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We are the inconsolable mothers
Written by /Marina Dayneko   
, 06 2005

Russian bazaar

November 26th, 2004, was the tenth anniversary of the assault on the city of Grozniy by a Russian tank column.

Victor Shenkerovich: Lets remember Chechnya, which marked its ten-year anniversary of our fraternal aid (and give my personal regards to General Grachev and Boris Nikolayevich Yeltsin). Evaluating the prospects for further efforts of this kind, film director and military journalist Sergey Govorukhin, in an interview with publicationGazeta, said: Any normal military man, after the third glass, will say that nothing can be done in Chechnya, so it's time to get out of there. Very well, if one has to get drunk in order to tell the truth, then Im for alcoholism

From an appeal by the Union of Committees of Soldiers Mothers of Russia (October 13th, 2004):

We know the terrible price of a decade of armed violence in Chechnya. Its the loss of thousands of our sons, both soldier and officer. Its hundreds of innocent victims of terror. Its an entire generation of young Chechens and Russian soldiers mutilated by the experience of violence and caprice. Tenyears of war did not bring the desired results for either you or the federal authorities. Asalways, there is no way out of the 'Chechen dead-end'.

Commanders of the Chechen groups under arms! Youwill kill them, or you they will kill you, without end. Youwon't be able to change a thing until they recognize you through negotiations. Thesoldiers' mothers appeal to those of you, who actually want some good for the Chechen people, with this proposal: give peace a chance and to begin negotiations about the peaceful settlement. Weare ready to go anywhere convenient for you, to meet with those authorized by you, provided you stop this deadly race. Taking the initiative for negotiations, we will exert all efforts necessary in order to start the negotiating process between representatives of the governments of the Chechen Republic and Russian Federation, intergovernmental and peacemaking organizations, as well as with influential and respected members of the public.

The beginning of negotiations will help break the vicious cycle, and open up prospects for the return to a normal life for you and for us. Weawait your answer.

Members of the coordinating council of the Union of committees of soldier mothers of Russia, Valentina Melnikova, Mariya Fedulova, Natalya Zhukova.

Two women, one Russian and the other Chechen, both of whom lost children on either side of Chechen conflict, appeared in support of a peace initiative by the Union of Committees of Soldiers Mothers of Russia. Svetlana Gubareva, whose 13-year-old daughter perished at Dubrovka, and Roza Kungayeva, mother of the Chechen girl killed by Colonel Budanov, handed an open letter to the Belgian foreign minister, Karel De Gucht.

From an open letter by Svetlana Gubareva and Roza Kungayeva to the foreign minister of Belgium, Karel De Gucht

December 20th, 2004

Dear Minister De Gucht!

We are the inconsolable mothers of two girls who were killed on both sides of the Chechen conflict, and are shocked by a resolution of Belgian government to prevent talks in Brussels between the Union of Committees of Soldiers Mothers of Russia, and Chechen representative Akhmet Zakayev.

These negotiations are very important and deserve your support. Wechallenge you to rise above diplomatic restraint, to recognize the historic and humanitarian value of this situation, to not knuckle under to Kremlin pressure, and greet the soldiers mothers and Akhmet Zakayev in Brussels.

We do not seek vengeance for our children, and we do not make heroes out of terrorists and war criminals, even when they claim to act in our name. Weonly want that no mother would have to bury her children or experience ourpain.

We have sufficient reasons to desire the end of this war. OnMarch 27th, 2000, Russian soldiers in Chechnya abducted from her home one of our daughters, 18year-old Elsa Kungayeva. Thatsame night she was raped and killed by a Russian officer, who ended up with a laughable punishment and became a hero for many Russians. Nineteen months later, on October 23rd, 2002, another of our daughters, 13-year-old Sasha Letyago found herself among the hostages seized by Chechen gunmen in the Moscow theater. Sasha perished when President Putin ordered the use of a lethal gas during the assault on the building. Theterrorists killed in the assault became heroes for many Chechens.

Svetlana Gubareva is now in the United States. Shearrived here on the invitation of friends of Sandy Booker Svetlana's fiancé, a native of Oklahoma, who was the only American citizen killed at Dubrovka. Icalled up Svetlana, and she answered my questions.

