The privilege of visiting a grave

On the last day of February 2023, road workers in Grozny accidentally opened a mass grave. No one has expressed doubt that they have found remains of abducted residents of Chechnya.

On the last day of February of this year an excavator working on laying a road on the Western outskirts of Grozny accidentally opened a mass grave. The remains of at least 10 graves fell into the pit. The work was immediately suspended. The photographs and videos from the burial site were distributed on the same day via social networks and telephone chats, which is how people share reliable information. People demanded that the authorities investigate the circumstances of its occurrence. No one expressed doubts that the found remains belong to the abducted residents of Chechnya. The only question remained which residents of the many, many thousands abducted …

The discovered mass grave may contain, for example, the remains of the brothers Abdula and Abdul-Malik Dishnayev and their friend Timerlan Akhmadov. For 20 years now, the authorities have not been able to give a clear answer as to who kidnapped these people and on what grounds. Appeals to law enforcement agencies, even though they were not bluntly ignored, in any case did not lead to a serious investigation of this crime. The perpetrators were left without the deserved punishment, and relatives were forced to search for the disappeared for years without any hope of success.

Their ordeal started at 3am in the morning on 10 March 2003 when the house on the Partizanskaya Street in Grozny, where the Dishnayev brothers and Timerlan Akhmadov spent the night, was blocked by Russian security forces. In total – up to 70 people. According to eyewitnesses, they arrived there in three military jeeps, two armored trucks and an armored personnel carrier. Among themselves, the abductors communicated in Russian, but among them, apparently, there were also Chechens. In any case, some of the relatives, in their statements to the authorities, found it necessary to emphasize this specifically.

The capture of the Dishnayev brothers and Timerlan Akhmadov was carried out according to the classical scheme, honed over the years and thousands of such operations. Employees of the Russian law enforcement agencies cordoned off the house from all sides, set up a cordon around it and, blocking the street in both directions, got inside. The kidnappers did not explain anything to the residents of the house. They seized the young people and, without letting them get dressed, took them out onto the street. Here they were immediately pushed into an armored personnel carrier and taken away. Where exactly is unknown to the relatives. The authorities, however, even then apparently had quite complete information about the circumstances of the abduction of these people and what eventually became of them. Timerlan Akhmadov’s father later spoke about this as follows:

… They took them without even letting them get dressed. From that day on I started an active search for my son, but this did not lead to any [positive] result. Moreover, on 2 July that same year (2003), my house was shelled from a helicopter. During this shelling, my mother was killed and other family members were wounded. I am more than sure that this was the answer to my efforts to find my son. A year after his abduction, when I was describing his appearance to the Prosecutor’s office, the investigator casually asked me: “Did he have a habit of biting his nails?” This question shocked me, because only a person who somehow knew my son could ask that. Timerlan did not cut his nails, but bit them. But the investigator denied my assumption, saying that this is a common, typical question in such a situation …


The Prosecutor’s Office of the Leninsky district of the city of Grozny opened a criminal case on the third day after the abduction of Timerlan Akhmadov, Abdula and Abdul-Malik Dishnayev. But the investigation was terminated within the minimum of two months provided for this. To the day and not an hour more, which served as additional confirmation that the investigation had complete information about the kidnappers and the fate of those who ended up in their hands. Subsequently, the Prosecutor’s office was forced to resume the investigation a few times, but eventually everything ended the same way. The investigation was suspended because it was allegedly not possible to identify the persons to be held accountable.

Having lost hope in Russian justice, the relatives of Timerlan Akhmadov and the Dishnayev brothers filed a complaint with the European Court of Human Rights. The judgment in case 851/12, issued on 4 December 2018, recognizes the responsibility of the Russian Federation for the violation of a number of articles of the European Convention for the Protection of Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms. Relatives of the victims were awarded compensation for the material and moral costs they incurred. But this is of little, if any, consolation to them. They did not turn to the European Court for money, but with a wish to reopen the investigation with the support of a respected legal mechanism for human rights protection. As it turned out, in vain.

It seems that the Chechen land is more susceptible to human tears. Unlike Russian and international officials bestowed with rights and privileges, it occasionally reveals its secrets. Spills out the graves of those who were shot without justice and tortured to death, the burial places of the abducted. As in this last case, which caused a massive reaction among Putin’s allies in Chechnya. And if in the end there are no remains of the Dishnayev brothers and Timerlan Akhmadov here, then this is not so important as far as the problem of enforced disappearances in the republic is concerned. Sooner or later, they will be found. It is however important that a certain number of local residents will find the truth about their relatives, bury them according to tradition and, perhaps, settle down. Knowing where the grave of a loved one is, where you can come and pray, seems to be a privilege after all.

One can get acquainted with some of the many thousands of crimes of the second Russian-Chechen war, collected and systematized in the electronic database of the Natalia Estemirova Documentation Center at the Norwegian Helsinki Committee (NEDC).

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