25 March 2004, 17:28

Book of Numbers. Book of Losses. Doomsday Book.

The very idea and possibility of elections is based on the ability of each person's opinion, vote to be taken into account and compared with other community members' opinions, i.e. on the assumption of their "countability." If the whole is undetermined, its elements become senseless, too. Non-elected rulers also sought to take all their subjects into account, although for other purposes: remember the English Doomsday Book or the biblical Book of Numbers.

Addressing estimates of the numbers, migration, and losses of population in the armed conflict area in Chechnya, one can't help recalling the title of another Old Testament book - the Book of Paralipomenon, the book of the lost, missing...

Errors in electoral rolls are a serious matter. Quite recently, in December, the absence of one-third of voters on such lists served as a ground to overthrow the ruling regime in Georgia. But that's out there, behind the mountains. Meanwhile, this side of the Greater Caucasus, in Chechnya, it's the order of the day when the number of voters is about 1.5 times greater than theoretically possible.

Someone will call it an anomaly, abnormality. However, ladies and gentlemen, 3D images have a property: divide a hologram, and each piece will feature the whole, if in miniature, but not a part. The "presidential election" in Chechnya on October 5, 2003, outlines the future Russian election on March 14.

Perhaps, this article will be of use not only to those interested in our most recent "Caucasus war."

The article will be included in the book titled "Political Process in the Caucasus" which is currently prepared for print by the Moscow Helsinki Group and the Human Rights Center Memorial.

The three votes in Chechnya in 2003 - the referendum on March 26, the presidential election on October 5, and the Duma election on December 7 - were summed up proceeding from the October 2002 census. That time there was an official announcement the population in Chechnya numbered 1.088 million.

Three years earlier, at the beginning of the "second Chechen war," the federal center estimated Chechnya's population at 0.35 million, including 0.3 million Chechens. Thus, Igor Shabdurasulov (that time deputy chief of staff for the president) said: "Over 0.75 million Chechens live in Russia outside the republic presently. About 0.15-0.2 million are left in the republic, and those whom we call 'forced migrants' are also about 0.1-0.15 million."

How can these two figures be combined? Did the population of Chechnya treble in three years? It turns out not only all "second Chechen war" refugees returned to the republic, but also the entire previously formed Chechen community outside Chechnya. That's a bold statement, to put it mildly.

To figure out anything in this tricky situation, one has to try and answer a few questions.

Firstly, what was the number of the republican population at various times, how many people lived in the republic?

Secondly, what was emigration from the republic, and how many refugees were outside Chechnya at various times?

Thirdly, how many residents of Chechnya died during military action over the past years?

The resulting figures should then somehow be correlated...

* * *

The previous census in the Chechen-Ingush republic(1), as well as throughout the USSR, occurred in 1989. The republic numbered 1.2755 million of available population and 1.2704 of permanent population. There are no individual figures on the population of present-day Chechnya and Ingushetia, but it can be estimated at 1.1 million plus and 0.17 million plus respectively as of 1989 (2).

The ethnic structure of the republic's permanent population was this: total 1.2704 million, Chechen 0.7345 million, Ingush 0.1638 million, Russian 0.2938 million, Armenian 0.0148 million, Ukrainian 0.0126 million. There are no precise figures on the ethnic structure of the population in Chechnya proper as of 1989; the possible estimate is this: total 1.084 million, Chechen c. 0.715 million, Ingush c. 0.025 million, Russian c. 0.269 million. Thus, the highest estimate of the Vainakh [the common name for Chechen and Ingush - trans.] population at the moment is 0.755-0.76 million (3).

The number of Vainakhs in the USSR grew by 27% between 1979 and 1989 according to census figures, which corresponds to an annual increase of 2.42%. One can proceed from these figures in evaluation of the possible number of the Vainakh, in particular the Chechen element in the Chechen-Ingush Republic's population. Socio-economic conditions in the 1990s could hardly facilitate higher birthrates and lower natural death rates compared with last years of Soviet rule. It should be mentioned these estimates are the highest; forecasts that are more cautious say increase in the 1990s could be 15% or at best 20%. Yet, an extrapolation of the mentioned census figures to the second Chechen war period shows the number of Chechens could exceed 1 million in 2002.

Maximum Chechen population in Chechnya and Ingushetia during the "second Chechen war":


Chechen population, m













(* - extrapolation of the period of 1979-89)

To understand how much different from reality, if an officially registered one, these estimates and predictions are, suffice it to address current demographic statistics of the 1990s. These figures also make one doubt the correctness of the above-mentioned statements by officials. The Russian Statistical Yearbook publishes these dynamics of the population numbers in Chechnya and Ingushetia:

Available population of Chechnya and Ingushetia (4) (as of January 1 each year):


Chechnya, m

Ingushetia, m































Besides, the Yearbook published figures on the gender and age structure of Chechnya's population:

Division of Chechnya's available population on the basis of gender and key ages (5) as of January 1998:







Younger than able-bodied




Older than able-bodied


This gender and age structure of Chechnya's population looks plausible. The shortage of 70,000 men is not explained by military casualties (see below), but men's departure for work in other regions.

