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.
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.
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.
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.