17 July 2009, 14:00

Natalia Estemirova's Last Interview to Caucasian Knot

I would not call it an interview because an interview suggests questions to the interviewed about himself/herself. Natalia did not speak about herself, and I knew little about her. I only knew she helped people in Chechnya. And I understood how dangerous her work was. And how important. During the last interview we also talked with her about our work.

Yesterday, on 14 July, I rang Natalia Estemirova for information with regard to a news item published on Caucasian Knot which said:

"Five people who had put up armed resistance to officers of law enforcement / security agencies were killed in the southwest and southeast of Chechnya earlier this morning, republican law enforcement agencies say. None of the law enforcement / security officers who took part in those special operations was killed or wounded, according to the police officer.

'In the morning, at approximately 8.10 a.m. Moscow time, officers of law enforcement agencies found two armed men in the Urus-Martan District, approximately one and a half or two kilometres away from the motor road between the villages of Goy-Chu and Alkhazurovo. When suggested that they surrender, they opened small arms fire and were destroyed during the skirmish. The gunmen have already been identified. One of them was a resident of Grozny, and the other a native of the Gekhi village. Two Kalashnikov assault rifles were taken from the killed men,' says the interlocutor.

Several hours earlier, at about 5.00 a.m., officers of law enforcement agencies came under automatic rifle fire, while trying to stop a ninth model Lada car for an examination in the Shali District on the motor road between the villages of Chiri-Yurt and Duba-Yurt.

'As they opened return fire, they managed to destroy the three gunmen that were in that car. Kalashnikov assault rifles and ammunition for them were also taken from the killed gunmen,' the police officer said and noted that the rebels were being identified."

It was also necessary to obtain information on the previous report by Caucasian Knot:

"Rizvan Albekov and his son, Aziz, residents of the Akhkinchu-Borzoy village, were abducted in Dzhugurty, Kurchaloy District, Chechen Republic, on 7 July, presumably by officers of the local District Department of Internal Affairs. Several hours later, the abductors publicly executed Rizvan Albekov, the Memorial Human Rights Centre quotes eyewitnesses of what happened as saying.

The witnesses told the staff of the Memorial Human Rights Centre that officers of law enforcement / security agencies stopped a Niva car in which Albekov and his son were driving in the centre of Dzhugurty at noon. A police officer got in to drive the Niva, while the driver was moved to the back seat. After that, accompanied by one more car, Albekov and his son were carried away from the village.

Armed people in camouflage came to Akhkinchu-Borzoy on the night of 8 July. For a while, they were driving along the village, they stopped in the centre of the village near a group of young people. They dragged Rizvan Albekov who was dressed only in underwear from the car. The unidentified people asked Rizvan if he had helped rebels. Rizvan answered in the negative (shook his head). Then they shot at him several times and said that that would happen to everyone who would help rebels. The destiny of Aziz Albekov so far remains unknown.

Villagers also reported this to the district prosecutor's office by telephone.

Rizvan Albekov and his family had for a long time lived in the Stavropol Territory. He returned to Akhkinchu-Borzoy in 2008. He bought a small house on the fringe of the village and settled there with his family. Aziz Albekov finished school in 2009.

In October 2000, Rizvan's brother, Vakhazhi Albekov, as he was looking for his cattle, was stopped by Russian military men and exploded in the forest near Akhkinchu-Borzoy. His second brother, Ali Albekov, filed a complaint to the European Court of Human Rights. On 9 October 2008, the ECHR ruled in favour of the aggrieved party in the Albekov and Others case. The applicant did not live till the hearing: he died from cancer."

The first call to Natalia Estemirova, approximately at noon:

Dmitry Florin: Good afternoon, this is Dmitry Florin from Caucasian Knot. It's about the Albekovs.  Could you tell me what you have, what information? About what happened in the Kurchaloy District.

Natalia Estemirova: One man, Ramzan, the father, was shot in front of witnesses who will not speak now, of course. As for Aziz, there's still no knowing where he is.
I would like to add that that family, they had won a European Court trial, one of them had been killed by a mine explosion.

D.F.: That's what happened in 2000?

N.E.: Yes, and they won a European Court trial on 8 October last year.
D.F.: So what now? What did they do, if anything? Where did they work?

N.E.: They are absolutely ordinary people. They did nothing wrong. The son, how old was he? (Talking to someone near her - Caucasian Knot.) He has just finished school. This year. They lived in the Stavropol Territory. It's been one year only since they came back here. They lived in the Stavropol Territory for 26 years. It's been one year since they came back. The son has just finished school.

D.F.: So what kind of thing happen there? Am I correct, did those people really wear law enforcement agency uniforms? Did they bear any insignia?

Those were officers of Russian law enforcement / security agencies. Who not just in the presence of eyewitnesses, who took two guys, and brought another two boys from the village, and shot that man in the presence of those four. And they said that man had helped rebels.

D.F.: So they did it right that way, right in the presence of people?

N.E.: Exactly. And not only that. I will send you some more information, we are having a real tide of crimes here.

D.F.: Can you tell us now what else is happening there?

N.E.: People were strictly forbidden speaking, they were told they should say Ramzan had died of a heart attack...
D.F.: Who told them so?

N.E.: Apparently, the same people who did the shooting.