It should also be noted the chart shows the number of voters in Chechnya could not exceed 526,720 on the threshold of the second war.

* * *

Emigration has been the key factor altering Chechnya's demography in the past years.

The Russian media chiefly covered the departure of the "Russian-speaking" (or, more precisely, non-Vainakh) population which is the truth, but far from all the truth.

The number of Eastern Slavs (Russians and Ukrainians) in the Chechen-Ingush Republic was rapidly declining as far back as in the 1970s and 1980s: from 0.3796 million in 1970 to 0.3064 million in 1989 according to census figures. Sure, it had no connection with "the criminal regime of Dudaev and Maskhadov" that time.

Besides, this departure can be observed in other ethnic formations in the Caucasus (6). This was due to a lot of factors. Firstly, relative overpopulation and land shortages. Secondly, strained relations between ethnic groups, even in the "friendship of peoples" era. Thirdly, greater consolidation of Caucasus peoples compared with Russians, even Cossacks.

These processes were much deeper and tougher in Chechnya than in the neighboring republics. The reasons for that included both greater hidden unemployment (7) and greater stability of traditional Vainakh institutions where everyone was under the community's protection, which made non-Vainakhs subject to pressure, including criminal.

Weakening of government in general and law enforcement agencies in particular in 1991-94 accelerated the outflow of the "Russian-speaking" population from Chechnya, but even so Grozny remained a half-Russian city during the first Chechen war. The actual disintegration of the state system and even integration of government in Chechnya with overtly criminal structures on the one hand; and the central government's ignoring of the human rights situation in the region on the other hand caused most non-Vainakhs leave the republic in 1996-99.

Finally, the second Chechen war that started in 1999 practically completed the ethnic purge in the republic: everyone fled military action, but only Chechens returned. Even Ingush formerly resident in Grozny did not seek to return too much, settling down in Ingushetia.

Chechens, too, fled Chechnya in between the wars. Up to 1,500 local residents were kidnapped in order to demand ransom for them during this period. Most of them were Chechen, so traditional social institutions were already disintegrating, too, as we can see. How many did that refugee wave number, though? Vladimir Putin, that time Russia's Prime Minister, said this about the Chechen community outside Chechnya in the autumn of 1999: "We are ready for political cooperation with those Chechen citizens that left the Chechen Republic in the past years, too, and I remind these are 0.22 million Russians and 0.55 million Chechens." It is clear from the context he spoke about pre-war emigration only.

While the estimate of the number of Slavic emigrants can be considered realistic, the origin of the latter figure is inexplicable. Just 10,995 were Chechen out of the 978,426 forced migrants registered with the Federal Migration Service (FMS) as of January 1, 1999. Just 2,026 Chechens were registered as such in 1998. The total number of forced migrants from Chechnya was 147,232, while just 13,007 had been registered a year before (8). Besides, Chechens' emigration from Chechnya to other Russian regions in the second half of the 1990s was hindered by the fact that local authorities and often population, too, viewed them as "foreigners," very hostile ones.

When used by lower-ranking officials, the figures quoted by Putin put them in an awkward position. When in the autumn of 1999 the number refugees from the republic reached a peak of 0.35 million, Vladimir Kalamanov, that time FMS head, claimed: "Entire Chechnya has set out, got registered, and is migrating!" But even this was put mildly: if one took seriously the official estimate of 0.3 million for Chechnya's population at the beginning of the conflict, then federal troops were at the moment fighting resistance of several tens of thousands of blocked people... with the minus sign!

The only conclusion that saves one from this absurd is this: official statements and figures were determined by considerations of momentary political advantage, and their relation to reality was quite indirect. Realistic figures on Chechnya's population and accordingly on the scope of the possible subsequent exodus of refugees from there could impede or even question military planning.

Apparently, no one in government was confused with the fact that many more - several times more - people eventually proved to be in the armed conflict area under bombs; that the inflow of refugees far exceeded all forecasts. Moreover, officials did not correct their statements, they continued to contradict not only reality and common sense but also each other. Not only reality yielded to political advisability, but also what stood behind figures - people's lives.

Are there any realistic figures on Chechnya's population at the start of the "second Chechen war" that would not be based on estimates and extrapolations only? Some sources mention "Maskhadov's census"; the author had previously considered them apocryphal (9), but he changed his mind in 2003 (10).

