Conflict at a Glance
Chechyna: One of the most dangerous places in the world
Heavily oppressed during Soviet rule, the people of Chechnya seized upon the Soviet Union’s dissolution to declare their independence in 1991. Rich in oil and other natural resources, Chechnya has struggled with Russia over its sovereignty ever since. The first war with Russia began in 1994 and killed 100,000 people over two years, setting off a second war in 1999.
Throughout the conflict, Chechen rebels have been accused of terrorism, the Russian government of brutal tactics of repression, and Chechnya’s leader of crimes against his own people. While full-fledged warfare has subsided, an official peace is marred by torture, extrajudicial killings, stifled press freedoms, and a culture of fear.
Truth & Consequences in the Caucasus
Despite the assassinations of many of her colleagues, Russia’s award-winning investigative journalist Elena Milashina forges into dangerous territory in search of justice.
I clearly remember the day I learned that my friend and coworker, Anna Politkovskaya, had been murdered. I was in my office working on the upcoming issue of Novaya Gazeta, Russia’s most prominent independent newspaper. At 6pm Editor-in-Chief Dmitry Muratov announced that Anna had been shot one hour before.
The news was shocking, and yet absolutely predictable. Like many of us at Novaya Gazeta, Anna had balanced on the borders of life and death for a very long time—so long that we had grown accustomed to the threat of her death.
It was October 7, 2006. Anna, who was then Russia’s most famed journalist, was assassinated outside her apartment. It was a contract killing, and we all understood why it had happened; authorities in both Russia and Chechnya, threatened by our paper’s investigative and critical reporting, had declared journalists at Novaya Gazeta their enemies. Anna was at the top of that list. She was one of only a few who continued to report on Chechnya, that problematic region where two wars for independence ended in the most severe totalitarian regime ever established and blessed by Moscow.
By 2006, most journalists had simply stopped going to Chechnya, instead writing fables about the supposed stability Moscow forces had achieved in the region. But Anna would not back down. She wrote of the torture, abductions, and killings of innocent civilians at the hands of Russian and Chechen authorities, actions that have still gone unpunished. But she also dared to report that Chechen president Ramzan Kadyrov and Russia’s Vladimir Putin were personally responsible for these unimaginable human rights abuses.
The night I learned of Anna’s death, I stayed up all night and thumbed through the archives of Novaya Gazeta, going back to 1999 when Anna started working for the paper. I searched through her articles to find her most important works. But Anna didn’t write anything unimportant. She wrote about people’s pain and grief, while ruthlessly criticizing Russian and Chechen authorities for their policies and actions. In total, Anna wrote 500 articles for Novaya Gazeta. And that’s why she was killed.
Not long before her death, Anna told me that she would soon be a grandmother, and that she would soon be pulling back from her work because “grandchildren make life worth living.” But she never met her first grandchild, who was born in February 2007 and who bore her name.
After her murder, I picked up where Anna left off and began traveling to Chechnya. At first I went on editorial assignments, but soon, after Novaya Gazeta deemed it too dangerous to assign journalists to the region, I went on my own accord. Despite the threats, I couldn’t stop myself; it had become a matter of principle. . . .