15 September 2000
Everyday I would think about my family and friends and about my village In the suburbs of Grozny. Many evenings I would wake up and run out of the house to meet my mother as I would think that she would be calling for me for me. Night after night I saw the horrors of the war on my homeland: the destruction, death and atrocities. I never thought in my life that I would ever see on TV anything as bad as the horrors of World War II. And yet what I saw nightly was much worse. And then news reached me that many of my relatives had been killed or missing. I was simmering with hatred toward the Russians who had come to kill my people. Russian TV had been doing alot to denegrate Chechnya's image. We were portrayed as thugs and bandits. The President of Russia called us dogs. Enough was enough: I decided to go home.
A young hot blood was calling for vengeance, and so on a winter 's day I arrived in Baku from Boston.Next morning I set off for Chechnya by a cab.A few bribes on the way and we had arrived on a Chechen soil under Chechen controlled territory.Our white Niva was moving along a muddy road in the mountains of Nojai Yurt district. In Chechnya I felt very much relieved - I felt at home. What is more suprising is that I felt very safe.
Soon, a roaring sound above my head forced me to leave our car. Two planes right above my head buzzed by and then returned back.I was enjoying the plane’s flight and could not even imagine that the planes had been about to bomb our car.Both of my companions were laying still on the ground. I was in a awe from the sight. I saw such things only in the movies and could not believe that the planes would bomb me for “whose sake the world was created”. Nope, the pilots thought different- I saw smoke from one of the planes and heard a hissing sound. Four huge clumpy objects were moving toward me. I thought the bombs were coming straight for me. I hit the ground. A second later a terrible sound tore up the sky and shook the earth beneath me. I kept on laying still---happy I was alive. Bombs fell about 50 yards away and destroyed a small market place. Fortunatelly, people managed to take a cover and so nobody was hurt or killed. A terrible roaring sound was still there long after the explosion. It was much more scary than the sound of the exploding bombs.
A few meters away I saw a boy - he was standing full height and looking into the sky. It seemed that he had got lost and could not find his parents. He looked just three years old. The second plane was circling above taking a better aim at its preys below. I jumped up, ran those meters and grabbed the boy. I decided to take better cover and rushed to the slope. The boy was shaking badly. His eyes were scared and the look nearly made me cry. I asked the boy his name. The kid looked up at me and said: “I am a chechen wolf”. That made me smile and forget about the danger above. This little kid was teaching me a lesson of courage. His kidish bravery was the best inspiration for me in my whole life. “No”, I said, “what is your real name”. He stammered out Zelimkhan. I hugged him and softly covered him with my body. He literally clung to my body and I could feel his heart beat and his body shake so much that a small tear rolled down my face. The second blast ripped through the air and poor Zelimkhan hugged me stronger than he would hug his own mom. I stroked his head and calmed him down. The danger gone - I jumped to my feet with Zelim in my hands. Both of my companions stood up and got in the car. A few momets later a woman ran over to me and snatched away the child. At first,she looked scared and confused. A minute later she was thanking me. I did not pay any notice to her words as my eyes were assessing the damage made by the bombs and the rockets. Only at that moment I felt genuine fear.
I started to picture what could have happened to me if I had stayed in the place where I took cover the first time. The place was a big deep pit.”A deep penetration bomb”, said my driver. From that moment on I knew what that word meant and what that bomb could do. The earth around us was littered with 8 pits -small and big. Luckily, none of the people was hurt. . I felt like I was born again and that having lived through that danger I would never die.
Little did I know at that moment - the war was just starting for me.
Two months later I was curled up in a cold room in the village of Shalaji at the foothils of the mountains. It was late after midnight. A group of my friends were sitting and talking quietly so we would not wake up people around us.
Shalaji was a peaceful village which accepted Russian rule without a fight.
The administration of the village did so to ensure that Russians would not wipe it out off the face of the earth. A deal made - villagers could sleep calmly. Fighters used to come to the village to take a rest from the fighting, but they never attacked the Russians in the area honoring the struck deal. Every day we would hear Russian jets roar above the village to bomb a nearby village Stary Achkhoi. But on one night I sprung to my feet as shattered glass flew right into my face. A terrible blast had caused the window to break. I got up and ran out. The street was full of people. I could just hear: is anybody hurt. The answer was no. I ran up the street to look for my friend, Ruslan. I found him up the street. He was carrying a young kid of ten who had a hurt leg into the basement of one of the houses.
He looked to me and said: get back home and get my grandmother, wife and a kid into the basement. I ran back to the house for my life. When I got back I saw Ruslan’s brother taking his grandmother and a nephew out of the house.
He told me not to worry and find Ruslan to tell him to get to the house. I left the house quickly and was out again. The street was empty by then as I ran up the street to Ruslan. After some time I had stopped and shouted out to him. There was no response. I was standing all alone in the dark street illuminated by a rocket shot by a tank from far away. That light was for the planes so that they could pick the target easily. Then, I recollected my experience in Nojai Yurt. I did not know any basement in the street. So, I lay down. All of a sudden I saw a man standing upright next to me. He was swearing into the skies. I asked him to lay to the ground or else he could be hurt.