The census in the Chechen Republic of Ichkeria was conducted for several months, August to October 1998.

The standard forms used in the 1989 Union-wide census served as a basis for the new census forms; just a few elements were altered in them.

Census workers were making house-to-house rounds during these three months - perhaps they were not equally careful everywhere, but some people were visited twice before they were found in and surveyed.

No further computer input from paper followed, less so any analysis. Processing of census results was reduced to calculation of census sheets. But even so, involving all employees from all offices of the Demographic Statistics Department, this simple operation continued until February 1999. They counted a total of 0.8 million in Chechnya. It should be noted the Russian Statistical Yearbook quoted similar figures.

* * *

While it was figures on Chechnya's population that acquired "political relevance" on the brink and at the very beginning of the second Chechen war (official statements decreased the figure from 0.8 million to 0.3 million), it was the number of forced migrants leaving the conflict area that became the most important issue in the following months and years. The figures quoted by Vladimir Kalamanov, about 0.35 million, matched reality, but they were extremely inconvenient for the federal government.

From the very beginning of the armed conflict, officials did not only try to dispute figures, but primarily denied or distorted the reasons for the huge outflow such as that one, although the main reason always consisted in the very nature of militarized agencies' action in Chechnya. That operation was called "counter-terrorist," but this definition suggests the highest selectivity of action. The target of such an operation is primarily to rescue people, secondly to seize or destroy terrorists. In reality sweeping, indiscriminate bombings and fire constituted the main military methods in the Chechen campaign, and sweeping, indiscriminate detentions constituted the "policing." This operation never was "counter-terrorist": there was no index of wanted terrorists or list of targets for attack. "High-precision strikes," "humanitarian corridors" and "safety areas" existed only in official propaganda.

In the autumn of 1999 people fled "high-precision strikes" in Chechnya, i.e. large-scale, indiscriminate bombings and fire. However, the roads announced to be "humanitarian corridors" could be titled more appropriately as "death corridors": the numbers of people killed in settlements and when leaving them were comparable. However, this survival strategy proved generally justified (see below).

Migration statistics have been incompatible with the official position that normalization is coming in Chechnya. From the very beginning the military and propagandists claimed everything was okay there, while people were driven by guerillas aiming to set up an "illusion of humanitarian disaster." The ideal here is this: no refugees (or, more precisely, no refugee camps on television), no problem. This temptation existed from the very beginning: General Shamanov prohibited police authorities by phone on September 25, 1999, from letting migrants from Chechnya across the administrative border. All neighboring regions obeyed this order, save Ingushetia headed by President Ruslan Aushev(11). Thus, most forced migrants from Chechnya arrived in Ingushetia; at some moment the republic's available population almost doubled comparing with the permanent. In half a year, the number of forced migrants of this last wave went down here approximately to 0.15 million. It remained at this level until the second half of 2002 when active attempts of their "forcibly voluntary" return to Chechnya began. But even a year and a half later half of them stay in Ingushetia. Russian government representatives speak about 4,200 or 4,500 forced migrants in refugee camps (settlements) in late 2003. The UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) estimates camp population at 7,000. Besides, another 24,000 live in temporary settlements in adapted facilities and 36,000 more live in the private sector, which makes a total of 67,000 forced migrants.

From the very beginning of the armed conflict federal government tried to dispute these figures. Information of international humanitarian organizations(12) was constantly called into question by Russian government representatives, but all questions became no longer relevant after Internal Affairs agencies had counted the forced migrants in the summer of 2002. Joint operation of government agencies and humanitarian organizations in Ingushetia, mutual control and cross-verification of information did their part.

Those going back to Chechnya were by far not the only source of reduction in the number of Chechen refugees in Ingushetia; those who were able left for other Russian regions or even left the country.

Officials gave various explanations of the fact that any attempt to have migrants back to their permanent residences was unproductive. The key reason is that it is unsafe in Chechnya.

December 1999 saw the start of refugees' return (sometimes forced) to Chechnya, to so-called "safety areas." This led to new human deaths: bombings and fire led to hundreds of civilians, having come back, dying in Shali on January 9, 2000, and in Zakan-Yurt, Shaami-Yurt and Katyr-Yurt in early February 2000. Sure, these "safety areas" were not agreed with the confronting party, but neither did federal forces restrain their action inside these areas: both acted as if in a desert, without bothering too much about local residents' lives. When military action ceased in the summer of 2000, "clean-up operations" began in settlements. Without hitting their main target - revealing armed resistance members - "clean-ups" took the form of large-scale, indiscriminate violence. Robbery, torture and beatings, "disappearances" and murders of people generated in Chechnya's residents hatred for the Russian military, law enforcement and security agencies, and state as a whole; they multiplied the resistance and by far failed to generate the desire to return home in refugees. "Clean-ups" dropped in number in late 2002, but people continue to disappear in the course of "targeted activities" and visits at night by "unknown armed people in camouflage and masks coming by armored vehicles."

