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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Chechens: City's Other Casualties




When Grozny was bombed during the war in Chechnya, Mukhadin lost his wife and his home.


This week he found himself homeless again - a casualty in another war, one that community leaders say is being waged on peaceful, law-abiding Chechens living in Moscow.


After Monday's explosion on Kashirskoye Shosse - the second fatal explosion in a residential building in four days - police officials announced that the terrorists were Chechens and Moscow Mayor Yury Luzhkov called for a crackdown on unregistered "guests" in the city.


That day, the superintendent of the dormitory where Mukhadin lived called him and told him he had until 6 p.m. to pack his things and get out.


"He's a good person, but the situation forced him to do it," Mukhadin, who asked that his last name not be used, said Thursday.


Now Mukhadin, whose temporary Moscow registration has expired, is hiding out at his relatives' small apartment, where four other adults live.


"I hardly ever leave the apartment," said Mukhadin, 45, a math and physics teacher by profession.


Chechen community leaders say stories like his are common among the some 100,000 Chechens living in the capital and law-abiding citizens are living in fear of the police.


Sixteen prominent Chechens met Thursday with human rights commissioner Oleg Mironov and told him that Moscow's Chechens are being persecuted - by police, politicians and the media.


"The media are going on about the 'Chechen connection,' the 'Chechen terrorists,'" said Zhabrail Gakayev, chairman of the Chechen Cultural Center and head of an umbrella association of Chechen organizations formed to confront the current crisis. "All this is being connected with the name of the Chechen people, who have nothing in common with the terrorists and bandits."


Gakayev said that by consulting police precincts, he and other Chechens established that 520 Chechens were arrested over the past three days.


"And 99 percent of these people are completely innocent," he said, adding that police routinely plant drugs or weapons on people.


Even the Chechen intelligentsia has not escaped harassment.


Gakayev said a doctor, Islam Bashirov, was in jail on trumped-up drug charges, and the Dimayev brothers, two respected musicians, were being chased out of town because they lacked Moscow registration.


At about 2 a.m. Wednesday, police paid a visit to Said Lorsanukayev, an assistant to State Duma Speaker Gennady Seleznyov, Komsomolskaya Pravda reported Thursday.


They searched his apartment without a warrant and, despite the fact that he presented valid documents, ordered Lorsanukayev, his wife and children to the police station, where they questioned them until 4 a.m., the newspaper reported.


Lorsanukayev could not be reached Thursday for comment.


Many law enforcement veterans are watching in incomprehension at the police behavior.


"I gave 33 years of my life to the fight against crime," said Aslambek Aslakhanov, head of the Association of Law Enforcement Workers. "[Today's] tyranny of the law-enforcement organs must be stopped."


Aslakhanov, who was also present at Thursday's meeting with the human rights commissioner, said he was disturbed by the police's eagerness to put the blame on Chechens. "I am shocked when I hear that all other versions [besides Chechens] have been thrown aside."


Then, picking up an anti-Caucasian leaflet distributed by a Russian nationalist group in the wake of the explosions, he added: "Why shouldn't I assume that they aren't the ones responsible?"


Abuezid Apayev, head of Daimokkh, a Chechen and Ingush social and cultural organization, has logged dozens of horror stories this week sitting by his home telephone.


Even children have been caught up in the hysteria, he said, telling the story of a girl who was beaten up by classmates at school who taunted her for her ethnicity.


"I'm advising everyone to get out if they have somewhere to go," Apayev said. "Anywhere but Chechnya."


The hysteria has affected other Caucasian nationalities besides Chechens.


"They lump us all together," said Adam Adamov, a computer specialist who came to Moscow from Dagestan five years ago.


But he added that Chechens are more vigorously persecuted. Russians generally cannot distinguish among Caucasian ethnicities on the basis of appearance, but last names are often a giveaway.


Adamov, 29, said that Wednesday night, a neighbor came to his apartment and told him that the residents of the building had decided he should move out.


Then, close to midnight, police knocked on his door for a document check after neighbors notified them of "a suspicious person."


Adamov, who does not have Moscow registration, was lucky: The officer did not demand he pay the fine, and Adamov did not have to argue.


But Adamov, who is well-versed in his constitutional rights, said even when police demand money, he avoids paying by out-talking them and showing them he knows more than they do.Adamov said he has not registered his Moscow address with authorities on principle.


While the Russian Constitution guarantees freedom of movement, Moscow has a restrictive registration system that is in essence the same as the Soviet propiska system. Those who do not have permanent residence status are required to register with city authorities.


Technically, the registration system is meant to serve simply as notification, but officials are said to turn the process into a barrier by demanding unnecessary documents and extracting high fees.


Adamov said if authorities tried to expel him from the city - as they have threatened to do this week with unregistered visitors - he would happily sue them.


NTV television reported that during intensified passport checks this week, more than 20,000 people have been detained.


Luzhkov announced Monday that all nonresidents in Moscow would be required to re-register within three days.


While that process is going ahead, NTV reported that the deadline has been extended until Tuesday because the local passport services could not finish the task within the original time limit.


Despite their troubles in the past few days, Chechens are quick to point out that not all Russians are caught up in the hysteria - and many are even trying to help


"On the 13th, our neighbor Tamara came to my wife and told her about a nationalist rally she saw on the street," Apayev said. "She said, 'Don't go out. If you need to buy something, I'll buy it for you.'"