Estemirova Speaks

The following is an extract from a 2,600-word article by Natalya Estemirova on the situation in Chechnya written in August 2008 but published only after her killing on the pages of The Independent:

The abductions in Chechnya started nearly a decade ago. In 2000, Russian forces took control of practically the entire territory of the republic, and started extensive mop-up operations in villages

 Thousands of murders and abductions took place; these operations were declared to be an efficient method in the fight against rebels. In reality, however, the troops and police were looting the houses of unprotected civilians, at times taking away everything from them, from cars and furniture to shampoos and female underwear.

Most horrifically of all, women were raped in front of their male relatives, and all the men were detained, from teenagers to old men: they were either cruelly beaten, or released for ransom, or else they disappeared forever.
Large-scale “mop-up” operations stopped after 2003, but the abductions did not. Most often, one or two people would be taken from their homes in the middle of the night. Some were fortunate to return home barely alive after several days or weeks of cruel beating and torture – always ransomed by their relatives. But if the family of the abducted person could not gather the necessary sum or find the mediator, a dead body would be found some time later, or the victim would disappear for good. There were also those who – after their disappearance – appeared in court and were sentenced for grave crimes, despite their insistence that they had only confessed under prolonged torture.

Many things would change when Ramzan Kadyrov became President of Chechnya in 2007. Large-scale reconstruction began; Grozny changed by the day, its streets newly covered with asphalt and houses boasting plastic window frames and fresh plastering. Observers started talking about the wonders of the young President. From the inside the renovated houses did not look so beautiful, with no interior works done, and no proper utilities ensured. Since then, Kadyrov has attempted to engineer a further change of ideas. The President is advancing his campaign for a “revival of spiritual traditions”… making women and young girls “dress properly”, and above all wear headscarves in public.

Meanwhile, Kadyrov invites Russian pop celebrities to Chechnya and gives them lavish presents. No one dares to ask how these visits are sponsored, or how they comply with the Chechen “tradition”. No one dares to object to anything Kadyrov says or does, just as no one dared to object to Stalin’s words or deeds in the former Soviet Union. Peace in the republic and the successes in fighting terrorism are widely advertised; yet in reality rebel fighters frequently attack policemen, the numerous branches of the military structures constantly clash, and people keep being abducted. The main difference now is that many disappear only for some days and return beaten, terrified and therefore mostly silent.

Political observers claim Kadyrov is ruling over Chechnya independently of Russia. Is it really so? Tens of thousands of Chechens pining away in Russian prisons would not agree. Neither would the hundreds of thousands of war victims, or the relatives of the killed and missing. And the outflow of Chechen refugees to European countries is not subsiding. On the contrary: more and more people are trying to leave. A dictatorship is being cemented in a small European territory.

UN and EU officials compare the situation with the events of 2000, and note indubitable improvements. But what was the reason for destroying so many cities and villages, killing hundreds of thousands of civilians and… introducing state terror justified as a “fight against terrorism”? Was it not to crush the society and force it to make an artificial choice between democracy and stability? The Kremlin is satisfied with the current suppression in Chechnya of any attempts to act and think independently.

20 responses to “Estemirova Speaks

  1. I’m afraid that the knee-jerk reaction of most westerners,….all of us, and indeed even in the Moslem world (I dare say), to this horrendous information, IF THEY EVEN read or hear of these gruesome facts, could be summed up with: ‘Don’t bother me, with all that unpleasantness!’ THAT is what we face, universal human apathy..i.e. as long as it doesn’t happen to me and my family or friends,….who cares!? So now, we have those few brave martyrs, such as Natalya, who virtually alone, witness to the truth for mercy’s sake, to the unjust persecution and murder and oppression of fellow human beings. May her memory be eternal! Vechnaya Pamyat!
    Reader Daniel

  2. Paul Goble has a must read on the degradation of Russian society to the point that Estemirova’s murder results in no outrage or condemnation of the Kremlin. An excerpt:

    “Not long ago,” the two rights activists conclude with bitterness about what public reaction says about Russia today, “society buried Stanislav Markelov and Anastasia Baburova. It buried them and did only that. Is this sufficient as a memory not simply for the victims of totalitarianism but also for those who struggle against it?”

