October includes the birthdays of Vladimir Putin and Ramzan Kadyrov – two of the main symbols of the authoritarianism in the country. Anna Politkovskaya, their strongest and most fearless critic, was murdered in October 2006. All three came to the world’s attention thanks to the second Russian-Chechen armed conflict, which began in earnest in the month of October, 22 years ago.
Despite the decisive role this war played in Russia’s further development it has not been thoroughly investigated. Many questions remain, particularly with regards to its initial stages. Due to rapid developments during the fall of 1999, Russian and international human rights organizations were unable to start monitoring missions in the North Caucasus. Information from the region was unsystematic and fragmented. It was collected at the time by local activists who were forced to fight at the same time for their own survival, as did the entire population of Chechnya.
Through the establishment of the Natalia Estemirova Documentation Center, the Norwegian Helsinki Committee works to establish a chronology of all the wars, including the beginning stages. We collect scant pieces of information from mass media during hostilities, supplement them with testimonies from victims and witnesses to the events, collected under great risk by activists. By correlating the information with videos and photographs taken by the activists we have been able to restore a picture of bombings and shootings of a number of population centers and identify the victims.
For instance, on the website of the Documentation Center, in addition to the relatively well-known incident of air raid on the village of Elistanzhi (https://www.nedc-nhc.org/idoc-search-en/case/?id=21309), we have also collected information on an attack by a Russian helicopter on a truck filled with refugees from the village of Ken-Yurt (https://www.nedc-nhc.org/idoc-search-en/case/?id=21271), artillery fire against the villages Samashki and Novy-Sharoi (https://www.nedc-nhc.org/idoc-search-en/case/?id=21262), missile attack against the regional center of Vedeno (https://www.nedc-nhc.org/idoc-search-en/case/?id=21301).
All these attacks took place in October 1999 and led to the deaths of innocent people, destruction of schools, hospitals, residential buildings and other civilian object.
Based on the analysis of 42,169 documents of varying formats, the electronic database of the Documentation Center describes 6974 incidents during which 78,042 people were either killed, wounded, beaten, tortured, kidnapped, disappeared, robbed etc.
The work to investigate the conflict and investigate its victims continues.