How, in your opinion, would a meeting between soldiers' mothers and the Chechen commanders' representative, Akhmet Zakayev, influence the course of events in Chechnya?

If the government doesn't want these negotiations, then that means that they may actually help find a way out of that dead-end. Inour open letter, we stated that the initiative by the soldiers' mothers was a breath of fresh air in the atmosphere of distrust, hatred, and vengeance that feeds this war. Itgave real hope that the slaughter could be stopped. Thesoldiers' mothers and their partners in the Chechen leadership could change the situation, but they need every kind of aid. Forthis very reason we requested help from the Belgian foreign minister.

What was Mr. DeGucht's reaction to your letter?

In a radio interview on Echo of Moscow, he answered a question about the possibility or impossibility of Akhmet Zakayev meeting with the soldiers' mothers in Brussels. Mr. DeGucht stated that since Belgium is collaborating bilaterally with Russia in fighting terrorism, and since Zakayev is on the wanted lists of Interpol and the EC nations, Zakayev would be arrested as soon as he appeared in Belgian territory, and extradited to Great Britain. Mr. DeGucht also said that the Belgian government does not want to be discredited for conducting negotiations on its territory with people who are terrorists, as many assert. Healso noted that negotiations between the soldiers' mothers and Zakayev could not enjoy any kind of success, and would never solve the Chechen problem.

You call yourself a victim of the Chechen war. Why?

Yes. The only demand the Chechens who seized the theater made was to stop the war. Myfriends, as they burst into the hospital on the 27th, said: 'we are all hostages of this war'.

In the open letter by you and Kungayeva, you state that you are not seeking vengeance for you children.

I'm not one of those people who turn the other cheek, but vengeance is not in my nature. Whatdo Iseek? First Iwant justice. Evilwas performed at Dubrovka, and it must be named evil, and the guilty parties must be found and punished. Secondly, Icouldnt protect my family, my daughter, but Ican at least try to do something to save other children, to make sure this doesn't happenagain.

How did you feel when hostages were seized in Beslan?

I already knew that for the Russian government a person's life is worth nothing; therefore Iexpected the worse a poorly executed assault. That was exactly what happened. There was a tiny hope that it wouldn't happen right away, that they would have some time to free a few of the hostages. OnSeptember 2nd, when Iheard on the news that the school was cordoned off, Iknew that an assault would happen at any moment. Iwas in Moscow then, at a meeting of 'Nord-Ost' survivors, and everyone was in a frightful state. Later Ilearned that a coworker's 10-year-old grandson, Zaur Gutnov, who had been born in Karaganda, had died at Beslan. Canthis war really be an internal Russian matter, when it's our children dying init?

A little more than a year ago, on radio station 'Narodnaya Volna', you talked about yourself and took the listeners' questions. What's been going on in your life since then?

After Igot back from America last year, Iwrote an open letter to the president of Kazakhstan, Nursultan Nazarbayev. Inthis letter Iasked: why do the Russian authorities refuse to answer my questions? Who organized and financed this act of terror? Why does Putin speak of a 'harmless' gas, when the application of this preparation, according to specialists, disrupts the liver, kidneys, lungs, and causes toxic hepatitis, and has a large probability of causing death if an antidote is not given immediately? Whydid they not organize medical assistance for the hostages while planning the special operation, which led to the loss of 129persons? Would the Republic of Kazakhstan undertake any action due to the loss of its citizen, Alexandra Letyago? Willmy country defend my rights and interests?

What answer did you receive from President Nazarbayev?

The president ordered the internal ministry and attorney general of Kazakhstan to investigate the charges in my letter. After a certain time Iactually received an answer from them, which stated that as a citizen of Kazakhstan: 'I have the right to freely and without hindrance turn to the courts, district attorneys, and internal affairs organs' of the Russian Federation. Thus, it became clear that our nation was not about to investigate the loss of my daughter, a 13-year-old citizen of Kazakhstan. Theypromised, however, to render 'any type of assistance in sending the necessary documents to the competent Russian authorities through diplomatic channels'.

Did you make use of this offer?

I hadn't really counted on anything more, and so Idecided to contact the Russian attorney general with the same questions, as well as a few new ones. Forexample, who in the staff headquarters planning the hostage rescue was responsible for providing medical assistance to the hostages? Whydo they keep secret the composition of the gas used on the hostages?