D.F.: Is there any kind of official reaction from the government? Has the prosecutor's office been contacted? That is, what do you usually do, do you at once file a complaint to the police...

No. They haven't applied anywhere, nor to the prosecutor's office, they... they are prohibited from doing so.

How can it be? That what they were told, so they...

N.E.: We've been making an inquiry about that already, and there is information from Caucasian Knot after all, but so far there is no proper investigation, as is the usual practice.

D.F.: Still, has the prosecutor's office been informed about that fact?

Yes. You know, honestly I cannot talk to you right now...

D.F.: I understand, then I'll call you again later...

The second call on 14 July, late in the afternoon:

D.F.: This is again Dmitry, from Caucasian Knot, it is about the shot people, those we talked with you earlier, is there any kind of news?

N.E.: So far, killed residents of Chechnya are mentioned, but so far, there is no official information about who those people were. I can give you their surnames. Those who have now been shot. This is near Alkhazurovo. In the Urus-Martan District. On 12 July between Goy Chu and Alkhazurovo. Those were... (Gives several surnames - Caucasian Knot).

Excuse me, I am just afraid I could make a mistake, it is difficult to put down the surnames aurally. If you can do that, could you send me the names of those people by email? Will you have access to the internet soon?


D.F.: So far, I have understood that, apparently, everything happened hear a post, I know what that is. I've been on business trips to Chechnya. A post, a car was driving, and usually it happens like what, like it was with Ulman. Did someone misunderstood someone else? A car can drive past, and they start firing at it. I understand something like that happened there? Or was there really any kind of armed resistance?

N.E.: It is said that when an attempt was made to detain them, those people offered armed resistance and were destroyed.

D.F.: This is what they usually report later, i.e. when they had shot them, planted weapons on them and... said there had been gunmen...

N.E.: You know, I have an official statement right now that has just not been published yet...

What kind of people were they? Indeed some rebels?

N.E.: I do not know yet, this all is yet to be looked through. Because here we are choking with this kind of work. And so far we cannot do everything so quickly.

D.F.: I see.

N.E.: Perhaps, those were really boys that had gone away. That can be so indeed. The question is why they had gone away?

D.F.: This question, it somehow usually is not really interesting to anyone... In this country, they think differently, if there is a rifle..., that means need to be destroyed... I would be very grateful to you if you sent me the surnames of those killed and like we've done it before - literally a few sentences, by way of commentary, about that episode, what is known at the moment. Have you been contacted with regard to that episode yet?

N.E.: No.

D.F.: Not yet?

N.E.: No. It's been since their parents went to the police on 11 July, said that they had disappeared. And this is what happened on 12 July... That's what I know. The parents have not yet applied to us.

D.F.: What does that mean that they had "disappeared"?
N.E.: That's not explained here, it goes about disappearance, not abduction, here.

I understand it turns out they left home? Right?

N.E.: No, it's absolutely unclear. Either left home or went away and never came back, and so forth. This can be anything.

Were they taken away or did they go themselves?

N.E.: No. It is not said here that they were taken away, it is said that their parents reported disappearance.

D.F.: I am just trying to see the point. If someone disappears from home, roughly speaking, would any resident of, for example, the Urus-Martan District go to the police and say that he or she has disappeared? Well, it's right off. The end.

N.E.: No, why so? This happens sometimes. Such things happen. When they come and say, here, my son has disappeared, and the parents are confident that he was detained somewhere, something like that. But that happens either way: sometimes detained by force, and sometimes they just leave.

I mean if he goes away, to the forest, well, that should somehow be evident? That he had somehow before...

N.E.: That may be absolutely not evident. That can be like this: he says I'll go buy a pair of trousers in the marketplace, and that's all, he disappears.

D.F.: Oh, well... I see. Natalia, I won't distract you any longer then. Please drop me an email when you can, will you?

OK, sure...

These were the last words Natalia told me yesterday evening. I never received a message from her yesterday. Earlier today, on 15 July, before I learnt about the abduction, I had written two letters to her email with a request to send me the information and the list of those killed. That is, what we agreed upon by telephone. Before lunch, I rang Natalia up. The phone of the subscriber called was switched off or out of network coverage. Later, Natalia was reported to have been abducted. A bit later, we learnt that she had been found. Not alive.

Natalia had also mentioned that the local government paid close attention to Caucasian Knot reports, which she had said could be made use of by publishing information on the website that many of the powers that be would like to conceal. However, if a case is made public, they will have to react to that somehow. Maybe, this will save someone (the way it has sometimes happened when abducted people were set free - Caucasian Knot) or somehow influence the difficult situation in Chechnya.

During our last telephone conversation, I also understood that there were some people near her who told her about the shot residents because Natalia asked them about some details from time to time. However, it was inconvenient for her to talk to be too long in the presence of other people.

The audio recording does not include her words that the relatives of those killed are currently so scared that they will not report or file anywhere. They are afraid for their life. If people are shot in broad daylight, demonstratively, and no one is held accountable for that, there is no point in trying to do anything in legal ways either. That is what people think.

Perhaps, this is the answer to the question why some people "go away to the forest"...

Dmitry Florin, Caucasian Knot correspondent. 15 July 2009

Author: Dmitry Florin; Source: CK correspondent

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