Do not Forget Chechnya!
A moving exhibition of Chechnian children’s drawings
by Ursula Richner, Zurich, Switzerland, and Islan Mosajew
Give a child a sheet of paper and a few pencils and he or she will spontaneously draw a picture of what he or she experienced, an image of the soul. A child growing up in the mountains will draw mountains, and a child growing up near the sea will draw the sea. Thus, a child growing up in wartime will draw the war, the terrible reality of war. The following report is about an impressive exhibition of children’s drawings entitled “The Effect of War: Children from Chechnya Illustrate their Experiences”.
On her journeys to Chechnya Elizabeth Petersen collected drawings by children in the refugee camps of Ingushetia and in Chechnya which were spontaneously given to her by the children. These were drawings in which the children presented their everyday reality. Children between 6 and 15 painted what they had directly experienced: the daily military raids carried out by both the Russians and by the Chechnian puppet government, the daily attacks of tanks and helicopters, the incalculable mine explosions and fire fights between rebels and the government army.
They drew the bombed houses, destroyed landscapes, the omnipresent death. There are also drawings full of beautiful images of what the world could be like – without war, in peace: schools in good condition, with a good atmosphere for learning, and landscapes in bloom which express peaceful silence. There are pictures which show the children’s imagination, like palm beaches high in the mountains representing a holiday resort. They let us surmise that the children have not yet seen the real beauty of their homeland. Chechnya is a marvellous country in the northeastern Caucasus, with impressive mountains, with large, fertile plains, with many mineral resources and it is particularly rich in oil. The Chechens are the native inhabitants of this area. They are a people with an arrant love of liberty. “They need freedom, because without it they would lose their human dignity and would no longer be Chechens.” (Dolchan Choshaev) Having been invaded in the course of their history by different empires, they have constantly had to fight for their freedom. In the 13th century came the Tatars, then the Mongols, then the tsars, but this courageous people resisted again and again. The refugees from the mountains always returned home in order to begin a new life. Tradition, co-operation within the clan and the love of liberty were so strong that the Chechens survived their deportation by Stalin to Kazakhstan in the 20th century and returned to their country after Stalin’s death. After the collapse of the Soviet Union, they declared their independence and established the Democratic Republic of Chechnya. Consequently Chechnya was attacked by Russia in 1994. The war lasted two years. 80,000 people died – soldiers, rebels and above all civilians. The devastation of the capital Grosny was comparable to the destruction of German cities during the Second World War. In 1996, the Chechens successfully drove the occupying forces out of their country. A time of peace followed. But in 1999 the Russians, this time under Putin, attacked Chechnya again, and to this day a cruel war of attrition rages on. The entire infrastructure of the country has been destroyed, the environment polluted, and Chechnya is one of the most mined countries in the world. Schools and hospitals has been destroyed but continue to exist under appalling conditions. According to official data of the Russian federation, there are still 80,000 Russian soldiers in Chechnya. In fact, there are many more. That means that for every 4 Chechens there is one soldier. According to data provided by the president of the Civil Council of the present puppet government of Taus Djabrailow 20,0000 – 300,000 Chechens were killed in the second Chechnian war, and just as many fled the country. Thus, there are about 400,000 people still living in the completely destroyed country.
We can only suspect what kind of images and pictures of the world a child has who grows up in this desperate chaos, constantly confronted with the brutal force of the Russian supremacy and the force of the government appointed by the Russians. The children go to school, but they live in constant fear. The way to school is dangerous because one can never know whether a boy will be kidnapped, whether a mine will explode or a gun battle between combatants take place. Victor Kasancew, general of the Russian army and representative of northern Caucasus, ordered all boys older than 11 to be searched everywhere, wether on their way to school, in the classroom or anywhere else. They are already suspect rebels. No child is given the chance to learn in a peaceful surrounding. Besides that, lessons are cancelled repeatedly. The children who presently attend schools have experienced nothing but this war. However, they do hope for an end to the war, for peace, for new learning opportunities and a better future.
Together with these children, we hope for a better world. The exhibition of their drawings will serve a great purpose if it helps us not to forget these children in all their suffering. It is tremendously important for the people in Chechnya that the people in the west think of them. The war against the Chechens must not fall into oblivion! The more clearly and more publicly this cruel war is denounced, the more the voices for peace will be heard.
The strength of the Chechnian people is not yet broken. The birth rates are extraordinarily high compared to other countries. The women bear their children when they are still very young. They will rebuild Chechnya and make it prosperous again. In the meantime, until they are grown up, peace must come to this counry so that it is possible to build new schools, to train young adults who will be able to sensibly and unselfishly regulate the affairs of the destroyed country in the future.