In these conditions appeals to forced migrants for "voluntary return" from Ingushetia are hypocritical and criminal - but they have been on since 1999 - why? Removal of forced migrants to Chechnya, if formal, means redirection of humanitarian aid flows there, funding, cash with prospects for uncontrolled spending (13). So the "order" for fast return of refugees from Ingushetia to Chechnya was placed not only by the federal center or the military, but also by Akhmat Kadyrov's administration.

The federal government and Chechen leadership loyal to Moscow were trying to dispute the number of forced migrants from Chechnya in Ingushetia for almost three years, from autumn 1999 to autumn 2002. Unable to provide conditions for refugees to return or even to have them back by force, government tried to deny their existence.

* * *

Up to 0.35 million of about 0.8 million residents fled Chechnya in the first few months of the second Chechen war. What about the rest?

Most of them became drawn into the process of internal migration: at first from northern and eastern districts, then from Grozny and from the mountains. Everyone able tried to leave combat areas. Numerous families left a couple of relatives to protect their assets from looters(14). At the same time, internal migration was local as a rule, confined to neighboring villages or districts: people hoped soon to come back to their homes, otherwise they left the republic.

The structure of habitation after military action was over in Chechnya changed basically little compared with the pre-war period. Two significant anomalies can be singled out: substantial decline in Grozny's population that decreased by several hundred percent; and accelerated depopulation of the mountains. Up to one-third of the republican population, 0.2 million, remained in-migrants in 2001, according to FMS information.

War has made Chechnya de facto ethnically homogeneous. Practically all non-Vainakhs have left it. But most Ingush, too, left Chechnya, both those who had not been able to return to the Prigorodnyi district, North Ossetia, in 1957 and those who had fled to Grozny in 1992(15).

* * *

How many people died in the two Chechen wars?

One of the most important historic sources on the period of Ivan the Terrible's rule was drawn up when the sovereign was dying once again. To pray for forgiveness of his sins, commemoration of the slain required composing a list of them. The crown slaughterer, however, had been so zealous that the authors had to finish the list with the words: "As for the rest, Lord, thou knowest them thyself..."

The Russian government is presently in the same situation because it had not made actual attempts to count civilian casualties either in the war of 1994-96 or after 1999. There are no lists, even incomplete, with names of those killed, so any sensible polemics with any figures quoted - up to hundreds of thousands - turns out to be impossible for the government.

Thus, Salambek Maigov told reporters on September 17, 2002, that 0.8 million republican civilians were killed in the "second Chechen war (16) - for some reason in doing so he referred to Human Rights Watch and Memorial, although neither had reported anything like that. Abdul-Hakim Sultygov, Special Representative of the Russian President for Human and Civil Rights and Freedoms in the Chechen Republic, responded the next day (17) - he observed this was an overestimation and overall, "all figures presently stated by human rights organizations are subjective, evaluative, and having nothing to do with the actual situation."

What does have something to do with reality then?

Just one attempt was made during the first Chechen war to evaluate the number of Grozny residents killed there in the period of combats between December 1994 and March 1995. Operating on Memorial's basis, the Supervisory Mission of Human Rights Organizations (commonly known as the Sergei Kovaliov Group) polled over 1,000 refugees from Grozny as to cases of their relatives and friends killed in action which they knew for sure. Data processing considered the family structure (the total average number of relatives of various degrees) and the scope of acquaintances; it allowed for duplicating reports, and so on. On the whole, the methods used in this calculation by Eduard Gelman from the Kurchatov Institute in 1995 were typical for evaluation of casualties in local conflicts. A conclusion was made on the basis of the information collected that 0.025-0.029 million civilians had been killed in Grozny.

Back in the course of that war, in January 1996, Deputy Security Council Secretary Vladimir Rubanov told Interfax he had no official figures, but only information from human rights advocates: 0.025-0.03 million civilians killed. In the spring of 1997 when the amount of compensations to Chechnya for damage and casualties was under discussion and the treaty between Russia and Chechnya was being drawn up, Boris Brui, demographic statistics chief at Russia's State Statistics Committee, asked Memorial about the number of people killed. Before that, he had addressed the International Committee of the Red Cross as the ultimate authority from where he had been redirected to us. As a result, proceeding from one and the same information, the State Statistics Committee drew a conclusion about 0.03-0.04 million killed. As for Memorial, conscious of all the possible inaccuracy of such estimates, it used the formula "less than 0.05 million."

