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Mari Bastashevski: The Topography of Abductions in The North Caucasus

Each of these photos is a document of a site of abduction for ‘disappeared’ civilians from Northern Caucasus courtesy of the Putin regime.

*read more historical context here and the current escalating situation in Russia (since two suicide bombings) that could lead to these events being repeated.

Artist Statement (2010):

Abduction as a concealment tactic became prevalent during the second Russian-Chechen war. Since then, it has become a signature of the Russian counterinsurgency regime.

According to UN reports, between 3000 to 5000 people have been abducted in counterinsurgency operations in Chechnya since 1999. Detailed accounts of the abductions give ample reason to suspect that the military and security forces are responsible for these crimes.

Despite the number of abducted people in Chechnya falling in 2007, 2008 saw those numbers rise again. Due to the relatively small populations of the North Caucasus republics, nearly every family in the region has been affected.

Civilians in the Northern Caucasus live in a legal vacuum, almost entirely on the fringes of the Russian legal system. Local police officials apply the law in order to actively discourage the families of victims from seeking state assistance in resolving these crimes. Although families continue to file lawsuits against the police, both sides understand that the process only serves to create more paperwork, shelved as soon as signed.

In April 2009, Dmitry Medvedev announced the end of the counterinsurgency regime in Chechnya, but the zatchistki (“cleansings”) continue. The past ten years have seen a shift in strategy - from indiscriminate mass abductions, to the narrower operations targeted at specific individuals. Having met no real resistance or legal obstacles, these fear tactics, designed for counter-terrorism in Chechnya, have made their way to the neighboring republics of Ingushetia and Dagestan.

In their current context, the abducted are incorporeal, as if they never were. They are no longer with the living, but they are not listed among the dead.

*Each photo has a description of context of each abduction
In the words of Alfredo Jaar, It is difficult.

Photo 2 :

On the 10th of June, 2009, Batyr Albakov was dragged out of bed by police operatives and driven to an undisclosed location. He remained missing for two weeks until he was confirmed dead by the Nazran morgue, where his body had inexplicably appeared. The body was riddled with bullet wounds and showed signs of severe torture. Ingushetian President Yunus-Bek Evkurov offered his sympathies to Batyr’s parents, but insisted that the military contractors who were likely to have been involved in the abduction are not under his command - they take orders directly from Moscow.

Photo 5:

On the 11th of November, 2002, a group of armed men dragged Mohamed-Ali Illyasov, 22, and Mohammed-Salah Illyasov, 19, out of bed and threw them into an APC. They verbally assaulted the mother, Dugurkhan Illyasova, who protested the abduction, and confiscated every identification document they could find in the house. The following morning, Dugurkhan filed for an investigation at the district prosecution office, and began daily trips to neighboring law-enforcement offices, where she filed similar requests.

On the 11th of February, 2003, a group of armed men stormed the house for the second time. They abducted Anzor Illyasov 17, the last male in the household. Dugurkhan, who had followed the transport, established that Anzor was processed at the ROVD (district department of internal affairs) in Achko-Martan.

At the ROVD, she made a plea to Mikhail Evseev, a senior officer, to release Anzor. Evseev freed Anzor but told Dugurkhan that he was making an extraordinary exception. Mohammed-Ali and Mohammed-Salah remain missing.

Photo 6:

On the 26th of March, 2004, approximately twenty soldiers arrived at the house of brothers Leche and Musa Shapirov in Duba-Urt, Chechnya, in APCs and an UAZ. Leche, 21, was thrown into the APC and taken to an undisclosed location. Two weeks later, his naked body was found in a cornfield in a neighboring village. Leche’s was one of eight bodies stacked together. Among the bodies was a note: “Residents of Duba Urt”. Most of Leche’s ribs had been broken, one puncturing his kidney. His toes had been amputated and he had been repeatedly burnt with cigarettes. There were eight bullet wounds on his body, including one on the head. Before the burial, Musa Shapirov recorded his brother’s injuries on film, hoping to use it as evidence, but the court found the tape inadmissible and the case was dismissed due to a lack of evidence and identifiable suspects. In 2010, Musa submitted the tape as evidence to the European Court of Human Rights. The court found that the Russian State had been complicit in the kidnapping and murder of Leche Shapirov, and ordered an investigation. The investigation is yet to take place.