In Moscow, together with my attorney Karinna Moskalenko, Ifiled a petition with the court, which was sent to the Russian ministry of internal affairs. Thecourt decided to grant this petition and allow us access to documents from the investigation. Forthe first time we could read the district attorney's resolution refusing to bring a criminal complaint.

(Attachment) by Novaya Gazeta reviewer Anna Politkovskaya:

It would have been better had they not read it. Itwas a terrible fairy tale on why no one was guilty of the loss of 129persons. Theresolution refusing to bring charges was packed with contradictory and strange information, which did not clear up toward the end, in the conclusions sections. Theresolution held practically no references to specific case volumes with proofs, or statements by official experts (including their names and job titles), as are required in such documents. Nowhere does it explain, for example, why the participation of military physicians was not required. It turned out that this entire document was nothing more than belles-lettres (fiction).

For two years the investigative group hid the results of its work from the families of those be killed, as well as from society. Tomany it seemed that these secret case materials would contain answers to their main questions (and that was indeed why they were secret). Thissecret was specifically what the relatives of the deceased hostages were struggling for. Andwhat? Thesecret proved to be a falsehood, substituting as a thesis. Forthat matter, the secret was not even about that. Thedeepest concern now concerns the concealment of the truth. Noone explained the true composition of the gas, and it was not established who ordered to its application and hid the antidote from the doctors.

The materials of the case are vague and have many discrepancies, such as what the physicians needed to do on October 26th. Andthe same vagueness and indistinctness is found in the reasons for refusing to initiate a criminal complaint. Their refusal was based on this indistinctness and obscurity. Butthe story does not end tomorrow, and that means that hope remains for a revision of the case, and an official explanation.

Is there really any hope for a revision of the case?

The attorney discovered many contradictions in the declassified documents, and they seized upon them. Ifthey succeed, then it may be possible to bring charges in accordance with the Russian criminal codex for 'exceeding authority' and 'causing death through negligence'.

I'm often told that my efforts are in vain, like a fly battling an elephant. Inpart, this is true, since fighting the government machine alone is almost impossible, but it's also impossible to hold one's peace. Icouldn't save my family. WhatI'm doing no is an attempt to protect you and your families, so that they don't kill them as easily as they killed my family.

By Krasnaya Zvezda correspondent Capt. (reserves) Vladimir Yermolin:

On 26Nov 1994, tanks with white turrets crept out onto a black field near a Grozniy suburb. Therebels, blowing up one machine after another, mentally thanked the clever Russian staff officer who decided to camouflage the tanks in winter colors. Five days later, when Icame to Grozniy as a journalist in Sergey Yushchenko's group, one of President Dudayev's guards told me: They had orders to wear winter uniforms. Still later, in the basement of the capitol building, a tank crewmember with burned hands explained cynically: They gave this order to help identification from the air. Of 30tank crews taking part in the assault, almost half perished. Thisdevil-may-care assault (without communications, the necessary support, or even a concrete plan of action) can be considered the first act of the Chechenwar.

The result of that first attempt to solve the whole problem in one crushing blow, of this 'victorious' operation to introduce law and order onto Chechen soil, could clearly be seen in the frames of the burnt-out tanks, the disfigured corpses of the soldiers, the dirty, emaciated Russian prisoners with fatal melancholy in their eyes, the self-indulgence and illiteracy of the Arbat generals and their neglect of this human 'cannon fodder', and in the lies and treachery of our government officials.

I later asked Dudayev why he would not negotiate with Moscow. Hegrabbed a file folder tied up with string and packed with papers, and began to shake it under my nose: Here, here are hundreds of my appeals and telegrams to Yeltsin, to the government, to the Duma, to the bald devil. Ioffered and Iam still offering: let's meet in any convenient place, let's talk, and negotiate. Asfor an answer either ultimatums, or silence.

He could have added that the answer was war. Forsome reason, however, it seemed to me that back then, exactly one week into the assault, that this highly experienced general had not surmised that everything had already been decided beforehand. His fate, and the fate of thousands and thousands of other Russians ethnic Russian and Chechen, soldier and peaceful civilian, Groznian and Muscovite. The fate of Chechnya, and all of Russia.

Marina Daineko

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