Human rights abuse is nothing new in Russia. It is worse than a perennial thing there. It has its highs and lows, but never quite disappears.
In the year 1860, shortly after the Czarist army moved into the Caucasus, more than 400,000 Muslims were killed. So, in the 19th century Muslims of the Caucasus were singled out for their refusal to bow down to Czarist Russia and took the brunt of Russian abuses against the 'other' people. Then the target of abuse moved to the Jews who were blamed for the assassination of Czar Alexander in 1881. The popular slogan was 'Kill a Jew and save Russia.' The pogrom against the Jews lasted for nearly four decades until the Bolsheviks came to power in 1917.
During Stalin's period, Muslim population of the Caucasus, Chechnya, Ingushetia, and all the Muslim Republics in Central Asia became the easy targets. Millions of Muslims were displaced and 300,000 killed just in the Caucasus. The people of Chechnya along with their fellow co-religionists in the neighboring Ingushetia were dragged from their homes in 1944 on Stalin's whims to wastelands of Kazakhstan on a cooked-up charge of collaborating with the Germans. Both these peoples were sentenced to penal servitude and subjected to systematic genocide, worse than those of the Siberian Gulag. For a time being they were declared an extinct people, who did not exist in Stalin's time. Thirteen years later, under Khrushchev, both these peoples were reinstated, told it was a mistake and invited to return to their homelands. Many did so on the foot. While Chechens still had a home to return to, the Ingush Muslims found their lands and houses occupied by Christian Ossetians.
After Stalin's fall, a period marked by relatively lull or less hostility against the 'other' people ushered in. Shortly thereafter, however, the Jews became the new victims as they opted to find refuge in the prosperous western world.
With the war in Afghanistan and the body bags of Russian soldiers arriving home in the 1980s, the wave of hatred turned against the darker skinned (compared to Russians) Muslims from Central Asia. And the situation worsened after the collapse of the Soviet Union. Lithuania, Latvia, Estonia, Ukraine, Belarus, Armenia could secede, but why the Muslim Republics? And with the election of Dzhokhor Dudayev in Chechnya, hatred simply escalated. Dudayev was popularly elected on the strength of his promise to free Chechnya from Russia. Yeltsin demolished Grozny and killed nearly a hundred of thousand Chechens. Dudayev was also assassinated.
Then came the Apartment bombing in 1999 in Moscow. Chechens were blamed for the death of civilians. In a BBC and NPR news coverage, nearly two years after the blast it was alleged that Vladimir Putin, now the Russian President (then the FSS Chief), had master-minded the Moscow Apartment bombing to stir up hatred against Chechen Muslims, so that the Russian government could launch its second savage campaign in Chechnya and facilitate his winning the Presidential election (NPR News, All Things Considered, Feb. 21, '02; BBC News, March 5, 2002). It worked for him. Putin was elected by a big margin over his nearest competitor.
Under the disguise of curbing 'Islamic extremism' and fighting 'terrorism', Putin rejected the legitimate aspiration of the Chechens to breakaway and carried out his extermination campaign that killed tens of thousands of Chechens. The territory has since been effectively blocked from outside monitoring, especially by the human rights groups. But still the Chechens have refused to bow down to Russian savagery. Their struggle for freedom continues, while the world stares at unperturbed and unashamed of its appalling indifference to the suffering there. Out of such apathy from the world body, the freedom movement is becoming radicalized with splinter groups where widows and orphans of the murdered victims are now willing to fight and get killed. That is the ultimate consequence of what dehumanization of a once-proud nationality could do.
When the Chechen rebels (many of them widows) took over a Moscow theater (Oct. 23, '02) and threatened to kill everyone in it if their friends and relatives were not released from Russian prisons, the Russians finally ran poisonous gas into the theater, killing over 100 hostages and the rebels. Shortly after that the Russian Duma ordered the bodies of the dead Chechens in the theater covered and wrapped in pigskin and buried in secret locations. The Muslim families cannot find the bodies to give them a proper burial. Imagine the magnitude of government-orchestrated abuse in Russia.
In a December 2002 report, the International League for Human Rights recorded the following abuses that were practiced against the Chechens living within the Russian Federation:
- Police checks of dwellings where Chechen families live permanently or temporarily; searches of living premises; demands of written explanations concerning the reasons for living in Moscow (even if permanent registration was available) and the whereabouts during the (Moscow theater) terrorist act; harassment, humiliations; threats to evict from Moscow.
- Detentions, forced conveying to police stations, dactylography, taking photographs.
- Criminal frame-ups on fabricated accusations of drugs and arms possession or support to terrorists. At best - threats to plant drugs and demands to confess guilt.
- Refusals in registration at the place of sojourn, total denial in some police stations and denial for the term of more than 10 days in the others.
