The following is my partial translation of an article from the Russian newspaper Kommersant (“The Merchant”) which appeared on July 3, 2008.
In Chechnya, the first mass grave has been discovered of civilian victims of Russia’s Second War in the breakaway republic.
According to preliminary estimates, it may contain the remains of nearly three hundred people. The Commissioner for Human Rights in Chechnya, Nurdi Nuhazhiev appealed to Russian Prosecutor General Yuri Chaika to initiate an investigation. According Nuhazhiev, the grave contains bodies of persons killed by Russian artillery in 1999 [just after Vladimir Putin became Prime Minister and ordered a second military invasion of the republic] while they were attempting to evacuate the region’s capital city of Grozny through a promised route of safe transit.
Nuhazhiev states that residents of the Shelkovskiy region of Grozny reported that in October 1999 they witnessed a massive shelling of refugees moving through the transit corridor along the road between Petropavlovsk and Goryachevodsk. “Our people were fired upon by tank and howitzers located on the Terkovsky Ridge. Many elderly, women and children were among them. They tried to escape bit it was hopeless,” said Nuhazhiev, who interviewed a survivor who is afraid to have her name published for fear of retaliation and escaped by taking refuse in in a drainage pipe and lost seven members of her family in the attack. “The corpses were removed almost immediately after the attack and disappeared,” the survivor related. She was later told the bodies had been disposed of in a mass grave at a concrete plant in Goryachevodsk.
The mass grave was first discovered the following summer when a piece of heavy equipment accidentally blundered into it, but it was never formally excavated. When asked why so many years have passed before any official statements being made about the site, Nuhazhiev stated: “I think people have simply been afraid to talk about it, and have remained silent.” Only when another investigation regarding a mass grave discovered in the Leninsky district of Grozny was publicized did anyone come forward. That investigation was publicized by Kommersant on June 23rd and involved a grave containing an estimated 800 bodies. [60 mass graves of civilians have been discovered in Chechnya to date; at least 100,000 civilians are thought to have been killed in a region that had only 1.2 million people when war began in 1994. The Russian government has attempted to conceal mass graves by building new construction projects on top of them.]
Nuhazhiev appealed to Chaika to create an investigation team and provide scientific support to analyze the remains and identify the bodies. “This, of course, will be a very difficult task, but we are obliged to perform it in order to punish those who are responsible so that the people of our region will have sufficient faith in the system of justice,” said Nuhazhiev.
Chechnya’s prosecutor Valery Kuznetsov told Kommersant that local authorities have already begun their own investigation. He stated: “In Chechnya, Russian military forces have committed many crimes against the civilian population, and unfortunately law enforcement authorities did not respond contemporaneously, giving rise to scandals of this kind.”
Chechen human rights activists say that there are many more such graves. Ruslan Badalov, director of the Chechen Committee of National Salvation, said: “I clearly remember this tragedy and I know the names of the Russian commanders who gave the orders and their unit.” But he stated that he did not believe Russian authorities would be capable of doing justice and believed that the only hope for the victims families would lie in lawsuits before the European Court for Human Rights in Strasbourg.