Similarly, the only definite evaluation of the number of civilians killed in action during the second Chechen war was carried out by Human Rights Watch using analogous methods. Gathering and analyzing detailed information about 1,300 people killed in the first nine months of the conflict, they came to a conclusion their sampling comprises 1/8 to 1/5 of the total number of victims. Thus, a total of 6,500 to 10,400 civilians died those months(18).

Memorial's Violence Chronicle kept since July 2000 provides an opportunity to assess the number of Chechnya's residents killed in the following years of the armed conflict. The number of people whose death is reported in the Chronicle is different in various periods - from 489 in the second half of 2000 to 559 in the entire year 2002, without taking guerillas and Chechen police officers into account. This monitoring is sure to provide incomplete information. We register, probably, a quarter of such cases or at least no more than a half of them, which is displayed by comparison with the Chechen Internal Affairs Ministry's official figures for 2002. Extrapolation of the Chronicle's figures allows a conclusion 5,300 to 10,700 civilians have been killed since military action was over.

Besides, about 3,000 people disappeared during the "second Chechen war" after they had been detained by federal security and law enforcement agencies. The bodies of some of those missing were next found and identified, but most of the rest are also unlikely to be alive.

Thus, the number of civilians killed during the entire second Chechen war, including those who "disappeared," totals 14,800 to 24,100 - or, allowing for the inaccuracy of such estimates, "15,000 to 24,000." A conservative estimate, taking those missing into no account, is "10,000 to 20,000."

So what is the origin of other, much higher, estimates of the number of those killed?

Back in the first Chechen war, they discussed 0.08 million, 0.1 million, and 0.12 million killed. These figures were generated by political games and they have a very indirect relation to reality.

In the winter of 1996, shortly after Rubanov's above-mentioned confession, several politicians at once, from Lebed to Novodvorskaia, claimed: if government says 0.25 million to 0.3 million were killed, it means there were many more - 0.08 million to 0.1 million.

Another estimate originates from incorrect interpretation. Lechi Saligov who worked for Chechnya's pro-Russian administration in the first war said over 0.12 million people had been killed in the Grozny district alone in 1995; he said a survey revealed this difference from pre-war figures. Saligov interpreted this difference as the number of people killed, although migration is a more natural explanation.

While statements by politicians as a rule overestimated the number of civilian casualties, the military and official propaganda understated or completely denied them. Thus, General Valerii Manilov said in August 2001 that no more than 1,000 civilians had been killed in the second war. Chechnya's Prosecutor Kostiuchenko spoke about the same 1,000 casualties a year later, in August 2002. This figure could even that time be easily disproved, not only by estimates and extrapolations, but also by counting the actually registered casualties.

At the same time, the military and propagandists regularly reported successes in destroying guerillas whose casualties are to make a progressive total of tens of thousands already. Apparently, these figures were not just made up, but resulted from the operation of the bureaucratic machine; they have nothing to do with reality, though.

Evaluation of the number of civilian casualties published by representatives of law enforcement and security agencies are also political, and they have a very poor relation to reality. Yet the military's figures on "destroyed guerillas" that were at least 10 times higher than actual correlate with civilian casualties.

Thus, the number of Chechen civilian casualties in the two wars can total 0.07 million. Although the accuracy of our estimates is not high, they have no alternative - the government have not counted citizens killed in the "counter-terrorist operation" or "establishing constitutional order."

* * *

How many lived in Chechnya in the second war years?

One could hear absolutely different answers to this question at various times but in one and the same place.

The OSCE Assistance Group was told at the House of Government in Grozny in August 2002 that about 0.6 million lived in Chechnya. This figure was very much like the truth - about 0.15 million out of approximately 0.8 million before the war were in neighboring republics (19) as forced migrants, while a smaller but significant number dispersed throughout the rest of Russia and beyond it.

A month later, though, in September 2002, Lord Judd was told at the same House of Government about supposedly successful return of refugees to Chechnya, and the republican population was reported to have reached the level of 0.9 million. This figure positively exceeded not only actual but also theoretically possible numbers - apparently, though, it was meant to provide evidence that all forced migrants that had fled the start of the "second Chechen war" three years ago were back to their native parts. But if people were back, the situation in the republic was stable and safe, otherwise they wouldn't have returned!

This is what federal government soon tried to demonstrate once again by conducting a census in Chechnya.

Chechnya's Prime Minister Stanislav Iliasov reported on October 14, 2002, that the census had been carried out successfully in the republic and its population numbered 1.088 million. This figure surpassed all expectations, according to Iliasov. The 0.825 million census forms allocated for the republic at first soon ran out and more were required. That is, allowing for the unavoidable spoilage of the forms, government had expected the population to total no more than 0.8 million. Having all migrants of the past three years back to Chechnya would really have been enough for that. However, achieving the census figure of 1.088 million would have required to have back everyone to Chechnya who fled it in the 1990s, not only Chechens and Ingush people, but also Russians, Armenians, and other non-Vainakhs. Or there would be a need to admit a substantial natural increase in spite of two wars and a collapse in the socio-economic sphere (20).

