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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Restoring Chechnya One Brick at a Time

GUDERMES, Chechnya — Of all the factories damaged in the war, there is only one in all of Chechnya that is running again, and Khanpasha Amirov is proud to say that it is his.

With borrowed money, he restored a brick factory in Gudermes and restarted a production line this spring, providing jobs for 110 of his countrymen.

In the areas of Chechnya that saw fighting during the war, effectively only one enterprise was left almost intact, a chicken farm in Tolstoi-Yurt near Grozny, according to a spokesman for the Federal Security Service in Gudermes. Several wine-making plants were untouched, but they are not operating because the vineyards were destroyed.

The rest of Chechnya's industry lies in ruins after extensive bombing and shelling, and many enterprises have been so badly damaged that they cannot be restored.

Only one of the damaged enterprise — the brick factory in Gudermes — has been put back into production, said Taus Dzhabrailov, a spokesman for the pro-Moscow administration of Akhmad Kadyrov.

The factory is a success story, with every brick it makes eagerly snapped up as Chechens begin to rebuild their republic. In Grozny alone, there are about 6,000 houses and apartment blocks that need to be restored, according to the Chechen administration.

Amirov, 34, a graduate of the Voronezh forestry academy with an education in economics, was appointed director of the state-owned brick factory in September. By his estimation, it was 60 percent destroyed. There are still no walls around the 4-hectare site, and it takes a while to realize that there really is work going on in the middle of the ruins.

But one conveyor was turned on March 15 and workers work in two 12-hour shifts earning from 1,000 rubles to 5,000 rubles per month. "It is safer to work this way than in three eight-hour shifts: We have a curfew, and we can go out only in the daytime," Amirov said.

The factory already makes about 20,000 bricks a day and hopes to increase production to about 35,000 bricks a day by the end of the year. This would mean an annual production of about 9 million bricks, or half the number produced when both conveyors were working in the early 1990s.

But to boost production, Amirov said he needs to invest 2 million rubles ($69,000) in the factory's equipment. Since being appointed director, he has managed to raise 500,000 rubles in interest-free loans from friends and relatives and has gotten some goods, including cables, in kind.

"We bought equipment with all the money I borrowed. Here everything was destroyed, paralyzed, stolen," he said.

Although the factory is state owned, Amirov said he has received no state money. "I was told last year that our factory was included on the list for restoration of the economy of Chechnya [an 8 billion ruble program for 2000], but no cash was given to me. This year, however, I was told that my factory had been taken off the list. Perhaps they decided that last year's 'support' was enough."

The business is going well. There are lots of customers and the factory's profitability is 20 percent, Amirov said. In just the first month of operation, he paid off all but 70,000 rubles of the wage arrears to his workers who had worked without pay since September.

The biggest problem, he said, is that the state is taking bricks and not paying for them.

"We have a state order, 100,000 bricks. We have already unloaded most of them, but were not paid. They were used to restore homes for refugees in Argun and for a local hospital. But for us it means that we are doing charity.

"I would like the state to pay me back all that I borrowed and invested here," Amirov said. "But even if it does not, I will not stop working. It is my country and I have to help it."

A large clay deposit is located only about 600 meters away. Clay is carried to the factory by trucks, and primitive but powerful equipment mixes it with water, forms the mass into an endless gray rectangular sausage and cuts it in bricks. The machinery is operated by a few men.

The physical work, though, is done by women. Two girls wearing huge gloves move bricks from the conveyer to a carrier that takes them to a big oven for firing.

Ibragim Khadzhiyev, 26, who works at the factory, said he is glad to have a job that gives him 1,000 rubles a month to feed his family of eight people, including his parents, four brothers and a sister. "There is nowhere else to work here," he said. "And I am proud to be able to do real work."

Sitting in his office — a tiny hut that in the past was used as a gatehouse by factory guards — Amirov is thinking big. "I need 32 million rubles to restore both production lines here, but I will probably stay with only one working for now."

He said that he asked the Chechen government to give him a factory in Grozny to restore. If the state would reimburse him for the brick factory, he could use that money to restore the Grozny factory.

"I believe that Chechnya will be restored. First me, then other people will invest their money," Amirov said. "We will restore our country."

Despite his optimism, he worries that his brick factory may become the target of Chechen separatists who oppose any cooperation with the Moscow-backed administration and any attempt to restore life to normal in Chechnya. He already has received calls from people threatening to blow it up.