    This sense that Russians do not view these string of murders as symptomatic of the country’s problems has prompted other human rights activists, including some of the most prominent in Russia, to issue a declaration that “Estemirova’s murder was the direct result of government policy”

    “Government policy” as the culprit seems too generous. Discounting that the Putin media buried her death isn’t good enough. The whole urban LJ internet crowd was aware of her death as were young college students. Her public memorial service was announced across the internet and 100 people give or take a few in Moscow showed up. Where were these young people? Where were any Russians that in their family history had a member go to the Gulag or take a bullet in the head from the state?

    No one in Russia has clean hands in the moral and social degradation that will destroy them. They deserve Putin.

    • Actually there was a quick condemnation from Medvedev.

      Interestingly, he even said “she told the truth”.

      But then he jumped to defend Kadyrov from “the most primitive accustations” which are “unacceptable to authorities”.

      Memorial suspended its work in Chechnya.

    • @Her public memorial service was announced across the internet and 100 people give or take a few in Moscow showed up. Where were these young people?

      At 7:17 p.m., militiamen [policemen] asked the picketers to leave the area, saying that “another event will take place here.” After they dispersed, three girls with posters in protest against change of “Harry Potter” film director appeared in the territory still surrounded by militiamen.

      In Grozny:

      In the course of the farewell ceremony with the well-known human rights defender Natalia Estemirova, killed on July 15, two men in civil clothes, one of them with firearms on him, tried to stop the column that moved along the Putin Avenue in Grozny ahead of the catafalque with Estemirova’s body. (…) She continued: “We walked for some sections more, then, we sent off the car with Natasha’s body, and started dispersing. Those two men who tried to stop our column again appeared nearby. They made calls, then, some official arrived, and they began talking. But by that time the cars already left, and the participants in the action (somewhat about a hundred persons) dispersed. We didn’t reach the mosque, but all the same, we saw Natasha off as we liked.”

  3. Yes Penny, once again, of course you are correct. But the larger real issue: THE age-old human problem: How to awaken the consciences of mankind? ..for them …to do or at least, to try to do, what is fundamentally right and just…i.e. to BE virtuous?
    It is only the small numbers of people, who historically actually achieve this, sadly. Natalya Estimorova was one., and she ended a martyr! Such is the pathetic predicament of the ‘human condition’, our severe & pathetic and miserable human limitations. And in this, the Russian masses today, are influenced by the same forces and pressures that confront all mankind. Of course, it does not help them, i.e. ‘the Russians’, collectively, that they have gotten SO used to living in an oppressive & openly evil totalitarian society,
    where the individual or his rights or his dignity, mean NOTHING, but only what the rotten murderous gangster rulers of the country….currently…order.
    One temptation and hense a mistake, I feel, however, that many of us living outside of Russia make, in our assessments of that country and it’s large populations (with all of their many differences), is to lump all ‘Russians’ into one negative mold, and to not see the countless basically good, individuals over there, who…usually quietly, resist the evil system, as best they can. But, true, we usually cannot …hear…their voices. The open & vocal FEW dissidents too give us hope. I am convinced that they, i.e. meaning all the good-apples there, add up to quite a substantial number. Can those conscientious virtuous ones, change the whole
    nation? Probably not, at least not in the short term. That is why, there have always been, in human history, wars and mass tribulations, as corrective punishments and mind-changers from Above. By present human means, no!….not much seems to be possible, and those Russians who support Putler and his gang, yes THEY do deserve him. But, many others there, do not.
    (Do all Americans, ‘deserve’ B. Obama? I hope not!…though he is not yet, as bad as Putler….not yet! & at least our American culture/system SHOULD prevent him and his leftists pals from totally ruining this country…..I HOPE ANYWAY!)

  4. You are right of course, psalomschik, there are many more virtutous Russians that are unknown to us who quietly in their own way push back against the system.

