The day before the all-national meeting on Friday it became known that the anti-terrorist measures had been put in Ingushetia. Allegedly, the gunmen had entered the territory of the Republic and they were going to do terrible things at the next day’s meeting. In connection to that, deputy prosecutor of the Republic, Gelani Merzhuev, spoke in the news program and asked that citizens not leave their homes unless necessity appears. To strengthen the material delivered by the prosecutor, Ingush interior minister Musa Medov said the authorities wouldn’t allow the illegal meeting anyway and all who went out, would be treated harshly and resolutely.
The minister speaks in Ingush on the TV news and I can only guess what it all is about. First I can only suppose he is talking of some very humorous event as he restrains himself not to smile.
”He says they will dissolve the meeting strictly and even cruelly” translates for me Muhammad Sultygov, the imam of Islamic Cultural Center of Moscow. It seems to me he is close to the essence in his translation.
Approaches to Nazran are reinforced with APC’s; the mobile unit of MVD is also invited to the city. Moreover, special police units also came from neighboring regions up to Voronezh oblast.
Sultan Khashagulgov, who is going to attend the tomorrow’s meeting with his sons, says:
”I’m not on bad terms with Zyazikov. He is even profitable for me as I’m a builder and he gives me contracts. But it’s not all that can be measured with money. There must be limits.”
Sultan’s son was kidnapped in February. And before that, his brother was kidnapped. And before that many other things happened due to which he got disappointed in the standing President Zyazikov.
All-national meeting against arbitrary rule was invented in the beginning of January. The formal occasion was discontent with the outcomes of the December elections: officially reported turnout in Ingushetia was 98%. Of course, 99% of those who “voted” they voted for United Russia! However, tens of thousands applications got accumulated in December where people from all the parts of the Republic said they had not taken part in polling. The action was named “I did not vote” and involved over 80,000 Ingush people. So it was decided to organize the meeting on this wave of protest.
However, it’s not the past election that has been the reason of this meeting in Nazran. The situation in Nazran does not allow people to think of the personal composition of the State Duma. What makes people concerned is permanent kidnapping of men - even teenagers – and absolute power of the enforcement bodies, and corruption.
The meeting was announced to be legal till the last moment: the organizers not only tried to get it sanctioned but also to make it most friendly look towards Russia, considering actual situation.
Maksharip Aushev – one of the authors of the meeting – tells me on the eve of the meeting: “We need the press to inform the federal center that we are acting not against Russia. We are the force friendly to the Kremlin. We stand in support of Putin’s plan. ”
And Maksharip smiles broadly.
Sultan Khashagulgov echoes:
”Is President Putin against the order? He doesn’t support corruption, does he?” Sultan’s voice gets some playful notes. But actually, he is not joking: the placards are ready saying “We are for Putin’s plan!”
Another thing that is ready, is the petrol bombs.
Saturday morning a lot of people come to Chechenskaya Street. Women are few among them, there are mainly men and very many teenagers. Many fathers come with their sons. At 10 a.m. the column starts moving towards the Concord Square where the meeting was announced to be held. The placards can be seen over the road: “Russia and Ingushetia are united”, “We demand the law observed in Ingushetia”, “Away with corruption in Ingushetia”. The column is growing on its way to the Square.
The boys run ahead picking up stones from the sides of the road, from the frost ground. The closer to the Square the more people can be seen with the faces covered with scarves or just with dirt. Many carry the black bags in their hands. The bags sound with the glass.
Approaching the Concord Square the crowd gathers about 200 people. The Square is encircled by the special police unit, or OMON. Standing in a rank, the OMON’s soldiers in masks hold the shields before them. When the protesters come rather close to the Square, the OMON rank moves ahead and rumples the demonstrators. I and Danila Galperovich (from Freedom radio) manage to run into a shop near which the fight is going on.
The militia is using the bludgeons, the crowd answers with stones and petrol bombs. The ground is burning under the police feet but they do not retreat and continue beating the crowd. Some of them have to shake off the fire from their clothes. The crowd is not going to retreat either.
And then an explosion comes, then one more. The caustic fog is hanging in the air making it difficult to breathe. Many OMON soldiers have put on their gas masks. The meeting falls back and the OMON column moves back to their initial position so that to regroup. Several minutes later the adversaries collide again. Stones, Molotov cocktails and white gas again.
The militia has taken the first victim: some guy is drawn to the police car and gets beaten near it. He is lying on the ground and three OMON people kick him and affect with an electric shock device. The guy shouts not addressing to anyone particular but those beating answer something. After half an hour the meeting retreats to the yards. The militia, in groups, run somewhere to the deeper city. Machine gun bursts can be heard from a distance.
I call to an acquaintance of mine who was going to attend the meeting. I can hear shooting in my cell. My acquaintance is shouting: “What have we done? They didn’t even allow us to the Square! They didn’t allow us to have a say”. I know that a day before the respected professor from Moscow, Beslan Kostoev, has been preparing a report about abuse by the authority in Ingushetia and has been going to publish it at the meeting. Though, I guess Beslan Omarovich was not intended with his report on the Concord Square on that day.
