I can't even visit
The morning was on the frosty side.
Through a snow-drift I dug my way to the gate of my garage. This is how
I used to call the shed where I kept my car, little rusty four-wheeled
monster well up in years. Having got inside, I started the complex process
of bringing this piece of hardware to life. I never managed to make a real
little jewel out of this car. Sometimes in my dreams it came to me in the
image of Lego vehicle composed of huge amount of simple parts. Those parts
embarrassed me by their vast amount and infinite variety amidst which I was
losing my way, much like a child who is eager to assemble the toy but gets
desperately lost in the overwhelming complexity of a too advanced Lego
To put it bluntly, I am not too good with machinery. It is not that
hard to turn the car on in the summer time, but the winter is a pain. I used
to start out with stretching out a long cable and plugging it into a
self-made socket attached to a stone pillar that propped up the shaky roof
of the garage. Blessed be my Dad, for on his leaving the town for good he
presented to me this shed with a lump of machine parts and metal garbage in
it. Well, he wasn't that great in machinery either; he rather was a sort of
wanna-be, one who pretended to be familiar with all these devices, gadgets
and fixtures. He felt himself comfortable in the company of these
grease-smelling steely things. After he left the town, bequeathing to me his
treasures, I benefitted much from his strange devotion. Many a time and oft
his weird collection saved my car and, therefore, me and my family. The most
valuable acquisition was, of course, the jump-up kit, item without which my
life would be simply impossible. It took me seconds to attach the wires, and
then the real "fun" followed: after twenty minutes of laboring on the
ignition system, pushing on the gas pedal and alike toil the car eventually
gave out several specific sounds in which I gladly recognised the
approaching triumph: the engine was on and working. It spared me for the
next round of physical work: clearing the passage to the gate.
The garage, my priceless posession, was located in a remote district
called Microrayon. The garage was a well done separate structure with a
two-room basement underneath. Good shed, really. Sadly, it was too far from
home. One could, of course, cover that distance by the city train that used
to go from Microrayon to the Factory, but it was a risky gamble. The zone
between these two areas was one to keep away from. It was though impossible
to avoid such trips completely for it happened from time to time that my car
needed repair. And it happened all too often, every third or fourth day. On
such days I simply moved to my garage together with my car. If lucky enough
to finish the work in the day time, I drove away to leave the car overnight
at an open parking lot near the Factory. The lot was within some fifteen
minute walk from home and that was splendid: the shorter the distance, the
less dangerous the stroll. Last, and by no means least, the guards working
at the lot were ethnic Chechens. My wishful mind kept telling me that there
my car would be safer. A crow will not peck out an eye of another crow... I
convinced myself in this. I had to. For the car was my and my family's means
Back to business. After having cleared the way to the gate, I drove out
to my first destination that morning, the dairy store located on the nearby
boulevard. By a certain hour a cistern should be delivered. That day it took
me only an hour of standing in the line. When the cistern appeared, the line
was already about 150 - 200 people long, but since I had come much earlier,
I was among the first that day. And I did get some milk that day, and then I
brought it to my mother-in-law. It was not every day that the milk was
delivered, but on the other hand it still was quite a luck that it was at
all delivered from time to time. Whether that milk deserved the name or not,
is another part of the story. When the jar got emptied, it did not need to
be rinsed. It was clean like after having water in it.
The School used to be my next destination. Every day I gave my wife a
ride to our district school where she worked as a teacher. This was my dear
school, High School number 41 where I studied years ago. Back then the
school was newly built, and my class was the first to graduate from it.
Later my wife became a teacher in it. She could, of course, commute by bus
but it was a bit too dangerous. So I gave her a ride. After that ride my
working day was to begin. I was give-a-ride guy, a self-styled "cab" driver.
On the one hand, I had merely a Zaporozhets, mini car that in the everyday
conversational speech goes under the nickname of Zapor (which in Russian
means: constipation). This ugly car is not that handy for the job: one
cannot earn out of it as many roubles as from a middle-size Lada or Moskvich
cars. On the other hand, giving people rides on a Lada or Moskvich had more
danger in it: those days it was only some stupid ethnic Russians in Grozny
city who went out unarmed. Hence, the worse the car, the safer the business.
