A Note from the Translator: After my verbal tussle of last week with a semi-literate, moronic Putlerite troll who suggested that a) I kill myself by bashing my head against a wall, b) that KGB rules so I’d better watch out, and c) that some ammonium up the nose might help me think, I was struck by the clarity of the evidence of the sheer barbarity and lack of humanity (and human intelligence) of so many in Russia. The reason why I translate things for LR is that I assume its readership is mainly Western and I worry that the West, and in particular its dreadful multiculturalist and politically correct politicians and public, appeasement artists and moral relativists to the bone, do not have the faintest idea about the reality of the monsters dwelling east of the Pripet Marshes. I see LR as a great corrective for these people, highlighting the truth that so many in the West would prefer not to have to acknowledge. Here then, for those who would cozy up to the bear, is an everyday story of…
Living and Dying in Dagestan
Alexandr Podrabinek, 31 March 2009
Translated from the Russian by Dave Essel
Magomedshakir Magomedov lived an open book of a life, like many villagers in Dagestan. Thirty-five years old, he quarried a bit of stone and grazed sheep. He did what he could to earn a living. He believed in God and did not hide his beliefs. He was an open book, a family man with a wife and children.
Three months ago, he moved with his family from his village of Muga in the Akushinsky District to his father’s village Deybuk in the Kayakentsky District. He registered the fact of his new residence there. Shortly afterwards, his children needed some official chit that could only be obtained from the authorities at his previous place of residence. On March 2, therefore, Magomedshakir hitched a ride back to Mugi. As he neared the village, he was stopped by some local policemen and taken to the Akushinsky district police station. There he was asked to provide a written explanation for his journey. No great shakes, so Magomeshakir wrote it. He also telephoned his wife from the police station, to tell her where he was. A little while later, he was released and a policeman actually gave him a ride on to the village council offices. The administrator at the village council issued him all the papers he had come for without difficulty. After that, he walked to the centre of the village in order to find a ride back home. That did not happen, however. A Niva car without number plates roared up to where he was standing and, in the sight of many witnesses, the people who leapt out of it forced Magomedshakir into the car. From the moving car, Magomedshakir was able to call his wife, Zhannet Abdurazakova, on his cellphone, but was only able to shout that he was being driven off in the direction of Makhachkala before he was cut off.
That was Magomedshakir’s last contact with his family. A few days later, a relative of the family saw an internet posting referring to an M. Magomedov. The Rosbalt (Kavkaz) news agency had a 4 March 2009 report, quoting RIA Novosti, that a certain Magomedov had been killed in a shoot-out. This had taken place, according to the news agency, in the Sergokalinsk district, in woods near the village of Seragi. The authorities had never contacted the family about Magomedov’s death. According to RIA Novosti, ‘the deceased was identified as Magomedshakir Magomedov, a native of the Kayakent district. The Dagestan MVD press service stated that “he had in recent times been listed has a holder of radical-extremist Islamic views. It was supposed that Magomedov was a member of the Izberbash terrorist group and that he may have hung back in the woods in order to cover the retreat of the main body of the group”. Note the words “supposed” and “may”: clearly the MVD had absolutely no actual evidence to show against Magomedov.
The family’s search went on. At last, through unofficial channels, they managed to learn that Magomedov’s corpse was in the Makhachkala morgue. Magomedshakir’s brother, Bashir, tried in vain to have the body released to him. He recounts that the beat policeman of Deybuk village went to their parents and demanded 400,000 roubles (~$12,000) if they wanted the body back, saying that if they did not pay, it would never be returned to them. That is not a small sum, even for a weatlhy town-dweller. The family, however, firmly refused and eventually were able to get the body back, although they were given no officials papers regarding the circumstances of Magomedov’s death.
The deceased’s brother Bashir recounts: “When we collected my brother’s body, he was given to us completely naked and with no personal effects. His body was in a dreadful state. It was clear that he had been tortured before his death. He was covered with cuts, bruises and burns and many of his bones were broken. He did not find a quick death. There was no way that in his state he could have held a weapon. He had a number of open fractures, heated spikes had been driven through his ears, he was covered with bruises and one could see that his teeth had been drilled. With wounds like this, he would have been suffering badly and could at most have cried with pain but could certainly not have engaged in a fire-fight. We carefully photographed my brother’s body and made a video of it. What my brother went through is there for anyone to see.”
Widow Zhannet addressed herself in writing to the prosecutor’s office in Makhachkala. Brother Bashir wrote wrote to RF Human Right’s Plenipotentiary V.P. Lukin and to the legal defence centre of Memorial. The latter advises that no case has been opened and no investigation is being carried out.
The authorities are clearly ready to let matters end at this point, as if Magomedshakir had been the victim of an accident or natural disaster. Investigation? Why? The sequence of events is clear: formally detained by the police, subsequently released and taken to destination in a police vehicle; short visit to the village council offices, kidnapped and – body in morgue. Even the most prejudiced investigation would have to consider whether the authorities were involved in the kidnapping and murder. But of course, those authorities are not suicidal and will therefore ask no questions and start no investigation. A deafening silence is the best defence.