Muhammad Sultygov, imam from Moscow, gets detained, in spite of the fact he is lame. Once he was knocked down by a police car chasing after someone. His leg had five fractures. They didn’t even apologize to him. This time they won’t either, I think.
After the fight moved from the square to other blocks, I and my colleague Galperovich get detained in the Concord Square for our attempt to learn from the militia higher-ups whether there are injured people among OMON. Danila is already in the special car for the detained and he is shouting “What are you doing? Comrade Colonel, how can it be! You are the officer!” I require that a small mustached cop show us his ID. The man loses his patience and shouts at me something unquotable adding in the end “Get in the car, I said!” He beats me a few times on my back for better clarity, pushing me into the police special bus.
Galperovich gets looted: he is taken away his camera, documents and money.
The GOVD (militia station), where we are brought, is featured with the walls decorated with Ruslan Aushev’s (former Ingush President, General) portraits. The General looks at you honestly and exacting. It seems he is worshipped like a God in militia. Well, unfortunately it’s not everyone there to observe the commandments. The hosts of the offices decorated with Aushev’s portraits tell us they would be happy to live according to their conscience, but their job does not allow them doing it. Though, they have no time to deal with us. They have a lot of the detainees, especially the youth. The girls-employees of the militia station discuss the fates of the detained:
”Aren’t you feeling a pity over that guy?”
”But you see, they say he was one of most furious there”…
Two hours after the deputy prosecutor of the Republic Gelani Merzhuev comes and gathers all the journalists in one room for explaining the situation to them. “I ask you to understand our militia” he says. “They haven’t had a sleep for a week. We are working under conditions of anti-terrorist operation and they are just humans”.
Probably, in other situation Merzhuev would seem even sympathetic as he looks to be quick and supernaturally joyful. He resembles of a comic sketch character who asks not to take everything happening too serious: “You understand…”
I and Danila tell how we were beaten and he was looted. Gelani shows a theatrical amazement:
”Really? That’s unbelievable! We shall return you everything!”
Soon it turns out that Danila Galperovich was not the only one to be looted. Other journalists were deprived of their belongings too.
The camera and documents come back to Danila. His purse, too. Without money.
”And was there any money?” the deputy prosecutor asks surprisingly.
It seems that he had to reimburse the financial losses by journalists from his own pocket.
With Merzhuev’s arrival we start to give explanations about how we got to the militia station and to Nazran at all. Everyone* is taken to a separate office. I got to the one with secretaries and prosecutor Ruslan Aushev (this is not the one whose portraits are worshipped in the militia!). Prosecutor Aushev asks me to give written explanations of how I got to the militia station and answer if I knew about anti-terrorist operation measures and point out if I have any claims against prosecutor’s office. I commit to paper the report of all what happened: how we were detained, beaten and how Danila was looted. The militia employee Madina, changes countenance when she reads my explanations:
”What have you written here? Who asked you to write so? Ruslan, give me another form and leave us”.
The prosecutor leaves another form. Madina locks the door and addresses me in an insinuating tone:
”Do you really need it? They won’t let you go. Where were you beaten? Who beat you? You have no evidence. I ask you please write normal account. You are a woman too!”
After 15 minutes of talking Madina changes for shouting.
As for the Prosecutor Merzhuev, he perceived my written explanation normally and attached it to the file.
In the afternoon there were over ten detained people in GOVD, not counting journalists. By midday it had turned out that the protesters allegedly burnt the Hotel Assa, City’s hospital and the office of the oldest Ingush newspaper Serdalo. A bit later the news came that it had been a provocation by the law enforcement bodies and the organizers required the whole action to be stopped so that not discredit themselves. However, the evening TV news reported that “traitors of the nation”, “enemies of Ingush people, inspired by the actors from Other Russia, burnt down several buildings in their hopeless spite and ambition to cause harm to the getting up from its knees Republic”. Other Russia is universal foe which can fit even Ingushetia. There are two best foes – Other Russia and the US.
”We have only one Russia” told me later President Murat Zyazikov in an interview. “We live here and we shall raise this country. We don’t need Other Russia. What’s all that filth for? Why when in November we had another meeting, President Bush told how anxious he was about situation in Ingushetia, when making his speech on the lawn of the White House”? Why is he so interested in our Republic?”
It seems to me that Murat Magometovich is looking for reasons for destabilization too far. There is some force inside the Republic that wants to release him from his presidential burden ahead of time. It wants it for various reasons. It might come that the Ingush people may make a choice not in favor of the President Zyazikov when choosing between the two antagonistic sides.
* On that day also detained were correspondents of Echo Moskvy, 5th Channel, RTR-Vesti, and employees of civil rights advocate organization Memorial Ekaterina Sokiryanskaya and Timur Akiev who had come to help the journalists.
(To be continued)