Well, it did of course happen that even crappy Zapors got hijacked, their
owners left alive or dead. Nevertheless, with a Zapor the risk was less. I
convinced myself in this. I had to. But I still knew the perils. I knew
them, but there was no way out, for the salaries were not paied in the town
of Grozny that year. All the money flows entering the "Republic" went
directly to its "President", Chechen-born retired Soviet general Dudaev.
Some of that money was then paid to the "President's Guards", some were
funnelled to unknown directions. Those were the directions whence huge
amount of weapons was arriving every day into the "Republic". Weaponry trade
flourished. A rich menu of arms was at sale in farmers' markets. Then the
street traders started selling them in the street near the bank. Everything
was available, from daggers through mortars. And, needless to say,
cartridges, mines, whatever other ammunition. Strong was my desire but thin
was my wallet. Imagine: 60 roubles for one machine-gun cartridge, - wasn't
it outrageous? Only a Brave and Proud Chechen Tribesman could afford this.
Besides, it was not at all obvious that the street traders would agree to
sell it to me, because it was inappropriate for the ethnic Russian trash to
carry arms. In Chechnya weaponry is cherished much more than in the American
Wild West: while for a Texan macho his gun is currency of self-esteem, for a
Chechen tribesman his gun is a sacred artifact of his faith. Not of the
official faith explained in Quaran, but of that clandestine unpronounced
faith which gets passed from ancestors to their offsprings through blood and
mothers' milk. In Caucases, and in Chechnya in particular, making a gunshot
has always been not merely an act of assault or defence, but a sacred rite
which must always be fulfilled with a prayer. Or, perhaps shooting itself is
already a prayer: after all, everyone in that country knows that Allah helps
the strongest and the bravest, no matter what particular act of heroism they
perform - defend their village, rob a bank, hijack an airplane, or hunt a
boar. Verily, carrying arms was a privelidge of a Real Chechen Guy. Ethnic
Slavs were scum of the earth: after all, they were not even Moslems. They
were wicked aliens subject to oppression and, from time to time, for a funny
manhunt. Literally. So they did not deserve holding a weapon.
After the Orwellian "expression of people's free will and enthusiasm" a
Chechen-born retired Soviet general Dudaev and his clansmen took power in
Dudaev stroke a deal with the Kremlin and assured it that he would
become Yeltsin's agent in Chechnya. The Russian military were ordered to
leave the province and to hand their arms and ammunition to its new
self-established "government". And the military did it. It was the order...
Together with the armory, Yeltsin "presented" us all to his then protege
Dudaev. This is how we, non-Chechens, became aliens in this land. We became
aliens to Chechens who conveniently labelled us as "occupants" and thus
explained to themselves the numerous acts of spontaneous "requisitions" and
"expropriations" of our property and often lives. We became aliens to our
own Government which regarded us as subjects of the remote province of a
legal status yet to be determined. That legal status was far not the sole
issue in question. Other unanswered questions stood open. For example: what
was our guilt?. After all, we had simply worked for all our life for the
Country that we used to know under the name of the Soviet Union. Possibly,
there was something wrong in this, but it had never been an issue of choice
for any of us. (After all, the Chechen "President" Dudaev used to be a
general of the Soviet Army in charge of a division of nuclear air bombers;
and most of his aides used to be Communist officials and pillars of the old
regime.) Perhaps, our guilt was that our ancestors paid a high toll to the
death in battles for that land. The recentmost was the military campaign of
year 1942 of our Lord, when elite German divisions crushed through Caucasian
mountains, thirsty for the Caspian oil. Against the impossible odds and at
the highest of prices, our grandfathers stopped them here. This was one of
the most dramatic pages of the World War II, page carefully torn out from
the official history for the sake of political correctness. The politically
correct history cannot tolerate the fact that in the Caucasus the Soviets
had to fight two simultaneous battles, one against the assaulting German
divisions manned with Tirol mountaineers, another against Chechen gangs.
When Germans ceased the strategic hights of the Caucasus and it became
evident that within days they would get through to the precious oilfields,
the Chechens started a revolt. Not for the sake of high treason, but in the
name of Allah, of course. But Allah refused to accept their martirdom.
