Кампания 1995 - - Roy Conrad. Grozny. A few days...История >> Мемуары и жизнеописания >> Современные войны >> Чеченская война  >> Кампания 1995
Roy Conrad. Grozny. A few days...
Home page: http://www.anycities.com/user/conrad/
Date: 19 Feb 2003
Russian original of this text is placed at
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
... ... ...
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|Парень - девушке:|
- А тебе всё равно, кто тебя изнасилует: незнакомый мужик или, например, я?
- Даже не знаю... А с чего такой странный вопрос?
- Да вот думаю: надевать мне маску или нет.