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‘I’d Rather Kill Myself than Go Back’: Decades After Putin’s War, ‘Hunted’ Chechens Fear Russia’s Long Arm

Twenty years after Vladimir Putin flattened their capital Grozny in the identical manner that his forces are actually destroying Mariupol, Chechens refugees in Europe nonetheless stay in concern of Russia’s lengthy arm.

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Tens of 1000’s fled the small Muslim-majority republic within the North Caucasus within the aftermath of two bloody wars with Moscow, the final launched by Putin in 1999 to deliver the breakaway area to heel.

The Russian chief later put in Ramzan Kadyrov as Chechnya’s strongman. He has since ruthlessly suppressed all opposition, and by no means tires of declaring his ferocious loyalty to Putin.

Austria has one in all Europe’s greatest Chechen communities. Many of the 35,000 exiles stay in nondescript post-war blocks in a working class district of northeastern Vienna. The males are inclined to work as safety guards whereas girls deliver up the youngsters.

But many on these streets dotted with Chechen grocery retailers and marriage ceremony boutiques stay in dread.

Dozens informed AFP of the fixed menace of being focused by Kadyrov’s infamous henchmen, the “Kadyrovtsy”, who’ve been accused of searching down his opponents overseas.

Others are afraid of being despatched again to be tortured and killed — a concern that’s removed from unfounded in keeping with human rights teams.

Before the battle in Ukraine, extraditions of Chechens from Europe to Russia had been being sped up after the phobia assault on the Boston Marathon and the grotesque homicide of a French trainer by a younger exile.

Despite the battle, there aren’t any indicators the deportations will cease.

‘Rewriting history’

Moscow’s arm reached Zorbek Nazuev, a grandfather with an extended gray beard who has lived in Austria for 18 years, final February.

He had fled there together with his kids after the second battle fearing retribution for combating with the “boeviki”, the Chechen rebels who defeated the Russians in the course of the first battle between 1994 and 1996, when Chechnya briefly received its independence.

He had heard nothing from Moscow since he left till a letter from the Austrian prosecutor’s workplace arrived accusing him of terrorism and homicide.

According to a doc seen by AFP, prosecutors declare to have intelligence that he took half in a bloodbath of Russian civilians in 1995.

Nazuev denies that he “killed harmless folks”, insisting that he and other Chechen fighters were only “defending ourselves from the Russian invader”.

“They are rewriting historical past,” stated the thickset man in his 50s, whose identify has been modified to guard him.

Nazuev wonders if the costs and attainable extradition he’s dealing with might be linked to the truth that one in all his relations fought in Syria with the Islamic State group.

The Austrian authorities refused to debate the case regardless of quite a few makes an attempt by AFP by means of police and judicial sources.

Agreement with Russia

Hundreds of Chechens have been expelled from the European Union because it signed a 2006 settlement with Russia to ease the return of convicted suspects or these topic to an Interpol purple discover.

No official statistics on the extraditions exist, however the Council of Europe denounced the abuse of the Interpol system by some international locations to “persecute political opponents overseas” in a 2017 report.

Exiles additionally consider European international locations have toughened their line in opposition to them due to terror fears after Chechens had been concerned in quite a lot of jihadist assaults.

“Clearly safety providers are on alert” to attempt to stop future assaults, stated Anne le Huerou, an professional on post-Soviet conflicts at Paris Nanterre University.

Indeed, after the killing of French trainer Samuel Paty by a Chechen refugee in October 2020, Austria created a particular power to deal with extremism and “parallel societies” inside its Chechen neighborhood.

A month after Paty’s homicide, Vienna suffered its first ever Islamist assault when 4 folks had been killed by a person stated to be jihadist sympathiser, with authorities lambasted for surveillance failures within the run-up to the assault.

Just over a yr later in December 2021, Austria chartered a flight to deport 10 folks to Russia, boasting of its “environment friendly cooperation” with Moscow.

Questioned by AFP, the Austrian authorities admitted that at the moment “4 Russian nationals are in custody awaiting deportation.”

Despite industrial flights with Russia being lower by sanctions over the battle in Ukraine, the expulsions are nonetheless stay, in keeping with the Austrian inside ministry.

Tortured in Grozny

“I’d quite kill myself right here than return,” stated Nazuev, who claimed he was left handicapped after he was tortured with electrical shocks earlier than he fled Chechyna.

Moscow has frequently assured European governments that Chechen exiles despatched again to Russia can be pretty handled.

However, a number of have been killed or disappeared, whereas others have been tortured or convicted on prices that human rights group say had been “fabricated”.

