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Кампания 1995 - - Roy Conrad. Grozny. A few days...

История >> Мемуары и жизнеописания >> Современные войны >> Чеченская война [1995] >> Кампания 1995
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Roy Conrad. Grozny. A few days...


Home page: http://www.anycities.com/user/conrad/

E-mail: croy2000@mail.ru

Date: 19 Feb 2003

Russian original of this text is placed at




     Dear Reader,

     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 lawless warlords.

     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 matters.

     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 engineering position.

     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 being rich...

     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 cognoscentii...

     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 future supporters.

     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 explain something.

     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 not once.


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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.
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