Normal people are unlikely to believe this "demographic miracle."

* * *

However, this miracle can have a plausible explanation. There were at least three significant factors in the census in Chechnya, capable of substantial distortion of its results.

Firstly, in-migrants made up to one-third of the republican population. Although it was more than once announced that census documents were anonymous and not meant for any other purposes, but a few in Chechnya believed this. It was difficult to convince people that local governments would not strip "unlisted" people of humanitarian aid and promised future compensations for destroyed homes after the census. Likewise, no one could guarantee that law enforcement and security agencies would not proceed from census results to divide those detained in "clean-ups" into "civilians" and "guerillas." Thus, if a person lived in a village but often was in the city rebuilding their destroyed house, they had all reasons to get "listed" both in the village and in the city - not so much for illusory expectation of a benefit as for quite realistic fear for their safety.

Secondly, it was more than once declared at various levels the census would help determine "how many schools and hospitals" were to be built; with regard to Chechnya this also meant determining the required funding to restore the socio-economic sphere, pay various benefits, and so on. Given there was actually no control or possibility of an audit, the temptation for government at various levels was too great here, so it would be a shame not to use here the experience of utilizing "administrative resources," acquired in the 1995, 1996, and 2000 elections.

Thirdly, most important, representatives of various federal agencies had repeatedly claimed the situation in Chechnya was stable and safe and forced migrants were back or just about to come back, so the upcoming census could not fail to prove this.

Thus, local authorities in the course of the census could hope for benevolence of the federal government, while Chechnya's residents for "inattention" on the part of local administrations to the surplus of their relatives registered second-hand - at least this version is more plausible than the announced census results.

The combined will of the federal government, local authorities, and ordinary residents of Chechnya created the "demographic miracle." Thus, they once again confirmed the globally accepted practice of a moratorium on census and elections in armed conflict areas and emergencies.

How many people really lived that time in Chechnya? The Danish Refugee Council (DRC) carried out a house-to-house round to determine the need for humanitarian aid in the winter of 2002; they counted about 0.6 million residents. Officials reported this figure to the OSCE representatives, because nothing depended on their opinion - unlike that of Lord Judd whose report was to serve as a basis for the Parliamentary Assembly to adopt a regular resolution. The black magic was exposed as soon as in November 2002, a month after the census, when the DRC carried out another house-to-house round in Chechnya that resulted in a figure about 0.7 million. It should be noted local heads of administration, concerned for humanitarian aid supplies, could only facilitate an overstatement.

The difference between this actual figure and the census results, up to 0.4 million "dead souls," became the "electoral reserve" to conduct the 2003 referendum and elections(21).

* * *

How many people actually voted, or how many could vote, in Chechnya in the past decade?

High attendance, 60% to 74% of the total number of 0.503 million voters, was marked in the course of the federally run elections in Chechnya on December 14-17, 1995, when Duma members and the "Head of the Chechen Republic," Doku Zavgaev, were elected; on June 14-16 and July 2-3, 1996, when the Russian president and "members of the National Assembly" were elected. These figures are official, as the OSCE mission announced that time the elections did not match the principles of free and fair vote or mission officers left Chechnya on voting days. People in most settlements just didn't attend polling stations, according to independent observers. However, the Central Electoral Commission (CEC) declared the elections valid, although it is strictly prohibited to conduct elections in conditions of an armed conflict and de facto effective emergency.

Ichkeria's president and parliament were elected on January 27, 1997. Voters were counted more accurately in a house-to-house round, and they totaled 0.447 million. Maskhadov won with 65% of votes. Seventy-two OSCE representatives observed. However, attendance at the second round of the parliamentary elections on February 15, 1997, scarcely exceeded 25%. It should be noted this time they decided not to overstate figures in Chechnya, although the absence of a quorum in the future was obviously a serious problem.

The "second Chechen war" began in September 1999, and Chechnya took no part in the Duma elections in December the same year. Probably, those were the cleanest elections in a decade...

The Russian president was elected on March 26, 2000. A month before the vote, on February 22, Sergei Danilenko, a CEC member responsible for Chechnya, had told Radio Echo of Moscow Chechnya's residents numbered about 0.4 million, including 0.2-0.25 million voters. A month later, however, Abdul-Kerim Arsakhanov, chairman of Chechnya's Electoral Commission, quoted another figure, 0.46 million voters, is spite that only 336 polling stations in 12 Chechen districts were going to take part in the elections. On March 26, the Commission said more than 70% of voters in Chechnya and 97% (!) in Grozny had taken part in the election.