- Refusals in admittance to school and sending Chechen pupils away from classes.
- Firings from their jobs.
The Russian passport system, a slightly modified Soviet passport system, is one of the major instruments of ethnic discrimination in public sphere. There is also a widely spread practice to confiscate a passport as a pledge for the payment of a penalty, and passports are often lost at militia (police) stations. All these kinds of restrictions and control are primarily targeting ethnic minorities originating from the Caucasus, both from the North Caucasus within the Russian Federation and from the independent states of the South Caucasus. The Chechens and Meskhetians are two such groups who are most adversely discriminated in Russia because of their ethnicity.
When the "anti-terrorist campaign" was started in September 1999, the Ministry of Internal Affairs issued an order that banned issuing passports to people arriving from Chechnya. In spring 2000, the ban was lifted in relation to foreign passports; the Chechens were allowed to get passports outside Chechnya at the places of their temporary registration. Few Chechens have been able to use this opportunity so far because of non-cooperation from governmental agencies. As a result, they are denied health care, social security, employment and education in Russia.
Chechens are framed-up en masse and this is the most cruel and cynical form of discrimination. Between autumn 1999 and spring 2000 there was a veritable campaign of falsification that engulfed the country. The wave returned, on a lesser scale, in August 2000 after a blast in the passage under the Pushkin Square in Moscow. The pattern was more or less the same: the police planted drugs, shells, hand grenades or explosives during personal searches of Chechens or searches in their apartments. The victims were taken to precincts to extort confessions from them. This was a crude work yet none of the accused was acquitted. At best defense lawyers managed to insist on further investigation or suspended sentence. Light or suspended sentences are sort of an admission that the accusations were false. Still, some of the accused were sentenced to 7 to 10 years in prison.
In many regions of Russia the police practices unlawful searches, checks and detentions of Chechens. At best they are fingerprinted, at worst they are beaten and locked up. In Daghestan the special task police detachments regularly raid the villages and districts populated by the Chechens who are harassed and subjected to violence. In the Kaliningrad Region all Chechens, including women and children, are subjected to forced fingerprinting in violation of the document 'On State Fingerprinting in the Russian Federation.' The same practice is widespread in Moscow.
The Meskhetian Turks, or Meskhetians, are an ethnic minority of the Russian Federation. In recent years, the Turks in Krasnodar Krai [Territory], a southern region of Russia, have been facing an unprecedented campaign of harassment and persecution launched by the regional government and supported by federal authorities. They are deprived of the right to freedom of movement and the right to choose a place of residence. The escalation of organized, direct discrimination against the Meskhetians as a distinct ethnic group; the systematic local media incitement of hatred against the Meskhetians; and the massive involvement in the reprisals against them of the extreme nationalist paramilitary units known as 'Cossacks' have pushed the situation to the brink of possible massive violence. Mounting discrimination and the harassment of the Meskhetian Turks sponsored and carried out by the regional authorities in Krasnodar Krai have been completely neglected by the federal government. The federal authorities have announced their willingness to drive the Turks out of Russia. The Krasnodar governor repeatedly said that his plans to get rid of 'migrants' have been supported by President Vladimir Putin.
There are many Muslims who still live in Moscow and St. Petersburg. Because of their darker skin, racial discrimination and violence against them are quite common. Russia's Interior Ministry estimates the number of skinheads and extremist youths in Russia at 20,000, including 5,000 in the Moscow area and 5,000 in St. Petersburg. Russian Skinheads threaten a dozen embassies with a "war against foreigners."
In April '03, skinheads in the central city of Yekaterinburg locked five Tajik laborers in an abandoned train car and burned four of them alive. One man survived. An Afghan man died after a racist attack in the St. Petersburg metro in June '02. An ethnic Uzbek was stabbed by three youths on a trolleybus in Moscow on October 1, 2003. Twenty-six year old Sherzod Khushmakov was traveling with another Uzbek migrant on the bus when three teenagers approached him. Without provocation of any kind, they stabbed both men multiple times before fleeing. Khushmakov later died in the hospital.
In St. Petersburg, skinheads armed with an ax and a knife appeared at a Tajik settlement on Sept. 21, '03 and killed a 6-year-old Tajik girl. A 5-year-old girl and an 18-month-old baby were seriously injured. Recent attacks in St. Petersburg by youths have targeted Africans and Vietnamese. A year earlier in the same city about 30 skinheads beat Mamed Mamedov, an Azeri melon trader, to death. The youths told police they routinely perform "sweeps" through the streets to rid the city of immigrants, the Russian news agency ITAR-Tass reported.