Last month the Russian rights group Memorial — which has since been banned by Moscow — criticised France for turning a blind eye to the demise of 20-year-old Daud Muradov, who was despatched again to Russia in December 2020 after being deemed a safety threat.

At the top of final yr he was transferred to Grozny the place he was tortured, they stated.

His family members had been informed in February that he was lifeless. They haven’t been given his physique nor the outcomes of a autopsy, Memorial added.

Killed in Vienna

But much more than extradition, Chechen exiles concern the assassins that Kadyrov sends to liquidate his opponents in exile.

The Austrian courts singled out the Chechen chief for being concerned within the killing of one in all his opponents who was shot in Vienna in 2009 after criticising Kadyrov’s human rights report.

The sufferer’s lawyer, Nadia Lorenz, informed AFP that the case “nonetheless stops me sleeping”, claiming that “correspondence between the Austrian courts and Grozny” allowed the killers to pinpoint the place her shopper lived.

A couple of days earlier than he was shot, father-of-four Umar Israylov had been refused police safety regardless of being adopted on the street.

The case threw the highlight on how Kadyrov’s killers work, with prosecutors satisfied he gave the order for Israylov’s assassination.

According to Israylov’s widow, the Chechen chief known as her husband twice earlier than he was shot, demanding he return to Russia instantly.

But Kadyrov’s function was by no means absolutely aired as a result of Moscow ignored Vienna’s requires assist with the investigation.

Chechen activist Rosa Dunaeva insists the “Kadyrovtsy” had been liable for one other hit in Vienna in July 2020 in addition to comparable killings in Lille, France, earlier that yr and in Istanbul in 2011.

Harassment

“The media give the impression that we’re concerned in crime and spiritual extremism, when the overwhelming majority of Chechens reside in concern and don’t need something to do with politics anymore,” stated Dunaeva at one of many common protests in opposition to the deportations.

Indeed many Chechens are properly built-in in Austria, like judo champion Shamil Borchashvili, who received a bronze medal on the Tokyo Olympics final yr.

Or Zelimkhan Kazan. The 19-year-old — whose identify now we have modified for his security — was born in Austria and has by no means been to Chechnya. He is learning programming and has already arrange two start-ups.

“I work and have every part I would like however I don’t really feel 100 p.c protected,” stated the blended martial arts (MMA) fan as he labored out by the Danube Canal.

“There isn’t any manner I might get away with the issues an Austrian teenager would possibly do — for me it will be a demise sentence,” he insisted, which means deportation to Russia.

Kazan, who has no Russian papers, however solely go away to remain in Austria, can’t be naturalised within the nation he was born in due to Vienna’s strict nationality legal guidelines.

Which could make life troublesome when Kazan says plainclothes police cease him “three or 4 instances a month” to test his papers.

“Some name me a faggot, hoping that I’ll react violently,” he added.

All the Chechen refugees AFP talked to stated they felt focused by the police, with the slightest conflict resulting in a conviction that would see them being deported.

Last July Austrian cops had been discovered responsible of beating a Chechen after being caught on safety cameras.

Kadyrov’s ‘brainwashing’

Kazan additionally has to run the gauntlet of the “Kadyrovtsy”, who stand out due to their massive automobiles and their swagger. When he sees them, he pulls down his hood so that they don’t ask him any questions.

Activist Dunaeva is as frightened in regards to the rising grip Ramzan Kadyrov — who has an enormous social media following — has on younger Chechens born in Europe. “When he isn’t killing them, he brainwashes them and tries to show them in opposition to the West,” she stated.

Chechens additionally speak about cocaine dealing that’s destroying the lives of younger males who see no future and are simple prey for Mafia clans. And girls complain of getting their freedom curtailed by their “massive brothers”.

Angered by the discrimination they face in Austria, some fall into the charismatic Kadyrov’s lure, and are simple fodder for his macho posturing on social media, dividing households who had fled his grip.

“The regime additionally guarantees good profession prospects for younger Chechens educated in Europe who return” to their homeland, French professional Le Huerou stated. “The anti-gay propaganda which celebrates masculinity will also be engaging” for some Chechens steeped within the nation’s martial mythology.

A contingent of 1 thousand Chechens had been reportedly despatched by Kadyrov to struggle for Moscow in Ukraine. But different Chechens are additionally combating alongside the Ukrainians, a number of sources informed AFP.

And among the many tens of millions of refugees fleeing the combating, a younger Chechen lady travelling along with her son was arrested in Romania. Courts there have already ordered her extradition, accusing her of “being a part of an armed group against the Russian Federation”. Her attraction has now been rejected.

Russia might have began a brand new battle, however its hunt of Chechens continues unabated.

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