Photo 10:

In June 2009, human rights organisation Memorial Grozny received information that Apti Zainalov, a victim of abduction who had been reported to them earlier that year, had been spotted in Atchko-Martan hospital with multiple bullet wounds. Apti was unconscious and being kept under strict police surveillance. Memorial launched an immediate inquiry, but the organization lost access to Apti after the authorities noticed activity around the hospital. Memorial employees managed to trace a car that moved Apti to a secure facility in Gudermes but they were unable to gain further access.

The case was one of the last abductions investigated by Natalia Estemirova, a human rights advocate who was herself abducted and murdered on 15th of July, 2009. While continuing to investigate Zainalov’s case, another employee of Memorial, Akhmed Gisaev, received death threats and emigrated shortly thereafter, fearing for the safety of his family. The whereabouts of Apti remain unknown.

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Let’s examine a traditionally male-dominated role that is very well-respected, and well-paid, in many parts of the world — that of a doctor. In the UK, it is listed as one of the top ten lucrative careers, and the average annual income of a family doctor in the US is well into six figures. It also confers on you significant social status, and a common stereotype in Asian communities is of parents encouraging their children to become doctors.

One of my lecturers at university once presented us with this thought exercise: why are doctors so highly paid, and so well-respected? Our answers were predictable. Because they save lives, their skills are extremely important, and it takes years and years of education to become one. All sound, logical reasons. But these traits that doctors possess are universal. So why is it, she asked, that doctors in Russia are so lowly paid? Making less than £7,500 a year, it is one of the lowest paid professions in Russia, and poorly respected at that. Why is this?

The answer is crushingly, breathtakingly simple. In Russia, the majority of doctors are women. Here’s a quote from Carol Schmidt, a geriatric nurse practitioner who toured medical facilities in Moscow: “Their status and pay are more like our blue-collar workers, even though they require about the same amount of training as the American doctor… medical practice is stereotyped as a caring vocation ‘naturally suited‘ to women, [which puts it at] a second-class level in the Soviet psyche.”

What this illustrates perfectly is this — women are not devalued in the job market because women’s work is seen to have little value. It is the other way round. Women’s work is devalued in the job market because women are seen to have little value.
our-amazing-world:

Blue Mosque, Istanbu Amazing World

our-amazing-world:

Blue Mosque, Istanbu Amazing World

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[…] Early in my freshman year, my dad asked me if there were lots of Latinos at school. I wanted to say, “Pa, I’m one of the only Latinos in most of my classes. The other brown faces I see mostly are the landscapers’. I think of you when I see them sweating in the morning sun. I remember you were a landscaper when you first came to Illinois in the 1950s. And look, Pa! Now I’m in college!”

But I didn’t.

I just said, “No, Pa. There’s a few Latinos, mostly Puerto Rican, few Mexicans. But all the landscapers are Mexican.”

My dad responded, “¡Salúdelos, m’ijo!”

So when I walked by the Mexican men landscaping each morning, I said, “Buenos días.”

Recently, I realized what my dad really meant. I remembered learning the Mexican, or Latin American, tradition of greeting people when one enters a room. In my Mexican family, my parents taught me to be “bien educado” by greeting people who were in a room already when I entered. The tradition puts the responsibility of the person who arrives to greet those already there. If I didn’t follow the rule as a kid, my parents admonished me with a back handed slap on my back and the not-so-subtle hint: “¡Saluda!”

I caught myself tapping my 8-year-old son’s back the other day when he didn’t greet one of our friends: “Adrian! ¡Saluda!”

However, many of my white colleagues over the years followed a different tradition of ignorance. “Maleducados,” ol’ school Mexican grandmothers would call them.

But this Mexican tradition is not about the greeting—it’s about the acknowledgment. Greeting people when you enter a room is about acknowledging other people’s presence and showing them that you don’t consider yourself superior to them.

When I thought back to the conversation between my dad and me in 1990, I realized that my dad was not ordering me to greet the Mexican landscapers with a “Good morning.”

Instead, my father wanted me to acknowledge them, to always acknowledge people who work with their hands like he had done as a farm worker, a landscaper, a mechanic. My father with a 3rd grade education wanted me to work with my mind but never wanted me to think myself superior because I earned a college degree and others didn’t.

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