He glared at me and said to shut up. The guy was a Russian who was working in the village. I changed my location as I did not want to be next to the drunk man.
A hissing sound brought back bad recollections. It seemed that the bomb or a rocket is there to hunt for you. When under the bombs I would always feel like a prey, a running deer from a hunter - you always wait for the shot which would put an end to your life. In such moments I felt cruelty surge inside me: I used to have a burning desire to kill those who were trying to kill me. I thought about the plane and a pilot who was pushing buttons to kill people. And then I would wonder to myself: do these pilots have families? Do they not see that they are killing innocent people? Do not they see that they are bombing women and children? Well, those were my thoughts when I heard that sound really close. I shut my ears and opened my mouth. A huge blast occurred just two dozen meters away from me. God, the land jerked me up an inch or two. I dug my head into the land. Small stones and branches were falling on my back. An old man over 60 years old was laying next to me. I looked up to him to see whether he was alive. He was laying still without moving at all. I ran over to him and shook him. He looked up. His face was distorted with pain. His hands holding on to his ear. I told him to follow me. He took his hands away from his ears and I saw a thick line of blood trickling down his ears. Man, I thought, the guy has his drums ripped up. I did not know what to do. I was standing full height in the middle of a small street which was a clear target of the planes and I did not know where to go for the cover. I did not know the village and people there that well. But then, I saw Shamil, a young chechen male of 19, who was running along the street. He saw me and asked me to follow him. I did. I told him about an old guy and his drums. He ran away and a few moments later the poor old guy was put in a safer place. Shamil gestured me to follow. I did. Some moments later I was in a small basement of a one floor house. There were about forty people in it. It was a miserable shelter and so was the sight in it. A direct hit by a rocket would have killed all of us. There were mostly women and children in the basement and they were all praying. That abominable hissing sound could be heard by us all. At that sound women’s prayers would get louder. After the bomb's blast, everybody would sigh a sigh of relief. I looked around and saw Ruslan’s family was in the basement. Ruslan was not in it. As I soon found out he was running around the street picking up the wounded people. He dragged in one young guy. The guy was holding his face. It was cut with the glass from window. He was bleeding. Ruslan helped him inside. He looked at me and said: I need your help. I ran out with him. He brought me to the fallen wall of the small brick house. There were about six of us. We pitched into the hard work right away. We tried to lift the wall.
I saw no purpose in that toil. After putting some more efforts into it, we managed to lift some height. To my surprise an old man crawled out from under the piece of the brickwall. He jumped to his feet and ran towards the basement. We were happy to follow him. A few seconds later, another blast sent the shudders down our spines. In dim darkness I was looking around the basement. I could see many families crowded into it. I could see mothers with their children, brothers and sisters, fathers and just friends who were there. They were people from the same street who lived their whole life in the village. Their faces were not scared, but expressed mostly concern. the older ones were concerned for the younger ones and the younger ones for their older people. At the moment I felt no fear at all, although any second might have put an end to my life. I was watching the people and feeling sorry for them. Still, I could not realize in full how it had felt to be under the bombs with those whom you love most in your life - your family.
The time has changed that too and taught me those feelings too. All in all about 8 planes unloaded their deadly load on that tiny street in Shalajy. Six people were killed on the post. An old guy who we pulled out from under the wall died next night from heart attack. The guy whom Ruslan helped to make it to the basement lost his eyes; the older guy lost his hearing for good.
From that day on, I looked at Ruslan differently. He was a real hero for me. He helped many people on that night jeopardizing his own. It was a pure luck that he was not killed in that bombing raid. One needs a huge courage to run under the bombs to help others. And Ruslan was the man for me. A common civilian, he was well over 6 feet tall. He had a kind face and spent time either reading books or arguing with the friends about the war. His two brothers were fighting in the war and he often used to visit them with food risking his life as Russians mined the area around. I was staying in his house and was happy that my host and a friend is a man to look up to.
A day later we turned in the radio to listen to the news. Russian Air force Minister was saying that the events in Shalaji was a provocation carried out by Chechen fighters. His explanation was ludicrous - at the time when our planes were flying over the village, chechen fighters detonated explosives planted by them into the ground ahead of time. We roared with laughter - first time after the bombing. Used to the propoganda lies, we did not pay any attention to his words. Well, Ruslan said, let the world think we are monsters. Listening to the Minister, I felt helpless. Well, I thought AP and Reuters will print the information from the Minister and an average person in this world would not know any different. I watched that to happen in USA.