    It’s hard for an American to fathom sometimes Russian behavior being blessed with never having lived their history.

    Your posts are always thoughtful.

  5. As we see in article there is no one fact, document, even attestation. People like Estemirova discredit remedial movement. CIA does good job to clean Russia from such people.

  6. to ‘aglyamoff’: what luny bin did you escape from?
    “CIA does good job to clean Russia from such people” …???
    What KGB idiotic cover-up nonsence!
    How absurd!
    I wish that our WONDERFUL CIA…WOULD knock off your Kremlin leadership, one rat at a time. You are disgusting….and insane…and ineffective in your propaganda.

    • “Look for motive” Sherlock Holmes. Kadyrov or Putin or anybody in Russia had no motive to kill Estemirova. Nobody both in Russia an West red her idiotic articles like this with no proves . Moreover nobody knew this woman. Estemirova wasn’t any treat for “regime”. Who had motive? Anglo-saxons. To discredit Russia.

      • Algymuff, so sad to see your brain has shrunk even further.

        Considering Kadyrov publicly threatened her as documented by her boss at memorial, and that she was exposing the (all too usual) crimes of Russia in the north Caucasus, and that Russians have a habit of killing such people, I suggest you are being obtusely stupid.

        • Be anxious about your brain. I didn’t see any links to documents in articles of Estemirova. I repeat Kadyrov had no motive to kill ungifted unknown journalist. But CIA had.

          • Kadyrov had plenty of motive.
            She was documenting his massive crimes against his civillians.

            • Show me anybody at least one document.

              • @”Show me anybody at least one document.”

                As the most prominent human rights worker in the republic, she provided plenty of “documents” (meaning the evidence) that helped declare Russia guilty before the European Court of Human Rights in dozens of cases Chechnya murder, enforced disappearance, torture and so on (many of them joint complaints, making it actually hundreds of individual cases). Collecting witness statements and complaints from the victims or their family members, photographing and videotaping dead bodies and other crime scenes, opening suspected mass graves and helping to identify the muder victims, and so on.

                Rights Activist who assisted Chechens’ Appeal to the European Court of Human Rights Brutally Murdered

                And also, in some instances, in the Russian courts, working with the lawyer Stanislav Markelov (publicily killed earlier this year on a street not far from the Kremlin).

                For example, the two most recent cases at the European Court were decided few days ago on July 11:

                Khasuyeva v. Russia (28159/03) concerns the disappearance of Abu Khasuyev. On 30 August 2001 Abu was taken away in broad daylight from his home in Urus-Martan by a group of Russian military servicemen. He has not been seen since.

                The applicants in Khalitova and Others v. Russia (33264/04) are relatives of Amir Magomedov, Ali Uspayev, Aslan Dokayev and Rustam Achkhanov. Amir and Ali were detained by Russian military servicemen at their home in the village of Raduzhnoe in the early hours of 18 July 2001. Neighbors testified how Amir and Ali were loaded on one of two APCs used by the servicemen. Outside the village the vehicles were joined by two more APCs. Around that time Aslan and Rustam were driving towards Raduzhnoe when a military convoy consisting of four APCs without warning opened fire on their car. Aslan and Rustam were wounded. The servicemen threw Aslan and Rustam in one of the APCs and then blew up the car. There has been no news of the four men since.

                In this judgement, the ECtHR unanimously held that:

                * The right to life has been violated in respect of all five men who must be presumed dead (violation of Article 2 of the European Convention on Human Rights);
                * The Russian authorities had failed to conduct effective investigations into the violations of the right to life (violation of Article 2);
                * The applicants’ relatives had been illegally detained (violation of Article 5);
                * The manner in which the complaints of the applicants were dealt with by Russian authorities constituted inhuman treatment (violation of Article 3);
                * The applicants did not have access to an effective remedy before Russian authorities for the violations (violation of Article 13);

                The Court awarded the applicants in the two cases a total of 153,000 euro for pecuniary and non-pecuniary damages.