The CEC quoted the total number of voters, 0.495 million, on August 20, 2002, when Chechnya elected the Duma member from the 31st constituency. Given the previous relation between the numbers of voters and the population, the latter could make 0.885 million, i.e. it was to increase during the war.

The next vote utilized the "dead souls" reserve established in the census. The referendum on March 23, 2003, involved 89% of the 0.54 million voters, according to the CEC, their number provided by the census. In doing so, 95.37% voted "for."

Presidential elections followed soon, and the author had a chance to verify his calculations "on a district scale" on their threshold. Three figures were voiced at the Shali district administration on September 5, 2003: district population 0.104 million; voters on electoral rolls 0.043 million; those underage receiving children's benefits 0.033 million. A subtraction of the second and the third figure from the first will give 0.028 million that are neither adult nor underage. The perplexed author received this answer to his question: this figure stands for those who had once been registered and were put on census lists according to documents or their relatives. That is, in this particular district authorities admitted 27% of "dead souls."

* * *

Although victory in the upcoming elections was guaranteed for the federal center's candidate even without manipulation of these figures, those who had played with figures all these years had become hostages of their game. While in 1997 they still could admit 25% attendance, nowadays giving up the "0.54 million voters" and fantastic attendance would mean assuming the burden of the truth and responsibility.

P. S. However, reality surpassed the most fantastic expectations. Eleven percent more people voted in the December Duma election in Chechnya than the number of voters in the republic, according to CEC Chairman Veshniakov.

As for the census results, even the State Statistics Committee doesn't use them; its figure for Chechnya's population is 0.813 million in 2003.

February 2004


(1) For a more detailed analysis, see Vladimir Grivenko, On the Number of Chechnya's Population in July 1999 (at the beginning of the new Caucasus conflict) on Memorial's website.

(2) The border between the republics has not been demarcated and delimited to date. An extrapolation of figures the State Statistics Committee published in the following years gives about 1.084 million for Chechnya's permanent population in 1989 and about 0.186 million for Ingushetia's. However, the Committee did not only place the districts of Nazran, Malgobek, and Jeirakh in Ingushetia, but also the entire Sunzha district. In reality, a substantial part of the latter, in particular the two big settlements, Sernovodsk and Assinovskaia (8,000 and 6,900 residents respectively in 1989) belonged to Chechnya.

(3)  Aside from Vainakhs, several tens of thousands of representatives of other Muslim peoples lived in Chechnya in 1989; 23,000 Kumyks, Nogais, and Avars (mostly villagers); and 5,100 Tatars, mostly city dwellers.

(4)  Assessment of Ingushetia's population is a separate problem, actually. Probably no other Russian region has had such migration over the past years. Tens of thousands of Ingush people were banished from the Prigorodnyi district, North Ossetia, during the Ossetian-Ingush conflict in 1992 - the Ingush leadership speak about 0.7 million and the North Ossetian about 0.17 million. The number of forced migrants from Chechnya was up to 0.15 million in Ingushetia in 1994-96, during the "first Chechen war"; there are no accurate figures, though, because refugees were not counted between April 1995 and August 1996 (see below for details). Many Ingush families that had been unable to return to the Prigorodnyi district in 1957 and had then settled in Grozny stayed for permanent residence in Ingushetia after that. As for internally displaced persons, their registered number in Ingushetia was 34,983 as of January 1, 1999, according to the FMS.

Next, 0.041 million Ingush people lived in the USSR outside the Chechen-Ingush Republic and North Ossetia in 1989, and some of them returned to their homeland. On the other hand, emigration from the republic to other regions was substantial in the 1990s, because it remained among the poorest regions. Nevertheless, it is the second column in this chart that rouses the least doubt.

(5)  Such accuracy is in itself unrealistic - it would be a different matter if these figures matched reality up to 10,000.

(6)  This process sped up in the 1990s, and "Russian-speaking" staff were replaced with "ethnic" staff in autonomous republics that became simple republics and in autonomous districts that acquired a higher status and became republics. But nowhere except Chechnya ethnic movements even thought about secession from Russia - it was all about elites fighting for control over resources but with obligatory appeal to the federal center as an arbiter.