Going through the newspapers and reading Russian propaganda imparted to the people through the AP and Reuters used to make me hit the ceiling. Fairly or not I counted them accomplices to the Russians. That was an anger speaking in me. I would think to myself in such moments how should I feel about them when a huge empire, an evil one in the eyes of the world just a few years ago has come and brutally kills innocent people who want nothing more than freedom gets the media support around the world. And a tiny nation which dared to challenge the might of the monster gets a lipservice support.
We, chechen people were on our own in this war. I was not alone alone in my feelings - all the chechens felt that way. Ruslan’s house was damaged too. We rolled up our sleeves to fix the damage done. Two days later we finished working. We were happy. Many houses around were demolished to the ground and so people from them moved to their relatives in the same village.
Others were fixing their abodes like us. About six o’clock in the evening Ruslan and I were cutting wood to heat up the stove and take a warm bite. We looked forward to it. I was sitting and watching Ruslan skillfuly do the work. We worked in turns. Suddenly, I heard that hissing sound again. It always comes long before the sound of the plane. I figured the bombs are coming close to us. I had become an expert at that time and I could approximatelly tell where the bombs would fall. I told Ruslan:” bombs are back”. He mumbled out:”heck with them”. A thundering sound has raised a huge cloud of dust just a hundred yards from us. A second later another sound forced us to quit our work. This time the bombs sounded real sinister and close. We hit the ground. Another blast and another destroyed house. A recent tragedy was replayed again in the same village, in the same street. I survived that attack as well. This time 8 planes dropped death on the village and left leaving six people dead - women and children. I helped the relatives of the dead with the burial. There were women and children among the victims. They were young and some beautiful. Somehow anytime at the sight of the killed person I pictured myself in his place and my mother grieving over me. I knew I stood the same chance to be killed like them. I felt helpless and desperate that I could not do anything to prevent that from happening. Anger and hatred were the two feelings I felt at such moments. I could not suppress any of these two.
Nevertheless, my mother had learned that I was not in USA, but somewhere in the mountains with the fighters. I did my best to prevent her from knowing that, but a friend of mine hopped in to see her and pass the “nice tidings” - your son is home. A month later, that same guy “delighted” me with the news that he passed the news about me to my mother. I got mad and started screaming at him calling him names. “I could do that myself. I would not because I did not want her to know. Because I did not want her to worry for me. I wanted her to think I am safe in USA”, I roared out to Sherip. He apologised.
From that moment on, my thoughts were on my mother. She raised six kids after my dads death in 1975. Being the youngest one I was her pet kid. Hard work have marked her with deep wrinkels and concern for us gave her a sugar diabetes and weakened her heart. Through my friends I learned she was in very bad health due to my “homecoming”. In early May 1996, I told my friends that I decided to go home. I explained why. I had to choose between my mother and the war. I chose my mom. I did not want her to die because of me. On a warm day in May I walked into my house. The house was full of my folks. My numerous nephews and nieces were all there waiting for me. They rushed to me and jumped into many hugs, kissing me all over. . They did not see me for over two years. I gave my mother a hug and said I am home, mom. She gave me a stern look and said welcome back, sonny.
The war finished three months later. The Russians left Chechnya. Those three months were an ordeal no less horrible for me than in the mountains. I lived them through with my family and especially with my mother. Events in Shalaji were replayed in my village too. On the sixth of august, Chechen fighters had liberated Grozny and fierce fighting pursued. Mortars, shells and bombs poured down on us a like a ton of bricks. Like in Shalaji, planes were bombing our area and killing innocent people everywhere. One thing was different though - I was with my family. Bitterness and anger were stronger in me than ever before. We spent weeks in the basement leaving it only for a short while. And at nights we were confined to it. My nephews and nieces started to get sick from living in the dank basement. A baby Imani who was under one year old started coughing. I thought she would die.
Russians put an ultimatum to the people of Grozny to leave it within 48 hours. I managed to convince my family to leave Grozny. They did so. The stroming by the Russians never happened. They were forced to leave Grozny or what was left of it.
That day in August was the happiest for many of the Chechens. The nightmare we lived through during those two years seemed a bad dream. A bad dream though which has never ended for the tens of thousands of people who lost their loved ones. That was the saddest time in my life. I thought too that the war was over for ever. God, we were wrong!
On a sunny day of October 1999, I was awakened by a horrible sound and a strong shaking of my bed. I jumped to my feet and ran out to see what had happened.
People were out in my village. A friend of mine walked up to me and said the war had started again. I refused to believe it, and left on a business trip the next day. . I soon learned that my friend was right. And the war has not ceased.
On a sunny day of July 2000 I was in the USA again. I got a call from my brother. I was waiting impatiently for the call as my village had become world renowned for a massacre back in February--February 5th, 2000 to be exact--a day in which 118 people were killed brutally and without reason. “Is everybody O.K.?”, I asked. “yes” - he replied. When I hung up, I decided once again that enough was enough. I ordered a ticket from New York to Baku.When in Baku, I recollected a saying - “history repeats itself”. Well, it looks like so does my life.
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