Instead, he helped out Russians who managed through an increadible effort
and despite uncountable losses to turn the tide: the Germans were driven
out, and the Chechen rebellion was quelled. Later Stalin (who himself hailed
from the nearby Georgia on the opposite slope of the mountains and whose
mentality did not differ much from that of his Chechen neighbors) took his
bloody vengeance upon the rebellious tribes. Massive deportation of Chechens
to Kazakhstan ordered by Stalin in 1945 failed to go as planned: an epidemy
stroke and decimated the deported people. I do not know if Stalin cared much
about turn of events. I am not sure if his barbarianism aimed towards
barbarians was justified. The idea of collective punishment belongs to the
Old Testament and is incompatible with the New One. The only thing I know
for sure is that the Slavic, Armenian, Jewish and other non-Chechen
population of that area should not be saddled with any historical
responsibility for Stalin's misdeads. Not by our hands those were carried
out. (The deportation was organised and orchestrated by the Home Security
Minister, comrade Beria who too had originally came from Georgia, and who
too knew and followed the laws of the Caucasus.) On the other hand, it were
our fathers who brought crafts and industry to this once barren land of
shepards and hunters. They erected schools and a university. And committed
an awful sacrilidge by admitting there women to sit and study in the classes
with men. And they presented the Chechen people with an alphabet. As it
always happens under totalitarian rule though all these presents were handed
to the intended beneficiaries without asking for their consent. So when time
came, we realised that for too many local people the rule of gun and dagger,
the clan allegiance and the law of bloody vendetta were far more dear than
alphabet and schools. Especially when vendetta meant profit.
Each and every evening of that eventful year, I met with my friends
when we returned from our give-a-ride shifts, or from whatever other work. I
deliberately use words "shift" and "work" avoiding the term "job". There
were no jobs in the "Republic" in the proper sense of the word. Some oil
refineries kept functioning but they were controlled by the local warlords
and their clans. Some schools and even hospitals kept working but no
employee was getting a salary.
So, every evening I met with my friends to exchange news and rumors.
Even though the city had in its better times population around 470 thousand,
it seemed that everyone knew or had heard of everyone. Or, at least, had
common friends or neighbours. Or worked at the same factory. Our
conversations typically started with a certain topic and ended with it:
- Do you happen to know that fellow? The one who used to work at the
- Yup. His name rings a bell. Why?
- Yesterday a gang broke into his house... They cut the throats of his
whole family and his children. And "expropriated" their apartment, of
- By the way, did you know that other family next block?
- Yup. That I already know. All gone. Throats cut... Some Chechen
villagers are living in their house now.
When an individual or a family were simply asassinated, it was trivial
and elevated no interest. More often families were exterminated with cruelty
unusual for the modern society: still alive people were fleeced or sliced in
pieces, children were raped and then thrown out of the window.
That was chilling. Chilling and, once again, very unusual. In the first
weeks of the "Chechen People's Republic of Ichkeria" many preferred not to
believe in such stories. But the sacred traditions of tribal society were
getting more and more devotees, and the so profitable "people's resistance
to nonbelievers and occupants" was rapidly gaining momentum.
Soon no one refused to believe such news, because these news were no
longer unusual. They became our everyday reality. People eventually get used
to everything. The death was deprived of its aura of fear and became our
good neighbor. It was accompanying each of us through the entire daytime. It
moved even closer in the night and its embrace became unbearable in the
early morning hours when shots and visceral groans were heared in the dark
streets of our erstwhile cosy town.
Anyhow, the life was going on. Everyone had to earn his everyday bread.
When I said that there were no paid jobs in town, I certainly exaggerated:
there existed a major employer, one always in search of working force. That
employer never asked for resume or reference letters, but paid damn well and
gave benefits in the form of one's and one's family's relative security. The
name of that generous employer was "President's Guards" Corp. I knew even
some ethnic Russians who eventually submitted to the demands of life and
enlisted there. Well-fed, they went around the city with rifles and were
regularly getting their high salaries. You see, in this world each
individual has a price of his own.
I mean not the salary that we get in green or by cheque from the
payroll department. I am talking about that other price which every man
establishes himself for his own priceless self. Every individual, thus,
wares his selfmade pricetag visible only to our Maker and to his angels and
possibly to some rare people who can read other people's hearts and minds.
Those Russian-born folks who joined the "Guards" established their price
with the highest of precision: 30 silver coins and no cents.
I can't say that I was always lucky but sometimes I managed to earn for
gas, 100 gr. of sausage and a few eggs. Then it was a real feast for us.
Half of the sausage went to our black cat Teddy. Actually, he used to eat
only bread, sometimes for a better taste we put some marrow spread on it.
Maybe some people remember that kind of spread, which used to be sold in
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