(7)  When the Chechens returned from their exile in 1957, it turned out there were no vacancies in industry. Half of the territory was unfit for coming back: it was difficult to rebuild settlements in the mountains, uninhabited for 30 years, while government would not like resistance to be resumed in the mountains. Two districts north of the river Terek were annexed to Chechnya - those of Naurskaia and Shelkovskaia - mountain people were the first to be settled there, but this solved the problem only in part. High hidden unemployment was in part compensated by private farming, working as farm hands outside areas of permanent residence and doing other unskilled jobs, working in the "North" [Russian arctic areas where workforce was needed, while living conditions are more severe; accordingly pays were high there - trans.] and "labor emigration." Not only Slavs, but also Vainakhs left the Chechen-Ingush Republic in the 1970s and 1980s - net emigration reached 50,000 in 1979 and 1989, according to census figures. Over these years the number of Chechens permanently resident in the Stavropol territory grew by 240%, Astrakhan region by 450%, Rostov region by 580%, Volgograd region by 1,270%, Tyumen region by 3,270%. The total number of Chechens permanently resident in these regions grew by 500% from 9,300 to 55,800. Meanwhile, chances to do some well-paid unskilled jobs considerably lessened in the mid-1980s because of an economic collapse in the USSR which resulted in smaller amounts allocated for countryside development.

(8)  There was no mass exodus at that, but change in registration of this reality: human rights advocates managed to make the agency register those migrants that had left Chechnya before.

(9)   Russian propagandists claimed Maskhadov had deliberately put census figures on the secret list because they provided evidence of a disastrous decline in Chechnya's population - a reproduction of the story about the Soviet census in 1937 that was declared "sabotage." However, even the very possibility was doubted that the complex task such as that one could have been managed in conditions of a collapse of the state system. The author even indulged in comparing "Maskhadov's census" in Ichkeria with "Ivan the Terrible's Library" implying that there had never been one; it turned out he was wrong.

(10)  After polling both people related to conducting of the census and a lot of Chechnya's residents as to whether census workers had come to them.

(11)  And he was the one to have all the trouble with refugees in Russia; meanwhile, if Aushev acted as instructed, he would have no problems with either refugees or generals. However, the number of civilian casualties in Chechnya would have been several times, probably dozens of times, higher. At the same time, a refusal to take part in war crimes is a worthy choice for a general and president.

(12)   The Danish Refugee Council, a leading humanitarian organization operating in Ingushetia and Chechnya, regularly makes house-to-house rounds to draw up lists for provision of humanitarian aid. However, their figures on Ingushetia where verification involves each family are much more accurate than on Chechnya where they have to use information provided by heads of administration in villages.

(13)  Dozens of local heads of administration were dismissed for abuse of power as regards "refugee money" in two years in Ingushetia because there was effective control in this republic, but nothing of the kind occurred in Chechnya. Cf.: At the beginning of the war spending to accommodate one refugee in a camp (a tent, planking, a bed, a stove, and infrastructure) was 700 rubles in Ingushetia and 3,700 rubles in Chechnya.

(14)  Thus, no more than 40,000 people remained in Grozny when federal forces attacked the city in December 1999 through January 2000.

(15)  About 60,000 were in Ingushetia intending to stay there, and it was planned to allocate them land in the Sunzha district.

(16)  A report by NTVRU on September 17, 2002, at 11:42:20 a.m.

(17)  A report by NTVRU on September 18, 2002, at 08:15:00 a.m.

(18)  Although the second Chechen war was far crueler than the first one, casualties in first months was 3-4 times fewer. This makes no contradiction: fear is sometimes salutary. As far back as in 1996 Chechnya's residents darted off only when they were already in danger of death. In the autumn of 1999 people fled Chechnya for fear of large-scale, indiscriminate bombings and fire, which was also dangerous. The roads announced to be "humanitarian corridors" could be titled more appropriately as "death corridors": the numbers of people killed in settlements and when leaving them were comparable. However, this survival strategy proved generally justified

(19)  Ingushetia 0.137 million, Dagestan 0.01 million.

(20)  There were 0.468 million people in Ingushetia, according to provisional census results, whereof thousands were internally displaced persons from Chechnya living at temporary settlements. Other migrants - those not living in camps or those who had fled the Prigorodnyi district in 1992 - were not calculated as an individual category. It should be noted the republic's permanent population and apparently the future federal budgeting for this subsidized region was "increased" by about 50%. It should also be observed that some migrants supposed to have been resettled to Chechnya in reality were put on census lists in Ingushetia. Women in the republic numbered 0.256 million, and men 0.212 million - this asymmetry is caused by high unemployment and men's departure for earnings.

(21)  The very census-taking methods in 2002 contained certain ambiguity: only permanent population was registered, while available was not. Thus, quite "legitimate" overstatements became possible. A criterion (qualification) of "permanence" was determined, though: living in one place for a year. However, they were able to benefit from this ambiguity in both Chechnya and Ingushetia, as we can see.

Author: Alexander Cherkasov, Memorial Human Rights Center (Moscow); Source: Polit.ru Website

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