Elizabeth and Andreas Petersen are helping to achieve these goals through their contacts in Chechnya. They furnish schools, they help young adults to obtain job training and are helping Chechnya to remain in the public eye with the exhibition of these drawings.
ur. The drawings take the viewer aback. A picture of a soldier armed to the teeth pursued me in my dreams. I was shocked by the details that a nine year-old girl had drawn in such an exact manner. I remember myself as a nine-year-old girl and copying exactly the animals in the zoo. Children observe very closely and absorb the world around them!
In my dream I painted rifles with flowers in their barrels ... I awoke. Where has the peace movement gone?
Chechnya in December 2004
The following compilation is taken from the exhibition. It shows the background to the children’s drawings.
Killed persons: 10
Kidnapped persons: 36 (15 released, 1 found dead, 19 missing, 1 in prison)
1st December: In the village Atschhoi Martan there was an explosion in the early morning. Two inhabitants, Arsen Zumaev and Elsen Zuraev, were killed.
2nd December: Ramsan Kadyrov’s troops carried out a cleansing in Samaschki. Nine people were arrested.
3rd December: At night Malika Sadulaeva from the village of Sirnowodsk was kidnapped. Seven masked, armed men came into the house, woke up the whole family, tied their hands and gagged their mouths. They took Malika with them. In August her father and her brother had already been killed by the special forces of OMON1.
In the village of Wedeno there was a gun battle with a helicopter. A house was fired at, one person was killed and two injured.
4th December: The sister of A. Maschadov was kidnapped in Grosny. In other places eight more family members of Maschadov were taken away.
5th December: On a hill near Grosny three corpses were found. They all showed traces of abuse and torture. The bodies were covered with wounds. One of the dead was without eyes and all persons had been gagged.
8th December: In Atschhoi Martan a weapon camp exploded.
9th December: In the village Mairtup a raid was conducted by Ramsan Kadyrov. Three men were kidnapped.
11th December: In Asinovsk a there was a raid by the special forces of OMON. Russian tanks surrounded the village. Three men were taken away.
A further cleansing took place in Sernovodsk. The reason was that they had found a combatant.
13th December: In Kurtschaloi, a young man called Said Usman Djabihadjiev was kidnapped. Masked, unknown people entered the house, searched it with dogs but didn’t find anything; therefore disappointed, they took the son with them.
14th December: A special force kidnapped Alwi Isaev in Grosny. Four armed men fetched him; his wife demanded to see their identification. One proved to be FSB agent Jaschurkaev.
At 11 o’clock at night, some rebels fired at the Russian garrison headquarters for ten minutes.
17th December: In Kurtschaloi at about 12 o’clock there was a meeting of all headmasters of the town in a school centre. At the same time, Kadyrov’s troops penetrated the centre and took Uwais Abdursakov from the meeting. He was taken away to Schali. In the evening, he was released on the condition he return the next day. Uwais Abdursakov returned the next day to the headquarters, but then disappeared without leaving a trace.
18th December: In Jandi Kotar the Russian ministry of the Interior and the OMON conducted a raid.
In Kurtschaloi Malika Achjadova was kidnapped. Kadyrov troops forced their way into the house, arrested her, locked her in the car and disappeared. She was brought to Schali.
In a suburb of Kurtschaloi a corpse was found. It was Riswan Dschamulaev, father of three children, 45 years old. His body showed signs of abuse.
19th December: In Gudermes, Kadyrov troops entered a refugee camp and took Hojbaudi Sangiriev. To date, no trace of him could be found.
21st December: In Grosny, in the suburb Leninskoje, Russian Special Forces carried out a raid. They wanted to arrest an alleged rebel. When Isa Sakaev offered resistance, he was killed. Two agents were hurt.
Source: The Russian human rights organization “Memorial”, Nasran, Ingushetia, publishes its report on the situation monthly; here December 2004 was added – a month like any other.
1 OMON or Otryad Militsii Osobogo Naznacheniy (literally: Special Purpose Detachment of Militsiya) is a generic name for the system of special units of militsiya within the Russian and earlier the Soviet, Ministerstvo Vnutrennih Del (MVD; Ministry of Internal Affairs). There is an OMON unit in every subnational entity of the Russian Federation. The units are utilized in emergencies such as high-risk arrests, hostage crises and riots, as well as in response to acts of terrorism. OMON are often accused of rash actions and excessive and indiscriminate use of force.