On Feb. 13, '04 about a dozen teenagers, armed with a knife, knuckle-dusters, chains and bats attacked Yusuf Sultanov, 35, and his daughter Khursheda and nephew Alabir, 11, in the St. Petersburg city center. Khursheda was stabbed 11 times in her arms, chest and stomach. She died from blood loss before an ambulance arrived. The level of hatred against 'others' in Russia can be spotted from the remark of Igor Agafonov, 24, a member of extremist groups. He said, "The newcomers don't belong, and if they won't leave, they will be driven out." To him, the murder of Khursheda was justified. "We have to protect ourselves," he said. None of the teenagers who killed the nine-year-old Tajik girl has yet been found or detained. 36 representatives of St. Petersburg's national diaspora sent a letter to the city governor and heads of St. Petersburg police, where they expressed their indignation. Hate crimes of this nature against Muslims have become quite common in recent days after the recent Moscow subway bomb-blast, where the Chechens are again blamed (while they deny any such involvement) for causing it.
During the Soviet era, the KGB was notorious for assassinating its adversaries and political dissidents, home and abroad. So, it's not surprising to find that under the leadership of Putin, a former KGB agent, last month Zelimkhan Yandarbiyev, the exiled ex-President of Chechnya, died in a car blast in Qatar. Russia's intelligence services are suspected for the assassination. Local media in Doha reported that Yandarbiyev's jeep had been booby-trapped before it drove him, his two bodyguards and 13-year-old son, Daud, home after Friday prayers. The bomb was detonated 300 meters away from the mosque. Yandarbiyev died from his wounds in hospital on Friday, Feb. 13, '04.
Ethnic violence has been on the rise across the Russian Federation, in part because extremist groups were emboldened by surprising gains made by nationalist parties during parliamentary elections, and also by Putin's tough talks against the Chechens. Many Russian police investigators downplay the problem, treating acts of violence by extremist youths on immigrant victims and migrant workers as routine street-fights or hooliganism so their jurisdictions aren't seen as hotbeds of ethnic violence. The Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch and other human rights organizations have reported and pleaded with the Russian authorities to stop such abuses, however to no avail.
|O thou whose interior is denuded of piety
But wearest outwardly the garb of hypocrisy
Do not display a curtain of seven colors.
Thou hast reed mats inside thy house.
- Shaykh Sa'di (R) [Gulistan]
What has been presented above is by no means an all-inclusive report on abuses of human rights in Putin's Russia. The situation inside Chechnya is much worse. Chechnya has been razed to the ground, surrendered to a massacring Russian army whose abuse of human rights would have raised the eyebrows of Pharaoh and Hulagu Khan. And no one -- not the United Nations, not the European Union, not world public opinion, not any one of the democracies of the 'civilized west' that are so proud of their principles - cries 'bloody murder.' And worse still, President Bush, the leader of the 'free world,' strengthens the knot of friendship with the Butcher of Chechnya - Putin - and blames the Chechens for "spreading all the chaos and destruction, not Russian carpet-bombing." Thirsty for Russian oil and natural gas, the European Union gulps its principles and rolls over like a jolly dog. What a monumental hypocrisy!
Dr. Habib Siddiqui lives in suburban Philadelphia, PA, and is the author of the book Islamic Wisdom. He can be reached at [email protected]
 Pork and pigskin are considered an anathema to Muslims.
 Compliance of the Russian Federation with the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination, An NGO report to the UN Committee on Elimination of Racial Discrimination, (62nd session, March 2003), Moscow, December 2002.
 Since 1989, most of the Turks who have come to Krasnodar Krai (between 10-13,000) have been refused a propiska. Krasnodar Krai is the only one region of Russia where the Turks are deprived residence registration en masse. The lack of a propiska results in denial or restriction of almost all civil, political and social rights. For example, Meskhetian Turks have found that their marriages are not registered and paternity is not officially recognized because they lack the propiska. In the cases, when the Meskhetian mothers do not have passports, local registrars refuse to make official records of the births of Meskhetian children and to issue birth certificates. The regional authorities have imposed a ban on official registration of ownership rights to the houses and plots of land purchased by people without a local propiska, including the Meskhetians. Accordingly, their rights to own and dispense with their dwellings and plots of land are restricted. The Turks cannot acquire land or other real estate, and can only sell their houses and the plots of land attached to them under extreme circumstances, after receiving special permission from local authorities and only if they are leaving the region. They are not allowed to construct anything on their properties. Officially, they cannot sell or purchase cars or other motor vehicles. They cannot receive or restore personal identity papers including internal and foreign passports.
 There are no reliable statistics on the incidence of racist crimes in Russia, although more than three-quarters of the Africans who responded to a survey by the Moscow Protestant Chaplaincy said they had been physically or verbally attacked in 2002 (Financial Times).
 The International League for Human Rights compiled a report in December of 2002 on reports of racial and other forms of discrimination that is so pervasive in Putin's Russia. You may view the report by clicking Here.
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