by Svetlana Gannushkina
Civic Assistance Committee
Translated from the Russian By Zaxi Blog
In August 1996, during the storming of Grozny, one of most tragic episodes of the first Chechen campaign, when we were thrashing about in efforts to find any means possible of assisting the people fleeing the war, I suddenly received a call from Anna Politkovskaya.
By the first day of school on September 1, she wanted to publish a large portrait in the Obshchaya Gazeta newspaper at which she worked at the time of a Chechen child who, clutching a bouquet of flowers, was going to a Moscow school. That was her innocently inventive way of fighting the Chechen phobia.
I replied that unfortunately, the Chechen kids who ended up in Moscow would not be going to school this year. Moscow authorities had just adopted a resolution stating that only children whose parents had Moscow registration papers – or the old Soviet “propiska” – would be allowed to study in the capital. And these children’s parents not only have no propiska, but also no idea how they will find dinner for their children. The storming of Grozny is underway, and people are fleeing wherever their noses lead them. There is no one there to meet them in Moscow or in any of the other cities. Meanwhile, our organization is collecting money from friends and acquaintances to help the refugees feed themselves for just three or four days.
On the very next day, Anna Politkovskaya came to our reception office, brought the money she collected at her paper’s office, and took our and our visitors’ interviews. Following this visit, a series of vivid articles followed about the plight of Chechen and other refugees in Moscow.
Our acquaintance began with that call, which was followed by a collaboration that lasted until the last days of Anna Politkovskaya’s life. During the second Chechen campaign, Chechnya had turned into Anna’s main subject and place to which she traveled constantly. Chechnya transformed her, becoming the essence of her life
Her articles about the second Chechen campaign were for many people the only opportunity available to learn the truth, if that had still retained any desire to learn it. She not only wrote, she intervened in people’s fates, demanded answers from investigators, prosecutors, and the military. She was threatened, and not only in Moscow with phone calls and letters, but also at the scene in Chechnya, where she was threatened with immediate vigilante justice. I doubt that Anna was not afraid – it was just that the things happening around her were so frightening that personal fear vanished somewhere into the background, becoming less prominent.
Anna responded to every appeal for help, to every anguished cry of pain. Our last work together was when Anna interviewed me in the August of last year. This was one month after the night of July 12-13, 2006, when a group of young kids was slaughtered on the Chechen-Dagestani border. The kids were drawn there by provocateurs, which then dressed them up into camouflage outfits and led them into Chechnya, where they met a barrage of gunfire.
Information about an averted terrorist act crossed all the international new agencies and could not be received as anything but a major victory in the fight against terrorism – now threatening Chechnya from outside its borders, since in the words of Ramzan Kadyrov, almost all of the bandits have been destroyed in Chechnya itself.
The kids were recruited in the Khasavyurt region of Dagestan, where I arrived on August 16 and where over a stretch of two days, I came across 17 families that in July suffered a terrible tragedy. The mothers told me how their kids were being invited to come out to the sea, to talk about the fate of the Chechen people, and that they were then dressed up as rebel fighters. The youngest one among them was 14. Thirteen boys were killed, five were wounded and miraculously escaped alive.
I returned to Moscow to discover that besides an appeal to the prosecutor not to sue the survivors and to investigate the provocation instead, I was unable to write a thing myself. Then I called Anna, told her about my trip and offered her to take my notes for her work. Anna came immediately, we went through my notes together, and a day later an article came out in which the truth was told about the brutal bloodbath in Khasavyurt.
That is how she wrote – quickly and honestly, not giving herself pause for rest and showing herself no mercy. And Anna demanded the same intensity from us – those who by custom are called human rights campaigners. She had the right to do so.
Her voice started ringing so loudly that it was being heard in the remotest corners of our little world. And it sounds today, it sounds after being picked up by hundreds of other voices across the globe.
I would very much like to see thousands of people from across the world come to Moscow on October 7 of this year. Just to visit the cemetery, to walk through the streets of Moscow with Anna Politkovskaya’s portrait. To show those who believed the words of the Russian President, that her “influence on the political life of Russia was minimal,” just how wrong he was.
Her influence will keep stretching. Her articles will stand up to indifference and passivity, to gnaw the conscience. Anna Politkovskaya will stay with us. Her voice will still sound for a long time to come – for as long as there \those who need protection, whose pain has not been assuaged. New generations will read her articles, and it will help them accept the burden of responsibility for what is happening in our world.