                • Correction: It was actually on June 11, there were judgments since then (the most recent on July 16 – the disappearance of Arbi Karimov in 2003). The full list of decided cases (109 since 2005):

                  Who are collecting and providing evidence:

                  Of them, Memorial is (was) the most important. In many of the cases, the victims were even actually represented by Memorial (but mostly it’s the work of the Russian Justice Initiative).

                  And now you know.

  7. To ‘aglyamoff’: My latest theory, is that the House of Windsor’s ‘Chairman of the Board’, Czarina-Elizaveta II, personally ordered these hits, in between high teas at Buckingham Castle, in order to make Russia look bad. And why? to get even! for the bolshies murdering off her relatives, the Romanovs. And who carried out her orders? Why of course, machine-gun armed soldiers of the Salvation Army!…their Swat-Team.
    It’s really all so simple, no sweat. And too, this makes much more sense than your outer-space notions. Think about it. You and I could publish a book on this, and make a killing!

  8. May God preserve these brave women who are trying to continue Natalya Estemirova’s work

    Natalya Estemirova’s heirs: The women who risk all to expose Chechnya’s horrors
    In the week that Natalya Estemirova is murdered in Chechnya, a dwindling but determined group of women vows to preserve her legacy, no matter the danger.

  9. Natalia Estemirova’s body was found in the same place, where wounded Magomed Evloev [Yevlovyev] was found

    The body of assassinated Natalia Estemirova was found in the area, where last year the fatally wounded Ingush oppositionist Magomed Evloev was detected, who had been detained on the previous day by employees of the Ministry of Internal Affairs of Ingushetia at Magas Airport.

    In the opinion of a source in law enforcement bodies of Chechnya, this circumstance and a number of others evidence that the kidnapping and murder of the renowned human rights activist were parts of a carefully devised action.

    “This circumstance gives rise to some ideas; and it can hardly be regarded as a pure coincidence,” the source said to the “Caucasian Knot” correspondent.

    He has added that there are also other facts confirming the version of Estemirova’s pre-planned murder. “Natalia Estemirova was kidnapped at about 8:30 a.m. and, in the opinion of experts, she was shot dead in 1.5-2 hours, that is, practically at once when she was brought to the territory of Ingushetia,” said the source and continued: “The witnesses also say that some woman figured in the case, acting as a pointer, who distracted Estemirova in the moment of kidnapping.”

    According to his story, she was brought to the place of the murder not in Zhiguli but in some other car. “That is, on the way from Chechnya to Ingushetia she was put into another car (an off-road vehicle). And, most likely, they shot Estemirova from a pistol with a muffler. Her hands were tied down; most probably, she was in handcuffs,” said the source.

    Until now, nobody can answer the question on how the criminals could freely drive the kidnapped Estemirova through numerous check points in the territory of Chechnya and get into the neighbouring republic with her.

  10. Estemirova Murder: a Sign of Thinly-Disguised Totalitarianism in the North Caucasus

    Publication: Eurasia Daily Monitor Volume: 6 Issue: 139

    By: Valery Dzutsev


    Chechen rights activist and journalist Natalya Estemirova was a close ally of the well-known Russian journalist Anna Politkovskaya, who was murdered in 2006, and the human rights lawyer Stanislav Markelov, who was murdered earlier this year. In the words of their fellow journalist and commentator Yulia Latynina, following Estemirova’s death there will no longer be alternative information competing with state-sponsored news coming from Chechnya (Ekho Moskvy, July 18).

    The increasing trend of shutting down all possible sources of independent information from the region can be seen in most of the republics of the North Caucasus in the past year. It appears as if the Russian security services are out to impose a regional version of total control of the media in the restive North Caucasus.

    Shortly before her death, Estemirova was reporting on extra-legal murders by local police in Chechnya, the denial of civil rights of members of insurgents’ families and authorities’ attacks on relatives of insurgents. Estemirova was the first to report the rise in the number of kidnappings after Moscow dropped the special counter-terrorism operation regime in Chechnya in April 2009.