Normal people do, however, ask questions. And they ask themselves what sort of country is it that we live in, what is the price of life and death in Dagestan? And the main question they are asking is why on earth should Magomedshakir Magomedov have been killed?
The war on terror is law enforcement’s pork barrel. The more they are successful in this war, the more medals they get, the more promotions they receive, and the more money they have in their pockets. Everyone gains to a greater or lesser extent from a successful anti-terrorist operation: the police, the special forces, the prosecutors (and sometimes the judges), and finally, the federal government – which can advertise to the town and the world about how excellently it is protecting national security.
So let’s attempt to reconstruct the events. PERHAPS IT HAPPENED LIKE SO:
The Head of the Chief Directorate of an Important republican Special Service summons his second-in-command for operations. “So, Colonel, we’ve now been a whole month without uncovering a bandit group? Am I to take it you’ve caught them all?”
“Yes, indeed, Comrade General. We rounded them all up long ago.”
“Are you therefore recommending we wind up the operations department or make some staffing cuts?”
“Not at all, not all, Comrade General. There’s still plenty of terrorist small fry to sort out, hiding up in the hills and villages.”
“Well, find them then and report to me on the matter.”
“At your orders, Comrade General.”
What colonel does not dream of making general – and failing that, at least of keeping his rank. But where’s he to find some terrorists. Finding real ones is difficult, takes a long time, and is dangerous into the bargain. Far easier all round, therefore, is to scoop up some village peasant, check him out on the quiet with the police for possible high-placed protectors and other hindrances, and then kidnap him, kill him, and place his body with a rifle at his side at the location of an imaginary shoot-out. “Mission accomplished, Comrade General. We’ve mopped up a group of terrorists. Why don’t we have a confession on video? We really sweated him, put our best men on him. But the bastard wouldn’t talk. Must have been one of those ultra Moslems. So we had him die in a shoot-out.”
OR PERHAPS IT HAPPENED LIKE SO:
The chief prosecutor phones the district office: “Want to tell me when the f*ck you’re going to make an arrest over that bus stop bomb five years ago?”
“But we’ve got no leads on that at all, Comrade Prosecutor. There was no evidence to go on.”
“Evidence is not the issue… You-know-who insists that we close the case so I need a criminal. Dead or alive, I don’t care.”
And so of course, off they go and set up a road block. Haul in a few men and take them back to the station. The first one’s got an uncle works in Makhachkala so he won’t do. The second one’s cousin is an actual partisan up in the mountains, which makes him too dangerous to touch. But this third one is just perfect: a shepherd, quarryman, just a plain peasant. Shame he didn’t break down and confess and so had to suffer some before he died.
OR MAYBE IT WAS SIMPLER STILL.
Prices are going up, wages are being paid late. The kids have to be fed and clothed. The wife’s on about policemen making so little, stupid when it’s easy to do what everyone does and go into the mountains or get into some proper money-making racket. What’s manly about being a cop? Enough’s enough, so the guys get together and agree that on their next shift they’ll kidnap someone, guys from the next district will wear civvies and help. It’ll work out fine. So they do it, but the guy’s stubborn and kicks the bucket before he can be persuaded to write a letter asking for a million in ransom. The persuading was a little too enthusiastic. So the thing had to be written up as a terrorist arrest. Even so, tried to get 400 thousand for the release of the body but his relatives were too tight, Refused to pay and the body had to be given back for free. Never mind, plenty more fish in the sea.
Or maybe it was something else again.
One thing, however, is clear: in this country, if a person has no connections amongst the authorities, big business, or organised crime, then his life hangs by a thread. That is the real reason why in Russia there are so many civilian casualties in any conflict. It was like that back in Soviet times and perhaps earlier still. But peaceful civilians at some point stop being peaceful. Then they go off into the forests, as in Lithuania and Western Ukraine after the war; or into the mountains, as in Chechnya and Dagestan; or they arm themselves and stay in town, as in Nalchik and in Ingushetiya.
What should Magomedshkir Magomedov’s brother do if one of the above descriptions of events is the correct one? What should the murder victim’s father do to the policeman who tried to get 400 thousand roubles for the release of his son’s body? What should any member of that family do after all their appeals to the authorities remain unanswered, as has been the case on dozens and hundreds of previous occasions? They have two recourses: either put up with it and continue writing pointless letters and rely on God eventually punishing the guilty; or take up a Kalashnikov and waste the cop who tried to make money from the body of their son and brother and then go on to waste the others who killed him. Many have been faced with this choice, particularly in Chechnya. It’s a matter of personal choice.
We are loooking at a paradox: here law enforcers commit crimes and by the same logic lawful rights are defended by criminals. Is there anyone left who is still surprised that, having failed to obtain justice for themselves, people take up arms?
PS: The author is grateful to Memorial for factual materials supplied for this article.