    Even though President Dmitry Medvedev made a strong statement condemning the criminal perpetrators and urging the police to find them (RIA Novosti, July 15), few observers give this statement much weight, since the previous similar murders have not been seriously investigated. When Anna Politkovskaya was killed in Moscow, then President Vladimir Putin famously stated that the award-winning journalist, who reported on human rights abuses in Chechnya, “brought more damage to Russia by her death, than by her work” (, October 11, 2006). There is no reason to believe that Putin’s view of rights activists has changed since then or that his grip on power in Russia has loosened. So the killing of the latest famous human rights activist who focused on Chechnya does not deviate from Russian state policy in recent years. However, it indicates that the Kremlin intends to put even tighter control on the flow of information from the North Caucasus.

    It is important to answer the question of who exactly killed Natalya Estemirova, but it was Moscow that created the present political system in Chechnya. Whether Kadyrov indulges in the crimes or the Russian security services perpetrate them under the guise of Kadyrov, it is ultimately Russia’s leadership that is responsible for what is going on in the region. Kadyrov, in this respect, is an invaluable asset for the Russians, because they can always point to him as an example of a “savage Chechen,” a necessary small evil that has little to do with them, but at the same time successfully carries out Moscow’s dirty work or is used as a shield.

    The imposition of abusive restrictions on the media has been evident across the North Caucasus. Since August of last year, the leading Dagestani opposition paper Chernovik and its staff have been under increasing official pressure to stop working. The owner of the Ingush independent website Magomed Yevloev was killed while in police custody in August of last year. Miloslav Bitokov, the editor-in-chief of the independent paper Gazeta Yuga, published in Nalchik, Kabardino-Balkaria, was beaten up in September 2008. More recently – in May – the editor-in-chief of the only independent newspaper in North Ossetia Badri Gazzati was arrested on charges of illegal business activities. Also, in the summer of 2008, the aforementioned Natalya Estemirova was forced to leave Grozny because of Kadyrov’s threats. The remaining republics of North Caucasus, like Karachaevo-Cherkessia and Adygeya, already have a very feeble media, so there has no need to suppress anyone.

    Whether it is a Moscow-orchestrated campaign or a chain of coincidental local developments is unimportant in this case. As is the case with the Moscow-promoted climate of restrictions of political and personal freedoms and increasing state control over public life, control over information is the logical finale of the emerging new order.

    It is important for policymakers and experts to understand that even though the situation in the North Caucasus depends very much on what is going on in Moscow, the region de facto is already a different territory, with rules of behavior distinctly different from the rest of Russia. The North Caucasus is a no man’s land for journalists and rights activists in which the Kremlin’s cliques exercise overwhelming control over the flow of information. This means that the North Caucasus in practice should be treated as a territory under totalitarian state control. Even though Russia as a whole still cannot be referred to as a totalitarian state, the North Caucasus is already there – a relatively new development in the territory’s recent past.

  11. Kadyrov speaks:

    Chechen leader: Slain activist ‘had no conscience’

    David Nowak, Associated Press Writer – Sun Aug 9, 7:27 am ET

    MOSCOW – The Kremlin-backed leader of Chechnya said in a radio interview that a human rights activist whose bullet-ridden body was found in a neighboring province last month “never had any honor, dignity or conscience.”


    “Why should Kadyrov kill a woman whom nobody needs?” Kadyrov reportedly said, referring to himself in the third person.

    He was quoted as saying Estemirova “peddled all kinds of rubbish” in her investigations of torture, corruption, killings and disappearances that implicated official involvement.


    “In this speech Kadyrov again has demonstrated his personal enmity not only toward Natalya Estemirova, but also toward other rights defenders who are simply doing their job,” Cherkasov told The Associated Press. He defended Estemirova’s reports on rights abuses, saying “everything was documentarily confirmed.”

    Kadyrov and his security forces have led a violent crackdown on the insurgency that lingers from two separatist wars in Chechnya. In the radio transcript, Kadryov was quoted as saying his forces “destroyed hundreds, thousands” of “bandits.”

    Critics have accused Kadyrov of using the counterterrorism drive to frighten local civilians with the threat of repercussions if anyone were to cross him.

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